From the farms of Cornwall to the wilds of Rock Valley

Catherine Tonkin
Catherine Tonkin

FELIX Semmers Lemon Tonkin brought his wife Catherine and their small daughter Mary Ann to Australia. They were from Cornwall and arrived on the "Earl Dalhousie" in July 1878. Catherine was seven or eight years older than Felix and had been born about 1845. She was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer named John Ivey and his wife Ann.

Although it is not clear who Felix Tonkin's parents were it is known that he was christened on 24th September 1854 at Madron, Cornwall and that his mother is listed as Jane Tonkin. Possibly his father's name was Felix, as this was later to become a very popular name in the following generations of the family.

Felix was working as an agricultural labourer for farmer Thomas Johns in 1871. Johns was Catherine's brother-in-law and it is possible that they met through him. Catherine may have been John's housekeeper at one stage. Felix and Catherine were married in 1872 and probably they remained on the Johns' farm until they left for Australia. They came as Assisted Immigrants.

Soon after their arrival Felix set about finding suitable land on which to establish a farm. In 1879 he selected a 16 hectare block at Rabee Road (now Rock Valley Road). Later the same year he selected another block of 31 hectares and it was here that he built their first home, near the Leycester Creek crossing. Felix had some stock but also grew all kinds of vegetables. He found a ready market for these in nearby centres and they provided his growing family with their basic diet. Two more children were born, Catherine Jane in 1882 and Felix (Jnr) in 1886.

Catherine Tonkin died in 1901 and Felix apparently decided that he could not carry on without her. He leased his property but stayed in the area with his family. The eldest, Mary Ann, had already married John William Vidler of Blakebrook. In 1904 Felix married Amy Jane Weismantel whose family owned a nearby property. Felix decided to purchase a property of 84 hectares but, instead of working it, he leased it and moved with his new wife to Sydney. Here another son, Felix Richard (Sid), was born in 1906.

Unfortunately, Amy died giving birth. She was brought to Lismore and buried near Catherine in North Lismore Cemetery. Felix returned to Sydney and shortly afterwards developed cancer. In 1908 he married his nurse, Edith Thorburn, who continued to look after him until he died in 1922. He is buried in Sydney. Felix seems to have had the knack of making money but it is not clear whether it was from stock sales or from his vegetables! Perhaps his first wife had an inheritance. Whatever the case, he left a considerable amount of property, some of which went to Edith, his third wife.

The first son, Felix (Jnr), worked a property at Rock Valley. He married Mabel McPortland in 1917. Mabel was to become famous for her cream cakes and scones. Little is known of her background, but she died at Lismore in 1975 aged 93 years. They had a son, another Felix (Lex). He served in New Guinea during the Second World War and later took over the family farm. The fourth Felix in the family, Felix Richard (Sid), was sent to the farm when young but showed no interest. He married and spent most of his life in Sydney where he died in 1967.

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