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Todhunter, Francis James (Frank) (1831–1904)

When the goal is reached, and the fortune is attained, then the past years spent in difficulty and trouble may be viewed with complacency, for it is as true now as ever it was that "All's well that ends well." Those who in the early times of settlement in this colony went out into the country parts, and there engaged in the struggle with nature to force her to yield the wealth which she so carefully guards, endured many trials which the present generation is not familiar with. It was not always those who were born in more northern latitudes that faced the rough life of the bush, but native born men were as prominent among the pioneer settlers. Of these none have done better work than the subject of this sketch.

Francis James Todhunter is a native of New South Wales, having been born in Sydney in 1831. His education was obtained at the Sydney College, the then leading scholastic establishment in Sydney. Here he remained for some years, but he did not continue his studies very late, as he determined to devote himself to a country life. In those days the same opportunities for a higher education were not obtainable in Australia, and life was much more rough than it is at present. Life in the bush meant exile from all forms of civilisation, and in these modern days of steam and railways spread over the country, we cannot easily understand how the early settlers were placed. Few of the ordinary comforts of life were obtainable out of the chief towns, and none of its luxuries. Indeed the life of the towns was not of a kind that would be endured nowadays by the average colonist. The black blot of felony was also deeply staining the fair land of Australia, and our shores were receiving day after day, shiploads of the scourings of the gaols of England. Society here was in danger, and from the mode in which people were forced to live, life was becoming harsh and brutalised. The convicts were looked upon as a class distinct from the settlers, and the former being foes to society were considered by the latter as hostile to themselves, so that an armed peace existed in the colony—and meanwhile the felon element was lowering the tone of all. However, this fortunately has passed away, and on the 19th June 1849 the last convicts landed in Sydney. The firm protest of the people of the colony against transportation had its effect upon the Home authorities. After leaving school Mr. Todhunter went on to the Merrowa Station, where he remained for twelve months, and there made his first acquaintance with bush life. He began then that career which has enabled him to feel that he has not failed, but that he has been one of those successful men who have helped to make Australia the great country that she is. After being a year at Merrowa he went to Belltrees, a station at the head of the Hunter River, and remained there for eighteen months, pursuing the everyday life of a station. While thus serving his apprenticeship to the business he had chosen, he managed to acquire a large and good knowledge of stock and their management, besides becoming intimately acquainted with the capabilities of the various descriptions of land upon which stock grazed. He thus qualified himself for the positions of manager which he subsequently held.

After leaving Belltrees he proceeded to the Namoi district, and for eighteen months worked for Mr. W. C. Wentworth at the wage of £18 per annum. This seems small compared with the wages of to-day, when an ordinary station hand has no difficulty in obtaining £1 sterling per week, with his board and lodgings. Leaving the Namoi he went to the Murrumbidgee, and for five years he there followed station life, taking what situations were available, and adding to his store of knowledge. He during that time became conversant with the peculiarities and resources of the southern part of the colony, and so was enabled to judge of the merits of different districts. Never losing sight of his old employer, he was engaged for several years as manager of the various stations owned by Messrs. Christy and Wentworth, and in that capacity had a wide field to work in. Five stations were under his control, and when their names are mentioned many of the readers of this life will recognise the responsibility and the importance of the work that Mr. Todhunter was called upon to perform. The names of the stations were "Hadenriges," "Narromine," "Gaunalgang," "Butterbone," and "Merangbone." These were all grazing properties, and besides many thousand sheep, carried 21,000 head of cattle. For five years he managed these estates, but in 1858 he purchased a station from his employers, consisting of 38,000 acres, upon which he depastured 12,000 sheep and 15 head of cattle, together with 20 horses. By thrift and hard work he was enabled thus to set up for himself, and begin an independent life, which he has managed to make successful also. The intelligence and skill which he has brought to bear upon his work, is proved by the fact that he is a very frequent prizetaker for cattle at the local shows. His stock is well-known as being of a superior strain, and is much sought after by the pastoralists around Warren.

Besides being largely interested in grazing, he has also given attention to fruit culture, having a good vineyard and an orchard, which produces good and rich crops of fruit. Mr. Todhunter married, in 1868, Miss Cornelia Prout, the daughter of a very old and respected resident of Sydney, and has a family of nine children. He still resides on his station, near Warren, and is one of those men who can look upon his present position with justifiable pride, having attained to it by his own unaided exertions, and through the energy and activity so characteristic of him. He is one of the oldest settlers in the district, having been on his present station for thirty years, so that he is one who can well judge of the requirements of the country. Although he is not a public man in any sense of the word, he holds matured and strong views in politics, and may be classed amongst those who consider that local industries should be encouraged, and saved from competition from outside, by the imposition of import duties upon those things that can be made within the colony.

Original Publication

  • Australian Men of Mark, vol 2, 1888, pp 284-86

Citation details

'Todhunter, Francis James (Frank) (1831–1904)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/todhunter-francis-james-frank-28850/text36228, accessed 7 December 2019.

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