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Henry LEONARD was a shipbuilder and entrepreneur. He was an important figure in the development of steam navigation on the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers. The construction of Henry LEONARD's hotel and punt at Lang's Crossing-place, and subsequent associated events, proved to be a catalyst for Government action in the formation of a township there. His drive and business initiative were key components in the successful early development of the township of Hay.
William Henry LEONARD was born in about 1827 at Boston in the United States of America, the son of Thomas and Mary LEONARD. Henry LEONARD was probably an experienced shipbuilder by the time he emigrated to Australia. From 1852 Captain Francis CADELL was active in initiating and promoting the steam-navigation of the Murray River and its main tributaries; Henry LEONARD appears to have been associated with CADELL's endeavours from an early period. He became foreman shipbuilder employed by Francis CADELL's River Murray Navigation Company. At Narrung, between Swan Hill and Mildura, Henry LEONARD built the first barges to be towed by Captain CADELL's steamers.
During 1856 James MAIDEN, entrepreneurial punt owner and owner of the Junction Hotel at Moama, commissioned Henry LEONARD to build a new punt for £700. It was launched early in February 1857: "over 100 feet long, it was wide enough to allow two drays to go abreast". After the launch LEONARD and William GLEESON, a punt-owner at Deniliquin, brought MAIDEN's old punt up the Murray River and into the Edward River to Deniliquin. This vessel, laden with 27 tons of goods, was the first to navigate the Upper Edward with cargo.
Henry LEONARD married Mary HODGSON (née TEMPLE), in 1857 at Collingwood, Melbourne. They had the following children:
Elizabeth, born in NSW in 1860; married Charles McKay Seward in 1880
in Victoria; died in 1935 at Malvern, Vic.
William Henry, born in 1861 at Echuca, Vic.; married Nora(h) Corvan in 1883
in Victoria; died in 1906 in Melbourne.
Jane, born in 1863 at Hay; married Peter McKillop in 1892 in Victoria; died in
1927 in South Yarra.
Mary Ann, born in 1865 at St. Kilda, Vic.; married Andrew William Henry White
in 1886 in Victoria; died in 1939 in Echuca.
Sophia, born in 1867 at Moama; married Walt Herbert Lamb in 1899 in Victoria;
died in 1905 at Echuca.
Henry LEONARD arrived at Lang's Crossing-place and commenced building a new punt just upstream of "the main crossing place" by February 1858. Located in a deep bend of the river, the location was a popular crossing-place for drovers moving stock to Victoria, and carriers servicing the surrounding pastoral holdings. LEONARD also had plans for a store and public-house, to be opened in conjunction with the punt. The squatter, Christopher Neville BAGOT, had been operating a punt downsteam of the site chosen by LEONARD since the previous year, but BAGOT's punt was of a smaller size. During 1858 Francis CADELL had a store built at Lang's Crossing-place. Both LEONARD and CADELL were positioning themselves for the coming of steam-boat navigation on the Murrumbidgee River and the economic and mercantile opportunities it would present. CADELL's River Murray Navigation Company had been having financial problems and was finally wound up in June 1858. By mid-year 1858 LEONARD began to build a hotel and dwelling-house and launched his "commodious" punt on the river. The punt was operating by August.
Henry LEONARD's personal qualities and skilled workmanship were already well-known in the south-west Riverina. George BOASE, tutor at "Oxley" station and correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald, made this judgement of LEONARD's worth to the small community at Lang's Crossing-place:
Punts at major crossing-places on the inland rivers were lucrative business opportunities. Whereas cattle swam or waded across the river, stockmen and owners found punts a great convenience and they were often used for crossing sheep as well. The site that LEONARD had chosen for his venture at Lang's Crossing-place was still gazetted as a Pastoral Lands, being the western end of "Illilawa" run, leased by the squatter Henry JEFFRIES. The Government of New South Wales, after being lobbied by local squatters and others with vested interests such as Francis CADELL, had intended to proclaim a reserve at Lang's Crossing-place, in anticipation of a township developing there. However, due to the over-stretched resources of the Surveyor-General's Department, a survey was yet to be carried out.
Henry JEFFRIES was vehemently opposed to Leonard's operation, possibly more from business rivalry than a concern for the sovereignty of his land. Threats against his punt caused LEONARD to stand guard with a loaded gun. When the hotel was nearly completed an incident occurred that was to have important ramifications for the development of the township:
Henry LEONARD completed the building and opened it as the Murrumbidgee Punt Hotel on 30 October 1858. It was described as a "large size" weatherboard building with a shingled roof "and a fine verandah along the front". LEONARD erected stock-yards to the north of the hotel to facilitate the orderly crossing of cattle.
The hostility and destruction of property at Lang's Crossing-place, and subsequent outcry by those advocating a settlement at the location, prompted action by the Government; the assistant-surveyor Edward TWYNAM was sent to map out a new township. By mid-1859 the Department of Lands had proclaimed reservations on either side of the river at Lang's Crossing-place. Henry LEONARD was part of a committee of prominent residents of the district to sink a well at Pine Ridge, 30 miles from Lang's Crossing-place on the road to Deniliquin, in an area known as Old Man Plain. Reliable public watering-places on the routes in and out of the township would insure its viability and continued use as a crossing-point for stock from the north. By October 1859 "Hay" had been chosen as the name for the township and land-sales were held there that month.
