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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Mr John (W J S) Archer

Born: c.1840; Died: 1901; Married: Mary Cameron

John Archer's obituary records him as coming to Australia from New Zealand in the early 1860s to the Kiandra goldfields. No records of his being there or any indications of his success have been found. It would seem that he wasn't successful and then came to Ginninderra in the 1860s, working on the Ginninderra Estate. It was here that he met, and then married Mary Cameron, the twelth child of Donald Cameron Snr and Ann Cameron – the 'Glebe Camerons'

It is difficult to visualise the life of John and Mary in their years before marriage, John probably worked for William Davis (junior) on 'Ginninderra' and Mary may have been assisting to care for some of her nieces and nephews whose mother or father had died.

It is understood that Mary might have gone to school at Ginninderra but that is not clear. Her elder brother Ewan Cameron must have had a reasonable education to go on to become a teacher, firstly at Weetangera school. Mary was not living in an isolated location away from educational opportunities.

John seemed to be friendly with the Southwell family, but with them being devout Methodists, Sunday was a day of rest and solemnity. Methodists did not usually play cards or attend dances nor would they take part in active sports on Sundays. Whether John adopted these ways or not who knows but they were strong local influences.

One form of recreation that seemed to suit everyone was organised hunting expeditions. It seems that if it moved it was shot. Given the voracity of these hunting drives it is a wonder that there is any wildlife left in the district! The wild turkey or bustard was shot out, as was the koala. Those who could afford it were able to participate in organised live pigeon shooting at hotels which attracted good business and much interest. George Harcourt, friend of John was an active shooter and hunter.

We do know that John was a cricketer and he would have been in his element at Ginninderra. William Davis (junior) and many other influentials supported cricket. In fact some of the most notable cricketers in the early years were from the local Aboriginal community. One of them was Bobby Hamilton:

"'About 1871 Bobby was known throughout the district south of Goulburn as a champion wicket-keeper and was also a good bat. He and his mate Jimmy Taylor did great things for the Ginninderra cricket club. Taylor was a splendid bat and could field in any position". [Shumack (1967) p150]

Davis promoted cricket in every way he could, in some cases selecting employees based on their cricketing abilities.

At that time John Archer is recorded as being a farmer at Ginninderra and Mary is recorded as living at The Glebe, Ginninderra. The term farmer should probably be read as a tenant farmer.

John and Mary's marriage was reported in the local newspaper:

'Married - Archer-Cameron – At the Wesleyan church, Parkwood, on the 24th instant, by the Rev E. D. Madgwick, Mr John Archer of Gininderra , to Mary, daughter of the late Mr Donald Cameron, of the same place.' [Queanbeyan Age Saturday, 25 April 1868 p.2]

The witnesses for the marriage were John Southwell and Mary Ann Ryan.

It seems that John and Mary (Archer) lived at Ginninderra for a couple of years following their marriage because Shumack records him cutting timber in 1871:

'A few years later Jimmy Taylor collapsed and died suddenly at Spring Creek, where he had gone with John Coppin, John Archer and Frank the Swede to split some oak timber [circa 1871].'
[Shumack (1967) p150]

On 10th July 1869 their first son Walter Charles Archer was born at Ginninderra.

Nanima Goldfield

We are unsure exactly when John and Mary moved to Nanima but we know why! The Nanima locality is to the west of Ginninderra past Hall and is only a few kilometres from Murrumbateman along the Gundaroo Road. It seems that he went gold mining and then when it fizzled out went back farming.

The Nanima Goldfield was proclaimed on the 14th August 1872 and reported in the NSW Government Gazette 16 October 1872. In 1872 John is recorded as being a co-applicant for a gold mining lease on the Nanima goldfield. A five acre lease south of Humbug reef prospecting claim is recorded in the names of George Harcourt, George Frederick Dixon, John Archer and Charles Cameron.

Charles Cameron is most likely one of Mary's elder brothers, Charles C Cameron, who was born in 1842 at Ginninderra and lived there for virtually all his life. He was about the same age as John Archer. He is the only Charles Cameron recorded in the family. George Harcourt was the owner of the post office and store at Ginninderra and possible source of finance for the venture. The gold mania did not last very long and by 1874 there were reports of declining population on the field and little production. In May 1874 the proclamation was withdrawn. The discovery of gold had caused an exodus of workers from the nearby farms and stations but following the poor results they drifted back to their earlier places of employment.

