A Guringai Family Story


My name is Laurie Bimson my father was Tom Bimson his mother was Emily  maiden name Lewis. Her father was James Lewis and his mother was  Sarah Lewis her mother was Biddy Salamander she was one of Bungarees wives. Sarah met a convict possibly when Bungaree was given a plot of land at georges head of about 20 acres, they tried to teach them farming so they gave them convict labour to teach them farming,  they stayed there for about a year and realised the were not farmers, they were hunters and gatherers so they abandened the property and moved  back to the Hawkesbury area . Sarah and the convict Ferdinand Lewis got together and decided to  start  the family at murra murra creek as squaters at first but eventually sarah was given a land grant there about  5.5  acres they had ten childern six lived and my great grand father was james lewis one of those children. there are many more stories from early white ocupation this is one the next one is of one of my cousins  tracie howie. Sophy Bungaree was born in Brisbane Water on the northern arm of Broken Bay, Hawkesbury River in around 1810. At that time the Hawkesbury River was known to the Aboriginal inhabitants as Deerabin.

Sophy and her forebears, now known as the Guringai people, occupied the region bounded by Lake Macquarie to the north, Mangrove Mountain to the west and the ridge line running through Duffy’s Forest to the south. This area encompassed the Hawkesbury River Basin with their neighbours to the south the Eora occupying the Sydney Basin.

Due to a perturbation in the rotation of the earth, the planet goes through cycles of freeze and thaw every 100,000 years or so. The climax of the freeze component of the cycle is referred to today as the glacial maximum and the last glacial maximum occurred only about 18,000 years ago. During the last glacial maximum 110 metres of the current depth of the ocean was tied up in ice sheets that covered the landscape at that time. Evidence of this glaciation can be seen in coastal Victoria and South Australia where striations caused by the advancing and retreating ice sheets can still be observed. During the last glacial maximum and up until about 10,000 years ago the Hawkesbury River Basin, now known as Broken Bay, and Sydney Harbour were river valley environments occupied by Aboriginal people. It would have been an easy matter to just walk across the Hawkesbury River at that time as it would have been far less substantial than it is today. Guringai people occupied land on both sides of the Hawkesbury River within the area enclosed by this large basin. The same could be said of the Eora people in relation to the Sydney Basin.

The Guringai people are salt water people who nurtured and exploited a very rich and diverse environment in terms of food resources. The river systems, swamps, lakes and ocean provided an abundant source of protein and the alluvial flats that bound the rivers and swamps provided an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables including the ever important Long Yam Dioscorea transversa. You can still find the Long Yam growing today in the richer alluvial soils that encompass the many creeks and streams throughout the area.

The Guringai people had their first encounter with the European settlers (occupiers) in 1789 when Captain Hunter and his crew rowed into the north arm of Broken Bay. The idea of settling Broken Bay did not arise until James Webb, an entrepreneur and ex member of the New South Wales Corps, applied for and was granted a lease to occupy land in Brisbane Water in October of 1823.

James Webb was an interesting fellow. The brother of two first fleeters, Robert and Thomas, he arrived in New South Wales (as Australia was then known) as a Corporal in His Majesty’s New South Wales Corps on the Scarborough in 1790. He was first granted land by Lieutenant-Governor Grose at Windsor, on the upper Hawkesbury when he was discharged from the Army in 1794. He grew corn for the colony, built ships and plotted his next exploits. He then acquired land at Cockle Bay (now Darling Harbour) from where he sold timber.

James was given a further grant near Wiseman’s Ferry on a creek now known as Webb’s Creek. He once bragged how he shot Aboriginal men who were attacking his boat at point blank range.

In 1823 he was granted the land that included all of the now Woy Woy and permission to graze cattle all the way out to Patonga. He continued to cut and sell timber, build ships and became very influential. It was around this time that Sophy first came into contact with the then 57 year old James Webb. She was only between 13 and 14 years of age when he molested her and their daughter Charlotte Webb (on right in 1904) was born in 1824.

James Webb never had much if anything to do with the nurturing or upbringing of his daughter Charlotte and it is not surprising that when Charlotte finally passed away in 1913 he was not mentioned on her death certificate (more about that shortly).

Charlotte was born on the Hawkesbury River (one document says), or Gosford (another says), and was brought up by her mother and later on, her defacto stepfather John Smith. Sophy was mentioned several times in the historical records beginning in 1827 then 1831 and 1835 where her conduct was described as being “of good conduct”.

Some confusion remains today amongst scholars in relation to how Sophy is spelt. In one document (Charlotte’s death certificate) Sophy is spelt thus “Sophia”, in all the proceeding documents she is spelt “Sophy”. The later (Sophy) is the correct spelling as this is the pronunciation used throughout time and is also the spelling and pronunciation of the family members including one of Charlotte’s children and Sophy’s grandchildren who were given their names in her honour.

