Chapter 12 - George Thomas & Elizabeth Hunt
The second-eldest son of Richard and Lydia Hunt was George Thomas. He was my Great-grandfather. He was born on 2nd July 1823 in George Street, Parramatta and baptised at St Johns Church, Parramatta on 9th November the same year. He attended Mr. Bradley's School at Parramatta, leaving at fifteen years of age and then embarking on a fruit-growing venture at Dural. He there met Elizabeth Williams and led her to the altar on 26th April 1842 when he was eighteen years old and she was sixteen, Elizabeth having been born on 26th November 1825.
George and Betsy (as Elizabeth was apparently known) lived at Dural for many years after their marriage where they became well-known for their hospitality. It has already been mentioned that George's Uncle William lived with them, but apparently in a separate cottage. Much of their hospitality seems to have been associated with their Church affiliations. It is recorded that his religious conversion took place when he was young and that it was sound and definite, shaping and colouring his whole life. George had early associations with the Wesleyan Methodist cause at Parramatta, dating from the times of Samuel Leigh, where George had been Sunday School Superintendent and was active in many other ways. He continued this association after moving to Dural where the early Congregation of the Wesleyans is said to have initially met in his home. George later testified that he was personally influenced by Rev William Schofield who was in his second term as minister at Parramatta and who preached at Dural from time to time. It was Rev Schofield who reported in 1846 that the congregation at Dural had erected in a fortnight a temporary Wesleyan Chapel to seat about 75 people. The chapel was erected at Dural on a piece of land leased from George and Elizabeth and was opened on 7th July 1846 by Rev Walter Lawry. The land on which the present Dural Uniting Church (previously Methodist) stands was part of 80 acres granted to Joseph Pye on 30th June 1823, acquired by John Dale in 1827 and 50 acres of which were sold by David Dale to G.T.Hunt in 1868. The Church allotment was conveyed by indentured deed of gift dated 8th July 1878 to the Trustees of the Dural Methodist Church, “designated a Church site forever.” In spite of this designation, I found during a recent visit to Dural that the Church with its adjoining old and new “Parsonages” are not in use any longer. Because of the difficulties of noise, traffic access, parking and current changes in residential aspects of the area, the site has been sold and a new property purchased in School Road, Galston, two to three kilometres north of the old Church site. Plans are about to be prepared for the development of the new site and in the meantime the congregation is sharing the Seventh Day Adventist Church-a convenient arrangement as the Adventists use it on Saturdays and the Uniting Church on Sundays!
Elizabeth (Betsy) laboured as a Sunday School Teacher in the original church and the one that replaced it on the new site. A paragraph in “The Methodist” newspaper dated 13th September 1902, following the death of Elizabeth reads: “Ministers and Local Preachers who were accustomed to visit Dural in years gone by will not have forgotten Mrs G.T. Hunt or the home of Mr. & Mrs. G.T. Hunt and the heartiness with which they were always welcomed. They were instrumental in establishing Methodist Services at Dural and for some considerable time Mrs Hunt taught in the Sabbath School. From the time of their removal to Parramatta their place in the Church at Dural has been worthily filled by their son and his wife, Mr. & Mrs. J.C. Hunt.” In the list of Local (Lay) Preachers of the Methodist Circuit, the name of George Thomas Hunt is included. In the pulpit of the Dural Church there is a chair inscribed to his memory. For some years George Thomas was Sunday School Superintendent at Parramatta and possibly also at Dural.
The six sons and two daughters of George and Betsy were all born at Dural. George apparently believed in a good education for his family. One of the sons, Richard, attended The Kings School for a while and at least three of them were pupils at Newington College. I have before me as I write a copy of the “Wesleyan Collegiate Institution, Newington, Class List, December 1872.” In the Prize List the names of R. Hunt and T. Hunt appear as having passed the University Examinations. In the Class Lists J. Hunt is also named under the classes for Latin, English Grammar, Euclid, Arithmetic/Mensuration, Algebra, English History and Geography. In the “Final School Order” R. Hunt came second, T. Hunt sixth and J. Hunt fifteenth out of twenty-three in the “First Division”. At that time Richard Hunt would have been 20, Thomas 18 and John 16 years of age. Mature age students were apparently not uncommon in those days.
