Tag Archives: Hawkesbury River

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.

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).

Historical societies in districts near the Blue Mountains

The following historical societies were established in 1956 (Hawkesbury HS), 1958 (Nepean District HS) and 2001 (Kurrajong-Comleroy HS).

HAWKESBURY:  Hawkesbury Historical Society. According to the society’s website, the Hawkesbury Historical Society ‘was formed in 1956 to preserve the historical fabric of our City.’ The society now ‘promotes and encourages the study of the history of the Hawkesbury and collects and preserves matter relating to the history of the Hawkesbury.’ The Hawkesbury Regional Museum, in operation since 1962, originally run by the society, is now run by Hawkesbury City Council; the museum under present arrangements was opened in 2008. The society’s historical collection is housed in a separate building behind the older building, ‘Howe House’. The Hawkesbury City Council Library Service co-ordinates the Hawkesbury Family History Group, which has a website and is on Facebook.

KURRAJONG:  Kurrajong-Comleroy Historical Society. According to the society’s website, the society was formed in 2001 ‘to research, preserve and promote the heritage of “The Kurrajong”, the district north of the Hawkesbury River in the Hawkesbury local government area of New South Wales, Australia.’ In 1810 Governor Macquarie referred to the district called ‘the Kurry-Jung Brush.’ The area includes Kurrajong, Kurrajong Heights, Kurrajong Hills, East Kurrajong, Blaxlands Ridge, Colo Heights, Bowen Mountain, Grose Vale, Grose Wold, North Richmond, The Slopes, Tennyson, Glossodia and Wilberforce. Comleroy Road, as well as being the name of a road, was a name given to an early settlement to the north of Kurrajong. The road led to the Comleroy region (originally Coomery Roy; now reduced to a small locality called Comleroi) in the Hunter Valley. The society’s Family History Group is co-ordinating a register of family history studies relating to the area. The society has a digital archive of photographs (searchable online) and is developing a register of early land holdings. Back issues of the society’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Millstone (published 2002-2010), are accessible on the website.

NEPEAN:  Nepean District Historical Society. The society, officially formed in 1958, administers the Arms of Australia Inn Museum at Emu Plains. The inn, the oldest part of which was built c. 1826, was the last before the climb up the Blue Mountains. Trade declined when the railway came through in the 1860s. The society saved the inn from demolition in 1971 and supervised its restoration. The museum was opened in 1976. The society’s Open Day each July celebrates the commencement of construction of the road over the Blue Mountains by William Cox and involves re-enactments of life at the time by the ‘New South Wales Corps of Marines’. The latest edition of The Arms Chronicle can be downloaded from the website.

From Emu Ford to the Bathurst Plains

Governor Lachlan Macquarie, in reporting his tour to the Bathurst Plains in April-May 1815, recalls his earlier surprise at ‘the want of effort’ during the first twenty-five years of the life of the colony to find a way over the Blue Mountains. He was less surprised now, he confesses, considering the thickness and near impenetrability of the forest, and the amount of land that was already available to supply the needs of the colony at that time.

Macquarie’s journey, although called a tour of inspection, was itself also one of exploration. There was plenty of opportunity to observe the country more carefully, and to make excursions in various directions. It is of interest that he speaks of ‘the Western or Blue Mountains’; the terminology was still not completely fixed.

The party left on 25 April 1815 and began their return from Bathurst on 11 May, arriving back on 19 May. The stages of the journey out, with the distances in miles calculated from Emu Ford on the Nepean River, were as follows: Spring Wood (12), Jamison’s Valley or second depot (28), Blackheath (41), Cox’s River (56), the Fish River (72), Sidmouth Valley (80), Campbell River (91) and Bathurst (101½). Each of these stages had abundant water and good grass.

