Diana's story

Diana was born in Mudgee in the 1820’s and it is likely that she lived with there until the deaths of her parents in a massacre of the local Wiradjuri people. Although not documented, subsequent events suggest that it was at this time that Diana first lived with the Cox family, changing her life forever. 

Diana undoubtedly learned the value of independence at a young age. In her 78 years, Diana raised eight children (often on her own), shared her life with three partners and gained ownership of over 500ac of land.  It is fair to assume that Diana was an individual of remarkable strength and determination.

The documentation of Diana’s life began on the 8th January 1840 with a letter written by William Grant Broughton, the then Archbishop of Australia. In his letter, written in response to a personal request from George Cox, Archbishop Broughton authorised Reverend Henry Tarlton Stiles of Mulgoa to baptise a young ‘native female’. This girl, as Broughton wrote, had been living ‘in concubinage’ with a servant on Cox’s property and now another man wished to marry her. According to his letter, Broughton agreed to this request and gave his approval for Reverend Stiles to travel to Mudgee to conduct the baptism. Although Archbishop Broughton never mentioned her by name, known dates and circumstances make it highly unlikely that he was referring to anyone but Diana.  Far from a woman, Diana was possibly as young as 13 years old when this request was made and was already the mother of baby Sarah, daughter of James KNIGHT (the servant referred to in Arch. Broughton’s letter).

It is interesting to speculate as to why George Cox brought this matter to the attention of the Archbishop of Australia. Perhaps Cox he was concerned about his trusted overseer (James Knight) being involved with an Aboriginal woman. Or perhaps Cox may wrote out of concern for Diana and her new born child. All these views may be gleaned from the letter, but still we can only guess at the true situation.

No letter of reply has ever been located, however it is reasonable to deduce that some of the events authorised by Archbishop Broughton did occur. Although apparently never baptised, Diana did marry William PHILLIPS the other man most likely referred to in Broughton’s letter -“Another man wishes to marry this woman”. Diana and William married in Mudgee on the 8th September 1840 after what would appear to have been a lengthy process of obtaining permission to do so – Diana as an Aboriginal person and William as a convict (see Permission to marry).

William Phillips, who had been assigned to work for George Cox, gave Diana two children (Mary Ann and Emma) before he mysteriously disappeared in 1845.  Phillips received a Conditional Pardon in 1846 but apart from this there is no mention of him in documentary form until his death. There is a burial certificate dated 1852 that lists his usual abode as Mudgee and a death certificate dated 1862 which gives his place of burial as Mudgee. Both of these certificates could refer to Diana’s William Phillips but research has yet to clarify which of these actually does.  

Diana then became involved with Robert RAYNER and had seven more children.

The Rayner years, 1847 – 1874

On the 19th of December 1830, after 145 days at sea, the convict transport ship “Burrell” arrived in the colony of New South Wales. On board was 15 year old Robert Rayner a farm boy, native of Suffolk…height 5’1 ¼, complexion-ruddy, hair-dark and eyes- dark hazel (PMS 5084).

Robert had been convicted of stealing a pair of shoes, for which he received a sentence of seven years and transportation to Australia. He was assigned to work on the roads and in 1837 he was assigned to John Jones and worked on his property ‘Turee’ in the district of Cassillis. In 1838 Robert obtained his certificate of freedom (for more information see the SRNSW ) and, some time after this, found his way to the Mudgee area.

Robert became Diana’s partner sometime after she and William Phillips parted ways and they started a family while living at Grattai. In 1847, Diana gave birth to a son William, her fourth child and her first with Robert. Robert and Diana went on to have six more children - Elizabeth, Jane, Shadrack, Caroline, Harriett and Thomas. Following Jane’s birth the family moved the Piambong where Robert acquired 90 acres of land.

It was also at this time that Robert went in to partnership with Edward Cover with whom he co-owned a considerable amount of land at Piambong.

Robert also engaged in a relationship with Mary Cummings (Christie) the sister-in-law of Edward Cover. Mary was also the grand-daughter of John Jones,to whom Robert had been assigned as a convict.

Robert passed away in 1874 and his land and other belongings were sold at public auction. The land could not be passed to either Diana or Mary or their respective children as Robert had never married either and was legally considered to have no next of kin.

It was after Robert’s passing that land was first acquired in Diana’s name with George Henry Cox as guarantor. The exact nature of this arrangement is not clear.

Cox Family papers and other documentation certainly indicate that the family treated their servants and tenants with kindness – something that must have been exceptional at the time. Some of them were certainly assisted in establishing themselves on the land and it is possible that this was the case for Diana.

Another theory holds that perhaps Diana’s name was used as a ‘dummy selector’ – something that was not uncommon at the time - whereby landowners used the names of the wives, children and servants to purchase land thereby providing more security. If they lost their own land they would still own land in someone else’s name. This suggests a great deal of trust between both parties and if this theory were true, it raises even further questions over the relationship between Diana and George Henry Cox.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding Diana’s land-ownership, the land was kept in her name for 10 years. In 1895 Diana’s lands passed into the ownership of Reginald Belmore Cox, the third son of George Henry Cox, adding to the speculation surrounding this arrangement.

See Diana's landholdings for more information.

After Diana...

Diana passed away on 4th May 1902. Although buried in Piambong, the exact location of her grave is no longer known.

According to her death certificate Diana was survived by all but two of her children (Caroline RAYNER and Thomas RAYNER).

Diana was also survived by a great number of grandchildren. Diana’s children are all know to have married (with the possible exception of William RAYNER of whom very little is known until his death in Cunnamulla, Queensland in 1922) and the family names associated with them and their descendants include:

  • BLACKHALL (Elizabeth RAYNER married John BLACKHALL)
  • COLLINS (Sarah KNIGHT married William COLLINS)
  • PERRY (Mary Ann PHILLIPS married Michael PERRY)
  • RAYNER / RAYNOR (descendants of Shadrack RAYNER who married Sarah Ann METCALF and possibly William RAYNER)
  • SMITH (Harriet RAYNER married Richard SMITH)
  • VITNELL (Jane RAYNER married George VITNELL)