Education Week: The Mudgee Ropes and the Lawson Creek Schools

It’s Education Week and an appropriate time to revisit and update an article I began in 2016.  It is especially relevant as it is also my great grandfather George Rope’s memorial day next week.

The background research for this was conducted by my mother, Madge (Rope) Rups during 1970’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s; taken from birth, marriage, death, cemetery, land and department of education records as well as information given to her by relatives.  Madge was born in Mudgee,  After she died In 2015 I began re-checking her records and my additions with the purpose of handing them on to the next generation.  I was amazed to notice for the first time how many of the third generation of Australian Rope descendants ended up in or around Mudgee and how involved they were with the establishment of the first schools in the area.  This is their story.

First I wish to acknowledge the original inhabitants, the elders past and present, and the violence that was part of Mudgee settlement.[i]

The Mudgee area is the home of the Wiradjuri Nation’s Mowgee clan. The Mowgee women’s totem is the wedge tail eagle (Mullian), and the men’s, the crow (Waggan).

In 1821 James Blackman jnr, assisted by Aaron an Aboriginal guide, finds the Cudgegong River, and Blackman follows it to the Burrundulla Swamps.  Later that year Lawson makes it as far as the Aboriginal camp at Mudgee.  By 1822 Lawson has convinced George and Henry Cox (of Mulgoa) to settle the land with him.  Other settlers soon follow.

Gradually the battles begin between the settlers and Mowgee people over the Cudgegong River, other food sources (incl. animals which the settlers would kill), and sacred sites.  In 1824 Martial Law is imposed, and the Mowgee people are shot without question. 

By 1845, the time that Robert and his siblings probably arrive, Mudgee has been gazetted as a village, there are 30+ dwellings, including a post office, 3 hotels, a hospital, 2 stores, an Anglican church and a police station.  There is little evidence left of Aboriginal presence.

My family’s story centres on my great great grandparents Robert and Hannah Jane and their son George Rope, as well as James and Elizabeth Rope and families.  Robert was the grandson of first fleet convicts Elizabeth Pulley and Anthony Rope.  Anthony, Elizabeth and their growing family had moved west following the expanding settlement in the Sydney basin, finally working and settling around the areas east of the Nepean River/Dyarubbin.

1. Robert Rope2. Hannah Jane Thompson-Rope

Robert and Hannah Jane

At some stage in the 1840’s Robert, grandson of Anthony and Elizabeth and son of John and Maria, moves to Mudgee with, or followed by, his siblings Ann, George, Thomas, Elizabeth, Eliza and Mary Ann.

Elizabeth and her husband James are already in the area by 1847, and both die there.

Ann, who marries John Randall at Castlereagh,  is in Mudgee by 1860 when their children begin to get married.

By 1869 Thomas’ wife Letitia has given birth to their fourth child, Albert Robert, in Mudgee.  Thomas, Letitia and three of their eight children die in Mudgee.

Eliza marries William Rusten from Gulgong and has a child there, although she seems to have died in Penrith.  

Mary Ann was witness to Robert and Hannah’s marriage in Mudgee 1868 and she and her husband William George Frost seem to have died there.[ii]

James, another grandson of Elizabeth Pulley and Anthony Rope, and his mother, Elizabeth Ann, daughter of Anthony and Elizabeth also end up in Mudgee[iii].  James, who marries Elizabeth, Robert’s sister, is recorded as working as a labourer in Cooyal in 1847 and their first child is born there.  By the time of their third child it looks as if they have moved to Lawsons Creek, not far from Robert, Hannah Jane, and family.

Our records show that Robert acts as witness to Elizabeth’s and James’ marriage on 13th December 1853.  Robert’s partner (Hannah) Jane Rope[iv] acts as second witness.  This is a couple of months after the birth of James’ and Elizabeth’s third child.  James continues to work around the area and the family continue to expand to thirteen children, all of whom seem to be born around Lawsons and Pipeclay creek Mudgee.

At some stage five of James’ siblings are in Mudgee.  In 1859 Edward Player, James’ half-brother,  marries Jane Matthews and then Cora Proctor after Jane dies.  All his children are born in Mudgee.  There is an Edward ‘Rope’ who purchases land in 1874.  I am wondering if this is misnamed Edward Player as I cannot yet find an alternative.  John Player, another of James’ half brothers marries Elizabeth Ann Peak in Mudgee in 1869.  Eight of their children are born in Mudgee.

My great-great grandparents, Robert and Hannah Jane Rope, have four children, George, Matilda, William E. and Henry[v].

