Three Days with Tyson


James Tyson

This story is about James Tyson, my 2nd great-grand uncle. It’s from The Queenslander newspaper dated 1894.

It’s written by an anonymous drover who claimed to have spent three days travelling with James Tyson on the Steamship Arawatta in about 1889 when Tyson was 70. I’m guessing from the context they were going from Brisbane to Rockhampton in Queensland.

Before the story begins, here’s a quick thumbnail sketch of James Tyson.

He was born in 1819 to a convict woman. Through hard-work he became the richest man in Australia at that time.

Tyson was by all accounts a tall, handsome, but almost shy man who spent much of his life in the saddle travelling through Australia checking on his properties in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. He is said to have used the name of Smith when on the road, as he didn’t like the notoriety that accompanied his real name. He preferred to ‘go through life quietly, never making a ripple on the surface.’

Tyson did not marry, and did not smoke, drink or swear.

He became a member of the Queensland Legislative Council in 1893. When the Queensland government was short of money he offered them a loan of half a million pounds (about AU$75 million) to build a railway.

He died without leaving a will in 1898. Relatives, lawyers and the states of Queensland and New South Wales fought over his estate of more than five million acres. It was valued variously at between two to five million pounds, or something like AU$290 million to AU$720 million in today’s money.

If you’d like to see a scan of the 121-year-old newspaper then go to this address:

The scan is not easy to read, so here’s a transcript:


SS Arawatta

About five years ago I travelled North in the Arawatta. It was growing dusk as she left the wharf, all good-byes had been said, and as the supper gong was sounding most of us picked up our travelling traps and dived for our cabins. In my cabin there were two bunks; on the lower of these lay a tall man, with coat and waistcoat off, and a red handkerchief bound around his head by way of a nightcap. I bade him good evening. He nodded, and then in silence watched me as I unstrapped my bag and got out some things. Seeing me unfold my pyjamas and throw them on the top bunk he asked:

“Are you going to turn in now?”

“No,” I replied, “not quite; but you look as if you had gone to camp for the night.”

Ah!” he said. “You’re a bushman, I see. I thought so at first, but the travelling bag and the pyjamas puzzled me a bit. And he looked proudly down at an old worn saddle valise and a rug rolled up in a tanned kangaroo hide.

“Do you think, then,” I observed, “that no bushman ought to own a bag or wear pyjamas?”

“That depends. What are you?”

“A drover.”



“What! with a Gladstone bag! and pyjamas to wear at night!” And he laughed at the idea. “Why, you’ll require a dray and horses to cart that along, let alone your blankets.”

“Well, of course, I’ll have a dray and horses to take our swags and rations in.”

“And the pyjamas,” he added with a laugh.

“No,” I said, rather annoyed, “if you come along you can have them, once we start, as you appear to need them.”

“Oh, then, you don’t put them on when you turn in, and wait to change when you’re called for watch?” [watch the cattle]

“Well, not exactly; when I’m called I pull my boots on with the spurs already fixed, and I consider myself dressed. When I turn in, if it’s fine weather, I kick them off, and I’m undressed.”

“And if it’s wet?”

“Then we don’t even take our spurs off; we might catch cold.”

“Ah, that’s a bit better; but a dray and horses. Why, when I was droving we never thought of such a thing—nothing but a packhorse.”


Quart pot or billy used for drinking and cooking

“Oh, you’re one of old Tyson’s sort—a one-horse, quart-pot drover; but I’d like to see you or anyone take a thousand bullocks a thousand miles to market with a packhorse.”

“I could take a mob on foot,” he said, “and that’s the way cattle ought to be taken, instead of knocking them about with horses.”

“Rubbish,” I replied. “I’d like to see you try it with a mob of Tyson’s Tinnenburra bullocks.”

“Why Tinnenburra bullocks?” he asked, suddenly sitting up in his bunk.

“Because,” I replied, “they are the worst cattle on the road; brutes to rush.”

