The following story of William 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.
William Davidson (1807-1842)


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Birth/baptism:
24 December 1805, Crail, Fife (Scotland)

Father:
John Davidson (1765-1858)

Mother:
Euphemia Ross (b. 1777)
                                Death: 25 May, 1878, Uralla, NSW
Marriage:
1) to Janet Graham (1808-1848) 22 August 1834, Clackmannan, Scotland,

Children:
John (1835-1929) m Elizabeth Frances Frizell, 1857, Salisbury, NSW
Archibald Graham(1837-1905)
William (1842-1932)
David (1843-1890)
Ann Henderson (1845 -)


Marriage:
2) to Janet Blair (1828-1859), 1848

Children:
Flint Ramsay (1849 - )
Janet Blair (1856 - )
Elisabeth (1858 - )




The first official record we have of William Davidson after his birth in Crail, Scotland, in 1807 is his marriage to his first wife, Janet Graham.  This took place in the town of Clackmannan on 22 August, 1834, when they were both 26 years of age.  Their two eldest sons were born there, and named according to traditional Scots naming cutoms: John, the eldest, after William's father John Davidson; Archibald Graham, the second, after Janet Graham's father.

By the time the third son was born (named William after his father, according to the Scots custom), William and Janet had moved to Alva, a town seven miles (11km) outside the important commercial city of Stirling, situated on a main road to Perth and the Highlands.  Here the family continued to live and grow until Janet Graham's death.

left: Crail and its harbour, in Fife, Scotland


The 1851 Census schedule for Alva shows William Davidson and his family to be living in NewStreet, where he was a master blacksmith employing two men and a house servant.  Janet Graham had died, and William and his second wife, Janet Blair, were shortly to set out to make a fresh start in the optimistic climate that followed the discovery of gold in New South Wales.  Alva was not seen again by any of William's descendants until 1930. when one of his granddaughters, Eleanor Howlett, stood "... in the church where my father (David) was christened, holding his baptismal certificate in my hand, and on the wall was a memorial to the minister who baptised him"

William's father John Davidson died in St. Ninians, near Stirling in 1858, but by this time, William and his wife and children had been in Australia for four years, and contact with the family in Scotland had been lost or severed.

From the little we know of him, it would seem that William was practical, down-to-earth and somewhat rebellious. He was impatient of the disciplines of book-learning; he preferred physical activities and the outdoors, whereas his elder brother James, who had remained associated with his father, probably had a more debonair personality and the acumen in buy and selling that business requires.  Even at the age of 47, William probably felt that pioneering in a new country offered more satisfaction, and more opportunities for his family than he could obtain for them at home.

Even so, such a decision could not have been taken lightly; but the children were of suitable age for the venture.  Janet Graham's two eldest sons, John and Archibald, were 18 and 17 respectively, and had learnt the blacksmithing trade from their father, as all William's sons did. William Jnr was 12, and David, 10; while the surviving daughter Ann, aged 8 was old enough to help with Janet Blair's infant son Flint, aged 5.

And so, on 5 May, 1854, the Davidson family embarked on the new 840 ton sailing ship 'Araminta', paying a total of £15 for an assisted passage.  Eighty-four days later, the ship arried in Sydney, having made the fastest journey then recorded for a ship of its class.

Early days in Australia

After the normal procedure of being cleared through quarantine on 8 August, the family took a small coastal ship to the Hunter River port of Morpeth.  Here they occupied a small farm as a means to provide a living while William prepared to set out to have a look at the country.  He and his three eldest sons, John, Archibal and William Jnr, set off on foot for New England, carrying their swags on their backs like many other men on their way at the time to the new gold diggings at Rocky river near Uralla.

However, William was not aiming for the precarious speculation of life and a digger.  Instead, he made for Balala Station, a pastoral holding of some 96,000 acres (39,000 hectares) at that time, occupied by George Morse, son of the Rev. John Morse of Maitland and his partner Thomas Tourle.  Here the elder boys took on station work while William investigated the best locality to settle his family more permanently.