George Rope cropped4. Matilda5a. William and Henry

George, Matilda, William E and Henry

At the time of George’s birth in 1852 the family are living and working at Botobolar/Bottaballar near Mudgee.  By 1853 they have moved to Oakfield, which is overlooked by Mt Buckaroo near Lawson Creek.  Matilda, William E.  and Henry are born there.  By 1859 they have a small holding at Lawsons Creek.

In 1859 a school opens at Burrundulla on the other side of Mt Frome.  Although still in Mudgee surrounds it is a hike from Lawson’s Creek.  The search begins for an alternative location for another school.  In 1867 a school building is being erected at Lawsons Creek on land belonging to Mrs Maloney.  According to Joyce Turner (nee Tompkins) one of the schools “opened in 1868 on a flood prone site and relocated”.  By 1870 another site has been selected at Lawsons Creek and the school building is moved to its new location.  It is dedicated the following year.  In 1876 the school board is listed as James McGrath, Duncan Kerr, teacher Joseph Southwick, unmarried, and James Rope

During 1876 the board, including James Rope, requests a new building and in 1877 the plan James Rope has presented to the Board is approved, accepted and surveyed, with the value of improvements: Hut £4, Fencing £10, Clearing £12.  The following year, 1878, Mr. John Rope (I assume James’ and Elizabeth’s son) presents a bill for fencing.  By 1879 a request has been submitted to grant permission to sell the old building to pay for other buildings.

1897 Schoolhouse cropped

The class of 1897, with George’s children Violet, Clara, Alice May, Ellen Olive (Ollie), (Joseph) George and William Claude (Bill).  Photo from Ron Johnson’s collection.

This is perfect timing for George (my great-grandfather) who has married Ann (‘Hawkie’) Johnstone from Lue in 1874.  The first of their thirteen children, Maria Jane, is born the following year.  Maria Jane is followed by Florence Matilda (Flo), Charlotte Ethel (Eth), Henry Albert, Linda Dorothea, Violet, Clara, Alice May, Ellen Olive, my grandfather Joseph George, William Claude (Bill), Ivy Irene Madeline, and Daisy Pearl.[vi][vii]

6. George, Ann Hawkins Johnstone-Rope and children

George and ‘Hawkie’ build Edenville, just backing onto the railway line at Mt. Frome, to which they keep adding rooms for their expanding family.[viii]

7a. Edenville, Mt. Frome with 'Hawkie', Fla & EthEdenville

By this stage there are a lot of Rope descendent children of all ages growing up in the area.

There is a sad sidenote to this story.  A few months after the birth of George’s and Hawkie’s first child George’s mother is shot and killed by his uncle and namesake during one of his rages.  Robert, William and Henry are all there at the time, and Joseph Johnstone, ‘Hawkie’s father, is outside.  At the end of the year ‘uncle George’ is hung in spite of the rest of the family’s objections and pleas for leniency. [ix]

Five years later, in 1880, Robert marries a second time, Jane Haynes, a widow. Yet Robert seems to go into decline.  By 29th September 1887 he owes school fees, and in 1891 a letter is sent to the Minister for Public Instruction in Sydney requesting for Robert’s debts to be cancelled because of his continuing sickness (almost bedridden) and poverty:  Robert is being attended to by Dr. Nicholl ‘for the last three months’ and is without means of support.  He dies on 15th July 1892.[x]

In spite of this George and his brothers make a success of their lives.  By June 1900 George is involved as one of a number of parents signing a petition for a new school and residence.  He has six children attending the school.  By September of the same year he is named in a letter to Department of Public Instruction as willing to give or sell 2 acres of his land nearer Mt. Frome station in exchange for the present school site, half a mile away, which can only be accessed through the Rope private property.

By 1902 the new school is built on the corner of Lue and Rocky Waterhole roads and George offers to purchase the old school property at a fair price, especially as it joins his property, and as it has not been cared for since and tramps have damaged the buildings.  In October the land, near Billy’s Lookout is transferred.  In 1911 a report is submitted regarding the need for fencing to keep the rabbits out of the school garden.

8a. Mt. Frome school with George and 3 Rope childrenMt Frome School with George (my great grandfather) and three Rope children.

8b. Mt. Frome school. Joseph George 3rd row, 4th from RMt. Frome School with Joseph George (my grandfather) third row, fourth from right.

This is the school that my grandfather and siblings attended, followed in turn by my mother, Madge, and her brother, Geoffrey George (‘Geoff’) when they were young.

1929 schoolhouse with mum cropped

The class of 1929 with Madge hidden at the back.  Photo from Ron Johnson’s collection.

