Doctorate Awarded for The Chrysalid Crown

I’m not sure if I believe this yet.  A few days ago the University of Sydney advised me I have now satisfied the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Arts & Social Sciences).  I don’t think I will really believe it until that day arrives when I am in the Great Hall, suitably robed in the black and scarlet gown and hood, being conferred with the degree by the Chancellor of the University.

The Town Band welcomes the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Katoomba 17 April 2014. Photo author.

The Town Band welcomes the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains, 17 April 2014. Photo mrbbaskerville.

My thesis is titled The Chrysalid Crown: An un-national history of the Crown in Australian 1808-1986.  Click on the title to view a copy.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the crowd, Katoomba, 17 April 2014. Photo author.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge somewhere in the crowd, Katoomba, 17 April 2014. Photo mrbbaskerville.

This is the abstract of the thesis, recorded in the university library system, if you don’t have the time to while away on 80,000 words plus appendices.

This thesis set out to answer a deceptively simple question: why did the 1999 referendum to abolish the Australian Crowns fail?   It focuses on the evolving civic personalities, communal identities and popular representations of the Crown in Australia, and how those representations and agents changed over 180 years.  Capacities for the Crown’s continuing mutability, especially its divisibility, are at the heart of these imaginings.  The answer to the question lies partly in emotions, in passion and the heart rather than in reason and the mind, along with a complex historical mix of other factors.  Each chapter focuses on a single event or artefact: a usurpation of vice-regal authority, a proposal for a cadet kingdom of Australia, a mystic royal response to anti-German persecution, a State’s attempt to secede under the Crown and the invention of a chivalric order.  The thesis posits a complex, iterative and changing network of social relationships rather than a simple metropole-periphery binary or hierarchy.  It disaggregates ideas of crown, Britishness, empire, nation and Australianess, and concludes on the eve of the 1988 bicentennial celebrations when the Crown in Australia appeared splendid, popular, modern, federal, natural and regenerative.  They were characteristics that, with hindsight, girded an Australian institution at once ancient and contemporary for the challenges of the 1990s when it stared-down what appeared to be an existential threat from Australian republicanism.

Waiting for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Katoomba, 17 April 2014. Photo mrbbaskerville.

Waiting for the Duchess of Cambridge to pass by, Katoomba, 17 April 2014. Photo mrbbaskerville.

The Duke of Cambridge preparing to leave Katoomba, 17 April 2014. Photo mrbbaskerville

The Duke of Cambridge preparing to leave Katoomba, 17 April 2014. Photo mrbbaskerville.

Something to remember the Cambridge's visit to Katoomba, 17 April 2014. Photo mrbbaskerville.

Something to remember the Cambridge’s visit to Katoomba, 17 April 2014. Photo mrbbaskerville.

Save Historic 38 Moreton Terrace, Dongara, Western Australia

NEWS JUST IN | The Irwin Shire Council voted 8-0 on 28 March 2017 not to de-list 38 Moreton Terrace from the Shire heritage list.  Thirteen public submissions were received, all opposing the de-listing, and the Council’s own Heritage Committee recommended Council reject the de-listing request.  The one submission in support of de-listing referred to the Shire’s “oppression”, “tyranny” and “officialism” over an “old residence from the 1950s” where “nothing of real importance happened”.  The minutes of the Council meeting can be viewed here , and the submissions and reports can be viewed here (see Attachment P103). 

Thanks to all who made submissions and otherwise fought the good fight

No 38 Moreton Terrace is a significant heritage-listed building in the main street of the little town of Dongara, on the Batavia Coast of Western Australia.  The local Irwin Shire Council has received a request to de-list the building – that is, remove it from the local heritage list.

38 Moreton Terrace, corner of Moreton Terrace and Point Leander Drive. Image L Baskerville 11 December 2016

38 Moreton Terrace, corner of Moreton Terrace and Point Leander Drive. Image L Baskerville 11 December 2016

Council was receiving public submissions on the de-listing until 19 December 2016, and will consider the request and the submissions made for and against de-listing at its meeting on 28 February 2017.

I made a submission opposing the de-listing, and set out my arguments in a lengthy seventeen-page assessment of the heritage values of the place.  Both the submission proper (a one-page letter) and the seventeen-page attachment (the more interesting document) are attached to this post and can be downloaded and shared.

38 Moreton Terrace, West Wing. Image L Baskerville 11 December 2016

38 Moreton Terrace, West Wing. Image L Baskerville 11 December 2016

Why do I think 38 Moreton Terrace is of heritage significance?  Because, at its simplest, this magnificent old rubble limestone pile, like a good book, can be read and bring to life stories of independent women running their own businesses, of the great hopes and dreams of Edwardian Westralia that were crushed and broken in the Great War, of the old landed gentry and their not-always happy relationships with ‘coloured’ labour, of the 20th century’s great transition from horse power to motor power, of the demise of coastal shipping and the rise of seaside tourism, and so very much more.  These are stories that might be unexpected in a remote beachside village, but which because of that have an added poignancy and capacity to speak to a whole continent.  And, I have to admit, I also think it is significant because I grew up playing in and around this romantic and mysterious old building in a childhood that still seems idyllic, an old building that still survives while so much has been lost to mammon.

But, don’t take my word for it – please read the submission and attachment, and make up your own mind.

38 Moreton Terrace, back of West Wing (left) and South Wing (right). Image L Baskerville 11 December 2016

38 Moreton Terrace, back of West Wing (left) and South Wing (right). Image L Baskerville 11 December 2016

I am sure the Irwin Shire councillors would appreciate hearing from anyone who opposes the de-listing, and wants to see 38 Moreton Terrace in particular, and the heritage assets of the Irwinish people and the Irwin shire generally, conserved and passed on to coming generations. Councillors and Shire planning officers contact details can be found here http://www.irwin.wa.gov.au/Contact-Us.aspx .

Two useful websites to explore are the Shire of Irwin http://www.irwin.wa.gov.au and the Irwin District Historical Society http://www.irwinhistory.org.au .

Black Swan (wrongly painted white), in pediment above shop front, corner of Moreton Terrace and Point Leander Drive. Image B Baskerville, 23 August 2007

Black Swan (wrongly painted white), in pediment above shop front, corner of Moreton Terrace and Point Leander Drive. Image B Baskerville, 23 August 2007

Heritage is not about nostalgia, it is our legacy to the future.  Once it is gone, we can’t get it back.  Please help the Irwin Shire Council reach the right decision on 28 February 2017.

Save 38 Moreton Terrace – Submission Letter

Save 38 Moreton Terrace – Submission Heritage Assessment and History

 

Commons of Colonial New South Wales

This paper was first presented at the Annual Conference of Affiliated Societies of the Royal Australian Historical Society in Ultimo, 8-9 October 1994, with the theme of ‘Knowing Places, Understanding Spaces’ on Sunday Morning, 9 October, 10-10.30am.  It was subsequently published in Knowing Places, Understanding Spaces: Conference Proceedings, RAHS, Sydney 1994: pages 58-66.

 Given the sudden rise of interest in the history of commons, I have re-published the paper here to make it easily accessible.  Readers are advised to take into account the extensive technological changes since 1994, especially the availability online of digitized archives and finding aids, the vast increase in historical materials available through database aggregators such as Trove (neither of which were available in 1994), and the endless re-naming of government agencies and changing of agency locations.

Introduction

This year [1994] marks the 190th anniversary of the gazetting of the first commons in New South Wales.  It is my intention with this paper to bring these places named ‘commons’ to your attention, to outline a brief history of commons generally in New South Wales up to federation, and to suggest some ways to go about researching the history of your local commons.  Now is an opportune time to begin writing histories of those places named ‘commons’, and to try and assess what such histories could have to contribute to the debates of our time.

Definition of a ‘Common’

So, what is a common?  A dictionary definition will tell us that it is

…the undivided land belonging to the members of a local community as a whole … (and also that it is) the profit which a [person] has in the land or waters of another; [such] as that of pasturing cattle, of fishing, of digging turf, or of wood for fire or repairs.[1]

The English ‘historical ecologist’ Oliver Rackham has traced the historical development of commons in England from early medieval times.[2]  By the early thirteenth century the ‘wildwood’ landscape had largely disappeared from England, and had been replaced by an intricate mosaic of land-use patterns combining urban, rural and ‘waste’, or un-used, places.  Various sorts of ‘protected areas’ were developed to manage particular natural resources such as pasture grasses, building timber, firewood, game animals and wild foods.  These areas were usually named forests, parks or commons.  Over time, local land uses would change and this would be reflected in the landscapes of commons.  For example, some wood-pasture commons in northern England became treeless when grazing came to a region; while on the other hand in eastern England during the sixteenth century, a decline in pastoralism was associated with an increase in the tree cover on commons.

A historian of the law of English commons, G.D. Gadsden, in his magisterial work on the subject, can tell us that the first law relating to commons was made in 1235 to prevent unilateral enclosures of common land by the lords of manors, and that early civil actions such as one in 1480 laid down a principal that a commoner who grazed stock on common land was liable for their trespass upon adjacent, unfenced land.[3]  Three hundred years later, the Inclosure Act of 1773 was made to regulate the management of commons and their enclosure.  This was the first in a series of laws for this purpose, with other major enactments following in the Inclosure (Consolidation) Act of 1801, the Inclosure Act of 1845 and the Metropolitan Commons Act of 1866.[4]  Gadsden makes the point that within this web of central authority, local commons continued to be managed by local manorial courts according to local customs.  There were also several distinct classes of common land that have their own distinct rules.  This regional and functional diversity of commons has, in the past and still today, ensured that certain tensions exist in England between local custom and the standard legal model of a common that Gadsden describes as an ‘English Elizabethan lowland manor’.[5]

By the time of the 1866 Act in England, however, a body of colonial law had begun to evolve that defined, and was specifically directed towards, the commons of New South Wales.  The landscape diversity and changability, as well as the tensions between local usages and central authorities that Rackham and Gadsden described in England, seems to have been partly true of New South Wales by that time.  Although genealogically speaking, the commons of New South Wales are derived from the commons of England, it is worthwhile noting that commons can also be found in places as diverse as France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, the Philippines and Japan, as well as most of the Australian states and territories and many other former British colonies including parts of the United States.[6]  In each place commons have been shaped by local needs and customs.

A Brief Overview of the Historical Development of Commons in New South Wales up to Federation

It may be possible to argue that the first common in New South Wales consisted of the fringes of the settlement in Sydney Cove from which building materials, foodstuffs and living spaces were extracted; or that early reserves such as the Crown Reserve of 161 hectares in the vicinity of Petersham Hill, set aside by Governor Phillip in 1789, constitute commons.[7]  However, the first officially created commons were a series of six areas set aside by Governor King in 1804.  These were the Nelson, Richmond Hill and Phillip Commons, in the Hawkesbury district, and the Prospect Hill & Toongabbee, Baulkham Hills & Northern Districts and Field of Mars & Eastern Farms Commons to the north and west of Sydney.[8]

Early in 1805, the Judge Advocate published an “Epitome of the existing Laws respecting Commons, for the information of all concerned”, as well as the names of three trustees locally elected to manage each common.[9]  The ‘Epitome’ derived from the laws “…used in that part of Great Britain called England”.  It named the Governor as the universal lord of the manor in New South Wales, recognised the feeding of “beasts of the plough, or such as manure the ground” as a ‘universal right’, a “Right of Common … inseparably incident to the Grant of Lands”, authorised the Governor to enclose commons “provided he leaves … sufficient for such as are entitled to it”, and stated that the interests of the Governor, as lord, and of local residents, as commoners, was to be regarded as mutual, with each able to sue the other for damages.  It then set out nine rules regarding the depasturing of stock, digging pits and trenches, and allowing commoners to graze beasts “on the King’s highway”.  The notice also provided for the appointment of trustees able to make local regulations for their commons.

