The Boltons of Ginninderra

Boltons cover

$5.00 (155 pages, B5, illustrated)

Cover Photo: Display by NSW mounted police outside Parliament House [picture] / W. J. Mildenhall. National Library of Australia [nla.obj-141434842]
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The Boltons of Ginninderra

Joseph and Mary Ann  Bolton were among the early pioneering settlers of the Queanbeyan district. Mary Ann Griffiths had arrived in New South Wales as a baby in 1848, the daughter of free settlers, William and Mary Ann (née Seward) Griffiths, of Cheshire and Liverpool, England. Joseph Bolton sailed to Australia as an assisted immigrant on the “Emma” in 1857. Mary and Joseph married in 1865. After Joseph resumed his original trade as a brickmaker to help construct the new Christ Church building in Queanbeyan in 1859, the Boltons worked a selection at Molonglo for some years from the early 1860s, before settling on land at Ginninderra in 1872, from where Joseph also ran the mails between Ginninderra and Upper Gundaroo and was a public works contractor with Labour politician and journalist, Harry Holland’s father, Edmund Holland. For eleven years, from 1879 to 1890, the Boltons owned the “Cricketer’s Arms” Hotel, the establishment at One Tree Hill, near the modern village of Hall, that was for many years the social, commercial, sporting and political centre of Ginninderra. In 1890, the Boltons retired to their property, “Rockwood”, which became part of the Federal Capital Territory when acquisitioned by the Federal Government in 1908.

Joseph and Mary Ann Bolton raised fifteen children. Their eldest son, police Inspector Henry “Harry” Bolton, joined the police service in 1888 and after leading a career said to read like a “fiction thriller”, including which he brought the landmark Hetherington murder case, a model of detail and forensic standards, he rose through the ranks to become head of the New South Wales Mounted Police and of the NSW Police Training Depot in Sydney in 1921. As one of his last official functions before his retirement in 1927, he led the police escort for the Duke and Duchess of York through Sydney and the Mounted Police escort at the opening of Parliament House in its new home at Canberra . Harry’s brother, John Hulbert “Jack”, was also a police officer and Joseph and Mary Ann’s daughter, Annie, the only member of the Bolton family to go into the hotel business herself, owned and managed hotels in Smithtown, Gladstone, Kempsey, Sydney and Parkes. The Boltons’ daughter, Millie, and her husband ran an innovative dairy, the first to introduce mechanised milking in Sydney. Sons, William and Joseph, junior, became graziers in the Wagga Wagga district and daughter, Elizabeth, married and lived in the northern districts. The remaining Bolton children continued to reside in the Canberra district. The eldest daughter, Sarah, married Thomas Mayo of the pioneering Mayo family and owned a property at Majura and the Boltons’ youngest daughter, Florrie’s, husband and sons were noted apiarists. Joseph and Mary Ann’s youngest sons, Eric, Edward and Arthur Glenville, managed “Rockwood” for their parents. Joseph and Mary Ann’s great-grandson, Phil Davis, was a leading Sydney crime reporter and then Press Secretary to a Federal Cabinet Minister and Prime Minister in Canberra before becoming an Executive Producer and Director of News and Current Affairs at a Sydney television station.

Written by a direct descendant of Joseph and Mary Ann Bolton, “The Boltons of Ginninderra” provides a biographical outline of a pioneering family of the Queanbeyan district as well as a glimpse into one of the great police forces of the world in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


The district of Queanbeyan, situated three hundred kilometres (190 miles) southwest of Sydney and which in the 19th century included what is now the cities of Queanbeyan and Canberra and the towns of Bungendore, Gundaroo and Micalago, was originally home to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, with much interaction with the neighbouring Ngarigo and Namadji people.

The first European settlers ran sheep and cattle estates around Gundaroo, on the Limestone Plains at Canberry and on the Molonglo plains from the 1820s. In 1829, New South Wales, which at the time included what is now Queensland and Victoria, was divided into nineteen counties. Roughly, the district from Yass in the north to Micalago in the south and the Murrumbidgee River in the west to the Shoalhaven River in the east, was defined as County Murray. At the “limits of location”, the County lay beside the lush Maneroo plains to the south, beyond which rose the Snowy Mountains.

