Tag Archives: Port Macquarie

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.

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.