Tag Archives: William Charles Wentworth

Hopefulness amid the burning sands of Libya

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

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

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

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

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

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

D’Arcy Wentworth, 1762-1827

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

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

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

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

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

The obituary in the Australian concluded:

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

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

Over the mountains and along the stream

In a Government Order of 12 February 1814, Governor Lachlan Macquarie rehearsed the story of the recent expedition of George William Evans, an Assistant Land Surveyor, who with two free men and three convicts crossed the Blue Mountains and explored the country beyond. The Order acknowledged the contribution of Evans and his men and recorded rewards to be given to them and to their volunteer predecessors over the Blue Mountains, Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth.

With instructions from Governor Macquarie, Evans’ party left Emu Island on 20 November 1813 and arrived back at the same place on 8 January 1814 after a journey of seven weeks. The purpose of the journey was ‘to ascertain what Resources this Colony might possess in the Interior.’ Evans was to ‘discover a Passage over the Blue Mountains’ and ascertain ‘the Quality and general Properties of the Soil he should meet with to the Westward of them.’ The direction of the journey was to be as nearly westerly as possible, and the party was to continue for as long as their means would permit.

Based on details in Evans’ journal, the narrative indicates that after leaving Emu Island the party reached the other side of the mountains on the fifth day. Moving along a ‘beautiful and fertile’ valley ‘with a rapid Stream running through it,’ they came to the point at which Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth had stopped, and then went on for twenty-one days before returning. The journey took them over ‘several Plains of great Extent, interspersed with Hills and Vallies,’ where the soil was rich and there were various streams and chains of ponds.

A number of distances are given. Emu Island is stated to be about 36 miles from Sydney. From the end-point of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth’s explorations the party continued another 98½ miles, and they were not less than 150 miles from Emu Island when they turned back.

The stream flowing from the other side of the mountains and continuing in a westerly direction, ‘with many and great Accessions of other Streams, becomes a capacious and beautiful River, abounding in Fish of very large Size and fine Flavour.’

As for what may lie beyond the furthest extent of their researches:

This River is supposed to empty itself into the Ocean on the western Side of New South Wales, at a Distance of from 2 to 300 Miles from the Termination of the Tour.

‘Government Order’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 12/2/1814, p. 1.

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 Blue Mountains as a challenge to available technology

When the First Fleet arrived from England in 1788, no attempt had been made to survey the region preparatory to forming a new settlement. It must have been both intriguing and disquieting to scan the range of mountains on the western horizon and wonder what mysteries they held and what lay beyond.

For many years the mountains were regarded as an impassable barrier to westward exploration and expansion. The rugged, densely forested terrain with its many spurs, valleys and cliffs offered no easy way forward, and the continuous nature of the mountain ranges to the north and south meant there was no immediate way around.

The credit for finding a way through goes to the expedition of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth in 1813 – twenty-five years after the colony had been established. Following their lead, George Evans made a complete crossing later in the same year. In 1814 William Cox, using convict labour, supervised construction of a road across. The work took six months, from July 1814 to January 1815.

But the road was rough, often steep, and boggy in wet weather. Bullock drays carrying goods found the going extremely slow. A railway locomotive would be more powerful, but could a railway be successfully built across such a landscape? In 1857 Captain Hawkins of the Royal Engineers reported that a direct line could not be built from Sydney to Bathurst for a railway or tramway.

Persistence paid off, however, and ten years later a railway across the Blue Mountains was well on the way to completion. After another ten years (during which a bridge had to be built over the Macquarie River), in a land where hunter-gatherers had roamed the mountains and plains for millennia, a steam train arrived in Bathurst.

‘Railways: The Great Western Extension’, Sydney Morning Herald 21/7/1865, p. 7. The literature on technology includes: Fellows of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (comp.), Technology in Australia 1788-1988: A condensed history of Australian technological innovation and adaptation during the first two hundred years, Melbourne, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, 1988; online edition 2000, updated 21 November 2001.

Nelson Bay or Nelson’s Bay?

Whatever may have been the original form of the name of this bay at Port Stephens, ‘Nelson’s Bay’ seems to have been usual in the late 1820s and 1830s.

In 1829 the Australian newspaper refers to Nelson’s Bay in reporting a near-disaster that overtook the New South Wales Attorney-General Alexander Baxter in the course of an attempted voyage from Newcastle to Sydney on the schooner Samuel. After departure from Newcastle, heavy squalls blew up at night, sails had to be taken in, and by 9 o’clock there were two feet of water in the hold. The pumps were inadequate, and passengers and all hands had to bale with buckets. The ship managed to limp into Port Stephens (spelled Port Stevens in the newspaper account) and came to rest in Nelson’s Bay, with 4 feet 7 inches of water in the hold. Some of the coal on board was taken off, the ship was reprovisioned and the pumps re-rigged, and finally the Samuel was able to make it safely to Sydney; but Mr. Baxter, who had helped with the baling, remained behind. ‘His exertions and fatigues … left him, by the latest accounts, in rather a feverish state.’

