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Frances Reed, Bourke pioneer by James Michael Fleming© 2022

1875 Reed family Bourke. Photo contributed

Frances Reed was the matriarch of a large family of Bourke pioneers.

When she and her husband, James Reed, arrived in Bourke in 1862, they found just a few cabins, a goods depot and two pubs. Grazing properties had been established nearby from about 1857 and the very first town settlers had come about three years later.

The arrival of these newcomers, and the diseases they brought, had disrupted the lives of the local Aboriginal people and caused their population to decline from an estimated 3000 in 1845 to around one thousand in 1863.

Despite her worldly background, fifty-year-old Frances faced significant new challenges in this hot, dry, dusty, and very isolated fledgling town. Supplies were scarce and expensive because they had to come by wagon from Maitland, 720 kilometres away, or by unreliable paddle-steamer from Adelaide, about 3,000 river kilometres.

On arrival, Frances had to call on her experience and resourcefulness, assisting at the birth of William Wright, just the eighth white birth recorded in the district.

There were very few women in the district but plenty of wild men. Even the newly arrived policemen were erratic, with Constable Elliott having shot and killed Sergeant Webb a year earlier.

Frances and James had wisely left their younger children in the care of their older siblings in Sydney while they assessed their opportunities. Nevertheless, soon after their 19-year-old daughter Sarah Ann married Michael Brennan in Sydney on 8 January 1863, she and her new husband brought the rest of the family to Bourke.

Frances told her children that she had been born at Canterbury, England, in 1812 and that her mother was Elizabeth Wilson. During her childhood, her Irish father Benjamin Heazle (a sergeant in the British Army) fought against Napoleon’s forces in Belgium. After his return from the war the family accompanied him on military postings in England, Scotland, Ireland, Gibraltar, and Malta.

Eighteen-year-old Frances married James Reed, a private in her father’s regiment, at Monk Wearmouth (Sunderland) on 28 June 1830. James was four years older, a son of shoemaker Thomas Reed of Ash Green (near Trentham in Staffordshire) and his wife Elizabeth Sutton. The newlyweds were immediately posted to Kephalonia in the Ionian Sea. Upon their return to England, their first child, William, was born at Portsmouth in April 1831.

During the next five years the regiment served in England and Ireland. By the time the family embarked with the regiment for Australia aboard the Earl Grey in 1836, two more sons had been born (John Benjamin. and James) but their brother William had died.

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