Jimmy (James) and Mary Jane Byrne

Birth and childhood

Jimmy (nown as James Henry and sometimes as James Drysedale) was was born at Clunie station near Harrow 6th January 1848. His father Michael was a station manager at Clunie. Jimmy was baptised a Roman Catholic 3rd June 1848 - recorded in the Port Fairy records. Perhaps the priest was travelling around the district and this this was the only chance to be baptised. The sponsor was a John Hayden.

Jimmy later worked as a labourer at nearby Longlands station. Pictured at right is Jimmy, aged 58, at the Hopevale Rifle Club.

Mary Jane Burgess was born in Putney Wiltshire 1846/47 to William and Hannah Burgess. On the 7th October 1852 the Burgesses sailed for Australia on the Stebonheath, arriving at Geelong on the 18th January 1852. On board was six year old Mary Jane and 3 older siblings.

Later Mary lived with her parents at Kadnook (flat or kangaroo) station - a part of Kout Narin in 1848.


Harrow, in County Lowan, is the oldest inland town in Victoria. It was known as Upper Glenelg at first but renamed by the surveyor Lindsay Clarke in October 1857. Major Mitchell came through in 1836 and settlers followed because of his glowing accounts. He described nearby Pigeon Ponds as having black rich soil.

Harrow was established where the boundaries of Clunie, Longfields and the second Kout Narin station came together at a point on the Glenelg. An inn was built there called the Forresters Arms. There was a strong police presence in 1853, mainly in response to agitation by Mr Blair of Clunie (who had been a police magistrate in Portland). He was concerned about sheep duffing and other problems and .

Squatting Runs

In 1844 squatting runs were restricted to 20 sq mile and 4,000 sheep or 500 cattle. In 1845 there was a 10 year lease per run with a pre emptive right to buy 320 acres after 5 years at a minimum price of 20 shillings and acre. In 1847 squatting districts were proclaimed. There were one year settled leases, 8 year intermediate leases of 16,000 acres with a preemptive right to buy 640 acres and 14 year unsettled leases of 32,000 acres with a preemptive right to buy 160 acres.

The first run in the area was Courtnahring or the Glenelg Sheep Estate in1840. Then Clunie was established 7 miles to the north by James Blair. The original name for Clunie was Cherreweerup - named after a French Seminary where Blair's brother trained for the priesthood. It included Longlands and the second Kout Narin, which was owned by Van Diemans Land Company. Other stations in the area were Mullagh, Pine Hills and Maryvale. Kout Narin extended to Pigeon Ponds creek in 1840. Kadnook (flat or kangaroo) Station was opened in 1848 by W Bell - it was a part of Kout Narin. Kout Narin is the Aboriginal name for the area.

There were several Aboriginal clans in the area, the Kanal Gundidj were at Chetwynd and the Congbool and Yatnat gundidg were at Balmoral.

Two thirds of the squatters were Scottish because of the higher rents and growing population in Scotland and subsequent migration. Some were well to do and brought managers with them. Shepherds were employed to mind the sheep as there were no fences. At the time there were problems with sheep scab.


Jimmy and Mary were married on the 9th of May 1867 (1258) at Kadnook by the Rev Robert Collins, CE Minister at Edenhope. One of the witnesses was John Watson, a blacksmith from Harrow who selected land in Kadnook area. Mary was 19 or 20 and pregnant with James Henry at the time. We don't know the story of their romance or whether they were happy to marry.

The couple and their children lived around Harrow, Gymbowen, Yaapeet, Hopetoun and Rainbow areas. The Burgess family also lived around Harrow.

Jimmy's occupation is listed as a Boundary Rider on his son George's birth certificate in 1879. Boundary riders were well paid but spent a lot of time on their own inspecting fences so that the sheep did not escape. They were reputed to be a hard drinking lot and photos reveal them to have a larrikan spirit.

The Byrne family lived at Pine Hill. On October 10th 1880 Jimmy applied for an allotment of 320 acres in the Parish of Gymbowen and the land board at Horsham recommended that the licence be granted on 13 October. The the family moved to Nurcoung (renamed Duffholme in 1929 after Jane Duff of Lost in the Bush fame) on the edge of the Little Desert in the Wimmera. At right is a photo of the old home.

The area was poor farming land but produced cereals and sheep. Settlers usually lived in two roomed houses of split slabs or wattle and daub, with bark or thatched roofs. But by 1889 the selection had been abandoned to the morgagee.

From Nurcong they moved to Natimuk and in 1894 selected a block at Hopevale in the Mallee and worked it until around 1917.

Jimmy was one of a group of settlers who petitioned to have a school started at Hopevale in 1993. He and Mary had 4 children ready for school at the time - perhaps Alfred, Herbert, Walter and Hannah. The McKenzie's on lot 147 had four children for school - perhaps Annie, Angus, Murdoch and Paul.

There is also a William Bertram with 3 children on the petition. There are several connections with the Bertrams: (1) Mary's older brother Frederick married Lillias Bertram (2) Messrs Byrne and Bertram moved to Temora NSW in 1909 (3) James brother Denis married Lucy Bertram.

Jimmy and Mary lived at Yaapeet for twelve years - the main street of Yaapeet is Byrne, although the reason is not clear. Yaapeet was originally known as Turkey Bottom because of the number of turkeys there. It was 1 mile on the left before the current town of Yaapeet (which means local waterhole crayfish or yabbie).

