THE REV. JAMES COUTTS, M.A.
The late Rev. James Coutts, M.A., of New- castle, N.S W., whose death took place recently, was well known in Queensland, he having paid several visits to this colony in con- nection with the Presbyterian Church and for the purpose of seeing some of his relatives. He was one of four brothers who are now no longer among the living. The other three were were well known squatters in this colony. Mr. Donald Coutts, who was killed by his horse on Boxing Day, 1869, was successively in possession of Jondaryan and Ellangowan on the Darling Downs, of Tambourine, in the Logan district, and of other well known station properties. His three sons, James, John, and Thomas, are well known in Brisbane, the last named especially so as a leading cyclist. The other brothers of the Rev. James Coutts were Thomas, who owned Toolburra station, near Warwick, which is now held by his sons ; and John, who was associated with Donald in some of the stations above named.
The lately deceased veteran minister, who survived his brothers, was known both for his
learning and his philanthropy. In proof of his scholarship it has been stated that Mr. Coutts "was conversant with the following lan- guages :-English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and partly so with Hindostanee, Arabic, Chinese, and one or two others. The late Dr. Badham more than once characterised him as being one of the best linguists alive." One of his latest philanthropic acts was his greatest. He founded the Coutt's Seamen's Home in New- castle, and towards the object contributed £1000. He was eighty five years of age and had been thirty six years in the colony - thir- teen years in Parramatta, and twenty three in Newcastle. He was held in the highest esteem by all classes as an earnest and sincere Christian. His body was conveyed from New- castle to Parramatta, and interred in the family vault. Prior to the removal from Newcastle a most remarkable gathering took place at the funeral service in St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. The Newcastle Herald says that "de- nominations of all kindreds were represented - Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Wesleyans,
Freethinkers, Jews, Baptists, Congrega- tionalists, 'Salvation Armyists,' Atheists, Unitarians, and other sects were amongst
the large congregation. Borne by twelve sturdy seamen's hands, the flower-bedecked coffin of the aged pastor was deposited before the pulpit " The service, which was singularly impressive, was conducted by the Revs. W. Wilson, C. N. Hainsmith, W. Bain, and P. Norman. Subsequently a procession was formed, and filed slowly down to the steamer's wharf, where the oak coffin was placed on board the s. Coonanbarra en route for its final interment at Parramatta. The hearse was preceded by the following clergyman, as well as those above named - Rev. Dr Ellis (Church of England), J. Evans (Baptist), W G R Stephenson (Wesleyan), and E C Pritchard, FGS (Primitive Methodist). It was followed by several hundreds of citizens, including sailors from Coutts's Sailors' Home. The coffin was thickly covered with flowers and wreaths deposited by many friends. It is stated that the deceased scholar's autobiography will shortly be published.
Ellangowan Station was owned by Thomas Coutts, an ancestor's sibling.
According to "The Coutts Family History", Thomas, emigrated to Sydney about
1817 in company with his brothers John, Donald, James and sister Ann.
However, "Church Heritage", Vol 3. No. 3 (Journal of the Church Records and
Historical Society (Uniting Church in Australia - NSW Synod), states that
Thomas's brother, James emigrated to NSW on 1st April, 1849.
According to "The Coutts Family History", Thomas and the others initially
settled at Parramatta, then at Balmoral House, Balmain for a period of 10
years. Later they were at O'Connell St, Sydney. "A History of Coutts
Crossing and Nymboida Districts, Vol 1" by The Coutts Crossing & Nymboida
Districts Historical Society, Kangaroo Creek, pg128, by John Edwards
states: "The first documented proof that we have of the Coutts family in
N.S.W. was a Sydney Herald notice of 15th November 1832, informing the
population of the colony that "the brig being built at Georges River by
Messrs Coutts cannot come round until the next Spring tides". In fact we
ascertained that the ship, named the "Lady Leith", sailed into Sydney
harbour on the third day of Christmas 1832. The master was Thomas Coutts."
