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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
James Burton

Born: 1813; Died: 1896

[Extracted from ACT Heritage Council, Background Information. Burton House site (Rural Block 792 Gungahlin]

'In 1869, after the introduction of the Robertson Land Acts, James Burton took up a pre-emptive lease, purchasing Portion 66, consisting of 100 acres (Gillespie 1991: 155-156). As required by the terms of the purchase, Burton made substantial improvements to the property. A map dated to 1880 demonstrates that the property was fenced with a post-and-rail along its northern boundary and a log fence along the eastern, southern and western sides. In addition, a house and yard were constructed at the northern end, while to the east a fence bisected the entire portion north-south (O'Brien 2012: 79). East of the internal fence most of the land has been cleared and has good soil, which in the 1860s could have been used to grow wheat and/or potatoes (Shumack 1967: 35, 37).

Samuel Shumack, once a resident of Weetangerra, makes reference in his autobiography to James, but refers to him as 'Henry Burton', describing him as an efficient stonemason. According to his entry, Henry successfully gained the contract and constructed a section of the new tower of St Johns Church, Reid, in 1865 after the old tower was demolished for the new extensions. Shumack recalled that his tender was more than £2000 and he was a 'master of his trade and some of his workmen were most proficient in the art of stone cutting ... ' (Shumack 1967: 19). James worked as a stone mason at Duntroon around the same time (Cooke 2010).

In the meanwhile, James 'took up land at the northern end of the Canberra Plain where he built a stone house and lived with his wife and family' (Schumack1967:19-20).

Five years later, after completing the new tower of St John's, James missed out on a lucrative tender for the extension of the tower, Church and chancel (Shumack 1967: 19). A short time later rumours began to circulate within the small community that Burton was a bigamist and that he had left a wife and family in England. In 1880, his wife and children left him, relocating to Narranderra, where his eldest son gained employment (Shumack 1967: 19).

In the Grevilles Official Post Office Directory, "James Burton" is listed as a recipient of mail on the Queanbeyan to Canberra mail route and his occupation is listed as 'farmer' in 1872 (Greville and Company 1872: 99). Sometime before 1887, Burton relocated to Mulligans Flat. Shumack (1967: 19) reported that he was disliked by his neighbours and when he last saw Burton, he was 'a human wreck'.
After his marriage broke down, Burton constructed a new dwelling near Elmgrove. It is possible that he may have removed part of the wall of his residence on Portion 66 and incorporated into his new house (Cooke 2010: 27-8).

A few years later, he passed away in his hut (Gillespie 1992:213). An inquest was held into his death at Elm Grove before Coroner Mr. W D Downing (Goulburn Evening Penny Post 27 February 1896, p 4). The jury found that his death was caused by an accidental fall.

The parish map of 1912 shows Archibald McKeahnie as owner of Portion 66, which he purchased it to enlarge his Well Station property'.

Further information about his death and subsequent coroners enquiry were reported in the Queanbeyan Age (QA) and the Goulbutn Evening Penny Post (GEPP)

The Wizard reported in the Post:

I regret to have to report the death of another old and respected resident of Ginninderra in the person of Mr James Burton, which took place under particularly distressing circumstances early yesterday forenoon. The deceased, Mr Burton, who was in his eighty-third year and who had been in a decrepit state of health for some few years past, resided in a house by himself. He was last seen alive by a little daughter of Mr James Gillespie who was in the habit of paying him daily visits, late the previous afternoon when he appeared to be in his usual state of health. About 10 am on the following day a neighbour, Mr WH Jones was horrified to find the poor old man lying dead on the floor of his house, and bleeding from the mouth, nose and eyes.

The inference drawn from the position of the body and surroundings is that the poor old fellow after partaking of his morning meal and smoke was in the act of rising from his seat, leaning as he usually did with both hands upon his walking stick for support and that the stick having slipped, he fell with great force, his head striking heavily against a large cupboard which stood close by. Information of the sad occurrence was at once sent to the police and coroner and an inquest will be held today. The deceased who was a stonemason by trade and who had a nice little sum to his credit in the Savings bank, had been a resident of the Queanbeyan District for about 40 years and was highly respected by all who knew him. He was a widower and has a married son and daughter alive in some part of the colony but the address of neither of them is known.
[Wizard's Notes GEPP, 25.2.1896]

The Queanbeyan Observer reported on the inquest:

On 22nd instant Mr Coroner Downing held an inquest at Ginninderra on view of the body of an old man found dead in his house on the previous day. The inquiry was conducted before a jury of five viz Messrs James McLaughlin, Matthew Walsh, George Shumack, Percy Rowley, George Butler. William Henry Jones a hawker residing at Hall deposed that about 10.30 on 21st instant he went to the home of James Burton where he saw the door ajar and called out, 'Are you in bed Jim!'. He got no answer and when he went in saw the deceased lying on the floor and thought he was asleep, but when he shook him he found he was dead. Deceased, told witness on one occasion that he was about 80 years of age and lived alone, told witness he had a son and a daughter. After he found Burton dead he went and informed James Gillespie who came back with him.

James Gillespie, a farmer residing at Elm Grove state he had known the deceased about 30 years, he was living on witnesses' land about 5 years; deceased was about 83 years of age and had been ailing from pains in his legs for a long time and was suffering from a cold; saw deceased a week prior to his death, his daughter often visited deceased and latterly his wife used to do his cooking for him. Was aware that he had a son and daughter but did not know their address, heard that Burton was not his real name but that he was called Hodges. He was known by the name of Burton for 30 years and was a stone mason and came from England.

Eva Lilian Gillespie stated she saw Burton last Monday morning at 6 o'clock. Stopped half an hour and then went home. The jury found that James Burton died on February 21 from the result of an accident accelerated by medical causes.
[Queanbeyan Observer, 25.2.1896]

The Post reported that 'his effects were disposed of by public auction at the Ginninderra Police Station on Saturday last. Small attendance but considering the hard times prices were satisfactory'. [Wizard's Notes Post 13.6.1896]

It is recorded in the St Johns Church burial records that the wife of James Burton mason - Selina Burton - died in 1861. The Register of Deaths a the Queanbeyan Registrars Office records that James Burton who died in 1896 was the husband of Elizabeth Bartholomew - suggesting the Burton may have re-married at some stage.


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