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Post  Guest on Mon Jun 20, 2011 11:17 am


Letter one


Anybody who has ever been in Victoria must have heard of Omeo. It is situated in a basin of tho Snowy Mountains. At one- time it must have been a large lake, the
only, outlet for its waters being through an immense crevice in the great Gibbo Range that separates the two branches of the River, Murray, and then they flow into the right hand branch, of the Mitta Mitta. The other bends from Kosciusko, the King of the Australian Alps, being fed by the snow-, and after being called various names, finally junctions the Mitta .Mitta about twenty five miles above Albury, there forming the main Murray river. The Mitta Mitta is in Victoria, while the other, the Upper Murray, is the boundary of New South Wales and Victoria. Omeo between the two is a large plain the only road into it is through Gippsland, thence over the range, but only in summer, for in the winter the country around if, is covered in snow, so that the people at Omeo are snowed in and cannot leave.
Gold was discovered their in the early fifties by some prospectors who came on the place by accident and found payable gold as soon us they located themselves. They reported it to the nearest gold commissioner, who was on the Ovens field. A big rush .soon set in, and all sorts and conditions of men quickly arrived. As there were no police there-, the diggers soon appointed a man named Bloomfield, the leader of the prospecting party, to represent law and order. Among the early arrivals was a man named Tom Toko, hut he soon got discontented and went into the ranges to prospect . with a male known as Ballarat Harry,, who was an old Victorian digger, and much respected. They both had horses to carry their outfit, and in about six weeks afterwards Toko returned alone, saying that they could not agree, and he had left Harry going towards Gippsland. Now Harry had a favourite retriever that would never leave him, so she caused a lot of excitement among tho diggers by returning with Toke and always following him, taking care to keep out of his reach. The diggers became suspicious that some- thing was wrong with Harry, and some of his friends shadowed Toke until it was discovered that he had sold some fancy nuggets that they know had .belonged to Harry, and on being asked to say where he had got them he refused to tell, and as they had no proof against him he was sent to Coventry, and no one would associate with him. he went to live by himself and took to drink, and soon had the "d.t.'s," and when in his ravings he let out that ho had murdered Harry and burned the body. The diggers called a meeting and had him tried by a jury, and sent him in charge of the vigilance committee to be taken down to the police, who-were stationed at the Mitchell. River in Gippsland, where he was committed for trial in Melbourne-, for wilful murder. To collect evidence for the trial a mounted trooper Was sent up with a black tracker, and several diggers went with him,, but as snow had fallen since the alleged murder, and as? they had no starting point, they would have given it up had they not noticed that the dog always kept the one course, so they reluctantly followed it ; but after one night -camping out in the snow the constable would go no further and the next day he and the tracker returned to Omeo. The diggers followed the dog for six days, fooling sure as the dog still kept the same course, they would eventually discover something. At last tho dog stopped at a place that looked like an old camp, but as every thing was covered with snow, and the fire had destroyed till traces, they returned to Omeo, At the trial in Melbourne these men when giving their evidence caused a- sensation in court by the tale they told of their journey through the snow.
Two prisoners were tried at this court for murder. Tom Toke was one ; the other was a woman, remarkably handsome, being tall, stately, and of dark complexion. They were both acquitted for want of evidence, and as both were released at the same time, they met. As they were both morally guilty, they did not dare show their faces in town, so they decided to throw in their lot-together; they therefore bought the necessary outfit and started for the Snowy Mountains together. Arriving there, they tried to pass as a married couple, still, the diggers , would have none of them and drove them off. There is a large creek-. running at the foot of the Gibbo Range on the Omeo side, called the Gibbo Creek. Toko determined to camp there, and build a shanty near the track over the range to the Ovens goldfield ; he shortly had a bark humpy up for occupation, - which he kept improving until he made it into a shanty and accommodation house for travellers that were bound for the Ovens down the Mitta Mitta River.
About this time my mate and I were camped on a flat on the Mitta Mitta', prospecting and kangaroo shooting. We had a -good camp, with plenty of grass for the horses, in an unfrequented place just under the Snowy Ranges, about thirteen miles from the . famous" Gibbo mountain. Our- camp consisted of a couple of large tents pitched a good way apart ; the one we had for storing the skins, and the other was slept in, having a bark place for "tucker." we had done a good deal of prospecting, but as yet with- out success, so we were having a spell at scalping. When we had enough skins prepared, my mate generally took them down to our agent at Albury, returning with the horses loaded with stores that we might want ; beef, we could get at a station about 30 miles own the river. When we were both away from camp, we loft a large mastiff in charge, who would bark if he could smell blackfellows about. We could always here- his bark for we were surrounded by mountains.
