Tag Archives: Nepean River


It will be remembered that, on the eve of their journey across the Blue Mountains from Emu Island to Bathurst in April 1822, Thomas and Elizabeth Hawkins were entertained by Sir John Jamison at his property by the Nepean River.

A few months later, in August of that year, Sir John advertised in the Sydney Gazette that he was proposing to leave the colony for Europe towards the end of the year; he was wanting to sell his livestock (horses, cattle, sheep and pigs); and he was prepared to sell or rent ‘for a Term of Years’ his houses in Sydney, his estate of Regent Ville (on the Nepean), and his estates and farms elsewhere in the colony.

However, in September of the following year we find Sir John in the first stages of building a mansion at Regent-ville:

Tuesday last Sir John Jamison, the Proprietor of that invaluable Estate, Regent-ville, situate on the fascinating Banks of the Nepean, immediately fronting the picturesque Plains of Emu, laid the first stone of an intended mansion, to be erected on a magnificent scale. Regent-ville exhibited a scene of unprecedented festivity on the occasion; Sir John entertaining a large Party to an elegant dinner.

This function took place on 9 September 1823. A week later, on 16 September, the Commissariat Office in Sydney announced its acceptance of tenders for the supply of meat (fresh beef and salt pork) deliverable at Sydney, Liverpool, Parramatta, Windsor and Emu Plains. Among the suppliers to deliver at Emu Plains was Sir John Jamison of Regentville, with a tender for 1,000 lbs of salt pork.

In January of 1824 Sir John was advertising for twenty tenants, ‘of honest and industrious Character,’ each to rent at moderate terms ‘from 15 to 30 Acres of rich agricultural clear Land’ for five years on his Regentville Estate.

Proposed sale of livestock and sale and rent of properties: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 23/8/1822, p. 2. Laying of the foundation stone of the mansion at Regentville: ibid. 11/9/1823, p. 2. Tenders for the supply of meat: ibid. 2/10/ 1823, p. 3. Tenants: ibid. 29/1/1824, p. 1. The National Library of Australia holds a published engraving of Regentville by William Wilson, ‘Regentville, the Seat of Sir John Jamison’ (1838), from James Maclehose, Picture of Sydney and Strangers’ Guide in New South Wales in 1839, Sydney, J. Maclehose, 1839, facing p.171, viewable online.

Preparations at Emu Island and dinner with Sir John

(Continuing with the story of the Hawkins family as they journey from Sydney to Bathurst in 1822. See the entry of 16/2/2011 and onwards.)

Having arrived at Emu Island on Easter Monday, the Hawkins family stayed there several days. On Tuesday morning 9 April some of their goods were still on the other side of the river, and heavy rain made conditions difficult for bringing the things across the ford, but it was necessary to do so as the river, swollen by run-off from the Mountains, could rise to a dangerous and impassable level. Wednesday was spent drying things out. On Thursday they unpacked and re-organised luggage to protect things and make the provisions and bedding more accessible.

That evening Elizabeth and her husband (she calls him ‘Hawkins’) had dinner with Sir John Jamison, who had also invited a lady and two gentlemen. The meal was impressive and Elizabeth was delighted with the gardens. She first describes the meal, to give her sister an idea of Sir John’s hospitality and to show her ‘that it is possible for people to live here as well as in England’:

We partook of a sumptuous repast, consisting of mock turtle soup, boiled fowls, round of beef, delicate fish of three kinds, curried duck, goose, and wild ducks, madiera [sic] and burgundy, with various liqueurs and English ale.

As for the gardens, the apples and quinces were ‘larger than I had ever seen.’ It was autumn and many early trees were in blossom. The vines had a second crop of grapes, the fig trees a third crop.

There were also peaches and apricots. He has English cherries, plums, and filberts, with oranges, lemons, vines, citrons, medlars, almonds, rock and water melons, and all the common fruits of England, vegetables of all kinds, and grown at all seasons of the year, which shows how fine the climate is.

This was evidently a delightful evening for Elizabeth on the eve of the challenges that lay ahead.

