Monday, 24 March 2014

James Slater - a Poultry Affair

Okay, something a bit more light-hearted for a change (I think we all need a break).

James Slater was one of my fourth great grandfathers (everyone has 16 of those), through the Hall line. He lived from 1778 to 1862 and crammed a lot into those 83 years. I am not going to write him up in his entirety in one post, and certainly not now. There is just too much that went on. He'll get a “Matters of Conviction” post at some point, amongst many other things.

I have quite a few convict ancestors. With the exception of two, it was pretty much a fair cop for the whole bunch. James is one of those two. I strongly suspect he was framed so that his skills could benefit the new colony (currently working on trying to prove or disprove that theory, but let's just say at the moment his conviction looks decidedly dodgy).

At any rate, he ended up in Australia in 1814 while his wife and eight children remained behind in Lancashire.
After working out his time (and building the colony's first water-powered carding machine – yes, I am very proud of him), James set up a carpentry business and in 1828 was operating out of premises in Pitt Street, Sydney.

If you know the Sydney CBD, when you hear “Pitt Street” no doubt you think of something like this:

Pitt Street, Sydney, circa 2010. From Wikipedia Commons
Or maybe this:

Pitt Street Mall, from Wikipedia Commons

But back in 1828 it was rather different.
The entrance of Port Jackson and part of the town of Sydney, New South Wales [picture] / drawn by Major Taylor, 48 Regt., engraved by R. Havell & Son. National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an5575513-v
Most people in Sydney kept chickens. Handy supply of eggs you didn't have to pay for, other than the feed. Some people bred pigeons for the table. James had ducks and I doubt he was the only one. Sydney was a town, not yet a city, with wide streets and low houses. There were some tall buildings – the Barracks, the churches, some commercial enterprises, Government House and such like, some two-storey residences, but on the whole it was far more domestic than our modern minds allow. The Gadigal people who had originally inhabited the area had largely been forced out or had died through introduced pathogens such as smallpox. (Looks like the State Government is about to force out another group who “don't fit”, with the decision to do away with public housing at Millers Point). Sorry. I will stop my angry digression.

Back to James, who had a carpenters shop, and poultry. He also had a pet dingo. This dingo, whose name is sadly unknown, loved James. He loved him a lot. He loved him so much he made the papers:

There is in the possession of a person named Slater, in Pitt Street, a native dog, completely versed in the arts of theft; when loosed from his chain, he proceeds to the yards of such neighbours as are possessed of poultry, and relieves them from the expense of purchasing provision for the feathered tribe, by transferring them to his master's garden, without doing them any injury. We have known dogs of this species to be equally predatory, but we never knew them to neglect to kill their prey, in amount far beyond the cravings of hunger.1

I think James must have had an interesting relationship with his neighbours.

Mr Slater and his dingo came to the attention of the Monitor because James was daring to take on the vestiges of the Rum Corps and its associated nest of vipers. But that is a story for another day.
1"Domestic Intelligence Continued" The Monitor (New South Wales), 14 Jan 1828, p. 8, col. 1; digital images, Trove - Digitised newspapers and more ( : accessed 23 Feb 2013)

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