In an earlier post I wrote about the involvement of brothers George and Joseph Launt in the “Fred Lowry” affair, for which they received 10-year gaol sentences. Whilst researching this story I became aware that Mary Jane Cain had been the initiator of a petition to the New South Wales Government seeking their early release.
It occurred to me that Mary’s husband, George William Cain, may have been related by marriage to the Launt family and that this may have been the reason for Mary Jane’s interest. George and Joseph’s sister, Eliza Launt, had married a Thomas Cain in 1861. At present I have no evidence of such a relationship.
Mary Jane Cain is a well known figure in colonial Aboriginal history, and you can read versions of her story at The Conversation and at Wikipedia. She also left a memoir which includes some personal history but is otherwise, as Marilyn Wood has stated, a pastoral history of north-western New South Wales.  You can read this at the State Library of NSW.
Mary Jane’s immediate ancestry is known and documented, her husband George’s less so. The story of his parentage and early years seems to have been mostly transmitted orally. During my research I came across a few facts that give some more context to the story, particularly about the timeline of the related McMaster, Watt and McGregor families and their properties. The McMasters are said to have adopted and employed George for most of his life, so I thought it worth recording these stray facts.
The terms “half-caste” and “Yellow George” are used only when quoting from historical documents, including Mary Jane’s memoir.
George is a significant figure to the Plains Clans of the Wonnarua people, as befits one born at Patrick Plains, and was named as an apical person in their native title claim filed in 2013.
George Cain’s Story
Mary Jane’s memoir contains this reference to George’s origins:
“After being there some years I went to Wetalabah to people who lived near McMasters by the name of McGregor who was also a cousin to the McMasters. I lived with those people until I married. It was Duncan McMaster’s stockman George Cain (known as Yellow George at that time.”
“Mr Watt having been an Hotelkeeper in Murrurundi which he sold out before joining parteners with Mr McMaster. They had no stock when they first settled on this place as my father Eugene Griffin always supplied them with beef. Duncan & John McMaster were their names. some time after Duncan McMaster & a halfcaste boy called yellow George who’s proper name was George Cain.”
The McMaster Family
In 1836, when George is said to have been born, Duncan McMaster was no more than 10 years old so that it may have been his parents, Hugh and Jane McMaster who took care of George. The McMasters arrived in Sydney as assisted immigrants on the ship “Brilliant” in January 1838.
Hugh was a 42-year old blacksmith from Argyllshire, and is described as “skillful and intelligent” in his immigration papers. Accompanying him were wife Jane, age 39 and 5 children ranging in age from 7 to 16 years. The children included Duncan, age 12 years and John, age 10 years.
What happened to them next is likely as described in The Colonist newspaper of 27 January 1838:
“Twenty-three families, however, remained in Sydney, unwilling to disperse, and earnestly desirous, to secure for themselves and their offspring the benefits of education and religious instruction by settling together. The heads of two of these families were accordingly commissioned, to proceed to Hunter’s River during the past week, as a deputation from their whole number, to spy out the land. The result of their examination of Mr. Eales land at the mouth of William’s River was unfavourable, for the reasons enumerated above, and they were induced to prefer a settlement higher up the Hunter, on Mr. Andrew Lang’s estate of Dunmore, situated between that river and the Patterson, near Maitland. They accordingly proceeded to their destination, to the number of thirty-two adult males, twenty-five females and forty-four children – in all 101 souls –on, Monday last, and arrived in excellent spirits the day following; the Government giving them a free passage up by the Sophia Jane steamer, and rations for two months. Each family is to have a small farm of from fifteen to twenty acres of alluvial land, of the first quality, and capable of producing any thing suitable to this climate.”
A newspaper report of a court case places Hugh McMaster in Paterson in 1843.  He died on 13 July 1868 at Weetalaba:
“McMASTER—July 13th, at Weetalaba, near Coolah, Hugh McMaster, Esq., formerly of Morven, Argyleshire, Scotland, 82 years, deeply regretted by a large circle of friends.” 