At the time these boys were at Newington College their father became interested in diversifying from fruit-growing to pastoral pursuits and started a grazing business in 1868 by acquiring a property known as “Obella” at Obley, a rural community on the Little River, a tributary of the Macquarie River. Obley lies almost in the centre of the square formed by Dubbo to the North, Peak Hill to the West, Wellington to the East and Molong to the South. Five years later, in 1873, George, with his younger brother Thomas and another partner, a Mr. Crawford, formed a partnership, Hunt & Co and took up a property called “Burdenda” on the Bogan River between Tottenham to the south-west, Nevertire to the north-east and Nyngan to the north. In the Sand's Directories of later years both “Obella” and “Burdenda” are listed as belonging to Hunt Bros who are described as “Squatters”, and appears to have originally been a partnership of George and Thomas, the other partner having been bought out. In 1904, after their parent's death, six of the children of George Thomas Hunt converted the business into Hunt Bros Pty Ltd, (later changed to Hunt Bros Ltd). In this company the sale and transfer of shares have been restricted to members of the family. The original shareholders were George Henry Hunt, Richard Hunt, Thomas Hunt, John Charles Hunt, Lydia Ann Hunt (later Mrs Sides), and Elizabeth Golledge (also her husband Alfred Golledge, who acted as Company Secretary.) This company is still operating and Burdenda Station is the main asset.
In the early 1880s George Thomas Hunt retired to Parramatta, the management of the sheep stations being left to his sons Richard and Thomas and the Dural property to another son, John Charles. At first George and Betsy, with their daughter Lydia (who was at that time still unmarried) lived in a cottage that still stands on the north side of Victoria Road, Parramatta next to the St Patrick's School of the Sisters of Mercy between Church and O'Connell Streets. At that time the street now known as Victoria Road was called Pennant Street. In about 1889 they moved to “Currawong” on the south-western corner of Harrold and Sorrell Streets, North Parramatta. (The spelling of Harrold Street was later changed to “Harold”.)
During all these activities George Thomas Hunt and his wife, Elizabeth were active in public affairs, particularly those associated with Parramatta. He was a Justice of the Peace and for years took part in the work to be done at the Parramatta Police Court. He was also a member of the Parramatta School Board and a member of the committee of Newington College. He had connections with the Parramatta District Hospital and the Benevolent Society, and his association with the Wesleyan Methodist Church led him into high administrative positions.
From newspaper reports of the building of the new Wesleyan Methodist Church in Macquarie Street, Parramatta, later to become known as the Leigh Memorial Church, we learn that Elizabeth was chosen to lay one of the four “Memorial Stones”. This ceremony took place on 6th February 1884, just over a century ago. The other three were Sir Wigram Allen, a very prominent Methodist; Mrs. Schofield, widow of the former Wesleyan Minister at Parramatta, who has already been mentioned; and the Honourable James Byrnes also mentioned earlier, a prominent business man of Parramatta, proprietor of the Byrnes flour and textile mills on the banks of the Parramatta River (which, together with the twin towers of St Johns Church, feature in so many of the early illustrations of Parramatta), an ex-alderman and mayor of Parramatta, a retired Member of Parliament and, you will recall, the brother-in-law of Richard Hunt, both having married a daughter of the Barber family. That would mean that he was an uncle (by marriage) of George and Elizabeth Hunt. In 1884 Mr. Byrnes would have been 91 or 92 years old. The report goes on to say, “The Honourable James Byrnes was perhaps the oldest of all the members, had been a witness of the whole history of Methodism in Australia and had ever taken a deep interest in the affairs of the Methodist cause.”
The address given by Mr. Byrnes prior to laying the stone contained a number of fascinating recollections including the fact that he had been associated with Methodism since the first Wesleyan Minister, Rev Samuel Leigh arrived in the Colony. He said that Mr. Leigh's Circuit was the County of Cumberland and he worked it well. He went on to say that Mr. Lawry came out a short time afterwards and was the first Wesleyan Minister stationed in Parramatta, that the first place of Wesleyan worship was a room at Mr. Hassall's, the next St Johns schoolroom, then a cottage in George Street, the next a building specially erected by Mr. Lawry at his own cost and which stood almost on the site of the present Church (which was to become the Macquarie Hall after the new church was occupied.) He commented on “how Methodism had grown since the days of Leigh and Lawry and is now found all over the colony.” (Sir Wigram Allen in an earlier address had drawn attention to the fact, “which hardly needed stating,” that Mrs Hunt, one of his co-stonelayers, was a prominent member of the Parramatta Church and the wife of one of its leading officers.) Mr Byrnes then concluded his remarks by also noting Mr. Hunt's connection with the Church in Parramatta and the valuable services rendered by that gentleman's father, Mr. Richard Hunt, to the Wesleyan cause in the town and the conduct of church affairs. He, Mr Byrnes, was glad to find that Mr. G.T. Hunt followed in his father's footsteps. Mr. Byrnes then laid the stone in the usual manner and each of the stone-layers were presented with an inscribed silver trowel and a myall wood mallet.