The passenger list of the Barque, "Perthshire", shows steerage passengers
as Donald Coutts; James Coutts and Anne Coutts. It arrived at Port Jackson
on 6th November, 1835 with a loading of merchandise. Perhaps James returned
to the United Kingdom, married and returned some years later to Australia.
"The Coutts Family History" states that Thomas with his two brothers went
whaling for about two years before settling on the Clarence River near
Grafton, New South Wales. One brother was speared by aboriginals and a
cousin who came from England was lost in the Charleville District,
Queensland and never heard of again. "A History of Coutts Crossing...."
states that the 140 ton brig, the "Lady Leith" was, as far as we know, the
only ship built by the Coutts family and they lost no time in putting her
to work. The maiden voyage is recorded as sailing for Hobart under Captain
Coutts' command on the 15th March 1833 carrying sundry cargo but on its
return some 5 months later from Mauritius with 150 tons of sugar, she was
commanded by Captin R Wyatt, so Coutts must have handed over command along
the way, possibly at Hobart. On 2nd September 1833 the "Lady Leith" was
advertised for sale in the Sydney Herald, stating that if she was not sold
in eight days then they would be ready to receive cargo for Hobart. This in
fact is what occured with yet two more round trips to Mauritius under
Captains Wyatt and Drysdale."
In 1834 Thomas married Maria Bloodworth, grand-daughter of first fleet
convicts, James Bloodsworth Snr, and Sarah Bellamy. Sadly Maria died aged
40 after a short illness and is buried at "Ellangowan". Her mother lived to
99 years of age and is also buried at "Ellangowan".
In 1840 Thomas settled at Kangaroo Creek. The hardships were detailed in
the "Argus" of June 11th 1886 in the "Personal recollections of the Early
History of the Clarence", an address delivered in the School of Arts on 8th
"In the year 1840 Mr Coutts located on this river at Kangaroo Creek, about
thirty miles inland, and at that time his cattle numbered between 800 and
900, his sheep upwards of 5,000, but owing to the repeated depredations of
the blacks he can now only muster half his quantity of cattle and sheep; he
has never sold or boiled down a single head, nor has he killed more than
the immediate wants of the station, yet, notwithstanding a lapse of eight
years, instead of his stock showing a large increase there is a reduction
to half the number. There has, moreover, been two of his men murdered by
the blacks, as was also a fine, intelligent boy who was most barbarously so
no later than twelve months since. Protection was applied for in the proper
quarter, but none was rendered.
Coutts hung on for about two years longer and then sold out and formed
"Tooloom Station", but did not remain there long. From a letter of Fred
Tindal, dated 12th February, 1852, we learn that Coutts had met with
disaster on his new station on the Dawson River in Queensland. The blacks
killed some of his men and drove off his sheep. His name remains in Coutts'
Crossing in New South Wales". According to "A History of Coutts Crossing
....", the returns for runs published for the year ending 30th June, 1851
show that Thomas Coutts' brother, Donald, was leasing Tooloom at that time
and that this was one of three stations in Donald's name, the others being
Rosewood and Tamborine. John Edwards' theory is that Coutts removed his
sheep from the Clarence in 1850-51, probably using Tooloom to depasture his
In 1848 Thomas returned to sea life, buying the ship "Raven" in Sydney. The
"Raven" was a passenger and cargo vessel plying between Brisbane and
Ipswich, and had a displacement of 25 tons. In 1850 he took it to Sydney
for an overhaul, and sold it to the A.S.N. Company. That same year he
settled "Ellangowan" on the Downs and in 1866 returned from Balmain to
"North Toolburra" station which he purchased about 1865. Thomas was killed
on "North Toolburra" by a falling tree when assisting the men fell some
Thomas had eight children with Maria, all born in Sydney, except the
youngest who was buried at "Ellangowan" with its mother.