His son Duncan McMaster married Christiana Cox at Paterson on 16 December 1852 and died in Sydney on 19 March 1910:
“There died at Keira, Darling Point, on Saturday, Mr. Duncan McMaster, sen., one of the early pioneers of New South Wales. He was born at Morven, Scotland, in 1825, and at the age of fourteen came to New South Wales. Shortly after his arrival here he began farming and grazing pursuits, and retained his interests therein for some years. For the last 3 years Mr McMaster resided in Sydney in the house at which he died at Darling Point. He was one of the founders of the Co-operative Wool and Produce Company and a director of the Sydney Meat Company to within a few weeks of his death. Five of his family survive him, two sons and three daughters — Mr. John McMaster, of Binnia Downs; Mr. F. D. McMaster, of Dalkeith, Cassilis; Mrs. G. Hamilton, Sydney; Mrs. E. J. Lowe, Gulgong; and Mrs. D. McMaster, jun., of Oban, Coolah.” 
The other son, John McMaster, married Christina McIntyre at Shoalhaven Heads in 1856 and died in 1894:
“COONABARABRAN. (From the Watchman.)
THE townspeople received a shock on Tuesday by the receipt of a telegram conveying news of the death of Mr. John McMaster senr. of Weetalabah. We have no particulars, excepting that he died rather suddenly, and it was known that he had been suffering from a rather severe cold for about a week, but no serious consequences were anticipated. Mr. McMaster has, however, been suffering from an affection of the heart for a good many years, and it has been known that he might die suddenly. He was one of the earliest settlers in this district, and was known and respected far and wide for his liberal and large-hearted generosity, his unbounded hospitality, and his strong, far-seeing commonsense. He was one of a type of colonists who are rapidly passing away with the conditions which brought out all their best qualities, and he has had a large share in the welfare and progress of this portion of the colony Mr. McMaster has left a widow, a large family of sons and daughters, grown up, and most of them married and living in homes of their own.” 
The McGregor Family
Arriving with the McMaster family on the “Brilliant” in 1838 was Duncan McGregor, 15 years old, and described as “under the protection of Hugh McMaster his uncle”.
Duncan married Isabella McPherson in 1847 and died in 1915:
Death of Mr. Duncan McGregor
Mr. Duncan McGregor, one of the pioneers of the Hunter River district, died this morning at his residence, in Largs. A few days ago the deceased fell and broke his thigh, and death was due to the shock caused by the accident. A native of Argyllshire, Scotland, where he was born in the year 1820, he came to this State on January 26 (Anniversary Day), 1838. For a few years, he lived at Blairmore, near Aberdeen, and afterwards spent some time in New England. Then he went to reside in the Paterson district, and with the exception of a few years spent at Seaham, in the Williams River district, he lived the remainder of his long life in the Bolwarra district, having retired some two or three years ago, since which he had been living in Largs with his two daughters. He devoted himself principally to farming, and was widely known and deservedly respected throughout the district. He was one of the first elders of the Presbyterian Church at Hinton, and was an ardent churchman. His wife predeceased him eleven years ago. He is survived by a family of five, the sons being Mr. Angus McGregor, a shire councillor, and for several terms president of the Bolwarra Shire Council, and Mr. Duncan McGregor, of Grantham, Queensland, and the daughters, Mrs. Dalyell, of Gunoon, Clarence River, and the Misses Isabel and Christina McGregor, with whom he resided. 
The McGregor mentioned in Mary Jane’s account of her marriage to George Cain at Weetalabah in 1865 was probably Duncan but may also have been his 18-year old son Angus. Either way, it’s likely that whichever one it was acting as manager for the McMasters. And when Mary Jane in her memoir refers to the murder of Mary Ann McGregor (in 1877) it’s the daughter of Angus that she’s referring to. This murder took place near Angus’s selection “Hawthorn” at Ulamambri.
Angus McGregor died in 1932:
“Mr. Angus McGregor.
Mr. Angus McGregor, who died on Friday, was born near Morpeth in 1851, and was a member of one of the best-known pioneer families in the Hunter River district. His father, the late Duncan McGregor, was one of a group of Highland Scots settlers who sailed from Scotland in the ship Brilliant in 1838. He established himself in the Maitland district, and was closely associated with its development during his life of 95 years.