PIcture above is the Hopevale Rifle Club, 1906. Jimmy is third from left at back, his son George is far right at back.


1. James Henry Byrne 1867-1930 age 63
2. Frederick Burgess Byrne 1868-
3. Margaret Amelia Simpson nee Byrne 1869-1892 age 23 years
4. John Douglass Byrne 1872-
5. Edward Byrne 1877-1953 aged 76
6. George William Byrne 1879-1959 aged 81
7. Mary Jane Henman nee Byrne 1881-
8. Alan Alfred Byrne 1884-1953 aged 69
9. Walter Byrne 1886-1945 aged 58
10. Herbert Byrne 1886-1917 aged 31
11. Hannah Byrne 1889-1920 aged 31

Go to Byrne-Burgess children for details

Postcard to Nephew Stewart Byrne

Jimmy wrote a postcard to his nephew Stewart, probably around 1908 when Denis (who was Stewart's father and Jimmy's brother) was in Horsham hospital. Stewart would have been around 12 years old. Jimmy would have been over 60 years old. Denis died in 1909.

"Dear Stewart

"I received your PC was glad to hear once more from you. Your photo is very good of you. We are busie with the harvest now. We have a 100 ton of hay and 700 acres of wheat to stripp. The crops are turning out very good some are geting 9 bags to the acre. I don't know how ours will go till we start clearning. The summer is very hot some day's I have to give up work it knocks me up. I hope your father health would improve I heard he was away in the Horsham hospital. So he must be worsed. I wil bring this to a close. Wishing all a merry Xmas and a Happy New year with love from
Uncle Jim."

There was also a postscript at the top: "Please write again always glad to hear from you."


Mary died in 1934 at Rainbow, aged 87 (18899). Her Obituary says:

"Rapidly the ranks of the old pioneers of this district are thinning out and soon the first settlers will have disappeared; nevertheless their labour has not been in vain, and they pass on with the knowledge that they have left the country better than they found it, and that their pioneer work has been the means of later adding immensely to the wealth of the country. Another of that sturdy band of pioneers - Mrs Mary Jane Byrne - wife of James Henry Byrne of Yaapeet crossed the narrow line dividing this known and that Great Unknown on Sunday morning, at the patriarchal age of 87 years. Deceased and her husband were beset with trials, difficulties and hardships, yet faced them with courage and determination which has been a great example to following generations. Deceased's husband survives; they had enjoyed 67 years of married life. Mrs Byrne was born at Wiltshire, England in 1847, and in 1853 landed at Port Fairy with her parents, who followed the gold diggings for some years. Eventually the family settled at Harrow where deceased was married in 1867. In 1881 Mr and Mrs Byrne removed to Gymbowen and then to Natimuk. In 1893 they migrated to Hopevale where Mr Byrne purchased a Mallee Allotment, and remained on the property until 1926, when they retired and took up their residence in Yaapeet.

The inscription on the grave at Rainbow reads:

Treasured memories
Our beloved parents
Mary Jane
Died 7th Oct 1934 aged 87
Also James died
8th June 1937 aged 89 years
In God's care

Jimmy was in good health until two years prior to his death 8th June 1937 at the age of 89 (ref 14496). He died from senility and pneumonia at Base Hospital Horsham. His Obituary reads:

"James Drysdale Byrne. Another of the fast diminishing band of pioneers in the person of James Drysdale Byrne of Yaapeet passed away at the Wimmera Base Hospital on Tuesday morning at the patriachal age of 91 years. Deceased was born at Clunie Station, Harrow and resided there for about 20 years. He married Miss Burgess at Harrow and shortly after moved to Gymbowen District where he selected land, later moving to Natimuk. About 1894 when the Mallee country was being thrown open for selection he moved to Hopevale where he selected a Mallee block which he worked for several years.

"He resided there until about 20 years ago when he retired and for the past 12 years had lived in Yaapeet. The late Mr Byrne who was widely known and highly respected by all who knew him had followed agricultural pursuits all hes life and had passed through all the viscissitudes connected with that calling, but not withstanding all the hardships and setbacks he was alswys of a happy and hopeful disposition and there will be many expressions of regret at his passing.

"Deceased had enjoyed remarkably good health until about 2 years ago when the advanced years began to take its toll and during the past 6 months had been in hospital. His wife predeceased him by 3 years.

"The members of the family were Mr James Henry Byrne, deceased; Mr Fred Byrne, WA; Mr John Byrne, deceased; Margaret, Mrs Simpson, deceased; Mr Edward Byrne, Mildura; Mr George William Byrne, Yaapeet; Mary, Mrs A Henman, Heathvale; Private Herbert Byrne K.I.A; Mr Walter Byrne, Hopetoun West; Mr Alan Byrne, Ouyen; and Miss Hannah Byrne, deceased.

"The deepest sympathy of a wide circle of friends will be extended to the bereaved family. The funeral which was largely attended took place at the Rainbow Cemetary on Wednesday afternoon.

"The service at the graveside being conducted by Rev Walter C Duffy (Anglican). The coffin bearers were Mr H J Miller, Geo Smith, E R Campbell, W Fisher, R Matters and F Henman. Mortuary arrangements were carried out by Mr A J Barton."

Both Mary and Jimmy are buried at Rainbow - grave 86. Probate granted 6/11/1937.