Monthly Archives: March 2011

George Edwards Peacock: lawyer, convict, meteorological observer, artist

George Edwards Peacock is included as a landscape painter in the Dictionary of Australian Artists Online. The dictionary article (1992, revised 1992-2003) records that he was baptised in Sedbergh, Yorkshire, on 4 September 1806. He was ‘younger son’ of Rev. Daniel Mitford Peacock, vicar of Sedbergh, and his wife Catherine, née Edwards (hence George’s middle name). He was educated at Sedbergh School and became a solicitor (February 1830). But he experienced financial difficulties and ‘forged a power of attorney for transfer of stock valued at £7,814, the property of his brother, Rev. Edwards George Peacock.’ He was tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced to death (11 September 1836), but the sentence was commuted to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney (on the Prince George) on 8 May 1837 and was sent to Port Macquarie. He had married in England, and his wife and son (their names are not given) joined him in Port Macquarie three months after his arrival and then by 1839 moved to Sydney, where George was allowed to join them. He had been a clerk at Port Macquarie; in Sydney, after training under the government astronomer James Dunlop, he became a meteorological observer at the government weather station on the South Head of Port Jackson, living alone in a cottage nearby (his marriage broke up). He also took up painting and became known for his views of the harbour and other subjects. In December 1845 he received a conditional pardon (which required him to remain in the colony). ‘After the South Head weather station closed in 1856, official records make no further mention of Peacock and it is not known where or when he died.’ The article gives details of his painting career.

In 2002 the State Library of New South Wales produced George Edwards Peacock in the Picture Gallery: Guide. The Library has more than forty of his paintings. He is described as ‘the youngest son of the Reverend Daniel Mitford Peacock.’ The date of his conditional pardon is given as June 1846. ‘What happened to him after 1856 is a mystery: not even the date or place of his death is known.’

On 12 December 2003 the ABC’s 7.30 Report broadcast a segment on Col Fullagar, an insurance broker who ‘spends his spare time travelling around the country, documenting and even cleaning the grave sites of notable artists from Australia’s past.’ On Col Fullagar’s website, Last Resting Place of Australian Artists, a search for George Edwards Peacock now yields the information that he died on 23 January 1875;

Appears to have returned to England, changed name to George CUST and died in 1875. Buried in unmarked grave at York Cemetery, England.

In an article published in Bonhams & Goodman, Auction News 4.2, October 2008, p. 7, Col Fullagar tells the story of how he discovered George’s fate.

The State Library of New South Wales Guide cites: Garry Darby, ‘Peacock, George Edwards’ in Joan Kerr (ed.), The Dictionary of Australian Artists 1770-1870, Sydney, Oxford University Press, 1992; Mitchell Library Pictures Research Notes PXn 90; Old Bailey Session Papers 1836 (eleventh session), London, 1837, pp. 751-757. Col Fullagar, ‘The Life and Disappearance of George Edwards Peacock’, Bonhams & Goodman, Auction News 4.2, October 2008, p. 7 [pdf]. New South Wales Reports of Crime for Police Information [1856-1862], 17 November 1856.

Hopefulness amid the burning sands of Libya

In colonial times, understanding of Libya (to judge from newspaper evidence) was strongly influenced by references to that region in classical and biblical literature. For the most part Libya was thought of as a vaguely defined southern region of heat and burning sands.

The travels of Herodotus included Libya and Egypt; he wrote of Libya in connection with theories as to the origins of the waters of the Nile, and noted the size and beauty of the long-living Ethiopians who inhabited the southern part of Libya. The temple of Jupiter Ammon, visited by Alexander the Great, was in the deserts of Libya, near great pillars of salt. At one time Carthage held sway from Libya to Spain. After the Roman conquest of Carthage, Libya became one of the major sources of grain for supplying the city of Rome. ‘The parts of Libya about Cyrene’ was a well-known phrase from the New Testament story of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). By ancient custom the Bishop of Alexandria had authority over Egypt, Libya and the Pentapolis (five cities with Greek origins, including Cyrene and Berenice, modern Benghazi). Some argued that, according to biblical prophecy, Russia would occupy Egypt, Ethiopia and Libya in the last stages of the power struggles before the prophesied battle of Armageddon.