Only a few new commons seem to have been made over the next fifty years: Sydney Common in 1811, Wallambine or St. Alban’s Common in the 1820s and the Wollombi Common about the same time.[10]  Possibly in line with the general trend in England of enclosing and dissolving commons some of the New South Wales commons also began to disappear.  The Prospect Hill & Toongabbee and Baulkham Hills & Northern Districts commons were initially made for a limited period of 14 years, and in 1818 they ceased to exist.[11]  In the 1820s much of Sydney Common was enclosed within the new water reserve over the Lachlan Swamps, and in 1840 the north-western corner was enclosed for the building of Victoria Barracks and nearby housing in Paddington.[12]  The ‘Epitome’ appears to have remained the main legal instrument for the regulation of commons.  Even the Wallambine and Wollembi Commons referred to before were only surveyed, but not actually gazetted until many years later.[13]  This may also be the case for other commons made at other places during this period.

In 1847, the Commons Regulation Act was passed, the first such piece of legislation in the colony.[14]  This Act was intended to overcome certain deficiencies in the law of the ‘Epitome’, and established trustees as bodies corporate, confirmed their right to make regulations and enforce them by fines, grant leases and distrain stock.  The purposes of commons was defined as “…the use of the settlers and cultivators and other inhabitants of [the] parish or district…” (s. 1), and commoners, as inhabitants of such parishes or districts, were to have the same ‘rights and remedies’ as commoners in England.

Following the making of this law, commons were subjected to greater attention by the authorities in Sydney.  The survey of the Field of Mars Common in 1848 was followed by the granting of title deeds to its trustees in 1849.[15]  A similar process of surveying and granting began on other established commons, as did a concurrent process of restricting commonage rights outside of commons.  In 1850 the Colonial Secretary published a notice stating that private land owners adjacent to crown land did not have any rights of common over such unalienated lands except within townsites, and in 1852 this was further restricted to towns having a population of less than 1000.[16]  Between 1854 and 1861, the trustees of existing commons at Pitt Town (formerly Nelson), Wallambine, Ham (formerly Richmond Hill), Wilberforce (formerly Phillip) and Field of Mars published annual accounts, from which it is possible to see something of the workings of a common at this time.  For example, between 1853 and 1855, the use of Pitt Town Common changed dramatically from sheep grazing to timber and firewood taking, and the trustees quadrupled their income from £25 to £92.[17]  This formalisation of local commons management and the restricting of commonage rights by the central authorities to places officially named ‘commons’ continued through the 1850s.  It is possible that the use of resources on commons near Sydney was also becoming more exploitative at this time.[18]

The Crown Lands Alienation Act of 1861 allowed this process of consolidation to turn, after 1865, to the rapid expansion of commons in New South Wales.  The first common gazetted under this Act, and also possibly the first common west of the Great Divide, was made at Bathurst in 1865.[19]  Within two years, commons were being created at a rapid rate.  For example, in December 1867 alone, seventeen new commons were gazetted, mainly on the western slopes and the Riverina.[20]  In the Sydney area, control of the remnants of the Sydney Common was vested in the Sydney City Council in 1866, and the city boundaries were extended to encompass the common in 1870.[21]  The Field of Mars Common, after several inquiries, petitions and much bitter argument, was finally resumed by the Crown in 1874 and subdivided, with the proceeds of the sales going towards the construction of a bridge across the Parramatta River.[22]

The final three decades of the nineteenth century were a time of expansion of the commons estate in the colony and of consolidating the management of commons.  Legislatively, a new Commons Regulation Act in 1873 made some changes, notably prohibiting the leasing of commons, and required annual accounts to be published in the Government Gazette.[23]  Further changes to the law of commons were made in 1886, when commoner’s rights were essentially restricted to pasturage and taking fallen timber and firewood, and 1895, when trustees were empowered to restrict access to common lands by carriers, teamsters, travellers and drovers.  All these changes were consolidated in a new Commons Regulation Act in 1898.  This law governed the management of commons in New South Wales until its repeal by the present Commons Management Act of 1989.[24]  Commons continued to be made across the colony under the Crown Land Alienation Act 1861.  They were categorised as permanent, temporary or pasturage commons, with each having their own distinct characteristics and rules.

An example of the general pattern of making post-1865 commons is Wellington Common.  A Permanent Common of 268 hectares was gazetted in December 1867 between Wellington town and the Macquarie River.[25]  In February 1868 a Temporary Common of two parts, one of about 3750 hectares and the other of 1164 hectares, was gazetted adjoining the river, town and Permanent Common.  At the same time the commoners’ boundaries were defined – that is, those “freeholders and householders” mainly living within the “reserve of account of population of the town of Wellington” were recognised as having rights to use the commons.[26]  This was followed by the election, by the commoners, of trustees to manage the commons, with the results being duly gazetted in March 1868.[27]

One of the earliest acts of trustees was to write a set of regulations for the common.  These generally followed a standard model, providing for the running of meetings of trustees, the appointment of a secretary and a herdsman, commoner’s rights of pasturage, travellers rights of pasturage, rules and fees for using the common and for gathering firewood, and prohibiting the dumping of rubbish, polluting of waterways, or leaving open of gates.[28]  Local variations include, for example, the regulations for Ham Common that provided, until 1880, a schedule of fees for commoners engaged in brick-making on the common.[29]

The bureaucrats in the Lands Department in Sydney maintained a framework of control over all the commons through administering the Commons Acts and their regulations.  The authority for any significant local changes came from Sydney rather than the commoners, a point that can be illustrated by the example of just two months in 1899, when the Government Gazette carried one notice calling for trustees of a common, three notices defining commoner’s boundaries, three reserving land for temporary commons, four applying s.25 of the Act to specific commons, nine describing pieces of land ‘withdrawn’ from commons, and 21 appointing trustees.[30]  A total of 41 commons were the subject of official notices in September and October 1899 alone.

A picture can be drawn from all of this in which commons in country areas are considered desirable by local inhabitants and their establishment is readily facilitated by the central government.  The management regulations, both central and local, were designed to ensure that the resources of the commons, usually firewood and pasture grasses, were conserved by regulating times, numbers and places of grazing, and the removal of wood, timber, soil and other materials.  In order for a common to continue its various functions, trustees had to try and strike a balance between the demands of the commoners, both individually and collectively, and the ability of the commons environment to meet those demands.  In effect, local interests in a common negotiated its management arrangements, and presented these as regulations to the government for approval, which endorsed them and provided for their legal enforcement.

The urban commons near Sydney, however, present a different picture.  Those parts of Sydney Common not included within Centennial Park in 1888 were developed for various recreational uses, such as Sydney’s first zoo, leased out to sporting clubs, or developed as parklands.  In 1905, the two remaining sections of Sydney Common were removed from the control of Sydney City Council and placed under the authority of the Chief Secretary.[31]  The Field of Mars Common had been partly sold-off, and parts of it reserved for parks, before the Resumption Act of 1874 was repealed in 1897.[32]  Both commons had been partly privatised through the sale of land for housing, and partly converted into urban parks, and they had both been removed from local control.  Unlike the active preservation of commons in the urban areas of England after 1866, the commons of Sydney were disappearing, often amid much dissent, from the landscape by the turn of the century.  A similar story for the Pitt Town, Wilberforce and Ham Commons in the Hawkesbury District has been told.[33]

There are many things that I have not talked about in this overview that I would have liked to, especially questions about how the landscapes of commons changed over time.  However, you can see that, generally, commons will date from after 1865, that there were plenty of bureaucratic requirements that created records that can now be studied – provided that they have survived; and that commons fulfilled significant cultural and resource needs in many communities.  This is part of the broader context for the making of commons in New South Wales before federation – a context that should be considered when talking about your local commons.

First: Ask a Question

If you are interested in researching the history of your local common or commons, then you need to begin with a question.  A good starting point is to ask “why am I choosing to study the history of our local common?”.  Your answer may be that it is part of a wider inquiry into your local history, or that it is related to a planned commemoration of an important date or event.  It may be that the information is needed for a townscape or heritage study.  Perhaps there are proposals afoot to ‘develop’ the area.  Maybe you just like the place and would like to know more about it.

You then need to ask yourself “how much information will I be happy with?”.  This question is important to consider, because your accessibility to the archives containing commons records, and the nature of those archives, will largely determine just how much information you can get.

Finally, you need to ask yourself “what am I going to do with this history once I have written it?”.  If your Society has a newsletter, try and get it printed in there.  Perhaps your local newspaper may be interested.  Send copies of your work to the major libraries – the State Library, the RAHS Library and the National Library.  Whatever you do, make sure that other people can be informed by your research.  The best knowledge is knowledge that is shared.

What Records are Available for Researching a History of Commons?

The place to begin is at the common.  What is it that you see when you take a look around and try some ‘landscape reading’?  What does the land that is or was your local common look like?  How are the trees, bush and grassland arranged?  Where are the creeks and swamps?  What condition are they in?  Can you make some educated guesses as to why the landscape looks like it does rather than something else?  Where are the boundaries, the gates, the roads and paths?  Why are they where they are and not somewhere else?  Are there any ruins of buildings or other relics of habitation?  How do they relate to the use of the place as a common?

The next thing is to see if anyone else has already written and published something that may be relevant to what you want to know.  Published local histories are a good place to start, although I have found very few that refer to local commons.  Back copies of local historical society journals and newsletters may reveal something.  Local newspapers may also contain some reminiscences or stories that refer to the common, but the accessibility of such materials will depend upon a combination of whether the newspaper has been indexed and how patient you are.  If your common is still managed by trustees, then they may have some records that you can look at.

Having checked upon what has already been done, it is time to sit down in the archives.  The imprimatur of central authority within which local commons existed can be seen reflected in the availability of records for research.  Overwhelmingly, these are to be found within central archives, most notably the State Library and the Archives Office of NSW.  However, it is possible that a wealth of material compiled by local trustees, especially in places where the local shire or municipal council acted as the trustee, can be unearthed in municipal records or archives.  I would be very interested to hear of anyone’s experiences in this matter.

State and Mitchell Libraries, Macquarie Street, Sydney.

Your first port of call should be the Mitchell Library, and its collection of the Government Gazette commencing in 1832.  These are bound in large volumes by year.  In the early years, a whole year is contained in one volume, but by the 1880s, a volume contains a quarter of a year, and by 1899, only two or three months.  Initially, the sheer number of volumes may be off-putting, but there are some short cuts.  There is an index to each year, and usually to each volume.  Page numbering begins with page 1 on the first issue for the year, and then continues consecutively throughout the year to something like page 4897 in the last issue for the year.

