At Tumbulgum, on the Tweed River in northern NSW, just prior to the end of the 19th century, an elderly lady had the front of her home modestly extended to convert her ‘front room’ into a tiny little shop, opening onto the main road. It had been a bad year. Her son-in-law had planted about 10 acres of corn with the help of his father-in-law and his three young sons, only to see the half grown plants torn from the ground by the fierceness of the flooded Tweed River. Her daughter, wearied with childbearing in a country place and the struggle to make ends meet, had encouraged her mother to do this, hoping that with the sale of eggs, cheese, jams and pickles and the prospect of handling needles and threads, even laces and ribbons, a little help to the daily grind might be achieved. Whether the little shop was a success or not is lost in the passing years, but that great riches, beyond price, were achieved in this place is an established fact.

The man in the spring cart sows the seed

Among those who called upon this elderly lady was a man who came in a spring cart. Also whether he came to buy or sell has long been forgotten, but it is remembered that he made this request of the pro­prietress. “May I,” he said, “leave on your counter a small bundle of these Finger Posts; perhaps some of your customers could be interested in the hereaf­ter”. For the young, it could be wise to advise that Finger Posts were small Bible tracts covering a vari­ety of Bible subjects, put out by The Christadelphian magazine in Birmingham, England. It is obvious that she granted this permission, for we find that the elderly lady and her daughter became extremely interested in their contents. Whether the customers thought so too we do not know, but we do know that when the man in the spring cart called next time he was rather overwhelmed by the reception he received. “Could we have some more informa­tion along these lines because we find them much more interesting and so different from the sermons of our Presbyterian Minister who raves on and says nothing?” The man in the spring cart was delighted and going back to his cart opened up a tin trunk and drew out a book entitled Christendom Astray, printed in 1890 and still extant today.

Household conveniences were not as extensive as they are today, but these folk did have a kerosene lamp or two and it is apparent that much oil was used reading and discussing the contents of this book. Of course this would demand a checking of the quotations used with the words of the Bible. Thus we find that the lady and her daughter gave as much of their busy time as possible to its pages and doctrines. The elderly lady’s husband, being of a less impulsive nature, read it more slowly, not wishing to be “carried away with every wind of doctrine”. As for her son-in-law, a rather wild Scotsman, he found no comfort in reading, being more inclined to the brown ale of the Tumbulgum Hotel.

Undoubtedly, it was a very disturbed household, but it was soon to experience repercussions of a seri­ous nature. As the teachings of their minister were more obviously wrong, it inevitably became certain that they could no longer support his church. Their short note advising their non-attendance brought the minister’s prompt visit – an event without precedence. While the elderly lady was of a quiet disposition, her daughter, trained in the cruel world of adversity, was liable to have a sharp tongue at times and this seemed a most fitting time. There is no way of knowing what was said on this occasion, but it is understood that a special sermon was given to the parishioners the next Sunday warning them of the teachings of Satan which were permeating the township, and that they should shut their doors against it. How this may have affected the business in the little shop we do not know, but we must have reasonable fears.

The seed takes root and grows

By the time the man in the spring cart called again, he found he had two very convinced converts who were most anxious to get on with the details of instruction for baptism. Seeing that he was rather limited in his available time, he suggested that they may be interested in having a friend of his who was a keen student of the Bible, come and spend a few weekends with them with this supreme objective in mind. The gentleman suggested lived at Newrybar, near Byron Bay, some 80 kilometres away over the Burringbar Range. He would be delighted to come down by coach on Friday night and stay with the family until Sunday afternoon, if this was convenient to them. They had certain qualms about the matter but they were assured of his impeccable character. One, at a later time, wrote of him: “One of those guileless, all-round intelligent brethren that will one day be numerous in the land, a help and a comfort at every stage”. So this suggestion was accepted and arrangements made for his accommodation with the elderly lady and her husband while a message was sent off by telegram, extending a cordial invitation. It was with eagerness that this gentleman’s arrival was awaited, yet still with a certain degree of trepida­tion on the entry of a perfect stranger into their house. Yet it was quite amazing how, with the aid of the Word of God and the bond of love engendered by it, a very smooth and happy human association quickly developed.

