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Mayfield website:  1860s - Crebert's memories

The Mayfield Website was created in 1995 to provide primary historical source materials such as early printed accounts, pioneer letters, oral history transcriptions, photographs, maps and plans on the little known history of the Newcastle, NSW suburb.

Mayfield website


Memories of Joseph Francis Crebert

(Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 6)

Read excerpts from the memories of Joseph Francis Crebert, who was born in 1854 and lived on the Folly, which later became a part of Mayfield. His father was Peter Crebert, the famous vine-dresser, who created the first wine in the Hunter Region. “Crebert Street” in Mayfield is named after him.

Memories of my life and the early days of the place where I was born which was called the “Folly” or Platt’s Folly but which is now called Mayfield.

I was born there in the year 1854, but of course, I did not take much notice of anything until I became 11 or 12 years of age. One thing I can call to mind after recovering from an illness, was being led down the garden by my grandmother to see a dead fowl and taking a stick with me – I was scared. I also remember a notice which was nailed on a Stringbark tree in what has been the B.H.P. Golf Links showing the direction to take to reach the Waratah Railway Station, there being no streets in those days – all bush.

As far as I know my father settled down here somewhere about the year 1850. He brought five acres of land from a man named Bolton, I believe, and the amount of work he and my mother performed was marvellous. I remember when I was able to notice things, that he sent to Germany for his Father and Mother, they were both aged people. My father being a German, he could not speak English when he came to Australia and his parents never did learn the language during their life. I reckon my father was the Pioneer of the place called the Folly, and I think I can claim of being one of the first born of that locality. Later on father brought two more acres of land, I believe he paid 50 guineas an acre for it, making seven acres of land which he broke up and planted with grape vines, some market grapes, but mostly wine grapes. The other five acres were also planted with partly vines and fruit trees – the orange trees especially in the sandy soil were thirty feet high. I myself have picked 128 dozen oranges from one tree, but in those days we did not get much for them, somewhere about 3d or 4d per dozen and grapes.

The first cutting we got 6d but for most of the time 3d, was the prices.

When the wine grapes began to bear, Father made preparations to make a Plant to crush and press the grapes, and without a doubt in those days it could not have been improved. He kept improving on it every year until he had three pressers and he had as much as 3000 gallons of wine in different cellars about. He used to employ 10 or 12 boys and girls cutting grapes, paying them 1/6 a day, and it used to be my work looking after them and wheeling the grapes up to the cellar while Dad and one of my Brothers crushed them. Of course, that was when I was getting on in years.

My school days were spent in an old slab and shingle roof place about 30 feet long by 12 feet wide, close to our garden, part of which was the school-masters residence and part of the time before school and after I had to work in the garden before and after school hours, but when I reached the age of 13 I was sent to a school in Waratah, which was kept in a ordinary dwelling house. The school-masters name was Archibold, and many a fight I had coming home from that school. In those days I was very shy of girls and the boys that went to that school from the Folly used to tease me, about a girl called Dina. I learnt a song which went:

“If ever I marry a wife,
I’ll marry a publican’s Daughter,
I’ll sit all day in the Publican’s parlour,
Drink nothing but brandy and water.”

They used to tease me on the way home, and not a school day passed that I did not come home with a headache; sometimes a fight, but I have survived it all by the Grace of God. There are only one or two of my old companions left.

The Folly, as it was called in those days, was a square block of land of about 58 acres, mostly 5 acre blocks, some less. There were 12 occupants of these blocks – Norgard Corebart, Williams Mathew in Crebert Street, Walters Hughes Davis in Kerr Street, Roach Crouther, Chant Kuhn McNulty, (Baker) in Bull Street, and old Patreach, a grand old man, lived in what was called Tourles Paddock and another man named Gray lived in the same block. Mr Tourle was an English Gentleman, and when he saw that my father was making wine, employed some men to trench a few acres of his land next to Bull Garden. I think they got 2/6 a rood so they did not make much of a wage at that. The rood is 16 feet square and the boys were in the habit of going to the river of a Sunday morning to swim, the Hunter River being about a quarter of a mile away. During the grape season, when the grapes were ripe, they never passed by Mr Tourles vineyard, but they sampled his grapes. In those days, they did not wear swimming suits. The old gentlemen was in the habit of driving with Mrs Tourle to St. John’s Church of England at Cook’s Hill in a buggy, and the boys used to watch him go away, then they would go to his home and see the girls who were mostly chums of theirs. The old gentleman lived to be 92 years of age, and is buried on the old burial ground at the Folly, where my father is buried. In 1895 he being about the last man to be buried there before it was closed to burials. My mother was buried in Sandgate burial grounds in 1914. She reached the age of 87.