Along with being home to some of the leading figures in Australian history, including Terence Aubrey Murray, Robert Johnston, the McPhersons, the Campbells, the Palmers, the Antills, the Hoskings and the Rutledges, as Crown land was released for sale in the 1830s at the same time that the colony was being opened up to free immigration, hundreds of people, both free settlers and former convicts, took up land or employment in the district.

Gazetted in 1838, the village of Queanbeyan became the main commercial centre of the region and the headquarters of the police district of Queanbeyan, which essentially followed the boundaries of County Murray. The stores, post offices and inns in Queanbeyan town, Gundaroo, Bungendore and Micalago serviced the entire region beyond Yass and Goulburn to the next nearest town at Cooma in the Snowy, while travellers’ inns provided stopover points on the lonely roads between.

For thirty years, far from the legal and social eye of Sydney, the district was wild country where cattle-stealing was common and sly-grog shops fuelled violence and murder. Along with the Mounted Police and the first Chief Constable, Patrick Kinsela, the first visiting and resident magistrates, George Cobban and Captain Alured Tasker Faunce, brought the sly-grog shops under some control from the late 1830s. However, the district continued to have the reputation of being somewhat lawless until the early 1850s.

The Anglican St John’s at Canberry and Christ Church in Queanbeyan and the Catholic St Gregory’s churches in Queanbeyan provided religious services, with occasional visiting Presbyterian and Wesleyan ministers until the Afflecks of Gundaroo hosted the first permanent Presbyterian meetings from 1855 and built the first Scots kirk in the district and William Gregg O’Neill and J. J. Wright established the Wesleyan chapel in Queanbeyan in 1860. Denominational schools at St John’s, Christ Church and St Gregory’s, National Schools at Terence Aubrey Murray’s “Yarralumla” and in Queanbeyan and a few small private schools educated the children, while a not entirely reliable reading library in Queanbeyan provided adults with occasional sources of self-improvement.

After model police officer, William Gregg O’Neill, became Chief Constable in 1853, with high standards of law and order and stricter licensing in the courts taking effect, crime dwindled and the district became a generally respectable locale. Led by such figures as the community-minded Chief Constable O’Neill, the successive coroners, Drs William Foxton Hayley and Andrew Morton, big landowners, such as the Campbells of “Duntroon”, the Davis’ of “Ginninderrra”, the Rutledges of “Carwoola” and the De Salis’ of “Cuppacumbalong”, major businessmen, such as John James “J. J.” Wright and Abraham Levy, staunch figures such as Arthur Affleck of Gundaroo and his son, William, and with the local churches and schools exerting their influence, the district emerged as a substantial centre of community and culture and a centre of significance with its own character.

With the Kiandra gold rush of 1860 to 1864, the population exploded to around four thousand people, providing the critical mass necessary to support funding and add momentum for institutions to take hold. From the 1820s to the 1850s, the district was mostly served by the Sydney and Goulburn newspapers, but in 1860, the goldfields influx also prompted further focus of local control with the establishment of Queanbeyan’s first newspaper, the Golden Age, founded by former Wesleyan minister, John Gale. Re-named the Queanbeyan Age in 1864, the paper continued to exert major influence over the next several decades.

Sir John Robertson’s 1861 Land Act allowed settlers to take up free selections  under conditional purchase, whereby land could be selected before survey on condition that improvements were made. This usually involved clearing, fencing and the erection of buildings, usually for the purpose of raising livestock or farming. Thoroughbred horses were bred, graziers raised sheep and cattle and farmers grew wheat, the main crop of the district and that on which the local agricultural scientist, William Farrer, conducted his research.

During the 1860s, several post offices were established and communities of individual character evolved around the district, including at Ginninderra, Canberra, Foxlow, Molonglo, Carwoola, Hoskinstown, Micalago and Lanyon, some taking the names of former large properties or their owners.