Literary allusions seemed to fill people’s minds even when Africa was being opened up by exploration. A report by Dr. Livingstone (1813-1873) from Ujiji, dated 1 November 1871, mentioned Libya in connection with a story thousands of years old, that an admiral of the Pharaohs had sailed round Libya with the sun on his right hand (that is, around the south of Libya from east to west) and was not believed. (Ujiji was where Henry Stanley found Dr. Livingstone on 28 October 1871.) Present at the British Association meeting in October 1874 was ‘Dr. Schweinfurth, who returned lately from a romantic expedition into the Desert of Libya.’ Not only was Libya fabled and romantic but the expeditions that went there were likely to have an aura of romance.

When W.C. Wentworth wrote his poem ‘Australasia’ for a Cambridge poetry prize in 1823 (published in the Sydney Gazette in 1824), he lamented the convict origins of New South Wales but offered the consolatory thought that the Roman empire, which stretched ‘From Libya’s sands to quiver’d Parthia’s shore,’ had even more disreputable origins.

Libya is the focus of a poem which appeared in the Melbourne Argus in 1852. Nicholas Mitchell, in ‘The Oases of Libya,’ developed the theme that ‘Nought wholly waste or wretched will appear | Through all the world of Nature or of mind.’ There is always hope in the midst of sorrow, happiness in the midst of desolation, stars to illuminate the darkness, faith to alleviate gloom. The oases of Libya are a case in point, ‘plots of verdure’ that gladden the traveller. The very first sight of them, and the fragrance that comes on the breeze, give relief to weary pilgrims. The fresh leaves, the birds, the mossy rocks, the green grass, the trees and vines and fruits, the flowers, bring luxurious thoughts, ‘While skies more clear, more bluely seem to glow, | To match the bright and fairy scene below.’

Herodotus: Sydney Morning Herald 14/7/1863, p. 2; Australian 5/8/1842, p. 2 (Ethiopians). Temple of Jupiter Ammon: ‘Salt’, Colonial Times 10/8/1847, p. 3. Carthage: Queanbeyan Age and General Advertiser 15/6/1865, p. 4. Grain supplies for Rome: South Australian Advertiser 19/6/1866, p. 2; cf. Launceston Examiner 11/12/1850, p. 4. Pentecost: Mercury (Hobart) 13/6/1871, p. 3. Bishop of Alexandria: Sydney Morning Herald 9/6/1843, pp. 2-3 at p. 2. Armageddon: Sydney Morning Herald 8/2/1854, p. 5. Dr. Livingstone: Rockhampton Bulletin 3/10/1872, p. 4. British Association and Georg August Schweinfurth (1836-1925): South Australian Register 26/10/1874, p. 6. ‘Australasia, written for the Chancellor’s Medal, at the Cambridge Commencement, July 1823, by W. C. Wentworth, an Australasian’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 25/3/1824, p. 4. Nicholas Mitchell, ‘The Oases of Libya’: Argus 7/8/1852, p. 4.

D’Arcy Wentworth, 1762-1827

On 10 July 1827 the Monitor announced, within a heavy black border, the death of D’Arcy Wentworth (who had died on 7 July):

Died at his Estate of Home-bush, Aged 65, after a severe attack of Influenza, universally regretted, D’Arcy Wentworth, Esq. the oldest Magistrate in the Colony, many years Surgeon-General, Colonial Treasurer of the Colony, and Chief Police Magistrate of Sydney; all of which important offices he filled with singular credit to himself, and satisfaction to the public, of all classes and degrees.

The Monitor felt ‘real grief’ in recording his death. ‘He was a lover of freedom; a consistent steady friend of the people; a kind and liberal master; a just and humane Magistrate; a steady friend; and an honest man.’ His talents were ‘not brilliant’ but ‘very solid.’ He was prudent and cautious, independent, and reliable. He had large land-holdings and may have been the wealthiest man in the colony. He sought to maintain people’s rights and so advance the welfare of the people.

