Born: 1840; Died: 1903; Married: Catherine Sheedy
John Coppin was born in the village of Sutton Valence, near Langley in Kent, on 1st June 1840. His parents were Thomas Coppin, a carpenter and wattle-gate maker, and Ann (nee Tombling / Tomlin). At seventeen, a farm labourer, he emigrated to Australia, paying ₤1 for an assisted passage on the Washington Irving. He arrived in Sydney on 27 September 1857 and found work in the household of a Mr and Mrs Deloitte and their six children. His wife to be, Catherine Sheedy, was already lady's maid in the Deloitte household. They married at the Roman Catholic Church of St Augustine, Balmain, on 7 January 1859, but by that time had left the Deloitte household. John was sacked after being found worse for wear in the cellar with the Deloitte's son Quentin, and Catherine resigned in sympathy.
She had found employment through the happy chance of meeting a former neighbour in Ireland, John Patrick Cunningham ('Paddy-Two-Sticks'), and it was Cunningham who directed them to William Davis' Ginninderra estate, where he himself was working. So it was that after their marriage in 1859 they walked all the way to their final destination at Ginninderra, working along the way to support themselves, and carrying with them everything they owned. Not a bad effort. Helped by the fact that he had played cricket back in Kent, Coppin was taken on as a labourer at 12/- a week plus rations. Catherine, well pregnant with their first child (John) when they made the journey to Ginninderra, gave birth in the tent that was their first home.
Early in 1860 John took the position of shepherd at the Goat Station on the Molonglo River - one of the many shepherding out-stations of the Ginninderra estate. Here the Coppins shared a three roomed hut with 'Paddy' Cunningham, who also shepherded a flock nearby. Catherine was able to supplement John's 12/- a week by catering for travellers on their way to the Kiandra goldfield. Conditions were tough however, with both drought (1865-66) and floods (1873) and the predations of insects and wildlife - as well as the occasional good year (1876). When Ralph Edge, fellow shepherd at Lime Kiln Waterhole died in 1872 'what little property he had went to John and Catherine Copping who had looked after him in his later days' (Shumack, S). This would have been a blessing to the Coppins.
The Coppins had seven children. John was followed by Margaret Ann (1861), Ellen (1863), George (1866), Thomas William (1868), Laura (1871) and Albert Henry (1873). (Ellen, who was to marry Timothy Kelleher, was the great grand-mother of the family historian Rhonda Boxall). Margaret, Ellen and George are listed as prospective pupils when application was made for a school two and a half miles away at Weetangera. Ellen, George, Thomas and Laura's names were put forward in 1877 when the Council of Education was petitioned to upgrade from Provisional to Public School status. Meanwhile the family of nine grew up at Goat Station, producing what they could in their small orchard and vegetable plots. Neighbour Samuel Shumack says of them: 'As neighbours [the Coppins] were excellent.It would be impossible to find a more hospitable couple than John and Catherine Coppin'.
In July 1876 John was invited to join a wallaby shooting party organised by William Davis and George Harcourt. He shot 300 himself, of a haul of 2,600, and did some skinning for others. At some stage he moved to the head station, and was seriously injured when asked to take out the ration cart to the outstations. While with the hut-keeper at Ginninderra Falls, his horse took fright and the dray struck a stump and overturned, leaving Coppin unconscious. The hut-keeper thought he was dead, and raced the nine miles to Ginninderra to break the bad news. Meanwhile Coppin came too and set off back to GInninderra himself.
After earlier failures, he finally succeeded in becoming an independent landowner in 1878 when he selected 200 acres on the south side of the lower Molonglo river - portion 107, Parish of Yarrolumla. It was not far from their previous home at Goat Station and the area now known as Coppins Crossing. Within eighteen months Coppin had made improvements to the value of ₤57 - a hut (₤10), garden fence (₤12), land clearing (₤30), and yard (₤5). In regard to his source of income he is described at this time as a 'cropper'. It seems that he struggled financially however, as the land was mortgaged in 1882, and in 1891 the holding became part of Frederick Campbell's Yarralumla estate. It was named Coppins Corner Paddock, the name persisting at least until the land was resumed by the Commonwealth.
The 1891 Census records that there were five residents at the Coppin's home - most likely the youngest children Laura, Thomas William and Albert Henry, and their parents. However, Coppin - describing himself as a 'farmer' - had by then applied for three parcels of land (1280 acres) with river frontage to the upper Molonglo in the Kowen / Burbong area in the parish of Amungula. The application was confirmed in April 1891.
It is not known why the Coppins, now in their fifties, made the big decision to start again after their sustained efforts to get established at the Goat Station and Coppins Corner, but they did not waste any time:
Only five and a half months had elapsed when Inspector Spicer visited the property on 21 September 1891 and reported that the land had been improved by a four-roomed house, a kitchen, stable, dairy, garden, and extensive fencing......he also noted that the residence contained furniture, provisions, cooking utensils, etc., while poultry and domestic animals were wandering about (Boxall, 15)
It seems most probable that sons Thomas and Albert, both still unmarried, were living at Burbong, where they were listed as 'labourers' for the 1903 elections. They, as well as Laura, would no doubt have been a great source of help to their mother and father. It seems likely that the Kowen land was used mostly for grazing, rather than cropping. It was Albert who signed his mother's death certificate when she died in 1901. John followed shortly after - in 1903 - after a short period when he was cared for by his daughter, Ellen Kelleher, at her Naas home.
[Generous assistance from Rhonda Boxall gratefully acknowledged]
- Boxall, R. Coppins Crossing and beyond. The Life and Times of John and Catherine Coppin, Self-published, Wollongong, 2013
- Shumack, S., An autobiography or Tales and Legends of Canberra pioneers, ANU Press, Canberra 1967
- ACT Heritage Council, Background information. Coppin Homestead site, Molonglo, Feb 2015. (accessed 2 Sept 2016)
- McAlister, C., Twelve historic sites in the Glennburn and Burbong areas of the Kowen forest, National Parks Association (ACT), Canberra, 2007.
- ACT Heritage Council, Background information Glenburn Precinct, November 2015.