William Brownlee born 1837-1827

An account of the life of William Brownlee who was one of the early pioneers of Bellingen.

William Brownlee - by Allan Brownlee, of Sydney Australia .

Thomas Brownlee, together with his brother William Brownlee, emigrated from County Armagh in 1864 disembarking at Sydney NSW. They were the children of John and Jane (Mulholland). At the time of writing I do not have much anecdotal detail on Thomas but as he partnered William during the early years I have a reasonable knowledge of conditions etc.

They journeyed to the Macleay river near the present town of Kempsey before moving on to the Bellinger river near Bellingen. Whilst in the Macleay area William met and married Mary Mcnally also from County Armagh.William and Mary walked the forty miles from the Macleay to the Bellinger river in two days. Due to the impenetrable scrub and presence of aborigines they followed the coastline. Mary said later, "I carried a crate of 6 fowls on my back, a bundle of clothes under one arm and food under the other". The brothers carried shotguns, tools etc.

On arrival they established a small clearing felling the trees with axes. A hut was built near the fast flowing river. The only means of communication was by river and in the early days all produce was transported to and from the nearest port in this manner. The land was ideal for dairying and maize (corn?) growing and dairying. I have not been able to establish at this time whether Thomas was with his brother and sister-in-law.

Records do show that Thomas was on a property near his brother soon afterwards. William and Mary had 11 children. Thomas married Mary Ellen Box at Kempsey (the nearest courthouse) in July 1874. They had 15 children. Mary Ellen was the daughter of William Box and Anne Charlton born in Hobart, Tasmania about 1855. Her parents were both convicts transported for crimes in England - William for "highway robbery" and Anne for stealing clothing. William Box was first sent to Norfolk Island, a penal colony 900 miles east of Sydney and later to the infamous PORT ARTHUR, Tasmania. William and Anne married in1855 after being given "ticket of leave" (a form of pardon). After some years in Tasmania, (William became a constable at Port Arthur) the family emigrated to NSW where Mary Ellen married Thomas Brownlee in 1874. An interesting sidelight to the last paragraph. On arrival at Kempsey William and Anne took great pains to hide their convict past. They were very successful and if it had not been for the voluminous records kept by the British and Colonial governments of the time unravelling the web could have been a genealogist's nightmare.

That briefly is my paternal ancestry. I must acknowledge Ian Brownlee for his book "The Brownlee Family" which gave some details concerning Thomas, William and Mary.

The following is William Brownlee's obituary extracted from THE BROWNLEE FAMILY by Allan Lindsay Arnold Brownlee, edited by Ian Edward Brownlee.

With the passing of Mr. William Brownlee at his home, Thora Road, another of the fast diminishing band of grand old pioneers, who blazed the trail on the Belligen River, has gone to his reward. The late Mr. Brownlee had reached the fine old age of 92, and his continuous association with the Bellingen dated back sixty-three years to 1864. Up to recent years he had enjoyed more or less vigorous health, but latterly he became indisposed, and for some time prior to death had been in indifferent health. Last week hid condition became worse and the end came peacefully on Thursday morning.

The remains were laid to rest in the Catholic Portion of the Bellingen Cemetery on Friday afternoon, when a large number of townspeople paid their last respects to one who had done so much for the welfare of the district in the early days. The Rev. Father Fitzpatrick conducted an impressive burial service, while Mr. Leo McNally attended to the funeral arrangements.

William Brownlee was a native of County Armagh, Ireland, and was one of two sons of the late Mr. and Mrs. J. Brownlee, of Ireland. He received his early education in the old land, but when he had reached the age of 29 the spirit of adventure prompted him to seek his fortune in Australia. With his brother (Thomas) he left Ireland in 1864, and the two disembarked at Sydney. They immediately set out for the Macleay River, and secured employment for some months, but in the same year he came on to the Bellingen River, and selected an area of land on Thora Road, which he held until his death. When he came to the Bellingen the place was little other than dense scrub. Communication with outside centres was uncertain and irregular, while to add to the trials and tribulations, the hundreds of aboriginals which inhabited the area were, at times, inclined to be decidedly hostile.

Undaunted. however, Mr. Brownlee, with other white settlers, proceeded with their tasks, and won out. In his work he was greatly assisted by his good wife, formerly a Miss Mary McNally.. Up to the time of his death, William was the oldest surviving member of Bellingen’s first band of settlers. He was a man of highest ideals and commanded the widest respect in every sphere of life. He is survived by a family of three daughters and five sons, in addition to his wife. The daughters are Mrs. R.J. Smith (Coffs Harbour), Mrs. J.J. Cooper (Bellingen) , Mrs. R. Foster (Bellingen), John (Spickett’s Creek), Hughie (Sydney) and Arthur (Bellingen). Two daughters, Mrs. Rigney and Mrs. Smith, and one son, Joseph, predeceased him. His only brother, Thomas Brownlee, also predeceased him eleven years earlier.

This obituary was supplied by Mr. James Brownlee, P.O. Box 43, Bellingen N.S.W. 2454 Australia. At the time of printing the name and date of the newspaper in which it appeared was unknown.

See also THE BROWNLEE FAMILY published by Brownlee Printing. Editor and Co Author: Ian Edward Brownlee and Author: Allan Lindsay Arnold Brownlee. ISBN O9588301 0 X. pages 207-213.

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