Later events showed that his presence and his good work with the Word was very effective, for it was not many such weekends before he was convinced of the sound appreciation that these two ladies had for the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Then came the vital question – were they prepared to be baptised into the sin-covering name of Jesus Christ? Being assured that they were most anx­ious that this should be done, he asked whether they would like to be examined and baptised at Tumbulgum or go to the closest ecclesia for this to take place. This question took considerable de­liberation. Anxious though they were to come into covenant relationship as soon as possible, they felt that the combined opportunity to also meet with others of like precious faith would greatly add to the grandeur of this moment. So it was decided that they should prepare to travel up to Brisbane. Meanwhile, their instructor would go on ahead and organise things for them so that their examina­tion and baptism could take place on Saturday, 7 December 1895, and that they would be received into fellowship on Sunday 8th, at the Breaking of Bread in the Oddfellows’ Hall, Charlotte Street, Brisbane.

From Tumbulgum to Tweed Heads

For us today, such a trip would take about 1.5 hours, depending on the congestion we may encounter passing through Tweed Heads and Coolangatta, but in 1895 it was an ordeal of no mean dimension. Firstly there was the trip from Tumbulgum to Tweed Heads. A drogher (a basic cargo vessel) regularly did the trip from Tweed Heads to Murwillumbah once each way per week, transporting goods and passengers. Then there was the coach trip from Tweed Heads to Southport, via the beach and finally the train trip from Southport to Brisbane. We will expand as we come to it.

The drogher passed through Tumbulgum on Thursday afternoon about 3pm and arrangements were made to travel on this vessel. So the elderly lady, accompanied by her husband and her daugh­ter, said goodbye to the daughter’s husband and children and set out on the journey north. They were waiting on the Tumbulgum wharf when the drogher ‘Dolphin’ arrived with her two punts trail­ing behind. In those days there was not the rush to board as is so obvious with the Sydney ferries. With steam winches puffing and derricks groaning and screeching, various items were unloaded and others loaded and made safe on board. Although the vessel was punctual it was 3.40pm by the time the whistle blew and the drogher was on its way downstream. It was a reasonably quick trip that the drogher ‘Dolphin’ made that day, for the river was running well, but even so it was 5.30pm by the time she was tied up to the wharf at Terranora Terrace, Boyd‘s Bay, Tweed Heads.

Fortunately, the elderly lady had a sister who lived in Boyd Street, but a short distance from the wharf. She had a fairly large house and was happy to provide accommodation for our little party for the night. Very hearty discussion took place after the evening meal with much interest in the reason for the trip. As a strict Anglican, she could not un­derstand why an adult should be baptised, or why an arduous trip to Brisbane should be contemplated for such a minor religious ritual. Her sister and her niece, with patience and care, led her from one point to another through the Scriptures showing the need for baptism by an intelligent adult, the confession of such a one, and the mystic symbol involved whereby one can be identified with the death, burial and res­urrection of Jesus. Whether convinced or confused the hostess lapsed into more practical and congenial things. She had already arranged for the coach to be at the front door by 8.30am on the Friday morning.

Along the Gold Coast beach to Southport

While we in our day may travel the district known to us as the Gold Coast in possibly half an hour, depending on traffic, in 1895 from Tweed Heads to Southport was a wilderness of thick bush, swamps and sand dunes. There was no road connection and travel was by coach along the hard-packed sand beaches. When crossing Currumbin and Tallabudgera Creeks, a detour inland had to be made to find a crossing capable of being crossed by the coach and horses. Sleep was intermittent for our travellers that night. The excitement of the two ladies could be understood. Then there were the strange beds, always a source of distraction, but there were also other items of concern for the visitors.

