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People > Life Stories > Michael Manusu: An Early Greek Immigrant

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submitted by Australian Hellenic Historical Society on 12.04.2012

Michael Manusu: An Early Greek Immigrant

This article was written by Tas Psarakis, Secretary of the Australian Hellenic Historical Society. The Society's research aided historian Hugh Gilchrist's historical endeavours immeasurably.

The discovery of gold by Edward Hargreaves near Ophir in NSW in June 1851 ushered in the incredible and legendary Australian gold rushes, and saw tens of thousands of adventurers from all over the world flock to the newly opened fields in search of the elusive Eldorado. Many found payable gold and quite a few struck it rich, but the majority struggled to make a living. Of the huge number that came to Australia, there included an appreciable number of Greeks.

The exact number we will probably never know. But from the scanty records of the time, we can arrive at a rough estimation. Noted historian Hugh Gilchrist (whose much awaited book on early Greek migration to Australia is due out some time this year) estimates that some 200 Greeks lived in the Australian colonies during the 1850's, with a progressive increase in each subsequent decade. Most of these adventurers left for home after their search for gold, but an appreciable number remained, and became, together with a handful prior to 1851, our first Greek settlers.

One of these gold miners was Michael Manousou (Manusu), a native of the island of Mitylene. Born on the 23rd of June, 1826, apparently into an influential and wealthy family, he appeared to have run afoul of the local Turkish authorities, and his mother, fearing the worst for her son, gave him an amount of money and told him to leave the island. In 1849, Manusu arrived in California where he joined the thousands flooding into the Sacramento Valley looking for gold. He appears to have stayed there for some 3 years, but decided to leave because of some trouble with hostile Indians'.

In 1853, Manusu joined the crew of the 'General Veazie’ as second mate and arrived in Sydney the same year. He immediately joi¬ned the rush to the newly found gold fields on the south coast of NSW cente¬red around the towns of Braidwood and Araluen.

He appears to have been moderately successful in his search for gold, and on the 3rd of April, 1854, he married Sarah Baldwin in the Anglican Church in Braidwood. Manusu certainly wasn't the only Greek on these fields at the time. The Illawarra Mercury, a local newspaper, in 1861 reports of "the Greeks being on good gold”. As with all gold fields of the period, the Chinese were generally despised, mainly because of jealousy at their efficient and diligent efforts in obtaining gold. Many petitions were subscribed by the European miners to have the Chinese evicted from the fields. One such petition drawn up in Braidwood at the time appears to have four Greek signatures.

In June 1862, Manusu became the third Greek naturalised in NSW (after the two ex-convicts Ghikas Voulgaris and Andonios Manolis) and the sixth in Australia. By this time he, had settled down on a farm of 320 acres he purchased at Eurobodalla, after working as a tenant farmer on the vast estate of the celebrated Thomas Sutcliffe Mort. Manusu prospered during this period. The first of his children, Sarah, Amelia, Christopher, Angelina, Pericles, Achilles, and Themistocles were all born on his farm. During this time he became the owner of the Widgett Inn at Bodalla and conducted a business at nearby Nerringundah. In 1865 he was listed as the licensee of the 'Grecian Inn’ at Eurobodalla, arguably the first Greek in Australia to run such an establishment.

During the year’s 1865-1867, the southern districts of NSW were terrorised by the activities of the notrious Clarke Gang of bushrangers. In two years of banditry, this gang of outlaws held up mail coaches, robbed farms, and took over the townships of Michelago and Nerringundah. They were probably the most bloodthirsty freebooters In Australia's colonial history, and some 7 men, including 5 police officers fell to their guns. It appears from records of the time that Manusu knew the Clarkes and their outlaw cousins, the Connells, prior to them becoming bandits. It is on record that the gang even paid a "visit” to the Manusu homestead in 1865.

When the gang raided the town of Nerringundah killing the police sergeant and looting the shops, a police posse was formed to go after the killers. It consisted of a Sergeant Hitch and twelve volunteers, including the noted poet Charles Harpur, and Michael Manusu. When one of the gang, Thomas Connell, was captured by police during a gun battle sometime after the raid, Manusu was called as a witness at Darlinghurst in Sydney, where he made a statement, part of which is as follows:
“I live at Eurobodalla. From information I received I went to the Gulph on the evening of April 9th. I was armed as were some of the others. We were after some bushrangers. At 8 or 9 o'clock we got into the bank of the Tuross River. Two of our party in front beckoned to me. I got off my horse and advanced in front into the bank of the river. I saw 4 men on horseback crossing the river towards me. They stopped their horses and looked about. I was about forty yards from them and I fired at them. They went across the river and we fired again at them. At the first fire one man let go a pack horse he was leading. At the second shot I fired I saw the horse of one of the men commenced bucking - the prisoner was one of the four men I saw In the river and was one of the first to turn away. One of the men went back and caught the loose pack horse - when Sgt Hitch fired at him and grazed his arm. I know Thomas Clarke the outlaw. He was leading the pack horse - Patrick Connell, the prisoner's brother was also there and I do not know who the fourth man was. They were not any of them disguised... I have known the prisoner and his brother for several years..”

Michael Manusu remained in the south until 1874, when after the disastrous floods of the early 1870's, he decided to cut his losses and move further inland. Packing his belongings in wagons, he and his children on horseback driving the cattle, they headed north-west taking nearly three months to reach their destination. He selected a fine property of several thousand acres which was named "Biambil Park”, in the Mendooran district of western NSW. He built a very beautiful homestead with a long drive from the main road. He established a lovely garden with grape trellises, cherry, and citrus trees. The property was considered the family home, and was to be the start of the family dynasty, but as each child grew up they seemed to drift off the property and into other fields.

Sarah and Michael lived In fine style. They had an elaborate carriage that was driven by the two sons of the local police sergeant. Michael Manusu appears to have been a well-educated man as he was known to speak four languages; Greek, Arabic, Hebrew and English. He was a very keen chess player and would often hitch up the carriage and drive to the main road to wait for the passenger coach, signaling the driver to stop. He would ask any of the passengers whether they could play chess, and anyone who could, and would accept his Invitation, would be put up in his house for the night, play chess till the wee hours of the morning, and be driven to town the next morning to continue their journey.

Another regular chess player and friend of Michael's during the 1880's was a Greek chemist from nearby Coonabarabran. Although we haven't established confirmation as to the chemist's Identity, we suspect that his name may have been Prokopiadis.

Michael and Sarah had twelve children in all. When the Boer War broke out in South Africa in 1899, three of Manusu's sons, Alfred Aristides, Francis Homer, and Achilles Strate, volunteered and served with Australian cavalry units in the Transvaal and Orange River colonies. Francis served as a Lieutenant and was decorated for valour. He later served as a police officer in the town of Bellingen. Alfred Aristides served as a Lance Corporal with the New South Wales Lancers, the elite force of the armed forces at the time. A number of grandsons of Manusu's served in the Great War, where one was killed in action.

After a long and eventful life, Michael Manusu retired to his town house in the pretty town of Mudgee, where he passed away in January, 1902. A true pioneer of this country and a forerunner of the many hundreds of thousands of Greek-Australians.

The descendants of Michael Manusu were most helpful in the compilation of this brief glimpse of their ancestor. Some of them hold very respected positions in the community, and although there is very little trace of Helleni¬sm, other than names such as Pericles, they are very, proud of their ancestor and are interested in their distant Greek heritage.

The Australian Hellenic Historical Society was formed in 1984 by a group of dedicated people, predominantly Greek-Australians, interested in recording and preserving the history of the Greeks in Australia.

Contact can be made via the Secretary Mr Tas Psarakis.

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