2013 Copyright Ruzsicska
An article in the Murray Pioneer described the difficulties of
running cattle on Chowilla and gives a mention to John Coombs.
Chowilla country carried about 1,500 head of cattle, and these, after
rains, would ramble far away outback into the then but little known
bush. There were no dams. The stock watered at clay pans and
natural water holds. It was next to impossible to muster until the hot
weather drove the mobs into frontage. Mustering would then take
place on the river flats, and mobs were rounded up, sometimes by
moonlight. The big drafting yards were at Chowilla. No gates were
used then, heavy slip panels being preferred.
In consequence of the great extent of country, the cattle had to roam
over, and the difficulties of properly working the mobs, the beasts
would become hard to handle and round up. Wild cattle were mostly
shot out of the road, so as not to spoil those of a more tranquil
At the back of Coombool Lake, 30 head of very bad cattle were
knocked over one day by John Coombs. They could not be mustered,
and so orders had been given to shoot them. At other places on the
river, it was also found necessary to destroy the very wild beasts. (21
A few years later John left Chowilla and moved to Lake Victoria
station to work as head stockman for John McKinley. The family
lived at the stockyards eight miles up from the old pub. (John
McKinley went broke in 1863 and sold Lake Victoria Station to a
Mr Perry but it is believed that John and his family had already
moved to Moorna).
John & Sarah had a son Joseph between 1857 & 1862 but no
registration has been found for his birth. Another 6 children were
born in Moorna/Wentworth area: George b. 1862, William b.
1864, Edward b. 1866, Florence b. 1868, Lily b. 1870 and Albert b.
The story continues in the Murray Pioneer: In 1864 a portion of the
country round the Moorna hotel was pegged out as a township.
Blocks sold readily, but it was afterwards decided to build the town
at the junction of the Darling and Murray rivers.
Moorna carried both sheep and cattle then and E.B. Scott, afterwards
governor of the stockade, was stockman. The Coombs lived for about
five years at Moorna. Their first house was built of reeds. Before they
came there, a police station had been established with Carstairs in
charge. The supposed protector of aborigines was a man called
Perry, who didn't trouble much about anything.
About this time, John was called up to Mildura station to shoot wild
cattle for Hugh Jamieson. The job lasted six months and then
Mildura was ready for the sheep. His earnings on Mildura enabled
him to save sufficient money to purchase the Government building at
Moorna and this was turned in "The Bush Inn". The old signboard is
The original pub, "The Bush Inn" was composed of slabs and had a
thatched roof. In 1869 the building was destroyed by fire and the
family lost everything they possessed.
See "Seventy Years in the Murray Country - A Story of John George
Coombs, Bushman, Stockman, and Mail Coach Driver", The Murray
Pioneer, 21 Dec 1923
John held The Publicans' Licences for the "Bush Inn" in Moorna
(under Wentworth district) between 1865 and 1874. [Amazing
research has been undertaken at the old site of the Bush Inn - see
In the Kitchen at the Moorna Bush Inn by Jeannette hope, Wilfred
Shawcross and Sarah Watts.]
Sarah died just weeks after Albert's birth in 1873; the cause of
death was Puerperal fever. Her occupation is listed as Landlady
and her eldest son, John George (Jack) is the informant on the
certificate. Her death notice in the South Australian Register read:
On the 10th June, at Moorna, Sarah Ann, the beloved wife of John
Coombs, aged 39 years, after a lingering illness, leaving a large
family to lament her loss. (19 June 1873)
Sarah was buried west of Moorna (now Moorna Station), not far
from the hotel site.
John and Sarah had 2 children in Adelaide
(John George b.1852 and James William
b.1854) before setting out for the Murray
River where a daughter, Sarah Ann was
born in 1857. John began work as head
stockman on Chowilla Station for James
Chambers. According to one of his sons,
the first house the Coombs occupied was
at Chowilla. It was a hut made of gum
slabs and had a thatched roof.
Although Charles Lambert is listed as the proprietor of the Bush
Inn between 1875 and 1880, the Greville's Official Post Office
Directory (1875/76) holds a listing for John Coombs as innkeeper
at Moorna; this may have only held true for the early part of 1875.
John and the family moved to Ral Ral in South Australia (Calperum
Station and now part of the Australian Landscape Trust) and like
Moorna, a hotel and mail change station. The Northern Argus
(Clare) of 8 Dec 1876 lists Transfer of Publicans' Licenses Granted: J.
Coombs, from W. Perkins, Ral Ral Hotel, Ral Ral. John kept the Ral
Ral Hotel until his death on 31st March 1880. The South
Australian Advertiser ran the advertisement in March of 1877,
1878, 1879 and 1880 for the Northern Licensing Bench, Clare with
John Coombs as the licensee for Ral Ral Hotel.