In short, considering the paucity of men of wealth in the Colony sincerely attached to the people, we consider Mr. Wentworth’s premature death (for his looks bade fair for ten years longer of life) a national loss.

His funeral took place on Monday 9 July. The Australian reported that there was a procession nearly a mile long from his home at Homebush (spelled Home Bush) to the church at Parramatta. The chief mourner was Mr. C. Wentworth (i.e. his son, William Charles Wentworth). The service was taken by Rev. Samuel Marsden. The Wentworths were descended from the Earl of Strafford; the family seat was originally Wentworth Castle, in the County of York. D’Arcy was born in Ireland and arrived in the colony in 1790. On his retirement from the position of Principal Surgeon after 29 years he was praised in Government and General Orders as having uniformly conducted his duties in an ‘able, zealous, humane and intelligent manner.’

The obituary in the Australian concluded:

As a man, his manly and independent principles—his high integrity—his moderation—his urbanity—his public and private virtues—could not fail to endear him to his friends and fellow citizens, and to excite throughout the Colony the liveliest feelings of regret at his demise. | It might, without great exaggeration, be said of him, as was remarked by the late Earl of Cork and Orrery of Sir Horatio Mann, Minister to the Duke of Tuscany, in 1754—“He is the only person I have ever known, whom all his countrymen agree in praising.”

Monitor 10/7/1827, p. 3. Australian 11/7/1827, p. 4. ‘Wentworth, D’Arcy (1762-1827)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 579-582, and online.

St. Patrick’s Day, 1827

On Saturday 17 March 1810, early in the first year of Lachlan Macquarie’s tenure of office as Governor of New South Wales, the Sydney Gazette reported:

His Excellency was this day pleased to give an entertainment to a number of the Government artificers and labourers, in honor of the day, being Saint Patrick’s; on which occasion true British hospitality displayed itself; and every heart was filled with sentiments of respect and gratitude.

This commemoration of St. Patrick’s Day is presented as a gesture on the part of Governor Macquarie rather than a celebration that arose from within the Irish community.

In 1827 St. Patrick’s Day again fell on a Saturday. According to a report in the Australian newspaper, the day had not been celebrated in Sydney with a public dinner before that time. ‘Saint George and Andrew … have each had their day, and their respective votaries for years back, but in Sydney Poor Pat had no one to give him a dinner in public before Saturday last.’ In that year, a committee of gentlemen arranged for ‘Dinner on table at half-past five,’ and a memorable occasion resulted.

In a lengthy report, the newspaper article describes in detail the dinner and the customs that attended it. Mr. D. Wentworth was President, with Dr. Douglass on his right. St. Patrick is mentioned a number of times. There were ‘such dishes as might have tempted Saint Patrick himself with all his respect for Lent or ordinances of “Mother Church” to the contrary, to break his fast over.’ Mr. Wentworth, with a full glass of Irish whiskey, spoke in memory ‘of one whose fame can never die’, and at the toast the 57th’s band ‘struck up the saint’s favourite air—Patrick’s day in the morning.’ The calls for an encore, and the bursts of applause, ‘would scarce have failed to gratify the Saint, could he but have been present.’ Rev. Mr. Power proposed a toast to ‘Thomas Moore—the bard of the Isles,’ and in response to a request from his countrymen and distinguished visitors he gave them a song ‘in the original erse, with the tone, rich brogue, and humourous spirit, that would go hard towards puzzling Saint Patrick himself to equal or excel.’

Other toasts were drunk to the King, the Duke of York and the rest of the Royal Family, the Army and the Navy, Governor Darling, Mrs. Darling, the ladies of the Colony, Governor Macquarie (‘drank in solemn silence’), Chief Justice Forbes, the Chairman, the former Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane, Major Goulburn, Mr. M‘Leay, and others.

It was after midnight before the last of the company dispersed. ‘A feeling for political discussion’ prevailed towards the end of the evening, but it was partial and evanescent, and ‘it may be truly said, that harmony, cordiality, and general good feeling reigned paramount.’

