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History of the Dunn Family

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Esperance local, Terry Dunn, has shared with us this history of his ancestor, Andrew Dunn, who settled in Esperance in the late 1800's. Dunns Rocks and more recently Dunns Ecopark is named for this man. We hope you enjoy the history as much as we did.


Andrew Dunn was born in Country Wicklow, Ireland in 1848. During this period, Ireland was devastated by successive potato crop failures. Andrew left his homeland, crossed to England and worked for some years in coal mines near Durham.

In 1877, he sailed for NSW in the immigrant ship “Salisbury”, arriving in Sydney during that year. He worked in coal mines in NSW for a few years but apparently saw more opportunities in the west. He signed on as ships carpenter on a ship sailing to WA. He left the ship at Port Denison (Dongara) and obtained work for Walter Padbury in the Eneabba area. Working his way south through Toodyay and York, he made his way to Albany where he met Campbell Taylor, who had a property on the Kalgan River and at “Lynburn” station on the Thomas River, eighty miles (120km) east of Dempster’s Esperance Bay homestead.

He worked in the Kojonup area and also at York where he again met Campbell Taylor who was buying stock for his Lynburn property. Taylor engaged him to assist with the driving of 1000 sheep overland to the Thomas River. He then returned and worked for a time on Taylors Kalgan property.

While there he met the Ponton Brothers and was engaged as overseer on Balladonia Station in 1884. In 1885, he again returned to Albany and married Mary Anne Hatton, a member of a pioneering Albany family. They returned to Thomas River and in 1886, Andrew took over the management of Lynburn for Campbell Taylor. In the same year, he selected land at Boyatup, thirty miles east of Esperance. He initially took up 2000 acres conditional purchase over 20 years at 9 pence per acre. They remained at Thomas River until 1895 when they moved to the “Boyatup” property. Campbell Taylor had, by this time, sold up his Albany and Kalgan holdings and moved to Lynburn.

By this time, the Dunn family has grown and now included: Thomas Andrew, born 22.10.1885, Grace Matilda, 11.8.1887, William Henry, 24.11.1888, Dennis, 26.5.1889, Katherine Elizabeth, 7.10.1891, Mary Anne 21.7.1893, James R 3.10.1894.

Dennis Dunn dies at the age of 10 months. He is believed to have eaten poisoned berries. His grave, restored by the present owner of Lynburn, the Grewar family, and the Esperance Historical Society, is on the bank of the Thomas River near Lynburn homestead.

A four roomed house was built at Boyatup in 1895. Iron and some timber were shipped from Albany and landed at Mississippi Bay (since renamed Rossiter Bay) and then carted by wagon to the homestead site. Much of the timber scantling was local bush timber, mainly Yate, obtained from the Boyatup Swamp. This was barked and adzed to provide the necessary flat working faces. Much of the flooring comprised fine planks, picked up on the beaches during trips to the coast to meet the monthly mail and storeships. Some rooms were lined with ripple iron and the large sitting room was lined with hessian, made draught proof by pasting newspaper to it. A large fireplace, capable of accommodating a large blackboy as fuel, was a feature of this room. Wide hobs added to the size of the fireplace. Deck chairs covered with Tammar skin rugs, performed the functions of modern lounge chairs. The kitchen was a separate building connected to the main house by a gallery, which was in fact an extension of the main verandah. In this room, a large wood burning range with wide hobs was the focal point. A teapot was always kept warm on the hob. The family had meals at the large table in the kitchen. Milk, meat and butter were kept in a Coolgardie safe and a charcoal cooker. Uncooked meat was hung in a large meat safe.

Boyatup Homestead, approx 1920

In the early years, stores were obtained from Perth or Adelaide. Captain Douglas’ “Grace Darling” regularly landed stores at Mississippi Bay and these were carted to Boyatup by the Dunns. At times when the sailing ships were delayed by adverse weather, the Dunns pitched tents, fished and shot game until its arrival.

The homestead block was cleared a little at a time with mattock and axe. In 1930, at the age of 82, Andrew would still go out into the adjacent virgin sandplain and grub out blackboys to extend the clearing. Two or three ton of super was broadcast over the paddocks which were ploughed with a single furrow plough made by Andrew and his German helper, Ulrich. Seed was broadcast by hand and then the children were given the task of keeping the birds off the seeded patch.

