McCracken Family
Limestone Country

Kilroy Samuel John William Phillip Links


This is the Diary of Isabella Beatrice McCracken, recorded in an interview with her son Renfrey Ford, at the age of 97, and details her life and childhood memories.

Her description of the family’s early years and the way of life on an isolated farm is quite delightful but also portrays how hard life was at that time. 

I was born at Pine Hut, Warna Station near Talia on the Talia-Mount Wedge Road, my parents were employed as shepherds by Mr. Archie Thompson, owner of Talia Sheep Station.
My father was John McCracken, born in Ireland. There is a place in Northern Ireland known as McCrackens Gully. Prior to being employed on the land he followed a seafaring life.
My mother was Martha Brown, born Ayreshire Scotland in 1849 and educated in Adelaide. She was a milliner and dressmaker.
At social functions at Pt. Adelaide for ship officers and seamen, she met and fell in love with my father, but in those days Scots and Irish were not allowed to marry.
My mother met and married a Mr. Foster in a Church of England in Adelaide. He was many years her senior. He was employed in a Government Department in Adelaide, there were two children - Lawrence Foster and Jessie Adeline Foster.
Her husband went to work in his office one day and when he did not respond to knocks on his door, his staff found him dead sitting in his chair with one arm resting on his chair and his pipe held in his other hand. Her youngest child was then 2½ years old. She, as a young widow, supported herself and her children by dressmaking and designing. Six months after becoming a widow, she was walking down Rundle Street and met accidentally my father, John McCracken, her old lover whom she had not seen or heard of for many years. He was on a ship as usual in Pt Adelaide from England, and they both got such a shock as he never knew she had married. This meeting brought them together, so he left the seafaring life and they got married.  They decided after a few years of city life to go to the country which they did, and that was to the West Coast of South Australia. They had a very happy but hard life.
My family at that time lived near Rocky Valley between Colton and Mount Wedge. Lovely grazing country with huge Red Gums, some known to be 20 feet around, some of these gums years before had been burnt out near the ground, leaving a burnt hollow, but the tree continued to live. My mother on one occasion was taking some lunch out to my father who was shepherding sheep from vicious wild dogs. From a long way she could hear the natives coming in her direction, they made queer noises. Being afraid of being speared, she stood up straight in one of the burnt-out gumtrees, and having dark clothes on, the natives did not see her. She was worried about my father, but the natives turned south towards the Coast.
In due time my father obtained the Lease of land and called it “Kilroy”. Kilroy remained the home of the McCracken family for life, and at the time of writing this, 1982, the land is still held by Gordon McCracken.
A brief reference to the aboriginals in the 1880’s. The natives were really clever, if they could have got things like now in later years, they may have left the white man in the dark The lovely carvings they did on bark and trees, and some only had pieces of glass or flint stone. I have a walking stick done by hand, beautifully carved and decorated, you would think it was professional. As they became more assimilated, we children got to know them as we lived among them. They used to go “walk-about” from Fowlers Bay to Elliston in those days. The natives used to make musical instruments from bark and roots, and play the gumleaf.
My mother and father had 12 children, the first two were twins. She went to Adelaide by steamer, as she was not well.
Unfortunately the twins were born on the boat and both died shortly afterwards. She was taken to the Adelaide Hospital and the twins were buried in Adelaide.
The others in the family were:-
Ellen married Peter Cambell of “Gartlie” near Newland Grange, and went to live in WA
Margaret married Earnest  (Tom)  Clark, a jockey, and lived in Port Pirie
William married Alice Phillips of Mount Wedge
John married Annie Ford of Colton
Samuel married Florrie Ford of Colton
Isabella (self) married Alfred Ford of Colton
Royston married Ivy Conlon of Adelaide
Mable (sic) married Herbert Phillips of Mount Wedge,
Annette (Nettie) married Jim (William) Robinson of England
Last baby died at birth, mother died of haemorrhage at this birth, there was no doctor for 200 miles. I was 10 years old when my mother died.
Referring to the two Foster children, Lawrence Foster was engaged to Nellie, a Miss Myers from Oaklands Station near Elliston.
