Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Back River Chapel, Magra

The Back River Chapel is a simple sandstone building that was built in 1837 to minister to the spiritual needs of the well established community of Back River following a petition that had been raised for its construction by the then chaplain of St Mathew's , the Reverend Garrard.. It features unusual 'windows' on either side of the front porch which appear to have been cemented in. However, they are in fact , not windows at all, but are a feature of some old churches in England, termed "Blind Gothic".

The chapel was once overlooking fields of hops. Farmers tending their modest acreages would have had their seasonal number of farm workers boosted dramatically during hop picking time and the congregations of the little chapel would have fluctuated according to the season. Now that the hops fields have disappeared, the chapel is witness to increasing urbanization.

The churchyard features the final resting places of a number of very early settlers, including some who arrived on the First Fleet.  One monument is inscribed as follows. " Near This Spot Was Laid To Rest Betty King, The First White Woman To Set Foot In Australia"

Betty (nee Elizabeth Thackerly) came to Australia as part of the First Fleet as a convict maidservant on the Friendship before being transferred to the Charlotte during the fleet's stop over at the Cape of Good Hope. As the Charlotte's longboat approached land at Sydney Cove, Betty is said to have jumped out before any of the other convict women and thereby staked her claim to fame. According to the First Fleeters website, there seems to be no  historical evidence to prove this claim (See Link Below). She married ex Norfolk Islander, Samuel King, at a ceremony performed by the Rev. Bobby Knopwood in 1810. She and Samuel were ultimately granted land at Kings Rocks in the Back River District.

Her life seems to have been quite colorful and while she may not have been the first white woman to set foot in Australia as claimed, it appears to be generally considered that she was the last known female survivor of the First Fleet. Both Betty & Samuel lived to be old and respected pioneers of the district and both are buried at the Back River Chapel.

Main Text & Information Source - 
"From Black Snake To Bronte" - Book by Audrey Holiday & John Trigg
Elizabeth (Thackerly) King - Betty King