John Julian is a historical biography of an early pioneering farmer, John Julian, who married a young Elizabeth Keast in 1843. Soon after the wedding the couple left the green fields of Cornwall they knew so well to start a new life on the other side of the world - in Australia. John was twenty six years old, and Elizabeth only twenty three. At first they travelled to Sydney, and found work on a farm. A year later they sailed up the coast with a baby in Elizabeth’s arms to the Macleay River. In the late 1840’s the Macleay River was a dangerous, remote outpost where contracted farm workers lived and worked alongside convicts, and all survived on meagre rations given out by the squatter. Survival depended on being as self-sufficient as possible.
During the long voyage one adult died. As was the custom, the body was wrapped in a hammock or sheet, some weights placed inside, and the cloth sewed together as a shroud. With the body placed on a timber plank on deck, the surgeon assembled all the crew and passengers together; the captain read a moving funeral service; then the timber plank was raised by the crew, allowing the body to slide overboard, ‘committed to the deep’.10
Fortunately, sailing times had progressed rapidly since the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay back in 1788. The First Fleet took 252 days to make the voyage from England to Botany Bay. Fifty-five years later, The WilliamMetcalfe made the same voyage in just 119 days, less than half the time, but four months is a long time to endure such hardships. It is likely that after all this time, those people who brought with them extra luxuries such as gingerbread biscuits would have to keep a sharp eye on their belongings: hunger can make the nicest people change.
It must have been with immense relief that John and Elizabeth, along with all the others on board, heard the noise of the anchor chain clattering away followed by the splash of the main anchor dropping into Sydney Harbour. Finally, at last, the ship was comparatively still. The date was the 13th of March 1844, a sunny autumn day. The sight of Sydney, in full view from the deck, with sandstone buildings and laid-out streets just like any English town, must have been a welcome sight. The strange gum trees were common, and many boats dotted the harbour, gliding along with a sense of purpose. It must have been reassuring to see, in the distance, the Union Jack flying on a flagpole, signifying this was a friendly location, not a foreign country at war with England. With the shore in sight, not far away, it must have been frustrating to learn they were not going ashore immediately. As John and Elizabeth were Assisted Immigrants, it was necessary to have a complete muster by officials of the colony. There is an advert in the Sydney newspaper:
Shipping Intelligence – Arrivals.
The ship William Metcalfe, of 448 tons, Phillipson, master, from Gravesend the 4th, Plymouth 16th, Cork 24th November, with merchandise and 248 bounty immigrants.11
The threat from a roaming gang of Aboriginals was again in the spotlight, as reported in the Empire newspaper:
Not many weeks since, the aboriginals were, twice in one week, discovered killing cattle, only six miles from the populated township of Frederickton; and their depredations on the corn, pumpkins, and potatoes of the agriculturists are of frequent occurrence, besides their going to the huts in the absence of the males, and bouncing females out of tobacco and rations.41
The reference to ‘the agriculturists’, of course, refers to the tenant farmers of the district, including the Julian and Keast families. Was Elizabeth the victim of one of their visits? We will never know
… the day was the hottest in the 60 years since the first house was built at the Rocks by one Forsyth … So I sat me down in the shade of the flourishing pine trees planted 22 ½ years ago by the trustees of that time, now sleeping their long sleep, all but one, Mr. Joseph Julian … I wended my way a little further north … there I was introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Burton, 85 and 87 respectively, from Attunga via Tamworth, their first time in bathing costumes, two worthy old timers who enjoyed their holiday to South West Rocks, riding the breakers with the best of them … At last with regrets I turned to the up-river road, leaving behind me a scene of sweetest charm.133
The following applies to Joe Julian perfectly:
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.
– Greek proverb.
Joseph George Julian (The Third) NX47715
Joseph’s military record has a bold word ‘MISSING’ for the 17th April 1942, followed by another chilling phrase for the 2nd June, 1942:
‘PRISONER OF WAR’.
Joseph suffered for more than three horrendous years at the hands of the sadistic Japanese forces, suffering beatings and hard manual labour. Food was scarce, and progressively reduced over time. Food was reduced even further in 1945, to starvation levels, and the death toll of prisoners soared. By the time of the Japanese surrender, only 123 of the 532 Australians who were at Ambon in late 1942 were still alive. Joseph Julian was one. Japan surrendered on the 14th August 1945. After Allied forces arrived on Ambon, the sadistic Japanese camp manager, Ikeuchi Masakiyo, was arrested, tried, and convicted of war crimes. He was eventually executed.182
It was not until the 12th of September 1945, when Joseph Julian was ‘recovered from the Japanese’ at Ambon Town, that he at last found relief. His record states for the 4th January 1946:
AMF discharged … at own request on compassionate grounds.
Suddenly Joseph found himself at Sydney’s busy Central Station, waiting for the north-coast train to Kempsey. At the country terminal, black smoke rose here and there from the funnels of steam engines; an occasional hiss could be heard as pressure was let off; firemen shovelled coal into hungry fireboxes. Every so often a shrill whistle echoed throughout the terminal, as drivers warned of their impending departure. All around him were healthy, happy people, going about their business as if the war had never happened. Joe’s memory was strong, with vivid pictures of friends who died close to him at the prison camp, and fightsover small scraps of food. When he finally arrived at Kempsey station, he was a thin shell of the healthy lad, full of excitement, who had enlisted just a few years before. When the deplorable plight of the Australian prisoners at the hands of the Japanese became more widely known, some criticism was levelled at the Military Command. There were accusations that the Australian prisoners of war could have been rescued many months before, but the command was totally fixated with the defeat of the Japanese forces.