FRANCIS SYLVESTER CROWE
alias JOHN WHITE

Francis Sylvester Crow was born on the 25th of November 1866 at Wheeo NSW. He was the youngest son of John and Anne Crow nee White. His baptism was registered at St. Peter and Paul's Catholic Church, Goulburn, on the 31st of December 1866. His sponsors were Cornelius Sheahan and Elizabeth White.

Little is known of Francis' life at Wheeo. Presumably he would have had some basic schooling but most of his time would have been spent helping his father on his family property. In July 1866 he is recorded as having taken part in a wallaby drive on his eldest brother, George Thomas's property, 'Potten Creek', near Wheeo. Francis shot six of the 230 marsupials killed that day. He also participated in another wallaby drive at Mr W. Christie's at Lost River on the Queen's Birthday in May 1887. Mr. A. E. Christie captained the shooters, while the drivers were commanded by Messers W Christie and F. Crow. A total of 136 marsupials were destroyed that day

Francis' father, John Crow died in 1884 and there seems reason to believe that there was a rift between the three Crow brothers, George, James, and Francis, in the period following their father's death. Perhaps the administration of his estate was the principal cause of the dispute? John's property 'Spring Creek' of 1,000 acres was sold in 1887 for one pound four shillings an acre. At around this time George left the Wheeo district for Mt. McDonald, Francis 'disappeared' and James remained. Many questions remain as to why the three brothers parted company in 1887. It is believed they never saw or had contact with each other again. Francis Crow 'disappeared' from the Wheeo district, never to return. The Crow family story is that he took a mob of sheep to the mountains and just disappeared and never heard of, or seen again.

When Francis left the Wheeo area in 1887 it is believed that he changed his name to John White. His new name John White was an interesting choice. He used his father's name, John and his mother's maiden name, White. A search of official records indicate that Francis did not change his name be deed poll. It has not been possible to document the change of name from Crow to White but there is enough oral evidence within both the White and Crow families to substantiate the fact that Francis Crow became John White. From this point this website records the life of John White.


Francis Sylvester Crowe alias John White
and Clara Mulley
Wedding Photo Married 20th May 1893, St. John the Baptist, Canberra


After John left the Wheeo district he settled in Canberra. He worked as the local shepard/drover. On the 20th of May 1893 he married Clara Mulley at St. John the Baptist Church of England, Canberra. The Marriage Register lists John as a bachelor, aged 26 years, labourer of Gullen (near Wheeo) Goulburn. He listed his birth place a Geelong and his parents as John and Ann White nee Burk. A search of the official records indicates there was no John White son of John and Ann White nee Burk registered in the state of Victoria or New South Wales. John's bride was Clara Mulley, a spinster, aged 28 years, of Canberra. Clara listed her parents as Henry and Ann Mulley nee Smith and her birthplace as St. Mary's, London. The witnesses to the marriage were John Edward Monk and Eliza Ann Aguster Cook. They were married by the Rev. Pierce Galliard Smith.

Clara Mulley was a trained nurse and she arrived in Australia in 1892 when she accompanied Arthur Brassey, his wife and infant son, Geoffrey, on their voyage from England to settle on the Acton Estate, Canberra. Interesting that the Passenger Record from the 'Ophir' lists Mr & Mrs Brassey, Infant + Nurse. (Click here to view the Passenger Record of the 'Ophir') Arthur Brassey was nephew of, the 1st Earl, Thomas Brassey who was Governor of Victoria from 1895 to 1900. Arthur Brassey had leased the Acton Estate of 2,400 acres in 1887 while on a visit to Canberra. He had returned to England that year to marry Miss Grant and he returned to Acton in April 1892.


Clara Mulley 1866-1914, Nurse to Arthur Brassey's son.
She accompanied the Brassey family to Australia on the ship 'Orphir' in April 1892


Clara Mulley accompanied the family as nurse/nanny to their infant son, Geoffery. Mr Brassey was in poor health at the time and Letitia Maria Rose Sandford was engaged to accompany her on the voyage. Letitia kept a diary and also wrote of her experiences in letters to her aunt in England

March 1st 1892; Left Woodfeld, went to Brentwood until March 11th. March 11th. SS Ophir sailed at m.d., passed Dover 6pm. On 12th reached Plymouth on Sat. 12 md, passed here at 4pm. Gibraltar on Wed. 16th beautiful views, left 1pm. Naples on Saturday evening. Port Said on 25th very dirty place, bought provisions here natives very troublesome. Colombo very beautiful from ship, pretty harbour. Bought cheap fruit, Pineapples 1d. each, bananas 1d. per dozen and oranges 3 & 4d. per dozen. April Sydney 22nd Friday at 10.30am. Magnificent harbour left ship at 2.30. Stayed in Sydney until 9pm, travelled all night, and reached Acton at 7.30am, Saturday.

