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On Roads Most Travelled: an Irish-Australian Historical Novel

On Roads Most Travelled: an Irish-Australian Historical Novel

Автором narelle fernance

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On Roads Most Travelled: an Irish-Australian Historical Novel

Автором narelle fernance

289 pages
4 hours
Apr 13, 2016


This is a story of humour, struggle and determination to overcome adversity, as it may have been told by Annie. The writer bases Annie’s memories on known and officially recorded facts surrounding the Slavien and Reilly family. The story covers the period of the early Nineteenth Century when Annie’s parents lived in Connemara, Ireland and Ned Reilly’s family were in Tyrone, Ireland. The story then continues on through the latter Nineteenth Century in Australia where Annie and Ned marry, travel through the bush to settle in northern New South Wales and raise their family of ten children.
Some dates and places recorded in official records in the early Nineteenth Century are vague and vary according to version of recorded history. Therefore, the writer has taken liberties for the purposes of the telling of the story. The writer’s mother, Florence May Allen (nee Bender), has provided other information that has been passed down from family members. The story is based on these sources and is written, not only for the entertainment and enjoyment of all, but to inform and bring to life the characters mentioned in the writer’s ancestral family tree, to be left as a legacy for generations to follow.
The names of the Slavien and Reilly family are factual, as are dates to the best ability of the writer. Most other characters are fictional, used only to assist the flow of the story. Events and happenings are based on researched fact of the times, or mentioned in Flo Allen’s memoirs and hearsay of her ancestral family.
The story is one of strength of character and determination demonstrated by the Slavien’s and Reillys as they faced the challenges of life in Ireland early Nineteenth Century. And perhaps just as challenging, life in the new colony of New South Wales, Australia. The story not only personifies the men folk’s ability to cope, but the strength, in particular, of the women that worked and stood alongside of their men.
The writer’s direct female ancestral line goes from Rosanna O’Mally, Rosa Slavien, Annie Reilly and Sarah Bender to Florence Allen, her late mother. This story acknowledges the physical hard work and endured challenges faced by all these ladies during their respective lifetimes.

Apr 13, 2016

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On Roads Most Travelled - narelle fernance


A Historical Novel


Narelle Fernance

Based On the Life and Times of Annie Slavien and Her Family

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return toSmashwords.com and purchase your own copy

Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Copyright 2016 by Narelle Fernance

Publisher's Cataloguing-in-Publication

Fernance, Narelle

On Roads Most Travelled – A Historical Novel

. - 1st ebook edition - Charleville, Qld.

Australia Mulga Mob Pub., ©2016

Audience: Adults and teenagers

Summary: A factional story of humour, struggle, strength of character and determination to overcome adversity; demonstrated by the Slavien’s and Reillys as they faced the challenges of life in Ireland early Nineteenth Century. And perhaps just as challenging, life in the new colony of New South Wales, Australia. Based on known and officially recorded facts surrounding the Slavien and Reilly family.

Cover Art: © Mulga Mob

Acknowledgements to Irish People for assistance during the author’s research time in Ireland

My thanks to the many wonderful Irish residents who made me welcome in Ireland and enthusiastically answered my many questions that were to assist me to understand what sort of life Annie and Ned’s people would have led in Ireland in the Nineteenth Century. Not only giving me information; they apparently organised beautiful warm sunny weather for my stay. Just one day was cold, windy and rainy – more the sort of weather I had been warned about in the western Ireland area!

In particular – The Newell family at Cooktown, Northern Ireland; Carmel Geoghegan, mine host of the lovely little Railway Lodge cottage rented for the three-week stay in Connemara. Also Carmel’s Papa, Paddy, an avid historian and Connemara pony breeder; John Joyce of Galway; Christine and the other lovely ladies at the Oughterard Tourist Information; Chris at the Oughterard Town Library; Helpful people in Clifden, Maan Cross, Maan Letterfrack, Leenaun, Cong, Roundstone and Cashel.

These folk helped me as I covered many kilometres walking or driving the little red car to look, listen and read all I could, in order to help me understand the Ireland of the Nineteenth Century.

I also acknowledge my daughter, Deanna Wilkinson, who travelled to Oughterard with me and saw me safely into the cottage and driving the little red car. We shared a wonderful week of experiences that helped inspire my research, before it was necessary or her to return to England.