Sophy grew into a relationship with a man by the name of John Smith while Charlotte was a young adolescent, and this relationship endured right up until Sophy passed away (a date that is unknown to us at this point in time). Charlotte met a convict farm hand by the name of Joseph Ashby in the late1830s. Joseph was working for Henry Donnison, a prominent landholder and political figure on the Central Coast at that time.

Joseph Ashby was a figure of misfortune who did it very tough, especially during his early childhood. He was born in Colchester, England in 1810, the son of Lydia Hardy and Joseph Ashby. Joseph snr died when young Joseph was only 11 years of age. Joseph’s mother Lydia died in 1823.

Joseph was a bit of a street dweller and had to resort to stealing and scavenging to be able to survive. Joseph and another fellow, Thomas Balls, stole a basket of raisins from a merchant in Colchester in 1831. They were both duly arrested and interned to await trial. At the ensuing trial Joseph Ashby was found guilty of larceny and convicted, with a sentence of 14 years and transportation to the penal colony of Australia. Thomas Balls was found not guilty and set free. Joseph Ashby was transported to Australia on the convict transport Asia 9 in 1832.

Joseph Ashby was a kind man of good character and only resorted to crime out of desperation. Joseph applied for a “ticket of leave” in May of 1838 for the Brisbane Water region; on his application he is described as being prisoner number 32/208, 28 years of age, 5 feet 2 inches in height, having fair complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes. This ticket of leave was granted in June 1838. As Joseph Ashby was a convict prisoner and Charlotte Webb an Aboriginal person, permission had to be sought from the Governor to marry and this was granted in 1845. Joseph Ashby was 32 and Charlotte Webb 22 according to the permission to marry document when they married in a small sandstone church in East Gosford on the 2nd April 1845. This church still stands today.

Charlotte Ashby, nee Webb, had many children during the years of her marriage to Joseph Ashby, until he passed away in Wyong on the 11th December 1864, they were: Hannah Ashby 1845; James Ashby 1847; John Ashby (my great grandfather) 1849; Eliza Jane Ashby 1853; Amelia Ashby 1859; and Sarah Ashby 1862. Eva Ashby 1865; Walter Ashby 1868 (born on the banks of the Hawkesbury at Moonee Moonee crossing); and Sophy Ashby 1870 were all born after Joseph Ashby’s death.

Charlotte Ashby was tossed from pillar to post in terms of the way she was treated (or should I say mistreated) at the hands of her employers. It was thought to be acceptable by society to expect to be used for the sexual pleasure of your employer in those days and it was a very common practice. As a result Charlotte had several children outside the sanctity of marriage.

Joseph Ashby lies in Blue Gum Flat Cemetery (Lisarow).

One of the fathers to Charlotte’s children, William Smith, who had an on and off relationship with Charlotte, accused her of stealing from him while in Blue Gum Flat Tavern on the 1st July 1869 the sum of £5. Charlotte was due to appear in court in Sydney 100 kilometres south on Thursday 2nd September 1869. She walked through the prickly heath country of the sandstone escarpment 100 kilometres to Sydney to appear in court and 100 kilometres back when found not guilty.

In 1869 Charlotte’s two youngest children were taken away by the Benevolent Society at the instigation of proceedings by the very same William Smith on the grounds that Charlotte was an unfit mother. These children were later returned.

Charlotte lived out her life in dire poverty amongst those who lived off the fat of the land (her ancestral land) and died in her ramshackle old hut at a railway siding in Narara at the ripe old age of 89 years in 1913. During her lifetime things could well have been very different if Aboriginal people had been entitled to inherit and own land. Her father James Webb left all of his holdings to Samuel Coulter and Robert Cox when he passed away in 1848. They became very rich and influential families as a result.

Although all of Charlotte’s children were born in the Gosford to Wyong area most of them eventually moved to Sydney and further afield to pursue their chosen careers. I can only speak for my great grandfather John Ashby whose children Hanna Matilda, James, Bertha, Charlotte, Henry, Joseph, Margaret, William and Mary all traversed frequently between the Central Coast of New South Wales and Balmain, where they lived until they married. Charlotte’s children James and Eliza Jane also lived in the same street in Balmain intermittently with their spouses and children during the course of their lives. Charlotte Ashby nee Webb was finally laid to rest in the cemetery now known as Brady’s Gully Cemetery in Gosford in 1913.

There she still lies.

This story is dedicated to the memory of my forebear Charlotte Ashby who owned some of the richest country in Australia but died poverty-stricken and lies in a pauper’s grave.

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