In 1917, in a statement to a parliamentary committee investigating the viability of the Esperance Sandplain & Mallee Districts, Andrew Dunn stated that the land produced good crops of hay and was particularly suited to the growing of onions. However, he said after a time, the land became exhausted and needed building up. He knew it lacked some necessary element which he could not identify. He apparently suspected copper deficiency as he mixed bluestone (copper sulphate) with his super before broadcasting it. He also tried hammering copper nails into the apple & fig trees to overcome deficiencies.

Beside the Boyatup Swamp, Andrew planted a very fine orchard which produced excellent table grapes, currants, stone fruit, apples, pears, melons and of course, figs. He grew tobacco which he dried for his own use. Some of the grapes were used to make wine – a type of rough claret. He called both his tobacco and wine “Boyatup Sweet”, and it would be difficult to judge which was the more disabling.

Although initially harvested with a scythe, a horse drawn reaper and a binder was used to cut the hay crop. Chaff was cut by hand. With help of Ulrich, a horseworks made up from an old wagon wheel and cogs from old strippers was used to drive the chaff cutter. Three poles were attached to the wagon wheel and thus three horses could be harnessed to it to plod around in a circle and drive, through a system of gears, the chaff cutter. The chaff, almost 30 bags per load, was carted to Esperance in a draw or in the wagon. This, together with onions, was sold to the Esperance storekeepers, L&R.C Daw. Proceeds from these sales were used to buy stores. Once a year, on the return trip, he would cart the seasons super requirements.

On a trip to Esperance, he would leave Boyatup at about 3.30AM, have lunch at the Dinner Camp Swamp (now Kirwans property) and by evening, arrive and camp at Dempster’s Woolshed, near the site of the present Gun Club. After an early start, he would arrive in Esperance in time to deliver the produce to Daws and make his purchases of stores. Today the trip to Boyatup on a bitumen road take about 40 minutes.

By 1910, the family had grown with the addition of the following: Francis Albert, born 19.5.1896, George J, 10.6.1898, Ernest Royal, 3.7.1899, Harry E, 11.6.1901, Rose M, 6.11.1902, Charles Dennis, 12.11.1904, Sydney L, 30.9.1906.

By the time the youngest were born, the older members had left home to find work elsewhere. Some of the sons became shearers and stockmen. During World War I, Jim, Bill and Frank Dunn joined the AIF and served in France. Bill and Frank survived but Jim was killed in action.

The homestead had grown as the family increased. Outbuildings were built for stores. A blacksmith shop adjoined the house and bedrooms were added. At times the blacksmith shop was pressed into service as a bedroom for visitors or returning family members. A hayshed & shearing shed was also build.

The family ‘lived off the land’ as far as possible. Kangaroo dogs were used to hunt kangaroos for meat and skins. The kangaroo skins were cleaned, salted and pegged out to dry, and then packed in 3 to 5 dozen bundles and sent to Fremantle to Dalgety and Co. or Wilcox Moffat. Sheep skins would also be sent to these buyers. Tamar and blue brush wallaby skins were prized because after treatment with salt and alum, they were stripped and sewn into colourful "Wagga Rugs" which, when backed with calico, made warm bedding. Dingo and rabbit skins were similarly treated for the same purpose. Wild duck and turkey found their way on to the family table. Cape Barren Geese were raised as poultry.

By the 1920’s the Boyatup property consisted of the homestead block, (freehold) and leasehold areas near Lucky Bay and also between Stockyard and Stony Creeks. Cattle, sheep and horses were grazed on the virgin bush in these areas. Although cobalt and other deficiencies were not yet identified, the need to vary the type of grazing was recognized. Stock would be driven to the coast for a time to feed on coastal bush and then return to the more inland runs. If left too long on the coast, they developed “Chip Chip” which causes hooves to crack and hair to come off the legs of the animals. Heart leaf poison bush was always a problem and the family spend much time grubbing and pulling out the poison shrubs near the grazing areas. Lucky Bay, Taylor’s Hill and Munji Hill were notorious poison areas.

All the Dunns were very competent horsemen and horsewomen. After Christmas, they would pack up and go to Esperance for the New Years Races and Race Ball. They usually entered and rode hoses in the races. That night, the Race Ball was enjoyed by all. This was one of the few occasions when Mrs Dunn could meet other ladies of the district and must have been a highlight of the year for her.

