Ringbarking, floods and bushrangers - all in a life's work

When a Scottish man named Steele Caldwell arrived on the shores of the new colony in New South Wales, he may not have realised what an influence he would have in the agricultural industry in the southwest of the state.



Steele Caldwell in the 1880s.


He was one of the first early pioneers arriving in 1848 to develop a large area of the Bland county including Moonbucca, Eurabba Lower, Upper Balabla and Greenbank. His skills were exceptional in station management and he loved the land.


His first home was in Penrith but the area in which Steele and his first wife Jean, settled in what was soon to be seen as 'the granary of the South West' as mining, wool and wheat flourished. As far as wheat crops were concerned they yielded a higher than average quantity of crops.


When first arriving to the area he was put in charge of Waroo Station but later bought Moonbucca Bland. As he developed his holding, he was the first man to introduce ring-barking to the district and possibly even the colony. When gold was discovered in 1851 in the Turon district, he travelled to the gold fields, but decided after only making 60 pounds after six months, he would return home.


He realised he would make 'gold' from the products of his land. And so, he devoted his time to dairying with the help of family members. He transported his dairy products to the Albury markets and Victorian goldfields, sometimes having to swim the Murrumbidgee River to get his goods there.


In 1852 he was caught in the Gundagai floods and unable to travel the road again for six weeks, having to remain in camp until the waters went down. Meanwhile, his wife and five children had to be rescued from the flooded Moonbucca homestead by horseback. They spent their first night in a rough bush shelter and the next day walked to Balabla Station which was built higher up.


These memories were kept by Steele's then seven year old son Steele junior who also became a well-respected man in the Bland area.


Being part of a thriving pastoral area came with its concerns. By about 1860 bushranging was rampant and the nearby Weddin Mountains were used by the gangs as hiding places and retreats, including men such as the Gardners and Ben Hall.


A police report at the time showed they were hot on the heels of two of Hall's accomplices Gilbert and O'Meally:


Yesterday a party of troopers come across some suspicious-looking tracks near Mr Steel Caldwell's station; they put the black tracker on them and followed the same for about three miles when they sighted about 400 yards off, two horsemen supposed to be Gilbert and O'Meally. A sharp chase ensued..



Headstone of Steel Caldwell in Young cemetery. Courtesy: Austcemindex


The value of Steele's land increased after the gold rush and his keen foresight meant he bought three more properties around the Bland. He managed these with his sons until 1882 when he effectively retired from pastoralism.


Pioneer Steele Caldwell passed away suddenly in 1892 at the age of 77 years old and is buried in Young cemetery.



References

  • 'Young', Cootamundra Herald, Thursday 3 April, 1924, Page 2

  • 'Late Steele Caldwell', The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser, Monday 15 July, 1929, Page 3

  • 'Australia's 150th anniversary', The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser, Monday 28 March, 1938, Page 2

  • 'Early days on the Bland', Cowra Free Press, Tuesday 28 August, 1923, Page 4

  • 'A Great Worker', Cowra Free Press, Tuesday 9 July, 1929, Page 6

  • 'Ben Hall Bushranger' website, accessed 25th October, 2022, https://www.benhallaustralianbushranger.com/p/newspaper-events.html

  • 'Obituary - Steel Caldwell', The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser, Thursday 4 July, 1929, Page 2

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