William Herbert Dunstall was born in harsh summer’s heat on 26th February 1873 in the Midnorth district of South Australia. At the time of his birth his brother John was aged five and his brother Charles was three. Another brother, Kenneth Norman, had been born two years earlier but died as a baby.
Herbert’s father James Dunstall was a struggling farmer, the son of a more successful farmer from Yankalilla. James knew how to farm, but unfortunately he had made a bad speculation – he headed inland for land to the harsh, dry salinated regions thinking he could make a go of it.
Herbert’s mother was a Scottish woman named Annie McLeod. She was an orphan, brought to South Australia by her married sister after the death of her parents in North Uist. She was an intelligent woman, able to read and write and a hard worker, but plagued with ill health seemingly from birth. The South Australian climate was tough on her.
Despite their struggles, the children in the family all gained an education. The parents managed to raise highly literate, community minded children.
Herbert was still a baby when the family left Templers and moved to Warooka on the Yorke Peninsula. They lived at Orrie Cowie station. I’m not sure of the circumstances – if they were employees or if they owned or sharefarmed there. They lived at Orrie Cowie for the rest of Herbert’s childhood.
Herbert was aged 2 when his little brother Ernest was born, and just 3 when Lewis came along. The older boys probably helped their father on the farm, while the younger ones may have helped their mother around the house. It is hard to see when they had time to be educated but we know that they were.
Members of an Aboriginal group lived on the property and may have helped, but were not employed by the Dunstalls. Herbert played with the Aboriginal children and learned a lot from them, skills which may have helped him survive at later times. These were probably Narungga people, who suffered greatly from white settlement in their territory. Annie had experienced the domination of British white autocrats herself, as a member of the McLeod clan who were forced by England to leave their home in the 1850s. She was no friend to oppression and it seems tried to pass her native Gaelic on to her children despite a British attempt to remove it from their colonies.
As I said in my last blog post, Herbert was a very gentle soul, an extremely quiet and meek person. He comes across as having a belief in strength through community. He gave, wherever he went.
The youngest two members of the family were born in 1879 and 1882. After all those boys, finally there were two daughters, Annie and Martha (Mattie). The family was complete.
There probably would have been more children had the family not lost their father after Mattie’s birth. His death was devastating, depriving them of their breadwinner as well as of a much loved family member. He died on 17th May 1883 when Herbert was aged 10.
John and Charles took over management of the farm and the family continued to live at Orrie Cowie. But things were tough. Their mother sickened and did not regain her strength. She developed tuberculosis. She wrote a will where her great concern over the future of her children was her principal concern. Mrs Annie Dunstall passed away on 9th June 1887 when Herbert was aged fourteen.
No announcement was placed in the papers upon Annie’s death. I suspect the young orphans were too distressed to think about such a thing.
John Dunstall was aged 20 in the year of his mother’s death, still not at the legal age of adulthood and now the legal guardian of a whole family. This is exactly the circumstance of his aunt Mary McVicar nee McLeod, who brought her orphan siblings with her to South Australia in the 1850s. There must have been some assistance, but it’s a puzzle. The family continued to live near Warooka, continued to struggle to hold their family together without a legal adult among them.
But the sickness was still in the family. Tuberculosis had struck several of them and they languished in these harsh years. The first of the siblings to die was John, the eldest, the guardian of the Dunstall children. He was only 22 years old. Little Annie followed him to her own grave a year later, aged 11.
These would have been very dark years for Herbert. With so many deaths he was probably convinced that he, also, would sicken and die. The five survivors were split up. Nine year old Mattie went to Dunstall relatives who seem to have been living on the Yorke Peninsula at that point. The boys continued to live in Warooka until Lewis’s death at the age of 18 in 1894. Herbert was now aged 21 and had reached the official age of adulthood.
You certainly can’t blame them for leaving. Three young men still with their health having watched their family slowly die of tuberculosis. Charles was 26, Herbert was 21 and Ernest was 19. The brothers packed their things and headed for the goldfields of Western Australia.
The years had been tough on Herbert, but even now he had hopes. He had a dream of finding gold and becoming rich. He had worked hard all his life, he knew he could do that. He had watched his father put every ounce of strength into farming and it is clear that Herbert had no belief in farming as a means to safety and security. Gold was the answer – it was either there or it wasn’t, and if it was there then wealth was to be made.
Misfortune had not defeated him.