The author of the newspaper article, most probably the editor (Robert Howe, son of the first proprietor George Howe), whose stature would presumably have earned him an invitation to the event, noted that he himself was not Irish: ‘It is rather unfortunate, that we have but a very slight and impartial acquaintance with the “life and adventures” of the “rite merry and facetious” Saint Patrick.’

The Chairman, D’Arcy Wentworth, born in Ireland, was much respected in the colony. He died a few months later (7 July). The reputation of Dr. Douglass with the authorities was variable; he was obviously in sufficient standing at the time to play a prominent part on St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852) had by this time become a novelist; his novel The Epicurean was published in 1827.

St. Patrick’s Day was observed by the Bank of New South Wales as a holiday in 1827 (cf. Holidays in Sydney in 1827).

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 17/3/1810, p. 2. ‘Anniversary of Saint Patrick’, Australian 20/3/1827, p. 3. J.J. Auchmuty, ‘Wentworth, D’Arcy (1762-1827)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 579-582, and online. K.B. Noad, ‘Douglass, Henry Grattan (1790-1865)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 314-316, and online.

Some European views of Japan in the nineteenth century

References to Japan in nineteenth-century newspapers in Australia are spasmodic and provide a very incomplete view of that country. The word ‘japanned’ occurs frequently in advertisements in connection with a variety of articles that were subjected to that lacquering process. As for the people, lifestyle and cultural achievements of Japan, there was a strong inclination to believe that European culture and attainments were significantly more advanced.

Thus in 1825 the Australian newspaper reprinted a letter to the editor of the Singapore Chronicle in which the writer commented on the language and ideas in several newspapers in the Australian colonies. According to the writer, the newspapers showed a range of regrettable linguistic developments in Australian English; however, they also offered evidence of ‘the rapid advancement of a country destined at some future day in all likelihood to alter the whole frame of society in Eastern Asia, and to give law to China and Japan.’

According to the Sydney Gazette in 1829:

In the island of Japan, we have the example of a people, who having attained a high degree of civilization and knowledge of the arts of life, have nevertheless abstracted themselves from intercourse with foreign nations. … There [in China], as in Japan, society appears to have attained a point at which all further progress and improvement have been arrested.

A small indication of the ignorance, or prejudice, which affected views on the ‘Far East’ may be found in an article on the history of printing, published in the Colonial Times in 1827, according to which Japan did not obtain the art of printing until the sixteenth century, subsequent to its invention in Germany in 1457.

There was, nevertheless, a recognition that Japan produced impressive manufactured goods. In the Sydney Monitor in 1828 a contributor is quoted as saying that Sydney is a place where,

… if you have but the money, you may procure any thing that convenience requires, and indulge if you please, the most capricious freaks of fancy, from the clumsiest Dutch toys, to the exquisite manufactures of China and Japan.

In quoting this passage the writer of the article disputes the possible implication that the items are widely available, but there is no criticism of the view that manufactures from China and Japan are typically, and in contrast to some items of European origin, ‘exquisite.’

Letter to the editor: ‘Comparisons are —’, Australian 20/10/1825, p. 2. Knowledge and civilization: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/3/1829, p. 2. Printing: Supplement to the Colonial Times 12/10/1827, p. 2. Manufactures: Sydney Monitor 23/8/1828, p. 3.

Japan, 15 June 1896: earthquakes and a tidal wave

In April 1892 the Adelaide Advertiser printed a description of ‘the great earthquake of 1891’ from a letter written by an agent of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company at Hiogo, Japan, and forwarded to the company’s Adelaide office. The writer described the earthquake as ‘the greatest seismic disturbance of the present century. The first and most severe shock occurred at 6.40 a.m. on October 28 and lasted about three minutes…’ During those few minutes nearly 10,000 people were killed and nearly 20,000 injured, and nearly 130,000 buildings were destroyed and over 50,000 partially destroyed (the writer gives exact figures).

