The Fosters at Riversleigh and Gregory Downs

Harry Foster at “Riversleigh” in the 1950’s (Photo courtesy Ken Foster)

Mrs “Aunty” Barrett, at the Gregory Hotel, had taken in and reared the child Harry Foster and his sister, Jessie. Harry and Jessie Foster’s young mother died in childbirth at Westmoreland Station and their father left the two children with Emily Barrett at the Gregory Hotel. He did not return for them and no-one seems to know what happened to him and assumed he died. It is believed that “Aunty” Barrett went to England to try and find relatives for the Foster children, but without success. Harry later managed Riversleigh Station and eventually, with his wife Gladys (nee Rendall) took over the Gregory Hotel in 1942 from Sammy and Violet Thorley. Harry’s son, Bill Foster with his wife Wilma, also became the manager of both “Riversleigh” and “Gregory Downs”.

Gregory Downs Hotel 1908

Harry’s parents, Charles and Martha Foster lived at “Westmoreland” briefly when they came to the Gulf Country west of Burketown. Martha died of premature confinement (childbirth) at the age of 23 on 16/09/1892.

She was Martha Elizabeth Welling from Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire and meet Charles in Rockhampton, where she arrived from the UK by boat. She was 19 when they met, and they had Harry and Jessie in the next few years as they travelled north working in mines around Croydon and probably cattle stations in the area. Why they moved to “Westmoreland” is unknown, but it was probably as a stockman, perhaps they were employed to manage it. Maybe they were also looking for mining prospects.

After Martha’s death Charles left “Westmoreland” and took Harry and Jessie to the Gregory Hotel where he left them in the care of Emily Barrett the publican. The family think it may have been an arrangement that she would mind them while he went down south looking for work and he would either come to collect them later or they would be sent to him.

The local rumour was that he abandoned the children with Emily Barrett, but he disappeared and there is no trace or no death record of him that has been found. The Foster family have speculated that he would not have been in a great mental state, the loss of his wife and child, no money and 2 young children to care for would have been a daunting prospect in October 1892. He may have met an untimely death through misfortune, got lost, took his own life or clashed with some understandably hostile indigenous warriors as he travelled through their country. But he disappeared. (From Ken Foster)

Harry Foster was registered as a stockman at Riversleigh on the Electoral Roll as early as 1912 and maybe earlier. He became the manager after William Donaldson moved to Rocklands in approx 1924/25. He held that position until he and Gladys bought the Gregory Pub in 1942. He was a very capable, all-round cattleman.

(Note:- William Donaldson died on the 24 March 1927 following a Qantas air crash at Tambo).

Apparently Harry used to bag up the tail hair and send it to Brisbane. Maybe to be put in mattresses?

At some point he and Gladys bought a house in Townsville and he became a saddler and travelled and worked around Western Queensland and the NT. After Gladys died in 1966 at age 66, he came and stayed with Bill and Wilma Foster at Gregory Downs off and on. He died in July 1969 aged 79 and they are buried side by side in a cemetery in Townsville. (From Ken Foster)

Gladys and Harry Foster

In April 1959 Eric William (Billy) Foster (wife Wilma) who was previously managing Riversleigh, took over as Manager of Gregory Downs and continued in that role for 13 years until June 1972. Bill and Wilma had three children, Ken, Ron and Athol.

Manager, Billy Foster (3rd from left) and mustering team at 20 – Mile in 1960
Harry Foster and Lew Blackmore at Gregory Downs homestead around the 1960’s. Harry’s son Bill managed Gregory Downs at the time. Note the hot water donkey under the tank stand.

3 thoughts on “The Fosters at Riversleigh and Gregory Downs

  1. Loved reading about Harry Foster. He managed Riversleigh Station at the same time my great-grandmother Emma Steele/King lived and worked there. Is it possibly to access any further clear photos of Harry Foster? If there any kin from Harry and Gladys Foster alive I’d appreciate some contact details of theirs as I have some very interesting historical information linked to Harry that they should be aware.

    My name is Patrick Anderson, son of Alma King, who is grand-daughter of Emma Steels/King from Riversleigh station.


    For any future communication from the Foster families.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Patrick. If you are on Facebook there is a Page called “Tales from the Top Rail”. If you join that Page and then you can search the Page. Just type in the word “Foster” and a number of posts with photographs will come up. Billy Foster’s sons, Ken, Ron and Athol are on there as well as Jacko Foster. There are also Posts from Kathy Steve Franklin, Loni n Kyle and Beverley O’Hara on the Fosters. In the meantime I will copy your comment above and Post it onto “Tales from the Top Rail” with you email address so people on there can contact you as well. Cheers Greg


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