There was ten of our family: 5 boys and 5 girls. I am the last of the boys left, and there are still 3 sisters living. And now about my own life since I became of age.

When we were all together, Dad, I will not say wanted to get rid of us, for there was always plenty of work for us in a seven acre orchard, and vines no doubt.

He wanted to see some grandchildren. He promised the first one of us who married that he would give him one 100 gallons of wine – not all at once, of course, but I do not say that induced me to marry, if I had not loved the girl I married, the Best Little Woman on Earth to me. I married, being almost 9 years older than my Darling. I had 5 guineas when I married, but my father was generous to me and bought my furniture to the extent of 30 guineas. I paid rent for 4 years, then my father advised me to build a cottage, he having 3 allotments in Kerr Street, which he presented to me and my brother Peter.

So we got it separated into 2 allotments, borrowed 150 guineas from the Building Society into which I payed the sum of £1.15.2 a mouth for 10 years. It amounted to 230 guineas. So I had a home of my own which I had erected for the sum of 150 guineas and I never regretted doing so.

At that time there was no water layed on, so I dug an underground tank 12’ x 6’ deep, and bricked it close to the house, a foolish plan, for as the family increased, I had to add two rooms to the house which was of four rooms to make it six, so I had to fill up the tank and dig another one away from the house to supply us with water. but I did not got dishearted. I was always fond of work, so I bargained in having a good partner in my wife, who was always willing to cheer me up. God bless her memory.

My wages wore not much – 6/6 a day for 9 house, and up to 1 o’clock on Saturday. I often got disappointed when I was out of work, when the family increased. My dear wife used to cheer me up and say never mind dear, we have one another.

We had 2 sons, when we came into the home, and the rest of the family were born in the home. Our family consisted of 9 sons and one daughter. One son died at the age of 4, the others all reached manhood. The daughter is married and four of the sons went to war and only two came back, one was married and was killed at Poierrs.

The other, a single man was taken prisoner of War and was held in Germany for 2 years and 5 months, and died there about the third of November 1918, a week or so before the Armistice was proclaimed. For most of the war period, my wife suffered a nervous breakdown, and the poor dear wasted away to a skeleton, and died on the 20th November, 1920 and now I am waiting for God to call me home to her. There is one thing I would like to mention. At the age of 16 years, it was my job to go to Newcastle every day, except very wet days, with a horse and cart to fetch a load of manure, which was plentiful in those times, there being three or more livery stables in Newcastle, then each having 20 and upwards of horses for hire and the captains and sailors used to ride out to our garden and wine cellar to got a drink of wine, and fruit, when it was in season.

Those days the harbour was full of sailing vessels waiting for crab, so the seamen had plenty of leisure in which to enjoy themselves, and by me going to town for manure meant in twelve months that we had a big heap of manure which naturally bred millions of flies, which, of course found their way into the kitchen. Thinking to get rid of them, we tied a clump of bushed to cross beams in our kitchen on which the flies settled at night. I had the task of blowing them down.

Let me explain how I done it. I got a flat sheet of iron about three feet square and laid it on the table, took a handpiece of blasting powder, placed it on the tin, then got a four pound double headed iron hammer and worked it to and fro till it was crushed fine, and I can remember smoking a pipe while doing so. When the powder was fine enough I spread it out on the sheet and held it up on my fingers under the bush where the flies were settled on, when someone handed one a live coal out of the fire with the tongs which dropped on the powder which exploded and of course caused the death of nearly a pint of flies, but they were just as plentiful the next night.

Some will say, why did you not got the fine powder. Well, the blasting powder was the cheapest, this was carried on every night except Sundays, I have often thought of the danger I was in by crushing the powder with an iron hammer, and smoking while doing so. It was Father’s plan crushing the powder, but not the smoking while doing so. There is an old saying which goes; Where ignorance is bliss, more further over ‘tis folly, to be ‘tis folly to be wise. It any be applied in this case.

