A baby born outside marriage hardly rates a mention in today’s society. It matters little should the parents barely even know each other, if they are in a de-facto relationship or even same sex but such was not the case up until only a few years ago.
Well, I don’t really know when the changes started to radiate through society but when my grandfather was born in 1887, his birth was seen as an absolute disgrace because his mother wasn’t married.
Young and Pregnant
Mary came from a small dairy-farming area called Tintenbar, near Alstonville in the New South Wales Northern Rivers. She came from a good family, well-known church people, highly respected in the district and, ………., she fell pregnant.
Was it consensual sex? Perhaps she was raped or at least forced and was too scared to say anything. Was she so innocent as to not know what was happening? We’ll never know.
So her parents, in order to save the family’s honour, sent her to a single mother’s home in Moruya, southern NSW, where she gave birth to a baby boy called William but for the rest of his life, was known only as Bill.
Bill was almost old enough to start school when her parents arranged a marriage for Mary in Lismore, not far from home. She married a widower who had a family and needed a house-keeper and as everyone knew in those days, a man and a woman could not live under the same roof unless they were married.
The marriage suited Mary’s parents, all appeared above-board and they lived happily ever after – apparently not. Mary was loved by her step-children, they all spoke very highly of her and Bill became close friends with at least two of the boys but there was ‘no issue’ (no children) born of the marriage and one can only guess it wasn’t a happy union.
But not part of the Family
My grandfather slept on the veranda. He had his meals separate from the family and he was frightened of his step-father. How do I know? I asked him once why, when he ate grapes, he would eat seed, stalk and all.
“So the boss wouldn’t find any evidence,” he said. The ‘boss’ being his step-father and when he and his brothers raided the fruit trees and were caught, they received a flogging. Bill wasn’t silly enough to be caught twice.
Facts are feint but after his twelfth birthday, Bill was made leave home. His step-father didn’t want the stigma of a bastard child around the family home. His mother though, said to be a wonderful Christian woman, had saved enough money from her house-keeping to allow him to buy a horse and cart and he made a living carting bananas from the hills around Alstonville and district to the port at Ballina.
He did various kinds of farm work and gained a reputation as an honest, hard-working and dependable lad. He saved enough money to buy a second horse sometime later because a story was passed down about this particular horse.
The Rogue Horse
Grandfather bought the horse for a good price. It was a cart horse, heavier than a riding horse and ideal for his purpose. He took the new horse to the blacksmith in Ballina. The blacksmith soon found out why Bill had purchased the horse for such a good price when, as soon as he lifted the front foot, the horse swung around and gave him a nasty bite on the rear-end.
Now blacksmiths in those days handled every type of horse imaginable and they knew how to deal with the rogues. In this case, he put the foot down and heated a shoe in the forge, went back and lifted the hoof again. As the horse swung it’s head around to bite again, mouth wide open, it met a red-hot piece of steel right where the farriers bum should have been. Grandfather said the horse never bit anyone ever again.
World War I
Around 1912, Bill bought 135-acres of sub-tropical timbered country at Deer Vale, about 20km from Dorrigo, NSW, and started clearing it. It was a slow process – no chainsaws in those days – and had all but 40-acres cleared when, in 1915, aged 28, he joined the army to take part in World War I.
His mother’s influence was strong and he became a Light Horse ambulance driver with a red cross on his shoulder. As a Christian he wanted to do his ‘bit’ for Australia but refused to carry a weapon. As a stretcher-bearer, he didn’t need to.
In October 1917, almost exactly 100 years ago, Bill drove his ambulance towards Beersheba in Palestine, to pick-up wounded men following the galloping Light Horsemen. He rode the front horse on the left. It was shot dead under him. The fall crushed his knee. He was hospitalised in Cairo and when he was fit enough, he worked as a wardsman for the duration and arrived home in 1919. He limped for the rest of his life.
Bill milked prize-winning stud Jersey cows at Deer Vale until 1959 when he suffered a stroke and died leaning on a gate while he waited for his cows to walk into the yard. He was 72-years-old.
Why have I written Bill’s story?
He had only two children, but nine grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren and I’ve lost count of the rest but among them are several pastors, a school chaplain, a prison chaplain, some missionaries and a host of Christian workers, all thanks to a man born out of wed-lock who refused to blame the world for his mistreatment, rather, thanked Jesus he was born-again.
John Skinner served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam then the Tasmanian Police before taking up the position of CEO of the Australian Rough Riders Association (professional rodeo based in Warwick Qld). Before retirement to his small farm, he was a photo-journalist for 25 years. He is married with 3 children and 6 grandchildren.
John Skinner's previous articles may be viewed at
John Skinner is a retired journalist who has written ten biographies on famous campdrafting competitors. He was an Australian infantry soldier wounded in Vietnam, served six years as a Police Officer, was CEO of the then Australian Rough Riders Assn (Pro-Rodeo based in Warwick, Qld). He and his wife Marion retired to a small farm 25km south of Warwick 20 years ago. They have three children and now seven grandchildren.