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Diana Mudgee

Diana Mudgee was an Aboriginal woman from the Piambong/Mudgee area of New South Wales. Born in Mudgee in the 1820’s, Diana went onto to raise eight children (often on her own) and gained ownership of over 500 acres of land; an unusual achievement for a woman at that time.

Much of what we know about Diana’s life has been pieced together here from painstaking archival research by AIATSIS staff.

The story of Diana is inextricably linked to one of Australia's legendary land-owning families, the Cox family of Mulgoa and Mudgee. It is believed that Diana came to live with the Cox family as a young girl following the deaths of her parents in a massacre of local Wiradjuri people.

The Cox family

During the early part of the nineteenth century the Cox family were making their mark on the continent. It was William Cox who, in 1814, built the road over the Blue Mountains, allowing for easier transport of goods and people between Sydney and the growing settlements of Bathurst and Mudgee.

George Cox, the son of William, owned 'Winbourne', a property at Mulgoa in Sydney. It was George who would play a major role in the life of the young Diana.  His son George Henry managed 'Burrundulla', a property just outside of Mudgee. Documents indicate that Diana lived on both 'Winbourne' and 'Burrundulla' during her lifetime.

It appears from early diaries and letters written by Cox that a number of Aboriginal people were in his employ. Cox was also known for his compassionate nature and kindness towards his employees which extended to making provisions for their care in his will.

Marriage and children

Diana’s life first appears in the archival record in 1840 when on 8 January the then Archbishop of Australia, William Grant Broughton, writes to Reverend HT Stiles authorising the baptising of a young ‘native female’ (PDF, 20KB).

‘Some few days ago Mr George Cox called to speak to me concerning a subject upon which I promised to communicate with you. There is a native female at Mudgee who has been living in concubinage with a servant on Mr Cox’s property, from whom she has now separated herself, or he from her, I do not exactly recollect which. Another man wishes to marry this woman; and the question proposed to me was whether the Marriage Ceremonies appointed by our Church could be legitimately used or not.’

While Archbishop Broughton never mentioned her by name, known dates, circumstances and events make it highly unlikely that he was referring to anyone but Diana.

Diana's first partner, James Knight, was the overseer on 'Winbourne' and it's likely that he was the 'servant on Mr Cox's property' that Broughton was referring to.

Although apparently never baptised, Diana did marry William Phillips, the 'other man [who] wishes to marry this woman', in Mudgee on 8 September, the same year that the letter was written.

Far from a woman, Diana was possibly as young as 13 years old when George Cox made the request to the archbishop and was already the mother of baby Sarah, the daughter of James Knight.

 

Considering that Diana was an Aboriginal woman and William was a convict, it would have been a lengthy process for obtaining permission to marry.

We can only speculate as to why George Cox brought this matter to the attention of the Archbishop of Australia. Perhaps Cox was concerned about his trusted overseer (James Knight) being involved with an Aboriginal woman? Or perhaps he wrote out of concern for Diana and her new born child?

William Phillips

Phillips, who had been assigned to work for George Cox, fathered two children to Diana, Mary Ann and Emma, before he mysteriously disappeared in 1845.  

Phillips received a Conditional Pardon in 1846 but apart from this there is no mention of him in the archives until his death.

There is a burial certificate dated 1852 that lists William Phillip’s usual abode as Mudgee and also a death certificate for a William Phillips dated 1862 which gives his place of burial as Mudgee. Both of these certificates could refer to Diana’s husband but research has yet to clarify which of these actually does.  

Sometime after Diana and William Phillips parted ways Diana met Robert Raynor.

Robert Rayner

On 19 December 1830, after 145 days at sea, the convict transport ship Burrell arrived in the colony of New South Wales. On board was 15 year old Robert Rayner who is described as  ‘a farm boy, native of Suffolk…height 5’1 ¼, complexion-ruddy, hair-dark and eyes- dark hazel’ (PMS 5084).

Robert had been convicted of stealing a pair of shoes, for which he received a sentence of seven years and transportation to Australia. He was assigned to work on the roads and in 1837 he was appointed to John Jones where he worked on his property ‘Turee’ in the district of Cassillis. In 1838 Robert obtained his certificate of freedom (for more information see the SRNSW ) and, sometime after this, found his way to the Mudgee area.