I made my living those days by gardening, fencing and whatever work I could get to do, I was always a willing worker. I laid down the first Bowling Green rink in Waratah in the year 1890. The Lowlands green, the Stockton green, the Cessnock green and top-dressed a few up to the year 1914. I had the position of Watchman at the Newcastle Abattoirs for seven years after my best friend did. I got disheartened and retired from work. That was sometime in the year 1921-22, I am not quite certain which all my boys are first class tradesmen, that is of those that are living I mean.

And now, a few lines on the worry and anxiety that we were subject to in growing grapes 60 years ago. No doubt, it is different in this age, but they still have disease to contend against. Some people think that all you have to do is to get a cutting, stick it in the ground and after two or three years gather the grapes. I will tell you what happened to our grape vine.

We always managed to have them pruned before August started. Some years as soon as the buds commenced to swivel, a beetle, which we called the elephant beetle attached itself to the buds and ate the inside out of the bud, which destroyed all the fruit, and caused the bud to throw out four of five branches instead of one with no fruit in them. The way we dealt with that pest was that we went through the vineyard every morning till the young shoots were five or six inches long, and gave the butt of the vine a light kick with our boot and the beetle would fall off onto the ground, then, we would break their head off or put them in a tin with a little kerosene. The reason why we called them elephant beetles was because they had a small trunk which they used to bore in the heart of the grape bud.

Our.vines were all put on the stake principle. Then more trouble occurred. When the grapes were to the size of a pea and before then, there was a disease, which was called Odium tuckaria, and which attacked the vines and berries. To check this, we had to sulphur the vines. Father made some very handy small bellows to put the sulphur in to blow on the vines. Many a day I spent in sulphuring the vines, especially the vines in the morning. Then perhaps, if it was a very hot morning, we would get a thin dessertspoon – in the afternoon, with rain which would spoil my work, and would have to be done again the next day.

Chapter 2 – Written In the latter part of 1935 in Brisbane

Why the name of the Folly was changed to Mayfield. Before the District was cooperated every person who had a block of ground gave it a name, a block of ground comprising 15 or 20 acres, there was Houghton, LeSpring, New Bottle, Calsino Flat and several others.

I remember some time after I settled down in New Bottle estate, well on to 50 years ago, the block of ground opposite to my home, which I believe was about 15 acres, was fenced and used as a slaughter house and cattle paddock by a man named Johnstone, who had his shop in Wallsend, but when he failed in business, a gentleman named Mr Scholey, a retired Butcher, bought the property, got it surveyed in allotments, and sold them, and named it Mayfield. And since then I cannot remember the exact year, it must be well on 40 or more. All the other names of parcels of land have died out – it is all Mayfield.

The north side of the Railway of the Waratah Municipal Boundary, which by rights should be called Handbury, and what is called Mayfield has the better right to be called Waratah, for I believe the Flower called the Waratah was first named growing in that locality, in a place called Bothens Brush, a thick scrub of wild fig trees and vines and undergrowth, I remember us boys going there of a Sunday morning and tugging at the vines, and then seeing the flying foxes dropping off the chain they form when roosting in scores. And there was a stinging tree growing, of which we were scared of being stung, but that did not prevent us from getting stung – for some of the gang watched this opportunity and broke off a branch and dried it across any bare patch of the body they could find, and my word, it did sting for hours.

Chapter 3 – My experience in life (cont. from Chapter I.)

THE STORY SO FAR – the Author gets married and has children. However, his wife dies and his sons go to the Wars (1914-18). Two of them die. The author tells of how many jobs he has had and at the end of the chapter says “I am not quite certain which of all my boys are first class tradesmen, that is of those that are living”…… Now read on:

Tradesmen, three are carpenters, one fitter, one turner in the iron line, one has a sugar plantation in Queensland. The married son who was killed at Poierrs was a first class moulder, the other who died P.O.W. in Germany was a Painter and Decorater in Eveligh Carriage work In Sydney. I am proud of them all, for they never caused me any anxiety during my life.

So far, I don’t know why I am writing this. No doubt, some of the readers of it, if it were published, will say it is a lot of trash, but I am glad to get it off my mind, where it has been flicking for the last six months.

