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The Life of a Bush Mailman
The following transcription was provided by Judy Richards [judy.richards-at-westnet.com.au]
The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday 22 April 1874
The following biographical sketch of a mailman, named Wiliam Roohan, who was found dead lately, is extracted from the Manaro Mercury. It shows the dangers and hardships of the calling:-
William Roohan was an eccentric and remarkable man. His age is not exactly known, but he could not have been less than sixty-five - some say he was over seventy. He had been in the colony many years, and was the first to carry the mails over and from Manaro to Twofold Bay, procuring the services of the blacks to mark the trees along the route for his guidance. Mailing was his hobby in life, and his ruling passion in death. The Government never had a more zealous, indefatigable, and faithful servant as a mail contractor. Possessed of a wiry constitution - though battered and bruised and crippled in consequence of the many casualties that had befallen him - no state of the weather, roads, or ill-health ever excused Roohan from fulfilling the arduous duties of his contract. Whilst carrying mails in the Manaro district, he has been known, when blocked by snow, to abandon horse and vehicle, and slinging the mailbags over his shoulders, wade knee deep through miles of snow in order to deliver the mails at their destination. Many a time has he, too venturesome - entered swollen mountain torrents only to be swept down the stream to escape as by miracle. One night, some years ago, in attempting to cross the Bredbo, he found himself adrift and separated from his horse, he was washed ashore on an island, and his horse and mails carried down the stream There he remained through a bitter cold night, drenched, and without fire, refreshment, or shelter. When morning came he struck out for the river bank, cramped and stiff as he was with the cold, and, although unable to swim, managed to reach the bank and pursue his way on foot. Fortunately, he had not gone far when he providentially fell in with a kind-hearted traveller, who gave him a strong glass of rum, which Roohan ever after said saved his life. In the early days of Queanbeyan, before the river was spanned by a bridge, there are those yet living who remember Roohan sending his horse laden with mailbags into the flooded stream, and (being, as we have already said, unable to swim) seizing the horse's tail, suffered himself to be carried across the river to pursue his way. It must still be fresh in the memory of our readers that not so very long ago the poor old fellow experienced a broken collar-bone - not the first bone by many that he had had broken in the discharge of his duty - through a fall in coming over the Marked-tree Line and more recently still, that he was, buggy and all, swept down the river at Canberra, and narrowly escaped with his life in his endeavour to keep up mail communication. His powers of endurance were remarkable. His present contract is along a dreary road, and but few servants would stay more than a month in his employ. When unexpectedly left without assistance, Roohan has been known frequently to leave Goulburn on Sunday morning, reaching Queanbeyan, a distance by the Gundaroo route of about seventy miles, the same evening, starting from Queanbeyan next morning, to reach Goulburn that evening, and then, his next duty being to convey a mail from Queanbeyan to Goulburn on the Wednesday following, return to Queanbeyan on Tuesday in order to fulfil his contract, resting on Thursday, and starting again from Goulburn on Friday to deliver the mails the same evening at Queanbeyan, thus performing, for a poor pittance at best, a journey of 350 miles with but little rest. Again, he has been known to start on his route on Wednesday, and continue incessantly riding till the following Friday week in carrying out his contract, travelling meanwhile a distance of about 650 mile. Nothing short of an iron constitution could stand it. It is but just to his memory to remark that a more honest, trustworthy, and diligent man we never knew.