John O’Neill (1856-1921)
Amelia Crimmins (1867-1922)
John O’Neill was the oldest of 12 children of Patrick O’Neill & Elizabeth Lulham. He was born at Brookfield between Clarence Town and Dungog in NSW on 03 Mar 1856.
Amelia Crimmins, known as Minnie, was born on 30 Dec 1867 at Gragine near Warialda NSW (registered in 1868 #17464), one of at least five children of James Crimmins (a labourer, born in 1837 in Dublin Ireland) and Harriet Ruth Edwards.
The following information is based on memories written down by Joan Murray, a grand daughter of John and Amelia, before her death in 2010.
John spent his early working life as a mailman, an adventurous and sometimes dangerous occupation, but rewarding in terms of service to the community. Farmers and graziers were scattered, and mailmen servicing isolated settlers shopped for household goods, haberdashery, and medicines, even taking dentures and spectacles for repairs. In the thirties, one such mailman was renowned for selecting suitable hats for the wives of farmers in remote parts of New England.
When Hillgrove was a flourishing gold-mining town with fifty odd hotels, John and his young family took over a hotel at Metz, a village on the opposite side of the gorge from Hillgrove proper. A number of his children were born there and it was at Hillgrove that the eldest son William began his teaching career. An interesting memento of that period is the Hillgrove Cup, won by one of John’s horses during the nineties.
Early in the new century John and Amelia bought “Clarens” at Georges Creek where they remained for the rest of their lives. After their deaths in the early twenties the property, usually referred to as “Georges Creek”, “The O’Neill’s” or “The Post Office” was bought by Syd. He and Mary were renowned for their hospitality and ties with “Georges Creek” were firmly preserved until well into the fifties.
The claim of fifty odd hotels in Hillgrove may be somewhat exaggerated. Click here to read a Google history of Hillgrove that suggests that at its peak there were six hotels. In 1899 there appears to be eight hotels in Hillgrove and Metz; Graham John Wilson, in a Masters Thesis awarded by the University of Sydney in 1990 entitled The growth and decline of Hillgrove: a history of a northern New South Wales mining town from 1880 to 1920, states that:
In 1899 the following hotels existed in Hillgrove and Metz:
Commercial Hotel, Samuel Sullings.
Eleanora Hotel, Edward C. McNamara.
Gara Hotel, John O’Neil (Metz).
Hillgrove Hotel, William J. Judge.
Miners’ Arms Hotel, Nellie S. Taylor.
Sydney Hotel, Sydney Williams.
Tattersalls Hotel, Ernest Robinson.
Tattersalls Hotel, John Crough (Metz).
The decline of Metz or West Hillgrove as a mining area meant that the Gara and Tattersalls Hotels eventually lost their licences. In September 1907, Michael Crough and John O’Neil applied to the Licensing Court for a renewal of their licenses. The police showed that there had been no increase in population at Metz and consequently, the applications were formally refused by the bench.
John Crough, Senior and Junior, were the publicans of the Hillgrove Hotel and the Tattersalls Hotel in Metz from 1894. This image of John Crough’s Tattersalls Cup was provided by Kevin William O’Neill, a descendant of John O’Neill & Minnie Crimmins:
According to Janelle McFarlane who was farming at Metz in 2005:
Metz was originally known as “Sunlight”, then “West Hillgrove” and finally it was called “Metz” in . It was a mining town and today only one derelict house remains. In its heyday in the late 1800’s approx 800 people lived at Metz and it had two hotels, the Gara and the Tattersalls, as well as many shops, a public hall, churches, a school of arts and a school…
A travel article from the Sydney Morning Herald is more detailed:
Metz and Bakers Creek Falls
An ideal outing is to head out of Hillgrove back along the main bitumen road to Waterfall Way. However, after 3 km turn left into Old Hilly Road (gravel) which leads, after just 3 km, to Bakers Creek Falls where there is a lookout.
Just beyond the creek you can either turn right back to Waterfall Way (1 km) or left to Metz (4 km), which is situated on the other side of the gorge from Hillgrove. In fact, Metz was initially known as West Hillgrove. A smaller version of the main town it started in 1889 when goldmining spread to the western side of Baker’s Creek Gorge. The name ‘Metz’ was adopted in 1892.