A shipboard adventure of quite another type was reported by the Sydney Gazette in 1835. Nine convicts, five of them assigned servants of William Charles Wentworth, escaped from Sydney on Wentworth’s ketch Alice, which had been lying in Vaucluse Bay, taking with them some provisions, wine and plate stolen from a house belonging to him at Vaucluse. One of the convicts was already among Wentworth’s men on the vessel, which was under the command of Hamilton Ross and the Mate John House. The boat sailed past Newcastle and entered Port Stephens, coming to anchor in Nelson’s Bay or Salamander Bay. It was dark by then. The next morning one of the convicts and House, who knew the harbour, were put ashore to get water. The convict came back with an aboriginal who wanted to sell some fish. House remained on shore, and Ross was allowed to go ashore as well after he refused to join the convicts. One of the convicts, Joseph Kay, gave Ross a written discharge and an order on Mr. Wentworth for his pay, which Kay signed as commander of the Alice. (According to evidence, he had a grudge against Mr. Wentworth for punishment dealt out some six weeks before, and was threatening to murder him, a threat Mr. Wentworth took seriously, especially as he discovered some poison hidden away.) Ross and House came across a camp of aborigines and persuaded one of them to guide them to Newcastle. Three days after seizure of the vessel the Revenue Cutter Prince George under Captain Roach went in pursuit. The ketch had been seen passing Newcastle and Roach, proceeding towards Port Stephens, saw a sail at sea and gave chase. The vessel put off a boat and ran into shore itself, the convicts escaping into the bush. The cutter put into a bay and some of the men walked round to the Alice and threw the provisions into the sea to deprive the convicts of them. Roach and six of his men tracked the pirates for four or five miles but then lost the trail. They returned to the Alice and dismasted her, then sailed on the cutter back to Port Stephens, where they alerted the Police Magistrate and joined a party of police in pursuit. Some aborigines were able to point out the location of the escapees, about fifty miles from Port Stephens. Meanwhile the cutter proceeded up the ‘Miaul River’, and the crew took the captured pirates on board for the return trip to Sydney.

Over the next few years we find a number of reports of land sales which refer to Nelson’s Bay. There is also the incident of the Daniel O’Connell, reported ‘high and dry on the beach at Nelson’s Bay’ in 1836. Finally in 1839 we encounter the Sophia Jane on a voyage from Moreton Bay to Sydney, anchoring in Nelson’s Bay for supplies.

Then in January 1840 comes news of another maritime incident and a change in terminology. On 23 December the cutter Water-Witch, putting out from Port Stephens, failed to cross the bar, went broadside to the breakers, and came to grief ‘on the rocks off Nelson Bay.’ Her cargo of maize and cedar was saved; but the possessive ‘s’ and its attendant apostrophe had gone.

Samuel: Australian 16/9/1829, p. 3. Alice: Sydney Herald 2/11/1835, p. 2. Daniel O’Connell: Australian 17/6/1836, p. 3. Sophia Jane: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 23/5/1839, p. 2. Water-Witch: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 4/1/1840, p. 2. ‘Baxter, Alexander Macduff (1798-1836?)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 74-75, and online.

The case of the disappointed lovers

We learn further details of the case of Miller v. Brett, in which the plaintiff sought compensation for breach of promise of marriage, by comparing the reports in the Sydney Gazette, which is the fullest, the Sydney Herald, which seems often to be too much of a paraphrase, and the Australian, which, though shorter than that in the Sydney Gazette, has the advantage of lucidity.

In arguing the case for the plaintiff, Mr. Wentworth accused the defendant of being a ‘fickle swain’ who was prepared to trifle with a girl’s affections. He called on the jury to award such damages as would discourage others from proceeding some way towards matrimony without fulfilling their promise and obligations.

Mr. Macdowell in reply called into question the motives of the plaintiff. A woman of delicacy would refrain from having details of her disappointment placed before a court, whereas a party keen on acquiring an ‘establishment’, a term fashionable in England for the financial gain possible in such cases, would be prepared to endure ignominy to get the money. As for the defendant, Mr. Macdowell argued that he had shown delicacy throughout the courtship and was to be commended for drawing back from a marriage which he was now convinced would not be successful.

The rumours and the resulting enquiry relating to whether the defendant was already married had obviously been significant factors in altering the situation for the defendant, but it appears from the newspaper reports that neither party in the court room was interested in bringing all the rumours and facts to the surface. We are therefore left with material for conjecture, without the satisfaction of being sure that we have gathered all the key details. From the Sydney Gazette we learn that the defendant apparently lived with a woman in England and had a child by her; from the Herald we learn that he was rumoured to have ‘a wife and family’ in England. That there was a malicious attempt to upset the marriage plans seems certain, and that the attempt was eventually successful seems certain as well, despite an intermediate phase when the Bennetts declared themselves content with the results of the enquiries that had been made.