Generally, you should look under the heading ‘Land’, which will then have further sub-headings including, sometimes, ‘commons’ or ‘commonages’.  Sometimes, ‘commons’ is a heading in itself.  Under the sub-headings will be a listing of place-names and page numbers.  Sometimes, place-names themselves are main headings – the system of indexing changes every now and then.  Once you have located a reference to your common, simply go to that page in that year’s volume, and you will find (hopefully!) an official notice regarding your common – often it will be in a table of reserves being made by the government that will include water reserves, public schools, and so on.  Such a notice should tell you the place, county, locality, area (in acres), purpose, and papers number.  For example:[34]

Place | County | Locality | Area | Purpose | Papers

Wellington | Wellington | on the Macquarie River nr Wellington | 657 acres | permanent common | 66-13,994

It is important to note the ‘papers’ number, as this is the number of the Lands Department file that deals with your common.  Other information that can be obtained from Government Gazette notices includes extensions or ‘withdrawals’ of land from the common, appointments of trustees, descriptions of commoner’s boundaries, calling of nominations for trustees, and of meetings of commoners, and the acceptance of local regulations.  The financial accounts of common trustees are also published in the Gazette.

Once you have exhausted the Government Gazette, but before leaving the State Library, it is worth having a look through the Consolidated Index to the Proceedings and Printed Papers [of] Parliament.  These commence in 1856, and are particularly useful if your common was the site of some conflict.  For example, in Volume I of the Index, covering the period from 1856 to 1874, under the heading ‘Field of Mars Common’, there are references to petitions, reports from parliamentary committees and inquiries, reports of real estate valuations of the common land, and other interesting documents, all of which can be obtained at the Library.[35]  It is also worth looking under the general heading of ‘Commons’, but you need to bear in mind that your common may have had a fairly mundane existence, and so never have attracted the attention of parliamentary inquiries!  You should also read through the explanatory notes at the beginning of the volume to understand the meanings of the various abbreviations used.

Land Title’s Office, Queens Square, Sydney

You may like to go along to the Land Title’s Office and obtain a copy of the Deed of Grant issued to trustees for their common.  However, this will not really tell you much more than the Government Gazette notice stating that the deed had been issued except in the detailed description of the boundaries of the common.

Archives Office of NSW, Globe St., The Rocks/O’Connell St., Kingswood

The first thing to say about the State Archives is that most of the records dealing with commons are housed at the Kingswood Search Rooms.  Initially, it is worth perusing the Concise Guide to the Archive’s holdings, particularly under ‘Lands Department – Miscellaneous Branch’ and ‘Surveyor-General’ to get some idea of the sort of records that they hold.  There are some series dealing with particular commons, but these are very few.[36]  The most useful items are the seven volumes of Dedication Registers, which cover the period from 1842 to 1979.[37]  In addition to the details provided in the Government Gazette, the Register may also provide a reference to a catalogue number of a plan, as well as the date of notification, date of grant and remarks and other references to later resumptions and revocations that will help you determine when and why some parts, or all, of a common were lost.

While all these details can help you work out some broad outlines for a history of your common, the colour to fill in the spaces of such an outline will be more elusive.  Having carefully noted all the papers numbers provided in the gazettals and registers, you may find it difficult to actually track down the files in the archives.  In fact, I have yet to successfully trace a single one of the files that I have searched for!

Other useful series include the Parks Register 1867-1950, which provides similar details and may be useful if your common, or part of it, was converted at some stage to a park.  The Registers of Reserves other than Recreation Reserves, 1883-1977, and the Register of Areas Allocated as State Forests and Forest Reserves, c1915-1917, may also be similarly useful.  Precedent Books 1873-1973 may help provide some explanation of why trustees followed a particular course of action.[38]

The point about these registers is that they provide a summary of the legal details of a common, and the important ‘papers number’, which in turn may give you access to the original files dealing with events on your common.

The State Archives also contains one series of records from the trustees of a common, the Wanganella Commons Trust, covering the period between 1900 and 1970.[39]  Included are herdsman’s books, a commoner’s roll, minute books, letter books, ledgers, cash books, and two maps of the commoner’s boundaries in the 1930s.  Although these seem to be the only such records held by the Archives, they give an indication of what sort of records were made by commons trustees and how useful you may find them – provided that you can locate any such records for your local common.

Local Government Records and Archives

I can only offer a most general comment on these.  It was only after 1919 that local councils were required by law to preserve and protect some of their records.  These were minute books, registers of legal documents, legal documents, registers of correspondence, registers of returning officer’s declarations of elections and of polls, and the declarations of returning officers.  Patient searching of minute books may reveal information regarding your local common, as may registers of legal documents.  Returning officer’s declarations may also cover elections of common trustees.

You should also remember that local councils have been abolished, amalgamated, and resurrected over the years, and their boundaries have often shifted about.  If your common has ever been within the jurisdiction of a different council to the present, you may also need to search through their records.  All this, of course, presupposes that you are lucky enough to have found a council that has an extensive and well-maintained archives.[40]

Conclusions

To conclude this paper, I would like to remind you that the historical development of places named commons in NSW began in 1804.  Greater regulation of commons came after 1847, and a broad expansion of the numbers and sizes of commons began after 1865.  By the time of federation, an extensive network of commons existed throughout NSW except in the metropolitan area, where commons, often after much dissent, were converted to other public and private uses.

The main avenues for researching commons history can be found in the Mitchell Library and the State Archives Office.  These records provide a broad legal and administrative history of particular commons.  Records of common trustees may be found among municipal records.

I would argue that now is an opportune time to begin researching and writing histories of commons because questions of cultural identity, and the legacies of past environmental change, are prominent within public debates today.  Commons history can contribute to these debates in a number of ways:

  • it suggests that there is a significant and interesting element of communalism in the settlement of Australia’s landscapes that has long been hidden beneath a focus on the rugged, individualistic pioneer;
  • it suggests that English institutions, such as commons, parks and forests, were not uncritically copied in the colony, but rather were naturalised and shaped by local needs and conditions;
  • it suggests that some environmental problems have been inherited from the recent rather than more distant past, and that attempts were made in colonial NSW to settle within the limits set by the physical environment;
  • it suggests that commons and common trustees have played a role in the development of institutions for local governance and local resource management, and therefore have a role in local histories that has been overlooked;
  • it suggests several new areas for research, for example, why were the commons of Sydney lost to urban development while those in London were retained as parklands and recreation areas?

So, it’s up to you – if you have become interested in the history of commons in your district, now is the time to begin looking, researching and writing.  I would be very pleased to hear of your results.  Happy hunting!


[1] The Oxford English Dictionary, Volume IX, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1933: 690.

[2] Oliver Rackham, Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape, London 1976

[3] GD Gadsden, The Law of Commons, Sweet & Maxwell, London 1988.  The examples are: Statute of Merton 1235, 20 Henry III, c. 4; and Anon, (1480) Y.B. 20 Edw. IV, fo. 10, pl. 10; 17 CBNS 251, n (references in Gadsden: xxxi, xlii)

[4] Inclosure Act 1773, 13 George III, c. 81; Inclosure (Consolidation) Act 1801, 41 George III, c. 109; Inclosure Act 1845, 8 & 9 Victoria, c. 118; Metropolitan Commons Act 1866, 29 & 30 Victoria, c. 14.

[5] Gadsden: Chapter 1 passim.

[6] for more on the international examples, see: E. Ostrom, Governing the Commons: the evolution of institutions for collective action, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1990, for a sophisticated analysis and argument regarding the role of commons in the contemporary world.

[7] LG Norman, Historical Notes on Newtown, monograph, City of Sydney 1963: 1; JF Campbell, ‘The Early History of Sydney University Grounds’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, XVI (IV): 274-276.

[8] ‘General Order’, Sydney Gazette, 12 August 1804: 1

[9] ‘Judge Advocate’s Office’, Sydney Gazette, 20 January 1805: 1

[10] ‘General Order’, Sydney Gazette,5 October 1811; Helen Proudfoot, ‘The Hawkesbury Commons, 1804-1987’, Heritage Australia, 6(4), Summer 1987: 23-25; Government Gazette, – January 1841: 177

[11] Sydney Gazette 1804, op. cit.; see also Figure 14 in Denis Jeans, A Historical Geography of New South Wales to 1901, Reed Education, Sydney, 1972: 83

[12] For more on the dissolution of Sydney Common see: Ian Black, ‘The Sydney Showgrounds: a case study of heritage issues’, in Mari Metzke (ed), Heritage Conservation: local issues and action: Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Royal Australian Historical Society with Affiliated Societies, Sydney, 6-7 October 1990, RAHS, Sydney, 1990: 28-41

[13] Proudfoot, op. cit.

[14] Commons Regulation Act 1847, 11° Victoriæ, XXXI, assented to 2.10.1847

[15] Lynne McLoughlin, The Middle Lane Cove River: a history and a future, Macquarie University Centre for Environmental and Urban Studies, Monograph No. 1, North Ryde 1985: 29

[16] ‘Crown Lands – Commonage Rights’, Government Gazette, 26 July 1850: 1099; ‘Commonage Right’, Government Gazette, 2 November 1852: 1609.

[17] Government Gazette, 20 January 1854: 164 and 25 January 1856: 241.

[18] for example, see Lynne McLoughlin for a discussion of Field of Mars Common.

[19] Government Gazette, 10 January 1865: 69

[20] Government Gazette, 6 December 1867: 3304

[21] Ian Black: 30-31; Sydney Boundaries Amendment Act 1870, 33° Victoræ, IX, assented to 20 April 1870

[22] Lynne McLoughlin: 31-33; see also Consolidated Index to the Minutes of the Proceedings and Printed Papers [of Parliament], 1856-1874, under ‘Field of Mars Common’, NSW Government Printer, Sydney; and Field of Mars Common Resumption Act 1874, 38° Victoræ, 111, assented to 25 June 1874.

[23] Commons Regulation Act 1873, 36° Victoriæ, XXIII, assented to 25 April 1873.

[24] Commons Regulation Amendment Act 1886, 50 Victoria, 15, assented to 24 September 1886, Commons Regulation Amendment Act 1895, 59 Victoria, 12, assented to 22 November 1895, Commons Regulation Act 1898, No. 15 of 1898, assented to 27 July 1898, Commons Management Act 1989, No. 13 of 1989, assented to 18 April 1989.

[25] Government Gazette, 6 December 1867: 3304

[26] ‘Commons, Wellington’, and ‘Temporary Commonage, Wellington’, Government Gazette, 7 February 1868: 378-379

[27] Government Gazette, 10 March 1868: 637, and 25 May 1869: 1375.

[28] for example, ‘Junee Common Regulations’, Government Gazette 6 October 1899: 7580-7582

[29] Ham Common Rules and Regulations made by the Trustees…, 1872, 1880, Mitchell Library (MS Room, Ah 103).

[30] Index to Government Gazette for September-October 1899, in front of Volume September-October 1899; s.25 of the Commons Regulation Act 1898 restricted pasturage rights for bonâ fide travellers to a designated part of the common sufficiently enclosed by a fence.

[31] Sydney Corporation Amendment Act 1905, No. 39 of 1905.

[32] Field of Mars Resumption Repeal Act 1897, No. 9 of 1897.

[33] Helen Proudfoot.

