Friday 12 February 2021

Charles Wells

 Charles Edward (Charlie) Wells was born in Kent in 1899. When just 2 years old, he broke his back as the result of a bad fall. The treatment recommended at the time was for him to be kept in a fixed posture to give his spine time to heal. To do this the family made up a wooden box, so that Charlie could be laid down with his movements quite restricted. After some years, and several boxes later, the spine healed and he was able to walk again. However, his education was severely set back.

 His older brothers worked as fitters and turners at the Chatham Dockyards; when war was declared in August 1914, they were classed as being in Reserved Occupations, and could not enlist. Charlie was too young to enlist, although drummers and buglers as young as 14 years old could join, but that was not for him. The Dreadnought Scheme provided another option for him, and with it, he left London in July 1915 aboard the RMS Osterley, bound for Australia.

 Trust records show that Charles Wells arrived in Sydney on the 10th of September 1915, with three other Dreadnought Boys - Sidney Bingle, Robert Raquet and Stanley Tiffin. Two other boys were meant to travel with them but had missed the sailing. The Trust records show that all four were sent "Direct to Employment". In Charles Wells case, this turned out to be on a large property called Arrawatta, on the Macintyre River, just north of Inverell in northern New South Wales.

 Arrawatta was a large sheep station, and when it was bought by Thomas Bowling in 1903, it had 8500 acres and was running 11,000 sheep. Bowling had a vision for a dairy estate, and by 1908 had begun to make it reality. He divided the property into smaller tenanted farms for dairying, and by 1912, he had built a cheese factory which processed the milk from 450 Dairy Shorthorn cows, and had integrated operations for the distribution of fodder to the farms. With more than 50 people on the estate, it was even necessary to build a school.

 Drought which hit in 1919 and 1920, jeopardised viability, and revealed the extent to which Thomas Bowling had over-capitalised the development of Arrawatta. He arranged for the New South Wales Government to take over the property for 5 years, during which time it would be used for farm training of new migrants. This was to include the training of Dreadnought Boys, and the first of these came in August 1924. Over the next 5 years, 277 Dreadnought Boys were trained at Arrawatta. In May 1925 a new Lang Labour Government was elected to power. It immediately tried too close the farm operation, but yielded to very strong local reaction and desisted until 1929, when the training farm was closed down, the property broken up and sold off at prices well below valuation.

Charles Wells’ placement on Arrawatta in September 1915 would have been with one of the tenant farmers. Charlie would get his farm training the hard way! Charlie did learn and he continued in farm work for some years, particularly in dairying. He had gone from being a kid with a broken back, to a strong fit outdoor working man. He was also trusted with milk deliveries to customers in Inverell.

Charles changed jobs from time to time, and during 1922 was employed by Hawke and Co, produce merchants in Inverell. On 31 October, he and a bootmaker next door had their bicycles stolen from where they were parked outside their shops. Police found the bicycles at Glen Innes - they had been stolen by two men, who were already well known to the courts for their thieving.

 Around this time Charles Wells had come know Laveen Campbell. Marriage was planned for the end of 1924, and with this in mind he took a job on Percy Buttenshaw's dairy farm in May that year; there was a cottage which went with the job. Charles did the milk deliveries for him as well as other farm duties. The working relationship deteriorated, mainly over the actual accommodation arrangements, and Charles gave up a week's pay in lieu of notice, finishing at the end of October - a week and a half before the wedding. Just days before the wedding, an irate Percy Buttenshaw took Charles Wells to the Police Magistrate's Court for breaching the Master and Servant Act in leaving his employment without reasonable cause. The case was dismissed, Charlie had done what was required.

 Charles and his wife initially shared a house with his brother-in- law. Later they had their own place in Evans Street Inverell, where they lived for many years and where their four children grew up. Charles Wells settled down to a generally quiet life, often doing labouring work. He died in 1958 aged 59 years, Laveen survived until 1966.

 Charles Edward Wells was no high-profile individual but, by looking into his life, we have been able to find a lot more information about Arrawatta, and its farm training role.