“I’ll lay you,” extending his hand, “three thousand pounds to one that I can take a mob of Tinnenburra bullocks by myself on foot.”

“Bosh !” I said; “you’re no more than any other man; you might start with them, and see them make a start, but that’s the last you’d ever see of them till you got horsemen to master them again.” With this I left the cabin and entered the saloon, where most of the passengers were sitting down to tea.

After supper I went on deck, but, finding it was raining, returned for my oilskin. My cabin companion lay as I had left him, still wide awake. The moment I entered he asked me how far I was going. To Normanton? I answered that I was going to bring bullocks in at least a hundred miles from there.

“From what station?”

“G____[name suppressed] station.”

“How many?”

“About 1000.”

“How many men will you have with them?”

“Three or four with the cattle, a horse tailer to look after the horses, a cook, and myself.”

“What wages do the men get?”

“Thirty-five shillings a week.”

“And how much do you get?”

“A fiver.” [£5]

Here he appeared to do a little mental calculation, and then said suddenly, “They can’t do it, and make it pay.”

“I don’t know,” I said, “they did it last trip, and it paid very well. The bullocks brought £4 12s. 6d. in Woodonga yards.”

“I tell you, man, they can’t afford it; they are all poor men out there.”

“How do you know ?” I said; “they might be very well off.”

“Not they,” he cried; “if they were they would never have gone there.”

“Who owns the station?”

I told him, and added, “They are far from being poor.”

“What’s the name again?” he asked. I repeated it. “And yours?”

“Mine, D_____y [name suppressed]; better known as ‘Poor D______y.'”

“Now,” I thought, “old man, you’ve had the handle long enough and done quite enough pumping. Allow me to give you a spell for a bit. “So I began by asking, “Where are you going?”


“What for?”

“To have a look at a station.”

“Going to buy?”

“No, I own it.”

“Oh! What’s your name ?”.


“Ah, I have met people of that name before. Know some intimately, in fact.” “Where did you come from?” I continued.

“From a station of mine on the Barwon, above Walgett.”

“Oh, then, you own two stations?”

“I own several.”

“But there’s no one named Smith owns a station above Walgett; I know all that country. What’s the name of the station?”

“Oh,” he replied, “you are a bit too inquisitive.”

“Not a bit more so than you. You asked me where I was going; what I was doing; what my name was; and what wages I was getting. Now, good night; I’m going on deck for an hour.” When I came below to turn in my inquisitive and queer acquaintance was asleep.

Next morning he was lying still, but wide awake, with hands clasped under his head, just as I had first seen him. He did not speak, but as I picked up a bath towel I noticed he was scrutinising me—or it might have been my pyjamas—very closely. Having enjoyed my bath I returned to dress, and without a nod or good morning he said,

“Do you have a bogey [bath] every morning ?”

“Yes, when I can. Don’t you?”

“No! It’s the greatest mistake in the world.”

“Well, I am sure,” I said, “doctors don’t think so. Why do you?”

“Because, see, it’s made you shiver, and to regain the natural heat of your body will require the expenditure of a certain amount of vital power, which means so much strength wasted. Look at the blacks; they never wash themselves in cold weather, and see how healthy they are, and what soft skins they have.”

I thought it was a strange view, and told him so, adding that a black was a bad example to follow.

“Not in some things,” he said; “not in that, at any rate. Giving your system a shock by bathing on a cold morning means an expenditure of vital power afterwards which is so much gone to waste.”

“Ah, well,” I replied, “it gives one an appetite anyhow, and as breakfast is ready I’ll go and try to recover my lost vitality.”

About two hours afterwards as I was leaning over the taffrail some one touched me on the shoulder. A tall, wiry, handsome gray bearded man, with a kindly smile and a look of laughter in his keen bright eyes, was standing by my side. At first I scarcely recognised him, but the moment be spoke I knew his voice. ‘Twas my cabin mate.

“Well,” he said, “what are you doing ?”