A special acknowledgement for the young Irishman on the big green tractor pulling a very long, wide trailer on which he was about to load a large Cat ditch digger. He had obviously been using the digger, plus a bulldozer to drain, clear and rip a sizeable bog paddock fronting the road near Oughterard.

Our conversation went something like this.

G’day, how’re you goin’?’

Where’re you from?’

Australia - what are you going to plant in your paddock?’

Grass to feed sheep. You got any land – is it good land?’

Yes, about 100 acres, all good land.’

I’ve only got bog, but I’m doing my best with it. They reckon I won’t do any good, but I’m going to try. I’ve done it before’

Well, with your determination, mate, and the determination of your forefathers I reckon you will grow grass and raise prime sheep’.

This young man personified the determination of the Irish people in dealing with their many challenges, now and in the past.

And also acknowledgements to those in Australia who assisted me in my research

In particular:

My niece, Tanya Hayes who typed and organised my mother’s notes relating to her memories of the members of the Slavien, Reilly and Bender families. Tanya then proceeded with her own research into official records in relation to those families, thus providing me with an inspirational starting point to consider the possibility of writing this book.

My sister, Eulalie Hayes and brother, Ted Allen

My son, Steve Fernance and second daughter, Tam Tribe

Trish at Wollongong City Library

Michael Dwyer at St Francis Xavier’s Catholic Church, Wollongong

Ray Bush – Wollongong Historian

Brian Andrews – Hunter Valley Historian

Arnold Goode Nundle Historian

Clarence River Historical Society

Margaret Pocock – Clarence Valley historian

Kevin and Karen Fahey – the now owners of Reilly’s Selection

Nita Child – Clarence Valley historian

Grafton’s ‘Daily Examiner’ Newspaper – items reported therein from time to time used in happenings round Stockyard Creek during late 1800’s

I would also acknowledge that the bushranger, Thunderbolt references were sourced from the publication ‘Thunderbolt, Scourge of the Ranges’ written by G. James Hamilton with Barry Sinclair (Phoenix Press 2009).

Last but not least, my long suffering husband Bob Fernance, for taking part in intermittent research, discussions and challenges that the writing of this book presented over the seven years in the writing.

I am finding it hard to believe that this little book is at last ready to print. The research and writing has been a long time in the making. But as long as the journey has been, I have enjoyed every last part of the adventure. From the flight over to Ireland, time spent in the cottage while I researched – then back in Australia, the car trips to Wollongong, the Hunter Valley, Nundle, Uralla, Armidale and Nymboida. At home - extending my knowledge of the Clarence Valley where I have lived a lifetime, but previously had not delved into how it was for the folks during the Nineteenth Century as they lived their lives, day by day. As a wise man once said ‘It is not the journey, but the people you meet along the way’. Therefore, to all who contributed, including those who put up with having to listen to me wax lyrical about all the interesting things that I have discovered along the way – Thank You.

Narelle Fernance - October 2013

Annie Reilly nee Slavien

Chapter One

Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia - 1858

The scene was one of contentment. But there, under the big fig tree I, Annie Slavien, felt anything but content. As I pushed backwards and forwards on my younger sisters’ swing, I dreamt of what it might be like when, and even if, I met a strong, handsome young man. Of course this would probably be the dream of most young girls my age, since time immemorial.

At that time, there was no way that I could know the struggles that lay ahead for me. Different, but in another way, similar to that endured by my mother in far off Ireland - and later, when she arrived in the Australian colony – her husband in chains. The only real difference would be that I was to be living a life of my own volition.

But now, I, the innocent maiden, was conversing to no-one in particular. My mother, Rosa Slavien, who had been working in the little flower garden, had just gone inside to put lunch on the table.

‘That Ned fellow that Pa introduced me to this morning could almost be a contender’, I mused absentmindedly.

Early that morning I had been talking to my father, James Slavien, down by the front gate. The fencing men had arrived to continue work on the new fence on the western boundary of our selection.

‘Well, youse blokes certainly keep good time’, had approved Pa taking out his pocket watch and glancing at it before returning it to his coat pocket.

‘Gotta get started early to get plenty done before it gets too hot, Boss,’ the older man had replied. ‘My, but it’s going to be another corka of a day’.

