George Pugh – Wanderings over Belmont, Newcastle and New Caledonia (1873-1874)

“He had my billy of water to his mouth and was pouring it down his throat.” p.195 George Pugh confronts a naked man in the bush somewhere between Minmi and Lake McQuarrie (sic) circa February 1873.

Back in April 2012 we received a very interesting email with regards to one of our stories on our UoNCC Blog relating to Captain Law and the rescue of six communards from New Caledonia.

Mr Gary Baker, who, in the course of his family research into his Great Great Uncle Captain George Farrar Pugh, drew our attention to his ancestor’s published book containing a number of chapters relating to his time living in Belmont and his role in the rescue of six communards on the ship P.C.E. that sailed from Newcastle under Captain Law.

Henri Rochefort (along with 5 of his fellow escapees) arrived back in Newcastle in 27th March 1874 after they made a daring escape from prison in New Caledonia, where they were serving time for their roles in the French Revolution of 1870.

The published account of George Pugh’s travels is ‘At the back of the world. Wanderings over many lands and seas’ by George and Jennie Pugh. London: Lynwood & Co., Ltd 12 Paternoster Row, 1913. Even though it was published in 1913, thanks to the very documented rescue of Henri Rochfort and his companions, we can date his wanderings in Belmont and Newcastle to the period around February 1873 – April 1874.

With regards to his Great Great Uncle Gary Baker writes:

“From my research I have discovered that his family  had a close association with the sea. His Grandfather was a sail maker and his father and uncle were both ship’s engineers, the latter emigrating to Lima via a job with the Pacific Steam Company. At the time of writing the book Capt. Pugh had remarried. His first wife had died in 1895. She was called Catherine and her maiden name was Caesar, her father being christened Augustus. George Pugh had two sons. George Augustus and Norman John. Both emigrated to New Zealand. Researching these, my Third cousins, I discovered in a pencil annotation at the bottom Norman John Pugh’s First World War military records that  his father  Capt . Pugh was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
Evidently the book was a factor in his sponsorship to the society which he joined in 1914. It is very life affirming to realise that history is always created by real people and not, as too many people see the past, as dates of battles and the lives of kings and queens. I hope these small observations might pass as an introduction to my Great Great uncle.”

– Email Correspondence Gary Baker to Gionni Di Gravio 11 may 2012

As a further background to the story you can read all about Captain David Law and the six escapees here:

And you can read the autobiographical account of one of the escapees Henri Rochefort entitled “Noumea to Newcastle The Story of an Escape” translated by Emeritus Professor Ken Dutton here:

These accounts provide a vivid description of Newcastle during the time of their arrival in March 1874, and now, with the inclusion of Pugh’s account we have another eye witness to the events leading up to the rescue and journey back to Newcastle. The image below is an engraving showing what Newcastle, and its harbour looked like in this time. It was originally published in the Illustrated Sydney News of April 1875 and contains a key identifying the buildings and important features of the landscape.

Newcastle in 1875

Thanks to references provided by Mr Baker, we were able to track down a copy of the original book and digitised the relevant pages pertaining to his visit to the Region.

We can now provide our readers with the account of the dramatic rescue and escape by another witness, George Pugh, one of only three crew members aboard the P.C.E. (which incidentally stands for the Peace, Comfort and Ease) that knew what was afoot. As a bonus, Pugh also provides an account of life in Belmont and Lake Macquarie during this period, as well we  making reference to certain local identities.

‘At the back of the world. Wanderings over many lands and seas’ by George and Jennie Pugh. London: Lynwood & Co., Ltd 12 paternoster Row, 1913. [Title Page]


Chapter XVIII Lost in the Bush to Chapter XXII A Dangerous Enterprise pp. 186-240
from ‘At the back of the world. Wanderings over many lands and seas’ by George and Jennie Pugh.
London: Lynwood & Co., Ltd 12 Paternoster Row, 1913.

Working our way back from the arrival of the P.C.E. in Newcastle harbour on the 27th March 1874 we can estimate that George Pugh’s journeys in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie began around early 1873 where he leaves Williamstown Wharf in Melbourne aboard the “Woodville” to arrive in Newcastle New South Wales.

The next morning after arriving in Newcastle he packs his belongings and goes on the “Wallaby” (or tramp) to make for Lake McQuarrie (sic), he entered the bush at Minmi 12 miles from Newcastle, noticed great pine trees and titree bush. After a day’s walking he fell asleep and was woken up at night after he heard laughter (which ended up being a flock of Kookaburras or Laughing Jackasses). He againa dozed off and awoken again hearing the wailing of a child, gradually got fainter and more distant.

He wakes up the next day, with the sun high in the sky. After 2 hours walking, he came upon a dead man, around 30 years old, with fair hair, mustache and tattoos, almost nude. A blue flannel shirt lay nearby. He tied the shirt to a tree to mark the site so that the body could be later found. With the sun almost overhead, and no water left, he luckily came across a tiny creek, from which he filled the billy and set off again.