It is wonderful what a person can hold in memory and still have room for more. It does not take up any room, if a person only exercises his memory. We do not think enough as Bishop Burgham said in one of his lectures, take everything as a matter of course, read and forget immediately what we read except horse racing, cricket and football.

The main part of our lives and the hereafter, are neglected or never thought of until we are on our dying bed, then I am afraid in many cases, it is too late.

J. F. Crebert - Chapter 6

Looking back and thinking back on what the front of the Hunter River was like 70 years ago

Has caused me to think back to my boyhood days so I will start to put down what I remember of them and how we spent our holidays which were few and far between. So I will start from the Eastern boundary of Waratah Mills on the Mayfield side from the present Steel Works to the Mill Paddock on the river frontage, a good few years ago, Waratah Coal Company shipped coal there at a shoot they had erected there, and a gentleman named James was in charge of the shipping of the coal there and to get to that place on the river frontage was to cross over a long narrow bridge built of small trees with a covering of boards built by the settlers along the river frontage.

The bridge was built to cross a creek and a lot of low lying land which was covered with water during high tides and when we got tired of fishing we used to roam about as all healthy boys do, There were two people living on the water frontage , a Mr. Lawton and Mr. Bevan. Mr Bevan carried on a little milk business somewhere where the present wire and nail works are situated, but on higher ground and after Bevans left the locality, Mr. Lawton slaughtered sheep and cattle there for years, until the Abbattoirs were erected.

Coming further west there was what we called Thomases (sic) Paddock, which was used for slaughtering purposes also. I remember in boyhood days of Mr Witherspoon burning oyster shell for lime on the river bank in that locality, the Mr Witherspoon who became a prominent businessman later on, also a man named Phelps who lived in a cottage on the river bank. He was a fisherman. He had a small plot of ground with a few nice peach trees growing.

Coming further west, was what we boys called Fowles Paddock, where was a bit of a wharf or landing place for a boat where we used to fish off and on the bank was a small crib about 6 by 6 which I presume was used as bathing room for changing clothes. Further up in front of the residence there was another long narrow wharf where as I have read in a former article of this place was occupied by a Mr. Simpson and I reckon all the building and wharfs were erected by convict labour.

The only work done by Mr Hughes was erecting a stone collar for him and that was many years later to what I am writing about.

The next property going west was what we called Bolton Brush, where the boys spent many an hour skylarking. A great haunt for flying foxes. It was a mass of wild fig trees and every kind of vines you can imagine running up to the top of the trees. We would get hold of a vine, give it a good pull and the flying foxes would drop out of the chain which is there made of roosting. They would drop a few feet and then fly away to settle elsewhere.

Next going west was a 100 more block I can remember a man named Brane growing lucerne there and he used to cart it to Newcastle with a chestnut horse which had a very hollow back. The 100 acre block was bought later by a Mr Torpey, 26 acres by a Mr Campbell, 25 I think the other 50 acres by a Mr Simpson who carried on a dairy farm supplying milk in Newcastle for many years, and that was where the children were burnt to death.

I can faintly remember seeing the charred remains of the house, it being next to the Mill Paddock where the wheat was grown. In the early days the convict labour grew the wheat. I can also remember a well where the people got their drinking water, it was in a hollow situated in what is now called Shelly beach between the house which was burnt and the Mill Paddock.

In the convicts time they drove a tunnel Into the rise from the river. I suppose looking for coal and there was an air shaft on the rise some three or four hundred yards away from the mouth of the tunnel.

Further west in the next hollow a fisherman had his home. His name was Tuney and he also had a well in the hollow where he lived with his wife.Still further west there was two mounts of earth where the rumour was in those days that two convicts were buried there and that a ghost was seen occasionally roaming about without a head, but I never seen the ghost, though we were mostly scared when out possum shooting near the spot. I have heard since writing the above, that Platt’s children, that were burnt to death, were buried there.

We could for many years see what we believed wore furrows in the cleared land which showed that it had been cultivated can well remember the Mill Paddock where we Sunday School children had a picnic once a year. There was a track out through the bush right to the Waratah Station. I imagine it was done by the convicts in those days. I believe it was about 10andprime; wide.

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