Category Archives: New South Wales

The European crossing of the Blue Mountains: some bibliography

The following is a selection of references, to be added to progressively.

Some early materials

Blaxland, Gregory, A Journal of a Tour of Discovery across the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, in the Year 1813, with references and explanatory notes, maps, etc. by Frank Walker, [Sydney, S.T. Leigh & Co., printers, 1913?].

Anon. [James O’Hara], The History of New South Wales, London, J. Hatchard, 1817; 2nd ed., 1818.

[Evans, George William; Turpin, Mary Lemprière], The First Crossing of the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, by George William Evans, Deputy Surveyor General of New South Wales, 30th November 1813, compiled by his daughter, Mary Lemprière Turpin, née Evans, [Sydney?], [publisher?], c. 1913.

 Some studies

Anon., Crossing the Blue Mountains: Journeys through Two Centuries, from Naturalist Charles Darwin to Novelist David Foster, Potts Point NSW, Duffy & Snellgrove, 1997.

Brownscombe, Ross (ed.), On Suspect Terrain: Journals of Exploration in the Blue Mountains 1795-1820, Brighton East VIC, Forever Wild Press, 2004. Including original materials, some previously unpublished. Reviewed: Network Review of Books (The Australian Public Intellectual Network), March 2005 (Paul Genoni).

Cameron, Bruce, ‘Sun Valley’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008. Including reference to evidence of Aboriginal inhabitants in the Blue Mountains. Sun Valley is near Springwood. Cf. Bruce Cameron, Sun Valley and Long Angle Gully: A History, Valley Heights NSW, the author, 1998.

Cunningham, Chris, The Blue Mountains Rediscovered: Beyond the Myths of Early Australian Exploration, Kenthurst NSW, Kangaroo Press, 1996.

Currey, C.H. ‘The First Crossing of the Blue Mountains by Governor and Mrs Macquarie and the Foundation of the City of Bathurst on May 7, 1815’, Journal (Royal Australian Historical Society) 41.3, 1955.

Ellis, M.H., Lachlan Macquarie, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1978.

Havard, W.L. (ed.), ‘Gregory Blaxland’s Narrative and Journal Relating to the First Expedition over the Blue Mountains, New South Wales’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), 23.1, 1937, 28-42.

Havard, W.L., and B.T. Dowd, Historic Glenroy, Cox’s River, Hartley N.S.W., [Blaxland NSW], Blaxland Shire Council, [1937]. Online presentation of text and images, The Lithgow, Hartley Town and Around Website.

Houison, J.K.S., ‘John and Gregory Blaxland’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), 22.1, 1936, 1-41.

Lee, Ida, Early Explorers in Australia: From the Log-Books and Journals, Including the Diary of Allan Cunningham, Botanist, from March 1, 1817, to November 19, 1818, London, Methuen, 1925, chap. XV, at p. 489. ‘Cunningham Reaches Pandora’s Pass’. Brief description of Allan Cunningham’s journey over the Mountains, September 1822. A transcript online.

Low, John, ‘A Rude, Peculiar World: Early Exploration of the Blue Mountains’, in Peter Stanbury (ed.), The Blue Mountains: Grand Adventure for All, Sydney, Macleay Museum, University of Sydney, 1985; 2nd ed., Sydney, Macleay Museum/ Second Back Row Press, 1988.

Mackaness, George (coll. and ed.), Fourteen Journeys over the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, 1813-1841 (Australian Historical Monographs, New Series, 22-24), 3 vols., Sydney, Mackaness, 1950; repr., Sydney, Horwitz-Grahame, 1965.

Macqueen, Andy, Somewhat Perilous: The Journeys of Singleton, Parr, Howe, Myles and Blaxland in the Northern Blue Mountains, Wentworth Falls NSW, A. Macqueen, 2004.

Persse, Michael, ‘Wentworth, William Charles (1790–1872)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, and online.

Pulver, W[orters] R[eadett], Notes on the First Crossing of the Blue Mountains, 1813, The Institute [The Northern Engineering Institute of New South Wales], 1913.

Ritchie, J., A Biography of Lachlan Macquarie, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1986.

Ross, Valerie, The Everingham Letterbook: Letters of a First Fleet Convict, Wamberal, Anvil Press, 1985.

Scott, Ernest, Australian Discovery, London, Dent, 1929; repr., New York, Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1966. Online (Project Gutenberg).

Stockton, Eugene (ed.), Blue Mountains Dreaming: the Aboriginal Heritage, Winmalee NSW, Three Sisters Productions, 1993; 2nd ed., ed. Eugene Stockton and John Merriman, Lawson NSW, Blue Mountain Education and Research Trust, 2009.

Thomas, Martin, The Artificial Horizon: Imagining the Blue Mountains, Carlton VIC, Melbourne University Press, 2003. Reviewed, Network Review of Books (Australian Public Intellectual Network), February 2004 (Paul Genoni).

The above details are based on information to hand.

Can a thief be trusted to record the temperature?