The shock was accompanied by a low rumbling sound, the earth was violently shaken, and moved like the surface of a pool of water agitated by the wind, although the morning was perfectly bright and calm. … The earthquake was felt from Sendai in the north to Nagasaki in the south, over an area of 92,000 square miles, but most severely between Kobe and Tokio, the centre being the Nagoya-Gifu plain, one of the Japan’s great gardens.

Five years later there was another major upheaval, this time centred further to the north-east. By way of a ship that came directly from China and Japan, a report arrived in Australia a few weeks later of ‘the subsidence of a huge area off the northern coast of Japan.’

On Monday, the 15th June, the whole coastline of Iwate, Miyagi, and Aomori Prefectures, and of Rikuzen Province, a stretch of land measuring from 150 to 200 miles in length, was inundated by a tidal wave. Hundreds of houses have been swept away and probably thousands of lives lost. … There is unfortunately no room to doubt that the nation has to mourn a devastation almost, if not quite, equalling the terrible earthquakes in Central Japan in 1891.

The tidal wave was ‘preceded or accompanied by great seismic disturbances.’ The affected area stretched ‘from Sendai Bay on the south to Hachinohei and the eastern head of Aomori Bay on the north.’ The event was ‘a crushing catastrophe.’ Details to hand ‘suffice to make it clear that the country is face to face with little less than a national disaster. The feeling of the people is that the year promises to be a dark one.’

1891 earthquake: Advertiser (Adelaide) 23/4/1892, p. 4. 1896 earthquakes and inundation: quotations are from the report as printed in Sydney Morning Herald 21/7/1896, p. 6; see also Brisbane Courier 25/7/1896, p. 9.

Earthquakes in Japan: some nineteenth-century reports

Nineteenth-century newspaper reports show how gradual the process could be of assembling information about distant events, even in an age when communications were becoming more sophisticated. A reader might wait two months or more for an extended account of a major incident, and the report when it came might be, for all its striving for detail, rather sketchy. In the case of natural disasters, attempts to explain causes reflect the imperfect scientific knowledge of the day, and reveal a tendency to find in an event the work of a higher power and a pattern of responsibility and punishment.

Earthquakes in Japan were known to be frequent. Particularly large earthquakes in 1855 and 1891, for example, were remembered as exemplifying the susceptibility of Japan to major upheavals.

In December 1891 the Maitland Mercury reported a recent earthquake in Japan as affecting an enormous area and causing unprecedented havoc. As well as giving details of the scale of destruction, the article referred to the behaviour of the Japanese in response to the disaster:

To all this instantaneous and almost incredible ruin the Japanese oppose a cheerful and invincible fortitude. Panic there may have been during the fearful ten or twelve minutes while the land surged like a sea beneath their feet, and all the works of their hands toppled like a house of cards upon their heads. But in the midst of this widespread desolation and bereavement they maintain their customary demeanor, and accept the inevitable with laughing stoicism.

The writer sought to place the event in a longer historical perspective:

It is noted as a remarkable coincidence that the news of the terrible earthquake in Japan should be published in London on the 136th anniversary of the great Lisbon earthquake, when in about eight minutes most of the houses in the Portuguese capital and upwards of 50,000 inhabitants were swallowed up. The latest calamity in Japan brings up the total number of earthquakes and earthquake shocks recorded in the present century to about 130…

According to the article, the most fatal so far in the nineteenth century were those at Naples, 1805; Algiers, 1516; Aleppo, 1822; South Italy, 1851; Calabria, 1857; Quito, 1859; Mendoza (South America), 1860; Peru and Ecuador, 1868; Columbia, 1875; Cashmere, 1885; Corsica, Geneva and other towns, 1887; and Yun-nan, China, 1888. Even more destructive were earthquakes in preceding centuries at Naples, 1456; Schamacki, 1667; Sicily, 1693; and Jeddo, Japan, 1703. Among these the greatest loss of life occurred at Jeddo, when that city was ruined and some 200,000 people died.

Edo, also spelled Yedo, Yeddo and Jeddo, was the name of the city now called Tokyo.

