Part One of a 2-part series
A PORTRAIT of historic significance has been donated to the Historical Society by Patrick Thomas, one of Australia's most distinguished recent orchestral, choral and opera conductors who worked extensively with the ABC.
The family heirloom is of Sarah Neale [nee Nicholson] (1799-1853) who was Patrick's great-great-grandmother. Whether the 80 x 65cm oil on canvas portrait, by an unknown English artist, was painted in Sarah's lifetime or later from an earlier portrait is still being established.
Regardless, it has two significant connections to the district. Firstly, Sarah lived at Mandemar (near Berrima) from the 1840s, dying there in 1853, and secondly, in the mid-1800s, one of her sons, John Thomas, with three partners opened the Fitz Roy Iron Mine at Mittagong and started the first smelting of iron ore in Australia.
Sarah Neale was born Sarah Nicholson in Sydney in 1799, the first daughter of John Lee and Alice Nicholson. Alice had been a convict and was freed in 1804. She had a husband back in England but lived in Sydney with John Lee (a free or freed settler) and they raised a family of four children. By 1814 her English husband had died and she officially became Mrs Lee but as her first daughter had been born 'out-of-wedlock' that daughter retained the surname Nicholson.
At age 16, Sarah Nicholson would marry John Neale on New Year's Day in 1816.
SARAH'S husband John was the son of William Neale and Sarah Townsend. In February 1794, William, a successful baker by trade, sailed from England in the ship Surprise and, as a member of the 103rd Regiment, was in charge of convicts on the voyage to Sydney. Among these was Sarah Townsend with whom he formed a friendship. This earlier Sarah was born on the Isle of Wight in 1774 and had been convicted at the Old Bailey in 1793 of affront and robbery and sentenced to death which was commuted to transportation and opened up a new way of life for her.
William was a member of the NSW Rum Corps that was recalled to England in disgrace, but he elected to stay in Sydney and became a landholder and farmer.
Sarah and William were married at the Parish Church of St Philip, Sydney in 1810 and had five children.
Their eldest son, John, was born at Parramatta in 1797 and in 1816 married the Sarah of our portrait.
William received several grants of land in the Campbelltown area, where he also became a constable. In the 1820s he exchanged one of his grants for a property named 'Mandemar' situated in the newly settled Sutton Forest district.
The Mandemar grant had first been taken up in 1819 and convicts built its hewn-stone homestead. The location was at first remote but in the 1830s Berrima township was established nearby. William either retired there or used it periodically - he would then have been in his fifties.
The marriage of John and Sarah Neale produced 13 children. At first they lived at Airds (Campbelltown district) where John was a property overseer until about 1837 when he set up a household in Sussex Street, Sydney. He established himself in the carcass (wholesale) butcher trade, later also becoming an elected councillor of the first Sydney Municipal Council and an active member of the 'Total Abstinence Society'. An astute businessman, his butchery interests flourished and he became well-known throughout the colony. He bought land at Appin and took up a grazing licence in the Monaro district.
JOHN inherited the Mandemar property from his father William who passed away in 1840. It appears that John's wife Sarah and the younger children then took up residence there, perhaps for the benefit of a healthier climate, while John remained mostly in Sydney.
By this time Mandemar was more easily accessible from Sydney as nearby Berrima had become well established on the new Great Southern Road.
Sarah's fourth son, John Thomas, born in 1823, took an active interest in the Berrima district once moving there with his mother. With his father's financial backing, at age 25 he embarked upon an historic undertaking.
John Thomas formed a syndicate in 1848 with Thomas Holmes and Thomas & William Tipple-Smith to mine the rich deposit of iron ore discovered in 1833 by surveyor Jacques while creating a line for the Great Southern Road through the Nattai district. They took up land, opened the Fitz Roy Iron Mine and commenced smelting iron ore in a small blast furnace erected nearby.
To be continued