Their fears that the river could flood were well founded. As a result of explorations some years previously, there was a growing understanding of how rainfall on the Mountains fed the river system. For example, Governor Lachlan Macquarie in his tour inspection report of June 1815 comments as follows on the Cox’s River, which his party came upon after descending from Mount York into the Vale of Clwyd on the far side of the Mountains:

The grass in this vale is of a good quality, and very abundant, and a rivulet of fine water runs along it from the eastward, which unites itself at the western extremity of the vale, with another rivulet containing still more water. The junction of these two streams forms a very handsome river, now called by the Governor “Cox’s River” which takes its course, as has been since ascertained, through the Prince Regent’s Glen, and empties itself into the River Nepean; and it is conjectured, from the nature of the country through which it passes, that it must be one of the principal causes of the floods which have been occasionally felt on the low Banks of the River Hawkesbury, into which the Nepean discharges itself.

Cox’s River winds around from the western side of the mountains eastward and joins the Nepean River. The Nepean flows in a northerly direction past Emu Island and becomes the Hawkesbury River, which was notorious for flooding the adjacent farm-lands.

‘The Mountains in 1822: Lady’s vivid diary, I’, Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13. Elizabeth Hawkins – Crossing the Blue Mountains. The diary of an early traveller across the Blue Mountains, on the website of the Ambermere Rose Inn (Little Hartley). Cox’s River: [Governor Macquarie’s report on his tour of inspection], Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2, at p. 1.

Text: It will be necessary to clarify the wording of Elizabeth Hawkins’ letter more adequately. The quotations above are from the Sydney Morning Herald. For the two excerpts given above, the transcription on the website of the Ambermere Rose Inn has: (1) we partook of a sumptuous repast, consisting of mock-turtle soup, boiled fowls, round of beef, delicious fish of three kinds, curried duck, goose and wild-fowl, Madeira and Burgundy, with various liquors and English ale. (2) The peaches and apricots here are standing trees. He has English cherries, plums and ifiberts [sic]. These, with oranges, lemons, limes and citrons, medlars, almonds, rock and water melons, with all the common fruits of England; vegetables of all kinds and grown at all seasons of the year, which shows how fine the climate is.

Weather conditions: Tuesday 9 April 1822: Emu Island, heavy rain; fears of rising water in the Nepean River. 10: Emu Island, fine enough to dry things. 11: Emu Island, apparently fine. Letter, Elizabeth Hawkins to sister, 7 May 1822, partially reproduced in Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13.

From Rooty Hill to Emu Island

(Continuing with the story of the Hawkins family as they journey from Sydney to Bathurst in 1822. See yesterday’s entry.)

Having rested on Sunday at the Government House at Rooty Hill, on Easter Monday the Hawkins family – Thomas and Elizabeth Hawkins, their children, Elizabeth’s mother Mrs. Lilly, and their attendants – resumed their journey westwards. The distance to the Nepean River was nine miles, and the road was ‘the same as before.’ (This seems to mean that the road was good, and perhaps also that it passed through forested countryside.) At the Nepean, one has to ford the river to Emu Island, where there are a Government house and depot. From here on there would be no places of habitation until they reached Bathurst, except for a lone house at stopping places.

There was a delay at this point, as this was as far as the animals and carts which brought them from Sydney were to go. Some new horses and carts had to be assembled on the Emu Island side of the river, and the family waited at a hut (on Emu Island?) until these were ready. That night part of the luggage was carried across the ford to Emu Island. The remainder would have to wait until the next day, and Sir John Jamieson (his name is so spelled by Elizabeth), who lived nearby, sent his head constable to guard it.

John Jamison (1776-1844), who was trained like his father in medicine, was knighted twice over, first in Sweden (1809, for dealing with scurvy in the navy of King Charles XIII) and later in England (1813). His father Thomas (1753?-1811) arrived in New South Wales in 1788 with the First Fleet, as surgeon’s mate. He became assistant surgeon, principal surgeon, acting surgeon-general, and a magistrate, and was involved in trade, including trade in sandalwood. He received several land grants, including land at the Nepean in 1805. He was prominent in the rebellion against Governor Bligh. Upon his death his son John inherited the land and came out to the colony in 1814 to farm it. Sir John Jamison was among those who accompanied Governor Macquarie on his tour of inspection across the Mountains in 1815, and would have been keenly aware of the conditions which the Hawkins family would face on their journey.

Governor Macquarie had indicated in an order of 12 July 1814 that the name Emu Plains was to be used for that area ‘hitherto erroneously called Emu Island.’ Eight years later Elizabeth Hawkins refers to Emu Island; evidently the original name had persisted in common usage.

