Mystery behind a lone gravesite in a paddock

AT FIRST SIGHT: The headstone of pioneer Ralph Reid on the banks of Acacia Creek when Lyn Spain first found it in 2008.
AT FIRST SIGHT: The headstone of pioneer Ralph Reid on the banks of Acacia Creek when Lyn Spain first found it in 2008. Contributed

THERE'S a single grave in a paddock near the Queensland/New South Wales border overlooking Acacia Creek, a tranquil spot to be buried, but why there?

The grave is in un-consecrated ground and the body which lies therein was buried without clergy involvement.

The grave belongs to pioneer Ralph Reid who committed suicide on April 24, 1868, and apparently could not be interned at a cemetery for that reason.

What led this huge Scotsman - he was 6'7" (2m) tall and weighed 20 stone (127kg) - to commit suicide and how did he come to be buried in such a lovely place?

What started out as a family history project for Toowoomba's Lyn Spain turned into a gravesite reconstruction and many hours of contemplation beside the grave of her great-great-grandfather, Ralph Reid.

To start with, Lyn knew very little of her family but tracked some of them to the Warwick and Killarney areas where, with the help of historian Binki Morgan and with assistance from Barbara Patterson, she was able to locate the grave and learn the history of her ancestor.

Ralph left Scotland in 1842 with family friends Matthew and Charles Reid and travelled to NSW.

He met and married Emily MacPherson in Port Macquarie in 1845 and they went on to have 12 children.

In the book, Memories of Killarney and District, prepared by the local historical society, Ralph Reid has a section dedicated to him which states;

"In 1853 Mr Ralph Reid, a big man, some 6 feet and 7 inches in height and weighing 20 stone, was superintendent of Maryland, having previously worked for the Marshes at Salisbury Court.

"Maryland mainly employed Chinese shepherds, brought from Amoy in 1852 by Andrew Marsh.

"Ralph Reid continued as superintendent at Maryland until 1859 when he wished to start out on his own account.

"Matthew Marsh gave him a flock of sheep and he went into partnership with Charles Marsh on the Acacia run in early 1860, the first licence cost him £11 ($22).

"We know that he had a house built before the separation of Queensland and New South Wales in 1859 and that when the border was declared it was close to his house.

"Ralph Reid and Charles Marsh communicated by letter as Charles continued to live at Boorolong Station, (west of) Armidale.

"By January 30, 1861, Charles had recorded in his diary, now held in the University of New England archives, that Acacia Station ran 11,905 sheep.

"By April 1868, Ralph was declaring the land to be unsuitable for sheep, but very good for fattening cattle.

"He wrote to Charles explaining his despair at seeing the lambs dying and explained that his healthy lambs were pining away.

"He seemed at a loss to know the cause.

"He also mentioned that his own vision was failing."

In his book The Early History of Warwick District and Pioneers of the Darling Downs, author Thomas Hall (John Oxley Library, published by Vintage Books between 1845 and 1929) said; "Acacia Station was first owned by Mr J. D. Maclean.

"The place was first stocked with sheep, which at first did well due to the dry season, but when the wet set in, it played havoc with the sheep and ruined the owner.

"The wife of one of the employees, Mrs George Willett, was the first white woman in that area.

"Mr Maclean sold to Mr Broughton who changed the place to a cattle run and sold to Mr Marsh and Mr Reid.

"It was a time of financial hardship.

"The property was put up for auction, probably to satisfy their mortgagee, and (was) then bought back by themselves."

It seems trouble started when Alfred Greenup, Matthew March's son-in-law, became manager of Maryland in July, 1868, and claimed Acacia Ridge for the March family.

Alfred was also a big man, not quite the size of the much older Reid, but was domineering and at times arrogant.

His claiming of Acacia Ridge meant Ralph Reid had no residence or means of support and it is thought this is what drove him to suicide.

Mrs Spain said this was apparently very upsetting for the family and led to them purchasing the plot of land where he could be buried without a Minister of Religion present and in un-consecrated ground.

"After the burial, Emily moved to Warwick with the children where she passed away in November, 1872," she said.

"Some of the children were sent to various places with family and friends or boarding schools around Warwick while others moved to North Queensland where they became involved in the sugar industry.

"The property where Ralph Reid was laid to rest is owned by David Lamb who has allowed me access to carry out restoration of the headstone and to erect a fence around the gravesite to protect it for many years to come. I can't thank him enough."

Mrs Spain said she and her uncle Bob and his wife Christine were driven to the original Reid homestead along the Queensland/NSW border by Barbara Paterson.

"She even took us to Old Koreelah where Ralph Reid's son-in-law, Jesse Adams worked," she said.

"He married Margaret Reid in 1867."

Topics:  family history history mystery