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Our Unluckiest Settlers

When we think of the earliest white settlement of the Berwick/Pakenham region, names come to mind such as Patterson, Howey, Bourke, Bathe, Jamieson, O’Conner etc. But Pakenham’s earliest white settlers are rarely named, yet Pakenham and the Toomuc Creek were originally referred to as Minton’s Creek. It was only because of some dreadful luck that the Minton boys didn’t live long enough for the name to catch on.

In 1834, Lieutenant Christopher Minton arrived in the colonies. Christopher was born in Ireland and was 21 years old when he travelled “steerage” from London. Both Christopher and his older brother Thomas were officers in His Majesties 6th Regiment. This was during a time when officers purchased their commissions and so it is probable that they came from a family of independent means. The 6th regiment was the same one that Hannah Snell had joined, disguising herself as a male in 1745.

In 1835, Christopher and Thomas were on board the ill fated prison ship George 3rd. The ship was carrying 220 prisoners, guards, officer’s wives, their children and the two Minton brothers. During the voyage from Woolwich it caught fire and much of their provisions were lost. As a result, those on board were suffering from malnutrition and scurvy to the point where 12 had died and many more were seriously ill. In an effort to quicken the trip, the captain tried to take a short cut near the southern tip of Tasmania and entered the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. The ship hit unchartered rocks and capsized. The captain ordered the prisoners be kept below as the women and children were loaded into boats. The prisoners rushed the barriers and the guards opened fire. In all, a total of 133 people died. A secret inquiry was held but a reporter for the Colonial Times in Hobart managed to gain entry and report on the proceedings where both Christopher and Thomas gave evidence.

Christopher and Thomas returned to the UK but arrived back in Australia during the 1839-1840 period. This time Thomas brought their sister Jane. Six months later Thomas was granted a grazing license of 1045 acres at a cost of £1619 to “depasuture stock beyond the limits of locations of the Western Port and Portland Bay Districts”. The license was later called Mount Pleasant and on maps it is shown to be along the Toomuc Creek (then called Minton’s Creek). It took up most of the present day Pakenham, Pakenham Upper and Toomuc Valley area.

One year later it was reported in the Launceston Advertiser that “A melancholy accident occurred to Captain (Thomas) Minton, a few days since, at his station in the vicinity of Western Port. The gallant Captain was superintending the falling of a tree, and having incautiously remained too long within reach of the falling trunk he was struck on the neck and the small of the back by one of the branches as he was attempting to retreat.”  Thomas died within a few days.

Thomas’s will is complicated. He seems to have left a will in London but for some reason this is over ridden.  His sister Jane is his executrix, but she originally gave up the job and then changed her mind. Thomas left a sum of £600 but there are references to debts. By 1843, both Jane and her brother Christopher were joint executors and Christopher took up the lease. They remained at Mt. Pleasant although not without controversy.

In December of 1844, Christopher applied to the courts for insolvency. This was not unusual during this time but it tended to cause ill-will in a small community.

In 1845 Christopher was again before the courts. Prior to becoming bankrupt he had hired a young boy to help with the cattle. During the insolvency case he stated that the boy was employed by his sister. When the wages were not forthcoming the boy went to the police. Christopher then stated that the boy was employed by him but to work on his sister’s property. It was determined that Christopher had committed perjury but the court did not continue to prosecute him. An interesting aside to this case is that one of the judges was Charles Payne, a member of the same  family that I wrote about in my article, The Payne Family and Maritimo.

The controversy continued when in 1847, a man named William Maxwell was arrested for cattle stealing.  William was running cattle on Christopher’s Mt. Pleasant station when he was arrested and sent for trial. The cattle were the property of Mr. McKee of Dandenong.

On Tuesday the 16th of November in 1847, it was reported in The Geelong Advertiser that Christopher Minton was dead. It seems that while yoking up some oxen, he grazed his finger. This incredibly slight wound became infected and he died of the injury.

I have been unable to find out what happened to poor old Jane.

Although I have never found reference to a marriage for Thomas or his having any children, I did find an odd article written in 1871 about a man who claimed that his father was the late Captain Minton from Melbourne.  He was found on an island near Papua New Guinea after being shipwrecked there months earlier. Immediately after his rescue, he and his rescuers visited a nearby island and had trouble with the natives. Mr. Minton stayed on shore so that the crew and the rest of the boat could escape. It was believed that he died at the hands of the natives. It was a rather more daring death than that of a cut finger.