||As well as producing 15 children, Thomas and Jane Drage also produced an un-named male child (probably stillborn) in 1892.|
Thomas was the youngest son of Euseabius and Elizabeth Drage, and was born at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England in 1837. He arrived in the Colony aboard the "William Hammond" in 1856 at the age of 19. His forebears came to England in 1714 in the entourage of George 1 from Germany. They later settled in Cambridgeshire where they were granted a large acreage of land at Ely for aid rendered to the crown. It was at this city (then called Elying) that the Drage family was presented with a coat of arms by King George 11 in 1757. Some of the family moved into the nearby county of Northamptonshire and it was here that Thomas was born.
His parents, like so many other small landholders in the area, were enticed to sell theri holdings during the Industrial Revolution to the more wealthy landholders. Some were employed as labourers, while others rushed to the cities in an attempt to gain employment in the factories.
Because of his love of the land, Thomas sought, and managed to gain employment in his own village. Here he worked for a little over 2 years before becomming the innocent victim of a crime he did not commit. Such were the laws of the 18th and 19th centuries, that judges had little option when it came to sentencing men and women appearing before them. More often than not, it was a choice between transportation or death. One critic summed it up by saying that the choice open to the judges lay between sentencing them to the New World or the next. He was sentenced and was soon on his way to the Swan River Colony not knowing that his appeal had been successful and that he had been cleared of the charge. It was not until several months after his arrival that he knew of his good fortune and that he was once more a free man. He was released in Geraldton in 1857 after having been sent there soon after his arrival in the Colony. Not a word of apology was offered for his incarceration, so it was understandable that he was exceedingly bitter against his treatment. The decision in the first place, even if he had been found guilty, was harsh and unjust, and for a youngster of his age, the traumatic experience he suffered must have had an adverse effect upon his health. This is quite apparent as in later life, he suffered great pain and died at the early age of 56 years.
Though he had suffered much both mentally and physically during his incarceration, he had no desire to return to his native land where unemployment went hand in hand with poverty. Moreover, he had grown to love the the wild beauty of the land where he felt so much at peace. Already he was formulating plans for his future and also that of his family.
After his marriage to Jane in 1862, he remained with Aubrey Brown at Glengarry for over 2 years until he had enough money saved to put his plans into operation. He then moved to Northampton and acquired the leasehold of Mount View station, where rough quarters had been erected for stock minders who looked after the stock for the previous leasees. Here Thomas and Jane with their young family lived for many years. Thomas acquired the best stock from other pastoralists and by careful choice of good bulls and stallions, increased his numbers. In-breeding was avoided so he found a ready market for his animals. It is worth noting that when a new settler wished to start in business, he was able to lease stock from other settlers on the undertaking that a similar number be replaced after a given time. Also bulls and stallions were exchanged to avoid in-breeding. As Thomas did not possess enough money to buy his animals, he used this method to achieve his goal.
It is well to explain at this stage the position of land tenure which existed in the Colony at that time. In the Education Committee's book entitled 'An Atlas of Human Endeavour', it states:- "Cheap and plentiful Crown land was the lure which attracted the first British settlers to the Colony in 1829. many large speculators had their fingers burnt. However for a half a century after 1840 it was pastoralism on land leased from the Crown rather than crop farming on privately owned land which dominated land utilisation in Western Australia. The pastoralists paid an annual rent of ten shillings per 1000 acres leased. This act was changed later in the century."
So Thomas was able to exploit this situation to the full extent of his assets. Scrub was left uncleared with the exception of the home paddocks, which were used during round-up and branding seasons. These were usually held during the autumn season. At this time, the culling out of the poorer quality stock was also carried out. The large trees were ringbarked and when dead, were burnt down. However the scrub was 'fired' before the first winter rains so that the regrowth ensured feed for the stock.
Dingoes were making the rearing of sheep almost an impossibility. Baiting, trapping and organised shooting of these predators almost decimated them and the number of sheep gradually increased. This, coupled with the use of superphosphate for the growing of crops, led to an area which was termed "mixed farming." This was ideal country for merino sheep and the top prices brought for fine merino wool induced Thomas and his sons to invest heavily in this sphere with great zest and success.
