History with Brian James: The story of Mr Castles

Coffey's grave, Boorowa. Photo: contributed
Coffey's grave, Boorowa. Photo: contributed

Henry Castles squatted on Geegullalong near Burrowa and nearby Castles Creek bears his name. Henry Castles, the son of Joseph Castles and Elizabeth Turner was baptised in Courtenay, Sutton, Berkshire, England after being born on May 13, 1790. As a young man Henry was convicted of stealing sheep and was sentenced to transportation for life in the Colony of NSW.

He arrived aboard the Tottenham and was assigned to James Hassell. He received his TOL in 1828, a conditional pardon in 1830, and in 1835 married Ann Murray and they had three daughters and one son, Lidia, Ellen, Lucy and Henry John.

Henry Castles was a leasee in the Lachlan Squatting District in 1840 but his name had disappeared after he had acquired land outright.

He had purchased his first parcel of freehold land from Mr Cantrell. He triumphed against the stain of his convict origins, poor seasons, and a lack of capital.

In 1850 Henry was comfortably well off and went to Yass where the orphan lasses from the Thomas Arbuthnot were being temporarily housed in the stables of the Police Barracks.

Henry hired country girl Mary Collins, 20 years of age, as a governess for his family.

Boorowa had been established in 1838, and Henry and his wife, Anne, were living in a strange environment many kilometres from refined society. It was only a few years ago in 1824 that Hume and Hovell had went through Yass and around Bowning Mountain on their way to Port Phillip Bay.

Their children would have been born on the family property of Gunnary Creek, although Ellen's birth record indicates she was born at Binalong. Henry Castles passed way on November 28, 1852. His death certificate has not been located, his burial was recorded by a simple white washed stone, this has been replaced by a headstone erected by the Historical Society in the Galong Catholic Cemetery.

Anne, Henry's widow, wed John Wilding on September 15, 1855. John Wilding had been employed by Henry Castles as a farm labourer.

Henry John Castles had been born on June 10, 1845 and married his first love Margaret Coffey, a daughter of James Coffey and Hanorah Murphy.

Jimmy was a blacksmith and Hotelkeeper at the Boorowa River as well as running a small farm. Henry John and Margaret must have enjoyed married life as they had 18 children over 26 years, but some of the children died young.

Ben Hall, the bushranger, and Jimmy Coffey were great mates, but this led to Jimmy and Norah's undoing.

The Burrowa News on December 22,1863 carried a story of John Gilbert and Ben Hall being at Coffey's and stuck up a number of people who happened to be there. They ordered and partook of breakfast, and at one time it was said there was forty men, women and children bailed up. While Gilbert and Ben Hall were at Coffey's they took off their revolvers and laid them on a table, and walked around unarmed and quite carelessly.

One rider, a Mr Campbell, failed to stop and was chased by Ben Hall but managed to escape. James Coffey and his wife were arrested for having stolen money in their possession and for aiding and abetting the bushrangers. From evidence at their trial it appears that Ben Hall had previously been at Coffey's and Mrs Coffey had been given part of the 500 pounds obtained by Ben Hall as ransom of Henry Keightly. The police had kept a record of the numbers on the notes. Mrs Coffey paid 33 pounds to Aatron Steenbhorn, a hawker, for a dray, providing he stayed another day.

The reasoning for this was that Ben Hall was arriving the next day and he would regain the money and Mrs Coffey would have her dray. Ben Hall and his gang arrived the next day but the money could not be found Steenbhorn was taken into the bush and tied to a tree on a ant's nest. Hall put a gun to Steenbhorn's mouth but was interrupted when Charles Poplin rode past, the bushrangers gave chase but could not stop him.

By now Mrs Coffey knew it was imperative she regain the money. She tried unsuccessfully to resell the dray to Steenbhorn, then tried to borrow money. P.S. Brian James is the great/great/great/grandson of Henry Castles.

  • To be continued.