George’s energy and vision sees him gradually expand his holdings.  By the end of his life this has extended up the mountains on both sides of Lawsons Creek – Mt. Buckaroo and Mt. Frome.

He is obviously a very successful farmer and well respected in the community.  When he dies one obituary comments on his generosity and kindness and continues with,

‘he was a successful farmer, and for many years has added dairying as a profitable industry, and was one of the directors of the Mudgee Butter Factory (ed. which is managed by his son, Henry).  He also spent a period as alderman of the Cudgegong Council….He was an enthusiastic member of the Mudgee Agricultural Society…the Mudgee band has also lost a generous friend.  One who time after time opened his hospitable home when a band benefit was in progress.’

The other,

‘The funeral…was one of the largest witnessed for some years, thus showing the respect in which the late Mr Rope was held’

After George’s death[xi] the property passes to ‘Hawkie’, and then the two sons, my grandfather Joseph George, and William (‘Bill’).   During World War I Bill joins the army and Joseph George is constrained to stay at home and help look after the farm for his mother.   Joseph George extends the land holdings and agriculture, including an orchard and vineyards, and moves into the brick house (at the junction of Lue and Rocky Waterhole Roads) which is opposite and up the road from the old farm, adding a veranda around the outside for sleeping during summer.

The orchard contains every type of fruit, including quince, peach and fig trees.  The farm is mixed.  Although mainly dairy, there are also chooks, pigs, sheep and crops such as lucerne and oats.   The milk is separated, and the cream sold to the Mudgee Butter Factory, managed by Joseph George’s brother, ‘Harry’ (Henry Albert), while the skim milk is fed to the pigs and weaned calves.  The lucerne is pressed into bales and stored in the hayshed.[xii]

10j. Mt. Frome from BuckerooThe property from Mt. Buckaroo showing the schoolhouse, school and brick house

 10i. The orchard c. 1927 croppedThe brick house and orchard

Joseph George marries Florence Smith and the brick house becomes their home.  It is where my mother and her brother grow up and where we often stay as children.

Joseph George football cropped 2Florence May Smith cropped

Joseph George and Florence May

At some stage Joseph George also buys the two storied Hawthorn heritage cottage near what once was the causeway, and more land along Waterhole Road which was previously owned by Lawson.

When ‘Hawkie’ and my grandfather Joseph George die within four months of each other his sisters Fla, Eth and Daisy are given the brick house and surrounding land.  My grandmother ‘Flo’ inherits Joseph’s half of the farm and continues to manage it until her son, Geoff, receives a scholarship and decides to move to Sydney.  Flo goes with him.  Fla, Eth and Daisy agree to rent and run the property for her in her absence.  Madge follows her mother and brother at a later stage.

By all accounts the property has always been the centre of social life for the Lue and Rylestone Ropes when they pass through on the way to town, and the clan continues to gather regularly even after my mother moves to Sydney.   Fla also runs a post office and telephone exchange in the front room which would have been the locus for local news[xiii].  There is a wonderful story about two Rope woman saving  herd of cows at Mt. Frome c. 1935 and I am certain it is about Flat and Eth (story in notes below).

1961 map copy showing Rope land img955 close upshowing the Ropes holdings.

My uncle Geoff and family, my mother, my father and we children continue to return to the property to maintain it, staying in the main brick house with Fla, Eth and Daisy[xiv].  At some stage Fred Creaser (who marries Daisy and stays on after her death to assist Fla and Eth) is engaged to run the farm and continues to do so after the sisters die. Here the order of events is not clear but at another stage the main house becomes unavailable to us.

It is probably then that my uncle Geoff organises to rent the school back from the Department of Education.  The two families convert it into a large, single room living space.  I remember clearing out all the bird nests and droppings, as well as sheep droppings.  My cousin Judith remembers cupboards being moved from the main house to provide a division between sleeping and living areas, beds being moved over for us to sleep in, and having to bath in a tub.

As well as the tub I also remember a large log fire on which we heat the hot water in the kettle and make toast for breakfast, layered with fresh cream which we collect over the road at the farm as it is being separated from the early morning milking of the cows, and going through the mist and frost to do so.  This is still during Fred Creaser’s time as I remember helping him wash the separating machine.  And, of course, we both remember the ‘dunny’ out the back facing the railway line and Mt. Frome.  For me it was a childhood highlight; much anticipated.  For our parents, however, it was lot of hard work keeping the property maintained from such a distance and, once my grandmother dies my uncle decides to sell.[xv]

The Coopers, who are renting the school house, buy the schoolhouse and school when the Department of Education puts them on the market.  In later years when mum and I visit we notice that the school is converted into an attractive cottage – who would have believed it!  And during my last couple of visits I was delighted to discover that Moothi Estate[xvi] and winery is established on what once was the Mt. Frome section of the property.  I think both my great grandfather and grandfather would be pleased to know that grapes are still being grown on the property.


looking back from Moothi Estate

c. Annette Maie, 2018

Updated 2019.