Its population peaked in 1898 at about 750, at which time there was a post office, two schools, three churches, shops, two hotels, a masonic lodge, a brass band and sporting organisations.
The population began to decline around 1904 when activities at nearby mines wound down. The post office and the last school and hotel closed in the late 1920s.
Two buildings remain – a cottage with a mud-brick chimney and a brick outbuilding relating to the now defunct hotel. The Hillgrove Museum has a pamphlet relating to the town’s heritage and sites. The entire site is now private property. Visitors are welcome but are requested not to climb over fences or open gates without permission.
As well as running the hotel at Metz, John supplied timber and firewood to the gold mines. From the masters thesis mentioned above we read this:
October saw the Armidale Express report, “the population of Hillgrove West, or what is known as the Gara side of the Falls, is steadily on the increase, and now numbers, between 150 and 200 persons”. In the same month, Mr McDonald, an Armidale solictor, appeared for Mr Kearney in the Armidale Licensing Court, “on behalf of John O’Neill (sic) for confirmation of a conditional publican’s license at Hillgrove Mines”. The court was told that John Waterfall was the original applicant but John O’Neil purchased the land on which the completed hotel building was built. Because all conditions had been complied with, the licence was granted by the court and the hotel became the Gara. O’Neil established a coach service from Hillgrove West to meet the Hillgrove Coaches at the Cooney Creek Hotel. He conducted the hotel from 1889 but the decline of mining in the area saw its last licence granted on 8 October 1902. Later, John O’Neil conducted a country home for travellers called “The Georges” at the head of the Macleay River on the Kempsey Road, and operated the Hillgrove-Kempsey Motor Service by July 1913.
In about 1910 the family moved to Georges Creek where John bred cattle and horses, but had other interests in mind: from a report on Fri 10 Jan 1913 in the South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus came this:
On New Year’s Day Mr John O’Neill, of George’s Creek, came through in a big powerful “Brazier” motor car. Mr. O’Neill intends to run the mail service to and from Comara to Hillgrove on this car. Armidale by reason of motors is getting as accessible from Kempsey as Port Macquarie.
John retained his license to serve liquor, and his homestead at Georges Creek served both as a post office with a separate entry and a half-way stop between Armidale and Kempsey where folk could rest and obtain accommodation and a drink. The following is taken from an article, published in The Gloucester Advocate on Fri 13 Nov 1931. There is some inconsistency in the article. Cyril O’Neill (one of John & Amelia’s children) was certainly living at Georges Creek (see his webpage) at the time that this article appeared; “Mr. John O’Neill, with his good wife” referred to in the continuation of the article had both died in the early 1920s, so the reference was to the family presence there for many years:
MAGNIFICENT MANNING TO MARVELLOUS MACLEAY.
Five Day Creek:
By F. A. Fitzpatrick.
“Far back in the days when the blacks used to ramble
In long, single file, ‘neath the evergreen tree –
The wool teams in season came down from New England,
And journeyed for days on their way to the sea.
‘Twas then that our hearts and our sinews were stronger –
For those were the days when the bushman was bred-
We journeyed on roads that were rougher and longer
Than roads where the feet of our grandchildren tread.”
… ‘River View,’ at Middle Creek, is another interesting property. Mr. and Mrs. O. C. Mowle conduct an accommodation house there these days. There it is that Mr. Woodward’s motor service car from Kempsey to Armidale stops on certain days of the week in order that passengers might get lunch. It is really the ‘Half-way House’ between Armidale and Kempsey. Mr. Mowle has some 2000 acres of country, and goes in for cattle-raising. Mr. and Mrs. Mowle have a family of five, and one of the daughters is Mrs. Cyril O’Neill, of George’s Creek.