“Nothing,” I replied; “enjoying the sweet idleness of the hour. I delivered a mob of bullocks at Wodonga on Thursday last; this is only Wednesday following. So you see I have lost no time.”

“No, indeed you haven’t; but you’re hardy and used to travel, so it won’t hurt you. What did you say your name was ?”

“D______y [name suppressed], “I answered. “And yours is Smith, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” he said with a smile, “my name is Smith.”

“Why,” I exclaimed, “you’re Tyson!”

“How do you know?” he inquired quickly. “Some one on board told you, I suppose.”

“No,” I said. “I knew you the moment I saw you—met you years ago.”

“Oh, then,” laughing, “you’ve been having the loan of me.”

“No,” I replied, though I would not mind if I had the loan of half your fortune for a few years.”

“You’d find it was a great weight and a great responsibility.”

“I dare say—but I’m willing to take my share of the responsibility if you’ll only share the money.”

“Now, what would you do with it?”

“Share some with some people whom I know, and enjoy life with the remainder.”

“What do you call enjoying life?”

“Well, I’d buy a yacht, and travel and see all that was worth seeing outside Australia.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” he replied thoughtfully; “I should like to travel, too—see America especially—if I could only get away without anyone knowing it; but I can’t. I couldn’t leave my business.”

“Why not ? Get someone else to manage it.”

“No one could.”

“You’ll die someday, and then——”

“Then it won’t trouble me. But now it’s my life, my pleasure. I could not live without it.”

“But why not sell out and travel ? You’d find plenty to occupy your mind and amuse you too.”

“Nonsense ! Who could buy me out? I could sacrifice, but not sell; and I’m not going to do that, though I should greatly like to go to America. I had an invitation from an American millionaire, who asked me to go over to ‘Frisco, and he would show me all over the Western States; and then I could go on to his brother, who would show me all that was worth seeing in the East; but I couldn’t get away.”

Then we sat down on the grating behind the wheel and had a long talk; not only then but often afterwards while he remained on board. Our principal subjects were stock and stations.

But be gave me a sketch of his life just to show me how it was possible for a man to get rich in Australia, no matter how poor he might be, if he only bent his mind to it, and learned to save his money as he earned it, instead of spending it on drink or amusement.

But I must say here (as I then said to Mr. Tyson), according to his own showing, a man could not make money now as he did then. It was the times in which he lived that made him, or at any rate gave him the chance of making a fortune. He seized it; was capable of making the most of the opportunity, and using his money to the best advantage; denying himself almost every pleasure, and devoting time, energy, and brains to the business of amassing wealth, while others who made money quickly spent it as though there never again would be such a thing as poverty in Australia.

Mr. Tyson once said to me : “When a young man I was working for 10s. per week, and I had to work hard, too. I went to look after a lot of cattle that had just been bought, and it took months and months of hard riding and constant watching before I could get them to settle down. I lived in a humpy by myself, and, as the blacks were not to be trusted, many a night I had to leave its shelter, poor as it was, and camp out where they could not find me. Often of an evening, after being in the saddle all day long, I would, as I rode home, strike the fresh tracks of a mob of cattle that had crossed the boundary since I passed there in the morning, and there was nothing for it but to get back to my camp, catch a fresh horse, roll up a blanket, shove a handful of wheat in my pocket if I had none ground—for at that time a man had to grind his own wheat if he wanted flour, so I used to carry a handful or so of the raw material— and chew it as I rode back to where I had seen the fresh tracks, and camp there all night. If in luck I might get a ‘possum and roast him on the coals for supper; if not I ate the wheat, lay down till daylight and then followed the tracks till I found the mob and brought them back. Perhaps it would take me all day long, and bar a mouthful of wheat and a drink of water I would have nothing to eat till I returned to my hut at night. And all this for 10s. a week. Yet I managed to save money.

