You know, he’s been gone for almost fifteen years … that’s my Dad Ted Hobbs I’m talking about, but he walks with me still. I know he’d be proud of what I’ve done with my life, especially taking on the role of researcher and custodian of the family history. Oh he would have loved the stories I have turned up. I can see him sitting there now; “stone the crows, how did you find all this” – I can hear it ringing in my ears. He would have been proud of his ancestry – all convicts you know! But maybe he knew it but didn’t tell … or maybe I didn’t listen. Maybe he would have made my job easier as he may have had the stories I so often long for. The births, deaths and marriage dates are fine, a photo even better … but the stories to go with all of this would have put the skin on the bones.
He would have loved that I’ve taken up photography as it was one of his passions too. He belonged to the now defunct “Wallsend Hospital Camera Club”. I have a cupboard full of his old slides with his precious presentation ones in a special box. On one of my many bookshelves I proudly display his trophy for winning one of the many competitions he entered. Oh how I wish he was with me on my treks through the bush to find that perfect spot. He taught me so much although no lessons were ever given, it was just me trudging behind him … “make as much noise as you can, those Joe Blakes (snakes) will disappear … they’re just as scared of you as you are of them”. Mind you if he ever came across one he would make sure it didn’t survive – “No snake is a good snake”, a mentality from years of living in the bush. “If you get lost always head to the creek and follow that downstream … or follow the ridge line”. He showed me leaves that were safe to eat, not by telling me so, just by snapping them off and handing them to me as he put some in his own mouth … and so I followed suit. “Don’t go near those nettles and watch that bloody stinging tree, you’ll know it if that grabs you”. I did witness Dad being struck in the face by a stinging tree once and he was in sheer agony. We were looking for tree orchids and ferns, he was carrying a sugar bag with a shovel sticking out of it and slung across his back. He dodged to miss a stinging tree, the shovel hooked it and it swung back around and bit him – real bad!!
Dad hated doctors and would never go near them. He had his own cures for many ailments but mainly ‘put up’ with most ills. He would burn skin cancers off with chick weed, not a pretty sight but it seemed to work. His hands were so tough that little could penetrate his skin. If he jammed his finger nail and blood collected under the nail, he would drill a hole and let it out – don’t squirm, it worked!
Now dentists were his pet hate. Growing up the local barber used to pull teeth on the side with no fancy injections then. So was it any wonder that he steered clear of them too. It wasn’t until my brother shouted him and Mum a trip to the USA to spend Christmas that Mum finally said “Ted you’ve got to get your teeth fixed, I’m not going with you looking like that”. I picked him up from the dental clinic where he had his teeth removed under anaesthetic. As he hopped into the car I asked how he felt – “if I’d a known it was this bloody easy I’d a had it done years ago”!
Dad taught me all I know about gardening … again – no lessons, just followed him everywhere. Watched him make the most magnificent soil from his compost heap, full of worms – they make good soil you know. I loved to wander through his hot house and see all the cuttings in old peach tins, he’d have hession bags strung under maple trees to collect seeds, underneath his work bench be would be propogating moss to add to his bonsai work.
This story leads me to his shed – every man needs a shed! Dad’s was a big double one with a mezzanine floor. He never believed in throwing anything away – “you never know when you might need it someday” and how often he did. He was a carpenter by trade but could turn his hand to anything, sometimes in a crude fashion but he could do it. Things that broke were repaired and things that had no use were just strung up in there for when it might become useful again.
His ‘collection’ found many uses during the many days he spent up a creek prospecting for gold. It was either freezing cold or bloody hot … and along with this came the swarms of bush flies. It was a disease, and it infected him and my brother badly. It started off simple with pans, then sleuce boxes … then onto dredges. Many areas had no water so they would bring barrells full of gravel and dirt 100s of miles home to wash it there. They camped out, roughed it and even got lost for two nights in the Barrington region. The search parties were just heading in when they found Dad and my brother heading out – “were you blokes lookin for us?”
Out of these treks he came home with some magnificent samples, it never made him rich but I wear one of his gold nuggets almost every day – he feels close to me when I do this.
Now I’ve found another piece of gold – more valuable to me than any other gold on earth. Two gold legal seals plus a gold locket, all joined together with a gold ring, that belonged to his Great Great convict grandfather, Robert Hobbs – one is engraved with a hill, setting sun and the words “I Will Return”. These seals were used by Robert Hobbs when sealing a letter or signing his Will – a will that was to be lost for 92 years after he died. It strangely surfaced in the early 1900s and was finally brought before the court for probate in 1931. This will was to set off publicity, rumours and inuendos and talk of the Hobbs Millions made Robert Hobbs famous in death. Of course no one ever received the Hobbs Millions but just recently I stumbled across a newsletter from the NSW Public Trustees Office stating Robert’s file was still active and that they still had in their possession the Hobbs Seals. Can you believe the excitement that followed. Numerous trips to Sydney to meet with the staff of the Office of the Public Trustee revealed that they had a genuine interest in the seals and their ultimate fate. For years they had lived in a small cardboard box in the office safe and had survived many audits and questions about what they were and what was to happen to them. I surrendered my family history records on Robert’s life and his descendants to the staff and it was with much joy that I was informed that a research assistant was to be appointed to study Robert’s life and the so called “Millions” further. This research is now complete and I am waiting on written documentation of the findings but the summary briefly confirms what his descendants have long believed that the money was long gone. The multitude of newspaper clippings on the “Hobbs Millions” that helped fuel the saga can now be laid to rest and filed away for future generations to marvel at the hysteria that continued for 170 years since the death of Robert Hobbs.
I can only feel proud to know I am directly related to this grand gentleman who came to this colony in 1791 as a convict aboard “The Active”, who joined the NSW Corp of Marines in 1792/3, raised a family of nine with his Irish sweetheart (Bridget Eslin – convict per “Sugarcane” 1793) and lived a respectable life on his land grant at Pitt Town until his death in 1839.
It is humbling to know that he is the ‘only’ convict on the books of the Public Trustee and that his gold seals will be donated to the Mitchell Library for safe keeping and for all generations to enjoy.
Am I disappointed that there were no Millions? – the answer is NO as what Robert Hobbs & Bridget Eslin provided me and their many descendants is worth much more than money could ever provide!
© Beverley Woodman (nee Hobbs) 2009
Robert Hobbs arrived in the Colony of New South Wales as a convict aboard the “Active” in 1791 to serve a 7 year sentence for stealing 760 yards of callico. To gain a pardon he joined the NSW Corp of Marines and on his discharge he was granted a land land grant on the lagoon in Pitt Town near Windsor in NSW. He married Bridget Eslin, a convict who arrived from Ireland in 1793 aboard the “Sugarcane” to serve out a sentence for stealing bleached linen, a crime that her father paid the ultimate price of being hung for. The couple raised nine children and lived a respectable life in the community before Robert died in 1839 and Bridget in 1843. Robert’s headstone is still standing in the Pitt Town Cemetery where it is believed that Bridget is resting with him. RIP