[34] Government Gazette, 6 December 1867: 3304

[35] Consolidated Index to the Minutes of the Proceedings and Printed Papers (Volumes 1-23), First Session of the First Parliament to Third Session of the Seventh Parliament, 22 May 1856 to 25 June 1874, NSW Legislative Council, Sydney.

[36] Concise Guide to the State Archives of New South Wales, Lands Department – Miscellaneous Branch, A(t)(4) Papers concerning Terragong Swamp, 1855-1919 (City 2/1033-34) 2 boxes; A(t)(6) Papers concerning Field of Mars Common, 1863-1874 (Kingswood 7/6056) 1 vol.; A(t)(7) Papers concerning Ham Common, 1867-1874 (Kingswood 7/6056) 1 vol.

[37] ibid, A(t)(28) Dedication Registers, 1842-1979 (Kingswood 11/22028-34) 7 vols.

[38] ibid, A(t)(29) Parks Registers, 1867-1950 (Kingswood 11/22037-38) 2 vols; A(t)(32) Registers of Reserves other than Recreation Reserves, 1883-1977 (Kingswood 11/22035-36) 2 vols.; A(t)(33) Precedent Books, 1873-1973 (Kingswood 11/21985-95, 3/2938) 12 vols.

[39] ibid, A(t)(43 – 53) Wanganella Commons Trust.

[40] for a discussion of local government records, see Ian Jack and Terry Kass, Local Government Records and the Local Historian, RAHS Technical Information Service, No. 7, February 1987, RAHS Sydney.

The Hawkesbury Commons

Early conservation and local self-governance in colonial New South Wales

Originally presented as the Hawkesbury District Historical Society Australia Day Talk, Macquarie Arms Hotel (Lachlan Macquarie Dining Room), Thompson Square, Windsor on Thursday 26th January 2006.

I am not an expert in the histories of the Hawkesbury – I come to talk with you on this Australia Day as an outsider, who through his studies of commons has a perspective on the importance of the Hawkesbury Commons that you may find interesting. It is naturally only a brief sketch, and many of you are sure to know much greater detail about some of the places and people I talk about.

The Hawkesbury Commons

The commons around the Hawkesbury created in 1804 (Nelson Common [later Pitt Town Common] of 2285 ha (5650 acres), Richmond Hill Common (later Ham Common] of 2076 ha (5130 acres) and Phillip Common [later Wilberforce Common]) of 2488 ha (6150 acres) were the first commons in New South Wales. They were the forerunners of all the commons established across Australia, created at a time when the English commons were being ‘enclosed’ or privatised. Where did they come from?, how did they operate?, what happened to them?, why do they matter?

Where did the commons of New South Wales come from?

So, what is a common? The OED defines it as

…the undivided land belonging to the members of a local community as a whole … (and also that it is) the profit which a [person] has in the land or waters of another; [such] as that of pasturing cattle, of fishing, of digging turf, or of wood for fire or repairs.”

The right to use a common is known as ‘commonage’, while a person who has commonage rights is known as a ‘commoner’. Commonage rights are usually restricted to the members of a local community, and could be derived from ancient customs, residency, or land ownership. Typically commoners had seasonal access to a common’s resources, such as grazing stock, collecting timber, harvesting honey, and so on. For many otherwise landless country people and small landholders, commonage rights were a major economic investment.

The English ‘historical ecologist’ Oliver Rackham has traced the historical development of commons in England from early medieval times. By the early thirteenth century the ‘wildwood’ landscape had largely disappeared from England, and had been replaced by an intricate mosaic of land-use patterns combining urban, rural and ‘waste’, or un-used, places. Various sorts of ‘protected areas’ were developed to manage particular natural resources such as pasture grasses, building timber, firewood, game animals and wild foods. These areas were usually known as commons.

One of Oliver Rackham's important works on the evolution of the countryside and commons in Britain.  See here for a review.

One of Oliver Rackham’s important works on the evolution of the countryside and commons in Britain. See here for a review.

The first law relating to commons was made in 1235 to prevent unilateral enclosures of common land by the lords of the manor. Early civil actions such as one in 1480 laid down a principal that a commoner who grazed stock on common land was liable for their trespass upon adjacent, unfenced land. The Inclosure Act of 1773 was made to regulate the management of commons and their ‘enclosure’ (breaking-up into privately-owned parcels of land). This was the first in a series of laws for this purpose, with other major enactments following in the Inclosure (Consolidation) Act of 1801 and theInclosure Act of 1845.

As well as causing much social upheaval, the widespread enclosure of commons in 18th and 19th century England created a class of landless labourers who became the new factory workers of the industrial revolution, as well as a major source of the convicts sent to New South Wales. Manning Clark, in his first volume of Select Documents in Australian History (first published in 1950, and still being reprinted) chose two reports on the ill-effects of enclosure as the first historical documents illustrating the social conditions in late-18th century England that lead to the colonisation of New South Wales.

This history, customs, law and experiences of commons arrived in NSW with the First Fleet, part of their ‘invisible baggage’, and within only sixteen years began to take root in the new land.

Why were the first commons established in the County of Cumberland?

It may be possible to argue that the first common in New South Wales consisted of the fringes of the settlement in Sydney Cove from which building materials, foodstuffs and living spaces were extracted; or that early reserves such as the Crown Reserve in the vicinity of Petersham Hill, set aside by Governor Phillip in 1789, constitute commons. However, the first officially created commons were the six Cumberland Commons set aside by Governor King in 1804. These were the Nelson, Richmond Hill and Phillip Commons, in the Hawkesbury district, the Field of Mars & Eastern Farms Common above the Lane Cove River, and the Prospect Hill & Toongabbee Temporary Common, and the Baulkham Hills & Northern Districts Temporary Common on the north-western Cumberland Plain.

The official reason for the establishment of the commons is set out in Governor King’s General Order published on 12th August 1804:

GENERAL ORDER
WHEREAS it is neceffary, for the Prefervation and Increfe of the Breeding Stock, that Portions of Land should be referved adjoing thofe Diftricts where a number of Settlers have been fixed in fmall Allotments bounded by others: And it being impracticable to locate larger Allotments to all those who now poffef, or may hereafter poffef Stock; in order to fecure to their Ufe Pafturage for Rearing and Maintaining Cattle and Sheep, HIS EXCELLENCY has deemed it expedient to allot by Grant under HIS MAJESTY, certain Portions of Grazing Lands hereunder ftated: fuch lands to be held and ufed by the Inhabitants of the refpective Diftricts as Common Lands are held and Ufed in that part of Great Britain called England.

source: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertizer, Vol. II, No. 90, 12 August 1804, p1

Smallholders needed more land for their stock to graze, but there not enough left available in some districts, and therefore commons would be established for grazing and other purposes.

Part of the official notice establishing the Hawkesbury Commons, Sydney Gazette 12th August 1804.  Source Trove

Part of the official notice establishing the Hawkesbury Commons, Sydney Gazette 12th August 1804. Source Trove

An unofficial reason, however, was given by Governor King writing on his establishment of the Cumberland Commons a year or two later:

To give all two or three hundred acres [80 – 120 ha] would soon alienate all the disposable land adjacent to the settlers, and to give particular people two or three hundred acres, in places of their own selection, would soon reduce the small farmer to sell his farm and stock, (because he cannot feed them,) to the person who can command money or its worth.

This was at the very time that Captain Macarthur of the Rum Corps, having already tried to discredit King, and then having been sent to England by King to be court-martialled, was returning to the colony having had the charges against him quashed and also obtained several powerful patrons as well as convincing the government in London to support his scheme for wool production in the colony (and a grant of just over 2000 ha (5000 acres) and the promise of more). King needed allies and recognised that the support of the smallholders of the Hawkesbury and elsewhere could provide some political counter-weight to the mercantile interests of the Rum Corps and their returning captain. While there was little remaining arable land that could be alienated, the ancient institution of the common provided a way of giving the smallholders further grazing areas (each of which was similar in size to the grant promised to Macarthur) and preventing Rum Corps traders from buying up the smallholders properties. This fear was based not only upon the real experiences of enclosure in England, in which wealthy landowners rapidly bought up the the tiny plots assigned to poor commoners, but the political realities of the commercial activities and corrupting influences of the Rum Corps.

The usual reason now given for establishing the commons was first stated 90 years later by William Epps in his study of Australian ‘land systems’ in the 1890s, when he described the proclamation of the Cumberland Commons as being

in effect…an extension of the principle of setting aside commons for the general use of communities, which had prevailed for so many years in England.
source: Epps: 10.

This seems to have become an accepted explanation in later years, implying that the creation of the commons was simply a form of nostalgia for the English countryside by homesick immigrants.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and the management and subsequent development of commons in New South Wales illustrates the development of a particularly Australian form of the common. An English institution was naturalised through local ingenuity to meet local conditions and needs. It was not slavish imitation by the homesick.

How did the early Hawkesbury Commons operate?

Governor King established a system of local trustees to manage the new Cumberland Commons. The 1804 General Order stated that

The Leafes will be made out in the name of Three Persons refident in each Diftrict, who are named by the reft, and approved by the GOVERNOR. How the local residents decided who would be nominated to the Governor is not clear, but the Governor acted upon the nominations and appointed three trustees to each common. In January 1805, four months later, the Judge Advocate announced the names of the trustees for the three Hawkesbury Commons:
Nelfon Common
Andrew Thompfon, Thomas Biggers,Thomas Tyler
Phillip Common
Mathew Lock, Edward Robinfon, Henry Baldwin
Richmond Hill Common
John Ryan, John Bowman, Andrew Thompfon
 source:Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertizer, Vol. II, No. 99, 20 January 1805, p1.

Straight away we see a major adaptation of the common to colonial society: the single, hereditary Lord of the Manor was replaced by a collective group of locally-chosen representatives.

An option for local election of trustees was included in the 1847 Act, and then became only elective from 1873. Elections were often highly contested. As an example, the election for five Trustees of the Pitt Town Common held in 1882 attracted a field of 10 candidates, with advertising and reporting in the local press (Barkley & Nichols: 143). However, much more research is needed on the election of Commons trustees.

The commoners as citizens

King was seeking, in effect, to establish a colonial yeomanry that would not only counter the political influence of the Macarthur faction, but also provide some form of localised social control of the emancipist population – partly by providing a mechanism for incorporating at least the more ‘respectable’ emancipists into local society. We can get some idea of this by looking at the character of the eight men chosen as the first trustees of the Hawkesbury Commons: four of them served as a constable, special constable or chief constable between 1796 and 1810, and one of them was a magistrate; six (inc. all the trustees of Phillip Common) were emancipists; and two of them were amongst the first land grantees in the district in 1794 and 96. They were hard-working, community minded, practical men who could rise above their station as ‘convict’ or ‘free’ by becoming commoners, equal in their new status in which to be a commoner was to be a citizen of the new land.

The loyal character of the Hawkesbury commoners is attested by several events during this time.

News of Nelson’s famous naval victory at Trafalgar reached Sydney in April 1806, and a silk flag was made and painted in watercolours. The painting showed the earliest depiction of an Australian coat of arms, with the shield charged with the rose, thistle and shamrock of Britain, supported by an Australian kangaroo and emu, crested with a hopeful rising sun, and scrolled with Nelson’s great order of battle: England expects every man will do his duty. This venerable flag, as I’m sure you will all know, is the Bowman flag, traditionally said to have been made by the women of the Bowman household from Mrs Bowman’s wedding dress. Whether in Britain or in New South Wales, all would do their duty as expected, a pledge affirmed by the use of wedding dress materials symbolising commitment and unity.