Mr. Angus McGregor was his eldest surviving son, and throughout his life was prominent in the agricultural community of the Hunter River Valley. For many years he was president of the Bolwarra Shire Council, and was a successful exhibitor at the local agricultural show and at the R.A.S. Show in Sydney. As a young man he spent some years in Sydney. He became a keen amateur cyclist in the days of old high bicycles. In 1891, although in his fortieth year, he established a record for a cycle ride from Brisbane to Sydney, and in 1892 established the first recognised record for a cycle ride from Sydney to Melbourne. Other long-distance records held by him were unbroken for many years. Cycling remained his favourite recreation, and, although he became an enthusiastic motorist in his 75th year, he never lost interest in this sport. His wife predeceased him by many years, and he is survived by a son and two daughters.” 
The Origin Mystery
There is a mismatch between the stated year of 1837 for George’s adoption at 9 months old by the McMasters, and their arrival in January 1838. This may just be a case of imperfect recollection however it does raise the possibility of another party being involved in George’s care between his “abandonment” and eventual fostering by the McMasters.
This could explain how George came to be given the surname of Cain, as over time, some Aboriginal people “acquired” English surnames through their association with particular white settlers. A quick check of convict records showed a number bearing the family name of Cain or its multiple variants in the Hunter Valley in the decade before George’s birth, and there were free settlers as well.
The standout amongst these is William Cain (Lord Melville, 1829) who obtained a ticket of leave in 1838 for the district of Patrick Plains. A brass finisher by trade he had been assigned to Catherine Sheridan and then James Hart at Maitland in 1832, and in 1837 to Samuel Clift at Patrick Plains. Clift was a former convict who became a prominent business man in Maitland but had wider interests including pastoral properties in the Breeza district.
The other puzzle presented by this period of George’s life is the mismatch between the claim that his parents were Aboriginal and his wife Mary Jane’s characterisation of him as “a halfcaste boy called yellow George”. If he was as she described him then one of his parents had to be white, or perhaps mixed race, although 1836 seems too early in the Hunter for a first generation mixed race person of Aboriginal descent to be having a child.
George is recorded in the 1901 census at Forked Mountain (Burrabeedee) near Coonabarabran with the initials “H.C” in the remarks column which probably means “half-caste” although it’s impossible to say whether George said this or the collector made their own assessment.
Given that the earliest acquisition of pastoral runs in County Bligh by the McMasters was in the late 1850s, it’s possible that they were at Paterson or thereabouts for about 20 years after their arrival and that George obtained any schooling and vocational training there.
There is, however, a reference to George being schooled at Murrurundi. This occurs in some reminiscences (or tall tales) by one Alfred Smith in 1909, including one titled “Entertaining Bushrangers Unawares” that tells of a supposed encounter with a member of Ben Hall’s gang. The mention in the story of the reward of £1000 offered for the capture of any member of Hall’s gang dates the story to between October 1863 and May 1865. Ben Hall and George Cain were about the same age and Ben is said to have received some schooling in Murrurundi where his parents lived. Also, when Duncan McMaster married in 1852 his abode was given as “Timor, Murrurundi”:
“Married. On the 16th December, by special license, at Paterson, by the Rev. Mr. Laughton, Mr. Duncan McMaster, of Timor, Murrurundi, to Miss Christiana Cox, eldest daughter of Mr. B. Cox, of Wollarobba, William River.” 
Earlier, in 1850, he was recorded at “Glengarry”, Pages River, also in the Murrurundi district.  His later business partner, David Watt, was also recorded at both “Timor” and “Glencoe, Murrurundi” in newspaper reports between 1851 and 1858. I should note here that the McMaster and Watt families were related, as David Watt had married Jane Anisa McMaster in 1843.
The story is too long to give in full but these are the relevant references to George Cain:
“One time I was delayed three days on Mr McMaster’s station, at Pine Ridge, through the Talbragar Creek being in flood, and while stuck up there was shepherding the sheep….
He had only gone about a quarter of an hour or so when Mr McMaster’s overseer, George Cain, came up and told me to be at the head station that night with the sheep. He said to me ‘ Why, Alf, you have had Ben Hall staying with you for a couple of days, so he tells me.’ I said I was not aware it was him, but I could see he knew a lot about them from what he told me. Mr Cain said ‘ I went to school with him in Murrurundi. There is a thousand pounds hanging to him, and I must get back and see if we cannot get him.’ He told me I ought to have got him, as he was sick. But how was I to know it was Ben Hall for certain? I tried to put it out of Mr Cain’s head but he reckoned if he could get him, he would have it. Anyhow, he never got Ben Hall, and I am quite satisfied I did not earn the thousand on his head, and I believe it would have done me no good, for he never interfered with me.”
