Letters from Fairbairn to Gregson.

1896, 1897.



George Fairbairn, was the manager of Warrah after Richard Hudson. He was manager from 1880 to 1910. Jesse Gregson was the AACo Company superintendant.


1896 and 97 was an interesting time. There was a heatwave, New Warrah's homestead burnt down, there was a huge fall of snow, a new homestead was built, the first rabbit turned up at Blackville, although outside the new rabbit proof fence they were quickly erecting, Warrah was connected by telephone and finally a tragic suicide followed by an out break of diptheria which killed two people.


Both years were roughly average for rainfall. 1896 a bit above average and 1897 just below average.




Since writing you on the 23rd, the rainfall on Warrah has amounted to 2.46 inches accompanied by a tropical heat the like of which has never been equalled in my life time.  In the coolest part of my house for weeks at a stretch the thermometer has registered from 96 to 100 rendering life almost intolerable and unbearable. A peculiarity of the recent partial break in the drought is to be found in the fact that no addition has been made to the surface water supply, and a gradual shrinkage is still noticeable.


The growth of feed however is marvellous and it would be difficult to estimate the carrying capabilities of the run, at the present time. Owing however to the influence of the heat, should not rain fall in the near future, this abnormal growth of grass may prove a source of danger to the run through the risks which it involves from bush fires.  It is however scarcely necessary for me to dwell on this part of my subject further than to say that the run is overgrown with feed, and we have not been able to purchase sheep to keep it in check.





Your letter of yesterdays date reached me this morning and I will reply to the question of a telephone to Willow Tree later on.  I wired you this morning to Mount Wilson and will now wire you to Newcastle to the effect that our old house and premises together with nearly all our belongings, was totally destroyed by fire last night.  I was in the office working with Mr Humble till about 10.30pm when I wound the clock and blew out the office and dining room lamps and went to bed, the other inmates, except the servants who were still working in the kitchen, having retired some time previously. At about 11.30 I was awakened by a cry of fire from one of the girls who was crashing doors open and carrying out the children. Oscar and a school mate were sleeping in your room and I rushed in without my clothes and got them out in their night shirts.  Mrs Fairbairn then shouted out that the children were all out. The whole place was by this time thoroughly roused and Mr Humble and several others were splashing water onto the outside of the South West Corner. The verandah blinds at this point were on fire and I pulled them down and threw them outside. Fire was also creeping along the wall opposite and had reached the Wallplate of the Main Building and could be seen through the Drawing room Ceiling. Up to this time you will observe the fire had not entered the house which leads me to believe that some scoundrel deliberately set fire to the South West Corner after I had gone to bed. The piano was rolled out and some few articles of furniture but as for everything else except a few articles of clothing, and the children are in borrowed bloomers, destruction reigns supreme.  All the bedding including your own was burnt.  Last night we shared the hospitality of Mrs Humble and Mrs Lewis tonight we take up our quarters at Bachelors' Hall. I have wired for the police.





Your letter of the 2nd and also your telegram duly reached me and I thank you sincerely for your sympathetic sentiments and offer of assistance. Mrs Fairbairn however will not listen to any proposal for going away from home but in order to provide room we must get rid of the children. We have therefore decided to lodge them on the coast with Miss Barton until accommodation is provided.  In the mean time I am getting Arthur's Cottage lined and made as cosy as circumstances will permit.  We all had a very narrow escape from being roasted and Mrs Fairbairn has suffered a good deal from nervous excitement, but beyond this no one was hurt. We are recipients of Mrs Mumble's hospitality. The children are with Miss Burgess, and the school room, Arthur's Cottage, and Shearer's hut, are utilized for sleeping accommodation.  I have heard it said that you never know your friends till you get into trouble. Judging from the number of sympathetic letters and telegrams offering assistance in every shape and form which we have received, we must have a large number of friends in this district. One gentleman in Murrurundi wired me that he was willing to place, his own residence at our disposal. Another offered to take as many members of the household as we liked to send and a Lady actually sent a quantity of her own Clothing in case it might be required. Of Course the latter will be returned and the others were declined. A Coroner's Inquest on the fire was held yesterday by the Police Magistrate of Scone and a jury of seven when an open verdict as to the origin was returned.


The only building, connected with the house, not destroyed was the W.C. The site for the New house as you suggest must stand on that of the old and as I have become completely scared of pine buildings I readily agree to substitute with brick and am now advertising for brick makers.  I also think we ought to have an efficient Fire proof safe for the protection of the Station Books and valuable documents. The wretched thing I used for the protection of all my private papers burnt them as effectually as if they had been outside.