The cause of John's death (aged 56) is recorded as "excessive
drinking". He was buried near Ral Ral (site unknown).
Son, James William took over the Ral Ral Hotel and transfer of the
Publican's Licence is listed in the South Australian Register, 4 June
1880. The hotel closed in 1884.
Son, John George (Jack) was a pioneer mailman between
Blanchetown and Wentworth (see Characters) . He married
Elizabeth Teasdale in 1877 and had 8 children. Elizabeth died in
1926 in Swan Hill (Victoria); Jack died in 1930 and is buried in
West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide.
Son, James William as mentioned was the publican at the Ral Ral
Hotel between 1880 and 1884. He married Mary Davies (nee
Nichols) in 1880 and had 11 children; he first two were born at
Ral Ral . The family then moved to Eulo in Queensland in 1884,
then Tibooburra, N.S.W. and Charleville, Qld.
Daughter, Sarah Ann married James Bruce Mullins in 1875 and
had 2 children. Sarah Ann died in 1902 and is buried in West
Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide. James died in 1938.
Son, Joseph was said to have worked as a stockman at Wagga
Wagga. Nothing else is known of his life, or death.
Son George Moorna married Annie Elizabeth Chalker in 1890 and
they had 8 children; the 5th child dying from burns at the age of 5.
George worked as a stockman and was an overseer on Calperum
Station for 17 years. Annie died in 1915, George died in 1923; both
are buried in the Renmark Cemetery. See Obituaries C.
Son, William married Annie Collins in 1882 and they had 5
children. Annie died in 1896 in Renmark; William had a
relationship with Emily Wescombe adn 2 children were born in
1897 and 1900. In 1901, William married Wilhemine Maria
Auguste Drogemuller and they had 11 children. He worked as a
stockman on Chowilla Station for many years and died in 1932.
Wilhemine died in 1967. William and his two wives are buried at
the Renmark Cemetery. See Obituaries C.
COOMBS, John George
John George COOMBS was born in about 1829 in Southbroom in
Wiltshire, England. Family lore has his emigration to Australia in
1837 to Holdfast Bay, South Australia but this is yet to be
On 5 January, 1852, John married Sarah Middleton who had
emigrated in 1837 (see Pioneers Middleton),
Son, Edward Ronald married Mary Ann McDonald in 1890 and
they had 7 children. Mary Ann died in Broken Hill in 1912; Edward
remarried (Helena Stanton) in 1915 and had another 2 children.
Helen died in 1936; William died in 1938 and is buried in the
West Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide.
Daughter, Florence was living at Blanchetown at the time of her
marriage to Jospeh William in 1891. They had 9 children and lived
and worked at Lake Victoria for many years. Joseph died in 1922
in Wentworth and for the last 25 years of her life, Florence lived at
Zanci Station with her eldest son. She died in 1861 in Wentworth
and is buried there with her husband. (See Obituaries V)
Daughter Lily Hariett married stockman, Henry Martin in 1885 in
Thargominda at the age of 15 (although she was recorded as being
17). He left her in the late 1880's and soon after, Lily (who now
called herself Lillian) moved from Queensland to work on Cadelgo
Station (just over the South Australian border).
Up to and including 1894, Lillian had five children (2 Martins)
with two dying in infancy. She moved back to Queensland in 1894
to work on Kerroongooloo Station (south of Windorah) and met
John Waygood Horsington in 1895; they had 8 children together
and lived and worked on various properties between Windorah
and Adavale where she worked as a shearer's cook and a domestic
help. John was a well sinker, fencer, opal miner and property
For more information on Henry Martin (John
George Coombs' son-in-law) and the Martin
family, see Southwark Luck, a highly
recommended book by Louise Wilson and
winner of the Alexander Henderson Award,
Lillian died in 1946 in Brisbane and is buried in the Lutwyche
Cemetery. John died in 1965 (see Obituaries H) and was cremated
in Brisbane. His ashes were interred on his daughter's property
west of Quilpie. Also see daughter, Maude McGeorge's book "The
Well Sinker's Daughter".
Son, Albert Henry married Stella Susanna Hams in 1907 and they
had 7 children in Mildura. Albert died in 1960 in Renmark; Stella
died in 1962 in Ballarat.
On 8 July 1938, the Charleville Times reported on a reunion party
for Lillian and her sister, Florence Vigar, held by Lillian's daughter
and son-in-law at "Regleigh". "....the two sisters had not met for
fifty-eight years. Miss Thelma Pannan, of "Renmark," South
Australia, was also a guest of honour." [For full article, see Maude