Faces of Tamworth: Commissioner for Crown Lands, Edward Mayne

EDWARD Mayne had come from England with glowing references, which would contribute to his appointment as the Commissioner for Crown Lands.

Edward Mayne shifted his headquarters from Page’s River to Somerton on February 24, 8840.

He located himself on high ground on the Gunnedah side of the present village and on the river side of the highway, according to A Chronological History of Tamworth.

Even until the 1940s, the stone buildings he erected were still in a reasonable state of repair.

As well as paying an annual rental of £10 for their land, settlers were also levied for each head of stock they owned; “sheep - one ha’penny, cattle - one penny ha’penny, and horses  -  threepence.”

On account of the vast area under his jurisdiction, Edward Mayne successfully petitioned Governor Gipps for more police staff as well as an Assistant Commissioner.

It soon reached the Governor’s ears, however, that Mayne was sending the Assistant Commissioner to visit the most distant properties in the area instead of going himself and was using some of the extra police staff and much of the allotted money to build a stone house for himself at Somerton where he spent almost all of his time.

The Governor was soon led to realise that Mayne was not all that his referees had claimed him to be when he sought the Commissioner’s position.

Dr John M. Bennett, in Quills, Parchment and Sealing Wax, suggests that Mayne may have been a “remittance man” and that the references he presented may have been “arranged” by his family, glad to have someone else accept responsibility for him.

Governor Gipps instructed his secretary to write to Mayne, reprimanding him for “building a commodious house of stone for yourself which you seldom leave.”

Unless much of Mayne’s stone building had been removed by the 1940s, however, the term “commodious” was something of an exaggeration.

Moreover, the building was not simply a residence but also a headquarters office and a lock-up as well.

The Governor gradually became more and more dissatisfied with Mayne and particularly with his expenses which were higher than those of any of the other Commissioners. 

Mayne attempted to justify his expenses by explaining that when his police were out on patrol, food for them and their horses had to be obtained from the squatters who charged exorbitant prices.

As well, he claimed, there were expenses involving the Aborigines:

“With regard to the expenditure of flour, tea, sugar, tobacco and meat charges to the Aborigines’ account, all I can say is I pledge my honour that they have had it and more, and every day convinces me that my mode of treatment to the poor creatures was judicious and attended with good effects ... The tribes from a distance now come down periodically to my station and mix with the tamer ones; they perform some work and are fed, and to a certain extent clothed.”

Edward Mayne established two “command posts”, one in Tamworth and, later, another in Warialda.

Eventually, Governor Gipps ordered him to lease the “commodious” Somerton residence and to move to his post in Tamworth.

It is very likely that most of the development of this Tamworth post was carried out later by Roderick Mitchell. Mayne eventually fell foul of the authorities on two accounts. 

On his appointment he, like other Commissioners, had been instructed:

“You will thoroughly understand that you are not yourself to be the owner of any sheep or cattle within your District, or either of the neighbouring ones, nor to have any interest in the sheep, cattle or stations of others.”

He not only became involved in a holding at Cryon Creek in the Walgett area but forgot to pay the customary levies and when reminded of it, imposed only a “token fine” on himself.

His second misdemeanour was to find himself in insolvency as result of his unprofitable and unsuccessful private ventures.

It also became clear that he was failing to remit to the Government the fees which he had collected from squatters. All this proved too much for the Governor who dismissed him in 1843.

Dr Bennett’s conclusion on Mayne’s term of office was that “at best, it can be said his regime was brief.”

To give Mayne his due, however, it appears that he did make an attempt to eradicate the sly-grog sellers of the district. In 1844, Mayne was succeeded by Frances Allman Jnr.

No charge of living in a “commodious residence” could be levelled at Allman whose main headquarters, it appears, were the bars of various hotels.

Only for the fact that Roderick Mitchell, the son of Surveyor-General Sir Thomas Mitchell, was appointed as Allman’s Deputy Commissioner, the administration of the Liverpool Plains would have been reduced to utter chaos.

Allman was lax in collecting fees from squatters and undid much of his predecessor’s work in regard to the sly-grog sellers.

Allman’s appointment was rescinded on 11 June 1846.

  • Information sourced from A Chronological History of Tamworth

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