After being sent packing from his wealthy step-father's farming estate, John Clegg led an adventurous life before settling back on the Macleay to become one of its biggest landholders.
John Clegg was born on 13 September 1829, one of three children of John Clegg of the Weavers Arms Inn, Liverpool, Sydney and his common-law wife Mary Alford.
John Clegg Snr had been acquitted in 1824 of the murder of his first wife Lucy and was managing the Weavers Arms Inn after having had it repossessed earlier for outstanding debts. The inn was situated on the road to Camden and was visited by architect John Verge during his work at Camden for the Macarthur family.
In 1834, John Clegg Snr was found dead in a well on his property. This left Mary Alford in straitened circumstances with three young children; however, she then became the common-law wife of John Verge.
Having made sufficient money from his architectural work in the city, John Verge retired from his profession in 1837 to take up a land grant in the Macleay Valley.
He took Mary and the three children to his 2560-acre grant at Austral Eden, along with his son Sydney whom he had with Mary Alford. Mary and John would have another four children of their own.
A family story is that John Clegg Jnr was working for John Verge with another man in a barn one day, when he casually remarked "Don't you think he [John Verge] should give us more wages?" His comment was overheard by John Verge who was standing outside the barn and immediately called him and asked him to go and pack his bags.
With a few pounds in his pocket from his former master, John Clegg walked to Sydney where he found work on the wharves for a while before boarding a ship for New Zealand. With another man he heard about the gold rush in California and the pair then left for the diggings over there where they worked for a good while.
Having done very well there, John returned to Sydney with "boots lined with gold" according to the family story. He then went to the diggings in Ballarat and Bendigo (then Sandhurst) and later in western New South Wales, adding to his fortune.
By June 1859, John Clegg was back on the Macleay with his new-found fortune where he married Elizabeth Jane Christian at her parents' home in Austral Eden. He selected a substantial portion of land, initially north of Frederickton, which he farmed. He called his property Sandhurst Vale after Sandhurst (now Bendigo) on the goldfields where he had made part of his fortune, and with Elizabeth Jane raised a family of 16 children.
John gradually acquired more properties at Warrell Creek, Unkya Creek (Eungai), Scotts Head and Kinchela which he later gave to his sons to manage. John Verge formally married Mary Alford at Austral Eden in 1858 after receiving news of the death of his first wife back in England.
He died on 9 July 1861 and is buried in the family vault at Port Macquarie.
It is not known if Verge reconciled with his stepson John Clegg after his return to the Macleay. Upon John Clegg's death in 1919, his Sandhurst Vale property alone consisted of 306 acres described as the richest agricultural and fattening land on the North Coast, with his entire estate on the Macleay comprising over 1,400 acres.