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Adamthwaite Archive

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the Adamthwaite family at Quambatook: 1878-1978

This article was written by Vida Adamthwaite in 1978, to celebrate the centenary of the family's arrival at Quambatook, in Victoria, Australia.  Vida was the daughter of Alfred Edmund Adamthwaite and Ellen (Gulley) and granddaughter of Joseph Adamthwaite and Emma (Smith).  It has been edited and updated by Elizabeth Adamthwaite. As well as the many illustrations on the following pages, you can see more photos of Quambatook in the Photo Gallery.


Joseph Adamthwaite and his wife Emma (Smith)

Joseph Adamthwaite (grandfather of the present Adamthwaites of Quambatook) was born at "Woodside" near Winton, Westmoreland, and was the youngest of four sons [of Edmund and Ann (formerly Stout)].  There were also two sisters, one of whom was younger than he [these were Ann and Jane].  One of the older brothers, John, migrated to Australia in the 1850s (the time of the Gold Rush).  One (Christopher) went to New Zealand, and the youngest brother, Joseph, followed to Australia where his older brother John had settled in 1854.   He mined for gold at Ballarat and Ararat.  [Christopher eventually returned to Australia, where he died in Queensland in 1864]


Joseph married Emma Smith in 1864 at Langi Gheran.   Her parents were Joseph Smith and Mary Ann Hickling.   This Joseph was a surveyor, and had done extensive work all over the United Kingdom. His and Mary Ann's eldest daughter, Emma, was born at Preston, Lancashire, in 1845.


They made their first home at Moyston, near Ararat, and Joseph continued his mining operations until 1878. It is recorded that he made a "rise" at the Kangaroo Mine, Moyston, but that he lost it all through the hard times which followed.


The country in North West Victoria, which until then had been held by station owners (sheep squatters), was then thrown open for selection, so as the gold was petering out and he hadn't made his fortune, Joseph was forced to turn his attentions to pastures new. Moreover, by this time, he and Emma had six children to support. . Alone, Joseph journeyed up to Quambatook to select a block. He chose 240 acres along the Avoca River and then returned to Moyston.  As Joseph was a carpenter, in all probability he would have built the hut to provide some sort of shelter for the family when he made his first journey in 1876. This hut, built of pine logs and mud with open fireplace and dirt floor, became the kitchen of the original home.


In the year 1878, he and his family with all their worldly possessions, made the long trip to Quambatook.  Joseph's first concern would have been to build a house to shelter his family. Joseph built a neat weatherboard cottage made from some very hard local timber.  The cottage had four rooms — three bedrooms and a sitting room.  The log and mud hut was used as a kitchen, and when the weir was constructed, some years later, the ends of the slabs were used for the blocking of the floor. These blocks were used many years later to make a floor in the garage and may be seen there today. A mud brick dairy was added to the end of the kitchen, and there was a cellar.  The building had an iron roof, fastened on with screws and washers.


Aborigines were in the district along the Avoca River, but between the years of 1866 and 1880 they began to disappear. Their last great gathering, with its customary rituals, was held about the year 1880, and after that time they could be seen just in small wandering groups. Along the Avoca River can be found traces of their ovens, etc. but very few, if any, burial grounds, which would indicate that they did not live permanently in this area, but just moved here seasonally.


the original homestead, pictured during the 1909 flood

The first generation of the Adamthwaite family could well remember seeing a Corroboree at a spot along the river where the Quambatook Weir now stands. It is recorded that daughter May (Mrs Davis), then only three years old, remembered all her life the crying, howling and yelling of the aborigines as they participated in the corroboree, with all its ancient ceremonial ritual.  Around the river, the trees stripped of bark may still be seen; the bark having been used as lean-to shelters by the aborigines.


The first Quambatook Post Office was set up in 1879 in the home of Joseph and Emma, and Emma was the first Post Mistress.   At the early age of nine or ten, the eldest son, Edmund, used to ride on horseback to Glenloth to collect the first mail to the district.  In later years, the mail was brought by coach, which came through from Glenloth (the rail head) to Quambatook

and on to Kerang, three days each week.  A change of horses was made at Budgerum.  It would have been in the year 1893 or 1894 that the Post Office was moved into the town area.  In 1929, the present Post Office was built, and son Edmund was one of the citizens who pressured the "powers that be" to obtain such a fine building for the town (see below).


Dry seasons and droughts made it imperative for the early farmers along the river to investigate the possibility of constructing weirs at certain spots to provide water for irrigation.  Joseph was a member of the committee which researched these possibilities, and due to that committee's recommendations,  the first weir was constructed in 1883 opposite the old home and Joseph was the first farmer to use the water for irrigation purposes. These early settlers dreamed of a day when irrigation would be possible on a large scale, but because of the uncertain flow in the river, this dream was never realised.

In the very earliest days of settlement, St. Arnaud was the nearest rail head, from which goods were brought by bullock dray or waggon, and to which wheat was carted.  Sometimes the trip would be made with a small load of wheat which would be taken to the flour mills to be ground, and then brought back as flour, pollard, bran, etc.


Most settlers kept a few pigs, a cow or two, and some poultry, so that the family was fed on porridge made from ground wheat, from bread made of flour, eggs from the poultry, milk and butter from the cow and bacon and pork from the pigs.  As Fred, son of Joseph, has written: "What if the porridge contained a few husks to scratch your throat as it slid down; its roughness was the hallmark of quality."  Luxuries such as sugar and treacle had to be bought from stores at the rail head.  Bread was all home­made, and of course, the settlers slaughtered their own meat.  What a busy time Emma and her daughters must have had in preparing and cooking family meals under these conditions.

the Quambatook Post Office, built in 1929

The name of Adamthwaite is a very ancient one in the county of Westmoreland, North-Western England, and was first recorded in the Pipe Rolls of Cumberland (County North of Westmoreland) in 1248 and 1249. The "thwaite" ending means "an open space cleared in the forest". The prefix refers to the name of the settler as in ADAMthwaite.


Down through the ages, there seem to have been Adamthwaite farmers in Westmoreland, but there were many interesting sidelights to their general character.  For instance, there were Adamthwaites who were Quakers at the time of the religious persecution in the 17th Century.


One, John Adamthwaite, in the Eighteenth Century, was a brilliant clergy­man and passed his B.A. and M.A. Degrees at Oxford and Cambridge, also his B.D. and D.D.  In addition he was a theological writer.  A nephew of his was Principal of an Academy at Winton, Westmoreland, at the time of Charles Dickens. Various reports surround the conduct of this establishment, but it must have been a fairly reasonable school, for it survived the Dickens' tirade.       [Elizabeth writes:  no, it was awful, the boys were starved and quite a few of them died whilst they were pupils at the school.  See the Seven Reverends Adamthwaite for a truer picture]