Each farmer grew his own vegetables and the task of attending to them usually fell to the women and children, as the men were working from dawn to dusk. It was a difficult and hard life.
Of course Thomas had bad times, especially during the first few years of operations, but he was not afraid of work. He contracted to cart led to the port of Geraldton and worked with other settlers during those difficult months. However, he never lost sight of his main objective and ultimately triumphed over those initial set-backs. With the help of his sons, his aims became easier to attain. When good land was offered for sale he either leased or bought it if the price was reasonable. This added to his holdings. By 1880, he obtained the leasehold of Murchison House Station and he now had over 200,000 acres to supervise. He was the architect of his planning, but his son Thomas proved rto be an able lieutenant to manage his affairs. When his other sons were old enough they joined Thomas at Murchison House.
The first railway was built from geraldton to Northampton in 1879. Its primary role was to carry the lead and copper mined in the district to Geraldton. However by 1899, when world prices slumped, the Geraldton mine closed and was not re-opened until 1910 when prices again rose. Now, no lead is mined in the area. The years between 1870 and 1890 were profitable ones for Thomas because during those years, more than 500 Cornish miners came to the district to mine the lead and copper. Many brought their wives and children with them. Horses were required not only for riding, but also for the transport of the metal mined. Beef was also needed to feed these people. Thomas and other settlers thus benefited by this influx of population. He thus laid the solid foundations for his success. In 1887 he sold his interests in Mount View Station and moved to a property close to Northampton. Both he and Jane took a more active part in civic affairs. In 1893 he was elected Chairman of the Northampton Roads Board, but hard work and illness had taken its toll. He died on June 2 of that year. An account of the life and character of Thomas Drage is to be found in his obituary on page 2 of the Geraldton Guardian of 5 June 1893.
"We very much regret to chronicle the death of Mr Thomas Drage, an old and respected colonist and a long standing resident of Northampton. The sad event occurred at his residence on Friday morning last, after a painful illness caused by a complication of diseases. He was attended during his sickness by Dr. Laffen, who did all for him that medical skill could suggest, but, as the end proved, without avail. Mr Drage had been nearly forty years in the colony, and his perserverance and industry had enabled him to secure for himself a position of independence for some years previous to his death. He was a member of the Northampton Roads Board, and everyone who knew him esteemed his uprightness and other admirable traits of character. Mr Drage was one of the most popular squatters, and his possessions of cattle, sheep and horses were very large. He leaves a wife and a large family of grown-up sons and daughters to keep his name in affectionate remembrance. The funerla took place on Sunday, with Mr. Haselby officiating, in the absence of the Rev Canon Louch who was unable to attend. Nearly all of Northampton followed the remains to the grave. Mr Drage was 56 years of age at the time of his death."
Thomas Drage employed 8 Ticket of Leave men to work as shepherds and general labourers on his numerous holdings.
After Thomas' death, his eldest son, Thomas Amos Drage took over the mangement of his large estate. He was a young man of forceful character, with a shrewd head for business and the ability to manage men. He was ably assited by his brothers William, Joseph, Albert and Henry Ross. The lease of Mount View had expired in 1887 so the boys, after consultation with their father, decided not to renew the lease as it was considered that Murchison House was by far the better poposition. So the brothers sold the family interests. Their father purchased a small property close to Northampton and the boys, after culling out the poorer quality stock, substituted it with stock of better breeding. In 1913, Henry Ross and his younger brother Euseabius, took over the lease from the older boys, but sold it to the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1925. Henry Ross took over Jib Jib Station, while Euseabius purchased Trevenson which is now owned by E. Keith Drage, his eldest son. Both boys started sheep studs and met with great success as wire netting was at this time available, and it controlled the dingoes effectively. Yandi Station was leased in 1899 and Yallalong in 1900. Several smaller holdings were added to these during the years that followed. Lynton was one of these and so the family was able to maintain affluence in the community. All of the daughters of Thomas and Jane married into respectable families and they, too, lived in comfortable circumstances.