The first part of the ascent up the mountains was found relatively easy. Four miles beyond Spring Wood the ground became rugged and difficult. At the 18th mile mark a pile of stones was interpreted as the furthest point reached by Mr. Caley, and the Governor named that part of the mountain Caley’s Repulse. The difficult terrain continued till the 26th mile, where the country opened out to an extensive plain on ‘the summit of the Western Mountains.’ From here there was a fine view back to Windsor, the Hawkesbury River, Prospect Hill and other places. The Governor, mindful of his position as the King’s representative, named this feature after the King himself, as the King’s Table Land. Also named after royalty in the course of the tour were The Prince Regent’s Glen, a ‘romantically beautiful’ place beneath immense cliffs on the south-western side of the King’s Table Land, and Mount York, a ‘magnificently grand’ termination of a mountain ridge on the further side of the mountains, named after His Royal Highness the Duke of York. Two features were named after prominent politicians: at the 33rd mile a picturesque opening seen on the south-west side of the Prince Regent’s Glen, circular in shape and revealing mountains beyond mountains, was named Pitt’s Amphitheatre after the late Right Honourable William Pitt; and out in the western plains a site fixed on for a future town was named Bathurst after the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Other places named on the tour include Cox’s Pass, the precipitous descent down the further side of the Mountains, where Cox’s skill in constructing a road down was highly commended by the Governor; the Vale of Clwyd at the foot of Mount York, thought to resemble a valley of that name in North Wales; Cox’s River, which runs from the Prince Regent’s Glen to the Nepean and forms a boundary to the Vale of Clwyd; Mount Blaxland, Wentworth’s Sugar Loaf and Lawson’s Sugar Loaf, three ‘beautiful high hills joining each other’ three miles west of the Vale of Clwyd, where Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth had terminated their explorations; and Clarence Hilly Range, a range of high hills and narrow valleys between the Cox’s and Fish Rivers, difficult for cattle. Various features had been named in the course of the expedition of George Evans, including Mount Evans, ‘a very singular and beautiful Mountain’ with a distinctive round rock at the top; the explorer had named the mountain after himself.

The Fish and Campbell Rivers join to form the Macquarie River, which winds through the Bathurst Plains. On the south side of the Macquarie River, but above the level of floods, the site of Bathurst was chosen ‘to derive all the advantages’ of that ‘clear and beautiful stream.’ Macquarie noted that this location, with its rich and fertile soil, would be a fine place for ‘Mechanics and Settlers of whatever description.’

One anticipated advantage had evaporated:

The Governor must however add, that the hopes which were once so sanguinely entertained of this River becoming navigable to the Western Sea have ended in disappointment.

Report of the Governor’s tour: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2. Report of the expedition of George Evans: ibid. 12/2/1814, p. 1.

William Cox, road-maker

William Cox (1764-1837) arrived in Sydney in January 1800 as an officer in the New South Wales Corps. He succeeded John Macarthur as paymaster but got into financial difficulties when he bought for more than he could afford Macarthur’s Brush Farm at Dundas and other properties. This caused considerable inconvenience as it meant that others had to oversee the process of selling off his estate to pay his debts. He also incurred official displeasure owing to misuse of funds he was supposed to administer as paymaster. He was arrested, and in February 1807 sent to England, but a trial apparently did not eventuate. In 1810 he returned to New South Wales, having resigned his army commission the previous year, and began a rehabilitated life under Governor Macquarie. He lived, farmed and served as a magistrate in the Hawkesbury area, where his conduct won popular approval. He undertook a number of building works for the government, and this gave him a background for offering to construct a road across the Blue Mountains.

By a Government and General Order of 12 July 1814, Governor Lachlan Macquarie declared the construction of a road across the Blue Mountains ‘to the extensive Tract of Champaign Country lately explored by Mr. Evans’ to be ‘an object of the first Importance to the future Prosperity of the Colony.’ Acknowledgment was made of the ‘very handsome and liberal Manner’ in which William Cox had tendered his personal services for the undertaking. The Governor had accepted his proposal, had ‘entrusted to his Care and Judgment the entire Execution of the said Work,’ and was now making it known that the public were to keep away from the road under construction, so that the work could proceed unhindered and be completed as quickly as possible. Any unauthorised persons proceeding to the road or even crossing over the Nepean River to ‘Emu Plains’ while the road was being made would be taken prisoner by the Military Guard to be stationed at Emu Plains and sent to Sydney.

The term ‘Emu Plains’ was expressly used in this Order for that area ‘hitherto erroneously called Emu Island.’ It was from Emu Plains, on the left bank of the Nepean River, that the road was to start. Construction would begin in a few days’ time with the sending out of a working party of thirty men with a guard of eight soldiers. An announcement would be made in the Sydney Gazette when the road became ‘passable for Carts or Carriages of any kind.’

‘Government and General Order’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 23/7/1814, p. 1. Edna Hickson, ‘Cox, William (1764-1837)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 258-259, and online. William Cox, A Narrative of Proceedings of William Cox, Esq., of Clarendon, lately holding a commission in the New South Wales Corps or 102nd Regiment, in constructing a road from Capt. Woodriffe’s farm on the Nepean River, opposite Emu Plains, over the Blue Mountains, and from thence to Bathurst Plains, on the banks of the Macquarie River, in the years 1814 & 1815, Sydney, White, 1888.