He went to Western Australia and was murdered in his tent by his partner. The murderer was apprehended on the evidence of Lawrence Foster's mother's wedding ring which she had given him before he left home. He was hanged for murder. Jessie Foster married Edward Fox of Mt Wedge Station. His father was at one time manager of the station for Price Morris. Ted and Jessie had 10 children. Seven died before they were twenty one with TB. At that time they lived at Talia. In desperation, they shifted to Gladstone and saved the lives of two boys and a girl, Adeline, in the hotter climate.
My father John McCracken, remarried in 1904 a widow named Crossland with one child Eric who was adopted by my father as a young child.
There were two (more) children.Lucy (sic) married Edward (sic) Gross of Adelaide Gordon married Dulcie Scott of Gumflat Station, Mount Wedge
Eric married Myrtle Roberts of Sheringa
Originally my father owned a team of bullocks and a bullock dray. Later years horses were used extensively, both for saddle work, mustering stock and harness work. My father was fond of a drop of good cheer. He used to drive Leo and Tess in the buggy to Colton Hotel, 13 miles or Elliston Hotel 26 miles. Occasionally he drove to Port Lincoln in his buggy, 130 miles. The horses mentioned were almost human in their understanding. On returning home, the worse for wear, the horses would stop at the gates while they were opened and shut and wait for him to get back in the buggy before moving off. The road to Kilroy was hilly and steep, but he always arrived home safely.
The sons, as soon as they were old enough, went shearing, working on farms. All the sons became builders and stone masons.
My mother always made her yeast and bread, cooking mainly in camp ovens.
When they went to live on their own property, Kilroy, they built a stone cottage with a thatched roof.
After my mother died my eldest sister  Margaret looked after the younger members of the family. My father was out watering sheep across the swamp at “The Gunyah” property well which was fitted with a whip. He noticed smoke coming from the thatched roof of the house. He galloped home to find the house completely burnt to the ground. Fearing the children were burnt, he circled the house and found a young child’s tracks dragging a toy or doll. Margaret, after the house caught alight, hurried to a neighbour’s place, a Mrs. Usher, and there my father found us safe and well. The people from all around heard of the fire, and drays and horses arrived and stone masons and in less than a week, a new stone house was built of six rooms and an iron roof.
The nearest primary school was Colton School 6 ½ miles from Kilroy. An area known as The Ranges separated Colton from Kilroy.
Extremely steep roads from Kilroy to the top of the ranges at Usher’s and then down hill into Colton. All the McCracken children either walked the 13 miles each day or as they got older were allowed a horse and sulky or buggy. My own school days were mainly walking. My brother Roy was bitten by a sleepy lizard on the way to school one morning. We used to get up early to go to school, one morning arriving at school before the teacher was up, a Mr. Stephenson. On several occasions we walked past Kenny’s Colton Hotel before the Kenny children were up and they only had ½ mile to go to school - 16 Kenny children. On one occasion we arrived early and the school teacher and his wife gave us some toast and coffee. However we all did this walking so far for a bit of schooling in those days, but I do say this and mean it, there were some hard-working and brainy men and women than ever now, and it was the older generation who made Australia what it is today, but it is badly abused. Then after my school days at 12 or 13 years, my two oldest sisters married and I was left to do for Father and 4 brothers and 2 younger sisters. I made yeast, this had to be put in tightly-corked bottles and not used for 2 days. I would then get a huge dish of flour, and put in some yeast, and work by hand into a dough, knead and punch and put into tins for rising and cooking. We had no fresh water at Kilroy, my father sank 4 wells close to the house up to 50 feet deep, but always salty water. The well across the swamp, 3 miles away was good water and had to be carted to the house, first with a dray and 2 bullocks, then by horse and dray. Later years my gather built a 1200 gallon stone tank at the house to catch rain water off the roof.
After I left school I was sent out to this well once or twice a week on horseback to bale water for 500 sheep, bullocks and horses. The whip was used consisting of a bucket on the end of a rope to be lowered into the well. There was an upright post and a long rail pivoted on the post. The opposite end of the rail to the bucket was a larger bucket full of stones as a counterweight. It was hard work and as fast as I pulled the water up and emptied it into the trough the stock would drink it, I had to water the stock to help my father as the boys had gone out to earn their own money for their future. I must say I had their heavy washing to do and also made many of their shirts. The material then was called “galitea” and it was stripey, but very strong material. I made no fuss of having to do this as I felt I had to being the eldest girl left home. The 2 eldest sisters were married, the youngest ones were at school, I often wonder how I did all this work, both inside and out of the house. But I must say I was blessed with good health all my life. God was good to me.