After some more addresses “an excellent tea was provided in the Town Hall” after which a public meeting was held and Mr. George Hunt “was desired to take the chair in the absence of the President, Rev Joseph H. Fletcher who was indisposed.” Mr. Hunt, in accepting the position, expressed regret at the delicate state of Mr. Fletcher's health but knew that his interest in Parramatta was still vigorous. For himself, he (Mr. Hunt), was-with the exception of Mr. Byrnes-perhaps the oldest member of the Parramatta Church. He then noticed the part his wife had taken that day and spoke in glowing terms of her work. He also spoke of the late Rev Mr Schofield, a Wesleyan Minister who had laboured for many years in the Parramatta Circuit and whose widow was one of those who had laid a stone earlier in the day. It was through the ministrations of Mr. Schofield that he, Mr Hunt, had been led to rejoin the Wesleyan Church. Mr. G.T. Hunt then went on to say that he had “always wished to do the most prominent part of the erection of the new church but had lately `through strange dispensation of providence' been interfered with in his design and had suffered considerable loss of property”. He trusted “that the new church would be a blessing indeed and that God's glory would fill it”. To him, that day had been “one of pride and honour and he felt that he should ever take an interest in the work of God.”
I have no idea what were the circumstances leading to George Hunt's “rejoining the Wesleyan Church,” but it may have been quite early in his life, perhaps after moving to Dural from Parramatta when Rev Mr. Schofield was in his second term as Superintendent Minister of the Parramatta Circuit. The loss of property that George Hunt referred to was no doubt the effects of the economic depression that occurred in Australia in the mid 1880s. The prices of Australian products in Europe began to fall and the woolgrowers found themselves pinched for money. This recession continued until the mid-1890s, with the shearers' strike in 1890 (after the station owners had tried to reduce their wages) and a series of bad seasons with consequent loss of sheep. Conditions slowly improved until, by the turn of the century Australia was again enjoying prosperity. But great difficulty was experienced by the Parramatta Methodists in the years ahead because of the huge debt they incurred in building their new Church, the high interest rates and the inability of the congregation to contribute with the generosity the Trustees had expected when entering upon the project. The debt continued to be a burden for the next seventy years.
The memorial stone-laying ceremony was in February 1884. George Thomas Hunt was blessed with another fifteen years and six months, living until he was 76 years old, but passing away on 19th August 1899. Elizabeth lived longer and saw the twentieth century in by living until 10th June 1902 when she was getting on for 77.
In the tribute from the pulpit of Leigh Memorial Church by Rev J.E. Carruthers at the funeral of George T. Hunt he said, “For over fifty years he was a member of this Church. For nearly the same period he was one of its esteemed local preachers. For nearly five-and-twenty years he held the important office of Circuit Steward, and by the election of his brethren he represented our Church both in the Annual Conference of New South Wales and the General Conference of Australasian Methodism, and it is only just praise on this occasion to say that in all these offices he commended himself well and earned a good degree.”
The following also appeared in the 26th August edition of The Methodist: “On Saturday evening last, after a prolonged illness Mr. G. T. Hunt of Parramatta passed away. On Monday afternoon the funeral took place and was very largely attended. An impressive service was held in the Parramatta Church conducted by Rev. J.E. Carruthers, assisted by Rev. E.J. Rodd, ex-President W.H. Beale of Ryde, Rev. J. Woolnough, and Rev C.J. Prescott of Burwood. Rev W.J. Davis was also present.” There was also a lengthy article in “The Argus” newspaper which includes this eulogy: “In short, he was a valued colonist of sterling character, though of unobtrusive habits, whose good influence is reflected in the respect felt for his family by all classes, and the high standing the members of that family occupy by reason of their own personal attributes of character. The colony will be fortunate if it is ever able to command such influence as his in connection with the lives of its leading men.”
After George's death Elizabeth lived on at “Currawong” until she too died, after which their seventh child, Lydia remained in residence until she married a widower, Mr. George Sides. The residence was then taken over in 1905 or 1906 by George and Betsy's sixth child, John Charles who had, until then lived at Dural. He, of course, was my Grandfather, about whom I shall have more to say later on.