Ono day I was down at the river panning oil a prospect when I heard al cooee, and on looking across the river I saw a young gin waving something as a signal for me to go over ; but knowing that niggers were in the neighbourhood I had to be cautious, so I signalled her to swim over, as it was only about 15 chains wide there. But she evidently wanted me to go over to her, and that made me more cautious, for I did not want to fall into a trap. I went for my rifle and turning back to the river. I heard a, low cooee and saw two gins take to the water swimming towards me. I knew I could not come to grief as I had my rifle, so I coolly sat on a log waiting for the gins. On reaching the bank where I was, one of them approached, holding up her hands, pointing to the other saying, "White Mary." Then before me I saw two girls one black and the other white, the latter speaking good English asking me for protection. I took them to the camp and gave them a. couple of shirts and food before! I heard their story. The white girl told me she had been with the blacks about two years without a chance of escaping till now, and implored me to help her, which I promised to do. The black girl, being in a hurry to get back as the tribe might miss her, they embraced, and I saw her go back across the river, and into the bush in a twinkling ; then I and my companion returned to the camp. I was in a bit of it fix as I did not know what we could do with such a splendid young woman: in our camp. After much of her shyness had left her. she told me all about herself until my mate returned, and he was much astonished at what he saw, for she was a beautiful creature, apparently about 17 years, and her skin tanned, by exposure. After we had supper, we consulted what Was to be done, and as she wished it we soon arranged to fit up a camp for her. We turned out of our own tent for the night, and the nest day, fixed up a snug gunyah for her, made of bark. The only thing that troubled us now was what we should do for clothes. My mate said he would go down the river to the station and see what he could pick up there, as we thought it prudent not to say any- thing about the "White Mary" at present. On his return to camp he said that he could only get some boys' clothing, which answered very well. The boots especially were very acceptable, as there were plenty of snakes about. When Dressed she looked very nice with short frock leggings and pants, and a red silk sash around her waist, as it was the fashion for diggers to wear in those days. As she was afraid to stay at the camp by herself, she generally went out with my mate. he was a fine looking athlete , with fair hair and blue eyes, while she had almost black hair and dark eyes, and they made a splendid pair. She soon became a fine shot, and Cooper bought her a beautiful light rifle at the time he was in Albury with our scalps. After awhile she told us that her mother was a French countess and had eloped with her lover, taking her little girl with her. They lived together about four years, and during that time a boy was born. As they were both wealthy they had a large house at Richmond near Melbourne, but she was a bad tempered woman, and they were always quarrelling. When he eventually left her in disgust, she sent the girl to a boarding school, and the girl was very seldom allowed to go home for her holidays. The boy grew to be handsome, like his father, so at last his mother determined to kill him, and according to the evidence at her trial she was seen very early in the morning stooping down at a pool of water in the Richmond paddock .by a man going to his work. He did not take much notice of her, excepting that she was wearing a remarkably handsome Indian shawl, which led to her apprehension as her servants saw her take '-the boy away and return without him,' and when the Government offered a large reward the workman gave all the information he could:
.After a few weeks . when they were settled, Toke and the Countess started business on the Gibbo Creek, she acting as decoy, being a beautiful woman so that many travellers put up. there for a night"; but what - became, of them . after- wards no one could tell, as they were seldom seen any more. In the meantime- she had forwarded a cheque to the boarding school for her daughter's schooling, but the mistress immediately sent a reply saying that she could not allow the girl to remain there any longer, as her mother's had reputation was ruining tho school, and informed the Countess that she had sent the girl away by coach to Beechworth, that being the nearest town to Omeo, naming the hotel where the coach put up at. They were now in a dilemma, as they did not want the child with them, and they could not leave her where she was. Finally Toke agreed to .bring her from Beechworth, 150 milos away, through the ranges and keep her until something should turn up', the Countess at the .same time threatening him that if he did not bring her home safely, she would inform the police how they wore living. he returned with a most beautiful girl who ran ,to her mother and cried with joy. However, the business being of a very shady nature, on account of travellers disappearing mysteriously, and the girl being continually on the watch, Toko determined to put her out of the way; but the mother would not sanction it, for she loved her child, and it often led to serious disputes between them, each being afraid, of the other, although he was a powerful looking ruffian with a bullet head, short sandy hair sticking up like wire, with an immense mouth, with large teeth set wide apart, so that he was enough to frighten any ordinary woman. But in the Countess he had his match, and he know it. She was determined that the girl should not be hurt, but at length consented to take all her clothes away, leaving her naked, so that she could not run away or communicate with strangers. The girl therefore never saw any one but themselves and the native blacks that were always about the neighbourhood. The Countess did not object to her daughter mixing with the young gins of the tribe, but as Toko kept getting more afraid of being betrayed, the Countess, to prevent the girl being murdered through his influence, secretly arranged with the tribe to take her away altogether, paying them to look after her. and not let her escape. Of course, the girl was. only too glad to go, and as she had several young gins as companions that were about the same age as herself she was contented for a while until an opportunity offered to escape. The natives called her "White Mary." She soon got used to their ways, and could endure the- rough hardships of their life, but after being with the tribe about two years a new trouble arose, in the young men falling in love with her, especially two who were always fighting about her. and they annoyed her so much that she became afraid. But she had a friend and companion to whom she confided her troubles, and as the young gin wanted one of the young men for herself she agreed to help ".Mary" to escape on the first opportunity. They waited until they saw a chance in their rambles, and one day when they went down to the Mitta Mitta to fish they saw our camp; on the other side. Then the King ordered them to go further up the river, and it being the only chance of escape she ever had, the two friends determined not to lose it at any cost, and in her present state she had nothing to lose but much to gain, for she had made a vow not to go back any more to her mother. The girls being on the alert soon found an opportunity of slipping away from the tribe with- out being missed, and came back to the point opposite our camp where I first saw them. 
