Advantages of an in-depth history

This project very consciously limits its scope to the Williams River Valley, and even then largely to the stretch from its headwaters beneath the Barringtons to Clarence Town. This is only about 60 kms or so of a valley that is perhaps 10 kms wide at its narrowest points and much less for most of its length. Even today, with its population at perhaps 3,000 people the highest it has ever been, is not large. So why devote so much historical effort to such a small local area?

The advantage of such a narrow focus is that a great deal of historical depth can be achieved. The constant shifting of evidence and sources relevant to this limited area constantly yields surprisingly fruitful results. As well, this in-depth approach throws up an amazing number of questions across a very broad range to be asked and gradually answered.

Surprising results:

  • Dungog – the name of the major town on the Williams River since 1833 and of a police district for much of the 19th century – is an unusual word that as more and more material becomes digital and so subject to powerful search engines gives great advantages in sifting out small contributions to the research.
  • One such example was the discovery of the little known first letterbook in a series of Dungog Magistrates Letterbooks running from 1834 until 1851. This very underused resource is held in the NSW State Archives whose holding only begins in 1839. The discovery that a mislabeled Dungog ‘Police Office’ Letterbook held by the National Library was in fact the first in this valuable series greatly adds to our historical knowledge.

Questions thrown up:

5 thoughts on “Advantages of an in-depth history

  1. Hello,
    have found your website very interesting, as I hope to come and stay in Dungog early next year. I am researching the death of my great grand mother, Emma Laura Berry, and looking for her living descendants. It was a very sad tale. St Leonards is listed as their home, so hoped you might have some information on this , warm regards Alannah

  2. Hello Alannah – Thanks for the comments. A sad story indeed. I don’t know any details myself but there are many Berry’s and Nash’s still in the Dungog area. Have you visited the grave at Thalaba? The Dungog Historical Society many be able to help. Good luck with your research. Michael

  3. Hello Michael, finally made the trek. Beautiful town, still in recovery. More green, hilly than I thought, for some reason always had images of dust and dry. To write this story I needed to be in the space. Found the Thalaba cemetery, sadly Emma wasn’t worth a headstone, but her story will come.

  4. My ancestor John Cornell of William River was sent to Pinchgut Island in 1840 for allowing himself to be bailed up by Bush rangers.
    I would like to find out more about him and about that event.
    He gained his Ticket if Leave in 1844.

  5. Hi Michael, I’ve recently visited Dungog and travelled up to the site of John Lord’s Underbank Estate, later the first prize in the first-ever NSW Government lottery won by a struggling settler at Bolwarra, Angus McDonald in 1849 whose partner was my great-aunt, Catherine McKinnon. Angus died in a horse accident a few months later and the property passed to his son who was too young to manage the property so it was managed for a time by Catherine’s brothers, John and Angus – until Catherine married Thomas Ballard about 1854. Catherine’s son Angus later managed the property but it passed into other hands in the 1870s and, more recently, parts of the original run have returned to McDonald descendants. This is a fascinating story in the Upper Williams catchment and Christopher McDonald, who manages the dairy opposite Fulton Lookout and his father Malcolm and mother Anne, who live in Dungog, would be ideal contacts to ‘flesh out’ this story. I’d also be willing to help if appropriate. Catherine was my great-aunt. John Nolan, Brisbane.

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