George Edwards Peacock, meteorological observer at the New South Wales Government’s South Head weather station between 1841 and 1856, had arrived in Sydney as a convict in May 1837. (See the entry for 28/3/2011.) His trial, conviction and transportation were undoubtedly traumatic for a family that had reason to look upon itself as highly respectable.

George’s father, Daniel Mitford Peacock, had been a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he gained a first-class degree in mathematics in 1791. Not only was he among that élite group of students, called ‘Wranglers’, but he was ‘senior Wrangler,’ having gained the highest marks in the examination. Accordingly he was one of the two recipients in that year of Smith’s Prize, awarded for excellence in mathematics and natural philosophy (physics).

A biographical note in a dictionary published in 1816 (with reference to 1814) records that Daniel had the degree of M.A., was a Fellow of Trinity College, was ‘one of the preachers at Whitehall,’ and was the author of Considerations on the Structure of the House of Commons (1794) and a Pamphlet against the Conductors of the Critical Review. His other works include The Principles of Civil Obedience, Laid down by Locke and Paley, Analyzed and Confronted with the Doctrine of Scripture, in a Sermon, Preached before the Judges of the Assizes at Durham, July 26, 1815; and Remarks on the Essentials of a Free Government, and on the Genuine Constitution of the British House of Commons, in Answer to the Theories of Modern Reformers, Cambridge, 1817, a work based on Montesquieu’s L’esprit des Loix. In these two works the author, Rev. D.M. Peacock, is stated to be (with some variation of wording) Rector of Great Stainton (or Staynton), Durham, Vicar of Sedbergh, Yorkshire, and formerly Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Two years later appeared his treatise on A Comparative View of the Principles of the Fluxional and Differential Calculus, Cambridge, 1819.

Rev. Daniel Mitford Peacock became rector of the Parish of Stainton in 1812. He purchased part of the estate at Great Stainton from the Marquess of Londonderry in 1823. In 1835 he sold it to John Lord Eldon, who had acquired the rest of the estate from the Marquess of Londonderry in 1826.

Mathematical ability ran in the family. We find Mitford Peacock (1800-1828), Daniel’s eldest son, of Bene’t College, Cambridge, as ‘second Wrangler’ and recipient of Dr. Smith’s Prize in 1822. Mitford became a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, gained his M.A. (year uncertain), and took holy orders, but died young, at Hastings on 20 May 1828. His epitaph records him as ‘Elder son of the Rev. D.M. Peacock Rector of / Great Stainton in the County of Durham.’ He died in ‘the 28th year of his age.’ ‘Christian meekness, and humility, purity and modesty, / Truth and sincerity, uncompromising integrity, active benevolence, and a tenderness for the feelings of others / Bespoke the blessed influence of religion in his heart / throughout life; he died in single reliance on the / Merits and Meditation of the Redeemer our / Lord Jesus Christ.’

It was against this background of intellectual and ecclesiastical eminence and respectability that George Edwards Peacock fell. In 1835 he used a power of attorney to appropriate money belonging to his brother Rev. Edwards Peacock (1804-1895). Accused and found guilty, he was fortunate to escape a death sentence, which was commuted to transportation. As a convict in New South Wales he was fortunate again in gaining honourable and steady employment as a meteorological observer and compiler at the South Head weather station in Sydney. After the weather station closed in 1856 he became clerk to a prominent solicitor, Montagu Consett Stephen, son of Chief Justice Sir Alfred Stephen. But in November of that year he was charged with stealing over 200 pounds from the funds of the solicitor. He disappeared and (it has been shown) escaped to England, where he lived under another family surname, Cust, until his death at York in 1873.

Are we to understand that such a man, shown to have been conspicuously deceitful in matters of money and personal trust, was nevertheless unwaveringly reliable in being on hand, four times a day, day after day, over a period of fifteen years, to observe and record with fastidious care, perhaps through an inherited capacity for mathematical precision, details of temperature and air pressure, dew point, rainfall, wind direction and strength, and general features of the weather, on which official, public and scientific judgments could be confidently based?

Daniel Mitford Peacock, Justice of the Peace: Accounts and Papers, vol. 7: Relating to Courts of Law; Juries; Elections; &c.: Session: 4 February – 20 August 1836, 1836, Justices of Peace [List of Persons Appointed to Act as Justices of the Peace, in England and Wales], County of York, North Riding, at p. 83; biography: A Biographical Dictionary of the Living Authors of Great Britain and Ireland, London, Colburn, 1816, p. 265; rector of Stainton: Durham Diocesan Records, Letters testimonial (admissions), letter of 19/2/1812, to Stainton-le-Street rectory; British History Online, Parish of Stainton; estate at Great Stainton: British History Online, Stainton. Mitford Peacock, second Wrangler: The New Monthly Magazine, 1/3/1822, Varieties, at p. 113; death: The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 98, June 1828, Obituary, Clergy Deceased, at p. 571; epitaph: St Helens, Ore, Monumental Inscriptions, 25/07/2004, Bedford Memorial Program, Memorial Inscriptions for Old Parish of St Helens, Ore, in the County of East Sussex. Col Fullagar, ‘The Life and Disappearance of George Edwards Peacock’, Bonhams & Goodman, Auction News 4.2, October 2008, p. 7 [pdf].