By the 1920s and 30s, the family had spread far and wide. After returning from World War I, Bill had, in partnership with Bob Blake, taken up land on the Oldfield River at Nairnup. Frank, on his return, joined the survey team for a time and then joined the W.A. Government Railways. Tommy Dunn, after a period as teamster in Norseman, took up a farm at Kumarl In partnership with Ernest Nulsen. George and Ernie were mining at Kalgoorlie. Charlie was a stockman in the Murchison. Syd worked at Pemberton. Harry remained at Boyatup. Grace married Edward Hannett and settled at Mt Edward, about 10 miles east of Esperance. Kate married Bert McKenzie and settled at Arthur River where they operated the Wayside Inn and Post Office. Mary married Ted Tyrrell and moved to the Goldfields. And Rose married Jack Reid of Myrup near Esperance.

At Christmas, they all tried to make it back home. The trip to Boyatup over sandplain tracks in Model T Fords, Chev 4s, Dodge 4s and the vintage vehicles took the best part of a day. Getting bogged in the sand between Esperance and the Woolshed was par for the course.

A few days before Christmas, one of the boys, usually Harry or Charlie, would ride out along the Esperance Road and set fire to small patches of scrub. When the travelers to Boyatup passed these spots a few days later, they often bagged a turkey or two for the Christmas Dinner. Ducks on the Dinner Camp Swamp often provided Christmas fare.

Mrs Dunn was an excellent cook and with the help of her daughters and granddaughters, Dorothy and Evelyn Hannett, was able to feed the hungry horde without any fuss. Food was always tasty and plentiful and usually home grown or game. The problem of accommodating the families was solved by bedding men and boys in the hayshed and the ladies at the house. The hayshed was a favourite haunt of snakes, so bed areas had to be carefully inspected. Loaded rifles were strategically placed to repel the reptiles.

Andrew Dunn was a hardy character. Once, when driving stock, he was knocked from his horse and gored by a bull. The horse returned to Boyatup and Charlie Dunn rode off leading the saddle horse, back 8 miles to the accident scene. Andrew then rode with him. After the wound was stitched, it healed, leaving no ill effects.

On another occasion, Andrew became cornered when Harry was overdue on a trip to the coastal leases near Sandpatch (Dunns’ Rocks). He saddled a horse and rode down there to see if Harry had an accident. Andrew was 85 years old at the time.

Andrew Dunn lived to the age of 95 years and died in 1943.

Andrew Dunn (centre) c. 1925

A Few Anecdotes About Andrew Dunn & Family.

Andrew had a friend in fellow stockman, Joe Kew. Apparently, they had worked together at Balladonia and Thomas River. On one of his trips to Esperance, it was arranged that Joe would return to Boyatup with Andrew. They set about having a few drinks for the road at Mick Heenan’s Pier Hotel before setting out. It was well after dark when they set off east for Dempsters Woolshed, where they intended to camp and get an early start for the final stage of the journey. Arriving at the proposed campsite, they unharnessed the horses, rolled out the swags and settled down for the night. Shortly they were awakened by the crowing of roosters. Some of Heenans fowls had roosted on the cart axle, gone to sleep and accompanied the travellers. Andrew & Joe got up and bagged the poultry. Whether the fowls ever returned to Heenan’s was never told.

Joe Kew usually spent Christmas with the Dunns at Boyatup. The tunes he played on his battered accordion brightened up the festivities. Often in the evening, Andrew would be dozing before the fire in the sitting room while Joe played the tunes of Stephen Forte etc. When Andrew had nearly dropped off into sleep, Joe would start to play “The Battle of Boyne”, a song which arouse Irish ire. Andrew would sit up and threaten to toss Joe out if he continued to play it. Both appeared to enjoy the byplay, as the exercise was often repeated later in the evening.

Joe’s fear of snakes was well known by the family. On this occasion, Joe, George Dunn and others were camped near Dempsters Woolshed. The talk around the campfire consisted of yarns about snakes and experiences with them. While the yarns continued, one of the group disappeared and on his return rolled out the swags for his mates who finally prepared for bed with the stories; true, untrue and embellished, fresh in their minds.

Joe wiggled down into his swag & immediately, yelling ‘blue murder’, exited from it and ran to the fire to examine himself for punctures. The lads fueled the fear until eventually relenting and one of them retrieved the large frog placed in the swag to lead Joe to believe his bedmate was a snake.

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