Local author tells tales tall but true!

When James Tobias (Toby) Ryan, 17, and his cousin, George Rope, found themselves in a drunken fight with police in Penrith in 1835, they decided that escape was the best course of action. Accordingly, they walked to Parramatta, thence to Sydney where they boarded the steamer, “William the Fourth”, and sailed north to Newcastle Harbour.

The two men then proceeded to the port of Morpeth and walked to Singleton and then to Wollombi. For three years they continued travelling and working on properties until they heard that the police (themselves former convicts) were no longer a threat and deemed it safe to return – by the same means – to Penrith. The Great North Road had opened, and as chronicler Marcus Punch says, “Then they walked home, to Penrith, after being away for three years.”

This is not a tall tale but rather a taste of a rollicking saga written in the nineteenth century by Toby Ryan and published under the title of Reminiscences of Australia (1788-1894) in 1895. Toby Ryan was the grandson of First Fleeters Elizabeth Pulley and Anthony Rope.

Marcus Punch, who grew up in Maitland and has returned home after his own overseas adventures, is the great-great-great-great grandson of “Uncle” Toby Ryan’s half-brother, Thomas Hobby Jr. Marcus has edited Toby Ryan’s magnum opus and published it under the title Toby’s Gun to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Toby Ryan’s birth on 4 January 1818. As a boy, Marcus was familiar with the copy of the original that had been passed down to his mother, June. While his field was electrical engineering, mainly in the mining industry, he had an abiding interest in the family’s colonial ancestor and decided to bring it to life again some 20 years ago. “It’s hard going because the language people understood 200 years ago is not the language we use now. I think Toby had a native intelligence. He went to a local school but left in his early teens,” says Marcus.

If you listed the elements of classic Australian stories, they’re all here in Toby’s Gun: convicts, conflict with Indigenous people, bullock teams and bushrangers, hard labour on agricultural properties, exploration, gold-digging and political machinations. Ryan owned a famous racehorse and was licensee of a Sydney pub!

As Marcus recalls, “There’s a great story about Henry Parkes, who was premier seven times. On one occasion when he’d been voted out, he was sent back to England around 1890 to drum up immigration. He invites his friend Toby to his office where there are crates of wine he’s brought back from England – as well as six coffins. Toby naturally asks ‘What are the coffins for?’ and Parkes says, ‘They’re for my political enemies,’ and he named each one!” 

Marcus Punch’s own life has not been uneventful. After graduating from Marist Brothers, Maitland, and completing officer training in Canberra with the Australian Army, he served in Townsville and Melbourne before taking long service and backpacking in India and Africa. He then left the army and worked as a project manager for Raleigh International in Malaysia, in Newcastle working with mine hunters, in Bougainville managing reconstruction and then on the Snowy Mountains Scheme in Cooma. Korea beckoned, followed by Singapore, and then two sons, James Harvey and Miles. These young men have gradually learned of their colourful heritage.

Now Marcus works for himself, but his writing days may not be over. There’s a mysterious character, ‘Jane’, in Toby’s story who remains elusive…watch this space!

Please visit www.quicksales.com.au or McDonalds Books, High St, Maitland.

 

 

 

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Tracey Edstein Image
Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is the former editor of Aurora Magazine, the official magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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