The Blue Mountains: forbidding and forbidden

Rugged, precipitous and densely wooded, the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney could easily seem an inhospitable and rather frightening place to someone unaccustomed to the ways of the Australian bush.

An article by a ‘Sydney correspondent’ in the Brisbane Courier in 1876, in which the writer reflected on the significance of the expedition of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth, described the Blue Mountains as ‘that seemingly impenetrable succession of gaunt ranges, dense forests, and rocky fastnesses.’ In 1813 settlement was confined to the area between Newcastle to the north, Shoalhaven to the south, ‘and the base of the grim, defiant Blue Mountains in the west.’ There were settlers on the Nepean and Hawkesbury Rivers, but in the west ‘those gloomy sentinels stood barring the passage and forbidding further progress.’

An authoritarian government added to this sense of inaccessibility by declaring the country west of the Nepean out of bounds to all but a favoured few. Preoccupied with issues of public order and land use, the early Governors did not want convicts or settlers escaping from lawful oversight beyond the bounds of approved settlement.

At the foot of the mountains, on the western bank of the Nepean, lay a grassed area known as Emu Island. In an Order of 11 April 1812 Governor Macquarie noted that some settlers and others had been in the habit of sending ‘Horses and Horned Cattle’ to graze on this and other crown land west of the Nepean. In future anyone found guilty of such trespass would be severely punished. Moreover, no one was allowed to cross the Nepean River or travel in the country west of it without a written pass from the Governor or Lieutenant Governor. The only exception was for those associated with the sheep farms of Messrs. M‘Arthur and Davidson in the area known as the Cowpastures. Wild cattle grazing west of the Nepean were government property, and anyone found hunting, stealing or killing them would be prosecuted for felony, ‘and punished in the most exemplary Manner.’

The more the Blue Mountains were magnified in the public imagination as a near insuperable obstacle, the greater the achievement of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth might seem after the explorers found a way through. And the more energetic the Government was in claiming crown rights over the country west of the Nepean, the more subordinate the mountains and plains might seem to the dictates of officialdom. So proceeded the grand conquest of the mountains and the opening up of the territory beyond for pasturage and agriculture.

‘Crossing the Blue Mountains sixty-three years ago’, Brisbane Courier 15/4/1876, p. 6; also in The Queenslander 22/4/1876, p. 14. ‘Government and General Orders’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 18/4/1812, p. 1.

The five Macquarie towns

Just before Christmas in the year 1810, Governor Lachlan Macquarie issued an Order in which he noted the ‘frequent Inundations of the Rivers Hawkesbury and Nepean,’ the calamitous effects of these inundations on the crops in that vicinity, and the consequent serious injury to the subsistence of the Colony. To guard against a recurrence of such calamities, he had ‘deemed it expedient … to erect certain Townships on the most contiguous and eligible high Grounds in the several Districts subjected to those Inundations.’

The stated purpose of the townships was to provide accommodation and security to the settlers affected by the floods. Accordingly the townships were organised on a particular basis. Each settler was to be assigned ‘an Allotment of Ground for a Dwelling house, Offices, Garden, Corn-yard, and Stock-yard proportioned to the Extent of the Farm he holds within the influence of the Floods.’ These allotments could not be sold or alienated separate from the farms in connection with which they were allotted; they were always to be considered part of these farms.

The five districts concerned, and the names of the townships to be established, were: Green Hills, Windsor; Richmond Hill, Richmond; Nelson, Pitt Town; Phillip, Wilberforce; and Nepean, Castlereagh.

The local constables were to submit returns listing the settlers whose farms were affected by flood, the number of persons in their families, the size of their farms, and the number of animals in their flocks and herds. These returns, on the relevant form, were to go to the Principal Magistrate, William Cox, and from him to the Governor. The Acting Surveyor was then to mark out allotments.

Following this process, settlers were to erect houses as soon as possible and move in. The houses were to be of brick or weather-board, with brick chimneys and shingled roofs, and were to be no less than nine feet high. Official plans for the houses and offices would be left with the District Constable, and each settler had to build in conformity with these plans.

