Some Colourful Stories

Some Colourful Stories Relating to the Family of Maria Ikin

by Margaret Miller

The following was published in the book Some Ikin Reminiscences – Ikin Family Gathering – Sydney June 1990, pages 29 to 31.

The product of Maria’ s relationship with Lieutenant Richard Leyne, an Irishman in the 73rd Regiment, was a daughter Agnes Sarah Leyne born on 21 December 1812.

Agnes married Edward Thomas Young Wilson McDonald, a Scottish innkeeper and incurred the wrath of her in-laws as reflected in the following description of her behaviour.

When Edward McDonald’ s mother came to stay in 1843 she was heartbroken to find that her beloved son who gave such promise of great things in life when he left home in Scotland some years before – struck Sydney at a very wild and wicked period of its history and he met his Delilah there – married her like a decent honest man and found he had married to his sorrow and undoing. She never rested until she had him in a hotel. . . . . . She was the daughter of a publican and soon showed the trail of that serpent over her very plainly. . . . . . . . She was very seldom sober and a women of a most violent temper. (Extracted from History of the Life of James Swales Clark and Elizabeth McDonald by Elizabeth Caroline Clark, 1914) .

Apparently Edward had arrived in New South Wales as an architect with great hope, in the company of John Dunmore Lang, who also came from Largs, Scotland. (Letter from Ian Chambers 11 July 1985). Agnes had been raised by Maria Ikin and her husband Charles James Bullivant as Richard Leyne had departed the colony when his child was around six months of age.

Maria’s life with Charles was eventful and prosperous. Although responsible for giving him his start with the property she had inherited (The Three Crowns Inn), Charles went on to show dynamic business acumen and was known far and wide for his good rum andeccentricities. He was licensee of no fewer than eight inns during his career, and bought and sold numerous properties. He was exceptionally wealthy. Numerous stories have appeared in the press concerning him – both during and after his life, and some are recounted here.

Bullivant wore a red smugglers cap in the bar of his Inn and his language was equally as colourful. However when friends dined with him on a Sunday they found his manners those of an English gentleman – never indulging in profanity when out of his bar. His rough manner was associated with and adapted to the company with which he had to associate. He was a good Latin scholar and a splendid raconteur.

The bar of the Inn was set high like the dispensing counter of an Apothecary – so high in fact that a man of 5 foot 4 inches could not look over it. Two gentlemen from town visited his bar for a refresher and while taking their grog, one remarked to the other What a dirty old bar. Look at the cobwebs. The old man pretended not to hear them, but presently looking over his spectacles, remarked Are you going to stop here long? Well no, except to have another drink. one replied. Ah well said Old Bull, This place will b. . . . . well have to suit you while you are here.

He had his coffin prepared many years before his death and carted it from pub to pub. When at The Rag and Famish, St. Leonards (now North Sydney), he kept it in his bedroom and used it as a wardrobe. A visiting boy was forced to sleep in the same room as the coffin, much to his horror, but eventually curiosity got the better of him. He lifted the heavy lid to discover the contents were Bullivant ‘s victuals but alas the lid slipped and the boy was left with a badly injured hand.
At one stage Bullivant inadvertently left his coffin at The Three Crowns when he was leaving the premises. About three weeks after giving up possession he suddenly thought of it and returned with a spring van to get it. The new publican decided to have some sport and refused to hand over the casket. Eventually the old man got possession but not before he had painted the atmosphere red.

Nearing the end of his days, Bullivant had a stone tomb erected in his back yard, not wanting to be buried in the church cemetery. When the time came for the precious casket bearing his remains to be placed within the vault, the opening was found to be too small. What followed outraged the local population and an account of the proceedings follows:

The Evening News, Sydney – 3 February 1879

Disgusting Burial at St Leonards

One of the most deplorable sights that we should imagine was ever witnessed in a civilised country occurred on Monday last at the burial of one Charles James Bullivant, who, at St Leonards, on the 25 January, shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of eighty-four. During his lifetime Bullivant gave evidence of a most eccentric disposition, and appeared quite callous as to any future reward or punishment, apparently by his entire outward acts, disclaiming the existence of a Maker. Some twenty years ago the wretched man had a coffin constructed for him, as also a stone tomb in his garden, and according to his last request, was encased in both. In his life he expressed a wish to die after a full meal, which gratification was granted him. Bullivant also desired that a plentiful supply of grog, pipes, and tobacco should be placed in the coffin with him, but owing to the strong liquors indulged in by some of the hangers-on at the last moment, this extraordinary request was forgotten. Bullivant was known to have died wealthy, and as he had died suddenly it was thought a coroner’s inquest would be held, but as the doctor gave a certificate that he had died of natural causes, no inquiry was held as to the cause of death. The burial then took place, and those in charge prepared to open the stone receptacle intended for the coffin, but found it was too small. The bystanders immediately set to work, and by chiselling and hammering managed to pull down some of the structure. No clergyman was present to read the service, but a grey-headed old man, said to be Bullivant’s son-in-law, undertook to read the service, and as the St, Leonard’s Recorder says :- “It seemed awful to hear these grand, impressive words read – ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ over the corpse of one on whose tomb was the following superscription (see note below) :-

The first dark day of nothingness
The last of danger and distress”

Added to the chaos of chiselling and hammering and talking, to make the orgies more dismal a solitary frog commenced croaking in a horrible manner, which, together with the dogs barking, goats bahing, completed a scene painful in the extreme to witness. After the service had been completed the coffin was attempted to be placed in the hole of the tomb, but it was found still to be too small. A tipsy sailor then came to the rescue, and seated on the ground, commenced pushing with his feet, accompanying the act with a series of “Yoey-hos” and “Now, my beauties, he’s bound to go.” succeeded, assisted by a young woman, in pushing the coffin into the cavernous receptacle prepared for it. The scene at this time was revolting, swearing and cursing being freely indulged in, and more than one of the party was considerably intoxicated. The burial of Charles James Bullivant will long be remembered at St Leonards; and we sincerely trust that, for the sake of the community at large, such another disgusting occurrence will never take place.

From his death certificate 3660/1879, Charles James Bullivant, retired publican, died on 25 January 1879, at Merlin Street, St Leonards, aged 80 years and 11 months, of decay of nature, and was buried on 26 January in his own vault in his garden, Merlin Street, witnesses N A Avery and Edward Hunt, certified by Henry Hunt, undertaker.

Note – The above quote is from Lord Byron’s The Giaour – lines 70/71.

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Maria and Charles James Bullivant