The Bowman Flag, emblem of the Hawkesbury commoners.  Image NSW Heritage

The Bowman Flag, emblem of the Hawkesbury commoners. Image NSW Heritage

Governor Bligh arrived in NSW in 1806, replacing King, and the Hawkesbury smallholders sent him a written address welcoming him to the colony, and asking him to, among other things, prevent monopolies, provide free trade and a fair and open market – direct criticisms of Macarthur and the Rum Corps’ commercial activities. In several subsequent addresses, they reiterated their support and loyalty to Bligh, and willingness to defend the colony. In January 1808 (198 years ago today) Macarthur orchestrated a coup against Bligh, imprisoning him and taking over the colonial government, that became known as the Rum Rebellion.

John Bowman was one of the signatories of the addresses to Bligh, and in 1808 was again signatory to a petition that attacked the rebels and especially Macarthur, who was described as …the principal agitator and promoter of the present alarming and calamitous state of the colony. They considered Macarthurs interregnum a period of…oppression, alarm and terror…, and this is well illustrated by the retaliatory persecution of Bowman by one of Macarthur’s Rum Corp proteges, Nicholas Bayly. Bayly had tried to sue Bowman some years before, and now had him fined and jailed for calling him a rogue. Although he was later released, the effects lasted for five more years with much of his property being sold to pay off debts. Bowman, despite the persecution and harassment during the coup, remained loyal to Bligh and demonstrated by his actions the common interests of the Crown and the commoners against the rebels. However, Bowman’s story is not unique, and the Hawkesbury Commoners stand out as a community and district that actively opposed the Rum Rebels in the pursuit of their liberty. Emancipist and free united as commoners – a combination that coup leader Macarthur would have detested.

The rebellion collapsed upon Governor Macquarie’s arrival in early 1810. The reality of the discrimination practised against emancipists, and therefore of the opprobrium that the ‘free’ settlers such as Bowman were prepared to face in their embrace on the Common of the emancipists can be appreciated in Macquarie’s reflection at the end of his governorship upon the situation in 1810:

Finding upon my arrival many persons free, who had come out originally as convicts, and sustaining unblemished characters since their emancipation, but treated with rudeness, contumely, and even oppression by those who came out free, and viewed with illiberal jealousy the honest endeavours of others to attain and support a respectable station in society, I determined to counteract this envious disposition in one class…
source: Macquarie to Earl Bathurst, 27 July 1822, in Manning Clark: 310.

To be a commoner was to be actively engaging in this ‘counteraction’, to be participating in the local community, to be resisting the tyranny of dictators and usurpers, to openly show true loyalties, to be demanding liberty – in other words, to be actively creating the citizenship that we take for granted today.

Naturalising and Australianising the Commons

At the same time that the appointments of the first trustees in 1805 were announced, the Judge Advocate also published an Epitome of the existing Laws respecting Commons, for the information of all concerned. The ‘Epitome’ derived from the laws …used in that part of Great Britain called England. It named the Governor as the universal lord of the manor in New South Wales, recognised the feeding of “beasts of the plough, or such as manure the ground” as a ‘universal right’, a Right of Common … inseparably incident to the Grant of Lands, authorised the Governor to enclose commons provided he leaves … sufficient for such as are entitled to it, stated that the interests of the Governor, as lord, and of local residents, as commoners, was to be regarded as mutual, with each able to sue the other for damages, and provided for the appointment of trustees, who were able to make local regulations for their commons. It then set out nine rules regarding the depasturing of stock, digging pits and trenches, and allowing commoners to graze beasts …on the King’s highway (the origin of travelling stock routes).

One of the earliest acts of trustees was to write a set of regulations for the common. These generally followed a standard model, providing for the running of meetings of trustees, the appointment of a secretary and a herdsman, and sometimes a reeve, commoner’s rights of pasturage, travellers rights of pasturage, rules and fees for using the common and for gathering firewood, and prohibiting the dumping of rubbish, polluting of waterways, or leaving open of gates. Local variations include, for example, the regulations for Ham Common that provided, until 1880, a schedule of fees for commoners engaged in brick-making on the common.

The management regulations were designed to ensure that the resources of the commons, usually firewood and pasture grasses, were conserved by regulating times, numbers and places of grazing, and the removal of wood, timber, soil and other materials. In order for a common to continue its various functions, trustees had to try and strike a balance between the demands of the commoners, both individually and collectively, and the ability of the commons environment to meet those demands.

In 1847, the Commons Regulation Act was passed, the first such piece of legislation in the colony. This Act was intended to overcome certain deficiencies in the law of the ‘Epitome’, and established trustees as bodies corporate, confirmed their right to make regulations and enforce them by fines, grant leases and distrain stock. The purposes of commons was defined as …the use of the settlers and cultivators and other inhabitants of [the] parish or district… (s. 1), and commoners, as inhabitants of such parishes or districts, were to have the same ‘rights and remedies’ as commoners in England. Although drawing upon English precedents, the law was gradually Australianising the commons.

Following the making of this law, commons were subjected to greater attention by the authorities in Sydney. Only two new commons seem to have been made in the 43 years between 1804 and 1847: Sydney Common in 1811 and Wallambine or St. Alban’s Common in the 1824. Possibly in line with the general trend in England of enclosing and dissolving commons two of the New South Wales commons also disappeared, while enclosures took place on others. The Prospect Hill & Toongabbee and Baulkham Hills & Northern Districts commons were initially made for a limited period of 14 years, and in 1818 they ceased to exist . In the 1820s much of Sydney Common was enclosed within the new water reserve over the Lachlan Swamps, and in 1840 the north-western corner was enclosed for the building of Victoria Barracks and nearby housing in Paddington.

The survey of the Field of Mars Common in 1848 was followed by the granting of title deeds to its trustees in 1849 . A similar process of surveying and granting began on other established commons, as did a concurrent process of restricting commonage rights outside of commons. In 1850 the Colonial Secretary published a notice stating that private land owners adjacent to crown land did not have any rights of common over such unalienated lands except within townsites, and in 1852 this was further restricted to townsites having a population of less than 1 000.

Between 1854 and 1861, the trustees of existing commons at Pitt Town (formerly Nelson), Wallambine, Ham (formerly Richmond Hill), Wilberforce (formerly Phillip) and Field of Mars published annual accounts in the Government Gazette, from which it is possible to see something of the workings of a common at this time, and some distinct differences between the commons.

The workings of a common: a meeting of the Field of Mars commoners, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 14th January 1862.  Source Trove

The workings of a common: a meeting of the Field of Mars commoners, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 14th January 1862. Source Trove

Continuation of newspaper report above

Continuation of newspaper report above

For Ham Common the main sources of income were fines for trespass of cattle; licenses to graze sheep, cattle and horses; and sales of firewood, while the biggest expenses were the salary of the ranger, Michael McGraw, legal fees for actions involving trespass, etc, and publishing various notices in newspapers. Some particular items of interest are the £13 6s from Windsor Police for grazing stolen cattle seized from Beckett who was later tried and convicted in 1856, the £1 18s 3d for sale of 51 loads of wood by wood sellers @9d in 1857, the £3 from Mr Cornwell for making and burning 6000 bricks in the same year, the £7 19s 9d paid to Mr Karman for putting up 71 boundary posts on the southern boundary in 1858, and the £2 from Mr Cornwell for a licence to cut timber in 1859.

For Pitt Town Common income was mainly derived from various fees for loads of wheelwrights stuff, slabs, shingles, palings, rails, posts, firewood licenses, and stone, as well as rents of various paddocks on the common; with payments to John Paul, Bailiff for his salary being the main expenditure. From 1860 there is income from the burning of charcoal, and expenditure on the fencing of the common paddock. Between 1853 and 1855, the main use of Pitt Town Common changed dramatically from sheep grazing to timber and firewood taking, and the trustees quadrupled their income from £25 to £92.

Thus, while grazing is a feature of both commons, Ham Common was also a site of brick making and firewood gathering, while Pitt Town Common was a source of building stone and building timbers. The main expenses were salaries for the ranger or bailiff, and fencing of common boundaries. It is important to note that commoners did not have unrestricted access to the commons – the trustees had to manage this access to ensure that usage of the common resources was sustainable, and the regular employment of a ranger or bailiff indicates that they enforced these rules.

Some of the commonage rights is England do not seem to have been practised in NSW, such as fishing, mushrooming, turf cutting, or pannage (grazing pigs on fallen acorns), mainly because the physical environments of the NSW commons did not support such activities, but also because the increasingly centralised regulation of the trustees restricted trustees licensing responsibilities to grazing and taking timber. Commonage was not a license to take what you want, and the evidence of what was harvested from the commons illustrates their increasing Australianisation.

The Crown Lands Alienation Act of 1861 allowed this process of consolidation to turn, after 1865, to the rapid expansion of commons in New South Wales. The first common gazetted under this Act, and also the first common west of the Mountains, was made at Bathurst in 1865 . Within two years, commons were being created at a rapid rate. For example, in December 1867 alone, seventeen new commons were gazetted, mainly on the western slopes and the Riverina. In the County of Cumberland, control of the remnants of the Sydney Common was vested in the Sydney City Council in 1866, and the city boundaries were extended to encompass the common in 1870. The Field of Mars Common, after several inquiries, petitions and much bitter argument, was finally resumed in 1874 and subdivided, with the proceeds of the sales going towards the construction of the Iron Cove Bridge across the Parramatta River. The enclosure of the Field of Mars Common was probably the most contested in the County of Cumberland, with the Commoners engaged in a long and often bitter, but ultimately unsuccessful, battle to prevent enclosure.

The Iron Cove Bridge not long after being built.  The high land on the far bank is part of the old common.  Image State Library NSW

The Iron Cove Bridge not long after being built. The high land on the far bank is part of the old common. Image State Library NSW

Thus by 1874, 70 years after their creation, only the three Hawkesbury Commons survived of the original Cumberland Commons, although new commons were being established at a rapid rate across the colony. The enclosure of the other Cumberland Commons had been fractious and contested, with the Field of Mars and Sydney commoners ultimately loosing their commonage rights. The Hawkesbury Commoners may have felt some apprehension that they would survive for much longer.

What happened to the Hawkesbury Commons?

William Epps, after noting that King has established the commons in 1804, went on to state that

…even these common lands could not forever maintain the steadily increasing population and flocks of sheep, and the finding of a way across the Blue Mountains…became a pressing necessity. …They could see the fortune in the immense grassy plains of the interior, and they hungered for it.
source: Epps 11-12

For Epps, the common was simply a stop-gap measure to distribute enough grazing land to small farmers in an overcrowded environment. The inevitable crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813 enabled the common to be consigned to history as the expertise of surveyors and road builders allowed every settler access to enough privately owned property to produce wealth for themselves and the colony without the need to be supported by communal land. Jeans writing nearly 80 years later in 1972 came to a similar conclusion:

Macquarie held back the flocks for three years after the completion of the road [over the Mountains] until in 1818 the situation had changed sufficiently. First, in 1817, Surveyor-General John Oxley reported all the good land in Cumberland [County] taken up. Outside the commons and government reserves very little except ‘indifferent’, ‘bad’ or ‘waste’ ground could be found for new settlers. When drought in 1818 threatened flocks, some major graziers were allowed agistment at Bathurst.
source: Jeans 91:

Thus the traditional explanation is that, upon the crossing of the Mountains, the commons were rendered irrelevant and just disappeared. However, they survived for many years after the crossing, and this coupled with the spread of new commons from the 1860s suggests that there are other reasons.