We continued prospecting and occasionally scalping until one day we struck payable gold. We had put down a shaft, and as Mary had been a long time with us now
she thought all danger of pursuit was over, and she often stayed at the camp to clean up and fix things with the big dog for her companion. One day, however, when we returned from work we saw a sight that appalled us. We found Bully with several spears slicking in-him and Mary gone. My mate was nearly mad with rage. We knew what had happened- the blacks had been there and carried, her off. We soon fixed the dog up, us he had only flesh wounds and he appeared all right, only a little weak ;' so .taking a little "tucker" with plenty of ammunition we made a start to the rescue, late as it was in the day, taking the dog with us, as he could scent the marauders' tracks over' rocks. After going down to the river " we saw where they had crossed much higher up, and as we had a "dug-out" in the river we soon crossed .and found their trail leading into the ranges. After hiding our canoe 'in the rushes,' we made a start with the dog leading, as if he knew what he was wanted for. We had no time to rest, and on the third morning as we were going up a high spur, we saw smoke a long way off in a gully. Of course ,we knew it was the blacks' camp, as no whites ever made smoke like that. We hastened on. and the dog saw it too, for he sniffed and wagged his tail. It was late in the day when he came up to their camp, as it was very rough travelling. After a short consultation my mate decided to go alone, only taking the dog with him, while I was to lie in ambush to cover his retreat if needed ; so after shaking hands and putting a muzzle on the dog to prevent him barking, they started. I, was very anxious but not hearing a shot, I knew he was safe at present. I kept watch and after listening many hours, as I thought, I found the dog poking his head in my hand, which was a, good sign, and Cooper and Mary came up. We started back again as quickly as possible, the dog leading as before, and kept on all the rest of the night, as we thought the blacks might not miss Mary until morning.
The dog had taken us a short cut, and we were getting near the river when, on turning round a point of rocks, we received a shower of spears from the front, while we were looking out for the blacks in the rear. My mate and 1 and the dog were wounded, but Mary did not get a scratch, it being evident that they did not want to hurt her. Of course we gave them a volley and set to work to fix ourselves up a bit. As their spears were not poisoned our wounds were not dangerous at present. We were soon surrounded by them, but we then made Mary stand between us while we covered her with our rifles. Cooper had the fore- thought to fetch his revolver with him and this he handed to her, and she knew how to use it too, making every shot tell. We soon got the best of it, and then the two young black fellows- made a rush for Mary and the fight became serious, for spears were flying about all round. Cooper got a spear in the side and fell. Then our Mary showed her breed ; she snatched his repeater and standing across him to shelter him like a young lioness, coolly let fly, killing the two black's, and waiting for others to come within range' It was sharp work while it lasted, and as we were careful that every shot went home, we soon gained the day, the enemy retreating with great loss. On our side Cooper was seriously hurt, and the dog. and 1 had only flesh wounds that were blooding badly ; but the heroine did not get a scratch, although she had killed as many of the enemy as we did. 
We repaired damages as well as circumstances would allow. my mate could not travel without my assistance, but with the dog acting' as pilot and Mary us body guard with her sharp eyes on the lookout, we managed to get to the dugout at last, and paddled out of danger. We soon got Cooper to the camp, where our queen was boss, and my mate's nurse. She dressed his .wounds and got him to bed, while I had to look after Bully and myself. We had to take a spell for some days to recover, but Cooper was confined to his bed for some time, as it was a close shave with him, and his nurse would not let him get up until she thought it was safe.
During his illness my mate told us how, after he had left me, he followed the dog until he stopped in view of a mia mia, where he saw Mary and her young friend apparently asleep and an old gin on guard. He had the greatest difficulty in keening the dog back, but at length decided to let him have his own way, so hiding behind a big tree he watched the dog sneak round to Mary and rub his nose on her face. She immediately knew help was at hand, so rising cautiously she followed the dog to where Cooper was hiding, and then they hurried up to me.
In the course of time everything came out right, for during Cooper's illness he and his nurse fell in love with each other, and when he was able, they thought it best to get married, as they said it would give him a better right to protect her ; so when we were ready, we struck camp and after filling up our shaft made tracks for Beechworth, where Cooper and the "White Mary" were duly married in the English Church. We reported finding payable gold to the Commissioner and then returned to our camp with plenty of good things of this life. We soon had neighbours including few married couples, which was a great thing for our queen. We started to work our claim, getting plenty of gold, and as it was a big rush, it was called after the name of the river, the Mitta Mitta, and out- camp is called Cooper's Camp to this day. We were all very happy the dog as well, for he appeared to take entire charge of his mistress
and she was very fond of Bully. we had worked our claim out, we found we had plenty of money to our credit at the bank, so Cooper decided to buy- a place and settle down, more especially, as Mary was now the mother of a fine boy.