In February 1892 the Mercury (Victoria) described the November 1891 earthquake in Japan in the light of details that had come to hand in the meantime. It was suggested that the earthquake was ‘the result of actual explosion somewhere in the bowels of the earth.’ Where the shocks were most severe, over an area of 500 square miles, nothing could withstand them; double that area was violently but less destructively shaken; ‘and even in the capital, 170 miles distant, the earth movements were of a kind to which there has been no parallel since the great Yeddo earthquake thirty-seven years ago.’

The Jeddo earthquake of 11 November 1855 was reported at length in the Perth Gazette eight months after the event. Some analysis was drawn from the San Francisco Herald:

… it is possible that the report exaggerates the real facts. Indeed, the destruction as given is so vast and appalling that one is tempted, through the sympathies of a common humanity, to doubt it and to hope for a less fearful account. But, when it is remembered that Jeddo is reported by some as containing a mil<l>ion of inhabitants, the wide-spread destruction is not impossible. It will be remembered that the Russian frigate Diana was wrecked [la]st year at Simoda by an earthquake, which was terrific and very destructiee [sic]. And it is said that at the same place the shock which was so destructive at Jeddo was severe.

The San Francisco Herald added:

The advent of the Americans, French, English, and Russians into Japan has been accompanied by natural phenomena of such an uncommon character that the Government and people may not very unnaturally connect the two as judgments sent upon them.

Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser 22/12/1891, p. 5. Mercury and Weekly Courier (Victoria) 4/2/1892, p. 3. Jeddo, 1855: Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News 25/7/1856, p. 3.

A wind as from the mouth of a furnace

On 15 May 1828 the Monitor in Sydney reported:

The weather for the last two days has been remarkably warm, the thermometer having stood at 84 on Monday at noon. On the evening of the same day it reached 80 at nine o’clock at night, a hot wind having set in from the N. W. How this can be accounted for we know not, as the hot winds have never been known to prevail after April. The weather just now is altogether unprecedented. But it is an unprecedented Country altogether—natural, moral, political, and religious.

On 12 November of the same year, the Sydney Gazette reported:

One of those sudden squalls which are of such frequent occurrence in this part of the world, visited Sydney, on Saturday last. The forenoon of the day was peculiarly sultry, with a dense atmosphere, the heaviness of which was only disturbed by an equally disagreeable hot wind, which cast a glare upon the face of nature, not very dissimilar to that which proceeds from the mouth of a furnace.

The furnace analogy recurs in John Dunmore Lang’s description, in his Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, of the effect of hot winds in several districts of New South Wales in 1828. The drought had been interrupted by ‘a copious and seasonable fall of rain’ in the upper parts of Hunter’s River and elsewhere. The wheat crop revived and an abundant harvest was expected. But there was a sudden change in the settlers’ fortunes (pp. 209-210):

Just, however, as the wheat had got into the ear, a north-westerly wind, blowing as if from the mouth of a furnace, swept across the country, and in one hour destroyed many hundred acres of highly promising wheat.

The Monitor 15/5/1828, p. 5. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 12/11/1828, p. 2. John Dunmore Lang, An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, from the Founding of the Colony in 1788 to the Present Day, 4th ed., vol. I, London, Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1875, pp. 209-210.

Rain at Hunter’s River and not a blade of grass at Bathurst

On 17 February 1827 the Monitor newspaper in Sydney published a letter to the editor which referred to current weather conditions:

Cattle are dying in many parts of the Country through the drought, and the Hawkesbury Maize crop is ruined. There is, however, a plenty of it at Hunter’s River, where the rains have fallen (so I am informed) in great profusion. There is not a blade of grass at Bathurst and the case is much the same in many parts of Argyle.