Mr. Macdowell, in enlarging on the sentiments associated with love and marriage, shows an impressive acquaintance with Milton and Shakespeare. He admits that, ‘Probably he (the defendant) had never read Milton, or if he had, probably that passage describing the union of hearts as necessary to the Hymeneal Rite, and not hands only, had not occurred to him; yet had [the] defendant arrived at similar conclusions by a different process of thinking.’

It appears that the technicalities of the case were fairly clear from the outset. A promise had been made and (for whatever reason) broken. In these circumstances, in accordance with the law of that time, the judge directed the jury to find for the plaintiff and award reasonable and just damages. After about twenty minutes’ consideration the jury found for the plaintiff and set the damages at £100.

The reports of the case offer valuable insights into social and legal conventions in early nineteenth-century Sydney, and throw interesting light on questions of style and accuracy in newspaper reporting.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 21/6/1832, p. 3. Sydney Herald 21/6/1832, p. 2. Australian 22/6/1832, p. 3 (including the quotation concerning Milton).

A memorable December

In the early 1830s, walking along George Street from Sydney Cove, one soon came upon St. John’s Tavern, on the north corner of George and Bridge Streets. On the other side of Bridge Street and extending along that street was a Lumber Yard.

The Tavern was one of a number of buildings that stood on what used to be called the ‘Orphan Grant’ or the ‘Orphan House Ground’, which stretched between George Street and the ‘Stream of the Tanks’, and was bordered on the south by Bridge Street and on the north by the allotment of James Underwood. This ‘Orphan Grant’ was subdivided into six separate lots and sold off in 1827. Offered for sale at the same time was the Orphan School Grant at Cabramatta (6,000 acres), subdivided into lots, and offered for lease was farming land near Bathurst also known as the Orphan School Grant (1,000 acres, of which 20 were reserved for a possible church and school).

In October 1830 we find Thomas Brett advertising his recently opened ‘Wholesale and Retail Wine and Spirit Warehouse. St. John’s Tavern, Opposite the Lumber Yard, George-street.’ He acknowledged the ‘flattering patronage’ he had already received, and assured his friends and the public of ‘his determination to persevere in the sale of the finest articles that can be produced, and at such prices as cannot be undersold by any house in the trade.’

The name of St. John was appropriate to a tavern that housed Masonic Lodge Rooms where the Australian Social Lodge held its meetings. The feast-days of St. John the Baptist (24 June) and of St. John the Evangelist (27 December), six months apart, were particular occasions of celebration for the Masonic movement. In December 1831, for example, to honour the anniversary of St. John the Evangelist, the Australian Social Lodge ‘regaled their friends’ at ‘Brett’s, St. John’s Tavern’, while the Leinster Marine Lodge assembled at the Royal Hotel and the Military Lodge gathered in the Non-commissioned Officers’ Mess room at the Military Barracks.

December 1831 was a memorable month. On the 2nd General Richard Bourke arrived to become the colony’s eighth Governor, and on the 5th the town held an ‘illumination’, in which St. John’s Tavern took part. It was also a personally memorable time for Thomas Brett, but the outcome was not what he had originally intended. Nor was it the outcome expected by Rebecca Miller, whose guardian was Mr. William Bennett, baker, of Parramatta. Thomas met Rebecca at Mr. Bennett’s home, became an admirer, made frequent visits, wooed and won Rebecca, and received Mr. Bennett’s approval to marry her. The wedding was set down for around Christmas time, or New Year’s Day at the latest. Wedding clothes were prepared and guests invited.

However, there was a hitch. The Bennetts received warning that Thomas was already married. Enquiries were made and the family were able to satisfy themselves that Thomas had no wife in England, as had been rumoured. But by this time Thomas found himself no longer willing to proceed with the marriage, and he wrote to Mr. Bennett to that effect on 23 December.

We learn these details from the newspaper report of the court case which eventuated. The matter was heard before Justice Stephen and a common jury at the Supreme Court on 18 June 1832. Rebecca Miller, under age, through her guardian, was suing Thomas Brett for breach of promise of marriage, and seeking compensation of £1,000. William Charles Wentworth was counsel for the plaintiff, while counsel for the defendant was Mr. Macdowell, who professed himself in awe of the fame and ability of his learned colleague.

[To be continued.]

Orphan Grant land for sale: Australian 7/4/1827, p. 2. St. John’s Tavern, recently opened: Australian 29/1/1830, p. 1. Anniversary of St. John the Evangelist: Sydney Monitor 31/12/1831, p. 2. Court proceedings: Australian 22/6/1832, p. 3. Louis Green, ‘Macdowell, Edward (1798-1860)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 164-165, and online. Michael Persse, ‘Wentworth, William Charles (1790-1872)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 2, 1967, pp. 582-589, and online.