The earliest enclosures of the Hawkesbury Commons began as early as 1810 when three of the Macquarie Towns encroached upon their commons (Windsor, Richmond and Wilberforce (Proudfoot 23). However, there was a direct relationship between them, with townspeople using them for firewood, grazing, refuge for stock in floods, and so on.

The first major enclosure of the Hawkesbury Commons was in 1865 when the race track and showground area was enclosed on Ham Common, just as Robertson’s Land Act opened up the pastoral stations beyond the mountains to small selectors and homesteaders and began the spread of commons in the interior. At about the same time a strip through the middle was enclosed for the railway line. However, these were relatively small enclosures and do not seem to have provoked much opposition.

During the 1870s there were further revisions to the Commons laws, and the three Hawkesbury Commons were all resumed and rededicated. Although in some sense this was a legalistic move to ensure that the title to these old commons was consistent with that of the many new commons being created, for the Commoners this was a time of apprehension. The Commoners of all three commons petitioned Parliament to keep their commons as they were, reciting the role of the commons as a place of grazing, of refuge for stock during floods, a source of firewood and building materials, and the expenses they had incurred in managing their commons over the years. They particularly objected to proposals to elect trustees annually instead of every three years (as this would lead tounnecessary trouble and occasion much uncertainty as well as being expensive and would compromise the independence of the trustees), to allow trustees to sell off parts of commons (they opposed the sale or disposal of commons in any way whatsoever), and to trustees loosing their commonage rights while holding office (as it would lead to the Common getting into the hands of parties having no interest in them). While Parliament made some modifications to these proposals, all of the Hawkesbury Commons were eventually resumed and rededicated and placed on the same legal basis as the new commons.

The major enclosures of the Hawkesbury Commons took place in the 1890s and affected all three commons.

1500 ha of land for the proposed Agricultural College was enclosed on Ham Common in 1891, enclosing the greater part of that Common. There was apparently some opposition from Commoners that resulted in the area being enclosed to be slightly reduced, but they were facing a loosing battle. The largest remaining area of about 200 hectares north of the railway line was enclosed in 1916 for ‘aviation purposes’, this becoming part of Australia’s second RAAF base in 1923. [Barkley & Nichols, parish maps] I do not know whether any small remnants of Ham Common still remain as common lands?

The enclosure of Pitt Town Common began in 1893 with land dedicated as a Labour Settlement Area for the Co-0perative Labour Scheme, while other areas were set aside as Temporary Commons. Most of the northern and southern fringes were then sold off as Homestead Selections. The Labour Settlement Area went through many changes of use during the 20th century until, in 1996, becoming the greater part of the Scheyville National Park. The little temporary commons were either enclosed and sold off, or in the case of the Long Neck Lagoon area became a nature reserve before being incorporated into the National Park. I have seen a reference to some commonage rights surviving around the lagoon until 1991, but do not know if any now survive? [Barkley & Nichols, parish maps].

View of Longneck Lagoon from Cattai Road in 2007.  Image Wikipedia

View of Longneck Lagoon from Cattai Road in 2007. Image Wikipedia

Wilberforce Common was proposed in 1896 as a Labour Settlement Area (the same as Pitt Town), but then cancelled, and instead enclosed as Homestead Selections of 16 to 40 ha (40 to 100 acres) each, with several Temporary Commons. The selections had mostly all been sold by 1903 (Proudfoot 25), and by about 1924 the Temporary Commons were also subdivided and leased, then later sold to lessees [Parish Maps]. Again, I do not know whether any small areas of common land have survived?

Thus the demise of the Hawkesbury Commons was not a result of the flight of the pastoralists over the Mountains. It was a response to the expansion of small-scale agriculture from the 1860s, and the increasing specialisation of the Hawkesbury farmers from the 1890s, coupled with the impact of new commons legislation that gradually restricted the role of the trustees and centralised control in the Lands Department. I doubt that the Commoners allowed this to happen without a contest, but have not yet researched this period. The new specialisations of dairying, market gardening, orcharding and vinyarding (all represented in the syllabus of the new Agricultural College, the largest enclosure of Ham Common), required smaller areas for highly-intensive uses without the need for communal grazing areas. [Barkley & Nichols, Chapter 2 passim]. The history of opposition of enclosures in earlier periods suggests that there was also opposition in the 1890s – but this is an area that needs further research.

Local landholders had petitioned for local government in Windsor and Richmond, and had voted in Borough or Municipal elections since 1871 and 1872 respectively, but for those outside the boroughs, the election of Common trustees was the main form of local governance until the formation of the Colo Shire in 1906 incorporated the commons into the new local government system. Within a century of the first selection of Commons trustees by local residents, elective local government was operating across the whole Hawkesbury district. This may have displaced some of the opposition to the enclosures and the loss of the trusteeships, but more research is needed on this matter.

So why do they matter?

  • the first commons in Australia
  • an example of naturalisation of English land management practises in a colonial environment through local ingenuity and adaptability
  • early sites of local or communal resource management
  • early example of local structures of self-governance being developed
  • only example of regional resistance to Rum Rebellion – are there any others?

Does this have anything to tell us on this Australia Day?

  • we have a history of communal endeavour, of working for the common good that is little explored – it hasn’t all been about rugged individuals and self-interest
  • we have a history of local communities developing democratic forms of self-governance long before local government introduced – it wasn’t all the province of powerful elites at the colonial and imperial levels
  • we have a history of loyalty and support for the Crown in the face of despotism and venality that has never been given much voice
  • we have a history of conserving natural resources that long precedes the 1970s – settlement wasn’t all about avariciousness and greed
  • the history of the Hawkesbury Commons tells us that there are (and always have been) alternative visions for Australia other than the current unquestioning acceptance of individualism, consumerism, nationalistic republicanism, technophilia and then more consumerism as the only vision for our future in the Great South Land.

you may or may not agree with my interpretation of the story of the Hawkesbury Commons, but I’m sure you can see that this is an area of Australian history that needs much more research and writing about. You are today’s Commoners of the Hawkesbury – I hope that I have encouraged you to further research the history of your commons, and their implications for Australia’s history.

John Clare (1793-1864), aged 20, folk poet and muse of the commons.  Does he have his Hawkesbury Commons counterparts?  Painting by William Hilton, in Stephen Hebron's The Romantics and the British Landscape, The British Library, London 2006, page 96.

John Clare (1793-1864), aged 20, folk poet and muse of the commons. Does he have his Hawkesbury Commons counterparts? Painting by William Hilton, in Stephen Hebron’s The Romantics and the British Landscape, The British Library, London 2006, page 96.

The one thing that I have not found is any poet or artist of the commons in New South Wales. In contrast, the English commons had their muse in the poet John Clare, who witnessed the enclosures of the early 19th century with despair. Poor John Clare was eventually locked up in a lunatic asylum where he ended his days in 1864 after 27 years of incarceration, and I would like to leave you with a few lines from one of his moving observations:

Remembrances
Where bramble bushes grew and the daisy gemmed in dew
And the hills of silken grass like to cushions to the view
Where we threw the pissmire crumbs when we’d nothing else to do
All levelled like a desert by the never weary plough
All vanished like the sun where the cloud is passing now
All settled here forever on its brow
By Langley Bush I roam but the bush hath left its hill
On Cowper Green I stray tis a desert strange and chill
And spreading lea close oak ere decay had penned its will
To the axe of the spoiler and self interest fell a prey
And cross berry way and old round oaks lane
With its hollow trees like pulpits I shall never see them again
Inclosure like a Buonaparte let not a thing remain

It leveled every bush and tree and leveled every hill
And hung the moles for traitors – though the brook is running still
It runs a naked brook cold and chill

I wonder if the Hawkesbury Commons had their muse?

References

  • Barkley, J., & Nichols, M, Hawkesbury 1794-1994: the first 200 years of the second colonisation, Hawkesbury City Council, Windsor 1994
  • Clare, John, ‘Remembrances’, online at The John Clare Society
  • Consolidated Index to the Minutes of the Proceedings and Printed Papers, Vols 1-23, First Session of the First Parliament to Third Session of the Seventh Parliament, 22 May 1856 to 25 June 1874, NSW Legislative Council
  • Epps, W., Land Systems of Australasia, Swan Sonnenshein & Co., London 1894
  • Fletcher, B.H., ‘Bayly, Nicholas, John (1770-1823)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 1, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne 1966: 76.
  • Fletcher, B.H., ‘Bowman, John (1763-1825)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 1, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne 1966: 138-139.
  • Gadsden, G.D., The Law of Commons, Sweet & Maxwell, London 1988
  • Jeans, D., An Historical Geography of NSW to 1901, Reed Education, Artarmon 1972
  • Manning Clark, C, (Ed), Select Documents in Australian History, Volume 1 1788-1850, Angus & Robertson, Sydney 1965
  • Oxford English Dictionary, Vol. IX, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1933: 690
  • Parish Maps, Parish of Pitt TownParish of RichmondParish of Ham Common in the County of Cumberland, and Parish of Wilberforce in the County of Cook – online at Department of Lands Parish Map Preservation Project
  • Proudfoot, H., ‘The Hawkesbury Commons 1804-1987’, Heritage Australia, Vol. 6, No. 4, Summer 1987: 23-25
  • Rackham, O., Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape, London 1976
  • Steven, M., ‘Macarthur, John (1767-1834)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 2, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne 1967: 153-159.

This paper was published in Journal of the Hawkesbury Historical Society, No. 1, 2006: pages 57-66; and is cited in Grace Karskens’ The Colony: A History of Early Sydney, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest 2009: Chapter 4 ‘Food from common industry: public farms and common lands’, passim.

Readers may also be interested my earlier paper titled The Commons of Colonial New South Wales, presented to the Royal Australian Historical Society’s Affiliated Societies Conference at Ultimo in 1994, and subsequently published as conference proceedings.

The right of Bruce Baskerville to be identified as the moral rightsauthor of this work is hereby asserted in accordance with theCopyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000 of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The Seven Bridges of Kingston

Bloody Bridge, Bounty Street Bridge, Pier Street Bridge, Canal Bridge, New Bridge, Old Bay Street Bridge and Bligh Street Bridge.

Seven bridges, seven names that evoke almost every chapter in the long and romantic story of Norfolk Island’s capital and Australia’s second-oldest town[1].

Unlike the famous Seven Bridges of Königsberg[2], the less well-known seven bridges of Kingston are easy to take in on a gentle stroll through the Kingston & Arthur’s Vale Historic Area (KAVHA).

