Born: 1832; Died: 1928; Married: Jemima McPherson
'In 1928 there died at Ravensworth, in the Hunter Valley, John Winter, who was in his ninety-seventh year. Born at Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, England in 1832, he worked as a farm labourer, and day after day with other men would make his way to the village green which was a picking-up point for any labourer the squire might require. Early in life he knew what it was to be hungry. His elder brother William did not take kindly to this life of scarcity, and to make a few shillings he took to poaching, to the horror and dismay of his father, who said, 'For God's sake, William, go to Australia before they send you!' This advice they both eventually decided to take, John arriving on the sailing ship Blenheim in 1855, while William followed shortly after, arriving on 4 September 1856 on the ship Lloyds.
On arrival in Sydney John set off on foot for the interior and he trudged up through the Hunter Valley and at last arrived at Kentucky, New England [some 30 kilometres south of Armidale]. Here he made good money as a mower, for good mowers were scarce because of the gold rush. Saving his money, he worked his way south until he reached Canberra. "As soon as I saw it", he relates. "I said, 'this is the place for me'."
There in 1861 he selected 80 acres in the Parish of Goorooyarroo and called it Red Hill - after the nearby hill where aborigines mined ochre for their ceremonies - the site today known as Gubur Dhaura. 'Red Hill' is known today as Gungaderra (a conflation of 'Gungahlin' and 'Ginninderra' introduced in 1935 by the then leaseholder, Richard Crace). For a time the brothers worked together, before William married and moved to Bungendore. William married Maria Martha Rolfe, daughter of Anthony and Catherine Rolfe of Tea Gardens, in 1859. [Their grandson was Anthony Winter, winner of Australia's first olympic gold medal, won at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, in the triple jump. His jump of 15.52 m was a world and olympic record].
On 13 June 1861 John Winter married Jemima McPherson, daughter of Hugh and Isabella McPherson of Majura. They had nine children - four sons, Joseph, William, John and David, and four daughters, Jemima (Mrs Isaac Daniel Cregan), Isabella (Mrs George Shumack), Sarah (Mrs. Samuel Shumack) and Elizabeth (Mrs Henry Thomas Ginn). The ninth child, Isabella, died in infancy.
This generation saw mechanization come to the land. In this the Winter sons played their part as engineers, first with a portable steam engine drawn by bullocks and a huge threshing machine called a 'drum'. William and John travelled from farm to farm to do the threshing and chaffcutting. They worked in the Canberra-Queanbeyan area, but also worked in the Yass-Gunning district, and travelled as far south as Holbrook, Henty, and Culcairn. The brothers and their machinery were a familiar sight until the late 1930's
The flails that fell on the fields of Babylon and Egypt - and of Canberra - now became museum pieces. At the start of the century they introduced the steam traction engine, which weighed twelve tons and pulled a threshing machine, elevator and wagon, chaffcutter and steamer, and field kitchen. With the introduction of shearing machines the Winter brothers were kept busy installing these machines and the first oil petrol engines. They were clever workers in metal and did their own repairs. Amos Winter, son of William, later played his part at Canberra with his contracting earthmoving machines. John Winter added to Red Hill until he owned near 1,000 acres.
When her first child was a toddler Jemima Winter had to shepherd a small flock of sheep and to prevent them straying on to a neighbour's land she often had to run to head them off. With a baby this was impossible, so she dug a hole in which she stood young Jemima. One day as she was heading back the sheep there came a sharp, heavy thunderstorm and in a few minutes gullies began to fill with water. Panic-stricken, Jemima abandoned the sheep and ran through the deluge -'Baby will be drowned!' She was relieved to find Jemima still with her head above water and seemingly happy. Years later a block of land was selected in Jemima's name and, as was required by law, she had to sleep on it at night. One of her younger sisters used to sleep with her for company. Night after night they would shiver with terror as heavy footsteps could be heard round the hut and the door would be tried.
As soon as they could toddle the children became shepherds, and while they minded the sheep they had to heap wood - at least eight heaps a day. In the reaping field they reaped and bound side by side with the men - some were better reapers than the men. At the threshing floor the men wielded the flail while the women did the winnowing. Then came the reaper and binder and threshing machine, and gradually women left the fields, but not the cowyard - milking was women's work!
When the Federal government moved to resume the land John wrote to the Federal Territory Administrator requesting compensation of ₤3.5.0 per acre for 'about 850 acres or thereabout' - ₤2,763. On 18th October 1915 a letter from the Acting Director of Commonwealth Lands and Surveys advised that a sum of ₤1,937.11.1 compensation was paid. At the age of 83 John Winter moved to Ravensworlh and lived with his daughter Sarah (Shumack) and son in law Samuel on their farm until his death thirteen years later. Of his time at Ravensworth his grandson (Samuel Heber Shumack) has written:
"...he fitted into our household very well - he had his own room and he went for a long walk every day. He was popular with everyone and had a good sense of humour. It was my job when delivering the milk and cream to the railway station, To call at Wolfgang's Wine Shop and purchase a bottle of sherry (2/6 was the price) and grandfather always had a 'nip' last thing at night. He never suffered any illness while at our place, and it was flu which carried him off 26/9/1928 at the age of 96"
He is buried in the Church of England cemetery at Hebden.
[Edited extract from Shumack (1967) p. 99-100; additional material supplied by Robin Astbury, descendant]
Obituary: The Late John Winter
The late Mr. John Winter, who died recently aged 96 years, was an old Canberra identity. He came there in 1855 to work for the late George Campbell, of Duntroon. After working there for some time he and his brother William (who had just arrived from England) carried their swags to Armidale. After a few months of travel Duntroon was again reached in 1859, and at the end of that year Mr. Winter secured a farm on the Spring Bank Estate, the property of Dr. Hayley. This farm was on the Black Hill side of the Commonwealth Bank. He held this farm for three years and had the good fortune to harvest a record crop in 1863. That year he secured 960 bushels of wheat off 16 acres.
He then took up a selection at Red Hill. Robertson's Free Selection Act having come into force a short time before. Here all his children were born, excepting the eldest, who was born on the farm at Spring Bank. At the time of his death his children, grand-children and great-grandchildren numbered 101. About the year 1918 he left the Queanbeyan District, and lived with his third daughter, Mrs. S. Shumack. He passed away quietly a few minutes before midnight on 26th September, 1928.
[Yass Courier, Thursday 15 November 1928, p. 6]
- Shumack, S., An autobiography or Tales and Legends of Canberra pioneers, ANU Press, Canberra 1967
- Gillespie, L. L., Ginninderra: Forerunner to Canberra, Campbell, 1992