The letter was dated Clydsdale [sic], 12 February 1827, and signed ‘R. M. T.’ The last initial suggests a relative of Charles Tompson, who bought Clydesdale Farm near Windsor in 1819 and was still in possession at the time of this letter. He had arrived in Sydney in 1804, having been transported for seven years. He acquired land in various parts of the colony, including (I understand) a property at Bathurst also given the name Clydesdale. In the present context ‘Clydsdale’ no doubt refers to his estate at South Creek near Windsor. The letter-writer (a son of Charles?), in mentioning the four regions of the Hawkesbury, Hunter’s River, Bathurst and Argyle, is likely to have had specific properties in mind. Charles had a number of sons, among them Charles jr., a poet; I have not identified R.M.T. The county of Argyle lay to the south-west of Sydney and centred on the township of Goulburn.

In his Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, John Dunmore Lang comments (p. 209) on the regional variability of climatic conditions in the colony, in a passage which has in view the same drought to which the letter-writer was referring:

Calamitous as it was, however, the drought was only partial, whole districts having either entirely or in great measure escaped its influence. It was much less felt, for instance, in the county of Argyle, to the southward and westward, than in the lowlands or earlier settled districts of the colony. In the lower parts of the settlement of Hunter’s River, or on what the Americans would call the sea-board, it was by no means so severe as at a greater distance from the coast: and in Illawarra, an extensive and highly fertile district about fifty miles to the southward of Port Jackson, the few settlers who had cultivated grain in any quantity never lost a crop. Such also was the case at the settlements of Port Macquarie and Moreton Bay, to the northward; and at Patrick’s Plains, a tract of fertile land on Hunter’s River, naturally destitute of timber, where the crop was nearly all destroyed in the year 1828, a good crop was reaped in the first year of the drought.

Letter to the editor: The Monitor 17/2/1827, p. 5. Note Adele Whitmore (comp.), Descendants of Charles Tompson: Australian Family Tree and Album, 4 vols., South Penrith NSW, A.M. Whitmore, 1987. John Dunmore Lang, An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, from the Founding of the Colony in 1788 to the Present Day, 4th ed., vol. I, London, Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1875, p. 209. Baker’s Australian County Atlas includes a map of the County of Argyle, accessible online.

Showers have revived our hopes

Sir Thomas Brisbane was Governor of New South Wales from 1 December 1821 until 1 December 1825. Three years after his departure from office, the Sydney Gazette referred to a long-range weather forecast attributed to the Governor:

The Australian says, that “Sir Thomas Brisbane, before he left the Colony, predicted that we should have a drought of three years’ duration in New South Wales!” For the first six months after Sir Thomas left, it did nothing but rain, and that as violently as ever rain descended from the heavens. But, should this prediction come true, there are about two years yet to the good: and, if there be no rain in that time, we will undertake to predict that the world will then be at an end.

This suggests that in March 1828 the writer was of the view that the colony had been subject to drought for about a year, that is since about March 1827. We read of drought in 1826 but there was evidently sufficient rain by the beginning of 1827 to mark off that period of drought from the more prolonged period which succeeded. Thus we read concerning the Thursday market in Sydney on 4 January:

The fruit is beginning to shew itself, though the long drought has been a great drawback upon the orchard; but the late occasional showers have revived our hopes in this respect.

There seems to have been a spirit of hopefulness abroad in March 1827. Experience suggested that substantial rains were likely in the latter part of the month, and on 10 March the Sydney Gazette was taking heart from recent conditions and expecting even better:

Upon looking into the Almanack we are glad to find, for once in a way, that our Colonial Compiler is tolerably correct. We see that we are to expect rain in torrents this month; of this we are right glad, as nothing is more universally needed than rain in abundance. Horticulture begins, even already, to wear a smiling aspect; and, as for the field, nature has proudly and joyously assumed her ever-green. We have had a long drought. The maize has somewhat suffered; but still nothing—no, not even the apparent frown of Providence, will operate as a drawback upon our prosperity, since all things will continue to work together for our Commercial, Agricultural, Political, and Moral Good.

Some readers may have wondered whether, in ascribing to Providence merely an ‘apparent frown’ that could hardly hinder human progress, the writer was tempting Fate.

Governor Brisbane’s prediction: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 21/3/1828, p. 2. Market report: ibid. 6/1/1827, p. 2. Almanack: ibid. 10/3/1827, p. 2.