THE STORY OF JIMMY GOVERNOR – updated 2022 (with thanks to Ron Johnson for sourcing and sharing the  newspaper article).  Other sources include Stan Grant’s Australia Day,, Katherine Biber, (2008) ‘Besieged at Home: Jimmy Governor’s Rampage’ in The Journal of Law and Social Justice, Vol. 2, Art 2, pp. 1-41, and correspondence with Mudgee Historical Society.

In 1900, during great grandfather George’s time, ex-tracker and labourer Jimmy Governor, who had been supporting his own and extended family, went on a murdering spree triggered by repetitive harassment of he and his wife Ethel for being an Aboriginal man (his father was Aboriginal and mother of mixed Aboriginal and Irish descent) married to a white woman (if the newspaper article is anything to go by, the harassment would have been severe).  According to the newspaper at the time, a few years before Ethel had lived with her parents on a Lawson’s Creek farm, near Oakfield.  Probably George and other Ropes would have known the family, and from my mother’s comments our family at the time was very aware of the story.

According to Katherine Biber “Governor’s wife, Ethel, a 17 year old white woman, the mother of his child, the Mawbey’s domestic servant, may or may not have been an accomplice to these murders”.  The Mawbey’s had been among those who had harassed her about her marriage and were Jimmy’s first target.  According to information from Mudgee Historical Society Emma was also pregnant with their second child.

Jimmy, his brother Joe, and Jack Underwood continued their ‘rampage’ until Jack was captured and Joe shot.  Jimmy was eventually captured and hung.  The story of the life of Jimmy Governor was the basis for Thomas Keneally‘s 1972 novel The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, which was filmed by Fred Schepisi in 1978.  His life is also the subject of Australian poet Les Murray‘s poem “The Ballad of Jimmy Governor”.  And from Stan Grant, “As modern Australia celebrated its birth at Federation in 1901…Jimmy Governor sat in a Darlinghurst jail cell, alternating between singing songs in his traditional Wiradjuri language and reading the Bible – the synthesis of the old and new worlds that collided here so violently, given form in a man soon for the gallows. “

In a 2004 article in the Sydney Morning Herald one of the results of the Governor’s payback spree was that the remaining Wiradjuri peoples around Wollar were rounded up and taken to Brewarrina Mission about 500 km away.


[i] Mudgee History website as well as other sources.  2022 update: I have recently been told that Mudgee was also home to the Meroo people of the Wiradjuri nation and that numbers of Aboriginal families in the area were forcibly removed to Brewarrina, on the Queensland border.  Brewarrina Mission opened in 1886.  The only reference I have found so far is from the Sydney Morning Herald article in relation to the Governors (above).

[ii] The road across the Blue Mountains was completed earlier in the century, Robert’s mother Maria dies in 1842, his father John dies in 1845, his grandmother Elizabeth in 1837 and grandfather Anthony in 1843.  Toby Ryan, son of Mary (nee Rope) and another grandson of Elizabeth and Anthony, by his own account, has been travelling often, crossing the Blue Mountains between Penrith and Bathurst and bringing back glowing reports: ‘great grazing country’….’a great deal of land was taken up, but not at that time occupied’ (Ryan, pp. 124-126). Although it is impossible to say whether these events triggered the move, it seems to have been time for a new start.  It is likely that all of John and Maria’s living children ended up in and around Mudgee during this period.  For a list of the siblings, family members and children whom I have so far identified as ending up in Mudgee, Rope-Pulley descendants who move to Mudgee

[iii] I don’t have the detail whether James arrives in the area with Robert, or comes separately with Elizabeth, or at what stage James’ mother arrives.

[iv] Robert and Hannah Jane marry in 1868.  Their marriage is witnessed by William and Mary Ann Frost.  Mary Ann is Robert’s sister.

[v] Matilda marries James William Honeysett, and I believe there are still Honeysett’s living in Rylestone;  William and Henry Rope become brewers and hoteliers in Orange and are buried there.