‘That’s so, Joseph’ had replied Pa. ‘But I should be remembering my manners and introduce you to my oldest daughter, Annie. Annie this is Joseph Moran, his brother Paddy and the tall fellow is Ned Reilly’

I had acknowledged them all, but had particularly noted that ‘the tall fellow’, was also broad shouldered and had a flowing beard. His twinkling blue eyes had only met mine briefly, as he had quickly looked down to the ground, mumbling an acknowledgement. Clearly Ned was more at ease out in the paddock than around women.

‘Still’, I now continued talking to myself, ‘he did seem the sort of bloke who would be reliable and decent living’.

Thus dreaming, I pushed off again, gave myself a few good swings, jumped off and ran towards the house. Ma was calling me to help get the meal on the table for Pa, my three brothers, Tom, Jim and Frank, as well as my little sisters, Alice, Rosanna and Mary.

Tom was 20 years old, Jim 18, and Frank 12 – all worked on the property with father, while Alice was seven, Rosanna five and little Mary was just two. The Slaviens were a happy family, if a bit rambunctious. Like most of the families in the area, Ma and Pa had left Ireland during very difficult times and were now making a life in Australia. Also, like most Irish, each of the family had a pretty lively sense of humour which sometimes went awry, mostly to the amusement of all except Pa who did his best to keep members under some sort of control and demeanour. Ma did her best to train us girls, in particular, to have some decorum but Ma said that sometimes my tomboyish tendencies made it a difficult call. However, Ma acknowledged often that I had a good heart and tried to do the right thing.

‘Have you met that Ned Reilly fellow who’s working with the fencing men Ma?’ I asked, coming into the kitchen. I took the boiling kettle off the fire and began to make the tea.

‘Well, yes I have actually,’ replied Ma. ‘The first day they arrived Pa introduced me to the Moran brothers and Ned’.

‘I was introduced to him this morning and thought he looked rather nice. I really would like to get to know him a little better,’ I said as I dished up the shepherds’ pie onto each of the nine plates. Ma set the cups and saucers, then added bread and butter to the table.

‘Well, Pa could invite him to take tea on Saturday afternoon I guess,’ acknowledged Ma and then started to get a little concerned. ‘But you know Annie you are just sixteen. Surely you are not really interested in boys yet’. I smiled back at Ma, saying nothing to allay her fears.

I took no time to consider whether it would be a good idea or not. As soon as the family had seated themselves in their usual positions around the big pine table, I ventured straight in.

‘Pa, how about you invite that Ned Reilly fellow to tea on Saturday afternoon’.

‘Now why would I want to do that?’ replied father, eying me from beneath bushy eyebrows as he took a mouthful of shepherds’ pie, smothering an amused laugh. It seems he suspected he had detected more than a little interest from me that morning when he had introduced the fencers.

I ignored mother’s frown of concern directed at Pa and the excited giggles from my little sisters as they nudged each other.

‘Well I think it would be right neighbourly of us,’ I started. ‘He’s on his own and I reckon he would appreciate some cake instead of damper and dripping’.

‘I guess you could be right, daughter. I guess I could invite the man to take tea, there can’t be any harm in that!’


There was great excitement in the Slavien household. Father had thus invited Ned Reilly to take tea at our home on Saturday afternoon.

Joseph Moran, the leader of the fencing contractors was married to Elizabeth, Ned’s sister and it seemed that he and Paddy Moran had been watching Ned with amusement trying to conceal his interest in the oldest Miss Slavien. Also it seemed my siblings had noticed that I had been watching out for the arrival of the fencing gang each morning. More importantly, my parents were quite concerned when it was realised how keen I had been to have the young man invited to afternoon tea.

‘My, you are putting a lot of effort into the preparation of the table,’ said Ma, as she took in the starched tablecloth, matching china cups, saucers and plates – not to mention the vase of bush flowers. ‘We do seem to be trying to impress this young man, don’t we?’

Pa walked in pulling off his coat just as his wife was speaking. ‘Well what’s this then? Isn’t this young bloke just coming for a drink of tea,’ he said suspiciously, looking hard at me.

‘Well yes, and then again, no,’ I said cautiously. ‘He is coming to take tea, but since you, yourself, introduced me to him I thought it would be alright for us to get to know him better’

‘Ah hum, don’t you forget, daughter, that you are barely sixteen years old and there’s not going to be any shenanigans in my household.’