… continued from Last Issue [the week earlier]
Mr. John O’Neill, with his good wife and family, reside on George’s Creek. This was known as the “Half-way House” years ago. The property is situate at the foot of the Big Hill – practically the ‘gateway’ to the Armidale Tableland. The road round the ‘Big Hill’ is seven and a half miles in length, and takes some climbing. It is a great deviation, and the scenery thousands of feet down in the valley is splendid. It must be something grand in a good season, when the grass is fresh and green. Mr. and Mrs. O’Neill have lived on George’s Creek for years, where they have reared a large family. The eldest son – William – is a school-teacher at Kempsey. Another is a Detective in the Police Force in Sydney. Cattle-raising occupies the attention of the O’Neills. It is here that the road to Armidale leaves the bank of the Macleay River – and the scenery right from Comara to George’s Creek is excellent, skirting the river bank the whole way.
As publicans they had to deal with life and death; an apparent suicide was reported on Sat 11 Dec 1920 in The Sydney Morning Herald:
A farmer and grazier named Patrick Donohoe, of Guy Fawkes, who was travelling to Kempsey, stayed the night at Mr. John O’Neill’s residence at George’s Creek, and was found dead in a bedroom early yesterday, with a bullet wound in the head and a rifle between his legs.
John & Minnie’s family:
John & Minnie had 13 children:
01. William Henry (b. 29 Mar 1887, d. 16 Nov 1973)
02. Alice May (b. 19 Jun 1888, d. 16 Oct 1960)
03. infant child (b. & d. 1889)
04. Ethel Maud (b. 28 Dec 1890, d. 05 Feb 1916)
05. Leslie John (b. 21 Apr 1893, d. 04 Mar 1917)
06. Cyril Herbert (b. 26 Dec 1894, d. 09 Jul 1959)
07. Aileen Mary (b. 17 Oct 1896, d. 10 Jun 1905)
08. Leila Norah (b. 13 Jul 1899, d. 28 Oct 1979)
09. Russell James (b. 11 Nov 1901, d. 1995)
10. Phyllis Cecelia (b. 29 Jan 1903, d. 23 Jun 1979)
11. Patrick Joseph (b. 21 Aug 1905, d. 19 Jun 1982)
12. Michael Edward (b. 29 Aug 1907, d. 07 Sep 1998)
13. Stella Maria (b. 04 Nov 1909, d. 1987)
There is a suggestion that another infant was born and died in 1912.
John died of stomach cancer at Armidale on 24 May 1921 aged 65 and is buried in Row E of the Catholic Cemetery there. The news was reported in the Macleay Chronicle the following day:
Died at Armidale
Yesterday afternoon Mr. P. J. O’Neill received the sad news that his brother Mr. John O’Neill, of George’s Creek, had passed away at Armidale whither he had been taken the previous day for urgent medical attention. The death of Mr. John O’Neill was not however, altogether unexpected: for an internal trouble he had endured for many months caused him to interview a Sydney specialist: and he was given the distressing news that his case was hopeless. The deceased, aged 66, leaves a large and well known family whose activities centre on the tableland. The funeral takes place this day (Wednesday) at Armidale: and thither Mr. P. J. O’Neill and his brother Herbert of Wingham set out last night.
The Macleay Chronicle carried the following obituary a day later:
The late Mr Jno. O’Neill whose death in Armidale Hospital we reported in previous issue, was buried in Armidale Catholic Cemetery on Wednesday last, the Rev. Father Carroll officiating at the graveside in the presence of a large gathering of friends and relatives. The deceased gentleman, aged but 66 years, leaves a widow and nine children to mourn their loss, the latter being William (Bellbrook), Mrs. Johnson (Wollomombi), Cyril, Mrs. Rafferty, Robert, Molloy, Patrick, Michael, and Stella. A son (Leslie) and daughter (Ethel) predeceased him. An old up-river friend of the family writes of the late Mr. O’Neill as follows:- “He was an affectionate husband, one of the best of fathers, and a staunch friend, well known by all on the Upper Macleay and New England, and was much liked and respected for his straightforward, honest, and manly principles, Mr. O’Neill was born at Brookfield, Williams River, which was the birthplace and old home of his father and mother; therefore he was a true native of this sunny land. Mr. O’Neill left home to fight his own way through life when almost a boy, and was up on this river 46 years ago, mail contracting and carrying. Almost 40 years ago he had a mail contract from Armidale to Grafton, via Guy Fawkes, and many a rough trip and cold bleak night he had to go through. When the Hillgrove mines were located, Mr. O’Neill was soon there; and he built the hotel at Metz, which he carried on for some years. Nearly the whole of Metz township was once owned by him. He had several fine teams on the road, hauling the timber and firewood to the mines for which he had the contract. However, mining speculations are not always a success. Mr. O’Neill may truly be numbered among our good old pioneers; one of the good old sort, everybody’s friend, ever anxious to give a helping hand to the needy.