The Brisbane Courier 1909


Letter two


Moonee Ponds, 
Vic., January 16.

Sir,—In a recent issue you published a tale called, "The White Mary: A Reminiscence of an Old Gold Digger." The tale is very interesting, but it is almost all pure fiction. Now, as I was personally acquainted with some of the characters mentioned, I will give you my version of the story, which you can publish if you please to do so.
In 1854 a man named Tom Toke opened a shanty on the Gibbo Greek, at the foot of Mount Gibbo and about 40 miles from the Omeo diggings. Toke was an old Vandemonian and used to boast that he had been four times in! the chain gang. To show you what sort of a man. he was, here is an instance. One day a German hawker came from, Omeo. 'He had a riding horse and two pack horses. He had disposed of his goods at the diggings and was returning for a fresh supply. He engaged Tom Toke to pilot him through the ranges on a short cut to Bright. He stayed a night at Toke's shanty, Where they played poker and the German cleaned them all out. He won over £200 that night. The next morning he left with Toke. Two days after Toke returned bringing with him the German horses and all his equipment, but the German was never seen or heard of after. Some time after this another traveller appeared at the shanty. This man had a riding horse and two pack horse fully equipped for a prospecting trip. The man was known as "Ballarat Harry." He arranged with Toke to pilot him to lower Gippsland and they set out together. They went through Omeo, over the Tongio past into Lower Gippsland. Six weeks later Toke returned home, but bringing with, him Harry's horses and all his outfit. Toke said that his mate had quarrelled with him and had gone to South Gippsland—a lame and unlikely story, as where could the man go without provisions or horses? The diggers organised a search party, which tracked them to a place now known as " The Haunted Stream," where they found the remains of a huge fire, but nothing else. As for your correspondent's story of Toke being sent to the Mitchell and from there being sent to Melbourne for trial, that is all nonsense. At that time there was not a solitary human habitation on either side of the Mitchell River. When I was there in 1860 there were two public houses and a store on the Omeo side of the river and nothing at all on the opposite side where the town of Bairnsdale now stands. The store was kept by a roan called Jacky Jones, alias Pack Bullock Jack, so called because he used to sack provisions to the out lying goldfields on the backs of bullocks instead of horses. The township was called Lucknow. a name which it bears to this day. When Toke was rummaging among Ballarat Harrys effects he found a bundle of letters and papers which he could make nothing of, as he was an illiterate man and could neither read nor write. There was at the time a man employed as a stockrider at Billy Pender"! station at Lake Omeo, whose name was Arthur Orton. He was very intimate with Toke, and one day Toke in a burst of confidence gave Orton the bundle of letters he bad found in Ballarat Harry's swag, and told him to see if he could make anything of them, saying the man was dead and would not trouble any one any more. Orton read the letters and discovered that Ballarat Harry was no other than Sir Roger Tichborne, Bart., and it was at that time that he conceived the idea of personating the deceased baronet and claiming the title and estates. Besides. Orton himself was a half brother of Sir Roger with the bar sinister,, and bore a strong facial resemblance to him. Amongst the papers was one. a copy of a document executed by Sir Roger! in' favour of his cousin Kate Doughty, in which a sum of money was set aside for the benefit of any child that might result from the secret liaison between the cousins. The claimant produced this document in England, thinking it would substantiate his claim, but Kate Doughty, then Lady Rad Cliffe, repudiated it utterly and declared it a forgery. The claimant had to withdraw it because