‘Yes father,’ I dutifully replied, ducking out to the fire to see if the water was boiling yet.

Ned rode up to the front gate on Flash, a tall bay gelding of which he was noticeably proud. He had worked long hours for the land owner who had given him the horse instead of cash. Ned was a good judge of horse flesh and the animal’s coat shone appropriate to its name.

‘Good afternoon Mr and Mrs Slavien, I trust you both are in good health’ Ned greeted my parents with respect. ‘`Afternoon Miss Savien,’ he mumbled, turning to me briefly, his confidence obviously having faded. In fact, he seemed a whole lot happier and more relaxed greeting my three brothers and three little sisters who stood, waiting on the veranda.

Ma welcomed the young man into our home and settled everyone down to afternoon tea – an unusually stilted affair, notwithstanding the muffled giggles of the three littlest Slaviens as they looked at Ned and then at me.

‘Oh for goodness sake, you children mind your manners,’ scolded Ma, offering the plate of dainty cakes to the visitor. ‘Annie baked these herself you know,’ she said, with a knowing look at the young man.

‘Well then, young fella,’ started Pa, as Ned took a cake, ‘so you are from the northern part of Ireland are you?’

‘Yes sir,’ replied Ned shifting a little bit uncomfortably in his chair. It appeared it was not to his liking to be the centre of attention, but, apparently, he thought it would be worth it to get to know us all better. I was to learn later than he was, in fact, thinking that I was a rather pretty little thing, and he would do whatever necessary to make a good impression.

‘Actually, I was born in Armagh, County Tyrone in 1829’, Ned continued. ‘My father, Edward Reilly worked as a groomsman at a stable that kept horses and carriages hired by rich folks when they came to town. My mother, Catherine Reilly took in washing. There was also my older sister, Elizabeth and we all lived in a small cottage there in Armagh’

‘My mother told me that when I was two years old my father, had been kicked in the head by a fractious horse that he had been harnessing to a carriage. The horse had always been a bit nervous and the men knew to take care when working with it, but that morning the beast was more fretful than usual and Papa didn’t move quickly enough to get out of its way. He suffered a deep cut in his temple and died where he lay on the cobble stoned entrance to the stable.’

‘How horrible,’ was the chorus from round the Slavien table as the family listened for the rest of the sad story.

‘Yes, Mama used to get very upset when she was telling me the story. She said that one of the other grooms came to our cottage to tell her. She remembered it was a dark night in the middle of a wet winter. When she opened the door she had expected it to be Papa, but the smile on her face went when she heard what the groom had to say. She was shocked – couldn’t believe the horror of it.

‘Arrangements were made for Papa’s funeral. Family friends, men that had worked with him as well as a representative of the owner of the stable had attended. It was a terrible day, from what my mother and sister have told me, over the years.

‘As time went on it had become very hard for my mother to manage the finances for the family, without Papa’s wage - small though it had been. She’d continued on with the washing, but with two small children she was unable to go out to look for other work. She missed my father terribly and I often heard her crying herself to sleep’.

‘Gee, it certainly would have been tough for her,’ agreed Ma.

Pa was nodding as well. ‘It would have been so cold and miserable in Ireland too, with the harsh winters, and all’

‘Yes, she was not a particularly strong woman. It was really tough on her – looking after us kids - as well as trying to earn enough to keep something on the table’.

I felt so sorry for Ned and was touched by the way he spoke of the grief his family had been through.

Ned continued, ‘Some months later while Mama was buying her few groceries, the store owner, an older bachelor, Shamus McNab, told her that he was sorry to hear about her husband’s death and not to be afraid to ask if there anything he could do to help her. I think she must have really appreciated Shamus’s concern, as in the months that followed the friendship between Shamus and Mama grew. They were married within the next year and Shamus accepted us kids as his own. Mama helped out in the store and the business was doing alright.

‘Later, Mama and Shamus had a son – Barney, and we all lived happily together. Elizabeth was helping out in the store too, as soon as she was old enough.

Ned looked at Pa and said, ‘When I was twelve years old I decided I had had enough of schooling and wanted to earn some money. I was able to get a job in the stable where Papa had been working when he was killed’.