The house of their hostess nestled beneath the branches of an enormous mango tree which, at that time, was carrying considerable numbers of fruit. Although they were beyond the reach of man, they were not beyond the reach of possums and flying foxes. The chatter and the cries of these as they fought for delectable fruit was also punctuated by the sound of fruit falling from the shaken branches landing with a resounding thump on the metal roof, and then its slow but increasing roll as it headed for the gutter.

Friday morning opened bright and clear. Our party washed and dressed and well fed with the tra­ditional bacon and eggs, made their fond farewells to their genial hostess, and stepped cautiously into the waiting coach. Care had to be taken not to catch those long dresses on the iron steps of the coach. Their cases were thrown up onto the roof and tied in place, and when all was secure the horses were given the command to go and in a flurry of dust and cheerios, they were off. Their course followed the main road past the Post Office, and then turned north, heading toward the beach, reaching the sand by a gravel ramp near to where the Kirra Beach Surf Club stands today. The tide was reasonably low and the beach stretched clear ahead. On reaching Flat Rock Creek caution had to be taken to avoid soft sand which could have bogged the coach. This necessitated the coach driver bringing the horses out into the low surf.

From here a land track was taken behind Elephant Rock, then through a narrow gully to bring them out onto the south bank of Currumbin Creek. It was necessary to continue upstream for about 1.25 km before a suitable crossing of the creek could be made, at a site where the stream narrowed. Having negotiated the creek safely, they turned back to the beach and so continued north to the Tallebudgera Creek. Once again, turning west, they found a reasonable crossing place, then followed the course of a dry creek bed, which brought them out onto the next stretch of beach, very near to the present Burleigh Heads Surf Club.

Their way north was continued until they ar­rived at Nobby Head, which completely blocked the beach. This necessitated another inland detour of about 1 km, when by navigating the western side of the hill they made their way back to the beach. Before them now was the longest, uninter­rupted stretch of beach to eventually bring them to Southport. Passing through Narrow Neck, they turned west, away from the beach for the last time and across the low-water causeway over the Nerang River and into the township itself. As their destina­tion was the railway station, situated at the northern end of the town, they still had about three quarters of a kilometre to go. This trip had taken about 4.5 hours and it was now 1pm. So our travellers set­tled down to the packed lunch provided by their hostess of Tweed Heads. Their train, which was to carry them to Brisbane, was already in the station, but would not be leaving before 2pm. At that time Southport was the terminus of the line and was not extended to Tweed Heads until about 1910 and was then scrapped in 1920. Such is the wisdom of the authorities!

To Brisbane and Baptism

This departure time provided ample opportunity to eat their repast and tidy up in the station wash­room. Having done so, they climbed aboard their train and viewed with concern the hard wooden seats that the narrow gauge Queensland transport provided. Of this train trip there was nothing to tell, except for the aches and pains brought about by the peculiar and distinct motion of the quaking monstrosity. Coomera, Pimpama, Staplyton and Beenleigh passed in orderly procession and at not too quick succession as they wended their way to Brisbane.

It was a weary party which eventually disem­barked at South Brisbane Station at 6pm. They were met by our friend from Newrybar who had gone on ahead some days previous, and had arranged accommodation with a family, whose name has been forgotten in the passing years. There was a tea meeting on the Friday night but our weary travellers felt they had had enough for one day and took the opportunity to retire at an early hour.

So the important day Saturday 7 December 1895 arrived, the day for the beginning of a new life for the two ladies from Tumbulgum NSW. The details regarding the examination and baptism would be found written in the Intelligence of The Christadelphian sometime in 1896, but as these could be rather scarce we must content ourselves with the record made by Brother Robert Roberts, on page 94 of The Diary of a Voyage which reads as follows:

“Saturday, December 7th, Mrs Page and Mrs Ritchie arrived from a long distance to be bap­tised. They live some miles from Byron Bay and are almost neighbours of Brother Gardener, of Newrybar. They proved interesting people – of the sort that Jesus chose. Although his choice was from the poor, they were not poor in mind, faith or character.” One thing remains; who was the man in the spring cart? I understand that his surname was Hermann.