MURRAY DISTRICTS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Located at the Old Schoolmaster's House, Edenvale Heritage Precinct, Pinjarra.
Our volunteers are there to greet you on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am – 3 pm, or by appointment.
The aim of the Historical Society is to research, collect, maintain and share stories of the Murray District that stretches from North Dandalup to Coolup, from West Murray to Dwellingup – and including the vibrant town of Pinjarra. We have a well maintained local history library, interesting displays and a large collection of photographs, documents, and display books.
We also have a strong membership of enthusiastic people and are always looking for additional members to join us. If you have a love of history, in particular of the Murray District, or if you have information to share, please visit us. And if you like what you see, consider becoming a member of our group. Our general meetings with a guest speaker are open to visitors. Other events, including bus trips, are available to members. All visitors are welcome to browse our collections during our ‘open’ hours or by appointment.
5th and 6th June – Pinjarra Festival Weekend
Although the weather wasn’t always favourable, higher numbers of visitors than expected enjoyed the Pinjarra Festival at the Edenvale precinct.
The Murray Districts Historical Society welcomed scores of visitors through the Old Schoolmaster’s House where displays were viewed with great interest.
Festival Feedback – all positive comments!
HOW INTERESTING IS THIS!
John Witchell (c1819 -1884) (Reg. Convict No. 1595)
Note: The Dudbrook shipping list at members.iinet.net.au has Convict No. 1595 incorrectly listed as ‘John Mitchell’. Also the Fremantle Prison website and the Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, p.2183.
“I hope that you will transport me. It is what I want.”
This statement was made to Lord Campbell in the Wiltshire Court by a defiant John Witchell after being found guilty of having stolen a horse from a field in Bishopstrow on 4 July 1851.
During his trial he was described as ’a scampish looking fellow about 30 years of age’. Some laughter broke out in the court when a policeman gave an account of the conversation he had with Witchell after stopping him at three o’clock in the morning on the road, with the horse but no bridle or saddle. When asked why he had taken the horse the prisoner said that he had got on it to have a sleep and to keep warm, further telling the constable that if he wanted to know who the owner was, he should go and find out.
Evidence was given that Witchell’s cap had been left behind in the field and that the horse’s hoof-marks had been followed to the place where it was found. The owner said that the horse had been locked up safely in a field that night, and that he knew the prisoner well, as someone who mostly lived under the hedges and hay ricks in the district. The jury found Witchell guilty and afterwards Lord Campbell said that he was then able to tell the court that Witchell had 13 previous convictions and that the time had now come for his country to get rid of him. He said that the same court had previously transported his brother, so John Witchell could now go and join him in Australia. He would have been considered incorrigible by this stage.
His Early Record
John Witchell was the son of Thomas Witchell, an agricultural labourer, his wife Sarah Harris. He was baptised at Bishopstrow on 20 June 1819. At the time of the 1851 Census, both John and another brother William Witchell, listed as farm labourers, were inmates of the Warminster Union Workhouse. It was not long afterwards that John was arrested for stealing the horse.
His Early Life in WA
John Witchell’s convict records in WA are confused by his name being recorded in some instances as ‘John Mitchell’ (Reg. No. 1595). On arrival he was described as aged 33, a carpenter, single, 5’8” tall, with brown hair, hazel eyes, an oval face, a sallow complexion and of stout build. His markings were a scar on his right eye and the forefinger of his right hand was injured.
John was discharged from Fremantle Prison and given his Ticket of Leave on 29 December 1853. He received his Conditional Pardon on 16 November 1856. By then he was employed at Australind by Marshall Waller Clifton as a gardener and viticulturist, remaining there for the next four years.
Extracts from The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861 show a pattern of mostly good behaviour on the part of Whitchell (sic), marred by occasional bouts of drinking, which earned strong criticism from his employer. Clifton was prepared to overlook Witchell’s occasional lapses because he was otherwise a reliable worker.
It appears from the Clifton journals that John Witchell had intended leaving the employ of the Clifton family, but when this occurred is not known. We do know however, that from c1863 he spent the last 21 years of his life at Pinjarrah Park, employed by Captain Theordore Fawcett, assisting with the development of the fine gardens, vineyards and orchard for which the place was greatly admired by the many visitors welcomed there over the years, using the skills he had been taught at Australind.
There is no record of John Witchell having married in WA.
He died on 31 December 1884 in Pinjarra.
A brief newspaper notice recorded his death as follows –
WITCHELL. – On the 31st December, at Pinjarrah Park, John Witchell, in his sixty-sixth year; for twenty-one years vine-dresser in the Pinjarra-Park vineyard.
(excerpt above from information Submitted by Irma Walter, 2021)
The entire submission can be read at the Murray Districts Historical Society.
At the Old Schoolmaster’s House in Henry … Come and look through the House as there is much more history to see and learn about!
Do you have an interest in the history of Pinjarra and the Murray Districts?
If you would like to become one of our volunteers, please advise Jill on 0408 846 567 or by email email@example.com
Follow our monthly articles in the Community Newspaper for more information about the history of Pinjarra and the heritage buildings of the Murray District. And we always welcome any stories or photos you are willing to share with us.
And we welcome new members.
For information about the Murray Districts Historical Society, its membership and its activities, please contact
Anne Cubitt – Secretary firstname.lastname@example.org
For assistance with research or general questions about local history, contact Merv Beacham on 0417 986 838, or Val King on 0458 673 608
For more photos and stories of the rich history of the Murray, look at our Website murrayhistory.org.au/home or visit us at the Old Schoolmaster’s House within the Edenvale Heritage Precinct.
You can also Like us on Facebook here.
We are grateful to all of our Sponsors, Supporters and our Volunteers
and we look forward to All Visitors during 2021.