Eventually this was determined to be Salisbury, the station near Uralla then own by the Marsh family, but the Morses at Balala were always spoken of with affection for the kindness they showed the family in these early days.

The trek to Salisbury

Salisbury, at that time, in the mid-50s, was one of the largest station settlements in the southern New England area.  It had a fine new stone homestead (above), said to be the best in New England, with a small community of farmers, and a travellers' inn with an adjacent blacksmith's shop.  The nearly Rock River gold field, with its population of between 300 and 500 "...respectable and well-conducted miners..." must have made it seem a relatively safe and potentially prosperous place for the family to settle.  From Salisbury, William entrusted his 12-year-old son William Jnr with the responsibility of returning to Morpeth to bring the rest of the family up to New England.

This adventurous undertaking was accomplished with the assistance of a hired dray, belonging to a man whose name is unrecorded but who limped badly.  Many years later, William Jnr, in recounting the story, was remembered by his grandchildren as he showed them exactly how the main walked, a movement he must have had ample opportunity to study over a journey about about 250 miles (400 kilometres) each way.

Safely back in Morpeth, preparations were made.Janet, with William Jnr, David, Ann and Flint, their belonging piled on the dray, set out for their new home.

All went well until they left the settled lands of the Hunter Valley and the dray began the long climb over the range to the tableland country beyond.  Here, the axle broke.  The journey could not go on unless the axle was mended, so William Jnr and David, aged 1 and 10 respectively, had the job of finding their way back to Maitland, the nearest lace where it could be repaired,

This they accomplished, carrying the axle safely back to no doubt and anxious Janet and the two young children, camped by the incapacitated dray laden with all the worly good the family possessed.  A considerable feat for two youngsters in a strange land.

Reunited, the family lived for about two years at Salisbury.  their home was a slab cottage with a bark roof, and here another daughter, Janet Blair Davidson, was born on 31 August 1856.  However, in this year, with the discovery of deep leads of gold on the Rocky River field, the quality of life on the diggings changed. Diggers from all walks of life flocked there, until by mid-September, the population had swollen to 4,500, an enormous explosion bring the usual proportion of disreputable characters with it.

Walcha: home of the New England Davidsons

Leaving John and Archibald to carry on business at Salisbury, William determined to move his family to nearby Walcha.  Here, a village has been surveyed, the first allotments of land being sold in 1853.  A thriving little settlement was clustered round an inn, a steam flour mill, two stores, a National School, and a Presbyterian Church.  This became the final home of the family, and the last daughter, Elisabeth Davidson, was born there on 19 May, 1858.

It was just at this time that William's father John Davidson died in Scotland.  there was some discussion of whether William and some of the family should after all return, to become involved in the business John Davidson had left.  A member of the family wrote to say that should he do so, William would never have to work again.

However, these deliberations must have been brief.  Even at the age of 51,William had no thought of going back, and in any case a life of ease was not his goal.  Like many other family both before and after them, the Davidsons had begun to establish themselves in a new way of life in Australia, and John, the eldest son, was already married.

William continued his trade at Walcha, but his second wife Janet lived for only two more years.  She died of a heart condition on 27 March, 1859, and was buried at Walcha.

William himself, some time after this, took his two young daughters to live with his eldest daughter Ann and her family, and he died at her house on 25 May, 1878, at the age of 70 years, and was buried in Uralla (left).

Only two statements by William Davidson are preserved in the family.  One is apocryphal, and one is remembered as having been in writing, although the letter does not survive.  The first, ascribed to William, was his remark on the proposal to install an organ in the church.  At a meeting held to discuss the matter, William was said to have exclaimed: "I'll have nuthin' to dae wi' it.  Nuthin to dae wi' it! Dommed cust o' whistles in the kirk!"

The other, written not long before his death, to his youngest son Flint, was a response to the news that Flint proposed to marry.  His father observed: "I see you mean to take a wife.  You might as well see to it that you pick a good one while you are about it....". adding, "I hope you'll send me a bidding to the wedding!"

By the time of William's death in 1898, all his children but one were married, and were settled through the new England area, from where, in their turn, their descendants have spread wide throughout Australia and beyond.

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