In the early 1900’s I do remember so well when we were all teenagers we always had a wonderful day on St Patrick’s Day, March 17th, and all the people around Colton held this day as a holiday with horse races, foot races etc. I remember so well on one occasion my father took us young ones to the races in the bullock dray, he took the pole off, fitted a pair of shafts and put a horse in and drove us to the races. The horse could only walk as the dray was so heavy.
People from Bramfield had good gardens and used to bring fruit to the races for sale – Johansen’s, Slater’s etc. Grapes were 1 ½ lbs. for a halfpenny, apricots and peaches so cheap. One wonders how they made anything out of the fruit sales. We could buy a large bottle of lemonade for 6 pence. Occasionally we went to Elliston Beach after father bought a buggy. We had one shilling each pocket money. We could get a lot of sweets and biscuits for a low price. Bush biscuits about 7 inches long for a halfpenny. Often when we arrived home at Kilroy there would be mob of natives sitting across from our home, sometimes 100 or more, and I had to get to work and cook a big saucepan of rice with black treacle poured over it and give them to eat. They would go mad over it. We used to put it on tin plates. They used to beg for old clothing. These natives often came down from the Western Australian border.
Our big cool home made of pine rafters and posts and a lovely thatched roof as this is a kind of tussock growing on the 4,000 acres of swamp near the house. My mother,  then alive,  grew a lovely creeper all over the front of the house, to hide the thatch, and it was cool and clean and we had hessian ceilings in all the rooms painted white.
When my brother Roy got older he used to help me water the sheep at the well with the whip. There was a pinery at the east end of the block and Scott’s had  built a large water hole near our own Mount Joy water hole where a lot of our sheep watered, Roy and I used to go there catching rabbits. Some we brought home to eat, others we skinned and took the skins home and stretched them on wires, also caught many kangaroos with dogs and dried the skins. There was a sale for skins and it was pocket money for us. Rabbits were first noticed in 1892.
I used to make my father’s underwear (flannel), all my young sisters clothing and my own. How I found that time besides milking 4 cows, make butter, make and cook bread, water sheep, washing and ironing, but one did not mind as we just thought it was what we had to do to live.
My father, left a widower, was a marvellous man, a good father. He used to sing very well and knew such a lot of old songs. I remember so well how in the long winter nights with a big stump open fire, he would sit and sing to us children and we got to lkearn such a lot of them.  My father could not read or write.  My mother had a good education. They knew more in reality than today, I rember one Sunday we all went to the Swamp to catch kangaroos, my older brothers caught a kangaroo and tied a girl's red bonnet on it and let it go. They could see it join the mob and they all took off in fright. The bonnet was found some time later and Father gave them a blowing up for cruelty to animals. I remember when Roy and I were going to school so far we always had to pass Mrs. Usher's place, the poor old soul used to give us a bun or cake and we loved this. If it was a wet morning she would let us warm ourselves in front of her big fire and then we would go off to school with some of her children. A couple of times towards the end of the week we were tired, and although it had not rained much Roy and I shook mallee trees and got wet. Mrs Usher made us take off our clothes and dry them and sent us back home as it was too late to go on to school.
I remember when I was about 10 years old my father took my mother, Annette, Mabel and myself for a drive about a fortnight before my mother died, in the buggy and horse, coming home the horses shied and threw my mother out on to the road and one of the wheels of the buggy went over her knee. Dad got her up and into the buggy, but was so sorry this should have happened, knowing she was so close to her confinement. This accident did bring on the birth prematurely. There was no doctor or hospital for many miles. Father used to act as midwife for the first children and she used to get a midwife for the younger children. She took very ill after the accident, my older sister Margaret was then home, and they hurried to a neighbour to get help with the confinement. But she was in labour for many hours and the baby was born dead. My mother kept bleeding and they could not stop it, and she died about 1894. So they were buried together, with the little daughter on her arm dressed in lovely white gowns.
Every Sunday we were not allowed to play sport of any kind. I used to be a scamp at whistling doing my work and my dad was very
serious and when he would hear me, he would say "a whistling woman and a crowing hen is neither use to God or men".
I made reference to Mrs Usher. She became the district's midwife. She married her cousin John Usher and had 7 children.
