Lucy's story

Lucy’s story is a tale of turn-of-the-century Queensland, a place of remote frontiers, aspirational migrants and the mistreatment of Aboriginal people. Via a series of family photographs and papers donated by a descendant over a period of 15 or so years, the saga of the Moss family unfolds and the story of an Aboriginal girl named 'Lucy' emerges. This captivating, tragic story leaves us with more questions than answers.

Sarah Ann Boulton was born in the small English village of Tolk, on the edge of Stoke on Trent, in 1866. In the late 1880s, in the company of a companion Emily Seward, she emigrated to Australia. On the long journey out, Sarah seems to have become friendly with a Major Collis and his wife Mayne Collis, who were on their way to Normanton in North Queensland where the Major was to manage a cattle station.

Sarah Boulton at Normanton, ca 1889. 6820 Ronald Monroe photographs. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

In the late 1800s, it was not uncommon for ships to make a first landing at Normanton as it was a significant port in the meat trade. At some point, either on this initial voyage, or on a visit soon after, Sarah visited the Major and Mrs Collis in Normanton. A surviving portrait photograph serves as a memento of the visit. At that time there were no roads to Normanton and all visitors came by sea. Ships anchored off the mouth of the Norman River and passengers and freight were taken across the shallow bar and upstream to the town via a small steam tender, the ‘Dugong’.

The 'Dugong' leaving Normanton. John Oxley Library, State Libary of Queensland. Neg. 142191

The master of the ‘Dugong’ was George Campbell, a native of south west Scotland, who had lived in the Normanton area for some years. George and Sarah probably met in Normanton, possibly on that first trip up the river, and were married in Brisbane on 6 February 1890. A daughter, Janet Mayne Campbell, was born in 1891. By this time George Campbell had ceased working in Normanton and was Master of the coastal steamer Kanahooka.

Sarah Boulton and George Campbell, ca 1895. 6820 Ronald Monroe Photographs. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

In late January 1894 Kanahooka was loading guano in the Wellesley Islands in the Gulf to take to Launceston in Tasmania. She sailed in mid-January and on the night of the 18th was overwhelmed by a cyclone, sinking 40 miles off Weipa early in the morning of the 19th. Two lives were lost during the sinking. The rest of the crew got away in the two lifeboats but were separated during the night. Campbell’s boat came ashore some distance south of the wreck and his party began to walk south towards Normanton. Campbell drowned while they were swimming the Nassau River in the south-east corner of the Gulf on the 24th January. His death certificate shows he was a few days short of his 39th birthday and that he left one living child (Janet Mayne) and one deceased female, probably born in 1893. Suddenly widowed, Sarah made ends meet by running her home in Brisbane as a boarding house.

Headline from The Telegraph, Fri 26 Jan. 1894.

Robert Henry Moss was born in Chorley, Lancashire. In 1893, on the advice of his doctor, Moss set out for Roma, in Queensland, because it had a climate suitable for consumptives. After an eventful voyage (the ship lost its mast off the Cape of Good Hope) he arrived there and started working locally for Dalgety & Co. At some stage Moss transferred to the Brisbane office of Dalgety and Co and took a room at Sarah Campbell’s boarding house. Before long they were married and moved to a small farm in Ormiston.

It was at this time that Lucy, a young Aboriginal girl from the Normanton area, enters the Moss story.

Lucy and Janet Mayne Campbell, ca 1897. 6820 Ronald Monroe photographs. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Although the exact circumstances are unclear, it seems that Lucy was ‘removed’ from her family near Normanton, possibly as a part of the more systematic removal of children, possibly not. Either way, this was done with the involvement of the Major and Mayne Collis, who sent Lucy south to Brisbane to the Moss household. Major and Mayne Collis remained close friends of Sarah’s and were godparents to Janet Mayne Campbell at her christening. It is unclear why they sent Lucy to the Moss household, although one could speculate that the purpose may have been to console Sarah for the recent death of her second child, or as a marker for Sarah’s marriage to R. H. Moss, or as a companion for Sarah’s young daughter Janet, or merely for domestic assistance. Whatever the reason, Lucy came to live with the Moss family at Ormiston in the late 1890s.