The most easterly is Bloody Bridge, tucked away at the eastern gateway to the Historic Area, on Driver Christian Road.  By 1790 the road from Kingston to Ball Bay crossed the creek here, running through a vale of vegetable gardens.  About 1832 construction of the bridge began, using convict labour.  A creek channel was defined, and the oviform (egg-shaped) vaulted bridge tunnel was built.  A coral stone wall was built on each side, each with six buttresses, and then the void was filled with rubble and soil[3].  Raised causeways connect the bridge to the adjoining roadway, so that the whole structure stands high above the little flood plain of Music Creek.  The road surface was sealed by the 1970s, keeping the carriageway between the grass verges that continue across the bridge surface.  These causeways and grass verges are characteristic of all the larger bridges of Kingston.  In about 1914 the western wall of the bridge collapsed, and was rebuilt in 1917 in the splayed or faceted form that still shows the extent of the collapse even today, and which reduced the width of the bridge deck by half.

Bloody Bridge, showing original form viewed from upstream side

Bloody Bridge, showing original form viewed from upstream side

The tunnel or channel beneath Bloody Bridge

The oviform vaulted tunnel beneath Bloody Bridge

Apart from its picturesque location in Music Valley, beside a grove of old Norfolk Island Pines that shelter a seasonal Bosunbird breeding ground, the name of Bloody Bridge always draws attention.  According to folklore the convicts building the bridge drew lots to murder their unpopular overseer, murdered him and buried the body in the foundations.  His blood stained the stone work and revealed their crime, after which the killers were sent to Sydney where justice was swift and ultimately fatal.  However, there is no record of any such event taking place, and a more prosaic explanation may be that it was named by Irish convicts after Bloody Bridge in Dublin[4].  The name and a story was probably told by the convicts to the Pitcairners in 1856, as described by a visitor on HMS Fawn in 1860 who wrote of the new residents telling visitors just such stories to illustrate the brutality that had shaped the convict landscape they inherited in 1856.  In 1885 John J Spruson published a history of Pitcairn, Lord Howe and Norfolk islands that contains the earliest published version of the convict murder story for the bridge’s name.

Bloody Bridge is the only bridge to feature in Norfolk Post’s 2011 stamp issue commemorating the first anniversary of KAVHA’s inscription on the World Heritage List.

Bloody Bridge features on one of a twelve-set stamp booklet produced by Norfolk Post in 2011 to mark the first anniversary of the World Heritage listing of the Australian Convict Sites.

Bloody Bridge features on one of a twelve-set stamp booklet produced by Norfolk Post in 2011 to mark the first anniversary of the World Heritage listing of the Australian Convict Sites.

Pier Street Bridge is the most westerly of the bridges.  It was built in 1831, and connects Quality Row to the Landing Place by a long causeway called Pier Street.  A ford had been built over Watermill Creek on this alignment by 1796 when the route was called the ‘Road to Phillipburg’ (now Cascade), and it remains one of the oldest roads still in use in Australia.  By 1829 Pier Street was following its present alignment, and construction of the causeway and the bridge began soon after.  The causeway sits two to three metres above the ground level and when completed provided for the first time dry all-weather access between the landing place and the rest of the island.  The bridge and street name indicates the importance of this connection, although the pier was not completed until some 15 years after the bridge.  Whether its convict builders ever gave the bridge a name is not yet known.  Pier Street Bridge, like Bloody Bridge, has a central vaulted channel made of massive coral stone.  The walls of the bridge and causeway are built of rubble coral stone, and infilled with more rubble and soil.  The roadway runs between grassed verges that cross the bridge, with regularly-spaced limber holes to drain rain water away from the road surface.  Unlike Bloody Bridge, no buttresses were needed to support these walls, possibly because they are not of such a great height, but they have a slight batter similar to the walls of the pier to deflect flowing water away from the causeway and through the bridge tunnel.

Pier Street Bridge and causeway, seen from Old Government House KItchen (also called the Surgeon's Kitchen or Wentworth Cottage).

Pier Street Bridge and causeway, seen from the Old Government House Kitchen (also called the Surgeon’s Kitchen or Wentworth Cottage).

Two hundred metres eastwards is Bounty Street Bridge, built about 1832 after the completion of Pier Street Bridge.  Whereas Bloody Bridge and Pier Street Bridge both have a round arch tunnel, Bounty Street Bridge shows a fine elliptical (a flattish curve) four-metre wide arch.  Unfortunately, the bridge has suffered much damage to its eastern face, which was largely rebuilt, probably in the late 1930s after flood damage, when the arch was replaced by a flat concrete lintel.  The western face still retains its original arch, with fine segmented stonework.  The street provided rapid access during times of trouble from the New Military Barracks on Quality Row to the Prisoner’s Barrack and the prisoner’s mess on Bay Street.  There was also a long terrace and several cottages around the northern end of the street for constables and overseers who also needed easy access to the convict quarter.  Its current name of Bounty Street dates from 1904, and reflects the later Pitcairner settlement of the town.  The causeway on either side of the bridge is very short in length.  In recent years the northern end of the bridge and its causeway have been sinking and is now over a metre lower than the southern end[5].  An ongoing monitoring program is currently in place to measure the bridge’s movements, and eventually to inform conservation works to stabilize and possibly reverse the sinking.

The eastern balustrade of Bounty Street Bridge, nearly sunken into the reed banks, looking eastwards from the bridge carriageway.

The eastern parapet of Bounty Street Bridge, nearly sunken into the reed banks, looking eastwards from the bridge carriageway towards Chimney Hill.

Another two hundred metres further eastwards and the creek channel dissipates into several channels, forming a sort of delta where the waters from Watermill Creek, Town Creek and Government House Rill meet.  During wet weather this area is a bird lover’s paradise, and a sense of the old primeval Kingston Marsh that once covered most of the Kingston Common can still be experienced.

The current formal entrance to Government House on Quality Row masks the existence of Bligh Street constructed in 1831.  The street formerly ran from Quality Row through to Bay Street, parallel to Bounty and Pier streets, and at least three crossings were needed for it to traverse the marshes.  The southern end of the street is probably really a long causeway with various stone-built crossings to allow for the passage of water.  The name Bligh Street Bridge today refers to the original stone bridge that can still be seen in place, near the ruin of another stone bridge that formerly crossed the Serpentine.  The causeways through the marshes around this area were formed by earthen embankments without stone retaining walls, perhaps due to difficulties in locating firm bedrock.  Bligh Street Bridge is built of rubble coral stone abutments with a large slab of massive coral stone spanning the channel.  Rubble parapets sit on the edges of this slab to provide sides to the roadway, which is now entirely covered with a thick layer of soil and turf.  Bligh Street runs directly from the Old Military Barracks entrance to Bay Street, and may have been first formed to move stone and lime from the quarries and lime kilns on Bay Street to the Barracks construction site.  Once competed, Bligh Street, like Bounty Street, provided rapid access for the military to the convict quarter along Bay Street, as well as from 1838 a new formal entrance to Government House.  Like Bounty Street, the name Bligh Street dates from 1904, and it is the only place name in Kingston commemorating a former viceroy.  It provides a street address for Australia’s oldest vice-regal residence, and is forms a name-pair with Bounty Street, commemorating the street and bridge names the legendary captain and mutiny of 1789.

Bligh Street Bridge is marked by the two stone parapets in the middle of the picture.  The Old Military Barracks terminates the northerly vista.

Bligh Street Bridge is marked by the two stone parapets in the middle of the picture. The Old Military Barracks terminate the northerly vista.

Bligh Street Bridge covered in flood waters after heavy rain

Bligh Street Bridge covered in flood waters after heavy rain, with only the parapets above water.

Another 20 metres along the channel is Old Bay Street Bridge.  Now a pedestrian timber bridge sits on the site, but evidence of the older bridge can be clearly seen in the rubble coral stone bridge abutments.  There may have been a ford at this site since 1802 when construction of Government House began.  It is located on the Old Bay Street embankment or causeway that curves northwards and runs along the base of Chimney Hill, across the marshes and up to Government House.  The street was raised on the earthen embankment that can still be seen, and the stone bridge abutments were built between 1825 and 1835, with a timber deck, presumably of Norfolk Island Pine, used to span the creek.  The lightest of the bridges, it was only used for a few years until about 1838 when the new Bligh Street entrance to Government House came into use, and this section of Bay Street was reduced to a lane for separate access to the stockyards and gardens behind Government House.

Old Bay Street Bridge in the mid-ground, with contemporary timber pedestrian bridge spanning 1941 channel in foreground.

Old Bay Street Bridge in the mid-ground, with contemporary timber pedestrian bridge spanning 1941 channel in foreground.

Bay Street had split into two arms at Chimney Hill, and while this northern arm became a back lane, the southern arm survives as Bay Street proper.  It had come into use in the 1790s when the quarry and lime kilns were being developed, and the first burying ground was set aside.  The first attempts to drain the marshlands began in the early 1789 when a channel was cut through the limestone saddle that connected Doves Plot Hill (the site of Government House) and the Chimney Hill ridge and then ran along its eastern side to drain into Emily Bay.  This separated the burying ground from the rest of the town, and required the building of a ford or bridge to re-connect them.  The channel was known as ‘the canal’, and the name of Canal Bridge reflects this earliest phase in the draining of the marshes.

Canal Bridge, spanning the canal reconstructed in the 1830s

Canal Bridge, spanning the canal reconstructed in the 1830s

The northern section of the canal running around Chimney Hill was filled in during the 1830s, while the southern reach was rebuilt and the current bridge built in about 1835, possibly incorporating the earlier 1789 bridge over the canal[6].  Like Bloody Bridge and Pier Street Bridge, a vaulted channel was built of massive coral stone, this time with a pointed arch, and rubble walls filled with soil to road level.  Two small buttresses support the bridge wall on its northern side, and the stone walls on the canal are connected to the bridge structure.  This is the smallest and narrowest of Kingston’s bridges, and it and the New Bridge are the only ones spanning a waterway affected by the ocean tides.

Just a few metres away is the New Bridge, adjacent to the old lime kilns.  As the name suggests, this is the newest of Kingston’s road bridges, dating from 1941.  The concrete-lined channel was built between 1937 and 1941 following severe flooding in 1936.  It provided a straight cut across the marshlands and through the southern end of Chimney Hill that was intended to quickly drain away into Emily Bay any build-up of water in the marshes.  The bridge consists of a reinforced concrete deck that sits directly on coral stone abutments formed by cutting the channel straight through the natural rock.  The timber rails that provide a safety barrier on each side have been replaced several times over the years.  The soil excavated for the channel was spread over the marshlands to raise the ground level, almost burying the Bligh Street bridges.  The channel and bridge show the earliest use of concrete on a large-scale public works project on Norfolk Island, and illustrate the changes in bridge building technologies since the 1830s.

New Bridge, showing 1940s concrete structure

New Bridge, showing 1940s concrete structure

New Bridge, from channel mouth

New Bridge, viewed from the 1941 channel mouth

These cameos of Kingston’s bridges indicate the scale of the public works around Kingston in the 1830s that could be achieved with unlimited and often well skilled convict labour.  They also tell us something about the Commandants and their vision for the town and its future.  Kingston’s history has been dominated by horror stories of the gallows, whip and lash, but the bridges tell us another story.

Lieutenant Colonel James Morisset of the 48th (Northamptonshire) Regiment commanded the penal establishment between 1829 and 1834.  And was responsible for the earliest of the bridges in the old swamplands.

Morisset’s successor as Commandant, the Scotsman Major Joseph Anderson of the 50th (Queen’s Own) Regiment, had the Bligh Street, Old Bay Street and Canal bridges built as part of his scheme for creating a suitably picturesque domain for the vice-regal residence.