Unfortunately 2 of the children were retarded, Alice and John. Her husband died when he was about 50 years of age. Mrs. Usher often said how her husband would sit down to 20 boiled eggs for breakfast. Some men were hard on home help, just after her husband died she was with child herself. A Mr. Barns of Barnsdale, Colton engaged her on a yearly basis as midwife to his wife, but he would not let her bring her own child to work, so she used to walk about two miles to work, see to the mother and numerous older children, walk home to give her baby breast milk and then walk back again to Barns'. Sometimes she would be called out at night, and a cart with a plank across was all the neighbour had for transport.
Sometimes she travelled up to 20 miles, she delivered over 100 babies and only one mother and baby died. Families in those days
were 10 - 15 children, if ever a person should have had a monument it was her.
Referring again to Lawrence Foster as mentioned previously, he was engaged to Nellie Myers of Oaklands Station, she died in 1980. Never married. He went to Kalgoorlie and took up a mine lease on September 19th. 1897. He wrote to his girlfriend's father Dan Myers on this date and I had this letter sent to me from the Myers family.
Farming in the early days was hard. Two furrow ploughs. The driver having to walk all day. Wheat spread by hand then harrowed in. Reaped by 4-foot stripper and cleaned with a smallhand winnower. I used to turn the winnower to clean the wheat and then sew the 4-bushel bags of wheat. The wheat was carted to Port Elliston first by bullocks and dray, later by horses and wagon. Colton had a good store run by Bartlett's, later McBeath's. Colton also had a good Blacksmith, McMahon, also a Sadler and Harness maker, a Mr. Elder. He had one daughter Louie who was a good dancer and Button Accordian Player, and a great man's girl, her mother died when she was quite young. There were some large families around Colton in those days. Kenny's, Barns', North's, Boylan's, Ford's, Washington's, Hull's, McMahon's, all had 10-14 children each family. Colton school 1894 had 52 pupils.
Snakes were plentiful in the early days, also animals - Wombats, Possums, Pinkiies, Wild-dogs, Birds, Wild Turkey, Emus, Parrots, Cockatoos and Ducks on the swamp. 1880 - 1890 were good years for farmers. My 3 brothers were out shearing, Willie shearing over 100 in a day. We often took parrots and cockatoos, reared them and sold them for 2/- each to the sailors on the boats at Elliston.
My father was a wonderful man to his family, although he could not read or write he used to sing a lot of old songs. After my mother died he was a mother and father to us children. I often remember him saying to us, do this or that as your mother would have liked you to do. He often used to come up to me and call me Nancy. I don't know how this name came about, but often when he
came out of a morning he would put his arm around me and say "What are you giving for breakfast Nancy?". So now my third son had a daughter in W. Aust. and they called her Nancy.
We all used to go to Colton to big dances and my brother William used to play the Button Accordian for the dances. There was no piano in those days. May's also played the Accordian and Violin, also the Herreen family. It was wonderful dance music and later I played the Accordian for dances and waltzes, square dances, Highland Flings, polkas, etc. In the 1904 period a second generation took over the farms which were fairly well developed, but continued the old family names on some properties,
Kenny, Dinnison, Lewis, Hull, McCracken, Ford, May, Washington, North, Boylan, Usher, Barns, McMahon, Bartlett, Elder, Shipard, Scott, McEvoy.
These are some of the families that lived near Colton, West Coast in those days.
Some of the men enlisted in the Boer War and many more in the Great War 1914-1919.
We all did a lot of Red Cross work, some of the boys did not return.
There were some wonderful horses shipped from Elliston.
After the war, we had photos (large) erected in the Colton Hall of the boys who did not return.
A special day was arranged for the unveiling.  Alec North, Leslie Barns and others.
I called and was able to see these photos in 1972.
The Hall has since been demolished and as far as I know the photos hung in the RSL Clubrooms at Elliston. 
As a recognition of my work in the Red Cross from 1914 to today's date, I was invited by the SA Government to be present at the Royal Music Festival, Wayville Oval on 24 March 1954 in the presence of the Queen.
Mails in the early days were carried by horse coach from Port Lincoln to Streaky Bay, calling at Little Swamp Hotel, Wangary Hotel, Warrow Hotel, Lake Hamilton Eating House, Sheringa Boarding House, Bramfield Hotel, Colton Hotel, Port Kenny Hotel, Streaky Bay Hotel.
