Henry & Helena Curran’s Business Affairs

In earlier posts I’ve written about my great-great grandfather’s career as a gold rush era storekeeper and as the man behind the first steam flour mill in Orange, NSW.

I’ve been able to locate some 40 deeds relating to land and financial records involving Henry or his executors ranging in date between 1849 and 1881, although there are bound to be more undiscovered. So the following is a partial account.

Taken together, the deeds reveal Henry’s entrepreneurial streak, involving buying land, borrowing money with the land as security, and using the money to acquire assets that would produce an income stream by trading or leasing. These assets included stores, hotels, and a steam flour mill, not to mention beef on the hoof at the time of his death.

Henry was not afraid to borrow money. In 1853 he took out a loan of £600, not his first, from Joseph Moulder to purchase the land containing the Traveller’s Inn at Summer Hill on the road to Bathurst. It seems that this venture was unsuccessful as in 1857 there was owing on the mortgage some £638 so Henry sold the land to Samuel Phillips for £900 and discharged the debt.

The Traveller’s Inn 2017

Meanwhile, in 1852, Henry had bought 12 allotments in the town of Orange, including 4 of the 5 in Summer Street between Curran (later McNamara) Street and Peisley Street (section 44), the possession of which underpinned his Orange businesses, the store and steam flour mill. He later acquired the 5th.

Henry Curran’s Town Lots Section 44 Orange

Joseph Moulder must have had faith in Henry because in 1858 he loaned him £1,000 against the security of lot 5 of section 44. This mortgage was discharged in January 1863. Around this time Henry had need of further capital, most probably to fund the expansion of his storekeeping business to Dubbo, Wellington, Ironbarks (later Stuart Town), Forbes and Mookerawa (east of Stuart Town and now on the western side of Lake Burrendong). Joseph Moulder obliged 2 days later with a loan of £4,000 and 4 months later with another £1,000, secured again by the section 44 properties.

Both Joseph Moulder and Henry were to die in 1866. One or both may have had intimations of approaching death as in January 1866 it seems that some of Henry’s mortgages with Moulder were consolidated and taken over by the Bank of NSW, amounting to £6,000 . Moulder died 2 months later. Ten of Henry’s properties were taken as collateral:

Dubbo Lot 5 Section 14, Lot 4 Section 17, Lot 14 Section 5;

Co. Lincoln parish unnamed Butler’s Falls Reserve Lot 4 Section 16, Lot 3 Section 16;

Orange Lots 1-5 Section 14.

The month before his death, aware that he was dying, Henry assigned his estate to trustees for the benefit of his creditors, as was usual at the time. Henry had previously, in 1860, taken on the role of trustee with Benjamin Nelson of Wellington when James Mortal, an innkeeper of Molong, assigned his estate. The process spared Henry’s wife Helena the worry of resolving his business affairs whilst attending to their family of 7 children. For as Helena stated some 5 years later when making an affidavit regarding her insolvency:

“I further say that it would be a matter of impossibility for me to make up such accounts from memory from the facts that I am in no way well acquainted with figures and likewise not having a good memory of particular transactions for me to comply with the said rules.”

Henry’s chosen trustees were Sydney businessmen John Frazer and Henry Prince, whose firms were Henry’s biggest creditors. The deed of assignment contains a list of his business assets and debts and constitutes a valuable record of the inner financial workings of such a medium sized business of the period.

Henry’s creditors were owed £7,538, ignoring the shillings and pence.

Land assets were described as:

“Allotment number fourteen of section number five and allotment number four of section number seventeen town of Dubbo. Three roods and thirty four perches and fourteen acres and thirty seven perches of land situated within the Butlers Fall Reserve being allotments numbers four and three of section sixteen respectively. Allotments numbers one two three four five of section number forty four and allotment number thirteen of section number five.” [in Orange].

Only the Dubbo and Butlers Falls Reserve lands were sold by the trustees, for £1,416. It seems that the prized Orange lots in section 14 remained to be managed by Helena when she assumed control of Henry’s estate after being appointed administrator in 1868 along with Patrick Mulholland. She can be tracked up to 1881 leasing out the steam flour mill and Miners Arms hotel properties, although they were still apparently mortgaged as Joseph Moulder’s executor, William Tucker Evans, remained party to the leases to the end.

Henry & Helena Curran’s Store and Steam Flour Mill

On the physical asset side, but not costed, were:

“All store and other goods in the premises occupied by the said Henry Curran and situate in Orange Dubbo Wellington Ironbarks Forbes and Mookerawa. All monies whether in banks or otherwise. Two hundred and fifty two head of cattle received from Mrs Monaghan of Nyngan on the Bogan River and now travelling under the charge of one Patrick Burns.”

Henry’s Cattle Supplier – Mrs Monaghan

Bills payable to Henry totalled about £4,021.

Henry was possessed of some lands which don’t appear in the above inventory, and these were progressively sold by the estate. In 1873 four town lots in Wellington were sold and in 1875 two town lots in Forbes. There may have been others.

Helena’s brush with the insolvency laws resulted from her continuing operation of the Orange store, which no doubt faced strong competition from the likes of the Dalton brothers. Three creditors meetings were held in 1870. Her assets comprised £200 of stock in trade of the shop, wearing apparel of £5, debts due of £32 4s. 7d. Her debts were £270 1s. 2d. There were also several promissory notes unpaid. Her creditors “allowed her” [to keep her] furniture and wearing apparel.

Her stock in trade, which realised £117 9s. 7d. when sold comprised hardware, food, books, household utensils, clothing, fabric and haberdashery.

It’s clear Helena’s storekeeping business was of a different scale to Henry’s, and I imagine that she became something of a niche retail shopkeeper.

Lot 1, Section 44 in 1872 – part leased to Patrick Kenna for Miners Arms hotel and part vacant

She apparently was able to continue the store until at least 1877 as her name is included in a list of Orange storekeepers who advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald on 28 April 1877 that they had agreed to use a single forwarding agent, “Messrs Moulder, Leeds & Co” to cart their goods from the Orange railway station. This coincided with the opening of the station a week earlier.

Anecdotal evidence is that the store operated until at least 1882, by which time Helena was aged about 63 years. On 4 July 1884 the Evening News reported under the heading “Orange items”:

“An important sale of town property was concluded yesterday, the block of land and the buildings thereon known as Curran’s property, were purchased by Mr F. G. Treeweeke, J.P., of Clifton Grove, for £7020. If £2000 are allowed for improvements, this gives an average of over £25 per foot for the land.”

This report relates to the section 44 land and buildings in Summer Street, and is around the time when Helena is believed to have left Orange with her two unmarried daughters to live in Sydney. The following year Treeweeke mortgaged lots 1, 2 and part of 3 to William Tucker Evans, sold the other part of lot 3 to William Whipple and leased to Amelia Strachan “two dwelling houses and shops etc in Summer Street Orange and being built upon part of Allot 2 of Sec 44 in that town.”

In today’s values, the £7,020 from the sale of the properties in Orange equates to roughly $750,000. Enough to fund a comfortable retirement but of course I don’t know whether and for how much her properties were mortgaged or what other assets she might have had, and she was not to die for another 21 years, outliving her two unmarried daughters.

(Curran family history)

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