[vi] Maria Jane marries Henry Castle Adams, owner of Victoria Hotel, Orange;  Florence (Fla), Charlotte Ethel (Eth) and Daisy end up managing Lawson Creek property, dying in Mudgee; Henry marries Belle Smede and manages Mudgee Butter Factory;  Linda marries Frederick Rule Webb; Violet marries Walter Hedley Ford and dies in Mudgee; Clara marries ‘Gus’ Manners and dies in Mudgee;  Alice May marries Clarence Hilton Clark of Mudgee; Ellen Olive marries Roy Keith Stoddard and moves to Sydney; Joseph George marries Florence May Smith and manages the Lawson Creek property;  William (Bill) marries Bessie Ann Kellet, works for the office of railways which requires him to move around, and dies in Mudgee; Ivy marries Tom Rowbotham and moves to Home Rule.

[vii] On our visits to the farm we catch up with those of George’s children and grandchildren who are still around.  As well as Fla, Eth and Daisy, I remember aunty Ivy clearly, and still visit her daughter Sally up at Home Rule.  I also remember calling in regularly on Graham and Tom Clark (Alice’s sons) and, of course, visiting their brother Peter’s memorial in St. John’s Anglican church, Mudgee.

[viii] According to mum, ‘He built a house of slabs, like they used to do, with lining on the inside covered with fancy wallpaper, on the block near the railway line.  Had 13 children, so kept extending it backwards.  Because of the fuel stoves and danger of fire they had a division between the dining area, kitchen and bathroom at one end, and the bedrooms at the other.  In between was a courtyard with a cement floor.  It was long, but quite a pleasant house.  The dining room was large with a huge fireplace at one end; the other end had one or two bedrooms.’  (ed. By the time my generation visit Mt. Frome Edenville is little more than a pile of bricks, and my father teaches me to drive in the surrounding paddock).

[ix]  The family obviously wanted clemency.  ‘Uncle George’ seems to have had a harrowing time prior to coming to Mudgee, losing two children in infancy and his wife;  all in a period of two years.  His wife, Margaret (nee Behan/Behean), and the two children are all buried at John Jamison Cemetery in Penrith with her grandfather.  Uncle George was obviously struggling and I like to think he is remembered by his name being carried through the following generations (although King George VI was also on the British throne during this time)

[x] Two other deaths occur around this time. On 23rd August 1889 Elizabeth Ann (Rope) Player dies in Mudgee, notified by her son James.    On 4th May 1895 James Rope also dies.

[xi] George has the foresight to buy a sizeable plot in Mudgee Cemetery.  He, Hawkie and many family members are buried or interred there or nearby, including my parents.  There is also a memorial to Robert and Hannah Jane.

[xii] At harvest time Frank Muller who lives along Eurunderee Lane (near Pipeclay creek) comes over to help prune the orchard and vines.  He and Joseph George are great friends.  Frank Muller’s sister Freda ends up marrying my grandmother Flo’s brother, Lloyd Smith.  When mum and I visit in 2008 Frank Muller’s two grandsons are still living there and growing grapes.

[xiii] All the kids run to answer the phone when it rings and I seem to remember helping to plug in the connections to answer and transfer calls.

The story of ‘the two Rope women’ who saved a herd of cattle: “Daisy Baynham remembers when two women saved a herd of cows on Mt Frome…They lived just up the hill from the old schoolhouse on the corner of Lue and Rocky Water Hole roads. Apparently two old ladies from the Rope family lived across the Lue Road from them…..‘As Ted rushed to try to get them out of the paddock, he yelled to his wife to get the Rope girls, and they came running across the road to the bulging cows with their hands full of knives,” Daisy told me.  Daisy said the women held one knife in their mouth while they threw another knife at a cow’s bulging tummy. “Pop! It would go, as the wind escaped,” she said, “and the other lady rammed her fist into the paunch and pulled out hunks of half chewed grass.” The women treated all the cows in the same fashion and most of them  survived, according to Daisy” (an interview with Joyce Turner, nee Tompkins at  Eth would have been c. 57yrs and Fla 59 yrs.

[xiv] ‘Hawkie’ wills the brick house and surrounding land to her three unmarried daughters, and follows through with George’s wishes that Bill inherits the Mt. Buckaroo side of the creek, which is more suitable for sheep, and Joseph George the Mt. Frome side, which is more suitable for agriculture.

[xv] The Mt Buckaroo side of the property, which Bill inherits, is passed down to his son, Ron.  My understanding (from speaking with Ron’s family when mum dies), is that they still own their property and live there periodically.

[xvi] At the time of writing, Moothi Estate sells ‘the best’ cabernet savignon among other wines, has a cellar door, and offers lunch with a wonderful view over our ancestor’s property.