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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Samuel Shumack

Born: 1850; Died: 1940; Married: Sarah Winter

Samuel  Shumack

Without Samuel Shumack’s detailed recollections of the last half of the nineteenth century, Canberra’s history would be much the poorer.

He arrived in Australia as a six year old with his bounty migrant parents Richard and Ann in 1856 aboard the Bermondsey. Richard was the last of seven Shumack brothers who emigrated to Australia, four of them settling in the Bathurst district. Richard first worked for the Campbells at Duntroon before moving to a position at Ginninderra estate for William Davis (Junior). The family lived at the Emu Bank outstation, which is now at the southern end of Lake Ginninderra in the Belconnen Town Centre.

He recorded the events of their arrival in his recollections.

We saw the Canberra Plain for the first time … from a point close to where Wells Station homestead now stands … Our journey from Sydney occupied three weary weeks, and we were happy to rest as guests of my Uncle John’s wife and family [near modern-day Reid].

Of his childhood Samuel recalled:

"I did not attend school regularly until I was fourteen years of age. From the age of eight my time was fully occupied following the sheep. In 1865 [ie when he was fifteen] I attended the school at Ginninderra [St Pauls, The Glebe] for a period of six weeks.........At this time I could not write or cast accounts, although I was a good reader and had a good knowledge of geography. I quickly picked up the rudiments of arithmetic, but had to leave school to assist with our farming".

This was of course the bane of the rural teacher's life......

Samuel reported the tension with Davis concerning their decision to take advantage of the 1861 land reforms to become free selectors and set up their own farm at Weetangerra called Springvale. He wrote:

William Davis - who was father’s employer and the squatter on whose land we selected - has 20,000 acres, excluding some thousands of acres of Crown land for which he paid very little, yet he resented our efforts to strike out for ourselves and laughed at what he derisively called ‘Shumack’s Folly’. ‘Three years’, he said, ‘will see Shumack and his family sadder and wiser, for shortage of water will drive them out.’ His prophecy miscarried!

In 1893 Samuel married Sarah Winter - daughter of Buckinghamshire migrants, John Winter and Jemima McPherson. They had nine children together. One of them - Samuel (jnr) - later recalled:

"When father took over the Weetangera Mail Run from the Clarks [Ellen Clark was the Weetangera teacher 1894-1920] the pay was ₤12/10/- per YEAR and it had been set at that for a long time. At Mrs Clark's suggestion he applied for an increase, and with the help of our local member it rose to ₤15!.....
......David Shumack was my brother and he 'ran the mail' as it was termed, for quite a while. I accompanied him on one occasion when he called at the One Tree Hotel at Hall, for a bottle of brandy for Mrs Bill Webber - then living in John Shumack's former home. Mon Lazarus was the 'mine host' at that time and he brought me a glass of lemonade as I waited in the sulky. He was known as 'Old Mons' "
(White, p.335)

Further information on the Weetangera postal service can be found here

Evidently Samuel developed a love of both reading and writing - in spite of his minimal formal education. White records:

Samuel enjoyed reading, and during the course of his life he purchased the libraries of Rev P.G.Smith and Frederick Campbell, as well as a Campbell bookcase. He had in excess of 2,000 books in his own library eventually...." (While, p.331)

Along with all his neighbour's properties, Springvale, by then a farm of around 2,000 acres, was resumed by the Commonwealth government in 1915. Shumack left the district and moved to Hebden, near Singleton, NSW. On the very day he left the property he was severely injured in an accident and was forced into a more sedentary retirement in which he wrote his memoir. However, Shumack had always been widely read and interested in writing and may always have been likely to have become Canberra’s first local chronicler, despite his accident and change of circumstances. His 488-page manuscript of recollections has become a critical source for the early lives of the residents of the district from his arrival as a child in 1856 until after the turn of the century. While his work contains many minor chronological inconsistencies and, at times, appears contradictory in some of its details, it is nevertheless an invaluable primary account which brings to life Canberra’s pioneering families. In particular, it provides the rare perspective of the smaller farmers and free selectors who emerged as the driving force of the the social landscape of the 1860s.

Samuel Shumack died in 1940. Sarah followed him fourteen years later. They are buried in St Johns, Reid.

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