Christmas Day holiday and services

Just before Christmas in the same year, the Sydney Gazette also carried orders concerning Christmas Day (which fell on a Tuesday). ‘By divine Permission’ the church of St. Phillip, at Sydney, was to be consecrated on that day by the Principal Chaplain, Rev. Samuel Marsden. The Governor announced that he ‘is pleased to dispense with the Labour of all the Prisoners, and other Men working for the Government, on Christmas Day and the Day following.’ They were required to work as usual on other days of the week. Moreover, they were required on Christmas Day to parade at the usual hour and place for Divine Service.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 15/12/1810, p. 1; similarly, ibid., 22/12/1810, p. 1. Cf. ‘The Macquarie Towns’, State Library of NSW website. St. Phillip’s church: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 22/12/1810, pp. 2-3. Christmas Day holiday: ibid., p. 3.

The pursuit of knowledge under difficulties

Mrs. Boatright and her School for Young Ladies at No. 6, Colonnade, Bridge-street, Sydney, had a decidedly notable neighbour at No. 7. George William Evans, bookseller and stationer, was formerly a surveyor in Government employment and an experienced and successful explorer. His expedition in late 1813 was the first fully to cross the Great Dividing Range, after the partial crossing by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth earlier that year.

Born in England in 1780, Evans married in 1798 and emigrated to the Cape of Good Hope. From there he moved to New South Wales in 1802. He worked for a time as an official store-keeper at Parramatta, then in 1803 became acting Surveyor-General and explored the Warragamba River. In 1805 he became a farmer on the Hawkesbury River but suffered in the floods of 1806. In 1809 and following years he was involved in surveying and exploring, with the areas of his responsibilities varying between New South Wales and Tasmania. He surveyed Jervis Bay (1812); explored the Illawarra district in an expedition from Jervis Bay to Appin (1812); surveyed land grants in Van Diemen’s Land (1812); led an expedition across the Great Dividing Range to the Macquarie River on the other side of Bathurst (1813); received as a reward a grant of land near Richmond in Van Diemen’s Land; went to Hobart (1814); returned to Sydney to serve as a guide for an official tour of districts towards Bathurst (1815); explored various areas south of Bathurst (1815); went back to Hobart (1815); returned to Sydney to join John Oxley in exploring the Lachlan River (1817); went back again to Van Diemen’s Land (1817); again returned to Sydney to join Oxley in exploring the Macquarie River (1817-1818); returned to Hobart for land survey work; accompanied an expedition to Macquarie Harbour (1822); resigned (1825) on health grounds, subsequent to controversy over favours dispensed by the former Lieutenant-Governor (William Sorell) and survey officials; received a pension; returned to England; taught art; lost his property in a banking failure (according to the Sydney Morning Herald); obtained a lump sum in lieu of his pension and returned to Sydney (1831); established a business as a bookseller and stationer (1832), first at No. 4 the Colonnade, then No. 7, then in Lower George Street; worked also as drawing master at The King’s School (Parramatta); published a book (A Love Story, by a Bushman) which the Sydney Gazette hailed as apparently ‘the first novel the Australian press has put forth’ (1841); retired from his business as bookseller and stationer (1842); moved to Hobart (1844); and died there in 1852.

This brief survey of events, extending across the first half of the nineteenth century, necessarily gives only the merest outline of a life full of activity and adventure. George William Evans could have been a figure in one of the books he sold to customers, George Craik’s The Pursuit of Knowledge under Difficulties.

His time in Sydney as bookseller and stationer was marred in the end by an accusation of forgery relating to unexplained alterations in a tender document for the supply of stationery to the Government. He was arrested and allowed out on bail, then found not guilty. The case must have taken a toll, he was in his early sixties, and he retired from business soon after and left Sydney, never to return.

The biographical sequence given above is based mainly on details in A.K. Weatherburn, ‘Evans, George William (1780-1852)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 359-360, and online. Cf. A.K. Weatherburn, George William Evans, Explorer, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1966; idem, Australia’s Interior Unveiled: A Biography of George William Evans (1780-1852), Surveyor, Explorer and Artist, Ryde, NSW, A.K. Weatherburn, 1987. No. 4, Colonnade: cf. e.g. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 4/10/1832, p.4. George Street: cf. e.g. Australasian Chronicle 20/2/1841, p. 3. [William Harvey Christie], A Love Story, by a Bushman, 2 vols., Sydney, G.W. Evans (printed by Kemp and Fairfax), 1841. Court case: cf. e.g. Sydney Herald 29/4/1842, p. 3, 18/7/1842, p. 2. Biographical note: Sydney Morning Herald 2/1/1843, p. 2.