At this point he came upon a tall naked man, body scratched and bleeding, eyes bloodshot, who took the billy from him and began to drink (see illustration from the frontispiece of the published book at the top of this page). At his feet lay a small native bear with its stomach open from which he had been gorging on its blood. (p.195) The man falls to the ground after emptying Pugh’s billy.

Pugh follows the track back to refill his billy and continues his journey. Towards sunset the track disappeared and at foot of large blue gum tree he fell asleep.

He awakes the next day with two kangaroos leaping past followed by a young man on horseback. The man is surprised to see Pugh wandering in the bush, and tells him that the Police had sent notice from Maitland reporting that several sailors had disappeared in bush between Newcastle and the Wallsend Coal Mine.

They are joined by another man named Frank, who provides him directions to make way to cluster of grey gum trees, and to the right of them find a bullock track, then follow track for 2 miles to solitary house, and to tell Harry that Frank sent you.

At Harry’s place, he explained what had happened. Harry tells him that many men have got lost in bush, as the recent drought has dried up the creeks.

The three others return. They report that they had found the bodies of the two sailors and buried them on the spot, left cross marking on gum trees.

Around the end of February 1873 he states that he stayed for 2 weeks working with them making trunnels for shipbuilders and learning new tasks and techniques.

Around March 1873 at the end of his stay Frank took him to the house of Mr. Williams at Belmont, on the banks of Lake Macquarie. He went to work for Mr. Williams looking after a sailing yacht, several rowing boats and teaching the children to swim.

Both authors Peter Murray “From Bahtahbah to Belmont: A History of Belmont 1826-1926 [Privately Printed, April 2005] pp.112-116 and W.S. Parkes “Belmont Lake Macquarie 1825-1974” [Belmont, N.S.W. : Belmont Public School, 1974] p.48, p.56 who both make reference to this work, believe that Pugh’s “Mr Williams” is Mr T. Williamson, who built very close to the site of the Reverend L.E. Threlkeld’s first mission house at Bahtahbah known as the ‘Old House’. This site has also been recently identified in a paper by Emeritus Professor John Fryer, entitled “Where was Reverend Threlkeld’s First Mission House at Belmont? A Report prepared for Mr Doug Lithgow, A Freeman of the City of Newcastle. ” (764 KB PDF) [28 February 2008]

Mr Thomas Williamson aka “Mr Williams” (Reproduced from The Child of “Bahtahbah” Being a brief History of Belmont Lake Macquarie, New South Wales by Rev. N.M.Clout [1947])
George Pugh worked and lived at Mr Williams’ homestead at Belmont for one year. He described it as standing on the top of a hill, 16miles from Newcastle surrounded by fruit orchards and overlooking the Lake.

Figure 4 from Professor Fryer’s report Plan 388-2111, dated 1877, showing Thomas Williamson holdings encompassed an orchard, a banana plantation, some yards, store, shed, two houses and the first Belmont School House.

He also mentions a number of local persons in the course of his narrative. One, in particular, when retelling his stories of shark attacks, is a “Mr Boyd” whose child Nellie had been taken by a shark three months earlier. A Mr James Boyd is mentioned in Clout’s Child of “Bahtahbah” (p.38) and there is a possibility is could be his father or a relation. There is also a reference to the fruit farm owned by Mr Warner (Jonathan Warner?), which was situated 10 miles from Belmont, and whose fruit trees were decimated by a black cloud of flying foxes, which descended upon the property when they were away. Also mentioned are the boat builder Parrell and his beautiful daughter Jennie, who George Pugh was very interested in courting. Finally there is the amusing story of their neighbour, a widower Mrs Rebecca Smith, whose weatherboard house stood alongside the main road leading from Newcastle to the Wallsend Coal Mines, a runaway pig, and the local Methodist congregation which met in the schoolhouse.

A year later he leaves Belmont for Newcastle, probably setting off in early March 1874 for Noumea aboard the P.C.E. How long the ship remained docked in Noumea is uncertain, but we do know that around the 20 March 1874 they left for the return trip to Newcastle, which concluded on the 27th March 1874. Following the rescue, he remained three weeks until April 1874 when he left Newcastle for Wellington, New Zealand, thus bringing to a conclusion his journey in Belmont and Newcastle.

Gionni Di Gravio
15 May 2012

6 thoughts on “George Pugh – Wanderings over Belmont, Newcastle and New Caledonia (1873-1874)

  1. My advice to Mr Pugh or anyone else is to avoid wandering around in the bush, especially in the vicinity of Lake Macquarie, as you could have an encounter with a naked man. Also avoid the nude beach.

  2. The rescue was depicted in Edouard manet’s 1881 painting ‘Rochefords escape’ Not able to put the illustration in this box.

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