Henry Curran – Gold Rush Storekeeper

At his death, my great-great-grandfather, Henry Curran (c.1814 -1866) was described as a storekeeper of the small town of Orange, New South Wales, Australia. He was more than this, however, as records point to his involvement in sheep grazing (1), inn keeping (2) and flour milling as well as storekeeping.

Henry had arrived in New South Wales in 1838 from County Down in Ireland.  His brother Hugh arrived 3 years later. A younger brother Thomas arrived in 1851, and a sister, Mary (Mrs Peter Hazard) in 1855.

According to one account:

“In 1853 Henry Curran … was a tenant farmer on the Gosling estate (then owned by William Lee) across the creek from “Bloomfield”. He was said to be an exemplary tenant, always paying his rent on time! During this time he was contracted by Joseph Moulder to take some horses to Adelaide. He later purchased 63 acres in the Gosling Creek/Springside area.” (Kerrin Cook, A history springs to mind: a history of the village of Spring Hill, New South Wales including the surrounding villages of Bloomfield, Gosling Creek, Huntley, Spring Terrace and Springside, Orange City Council c.2002, p. 116)

store
Henry Curran’s Store and Flour Mill, Summer Street Orange – 1870s (State Library of NSW)

The last 15 years or so of his life coincided with the Australian gold rush. Fortuitously, Orange was relatively close to the scene of some of the early gold discoveries. It’s likely that Henry’s modest prosperity arose from meeting the needs of some of the thousands of desperate gold miners who flocked to the Burrangong (later Lambing Flat then Young) and Lachlan (later Forbes) goldfields.

However his interest in the precious metal and its seekers led to a potentially catastrophic brush with the law.

The Wentworth Gold Theft Case

In 1857 Henry was charged, amongst others, with the theft of gold from the Wentworth Gold Mining Company. The contemporary reports make it clear that he was considered to have purchased the gold from the person charged with stealing it, one Henry Rembart, knowing it to be stolen.

On 7 August Henry and Thomas Dalton, a fellow Orange storekeeper, were committed at Orange for trial at the following Bathurst Assizes. The Empire of 17 August reported that Curran and Dalton “were forwarded to Bathurst gaol yesterday morning under the escort of Captain Battye and some of his patrol.”

On 24 September Rembart was convicted of the theft, and sentenced to 2 year’s hard labour in Parramatta gaol. On the following day Thomas Dalton stood trial on charges of stealing and receiving the gold, but he was found not guilty by the jury after a retirement of 10 minutes. (Sydney Morning Herald, 3 October 1857, p. 5)

I can find no record, either in newspapers or the State Archives index to criminal depositions of Henry Curran standing trial. It seems likely that the charge was withdrawn beforehand.

The published evidence makes it clear that both Henry and Dalton bought and sold gold from time to time and that this was legal. The case revolved around whether the gold was in fact stolen from the Wentworth mine and whether they were aware of its provenance.

In summing up, the judge in Dalton’s trial advised the jury that the prosecution’s case that the gold was from the Wentworth mine had not been proven. (Notwithstanding that this was contrary to the verdict in Rembart’s case the previous day. Such is life!)

Curran’s Store at Burrangong

There are multiple references in the press in 1862 to “Curran’s store at Burrangong”, all in relation to crime. For example, on 22 February, the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser reported:

“that a person in the employment of Mr. Curran, travelling from Lambing Flat to Forbes, a short time ago, was stopped by bushrangers and robbed of £80, the property of his employer; £6 his own property, a valuable horse, and the very boots off his feet. The robbers took his own money, which chanced to be in his pocket, and then his horse. The man attached great value to this animal and offered them £20 if they would return it. They demanded at once that he should tell where the money was secreted, when he confessed it was in his boots. They immediately knocked him down, dragged them off his feet, and left him in the destitute condition described above.”