I regret to report a disastrous fire at the Warrah Homestead on the night of the 1st, resulting in the total destruction of my house including detached premises, and about £600 worth of my personal effects. The fire started on the outer wall at the south west corner of the main building at about 11.30 p.m. after the inmates had retired to rest, and had apparently originated at a horse hair rug under the verandah. Within 30 minutes of the discovery which was made by a woman in one of the outside cottages, the place was consumed.


An inquiry into the cause of the fire was held by the Coroner and a jury, on the 4th, when an open verdict was returned. From the fact of the fire having occurred at the time it did, at the most secluded part of the house, and the least likely for an accident of the kind, I am strongly of opinion that it was the work of an incendiary and aimed at me personally.






5th June 1896 estimates cost as follows

New Fence                                              £25 per mile

If every alternate post only is renewed    £20 per mile

If selected old posts only be used            £13 per mile

This does not include cartage of wire from Head station?

Would this cost be the same whether old fencing wire be utilized or new wire throughout? The old fence would have to be pulled up in either case.

Our side of the deviation round the bog being already fenced. The present fence is a quarter of a mile from the new deviation.

The length of fencing to be done now is 18 miles and 5 chains as surveyed by the  Government .

The stock of wire on hand is stated to be,,,

153cwts of No.4, 88cwts of No.6, 270cwts of No.8, § 35cwts of No.10.

Assuming that the new fence is to consist of wholly new material and top wires No.4, 1 wire No.6, and 4 wires No.8, the cost for wire would be about £14 per mile adding £28 for erection the cost per mile would be £42 without allowance for timber.

If we allow £20 per mile as the cost of repairing the 7 miles and 62 chains using all old material (the best of it) the cost will be £155.10.0. 

This proposal does not include iron droppers, and in a locality so subject to fire, it seems to me almost useless to put up a new fence using pine battens. Will Mr. Fairbairn consider if some economy cannot be made (such as the suggested one of having alternate posts new but sunk 3 feet in the ground) so as to enable the cost of iron droppers say £15.16.0 per mile to be brought within the limit say £50 per mile. The cattle lane has now been erected for 24 years and as it never was a particularly good fence, the most of the posts have seen their life. You could not get 50% of serviceable posts out of them, but supposing you could it would be false economy to wire them up with new posts.  The new fence should be thoroughly new and I would like to see the old fence renewed also, but at the same time wou can make the 7 miles efficient for 10 years in the new fence by using selected old posts.  I do not think we should use pine battens.  It would be better to increase the estimate by 40/- per mile and use split hardwood. The pine battens might do for the old posts which will require new straining posts throughout.





During the eight weeks under review, that is since the 8th June, a remarkable visitation of cold and snowy weather has occurred such as was never previously known to the oldest inhabitants. Snow fell thickly about the Warrah home station, to the great satisfaction of the children, who for the first time in thier lives, enjoyed the luxury of snow balling, and the ridges presented a spectacle probably such as will never again be witnessed by the present occupants of office.


The first kiln of bricks burnt for the erection of the new house was found to be useless, and had to be condemned. This has created considerable delay and inconvenience to me. A wooden structure has now been decided upon and arrangements have been entered into with the wool carriers to draw the building material from the Railway Station at the rate of 4/-per ton.





There has been a dingo in the act of worrying sheep in Nowland's Park. Since then however we have found lambs in the same neighbourhood killed or bitten, proving that the beast was not alone.  Bob Smith, who was told off to deal with the matter, succeeded in catching a dingo slut and 6 pups in "Wallera". Sisson thinks the slut is an animal that the Nowlands have been offering a reward for, for some time past.


By the express train tomorrow, I am sending you the skin of an animal which is alleged to be a "rabbit" and which I ask you to have settled beyond the shadow of doubt.  It was caught at Black Creek (outside the Company's fence) by MacCausland and sent to Ogden, who forwarded it on to me, in a basket, alive.  McCausland declares it to be a "rabbit", Sisson and Ogden allege it to be a hare, but I must admit I am doubtful as to which it is. You will however understand the importance attached to having the identity established beyond doubt, perhaps I should not have killed it but I was afraid of losing it.






McNair, the Contractor for the New Homestead is making good progress with the buildings.  The workmanship is very satisfactory, as is also the material he is using. The Contractors for the fencing of the Cattle lane have not made very rapid progress with their work during the past few weeks owing to difficulty experienced in procuring men and rains during the shearing season.