Henry LEONARD's advertising for the Murrumbidgee Punt Hotel makes apparent the nexus between the movement of stock through the new township and it's continuing viability and prosperity:
Henry and Mary LEONARD left Hay for at least the first half of 1860, possibly living at Moama. Before leaving LEONARD sold or leased the Murrumbidgee Punt Hotel to Thomas DISHER; but DISHER, who was new to the district, ran into problems. The transfer of the Publican's License to Thomas DISHER was at first refused by the local Licensing Board in March 1860, on the grounds that the document certifying the good character of the applicant "had only one signature known to the bench". The other signatories were new to the district. Eventually, by early May, DISHER was granted the license, only by a majority vote of the Board.
Thomas DISHER died from "a shock of apoplexy" (stroke) in January 1862, aged 41 years. Henry LEONARD resumed as proprietor of the Murrumbidgee Punt Hotel after DISHER's death. At about this time William John DISHER, Thomas' brother, was in the process of establishing a punt, stock-yards and public house on his land east of Hay township - which became known as Ecclesbank - in direct competition with LEONARD's business.
On 2 December 1862 an incident occurred whereby a teamster's dray and team were capsized into the river while being ferried on Henry LEONARD's punt at Hay. The teamster brought an action against LEONARD as proprietor of the punt, to recover £300 damages. It was heard in the Hay District Court on 2 April 1863. LEONARD's solicitor argued that it "might be considered a hardship that Mr. Leonard should have to pay for the negligence of his servant, the puntman". However the court determined that the law regarded proprietors of public punts as insurers of the goods they ferried, and damages were awarded to the plaintiff.
Notwithstanding such set-backs Henry LEONARD's business enterprises at Hay prospered during the early years of the township. He also invested in land and real estate in the township during the period. His business rival, William DISHER at Ecclesbank, had over-extended himself. By February 1863, shortly after it was launched, DISHER's punt was sold for £350 by public auction "to pay off the mortgagee's claim". The successful bidder was Henry LEONARD, who brought the punt downstream, to be used alongside his old punt, or placed end-to-end to form a bridge across the river.
The Punt Hotel was closed as a public house by June 1864. LEONARD may have purchased the Caledonian Hotel from Thomas E. BLEWETT as it was advertised for let in LEONARD's name in July 1864. At about the same time Henry LEONARD was looking for business opportunities elsewhere. He had removed one of his punts to Wentworth, at the junction of the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers, where he announced in July 1864 that:
In August 1864 the Punt Hotel at Hay was purchased by Edward RAY. Henry and Mary LEONARD and their family left Hay to resettle at Moama, on the Murray River opposite Echuca. In 1865 Henry Leonard built the stern-wheeler steam-boat Waradgery in the Government Paddock at Echuca, only the second steamer built at the township. The name "Waradgery" had been a name advocated by many of the residents of Lang's Crossing-place for the new township there; "Hay" had been an unpopular Government imposition.
During 1868 Messrs. H. Leonard & Co. acquired a slip-way at Echuca where boats could be repaired or refitted. Henry LEONARD briefly owned and commanded the steamer Wahgunyah, and later the Victoria. Henry LEONARD and another ship-builder, James SYMINGTON, built several barges at their slip-way during 1868 and 1869. In June 1868 the partnership of SYMINGTON and LEONARD established the Echuca Meat Preserving Co. (Boileau) with a capital of £10,000. These extensive boiling-down works, soon afterwards re-positioned across the river at Moama, produced preserved mutton, as well as the usual tallow and skins. The company employed forty men in it's hey-day. LEONARD and SYMINGTON sold out in September 1869, prior to the establishment being inundated by the great flood of 1870.
In 1870 Henry and Mary LEONARD relocated across the river to Echuca and purchased a two-storey brick residence in Crofton Street. LEONARD operated the punts at Moama and Echuca, previously owned by James Maiden and Henry Hopwood; he had bought Maiden's punt and was leasing the other from Hopwood's widow. He also traded extensively on the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers, with the steamers Waradgery and Wentworth, and invested in land at Echuca.
Henry LEONARD, Shipbuilder of Echuca, died on 26 February 1873, aged 45 years, while travelling to New Zealand aboard the Tararua, four days after leaving Melbourne. The purpose of the journey had been "to recruit his health". Henry LEONARD's body was consigned to the sea after a service read by the Captain.
According to the terms of LEONARD's Will, probate was granted to his widow, Mary LEONARD, on 22 May 1873. At the time of his death the value of William Henry LEONARD's personal and real estate (in the Colony of Victoria) exceeded his liabilities by just under £2,000.
Mary LEONARD was a keen horticulturist, and her garden in Crofton Street was locally renowned. She was a valued congregation member and liberal supporter of the Church of England at Echuca. In February 1887 Mary LEONARD engaged the services of George BUTTERWORTH, an auctioneer at Hay, to sell all remaining allotments of land at Hay.
Mary LEONARD died on 25 May 1914 at her home at Echuca, aged 87 years.
Pastoral Times newspaper (Deniliquin)