And on 21 November the Sydney Morning Herald advised that:

“A carrier named Arthur Bush, and a man named Wilson, residing at Gunning, have been arrested for an extensive robbery of goods which had been entrusted to the charge of the former to be conveyed from Sydney to Mr. H. Curran, storekeeper, of Burrangong.”

Other newspaper reports of this robbery and the subsequent trial add the information that “H. Curran” was a Henry Curran, that the store was located at Spring Creek, Burrangong, and was managed by a Mr Sellars. (3)

Mr Sellars seems to have been a stalwart chap as, accompanied by two policemen and a search warrant, he travelled to Jerrawa Creek near Gunning to search for the stolen goods. They found the Bush’s house to be deserted so Sellars put up for the night at Wilson’s public house. At sunrise the police arrived and proceeded to search the house. Amongst the goods found and identified as having been stolen were moleskin trousers, Scotch twill shirts, “other wearing apparel”, a bolt of bed ticking, women’s hose, Holloway’s pills and ointments and flannel. (Sydney Mail, 15 November 1862)

Holloways
Holloway’s Pills and Ointments – Worth Stealing!

In the reports of the trial of Bush and Wilson it was stated that the stolen goods were consigned to Henry by the Sydney firm of Prince, Ogg & Co. (Empire, 25 November 1862). A principal of this firm was Henry Prince. Henry Curran is known to have had commercial dealings with Prince and just before his death he assigned his moveable assets to two trustees including Prince. (NSW Government Gazette, 4 December 1866)

This outrage was soon followed by another, as Freeman’s Journal reported on 6 December 1862:

“Robbery at Lambing Flat. – About nine o’clock on the evening of Tuesday, the 25th ultimo, three men entered the store of Mr. Curran, which is situated a short distance from the lock-up at Lambing Flat, and presented a revolver at the person in charge of the establishment. They then took him into a back room, tied him up, and, after searching the place, carried away about £20 in cash, a watch, and a quantity of boots and clothing. Whilst they were carrying out their operations they were disturbed by a party who came in: he was struck in the face by one of the ruffians with a revolver, and then they bolted. Captain Battye and Detective Carnes were upon the spot a few minutes afterwards, and an immediate pursuit of the robbers was instituted.”

In a stroke of irony, the Captain Battye mentioned here is the same who escorted Henry to Bathurst for trial in 1857.

Curran’s Store at The Lachlan (Forbes)

In a letter from the Orange & District Historical Society to William O’Halloran dated 28 February 1973 it was stated that:

“With the discovery of gold on the Lachlan (Forbes) in 1861 (Henry) Curran is known to have opened a store there the same year. The diggings were referred to as ‘the canvas city of the Lachlan’. Curran had a sign painted for his store on the goldfields by an Orange painter named Craigie. It was described as ‘a very neat sign – really an excellent piece of letter-painting’ “.

Henry should possibly have tried his hand at goldmining when he set up his store at the Lachlan as many newspapers reported in November 1861 that:

“Intense excitement exists here in reference to the Lachlan gold-field. …The ground is loose and dangerous. The ground on which Curran’s store stood was rushed, a hole bottomed, and six pounds weight of gold was obtained from one bucket of earth.” (Brisbane Courier, 25 November 1861 – also reprinted in a number of other papers)

This store, or perhaps its replacement, was mentioned in a story on the great Lachlan flood published in the Empire on 28 June 1864:

“On the other side of the town the flood came up to the end houses in Templar and Court streets, reached the Roman Catholic Church Reserve, and drove several persons from their houses round the point of the rise on which Mr. Wood’s bakery stands, crossing over Lachlan street some distance nearer the Reserve than where Mr. Curran’s store used to stand.”

One “H. Curran” is recorded in the Sydney Morning Herald of 19 September 1864 as donating 2 guineas to the General Flood Relief Fund in respect of this flood.