In a letter to her aunt dated 10 August 1892 she wrote;

I am still getting on well and am well in health now. Mr. Brassey is exceedingly kind to me and generally takes me for a drive once if not more, every week. I have paid six pound of my passage money and intend paying it all this first year... You will laugh when I tell you that we eat parrots and cockatoos and some people eat wallaby. The climate is very dry and healthy, never a day without sunshine, but the mornings and evenings are very cold now, I feel the cold very much indoors because the houses are so cold, they are built for hot weather; but outside walking is as warm as summer; and I wear more clothing inside than I do when I go out. I feel quite happy now and do not regret coming at all. Everything is dreadfully dear. I paid 6d for a small packet of envelopes and nurse had to pay 3 shillings to get two pins into two brooches...

Letitia Sandford married a local man Charles Kaye at Christ Church Queanbeyan on the 28th March 1893. It is not known if Letitia and Clara Mulley knew each othe before they embarked for Sydney but they became firm, long lasting friends. Letitia named her ninth child Clara after her friend Clara White nee Mulley.

They had travelled together to Australia on the ship 'Ophir'. The 'Ophir' was a new modern steamer making her second voyage to Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald on the 23rd of April 1982 reported;

The Orient Company's steamer Ophir, from London arrived yesterday, and anchored in Athol Bight. The present voyage had been accomplished in good time, and a uniform rate of speed, 15.4 knots, has been maintained throughout... On the present trip she filled up well in all expressed classes, and passengers on arrival last night expressed themselves heartily with regard to the pleasant time which had been spent on board. Amusements and entertainment went on briskly, and the passengers being in friendly accord, considered the run out as partaking a good deal of the character of a yachting palace, and that a salon is the most sumptuous apartemnt of its description which has been seen here, is freely acknowledged...

The 'Ophir' served as the 'royal yacht' for the visit of the Duke (later King George V) and Duchess of York to Australia in 1901.



The ship the 'Ophir' in 1892


After their marriage John and Clara White settled at Acton. Their grand daughter Amy Agnes White, Sr Dorothea S. M., recounts memories of her father Laurence Adrian White;

John and Clara had five shillings between them to set up house. They took out a 'selection', on what became Canberra's golf course, near Yarralumla and the present day Government House. Their first home was built by John. He was a good axeman. It was a stringy bark house. The bark was stripped from the tree in one piece, wet in the river and dried straight. The walls were lined with papers, especially illustrated ones. The floors were of packed dirt. Later the main room got a wooden floor.


House at Acton, Canberra 1896 - Clara White & baby Clara born 1896
Site of the present day Government House


Canberra's first golf course was a nine hole course laid out in the Acton paddock to the north of the settlement. This was superseded in 1922 when a new course was designed on the flood plains behind the Hotel Canberra.

John and Clara had a family of five children, three girls and two boys, all born in Canberra. Sr. Dorothea recalls;

Each summer John took the sheep from the Monaro to the Snowy. There he lived off the land, tanning the skins and making rugs. Each of his children had a rug, also the children of Clara's twin brother Arthur, in England. (This was verified by Edith Andrews (Mulley) in 1983 when Sr Dorothea visited her in Folkstone, England.) There was a severs drought in 1902. A big bush fire went through and destroyed everything. The children were in a creek, holding the baby Adrian, under a blanket. After theis they had to go 'share milking' for the Kaye family.

John and Clara share farmed for Charles and Letitia Kaye. The Kayes lived at Klensendorlife farm. The farmhouse was built in the early 1840's by William Klensendorlife using convict labour. It had fallen into disrepair so Charles built a for roomed cottage at the rear for himself and Letitia. Some of the stone and brick from the original house was used to pave the cowyards. The house was demolished in 1924 to make way for the Canberra Golf Course Clubhouse and some of the stone was used to pave the approaches to Commonwealth Avenue bridge. The site is now covered by Lake Burley Griffin. The Kaye dairy proved to be quite profitable and was well known for the high quality butter it produced.

John White had been christened a Catholic, as Francis Crow, and his wife Clara Amelia Mary White (the baptism register is the only document to record Clara's full name) was converted and baptised with her children at St. Raphael's Church Queanbeyan on the 4th of September 1904 by Father J. R. Hyland. Sr Dorothea recalls; In 1904 Monsignor Hartigan, John O'Brien, of 'The Boree Log' fame was curate in the district. He converted Clara, and the whole family were received into the Catholic Church by Father Hyland, parish priest of Queanbeyan. Mass was in a house where the Canberra Railway Station is now. After mass John would discuss the sermon with the family and elaborate. This was how the family learnt their religion. To help this situation the eldest daughter Catherine (Kitty) was sent to school with the Good Samaritan Sisters at Queanbeyan. Previously Kitty and Clara had attended the little Anglican School near St. John the Baptist Church in Reid, Canberra.


