John Pedley’s newspaper obituary described him as “quite a character, with a fine Roman head, and a splendid memory, which he retained almost to the last.”
This character was forged in the flames of transportation as a convict as a teenager, the harshness of frontier life, Aboriginal massacres and being kidnapped by bushrangers.
Aged 90, in 1895, Pedley visited Bathurst’s newspapers and told of his colourful life. Breaking into poetry as he told the stories, it is apparent he was an irrepressible character, and as verbally athletic as any modern-day rapper.
He said he came to the colony in 1821 from Middlesex as a 16-year-old named John Pedley Jones – left the country for the country’s good – as they said. In other words, as a convict.
He spoke to the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal…
‘What was I sent out for? Well, you knew I was great at what they called poaching, but it wasn’t for poachin’ exactly that I was transported. It was over a spade. We were going to dig out rabbits, you see, and although we had the ferrets, we wanted something to dig with and — well, I took a spade worth about 7d, and for that sevenpenny spade I got seven years.
After telling a bit more, he breaks into poetry
‘But I’ll give you a bit of poetry about that if you like. Oh, yes, I used to be pretty good in the poetry line — like this, you know : —
When first I left the old land in London
The voyage by sea I did boldly steer,
To new Port Jackson, that far destination,
That foreign station I at length drew near.
‘Pretty good, isn’t it ? But here’s some more : —
Hard was the place of confinement
That kept me from my heart’s delight,
Cold chains and strong irons around me,
And a plank for my pillow at night.
‘That’s better! yes, I know – it is, but don’t interrupt me — and on he went…
He appears to have been set to work on arrival, and talks about crossing the mountains to Bathurst several times in the days before a road was built.
“It was in 1822 I first crossed with the bullock dray with Gov’ment stores for the settlement. It wasn’t travelling like they’re used to now-a-days, I can tell you. The teams were in charge of soldiers, and it took us six weeks to go up and down, and even the bullocks wouldn’ face old Mount Victoria.
‘When I first came the blacks were very troublesome,’ the old man continued his story.
He tells of a massacre while he was working at Winburndale Creek, most likely part of what is now known at the Bathurst Uprising.
“They had just killed fourteen or fifteen whites, and there was a raid against them, in which I joined. We shot them down, hundreds of ’em, and buried ’em on the Winburndale in two or three graves, which they tell me are there yet ; but the king of the tribe escaped, although the Government offered a reward of £50 and a free pardon to any prisoner for his capture.
He may have been referring to Waradjari warrior Windradyne, whose fight for his lands and his people’s rights is a fascinating story.
Pedley was assigned to a magistrate in 1827 – perhaps this was when his seven years were up – and then transferred to General William Stewart at Mount Pleasant. This lucrative 3200 acres of land near Bathurst was a gift to the General for his role in helping oversee the response to the Aboriginal problem, as it was then seen.
Pedley lived at The Mount for the rest of his long life, but his excitement was not yet over.
While still a youngster, he says,
I was minding cattle and the bushrangers caught me and beat me, threatening to kill me, because they thought I had told the General where they were planted.
At the grand old age of 90, his stories were rambling and a time line of events was difficult to work out. However, as he left the newpaper offices, he declared, he was good for 100.
He died in hospital four years before that goal, a simple man whose life was shaped by the attitudes and events of the times.
Sources: Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904) Wednesday 5 June 1895 p 2 Article
National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954) Wednesday 28 August 1901 – Page 2
National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954) Wednesday 5 June 1895