In an anonymous article published in Freeman’s Journal of 30 April 1881, the author recollected that:

“Forbes and its surroundings at the time of the great rush would have astonished anyone who had never seen a gold-field … for a stranger to gold-fields life would have found collected at the new field of ’61 perhaps the most experienced and accomplished lot of diggings residents that ever got together… The first people to take up their quarters on the Lachlan field consisted of miners, storekeepers, and packers from Lambing Flat, Sofala, Kiandra, and Adelong… Frazer, Moses, Pollock Bros, Govers, and Baldwin were chief of the storekeepers, with Terence Francis M’Gurren, who was right among the rowdy boys at the south end of the street of Rankin, for that was before the advent of John Shaw, Curran from Orange (not J. J.) and the M’Kinleys; and now I’ve nought more in this line to tell.”

Looking to the Future

In an issue of the Western Examiner (October 1865) there is a notice placed by “Henry Curran of Orange” advising “the inhabitants of Dubbo, Lower Macquarie and surrounding districts,” that he had opened his new stores at Dubbo, opposite the Commercial Hotel, Brisbane Street, with a “large and extensive stock of general merchandise.”

Dubbo wasn’t a goldmining town, but this may have been Henry’s response to the petering out of the gold fever on the Burrangong and Lachlan goldfields. The latter were “boom and bust” places with but a short life for most men of business.

By the time of his death in 1866 Henry’s Dubbo properties included the Commercial Hotel, the Commercial Stores, a number of town allotments, 50 acres on the Macquarie River known as Fitzpatrick’s grant and about 25 acres at Butler’s Fall Reserve. (Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 1867).

Henry had significant land holdings in his home town of Orange as early as 1852, but it seems that he could also see a future for other nearby towns. In addition to the land already mentioned at Dubbo he purchased two town blocks in in Forbes and four town blocks in Wellington.

However Henry died in December 1866 of liver disease. His wife Helena took over as storekeeper with little success as she became insolvent in 1870. Helena was also appointed as administrator of Henry’s estate, and his real estate was still being disposed of as late as 1875.

Henry Curran grave
Henry Curran’s Memorial in Orange Cemetery

Notes:

1.  John Smith, the feisty pastoralist of “Gamboola”, Molong, wrote to Henry in 1853 regarding Henry’s alleged trespass on his run. In this letter he stated that “It is reported your flocks are diseased with catarrh and I have proof that you ordered your shepherds to feed them on my run.” (Quench Not The Spirit: Merino Heritage, (ed.) Bertha Mac. Smith,  Melbourne, Hawthorn Press, 1972, p. 117) The editor states that Henry had land at Borenore.

2. The hotels which Henry owned were:

  • the Traveller’s Inn (sometimes called Traveller’s Rest or Curran’s Inn) at Summer Hill on the road to Bathurst, between about 1851 and 1860; and
  • the Commercial Hotel at Dubbo from 1865.

Henry seems to have leased the hotels, rather than running them himself. His brother Hugh held the liquor licence at the Traveller’s Rest in 1854.

The Traveller’s Inn is now a private home at 5110 Mitchell Highway, Orange.

Traveller's-Curran's Inn_5110 Mitchell Highway Orange NSW
Former Traveller’s Inn, Orange

3. One of Henry’s neighbours at Spring Creek, Burrangong, was butcher Henry Edward Denham Chard. Henry arrived on the goldfield in March 1862 at latest, and his business operated until 1 December 1864 when he died after being gored by a bull during slaughtering. Henry Chard’s half-sister, Pauline Mary Chard, was later to marry Henry Curran’s son, Henry Joseph Adolphus Curran, at Currajong (Parkes) in 1876.

Also at Spring Creek at this time was Chard’s store. This was run by unrelated Henry G. Chard. Chard’s store was held up by bushranger Johnny Gilbert and two others on 1 June 1863. During the proceedings, one of the bushrangers put a revolver to Chard’s breast but the gun misfired. The bushrangers were driven off by a rush of miners coming to the defence of the women in the store. The miners were armed with picks and shovels and shouting “Roll up, boys, here’s the bushrangers”. (Empire, 6 June 1863).

(Curran Family History)

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