Every 30 miles a change of horses was ready, four horses to a coach.
I must tell you this is a true story.
About 30 miles from Streaky Bay at Mortana Mail box, the kangaroos were thick, cheeky and inquisitive, and Charlie Mudge, the main coach man had some passengers from Melbourne, and on stopping to put the mail out he called to the kangaroos and said "no mail for you today" and they all hopped off.
Charlie liked a drop of spirits and he often stopped the coach and had a drink at a hollow tree where he had his drink planted.
In the pioneering days the farmers relied on their sheep and kangaroo dogs.
Some sheep dogs were very good.
At Sea View, Colton, the Ford's home we had a sheep dog, Snip, black and white.
My husband Alf Ford would often take the butcher's knife out and sharpen it on a steel.
Snip would go out after the sheep and bring them to the yard.
Before the Halls and Churches were built, dances were held in wool sheds, Bascombe's wool shed at Mount Wedge was one of the main venues owing to the size of the shed.  We danced all night and arrived home at Kilroy and later Sea View at daybreak after travelling 20-30 miles each way with buggy and horses.
By the dances we saved enough money to build the Catholic and Church of England at Colton.
The first Hall was built at Colton and later a much larger Hall was built.
The land was cleared in ther 1870's and into the 1900's, first by bullocks pulling the sheoaks into heaps and l;ater by cutting the mallee scrub with an axe.  It was sheer hard work, and this is how the pioneers developed the land, all bullock work and early plowing by both first bullocks and later by horses, done by walking all day with teams.
I often ponder on those early days me making bread, butter, cooking, wash tubs and coppers and camp ovens.  Prior to that walking 6 1/2 miles to school.
I have had a hard but busy life, but God has been good to me, no serious illness.
I always loved company, we used to have 20 people to Sunday dinner at least once a month, and enough people in the afternoon for a cricket team.
I am now 96, and God has been good to me with health and being able to get about and sleep well, so that is one of the main things.
I am worried that children are not taught their prayers, kneeling at their mother's knee.
Why is religious instruction in the homes so neglected, is tv more important ?
I Isabella McCracken married Alfred Ford- had 4 sons and 2 daughters.
Renfrey married Isabella Beatson - had 2 daughters.
Greta married Ralph Sargent - had 2 sons and 1 daughter.
Clifford Married Doreen Goodwin - had 1 daughter from previous marriage and adopted his wife's son Ken.
Alfred married Maude Pelman - had 2 sons and 3 daughters.
David married Elizabeth- had 1 son and 1 daughter.
Clarice married Thomas Tee- had 3 sons and 2 daughters.
I now have 27 great grand children.
Editor's Note.
The original was recorded in an interview with Isabella by herm son Renfrey Ford in 1982.  Some time after her first husband died, Isabella Ford married Archie Campbell of Maylands.
Isabella Beatrice McCracken died in 1985.
Mrs Isabella Campbell, who died in Adelaide on December 7 in her 102 year, was an active member of the Red Cross from 1914 TO 1974.
Her 60 years of service were recognised with a special long service badge presented after 55 years of service.
Isabella Beatrice Campbell, who was born on August 8 1884, was the last of a family of pioneers who attended Colton school from 1890 to 1903.
She was also the last surviving member of the 12 children born to John and Martha McCracken, of Kilroy, Colton.
Mrs Campbell, who endeared herself to all who knew her, was affectionately known as Grandma to 17 grandchildren, 37 great grandchildren and 6 great-great grandchildren, and Auntir Bella to her nieces and nephews.
Isabella married Alfred Ford of Colton on 10 March 1908.  There were six children from the marriage, four of whom pre-deceased her.  The surviving sons are Renfrey Ford, of Ungarra, and David Ford of Hamilton Hill WA.  A step-brother Gordon McCracken of Kilroy, Colton also survived her.
After her husband died in 1941, Isabella moved to Adelaide where she helped in a shop conducted by Alec Fox, at Norwood for a time.
She later married Arch Campbell. of Maylands, who died in June 1951.
Inn 1971, Mrs Campbell sold her home to go into a new unit at Masonic Memorial Village and moved into the nursing home there when she was 95.
Modified: 01/15/09 21:51:00