Following the introduction of Sir Henry Parkes’ Public Schools Instruction Act in 1867 and “free, secular and compulsory” education, alongside the Public, Christ Church and St Gregory’s schools in Queanbeyan, many public, half-time and provisional schools were established around the district. Boys were sent to Sydney for their higher education, but from 1881, girls, and later boys, could attend St Benedict’s Higher School for Young Ladies in Queanbeyan.

Until the 1880s, all travel and mail services to Goulburn and Sydney were by foot, horseback or coach, either by way of the marshy Lake George road through Bungendore or the hilly Marked Tree line through Gundaroo and Collector, journeys made precarious by road conditions, flooding rivers and, particularly during the mid-1860s, bushranging, with parts of the locale being the breeding ground for some of the most notorious bushrangers in Australia’s history. In 1869, the railway to Goulburn reduced the travel time to Sydney to a day and a half on the road and eight hours by train. A railway extension to Gunning created a relatively local railhead for the district in 1875, the nearest until the railway reached Bungendore from Goulburn in 1885 and the town of Queanbeyan was directly linked with Sydney by rail for the first time in 1887.

From 1843, the district was represented on the Legislative Council and then, with the establishment of responsible government in 1856, in New South Wales parliament by some of the foremost people in Australian politics. These included Sir Terence Aubrey Murray, later to be Speaker of the Legislative Assembly from 1860 and President of the Legislative Council from 1862, and William Forster, both of whose liberal politics spear-headed or supported the introduction of reforms in New South Wales, including the abolition of the law of primogeniture, the extension of the franchise to all men over twenty-one, the introduction of the secret ballot and the establishment of National and then Public Schools.

From the 1860s, the politics of the district was dominated by the battle for free selection, led by William Affleck, John James Wright, William Gregg O’Neill and John Gale, supported by the relatively reformist De Salis family in parliament. Disputes over the roads and the railway spurred fierce in-fighting between these leading individuals from 1864 until the Queanbeyan railway route was decided in 1881, but after the election of extreme protectionist, Edward William O’Sullivan, as Member for Queanbeyan from 1885, the battle between “the squatters” and free selectors was superseded by the war between free trade and protection, during which time the district was politically and socially split in two.

The Queanbeyan Age, under Gale family ownership until 1891 and then mainly Skelton Brothers and Cox until 1901, promulgated the conservative protectionism of O’Sullivan, while John Allan “Jack” O’Neill’s Queanbeyan Times, established in 1879, embraced the principles of free trade/labour and gave rise to the careers of the liberally progressive John Farrell and Harry Holland, who were to go on to be leading figures in labour politics in Australia and New Zealand. Under the new ownerships of G. B. Lillie, George Tompsitt, Edward Dornbusch and Arthur Ernest Kennedy from 1888 to 1892, the Times continued to support free trade, as did Jack O’Neill’s Queanbeyan Observer newspaper, established in 1889, until it was bought by John Gale’s son-in-law, Edward H. Fallick, and came under John Gale’s management in November, 1894, at which point Gale turned its direction to protection. With the folding of the Times in 1892, O’Neill’s sale of the Observer in 1894 and both the Age and Observer now protectionist papers, there was no longer a voice in the local media for free trade, but in 1894, locally-based William Affleck was elected as Free Trade Member for Yass, in Government for five years with George Houston Reid and alongside his friend, Labour leader, William Morris “Billy” Hughes, while Sydney-based Member for Queanbeyan, O’Sullivan, and the Protectionists were in opposition. From 1899, Affleck, still Member for Yass, was then in opposition until 1904, while O’Sullivan became Minister for Works under the Lyne Government. The introduction of the Land and Income Tax Assessment Act in New South Wales under the Reid Free Trade Government with the support of the emerging Labour Party under McGowan in 1895 rendered the fiscal battle between free trade and protection in New South Wales obsolete. In 1904, both the Observer and the Age, the latter also back in Gale/Fallick family hands from 1901, turned on O’Sullivan, who stood for Belmore in Sydney instead. From then on, the main local political focus was on the establishment of the Federal Capital Territory and the selection of Canberra as the site for the nation’s capital, with Federal parliament transferring from Melbourne in 1927.

“The Rediscovering Ginninderra” website of the Hall School Museum and Heritage Centre has more information on the history of Ginninderra and Hall. Click here.

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