‘The Mountains in 1822: Lady’s vivid diary, I’, Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13. Cf. Elizabeth Hawkins – Crossing the Blue Mountains. The diary of an early traveller across the Blue Mountains, on the website of the Ambermere Rose Inn (Little Hartley). Vivienne Parsons, ‘Jamison, Thomas (1753?-1811)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 12-13, and online. Thomas Jamison [Principal Surgeon], ‘General Observations on the Small Pox’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 14/10/1804, p. 2 (the first medical paper published in Australia; see also p. 3, ‘Vaccination’, a brief article about the use of ‘the Cow Pock’ against the plague, reprinted from a London newspaper). G.P. Walsh, ‘Jamison, Sir John (1776-1844)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 10-12, and online. Sir John Jamison and Governor Macquarie’s tour of inspection: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2, at p. 1 (spelled Jamieson). Emu Plains and Emu Island: ‘Government and General Order’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 23/7/1814, p. 1; cf. the entry on ‘William Cox, road-maker’.

Weather conditions: 8 April 1822 (Easter Monday): Rooty Hill – Nepean area, apparently fine. Letter, Elizabeth Hawkins to sister, 7 May 1822, partially reproduced in Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13 (no evidence of inclemency).

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.

From railways to resources

It would be hard to imagine Alexander Johnston, railway contractor, involving himself in the sort of idealistic scheme which William Lane promoted under the name ‘New Australia.’ If Mr. Johnston had been involved in such a scheme, one could readily imagine him making a success of it. He certainly would not have neglected to organise the money and machinery necessary to make it work.

Alexander Johnston (1839-1916) had emigrated from Scotland in 1856. He had been in Queensland for a time, then came to New South Wales. As partner and contractor he was involved in a number of construction projects, including tramways in Sydney, a section of the railway between Goulburn and Cooma, construction of cattle yards at Homebush, parts of the Nepean water supply, and water works in Melbourne. With his accumulated wealth he was able to invest in and contribute to a number of enterprises which benefited from his experience in the fields of engineering, geology and project management.

In the 1890s, while the ‘New Australia’ colonists were trying to establish an ideal society in Paraguay, Alexander Johnston was helping to open up the North Shore of Sydney to investment and development. He was associated with a private syndicate (the North Sydney Tramway and Investment Company) responsible for construction of the North Shore (or Long Bay) Suspension Bridge (which gave the suburb of Northbridge its name) and the opening up of new land. Progress was not without its problems. There was a protracted period of delay caused by complications over ownership. Finally in 1912 the bridge was handed over as a gift to the New South Wales Government. The elaborate stone superstructure remains. Although the old metal deteriorated and a concrete arch now supports the weight, the structure is still referred to informally as the suspension bridge.

Political developments to the north of Australia offered a new field for enterprise. The British Government had long been wary of French designs in the Pacific. Then in 1884 Germany annexed the north-eastern part of New Guinea. Britain responded by proclaiming a Protectorate over the south-eastern portion, which was extended to neighbouring islands. This gave a new context for imperial and colonial action in suppressing lawlessness and fostering business expansion in the region. The discovery of gold on some of the islands off the east coast of New Guinea in the 1890s prompted a gold rush in a number of places, including Woodlark Island (also called Murua) from 1895 onwards. Despite the difficulties of the climate and the problems of disease, many individual prospectors took up claims. There were reports from time to time that the gold was giving out; whether this was an entirely objective assessment or a way of deterring possible competitors, the methods of extraction being used were fairly primitive and the gains were necessarily limited. Circumstances were ripe for a man like Mr. Alex Johnston, one of the directors of the Woodlark Island Proprietary Gold-mining Company, formed in 1899, to buy up small prospectors and introduce technically advanced methods to locate, identify, mine, process and transport gold and other deposits, and so prove that the riches of Woodlark Island and elsewhere were far from exhausted.

It was an era when able people, energetic and optimistic, were expanding the reach of investment and technology, with profound implications for political and economic control over land, resources and populations, in Australia and elsewhere.

‘Death of Mr. A. Johnston’, Sydney Morning Herald 17/6/1916, p. 11. Gold on Woodlark Island: e.g. Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1897, p. 6. Sydney gold syndicate: e.g. Advertiser [Adelaide] 18/7/1899, p. 5; Sydney Morning Herald 21/12/1899, p. 9.