‘Gee, you mustn’t been sure that that was a good idea, but I ‘spose at least you were earning a bit of cash’, Pa reflected.

‘I liked working with horses and there were no real ghosts there for me. I guess I was really too young to remember Papa being killed. Anyway I liked meeting the travellers arriving in the coaches. They had such tales to tell. But they brought bad news too.

‘About the time I started working at the stable, travellers coming through town had spoken of the number of people in the south of Ireland who were leaving Ireland and emigrating to America. Some were sailing for the colonies in Australia, but hundreds were leaving on ships for America. They were being forced off their land by the English landlords who wanted to get rid of the small time tenant farmers so that they could graze cattle – a much better commercial venture and a lot less trouble than the starving farmers.

‘There had been no recovery following the failure of the potato crop. The blight had been affecting potatoes since the fungus had spread to Ireland from America and Europe. The plants developed black blotches on the leaves which then shrivelled up. The potatoes under the ground went rotten with black muck in the middle. You couldn’t eat them. But then I guess you folks would have known that. You came from Galway didn’t you?’

‘Yes we were tenant farmers in County Connemara, so we knew all about the problems caused by the English landlords and the blight in the potato crop. But go ahead with your story – we haven’t really told these kids much about those bad old days,’ Pa encouraged the eager young man.

Ned glanced at me, but immediately looked down and took a mouthful of tea before continuing. ‘Normally Ireland’s potato crop fed the people most of the year, didn’t it? With a good supply of potatoes, and a little other to go with them, farmers were well fed.

‘But Ireland is a such a small country, isn’t it? The population was about eight million at the time. Far too many people. Most were small tenant farmers renting their land from British landlords. I heard that the farmers had been growing the horse potato, which, as it turned out, had the least resistance to the blight. Each year the blight had been taking a bigger percentage of the crop’.

Ned’s eyes began to mist as he continued relating the memory. ‘Travellers told me of horrific sights they had seen during the famine. Starving farmers had simply walked off their small blocks and wandered, seemingly aimlessly along the road. Their bodies had just lain in the ditch beside the road where they fell. Children’s bodies were covered in fine hair, the final stage of starvation’.

‘Yes, we well remember the Potato Famine, lad. It was particularly bad in the Connemara area. But I guess it was only one of our problems, eh Rosa’? said Papa taking Ma’s hand. They gave each other a rueful little smile.

Ned saw them exchange that look and hesitated a while before he continued. ‘Travellers did seem to think the effect had been worse further south. We, in the north were probably very lucky, or maybe the soil, or something, might have been the difference. Anyway the word was that a million Irish from down south had died due to the famine and that a further million had emigrated to Australia or America during those few years.’

‘The north may not have been affected quite as drastically, but life was getting much tougher there. Elizabeth and I, and the Morans did have work, but the wages were small. The ongoing political problems of the Irish Republicans fighting to establish home rule, were threatening to get worse. Irish farmers and business men wanted to own their own land and businesses, instead of being tenants to the English landlords. There was much intrigue and deceit, even in our small village!

‘Thus, when my sister announced that she wanted to marry Joseph Moran and that they were leaving for Australia - Joseph’s younger brother, Paddy and I decided to come with them. I was eighteen by then and thought it would be a great opportunity to try my luck in the new country. I said as much to Mama and Shamus and told them I had been saving what money I could. Unfortunately, I still didn’t have enough to pay the fare on the ship and the Morans were leaving the next month.

‘Thankfully, Shamus took me aside and said that he would stand me a couple of quid if I promised to look out for young Barney when he was old enough to take himself out to the colony. That way Barney would also stand a chance of a better future. He said that he would have been able to give me more help if his customers were paying their bills, but so many of them were doing it pretty tough. Shamus just couldn’t say ‘no’ to a woman wanting a bit of flour and sugar with five or six hungry young ones wailing round her skirts.

‘I was grateful to Shamus, He’d been like a real father to Elizabeth and me. Elizabeth had said it was really tough for Mamma and us after Papa was killed. We had been lucky I reckon, that Shamus had been there to look out for us. I know I wasn’t all that keen on going to school, but now I was starting to think I oughta have.

‘Mama said that it was a bit late to start thinking that way, but at least I knew my figures. She suggested that I ask if some of the men at work

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