Warby, John

John Warby - 'Pioneer was Pillar of Compassion'

This article was published in the Campbelltown Macarthur Advertiser, Wednesday 5 July 2006, p.22. Reproduced here with permission of the author and editor.

My passing mention of John Warby in last week's column generated a bit of comment, given the recent death of one of his well known descendants, Les.

I'm a big John Warby fan. If a list of the 10 greatest Campbelltownians of all time was ever drawn up, I reckon pioneer John Warby would have to be a frontrunner.

Today, he is remembered by not only Warby Street, near the Old Showground, but also John Warby Public School at Airds.

So what's his story, then?

Warby was transported as a convict for theft, arriving at Sydney in 1792, and four years later, he married convict Sarah Bentley. Together, they had nine sons and five daughters. After his sentence expired, Warby was given a small land grant at Prospect where he worked hard as a wheat farmer.

But his life took a dramatic turn in 1803 when he was appointed stockman of the wild cattle grazing in the Cowpastures, the site of modern Camden.

(The path he beat between his farm and the Nepean is still known in parts as Cowpasture Road).

Warby appears to have been blessed with an easygoing streak of compassion and human dignity and forged a lifelong bond with the Tharawal Aborigines, particularly the hunters Boodbury and Bundle.

(In fact, it was Warby and Boodbury who captured the murdering bushranger, Patrick Collins, by spearing him in the leg and arm).

Warby gained increasing respect in the colony as a guide and assistant to various exploration parties.

Under Governor Bligh, he was appointed a constable, as well as a superintendent of the Cowpastures region, with full responsibility for the herds. As an amateur explorer, he was one of the first to check out The Oaks, Bargo and Burragorang Valley, and continued to be in demand as a guide.

His reputation was such that he - and his Tharawal friends - acted as personal guides to Governor Macquarie in 1810 and 1815.

When violence broke out between Gundangarra Aborigines and European settlers in 1816, Warby was once again called upon to mediate. But events spun out of control with the arrival of soldiers under Captain Wallis who saw any black face, innocent or not as the enemy.

Warby and Wallis took an instant dislike to each other, and the ex-convict's efforts to lead the redcoats on a wild goose chase in the local bush ended in stern words.

Particularly when Wallis began to view Warby's Tharawal friends as foes - and the latter arranged for them to escape.

In fact it was only after warby was removed from the situation that Wallis undertook the infamous Appin Massacre.

After the violence ended, Warby was given a land grant which he called Leumeah, an Aboriginal word for 'here I rest'. The modern suburb is named after it.

Warby and his wife raised their large family on surrounding paddocks and he became a respected town elder.

It was Warby's advice to use aboriginal trackers that led to the discovery of Fred Fisher's buried body in 1826.

The grand old pioneer died at Campbelltown in June 1851, his wife living a further 18 years.