“I remained at this work for about twelve months, when the run was bought, and the owners brought down some breeding cattle and let them go with the bullocks that gave me such a lot of trouble, and, to my surprise, a slow, lazy old man was sent to take my place. I told the boss that the old fellow could never manage to hold the cattle on the run, as it had taken me all my time, night and day, to prevent the bullocks from getting away; and now that there were a lot more it would require two smart, painstaking men to look after them properly. I thought they would soon find they could not do without me, because not only had I done the work of two men but I knew the country thoroughly; and not one of them did, least of all the lazy old man. But they cleared out and left this old fellow to mind the whole herd. A nice mess he will make of it, I thought. They will be sorry they didn’t keep me when they find the cattle have strayed all over the country. However, I passed that way again in about three months, found the old fellow pottering about, and taking the world easy as usual; and to my astonishment found also that the cattle were alright, though I was not there to mind them.

“Here I was taught—and learned by heart— a lesson I have never forgotten, which is—that no matter how good a man is, or what his position in life is, he can be done without. I always remember this. When you said to me, ‘You will die someday, and then some one else will take your place,’ this lesson that I had learned so many years ago was in my mind; I know I can be done without. The world will go on just the same when l am dead. But while I’m alive I intend to manage my own business. I could not live in idleness.”

“Well, but how did you make a start on the road to riches ?”

“Oh,” he said, “though, as I told you, I only had ten bob a week, I managed in time to save a hundred pounds, and bought or took up a bit of a run [some grazing property] for £10″—I think the narrator said it was Yanko station, which I know is now worth over £100,000. “At that time you could buy young cattle for 10s. a head, and as there were any amount of cleanskins [unbranded cattle] a man with a little capital and plenty of energy could soon put a bit of a herd together. My brother and I worked together on the station. Sometimes one of us went away to work for wages. Then, when we had a few fats fit for market, I took them down, and I tell you I had to be very careful to clear £20 out of my trip, as you could only get about 30s. or £2 for a fat bullock at that time. Talk of droving! That was when you had to rough it. No dray and horses, no travelling bag, and no pyjamas. No, I used to take them down by myself; only one horse, which I led most of the time, as be had to carry my blanket and saddlebags with my rations in. At last gold was discovered, a big rush followed, and fat cattle were sold at high figures. Bullocks that a year before I could only obtain £2 for now brought me in £14, £16, and even £18.

“Then, Mr. Tyson,” I said, “it was the times made you ?”

“The diggings,” he replied, “certainly gave a start to everything ; other men had the same chances that I had; why did they not become rich? No, I flatter myself I’m the only millionaire in the world who has made his money through sheer business. Lots of men in America have made larger fortunes than mine, and much more quickly than I have, but it was by speculation—lose or win. I never go in for that; every penny that I make is made in the way of business, slowly but surely. Once you reach a certain thing, then money begins to accumulate of itself.”

“But of what use is such a vast amount to you? We were speaking a while ago of a Mr. P., whom I know you helped; but you say you are afraid you will have to let him go, as he is too deeply in debt. Now, Mr. Tyson, don’t you think it would give you much more pleasure if you were to stick to him and give him another start than to know that the £20,000 or £30,000 it cost you was lying idle in the bank?”

“I never let my money lie idle,” he replied, “and as to sticking to P , that’s not business at all, and I confine myself strictly to business in my relations with my fellow-man.”

“Women, they say, you hate, and that you won’t employ married men ?”

“On the contrary, most of my managers are married, and I believe in it—for them. It keeps them from fooling about the country after girls; and once a man is married his wife will take care that he stays at home—which is all the better for me.”

“Why do you always travel under the name of Smith ?” I asked.

“Because I like to go through the world quietly, never making a ripple on the surface” —a favourite phrase of his. “I don’t want anyone to know my business, where I am, where I’m going to, or where I came from. The manager of the station I’m going to look at now does not know I’m coming. When I leave there he will not know where I’m going to, or at what time to expect me again. Thus I go through life quietly, never making a ripple on the surface.”