Believe it or not, it’s a good story and you can read it in full at the Trove website.
The extent of the McMaster’s pastoral runs, on which George may have worked, is best shown by looking at the year 1866, the year after Mary Jane and George Cain married at Weetalabah. In that year partnerships in County Bligh between the McMasters and David Watt were dissolved.
One partnership was between David Watt and Hugh, Duncan and John McMaster. Watt took Mowabla, Narangarie, Lagoons (Talbragar) and Cookerbingle. Duncan and John McMaster took Greenbar Creek and Ulindar Creek.
Another partnership was between Watt and Duncan McMaster. Duncan and John McMaster took Honeysuckle, Weetalaba and Binnia. 
Of these, all except Weetalaba were properties sold in 3 lots by the estate of William Lawson in 1854.  However they were not sold then to the Watt-McMaster partnerships as in 1856 they were notified as having been transferred from Lawson’s estate to T. S. Mort.  David Watt can be placed at Ulindah by 1859  and this is likely the year the runs were acquired by the partnerships.
Weetalaba first appeared under Watt and McMaster ownership in early 1864. 
In 1862 Binnia and Honeysuckle were sold by Henry Bayly to Watt and the McMasters. 
Binnia and Weetalaba are the runs most mentioned in the Mary Jane and George Cain story. This is their later history:
“In 1868 the brothers purchased Rockgedgeil in the Liverpool Plains district from Andrew Loder. Later they dissolved the partnership.
John took Weetalabah and Rockgedgeil and in 1879 purchased Premer station from Charles Lawson. Then he acquired Bugaldie and Yerina in the Coonabarabran district. …
Duncan McMaster held Binnie Downs and Bundella stations in the Coolah district from 1859 to 1899, when his son John came into possession. At that period Binnia Downs (as it was then called) had an area of 40,000 acres.” 
The Other George William Cain
There exists a baptism index record for a George William Cain in 1836, the likely year of my subject’s birth. It’s the only birth or baptism for someone of that name in the NSW registry of births, deaths and marriages between 1800 and 1900, except for the birth of Mary Jane and George’s son in 1900.
One family history webpage warns that this baptism, which took place at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Sydney, does not relate to the George William who is the subject of this post. The index names the mother as Catherine but no father is named. Some researchers have inferred from this that the registration relates to a child of John Cain and Catherine Fogarty Hennessy who were certainly having children around this period. However John Cain was not the father in this instance.
The registration likely relates to an ex-nuptial child, as the family names of the mother (Catherine Cain) and father (William Davis) are different. The registrar showed the wisdom of Solomon and got around this by indexing the record under both George William Cain and George William Davis. I wonder which name he assumed in life?
Finale – George the Stockman
Given his characterisation as Duncan McMaster’s stockman, and with his many descendants, it seems appropriate to finish this post by quoting a stanza from David Campbell’s poem “The Stockman”. Campbell was a great-grandson of David Watt and Jane McMaster:
“I saw the stockman mount and ride,
across the mirage on the plain;
and still that timeless moment brought
fresh ripples to my brain;
it seemed in that distorting air
I saw his grandson sitting there.”
 Marilyn Wood, “Journey to Forked Mountain”, Aboriginal History, Volume 25, 2001, pp. 200-215
 Sydney Morning Herald, 11 July 1843, page 2
 The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Aug 1868, p.8
 The Maitland Mercury, 22 March 1910, p.4
 Dubbo Dispatch and Wellington Independent, 10 August 1894, page 3
 Maitland Daily Mercury, 10 August 1915, page 4
 The Maitland Daily Mercury, 30 Aug 1932,Page 4
 Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 18 December 1852, page 3
 Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 5 October 1850, page 1
 NSW Government Gazette, 8 Feb 1866 p. 403
 Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Sep 1854, p. 10
 NSW Government Gazette, 11 Feb 1866, p. 471
 Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 1 September 1859, p.
 Sydney Morning Herald, 21 February 1863, p. 8
 NSW Government Gazette, 22 Jan 1864, p. 163
 NSW Government Gazette, 18 July 1862, p. 1289
 Farmer and Settler, 16 September 1955, p. 17