The New Homestead is approaching completion and the Contractors are making fair progress with the erection of the Cattle lane fences. The men employed on the rabbit-fence have reached Warrah Creek on the North boundary, and Four Mile on the South.  The crossing of the creek however, on the former line has involved much labor, and consequent delay owing to the flooded nature of the country in the Vicinity.  No rabbits have since been seen or heard of on Warrah, but odd animals are occasionaly heard of from Black Creek.





The telephone man duly arrived and has fixed the instrument. He made two earth connections close to my office but was not satisfied with the nature of the soil and connected with the wall at the back of the stables.  The whole thing appears to be working satisfactorily. I have instructed Ogden to put the posts in at Windy for the proposed line to there and will have the same done here. I note your instructions re ringbarking.






Ross arrives from Gloucester on the 13th with 399 station bred steers being the number delivered to him by Mr Etheridge. These I have had put up in in the Highlands. The condition of the whole Warrah herd is of the most satisfactory description, and we should be able to dispose of a large number of fat bullocks between now and the following spring. The Homebush market is however dull and lifeless, and the Agents have been nonplussed to find excuses for the unsatisfactory returns which circumstances compel them to make.  In consequence of this I have made arrangements for discontinuing consignments after the 22nd (tomorrow) until such time as the market either recovers a little buoyancy, or the bullocks, which are now approaching the tail end of the purchases acquire more weight.



The ewes included for lambing in autumn on Nov 30th. The Special Stud Ewes which were tupped under supervision, were all served within 5 of their total number, but I regret to state that a good many are again returning to the rams for a second and third time.

The rams included for sale in Sydney in 1897 have been protected from the weather since the 6th, but we have not yet resorted to artificial feeding.

The fattening stock are thriving very satisfactorily and will be fit for market at the usual time. Mr Evans purchased for his Merriwa Station was delivered on Nov 27th the receipt forwarded to Messrs Pitt Son and Badgery representing 10813 Ewes and 89 Rams.





The New Warrah homestead was completed on the 11th and occupied on the 12th. The buildings have been faithfully erected and do credit to the contractor.


During the month we have been connected with the Willow Tree Railway Station by Telephone and the instruments appear to be working satisfactorily.





Your letter of the 5th duly reached me. I have given Mr Rogers notice to terminate his connection with the Company on Feb. 10th. I do not know of any local person who would care to take this work at the salary offering, but there ought to be little difficulty in getting one from the large towns of the Colony.  Greaves went down by the mid-day train yesterday and as he has reported fully on the state of the accounts I don't know that it is necessary for me, at this stage, to say much about them. Apart from the inaccuracies, which were to be counted by the score when a balance was attempted, It was discovered that Mr Rogers has been issuing provisions without entering them at all and has proved himself very expert at mistifying by cooking his figures.





Since writing the foregoing, a horrible tragedy had occurred on the station and one that I feel sure you will feel very sorry to hear of. Poor old Lewis at about 1.25 p.m. committed suicide by shooting himself through the head. I had just finished dinner when Rogers came running down and asked me to go up the yard as Lewis had just shot himself. Upon proceeding up I saw the poor old man lying at full length on his chest with his face turned to one side and blood flowing from his ears and head, with the stock of a shotgun firmly gripped between his legs and the muzzle end under his right shoulder, quite dead. This was in his Calf pen which he had used for nearly 30 years.  I have not made any enquiries yet, but it appears pretty evident that it occurred shortly after a domestic squabble at home.  I have sent a message to the police and have ordered a Coffin from Murrurundi as we have no carpenter at present.





The telephone was connected with Windy on Friday and appears to be working all right but the thing rings the Willow Tree bell which is a bit of a nuisance .

I  regret to state that Dyptheria has appeared on the station and is nearly frightening the people to death. So far it has been confined to Shoobert's family, four of whom have had it. Two having died, one recovered, and the fourth is still dangerously ill. I enclose a Communication from Mr Levien which I have informed him would be submitted to you from whom he would probably receive a definite reply in the course of a few days. I don't suppose you are likely to surrender your trump Card to please the Murrurundi store keepers?    

The Copeland family outside the "Warrah" homestead. 1940's. This was probably the homestead that was rebuilt after the fire and remains today.

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12.06 | 20:33

What a wonderful story, enjoyed it very much.

06.06 | 22:53

What great history that now seems to be forgotton. ⚓🦉🐉🦂💙👑

10.05 | 15:31

Takes me back to wonderful childhood days visiting "Merrieton" and "Towarri". At about age 12, I thought Tony (aged about 24) was the most handsome chap around

06.01 | 15:43

Which farm did "Pop Mackelvane" have, I was there during the last part of the second war.

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