St. John Schoolhouse Reid, Canberra - Established in 1845
Canberra's Fist School and School Master's Residence


St. John Schoolhouse Reid, Canberra - Established in 1845
(Right) Honor board with Catherine and Clara White's name 1900
Photograph taken 2017


St John's School House adjacent to St John the Baptist Church, Reid, is now a museum and one can visit the school room and see it as it would have been when Catherine Anne and Clara Agnes White attended the school about 1900. Their names are inscribed on the board in the school room that lists the pupils who attended the school until it closed in 1907.

Rev. Patrick Hartigan was born on the 13th October 1878 in Yass, NSW. He was raised in Yass and he was ordained to the priesthood on the 18th January 1903 at Goulburn NSW. he was then appointed to the Albury parish until 1910. Perhaps John White met Father Hartigan when he was droving in the Snowy region as the Snowy area would have been covered by the Albury parish in those days. Rev Hartigan achieved national fame as the author of a collection of poem 'Around the Boree Log' under the pen-name 'John O'Brien'.

In 1906 the White family left the Canberra region and moved to the Bowral district, Sr Dorothea recalls;

After one season in the Bowral district the family moved to Wyong. They usually moved in the spring. Mother, Clara, girls and baby Kevin travelled by train to Sydney, where Clara shopped and overspent. The train fare to Wyong was a problem. Clare junior was tall, even though young, and she had to walk with knees bent to be able to get half fare.

In the meantime John, with son Adrian, went by horse and cart with the family belongings. The trip took a week. Each evening they pulled into a farm and helped with the evening chores in return for lodging. They slept in a bed every night, such was bush hospitality.


Clara White with her daughters Clara (left) and Catherine (right)


From Wyong they went 'Gobbagombalin' Station in 1908. Gobba, as it is known for short, was one of the early 'runs' in the Wagg Wagga area. Like many place names of Aboriginal origin it has been variously spelt over the years. Originally Gobba covered a huge area on the north side of the Murrumbidgee River a little downstream from the Hampden Bridge at Wagga. To the north it went to about where Coolamon is now. Over the years it was reduced in size and by 1907 the NSW Government owned the Gobba homestead block of 64,020 acres. This was divided into 141 blocks for selection and 32 of the blocks were offered to the tenants.

When the White first arrived at Gobba John worked as a stockman and Clara ran the dairy with the family. Her nephew, Reg Mulley, came out from England and lived with them at Gobba. John and Clara eventually purchased a selection at Gobba. On the 1913 Commonwealth Eletoral Roll John White is listed as Dairy Manager, Cottage, Gobbagombalin.


John White 1866-1929 & Clara White 1866-1914


The dought of 1914 hit them hard and broke their dreams. Again they lost everything. The rains came in August of that year and Clara in her efforts to save the remaining stock caught broncho pneumonia and died two weeks later on the 22nd August 1914 at Gobbagombalin. She was about fifty years old. She was buried in the Roman Catholic Cemertry, Wagga Wagga on the 25th of August 1914. The Wagga Wagga Daily Advertiser reported on the 24th of August 1914.

The death occurred late on Saturday night last of Mrs Clara Whites, wife of Mr John White, of the 'Cottage', Gobbagombalin Homestead, Narrandera Road, at the age of 47 years, after three weeks serious illness. The cause of death was a clot of blood on her brain. The deceased's husband has been in the employ of Mr. J.W. Shepherd for over five years. She was born in London, and arrived in Australia when 25 years of age, she leaves a husband and two sons and three daughters. The funeral is appointed to leave 'The Cottage', Gobbagombalin Station, today, at one o'clock, and cross in Hampden Bridge at two o'clock, for the place of internment in the Roman Catholic cemetery at thre pm.

Sr Dorothea recalls the reaction to Clara's death;

John was so devastated he lost the milk contract. Reg Mulley returned to England and joined the army, World War I. He was awarded the Military Medal in France. After the war he married Rose and never returned to Australia but in every letter he referred to 'sunny New South Wales'.

After their mother's death the family moved into town, Wagga Wagga. John White went scrub cutting accompanied by his 14 year old son, Lawrence Adrian, who acted as cook. John then went back to being a stockman/drover until 1925 when he suddenly turned up at his sons, Adrian's shop, at Mascot in Sydney. He lived with Adrian and his family from then on. He started a little grocery store in Camperdown in 1927, travelling there daily from Croydon where he lived with Adrian.

In June 1929 he took ill with kidney trouble and he died on the 7th of July 1929 at Lewisham Private Hospital. He was buried on the 8th of July 1929 in the Catholic Cemetery, Rookwood.


John White's Headstone at Rookwood Cemetery also his youngest son
Walter Kevin White 1906-1940. Photograph 1992




Descendants of Francis Crow alias John White and Clara Mulley