Purvis-Smith family reunion

The Purvis-Smiths (and Reids, Hynes, Killens, Todds...) meet at Stanum House for the launch of "Bloodlines". Photo courtesy of Peter Reid.
The Purvis-Smiths (and Reids, Hynes, Killens, Todds...) meet at Stanum House for the launch of "Bloodlines". Photo courtesy of Peter Reid.

The ghosts of Tenterfield past would have been keeping a keen eye proceedings when 40 Purvis-Smith relatives descended on town on August 5 for a big family reunion.

Motivating the get-together was the launch of a book on the family’s history, Bloodlines, researched and penned by Stuart Purvis-Smith. Tenterfield plays a central role in the story of the Smiths who settled Drake in the mid-1800s.

Stuart and his siblings and extended family relished to the opportunity to visit Stannum House, enjoying lunch there and taking a family photo to record the occasion. The Purvis-Smiths are connected to James Johnstone Reid and his son John Holmes Reid who had Stannum House.

Much of the reunion group moved onto the Commercial Hotel to carry on celebrations that night.

Part of the family’s history incorporates the Tenterfield Showground memorial to the beginnings of campdrafting, due much to Clarence Smith (Stuart’s great-grandfather). At the opening of the 1940 Tenterfield Show Mr Smith is quoted as saying, “I believe that campdrafting had its infancy here in Tenterfield. I myself competed in the very first and this, as far as I can remember, was the first time an agricultural show put on a campdraft.”

Stuart’s cousin Megan McNicholl (nee Purvis-Smith) calls herself ‘a Boorook girl’, growing up there and educated to the age of 12. The reunion was the latest of regular visits back to town to meet up with family. She’s been the stepdaughter of local identity Mac Fraser for the past 50 years. 

Mrs McNicholl said many fond memories were shared during the reunion, and new ones created. She said the book – written primarily for Stuart’s grandchildren – will be a great resource and a great read, particularly given the family’s political connections.

“It was very generous of Stuart to create the book. We’re so grateful he’s done it,” she said.

One family’s story

In his foreword, Stuart Purvis-Smith describes himself as ‘a career geneticist’, so pedigrees showing family relationships and inherited conditions are one of the tools of his trade.

“For some time I have been plotting the ancestral lines of the Purvis-Smith family,” he said.

The book not only details the family history and bloodlines, but also incorporates snippets of the world they lived in. Robert Smith’s record as a bounty passenger on the Coromandel back in 1838 is included, as is a description of the personal promissory notes called ‘shinplasters’ used as currency because coins and paper were in short supply in regional areas at the time.

The book includes the description of a journey from the Sydney basin to the Clarence River area in 1840 with 12,000 sheep and 52 men, including Stuart’s great-great-grandfather George as a nine-year-old.

Stuart also describes how sectarian differences between the Protestant Smiths and the Catholic Hynes – with three marriages combining the families – were resolved in one case where patriarch George Smith and his wife Kate (nee Hynes) are buried side-by-side in Drake Cemetery. Their graves were divided by a fence separating the Protestant and Catholic sections of the cemetery.

The couple owned land around Drake and were licensees of Smith’s Family Hotel there. The discovery of gold on the Smiths’ property led to a gold rush which allowed Kate to give up her position as the local postmistress and for George to pay off the mortgage.

Their son Clarence (of campdrafting fame) had come up to Tenterfield for his education and met future wife Emily Purvis. He secured employment as a gold assayer working under John Holmes Reid. Each of their five children were given the second name Purvis, which later became hyphenated as Purvis-Smith.

Stuart reports that Clarence was quite the entrepreneur, applying for the mail run between Tenterfield and Tabulam and on to Grafton. He was heavily involved with the Tenterfield Show Society since its inception in 1877, going on to serve as president and patron, and he and his three brothers also joined the Upper Clarence Light Horse in 1886.

Clarence persuaded his father to purchase Boorook station, and later Clarence’s son (another George) bought a property nearby, calling it Bungoona. Bungoona became the family property of George and his wife Marjorie (nee Reid). 

The Purvis-Smiths can also claim connection to the Killens, through the marriage of George and Marjorie’s son Clarence (Toby) to Hannah Todd (nee Killen)’s daughter Una. Una’s brother Edward earned his place in history working for the Jerilderie branch of the Bank of NSW when it was robbed of 2000 pounds by Ned Kelly and his gang. Another brother, William is the great-grandfather of Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton!

Hannah had married William Todd after the two were successful in winning blocks of land by ballot in the Moree district. They ended up with adjoining blocks and, as they were required to reside on their acquisitions, were said to have built a home that straddled the boundary fence with the boundary running down the centre of the marital bed, so they could each sleep on their own land.

While undoubtedly Bloodlines would particularly appeal to relatives of those involved, it’s written in such as way that it’s a great read for anyone interested in the area’s history. While it can be difficult to keep your place in family biographies where there any many tangents and names are often repeated, Bloodlines is well-structured with helpful diagrams.

It also serves as motivation for anyone to document their family tree, even if they aren’t a geneticist. Not only would most family histories have a few skeletons rattling around in the closet, but also a host of gems as does the Purvis-Smith story.

Megan McNicholl 'debriefs' with Peter Reid, Lorraine Rhodes-Roberts and Mac Fraser following the big Purvis-Smith reunion in Tenterfield. Lorraine now owns 'Koorooba', named for the family 'Boorook' property (spelled backwards) at Drake by ????.

Megan McNicholl 'debriefs' with Peter Reid, Lorraine Rhodes-Roberts and Mac Fraser following the big Purvis-Smith reunion in Tenterfield. Lorraine now owns 'Koorooba', named for the family 'Boorook' property (spelled backwards) at Drake by ????.