Oral history says he was responsible for murdering many aboriginees by
poisoning. An account of this is outlined in "A History of Coutts
Crossing....". The Government Gazette of 1848 describes the Kangaroo Creek
run as follows: No. 7 Coutts, Thomas, Name of Run - Kangaroo Creek.
Estiated Area - 53,760 acres. Estimated grazing capacity - 560 cattle and
7,500 sheep. "Coutts poisoned a group of local aborigines at his station of
Kangaroo Creek. There are two basic conflicting accounts of how this was
done; the blacks claimed that Coutts gave them the flour that had been
laced with arsenic, while the other story as told by Thomas Bawden and
reported in other books, was that the poisoned flour was placed in a hut
where it was subsequently stolen. Whether Coutts gave the poison to the
blacks or placed it in a position where he knew it would be stolen matters
little, for in either case it amounted to premeditated murder".
As previously described, by 1848, Thomas had lost half his original stock
and at the same time two of his shepherds and a youth had been killed by
aboriginals. "It seems that Oliver Fry, the Police Commissioner, did not
think there was any need to investigate the young man's death and later
used Coutts' treatment of the aborigines as an excuse for his lack of
action". Supplies had been constantly stolen and crops stripped before they
could be harvested. "That Coutts and/or his men had probably brought this
situation upon themselves by their own treatment of the aborigines is more
than likely... As a result of the deaths from poisoning several of the
tribe who had escaped the fate reported to Commissioner Fry that Mr Coutts
had given them poisoned flour, and a few days later the Commissioner
together with two policemen and a chief constable, accompanied by one of
the Coutts' servants who was under arrest at the time, left Grafton in the
direction of Coutts' station. Two days later they returned with Mr Coutts
The Commissioner's party on leaving Grafton had headed first for the camp
of the blacks where they were shown seven bodies and a piece of damper that
was supposed to have caused the deaths. Four of the bodies, apparently had
been found at a waterhole. Armed with his evidence and an affidavit of the
arrested servant who was in custody on a charge of horse-stealing, Fry
placed Coutts under arrest. When the hearing before the bench in Grafton
took place, two of Coutts' servants claimed no knowledge of the events
other than information given them by the natives, and a third servant,
presumably the horse-thief claimed that he had seen Coutts hand a bag,
which he presumed contained flour to the blacks, while at the same time
holding a paper in his other hand which he assumed had held the poison.
The bench in committing Coutts allowed bail of £1,000, and two sureities of
£500 each. These sureties were not forthcoming, and Coutts was forwarded to
Sydney on the next steamer.
On 2nd February 1848 Mr Justice Manning was reported in the Herald as
having released Coutts on bail of £500 and two sureties. No record has been
found of further hearings and it is assumed that under the circumstances of
Fry's lack of action prior to the crime Coutts was freed.
"Some reports stated that as many as 20 blacks were poisoned, truly a
tragedy that should never have occurred had the government of the day not
allowed indescriminate settlement without due regard for the traditional
occupiers, the aborigines. The natives, for their part, had their own ideas
of justice and retaliation, for on the 9th April 1848 another shepherd was
killed and some 900 sheep of Coutts' were stolen. In his book "Settlement
of Guy Fawkes and Dorrigo" Eric Fahey was of the opinion that Coutts was
the owner of Bald Hills run at the time of the Meldrum Massacre in 1851 and
that the account of the atrocity that follows was a continuation of the
Coutts was thought to be the owner of the station Bald Hills at this time,
but in our research we noted that in the Baker's Australian Atlas mapped in
July 1846 it is Dangar's name that appears at Bald Hills run. It seems
likely, therefore, that Coutts did manage to sell this property as a result
of his 1844 advertisement. The natives, of course, may not have known of
the transfer of ownership, or then again the massacre could have been in
retaliation after the Myall Massacre that occurred on another of Dangar's
runs a few years earlier".