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.

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.

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.

An era of drought

In his Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales (4th ed., 1875), John Dunmore Lang makes a number of notable references to weather patterns in the colony and consequences for the inhabitants.

In discussing exploration in the time of Governor Macquarie, Lang notes that floods on the Hawkesbury River were succeeded ‘in the usual course of the seasons in New South Wales, by a serious drought in the year 1813’ (p. 163). Given that the colony had over 65,000 sheep and 21,000 cattle, and nearly 2,000 horses, it was imperative to find new pastures for them, and this gave an impulse to search for land on the other side of the Blue Mountains.

A quarter of a century later there was a momentous period of drought in the time of Governor Darling. That Governor’s tenure (1825-1831) was marked by ‘four remarkable epochs’: ‘the era of general excitement … the era of general depression … the era of drought … the era of libels’ (p. 196).

In 1825 the Australian Agricultural Company was formed as a joint-stock company under Royal Charter, to cultivate land, to rear sheep, cattle and horses, and to contribute to the improvement of the colony (pp. 196 ff.). It had a capital of a million pounds sterling and was authorised to select and take possession of a million acres free of charge. Around the same time, other men of means in England, with agents in New South Wales, obtained extensive grants of land. The price of livestock had been rising during the time of Governor Brisbane (1821-1825), when landholdings increased and there was a corresponding demand for sheep and cattle. With the advent of the Australian Agricultural Company and the great extension of landholdings at that time the additional demand caused prices to rise rapidly. And then a ‘sheep and cattle mania’ formerly unknown in the colony ‘instantly seized on all ranks and classes of its inhabitants’ (p. 198). Barristers and attorneys, military officers and civilians, clergymen and doctors, merchants, settlers and dealers wanted to buy sheep and cattle at the markets.

The large numbers of sheep and cattle bought in 1826 and 1827 had to be paid for, they and their progeny had to be fed, and in the meantime agriculture contracted through an over-emphasis on livestock and grazing. It was even more disastrous, therefore, when encouraging weather gave way to a drought that lasted for nearly three years, from 1827 to 1829.

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 [previous editions, 1834, 1837, 1852], pp. 163, 196-210. The literature on Governor Darling includes: ‘Darling, Sir Ralph (1772-1858)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 282-286, and online; Brian H. Fletcher, Ralph Darling: A Governor Maligned, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1984; Brian Fletcher, ‘Ralph Darling (19 December 1825 – 22 October 1831)’, in David Clune and Ken Turner (ed.), The Governors of New South Wales 1788-2010, Annandale NSW, Federation Press, 2009, chap. 7 (pp. 148-166).

Taking a stick to the environment

John Dunmore Lang (1799-1878), Presbyterian minister, member of Parliament and author of An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, relates in that work an incident which occurred as he was travelling alone on horse-back from the Hunter River to Sydney in March 1830. He writes (pp. 205-206):

I was trotting along the side of a hill, when a black snake, of upwards of four feet in length, which had been basking in the sun on the bare foot-path—for such was the only road at the time for a considerable distance among the mountains—sprang out from among my horse’s feet, and tried to escape. As it is considered a matter of duty in the colony to kill an animal of this kind, when it can be done without danger or inconvenience, I immediately dismounted, and, breaking off a twig from a bush, pursued and wounded the venomous reptile.

He had struck it a few inches from the head. The snake turned and glared, and the part of its body between the head and wound swelled up, but it could not attack and tried again to escape, whereupon the traveller killed it with a few more strokes.

It is usual in such cases to leave the animal extended, as a sort of trophy, across the footpath, to inform the next traveller that the country has been cleared of another nuisance, and to remind him, perhaps, of his own duty to do all that in him lies to clear it of every remaining nuisance; that it may become a goodly and a pleasant land, in which there shall be nothing left to hurt or to destroy.

The last allusion recalls Isaiah 11:9 and 65:25. The snake-destroying cleric, thinking himself to have the best interests of humanity at heart, concludes his narrative with an elegant quotation from Vergil’s Aeneid, which gives (he says) a ‘beautiful and most accurate description of the appearance the snake exhibited when half-dead’ (p. 206 n. 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. 205-206 [previous editions, 1834, 1837, 1852]; for the date of the incident see p. 203. ‘Pleasant land’ occurs in a number of Old Testament passages; ‘goodly and pleasant land’ perhaps combines ‘good and pleasant’ as found in Psalm 133:1 with ‘green & pleasant Land’ in the last line of William Blake’s poem ‘And did those feet in ancient time’ (which like the passages in Isaiah makes reference to Jerusalem). The OED (s.v.) records ‘twig’ as dialectal for a stout stick. Lang’s text of Vergil, Aeneid 5.273-279 corresponds to that in the Bibliotheca Augustana (which uses Mynors, 1969) except for nodos in line 279 (the BA has nodis) and punctuation differences. The passage describes a snake, wounded on the highway by a wheel or rock, glaring, hissing and twisting as it tries in vain to escape. D.W.A. Baker, ‘Lang, John Dunmore (1799-1878)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 76-83, and online.