he failed to supplement it with a concise statement of the circumstances that led to its original creation. There was only one man who could do that, and his ashes lay mouldering on the Haunted Stream. In 1859 there was a gold escort robbery in South Gippsland, where a storekeeper named Green was killed. Three men were arrested for complicity in the crime, Armstrong, Chamberlain, and Toke. The latter turned Queen's evidence and escaped Scot free. Armstrong and Chamberlain were convicted and executed. Armstrong made a confession in which he said that Toke told him that he and Ballarat Harry were felling a tree on the Haunted Stream and Toke came behind Harry and split his skull with the axe. He afterwards burned the body to ashes in the fire that was found by the search party. The police could not act on Armstrong's confession, because it was the confession of a convict on the point of execution, and so Toke escaped altogether. At this same assizes was tried a woman named Mary Connor, an Irishwoman from Dublin, on a charge of murdering her illegitimate child, a little boy between four and five years' old. It was said that she held the child’s head under water until it wad drowned. The evidence was purely circumstantial and she was acquitted. Toke met her as she was leaving the gaol and persuaded her to go with him, and she lived with him in his shanty on the Gibbo Creek. In the winter of 1860 I was travelling up the Mitta Mitta. I left a survey camp and had twenty-five miles to go to get to Toke's place. After ten, miles I came to the crossing. There was a lot of water in the river, but I got a stout stick and felt my way across. At one place the water was up to my armpits and ran very strong, but I got across alright, but soaking wet. I then, climbed Mount Gibbo for twelve miles and went three miles down the other aide. The latter part of the descent was very steep and slippery, being a chocolate coloured soil. I placed a stick between my legs and slid down. I went with great velocity and shot head first into the Gibbo Creek below. I got a ducking, but as the water was only knee deep, I soon got out and. dripping as I was, presented myself to Tom Toke and his lady, Mary Connor. I asked to be allowed to sleep in an outhouse, which was granted. All the food I had was some flour and sugar in a little billy. This was in a state of pulp, but picking the paper out I succeeded in boiling it and making some sort of porridge. It was midwinter, and the night was bitterly cold. I spread my wet blankets on the earthen floor of the outhouse and tried to sleep. About nine o'clock Tom opened his door and came over to me. " Here," he said, "come in and I will give you somewhere better than that to sleep in." I followed him in and he gave me a nice bunk with, plenty of warm blankets, and took my wet blankets and clothes and hung them up to dry in the chimney. In the morning they were quite dry and I put them on, feeling very comfortable indeed. Tom gave me a big chunk of bread for my breakfast, but nothing else. I made Billy Pender's that night and had a good feed of beefsteaks and onions and damper, and the next morning, left for Omeo, which I reached safely. There was nothing of the French Countess about Mary Connor, I can assure you. She was just a strapping low-class Irishwoman with a very red face, corse and bloated, when I saw her. 
That's all my tale, and I! can assure you it is all true from beginning to end.—l am. sir. Ac..

Newspaper article taken from the,
The Queenslander 1909  


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Post  Rustydog on Sat Jul 30, 2011 7:29 pm

where do you get this stuff from james , very good reading
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Post  Hoffs Gold on Fri Oct 21, 2011 5:00 pm

Great read mate, I love this stuff thanks!
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Post  Guest on Mon Nov 07, 2011 5:36 pm

R/D, Hoff yep there a good read indeed. glade you enjoyed. cheers cheers


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