In October 1871 another son, Ernest Stanley Hubert Archer, is recorded as being born at Nanima – well before the goldfield was proclaimed but the word may have been out, drawing John there, with a pregnant Mary. In January 1873 Ethel Ann Archer is recorded as being born at Nanima. On both birth certificates John is recorded as a farm labourer.

John is recorded as signing a petition on the 28 February 1873 requesting a post office for Murrumbateman.


We next locate John and Mary at Tallagandra, a large station between Ginninderra and Gundaroo. At the time it was owned by a very unpopular Charles Alphonse Massy. Massy was a staunch opponent of free selection and would resort to legal means to resolve issues.

Tallagandra, once known as Stoneville and now known as Bowylie, was well positioned on the Yass River with surrounding open country. Massy would purposefully build fences over roads which had long been informal rights of way for settlers. Massy was not the only large landholder doing such things. Frederick Campbell and Edward Kendall Crace in 1881 and 1882 denied access by constructing fences across roads. John Southwell took them on and was forced into insolvency by having to pay ruinous court costs.

Alice Maud Archer was born at Tallagandra, Gundaroo in August 1875. John is recorded as a farmer on the birth certificate. They were living in the then Tallagandra Homestead and John was manager for Massy. The property had been managed by Joseph Styles who had lived there from 1853 to 1874 raising with his wife, Mary Ann Styles, eight children. It would seem that John and Mary arrived at Tallagandra in 1874. The joy of a new addition to the family in August was short lived as tragedy struck in early October – their home destroyed by fire.


We don't know when John and Mary left Tallagandra but it is probable that they then moved to Murrumbateman. In 1879 Norman Stuart Archer is recorded as being born at Murrumbateman with John identifying as a famer. It is understood John was farming on part of the property now known as Hawthorn owned by the McLung family.

The Archer's next move was to Cavan - where Milton Roy Archer is recorded as being born in September 1884 – and then to Waroo / Warham. On 17 March 1894 Mary died in Yass Hospital most probably of tuberculosis (her death certificate states cause of death as 'phthsis' – Greek for wasting. At that time John and Mary are recorded as living at Waroo as reported in Mary's obituary in the Yass Courier.

Following Mary's death John decided to break up the family and go to the mountains. The youngest child, nine year old Milton, was cared for by his elder sister Ethel Ann Archer who had married schoolteacher Arthur John Bundock. Bundock taught at Chain of Ponds School - which was towards Gunning from Yass. It seems that Bundock was friends with the Archer family as the photograph album which came down through the family was a gift from him. He had also taught some of the children at Cavan or Waroo. Walter Charles also took a strong interest in young Milton's welfare. At the time of Mary's death Walter was twenty-four years old and had selected 'Brooklyn'.

John stayed in the mountains until he fell ill in late 1900 and he returned to Yass for medical care. He died on 25 February 1901 at Yass Hospital.

John Archer - obituary

It is our sad duty to report the death at The Yass Hospital of Mr. W. (J) S. Archer, a very old and respected resident of the Yass district, at the age of 60 years. Mr. Archer, who is a native of New Zealand, came to Yass in the early sixties on his way to Kiandra, having taken the gold fever. On returning from Kiandra, he commenced farming at Gininderra where he is well known. After remaining at Gininderra a few years he took a farm on Cavan estate, a few miles from Yass, where he resided until a few years ago. Shortly after his wife died, he broke up his home and went to reside up the mountains, he caught a severe cold and had to come to Yass Hospital, where he improved considerably and returned to his friends. About 10 weeks ago he had to return to the Yass Hospital and although he had the best of medical skill, together with kind and attentive nursing, he never regained strength and passed away on Monday morning at 7 o'clock.

Mr. Archer's father was captain of a trading vessel called the 'Elizabeth Archer' and when Mr. Archer was only three weeks old the vessel was wrecked off the coast of New Zealand, and his father and crew perished. The deceased was highly respected by a large circle of friends around Gininderra, Cavan and the Murrumbidgee. He leaves four sons and two daughters, one married to Mr. A. J. Bundock, school teacher at Chain of Ponds, and the other to Mr T. Thatcher. The funeral will take place today at 3 o'clock. [Yass Courier, Tuesday XX March1901]


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