Lucy, ca 1900. 6820 Ronald Monroe photographs. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Lucy is estimated to have been born in 1890 and to have been 7 or 8 when she came to live with the Moss family. She was very similar in age to Janet Mayne Campbell and the two grew up together on the Ormiston farm. In the meantime, Robert Moss prospered at Dalgety’s and the family (Robert Moss, Sarah and Janet Mayne) and associated members (Lucy and Sarah’s ever-present companion Emily Seward) moved to a new riverside house ‘Ardath’ in Virginia Avenue, Hawthorne. This happened ca 1907 when Lucy would have been 17 or 18.

Norman and 'Kim' the dog, ca 1914. Acc. 6820 Ronald Monroe photographs. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

In 1912, Lucy gave birth to a son, Norman. Despite speculation, the exact circumstances of Lucy’s pregnancy and the identity of the father of her son are not documented. Shortly after Norman was born, Janet Mayne Campbell married Walton Tysoe Darbyshire and the newlyweds moved nearby to a house on Hawthorne Road. At some point in the years following that marriage Lucy disappears from the Moss family home. The reasons for her leaving are unclear and what became of her is sadly not known. Norman continued on living with the Moss family at 'Ardath'.

Norman and Sarah Boulton, ca 1916. 6820 Ronald Monroe photographs. John Oxley Library, State Libary of Queensland.

Walton Tysoe Darbyshire was a successful engineer and had a workshop on the riverbank in Brisbane where he built and serviced marine engines. However, around 1920, the workshop was burnt down and the family’s income dried up. They let their house on Hawthorne Road and went to live at ‘Ardath’ with Sarah and Robert Moss and Norman, who was now attending Norman Park primary school. For the Darbyshire’s young daughter Nancy it was good fortune to now have Norman and his mates to play with. All her life Nancy retained fond memories of these years spent with Norman, recalling him as never short of having something to do or a game to play.

Norman and Nancy Darbyshire, ca 1920. 6820 Ronald Monroe photographs. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Norman and Nancy Darbyshire, ca 1920. 6820 Ronald Monroe photographs. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

In 1934, Robert Moss was promoted, and Sarah and he moved to Sydney. By then Norman would have been 22 and had graduated from Gatton College. From there he spent a time jackarooing, before enlisting in the army from Sydney in 1940. He returned and saw out his days in New South Wales.

Mystery surrounds Lucy’s largely tragic story. What were the exact circumstances of her coming to live with the Moss family? And where did she go when she 'disappeared' from their household, still only a young woman? Such questions have played on the mind of the donor for many years. Ultimately, it is with his generous donation of the Moss family photographs and papers that we are able to tell the story as it stands. Hopefully more may one day come to light.


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Community and Personal Histories has extensive research on Lucy and Norman and are in touch with Lucy’s descendants. I’ll call SLQ. Photos are amazing.

Lovely story! I really enjoy reading about the past; especially stories about early Queensland. I was born in 1945 in Queensland, and I still live in the "Sunshine State".

Really enjoyed reading this story. It struck a cord because I drive on Virginia Ave every day to take my daughter to school there and my children attended Norman Park SS.
Just wondering if the school was approached to see if they hold any history about Lucy?

I attended Norman Park primary in the 1950s, as did my Mum and her siblings in the 1920s/30s, and have a copy of the "1900 Norman Park State School 2000" booklet

I searched for “Moss” - “Darbyshire” – “Campbell” and “Collis” under “New Faces” in this booklet , commencing 1916 when Norman would have been 4 and continued through to 1933.

I had no success with any of these names. There were entries under “New Faces” for “Moss, William” in 1930 and “Moss, David” in 1933.

Perhaps Norman was known by a different surname.