John Vallentine Wareham, registrar of the Court, rode down the hill into the port of Ulludulla.
He smiled. He had good reason to. After years of argument and planning, the port now had a fine stone pier, which gave protection to the coastal traders and the small fleet of fishing vessels that were being built on the beach. Stones sourced, in part, from his own farm, sufficient to build a fine stone house from his wife and children. And now, others sought access to that same resource – the new church at Milton and townhouses and other farms being constructed nearby.
He saw the mail rider waiting for him at the court house.
He dismounted and called the boy over. News from Braidwood and Cooma was not due for a couple of days.
“What brings you here now?”, he asked the young man.
“Master Dawson has sent a communication for you. He asked me to wait for your reply and ride back as soon as I can”, the young boy said. He could not be more than thirteen, and faced a couple of days riding ahead of him.
Wareham sent the boy for refreshment at the local inn, and took the mail dispatch packet into his office.
The Courtroom was small, enough space for a lock-up, a meetings room in which the magistrates would sit as a panel and his own office. He sat on his chair and wondered what could have given rise to such an urgent communication. Cooma was four days ride from here – while the court districts stayed in close contact with each other, particularly as the Irish problems had grown, communication was generally through the more sedate pace of the ordinary mail.
There were a number of letter in the package – some addressed to Sydney.
He broke the seal on the letter addressed to him and held it up to the light.
9 February 1867
John Wareham, Esq
Registar Ulludulla Court
I am told that James Dornen, known to us both as Long Jim the Tailor, has been found dead. You are of course aware that he was outlawed and that a significant reward was offered for his discovery. I am told he was attempting a crossing of the mountains past Buckley’s Crossing half a day’s ride from here and may have been seeking the aid of Kirwan – whose brother was shot by police a little while back.
I do not know the full details as yet – I am riding there today to conduct an enquiry into the death. I am taking the precaution of writing to you to alert you and your district of the event in view of your past association with the man and the disquiet that might accompany the news. I have, of course, alerted the registry at Braidwood and Monaro.
Please advise the Magistrates of the news and arrange for the attached package to the Secretary and the Chief of Police in Sydney by the next available ship.
R. Dawson, Esq.
Wareham continued to stare at the letter for a while after he finished reading. Then with a start he picked up the package and headed down to the beach and onto the pier. How long till the steamer sails he asked. Soon, on the tide, he was told. Slowing down, his heart beating fast, he pressed the charge into the hands of the Captain and returned to the court house.
No one knows yet, he thought. I have time to think.
But the Magistrate was sitting in his chair reading the letter as he got back to his office.
“So, when were you going to tell me about this”, the Magistrate demanded.
Flustered, Wareham pointed towards the steamer.
“And why is he writing to you and not me”, Wareham could smell alcohol on the Magistrate’s breath.
Wareham tried to explain about the packet but was cut off, “Don’t ever do that again Wareham – you talk to me first – particularly about anything to do with your past criminal employees”, he spat.
“Well, don’t just stand around – get out and tell the other Magistrates. I will go try to quiet the hotheads threatening to burn down the town”.
Too late, Wareham remembered the boy. He must have told the townsfolk what he knew.
The Magistrate got out the chair, threw the letter onto the desk, said “Get out of my way” and left the office.
Registrar Wareham did not fare any better with the other Magistrates. They all looked at him with accusing eyes.
When he got back to his office, the mail boy was waiting at the door. The boy asked,
“Will you be giving me the reply please sir.”
Wareham looked blankly at the boy. The boy said, “”He told me to wait for your reply.”
Wareham told the boy to get ready to ride and readied his quill and ink. He reread the letter. Dawson had not asked him any questions in the letter, but Wareham knew what was being asked.
He wrote: “I do not know why he might be heading for Gippsland. His family is dead -he hardly knew his mother. I expected he would turn up here – something must have gone wrong.”
He sealed the letter and sent the boy on his way. He stood for a while and watched the steamer leaving port. Midday, and no ordinary work yet touched.
The future suddenly in doubt.