The following account of John Davidson's life has been extracted from The
Davidsons of New England, compiled in 1983 by The Davidsons of
New England Association, by Frank Davidson, Bruce Knox, Pam Harvey,
Ralph Berman and Ross Davidson, and has been published here with the
permission of the Association.
John, the eldest of William Davidson's children
brought his personal Bible with him from Scotland to New South Wales,
and used it always. His life was founded on idealistic and strict
religious principles, and it was said of him that he could repeat the
first sermon he could member hearing as a child.
When the family left Alva, he was a young man of 18.
It is quite likely that he took a certain amount of responsibility for
the decision to emigrate, for he was adventurous, inventive and
determined. He became a man of great integrity, an optimist with a
strong sense of individuality and independence.
He was tall, 6'3½" (160cm) in height, with brown
hair and the fair skin of all his family. Being well trained by
his father, he quickly went ahead to set up a blacksmith's forge of
By 1857, when he was 21, he was established in Uralla on
the site of what is now the Commercial Hotel. In the same year, he
married Elizabeth Frances Frizell, Elizabeth had arrived in
Australia some 17 years earlier, when she came as a babe-in-arms with
her parents, Gustavus and Frances Frizell, from Ireland. The
Frizells had first worked on a property west of Port Macquarie for the
Taylor family, before moving in the 1850s to the New England area where
Gustavus continued working as a shepherd for the Taylors' at "Terrible
Vale" on Salisbury Plains, near Uralla. John and Elizabeth married
at the"Terrible Vale" property in the winter of 1857.
Elizabeth and John Davidson
In 1860, John Davidson bought an acre of land in the middle
of the then progressive township of Uralla and opened a new forge on
what is now the site of the National Australia Bank. By 1864, he was
advertising for two blacksmiths to help him in the business.
John and Elizabeth were enlightened in their view, and
forward looking citizens. John donated money to the building funds
of both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches in Uralla, as well as
to the appeal to build St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney. He also
contributed to the Armidale and New England Hospital Establishment Fund,
and in Uralla he was on the building committee for the new National
School. The young couple were prominent citizens in this
then-flourishing little settlement.
One of the main forms of amusement in the New England
settlements were race meetings, as they are today. These were the
forerunners of the modern Picnic Races, and everyone who had a horse
entered it in a race and rode it:
At a meeting to present the prizes after
the Uralla Races at Mr Ryan's Kangaroo Inn, the winners are toasted with
champagne, then the stweards. Mr Davidson proposed a toast to Mr
Hoskings, MP for the Northern Goldfields, then they toasted the host and
hostess and retired at 10pm.
John and Elizabeth lived in Uralla for 12 years. Then
they moved north. whether it was the tragic death of their third
son, John Richard Biston Davidson, who was scalded to death in an
accient at the age of two, or perhaps the introduction of large-scale
mining techniques which promised interesting engineering developments in
the new mineral fields to the north, they decided to quit Uralla. A note
in one of John's books read: "Left Uralla 25 April 1869. Arrived
in Inverell May7th 1869."
They did not settle in Inverell, but moved
on with their family, now totalling five, to Glen Innes, where John's
brother Archibald was established. After a time, they settled at
Wellington Vale, near Glen Innes, and were there for some years.
Elizabeth and John in 1898
The discovery of tin at Vegetable Creek created a flurry of
mining interest in that area, later to be named Emmaville.
Following this opportunity, John took his family to Tent Hill, where the
large Ottrey tin and arsenic mine was developed. Here the family
were centred for 50 years, until Elizabeth died in 1923.
Over the years at Tent Hill, John took up several parcels
of pastoral and timber land, but he never developed these. He was
an inventive craftsman and engineer, and designed and made an enormous
range of tools, household articles and agricultural implements,
including iron ploughs and wool-presses. A muzzle-loading gun that he
made out of horse-shoe nails is today in the possession of the Museum of
Arts and Sciences in Sydney.
John was a humanitarian, as the following incident
shows. One day, a mounted trooper rode of to his forge, with a
captured bushranger roped on foot in front of his horse. The
trooper demanded that the prisoner be fitted with heavy leg-irons, to
make him more secure. John refused point-blank to do so,
until eventually at gun-point he was forced to carry out this
John Davidson had a long and respected life, and in his old
age was lovingly remember by his young grandchildren who would cluster
at his knees to hear his stories. Like all his brothers, he never
lost his pride in his Scots origins, and was very deeply aware of the
values that his background enabled him to transmit to his family.
He was the longest lived of all the Davidson brothers,
retaining all his mental faculties till his death in 1929 at the age of
left: The grave of Elizabeth and John, in Emmaville
Cemetery. One of their sons, Gustavus, was also buried with them,
after his death by a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1913.