Burra Burrows


The following is a story I wrote for my grandsons.


I could hear voices on the other side of my tunnel. I reached through to widen the hole that I’d made in the soft clay, and suddenly a hand gripped mine.

“Oh, hello,” I said, the quaver in my voice revealing my fear, “who are you?”

“Richard,” the voice said, “Richard Grenfell. And what are you doing, tunnelling into my home?”

A wave of relief came over me. Richard Grenfell was my 3x great grandfather. It was 1849. After some hurried digging to enable me to crawl through, and brief introductions, Richard showed me around and told me the story of why he and the family had made their home there.

It was indeed a home, a dugout in the steep banks of the Burra Creek. Richard had excavated the clay to make two rooms where the family lived. A fireplace for cooking was hollowed out of one wall. A vertical shaft to the creek bank above, forming a chimney, and a doorway leading out to the dry creek bed were the only openings in the dwelling. Continue reading

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Oxfordshire to Yangedine (#3)

John Taylor set off from Caversham Rise into an area that was largely unexplored, probably wondering where the road would lead, in terms of his future. Thomas Brown, the man John worked for as an indentured labourer, had decided to purchase property over the Darling Ranges in the Avon Valley district of the 12 year-old Swan River Colony. This prime agricultural area, with its red and brown soils on fertile river flats, had been discovered quite early in the colony’s history and surveyed in 1830. The first settlers took 10 days from Guildford to reach the site of  the future York township in 1831. York itself began to develop five years later when town allotments were released. Even so, by 1841 there were very few settlers in the area and much of the land was still undeveloped.

Yangedine, the place that the Browns would use as a temporary home base, was occupied by Dr Samuel Viveash, a Wiltshire physician (a relative, by marriage, of William Tanner), who owned it with his brother Robert, and brother-in-law John Frederick Smith. Yangedine, the property that, within a few years, would be John Taylor’s home for the following 45. Continue reading

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Oxfordshire to Yangedine – an interlude

Here is a break in my story of John Taylor’s journey from Oxfordshire to Yangedine – a property in the Avon River area of Western Australia. I thought you might like to read a couple of interesting newspaper articles that I found during my research.

While John made his way to Perth from Fremantle along the track, the Browns, his employers, undertook the other method of transport – by boat, on the Swan River. Eliza Brown wrote about it, as well as the issues of getting their goods transported the 70 miles from Perth, over the hills to the Avon River district. She mentions the ‘very bad character’ of the boatmen. I’m glad that she wasn’t referring to the men of another of my ancestral lines – also boatmen on the Swan – who didn’t arrive in the colony until the following year!

Transport in the Forties

Transport in the ‘Forties – Eliza Brown [1]

Here is the full article – Transport in the Forties.

Once John Taylor reached Perth, he travelled on the Guildford Road. Here is an informative article about the old road – I found it fascinating reading. Continue reading

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Oxfordshire to Yangedine (#2)

  Boats were rowed backwards and forwards from the ship to the shore, transporting passengers and their personal luggage. Then it was 19 year-old John Taylor’s turn to climb into one that drew alongside. With the sailors sitting athwart amongst the passengers’ luggage,  they started the long haul to shore.  Each sweep of the oars brought the vessel closer to Fremantle. The steady cadence of  the blades in the water would have been out of sync with what I suppose to be the rapid,  thumping beat of John’s heart. Excitement and expectation intensified for a new colony, a new adventure, a new life.

As they advanced, the coastline, which had a pleasant, variegated appearance from the ship, transformed into a few stunted bushes scattered amongst the sand. With a crunch on the beach, the boat delivered John to the land that held all his hopes for a farming life. If family hearsay can be believed, he arrived with one and six (1s 6d) in his pocket. Whatever the truth, we can be assured that John wasn’t wealthy. Continue reading

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Oxfordshire to Yangedine (#1)

On a cloudy day in March 1841, John Taylor and the other passengers from the barque Sterling gazed on the white sands of Fremantle. Feelings of anticipation or apprehension, or both, may have descended on them as they imagined their lives in the coming weeks, months and years. The ship lay at anchor in Gage Roads to the east of hummocky Rottnest Island, partly sheltered from the prevailing winds. Had it been the winter months, it would have been necessary to anchor in Cockburn Sound, Gage Roads being unprotected from the southerly gales and far too dangerous. It had already witnessed the grounding of several vessels over the previous 12 years. The refuge of the Swan River was denied to large ships because of a rocky bar across its mouth. Continue reading

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The Little Grocer’s Shop on Brompton Road (#3)

After the Burdens left for Australia in 1853, No. 8 Middle Queen’s Buildings had some new occupants. Charles Harrod and his family moved into the house above the little grocer’s shop.

Charles Henry Harrod started business as a wholesale grocer and tea dealer in the East End of London in 1835. By 1849 when he was a supplier to Philip Henry Burden, he had moved his business to Eastcheap in Central London. Tim Dale in his book ‘Harrods: The Store and the Legend’ says that as well as having a supplier-customer relationship, “the two men appear to have become friends as there seems to be no other explanation for Harrod’s subsequent behaviour.”[1] Dale is referring to the fact that, when Burden ran into financial difficulties, “Harrod began to help him by paying the rent and not pressing for payments.”[2]  Charles Harrod bought the shop outright in 1853. Continue reading

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The Little Grocer’s Shop on Brompton Road (#2)

With much pomp and ceremony, Queen Victoria declared the Great Exhibition of 1851 open to the cheers of thousands and the firing of a canon in Hyde Park, that surely would wake a baby at Middle Queen’s Buildings. It was May, and baby Phlip Henry Burden was a few months old.

Partly organised by Prince Albert, the husband of the reigning monarch, and financially supported by the Queen herself, the Exhibition was the first international display of raw materials, industrial inventions and cultural artefacts. Continue reading

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The Little Grocer’s Shop on Brompton Road (#1)

A modest house attached to his one-roomed grocer’s shop in the Knightsbridge area of Central London was the place where Philip Burden brought Mary after they were married in early 1850. Mary may have paused at the entrance taking in the aromas of the neighbourhood outside. The smell from the cheesemongers next door was, perhaps, a reminder of her father’s Hill Farm in Herefordshire where she could watch the servants making the cheese.

But one step into the shop and everything changed. The assortment of items in the shop represented her new life with Philip: bars of soap, ready for cutting, signalling a fresh start; barrels of vinegar, the pungent odour giving a sense of urgency, as well as a hint of perspiration; and the exciting aroma of spices, with a faint suggestion of the unknown. The little shop typified the path of self-reliance they were embarking upon. Continue reading

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