Then we discussed life in the bush, and he told me of some of the hardships he had gone through. Once he was coaching it, and it rained all day, and when night set in the country was covered with water. The horses were unable to draw the empty coach. So the driver said the only thing they could do was to take them out, leave the harness in the coach, ride two and lead two, to the next station, about five miles from where the coach was stuck. They started, the horses plunging through the water, and bogging nearly to their knees at every step. After riding for about an hour, he found that he had lost his guide, the driver; and it was so dark and raining so heavily that he could not tell whether he was on the road or not; so he went floundering on for about another hour, when the horses came to a dead halt and refused to be urged forward. In pulling them about and kicking them to make them go his toe struck against a wire—he felt it with his foot, and found he was against a wire fence, and, not knowing which way to turn, dismounted in about 3ft. of water, climbed on top of a post, and resting his feet on the wires remained there all night long, hungry, cold, wet, and miserable, only to find when day broke that the whole country was under water. And the station which he had so fervently hoped to reach was —just inside the fence. “Yes,” he said, “there it was within a hundred yards of me; the horses had brought me straight, but the darkness was so dense that I could not see the house, and so spent about as bad a night as ever a man put in, sitting there on that wire fence —a regular nightmare of a night, which I have never forgotten.”

“Oh,” I said, “we spend many a wet night riding around the bullocks when on the road. Of course I’m forced to do it, so don’t think much about it, because I’m poor; but if I was a millionaire like you I’d take precious good care not to get caught like that.”

“What would you do?” he asked.

“Why,” I replied, “I wouldn’t have gone at all; I’d pay someone else to do my business there.”

“But suppose no one else could do your business and you had to go?”

“Then, having more money than I could possibly spend in a lifetime, I would not consider the cost, so I’d buy a balloon, run a railway out there, or if I could do neither of these I’d write to Cobb and Co., and they would have four fresh horses to meet me every four miles, and then one could slide along as smoothly as a sunbeam steals through the cracks in an old slab hut.”

“Ah,” he said, “if you go in for that sort of thing you’ll never be rich.”

“No,” I rejoined, “I would not think of doing it now ; no more than you would years ago when you were stock-riding for ten bob a week. But if I had a few million to my credit I certainly would try to make travelling easier, and guard against camping on a wire fence all night in the wet, or begging a quart full of water from a swagman in a drought. What’s the good of money if you don’t enjoy it.?”

“Different people have got different ideas of enjoyment. Spending money is not mine. But I should like to go up with you and have a trip in with those bullocks. Nothing I’d like better.”

“Well,” I said, “come along; I’ll give you thirty-five bob a week, the same as the other men; or, as you say money is such a heavy responsibility, you can take my billet. I’ll gladly take yours with all its care and responsibility.”

“There’s one thing,” he said, “if I did take your billet I would not knock cattle about by stringing them along as you fellows do nowadays when you want to count them. I’d just ride quietly through them while they were spread out feeding and count them in little lots—thirty here, fifty there, and so on.”

“But,” I said, “I don’t think you could do that with a big mob. Of course ’twas easy enough to count those little lots of fats that way, but a big mob take some time to count, and they are constantly shifting their positions ; you would be very likely to make a mistake.” But he assured me he had often counted cattle correctly like that.

Thus we spent most of the day yarning, as “a fellow feeling makes us wondrous kind”; and as I was a “cattle man,” and he would “talk cattle” from morning till evening, and as he did not seem to know anyone on board, we were constantly together, discussing stock and stations principally, but touching on all kinds of things. For instance, he informed me he could trace his descent straight back to a Saxon family, who owned the land at the mouth of the Humber, before the Norman conquest, and that he could claim a title if he cared to; but he preferred going through the world quietly, and ‘never making a ripple on the surface.’

Just before leaving the vessel he came up to me with the old valise under his arm and said, “Good-bye, Mr. ??”

“D_____y,” I ‘said, “is my name. Don’t forget it when you are making your will.” He laughed, shook hands, and, promising to remember, stepped on board the tender. That was the last I saw of my rich fellow-traveller, and I still remain poor.

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