Robert and Diana started a family while living at Grattai. In 1847, Diana gave birth to a son William, her fourth child and her first with Robert. Robert and Diana went on to have six more children — Elizabeth, Jane, Shadrack, Caroline, Harriett and Thomas. Following Jane’s birth the family moved to Piambong where Robert acquired 90 acres of land.

It was also at this time that Robert went in to partnership with Edward Cover with whom he co-owned a considerable amount of land at Piambong.

Robert also engaged in a relationship with Mary Cummings (Christie) the sister-in-law of Edward Cover. Mary was also the grand-daughter of John Jones, to whom Robert had been assigned as a convict.

Robert passed away in 1874 and his land and other belongings were sold at public auction. The land could not be passed to either Diana or Mary or their respective children as Robert had never married either and was legally considered to have no next of kin.

Landholdings

In 1885, a considerable amount of land at Piambong was acquired in Diana's name with George Henry Cox listed as guarantor.

Portions 41 and 38 covered 400 acres of land and were acquired as a conditional purchase. A conditional purchase was a way of obtaining crown land in the 1800s: ‘Selectors could purchase between 40 and 320 acres, paying one quarter of the price as a deposit, occupying and improving the land for three years, and paying the balance over an extended term. This was known as 'conditional purchase'.1

The remaining lots, 115 and 12, covered 879 acres.

Cox also assisted Diana in making improvements to her property such as fencing and ringbarking which were required by law. This is shown on the last page of Diana's Conditional Purchase of 1885 in a note written by licensed surveyor William Abernathy:

‘At time of survey improvements had been effected by the helper of the run G. H. Cox, consisting of wire fence £15. ringbarking £1.5f Total £16.5 shillings’.

The circumstances for why Diana came into possession of such a considerable amount of land is not known.

Cox family papers and other documentation certainly indicate that the family treated their servants and tenants with kindness and that some of them were assisted in purchasing land and in their own right. This may well have been the case for Diana.

It is also possible that Diana’s name was used as a ‘dummy selector’ as was a common practice of the time. Landowners would purchase land in the names of their wives, children or servants as a security. This land would be spared should they lose the land purchased in their own name. 

We may never know the exact nature of Diana’s land ownership, but we do know that portions 38, 41, 115, 121 were kept in her name until 1895 when they passed into the ownership of Reginald Belmore Cox, the third son of George Henry Cox.

Diana's neighbours

Shown on the map are Diana's land holdings and those of George Henry Cox, highlighting the connection between Diana and the Cox family. This may provide some clues to the nature of the relationship between the two families. The map also shows the holdings of Diana's husband, son Shadrack and daughter Jane as well as the joint holdings of Diana's partner Robert Rayner and Edward Cover.

Other Rayner holdings remained in the family for much longer (see Official records, Landholdings).

Diana's family

Diana passed away on 4 May 1902. Although buried in Piambong, the exact location of her grave is no longer known.

According to her death certificate (PDF, 368KB) Diana was survived by all but two of her children (Caroline Rayner and Thomas Rayner).

Diana was also survived by a great number of grandchildren. Diana’s children are all know to have married, with the possible exception of William Rayner of whom very little is known until his death in Cunnamulla, Queensland in 1922. The family names associated with them and their descendants include:

  • Blackhall (Elizabeth Rayner married John Blackhall)
  • Collins (Sarah Knight married William Collins)
  • Dickinson (Emma Phillips married Basil Dickinson)
  • Perry (Mary Ann Phillips married Michael Perry)
  • Rayner/Raynor (descendants of Shadrack Rayner who married Sarah Ann Metcalf and possibly William Rayner)
  • Smith (Harriet Rayner married Richard Samith)
  • Vitnell (Jane Rayner married George Vitnell)

Family tree

View a graphical representation of Diana's immediate family. 

Notes for Diana

  • Diana's maiden name on the baptismal certificate of Sarah Knight is given as Mudgee, but she also goes by the names of Knight, Phillips and Rayner.
  • Most mysteriously on some certificates she is registered by the name of Jennings.
  • No birth registered. Birth date is assumed from Conditional Purchase records in 1885.
  • Marriage volume reference number (to Phillips): V1840446 24B
  • Death registration number: 6001

Official records and other documents

References

1 Fallon, Sue, 2002, Family History for beginners and beyond, Canberra, Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra Inc.