Cousins, Lynette Tungate and Suezanne Lynch at the memorial of their ancestor George Ramsdale Witton at the Coalstoun Lakes Hall.
Cousins, Lynette Tungate and Suezanne Lynch at the memorial of their ancestor George Ramsdale Witton at the Coalstoun Lakes Hall. Erica Murree

Chance meeting joins some dots for Witton relatives

A CHANCE meeting has led two cousins to learn more about their ancestor and early Coalstoun Lakes pioneer George Witton.

Walking into the Central and North Burnett Times' Biggenden office, yours truly was able to answer Mackay couple Lynette and Roy Tungate's question when asked "do you know anything about George Witton”.

It just happened a folder concerning Breaker Morant, which also included the publication An Australian Gentleman, researched by Jessie Wein on George R Witton, was sitting on my office table.

Lending the couple the book as they were headed to Lynette's cousin Suezanne Lynch at Caboolture, they looked like they had won the lottery.

They organised to come back with Suezanne and husband Dudley to go through the museum to continue their research.

When they returned on March 28, they met with Vi Rackemann, who grew up in the house built by Mr Witton at Coalstoun Lakes.

After a get together at the Biggenden Museum with volunteers Clarrie Harvey and Colleen Brown, everyone headed to Coalstoun Lakes where a few more surprises awaited them.

They were able to view a memorial in the hall grounds and step into the Anglican church to view the baptismal font donated by Witton in memory of his wife, Mary.

There was even a chance for Vi to play some hymns on the church organ.

Next stop was Witton Rd, to view the home Mr Witton built which is now owned by Denise Marshall.

Vi, who had been accompanied by her twin sister Joy Gibbs, said their parents owned the property from 1951-1974.

"We always called it Birdsville as dad bought it off George Bird,” she said.

"The home built from timber off the property was different to any other house in the district.”

"I was always told the material for the walls was imported from Italy.”

Vi said it was her job as a youngster to polish the door-knocker which was in the shape of a soldier

"In the dairy his war service number was burnt into a board,” she said.

"It was so lovely to meet the two families and be able to give them some connection to the area.”

For the visitors the day was overwhelming and rather humbling.

Mrs Tungate said by the end of the trip, she had joined a lot of the dots.

"It was a beautiful day - not only the weather but the people,” she said.

For the family, there is still one question to be answered: What led George Witton to settle at Coalstoun Lakes?

History of George Witton:

GEORGE Ramsdale Witton, born in Victoria on June 28, 1874, went on to become a lieutenant after enlisting in the Boer War.

Following an incident, lieutenants Harry 'Breaker' Morant and Peter Handcock, along with Witton, were tried and convicted by British Military court martial for executing Boer prisoners of war in South Africa.

While Morant and Handock faced a firing squad, Witton's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was kept in English prisons and treated as a common criminal, not a soldier.

Their families and the Australian Government were never officially informed of the court martial and the sad outcome. Witton returned to Australian soil on November 12, 1904.

He was released from prison after a petition was presented to King Edward VII signed by more than 80,000 Australians. While in prison he hadn't received the letter informing him of his father's death.

After returning home to Victoria, he wrote the book Scapegoats of the Empire. The movie Breaker Morant was based on this book.

In 1910, Witton selected the first of his Coalstoun Lakes blocks where he grew pineapples and later became a dairy farmer.

He was a founding member of the Dundarrah Cheese Factory.

He married Mary Louise Humphreys on January 7, 1913 but sadly she died in 1931. In her memory, George donated a baptismal font to the local church that is still used today.

The first house Witton built was for the cheese factory manager while he built himself a larger, more grand style of home at the end of what is known today as Witton Rd.

In 1939-40 he sold his farm and returned to Victoria, where he died of a heart attack while cranking his car on August 14, 1942, aged 68 years.

On the 100th anniversary of Morant, Handcock and Witton's court martial, a memorial was unveiled in the Coalstoun Lakes Hall grounds as a tribute to Witton and other Boer War veterans.

Read a letter to the editor from Lynette Tungate on page 12.


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