Amelia died on 30 Jun 1922 aged 54 and is also buried in the Catholic Cemetery at Armidale. The cause of death was listed as “(a) Auricular fibrillation, (b) Syneope” which are coronary artery diseases. Here death was reported in the Macleay Argus on Fri 07 Jul 1922.
DEATH OF MRS. J. O’NEILL.
The “Armidale Chronicle” of Saturday last records the death of Mrs. O’Neill, relict of the late John O’Neill, of George’s Creek. Mrs. O’Neill was born on the Clarence River, and was 57 years of age. She was married at Grafton, and for a number of years they resided at Metz, where they kept the Post Office and an accommodation house. Though Mrs. O’Neill’s final illness was a brief one, she had been troubled with unsatisfactory health for some time. She was universally esteemed on account of her ladylike deportment and charitable outlook. Many people in her neighborhood have lost their best friend. Mrs. O’Neill was one of those good souls who saw the best in everybody with whom she came into contact. She looked upon the bright side always. Her lovable disposition made her friends everywhere. Mr. O’Neill died comparatively recently. The family consists of William (Bellbrook), Cyril, Robert J., and Michael (George’s Creek), Mrs. L. Johnson (Wollomombi), Mrs. A. J. Rafferty (Top Creek, Macleay River), Miss Phyllis (Mollie) and Miss Stella (‘Bunty’) of George’s Creek.
04. Ethel Maud O’Neill passed away at the age of 26 in Armidale Hospital (The Catholic Press, on Thu 10 Feb 1916, reported her age incorrectly as 24). The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser reported her death on Tue 08 Feb 1916:
Sad Death.—The sad death occurred on Saturday morning, at the local Hospital, of Miss Ethel M. O’Neil, who was only 24 years of age. She was the eldest daughter of Mr. John O’Neil, of George’s Creek, and passed away rather suddenly. She had only been an inmate of the hospital for one day, suffering from heart trouble, and the tragic news of her decease caused a great shock to her parents. She had been employed in the Sydney Telephone Exchange up to within a month before Christmas. Deceased was a clever, accomplished girl, and contemplated entering the Public Instruction Department. When Mr. O’Neil received the news of his daughter’s death he was on the road with cattle near Kilcoy, a special messenger being sent out to meet him. The funeral took place on Saturday afternoon in the Catholic cemetery…
05. Leslie John O’Neill apparently had a long-term heart condition condition for many years. The Armidale Chronicle reported on Sat 17 Mar 1910 that Leslie (aged almost 17) had improved after several weeks in hospital:
All patients all the hospital are progressing well. Amongst the number is Mr. Leslie O’Neil, of George’s Creek, who has been confined in the hospital for some weeks, and his case at one time was dubious.
He is again hospitalised some 10 years later; from The Armidale Chronicle, Sat 03 Mar 1917:
Mr. Leslie O’Neil, soil of Mr. J. O’Neil, of George’s Creek, remains an inmate of the hospital, where he was admitted some months ago far an inward complaint..
He succumbed just a week alter from the Glen Innes Examiner, Thu 08 Mar 1917:
Mr. Leslie O’Neill, of George’s Creek, passed away early on Sunday morning last after an illness of about five months’ duration. The cause of death was a heart trouble. Mr. O’Neill was only 24 years of age, and was a son of Mr. John O’Neill, of George’s Creek, who is well-known in the Armldale district.
It must have been devastating for the family to lose two young children from the same complaint just a year apart.
07. Aileen Mary O’Neill was only 8 when she passed away at Hillgrove in 1905 before the family had moved to Georges Creek. To date we have not located anything to indicate the cause of death