Anderson’s successor Major Thomas Bunbury of the 80th (Staffordshire Volunteers) Regiment converted much of the domain into sporting fields[7].  He also demolished Irish Town behind the New Military Barracks, and by the time the regiment was withdrawn from the Island both Irish Town and the romantic serpentine had been replaced by manly, utilitarian grounds for sports and parades.

The bridges hint at a Celtic heritage in Kingston: Bloody Bridge, Irish Town, the supposedly dour Scotsman Major Anderson.  The convicts, the military and civil officials have for a long time been treated as an amorphous mass, a single story of brutality and harshness.  Walking the bridges of Kingston gives us pause to stop and look, and appreciate a rich landscape of many cultural layers and a shared history.

A Kingston bridges walk will reward the rambler with many different views across Kingston, a variety of environments from the open Common to elegant street vistas to the more intimate groves of Norfolk Island Pines, a mix of oceanic, wetlands and forest birds, and of course the ever-present Georgian townscape and the brooding ruins of another age.

Timber foot bridges spanning the 1941 channel, on alignment of Old Bay Street (mid-ground) and Bligh Street (far-ground), viewed from the top of Chimney Hill.

Timber foot bridges spanning the 1941 channel, on alignment of Old Bay Street (mid-ground) and Bligh Street (far-ground), viewed from the top of Chimney Hill.  These are not counted in the ‘seven bridges’.

It is possible to make a circuit of the bridges without every having to cross any bridge more than once – provided that you don’t stick to the sealed roads and can make a few cross-country diversions.  It shouldn’t present you with the same puzzle that the Königsbergers posed in the 18th century – unless you like to set yourself (or your friends or family) a real challenge!

This post was first published, in a slightly edited form, in Your World Inflight Onshore (Norfolk Air), No 4, October-December 2011, pages 34-39.


[1] For more information on each of the seven bridges of Kingston, visit the KAVHA Public Research Centre at No 9 Quality Row, Kingston and see the KAVHA Inventory volumes.  The relevant inventory numbers are: Bloody Bridge N1A, Bounty Street Bridge F18, Pier Street Bridge F19, Canal Bridge A11A, New Bridge J6A, Old Bay Street Bridge A5C and Bligh Street Bridge A4E.

[2] The Seven Bridges of Königsberg is the name of a famous mathematical problem that arose from attempts to solve a puzzle in the medieval German university town of Königsberg.  The city was located on an island in the Pregel River and by the 18th century had spread out across the riverbanks facing the island.  Seven bridges connected the island to its riverside suburbs, and the puzzle often posed was to find a way to walk around the town, crossing each bridge once and only once.  Visitors to the town, especially after a few visits to the local beer halls, were often challenged by the townsfolk to solve their riddle, but none ever succeeded.  In 1735 the Swiss physicist Leonhard Euler proved that there was in fact no solution to the puzzle, and this could be shown by a mathematical analysis focused on the sequence of bridge crossings instead of the routes between them (rather than the usual method of an erratic, beer-fueled walk!).  Euler’s negative solution laid the foundations for graph theory, which can be used to represent the structure of the world wide web (www), and topology, the study of properties under continuous deformation such a stretching which has created products like continuous-loop recording tapes.  Unfortunately, the city was the scene of vicious siege and battle near the end of World War Two.  It was captured by the Red Army, and today only two of the original bridges survive.  The city is now a Russian possession re-named Kaliningrad.

[3] Coral Stone is the name used on Norfolk and other Pacific islands for limestone, especially that found around the Kingston district.  Its scientific name is calcarenite, which is a type of limestone composed of broken corals, shells and sand formed by erosion of older limestones, with particle sizes of less than two millimetres.  ‘Massive’ coral stone refers to blocks of solid stone cut from the reefs in Slaughter and Cemetery bays and Nepean Island.  ‘Rubble’ coral stone refers to the loose rocks and stone pieces quarried from outcrops of sedimentary limestone.  The best known source is Chimney Hill, where the lime kilns were also located to produce quicklime by slowly burning the stone for mortar, plaster and lime washes, as well as limelight for lighting theatre stages such as in Kingston’s various convict theatres between 1789 and 1846.

[4] Bloody Bridge in Dublin, adjacent to the Guinness Brewery on the Liffey River, was officially named the Rory O’More Bridge/Droichead Ruaraí Uí Mhóra in 1939.  The current iron bridge was built in 1859 and named the Victoria & Albert Bridge, replacing an earlier stone bridge built in 1704.  That bridge was officially known as Barrack Bridge, and itself replaced an even earlier timber bridge that had been the scene of several deaths of rebellious ferrymen’s apprentices who tried to destroy the timber bridge in 1670.  The popular name Bloody Bridge commemorated the ferrymen’s violent deaths and was transferred by popular usage to all subsequent bridges on the site, regardless of their official names.  Bloody Bridge in Newcastle (An Caisleán Nua), County Down, on Bloody Bridge Creek, was the scene of the killing of Protestant prisoners during the Irish Rebellion of 1641 when the conflicts in Ireland first took on a Catholic v. Protestant character.

 [5] Hughes Truman, Structural Report Bounty Street Bridge, Kingston & Arthur’s Vale Historic Area Norfolk Island, April 2010: 5

[6] Australian Construction Services, The Swamp Creek and Serpentine Area Conservation Study and Interpretive Design, June 1994: 14.

[7] Bunbury quoted in Australian Construction Services, op. cit.: 20

Kingston Pier and Landing Place

Kingston Pier: Shooting the waves at Norfolk’s first Landing Place (A slightly edited version of this post was published in Your World Inflight Inshore (Norfolk Air), April-June 2011, pages 19-25.)

In March 1788 a small party of convicts and marines under Lt Phillip Gidley King was sent from Sydney Cove to settle Norfolk Island.  HMT Supply sailed around the island for nearly a week, looking for a landing place.  King was beginning to despair when he wrote in his journal on 5th March that

“The only prospect which was to search if a pafsage could be found through the reef which runs along Sidney Bay (which is ye name which I give to ye Bay in ye SW side of ye Isle) we went there and ye master was sent in ye boat to examine it & on his return he informed us that a landing was very easy as a small break of ye reef (large enough to admit two boats) was formed between 2 parts of it & boats might land on a sandy beach.  On his report, Lieut Ball & myself went to explore it & found it just as he had reported it.  We landed on a fine sandy beach or bay without any difficulty whatever – above this beach lay a bank ye edge of which was surrounded by ye large kind of iris, on pafsing through it we found a fine piece of ground … here I resolved at once to fix … as it was very late in ye evening we returned on board.”[1]

This is the earliest written description of the Landing Place.

The original Landing Place was here, a few metres seaward of the present sea wall.  Erosion, probably caused by the construction of Kingston Pier, has gradually obscured the site although the sea sand continually tries to reclaim the site.

The original 1788 Landing Place was here, a few metres seaward of the present sea wall. Erosion, probably caused by the construction of Kingston Pier, has gradually obscured the site although the sea sand continually tries to reclaim it.

He then described the next day “6th March at Day break I left the Supply with 2 boats, having in them all ye people belonging to ye settlement (except ye women) … which we landed with great ease…”  The next day presented a different view “It blew so very hard all day & so great a surf that no boat could land this day.”  This began a recurring theme in the history of the Landing Place, as becomes evident throughout King’s journal, which had a column for recording the conditions at the Landing Place.  A random selection shows the problem: 20th April 1788 ‘Landing not possible, the southerly winds are now become cold and raw which induces me to call this about ye commencement of ye Winter’, 24th May 1788 ‘A very great surf’, 7th August 1788 ‘Landing good’, and so on.

Phillip Gidley King, founder and namesake of KIngston, Lieutenant Governor of Norfolk island 1788-1790, 1792-1796, and Governor of New South Wales 1800-1806.

Phillip Gidley King, founder and namesake of Kingston, Lieutenant Governor of Norfolk island 1788-1790, 1792-1796, and Governor of New South Wales 1800-1806.

For 60 years this was the main point of arrival and departure on Norfolk Island, despite its unpredictable weather and fickle location.  Around here grew the old town of Sydney Bay or Kingston.  But then something happened that challenged this business as usual approach.  On the night of 8th May 1834 a tsunami flooded into Sydney Bay and rapidly inundated much of Kings Town around the landing place, causing significant damage to the buildings and the area and changing everything forever.

Between 1825, when Norfolk was re-occupied after being abandoned for some years, and the tsunami a decade later, the west end of the old town around the landing place had been the main quarter to be rebuilt.  Many temporary and ‘light’ buildings of wattle and daub and thatch were erected, often on the foundations and alignment of older buildings, and a variety of residential, storage and other uses.  Following the tsunami, many of these were abandoned or removed, leaving the newer late 1820s stone buildings used as stores and the new timber Surgeon’s Quarters on the rise behind the pier.  The ‘west end’ was largely abandoned in response to the tsunami, and new permanent stone buildings, also constructed partially on old alignments and foundations, were then developed on the eastern side of the landing place during the 1840s and into the early 1850s.  This ‘port quarter’ was built using some of the Old Town stone buildings such as the Guardhouse and the Double Boatshed (seaward side), and the new buildings were also built in stone.  Their uses related to port and security functions, and included a Police Office (now the Single Boatshed) and the Guard’s balcony or sentry post on the end of the Pier Store, as well as boatsheds on the western side of the Pier Store, and the Royal Engineer’s Office.  The only notable timber structures were three stockades beside the Police Office and visible from the sentry post that were used to hold convicts that had either just arrived on a ship or were awaiting shipment back to Van Diemen’s Land or New South Wales.  A blacksmith’s shop was also built in this area to be close to the stockades for quickly fitting or removing chains and irons.

The Single Boatshed, originally built as the Police Office, at the foot of Kingston Pier

The Single Boatshed, originally built as the Police Office, opposite the Guardhouse at the foot of Kingston Pier

The building of the pier, which began in 1839, stimulated the building of this port quarter and its more specialised uses.  Designed by the Royal Engineers, notably Lt Henry Lugard and RG Hamilton, construction proceeded during low tides and followed the western edge of the reef.  It was intended to curve around to a large coral outcrop known as the ‘nigger head’, but the strong surf during construction constantly washed away foundation blocks of stone, and construction work stopped in 1847 at its present length.  Metal clamps were used to fix the blocks together (another reason the old blacksmith shop and stoneyard was close to the pier), and the upper stone courses are keyed together using blocks perpendicular to the other stonework.  The eastern face was built with sloping walls to try and redirect the kinetic energy of the waves away from the structure, and the interior was filled with stone rubble.  Most of the labouring work was performed by the Gaol Gang (i.e. prisoners held in the gaol for offences committed on Norfolk), supposedly working up to the armpits in water while wearing heavy chains, although how they were able to work with heavy stone in such conditions is unclear[2].

The eastern side of Kingston Pier as it adjoins the eastern seawall, built by convict labour between 1839 and 1847.  Note the battered wall to deflect waves.

The eastern side of Kingston Pier as it adjoins the eastern seawall, built by convict labour between 1839 and 1847. Note the battered wall to deflect waves.

A timber slipway built in the 1830s was replaced in 1853 with the stone slipway for launching boats.  In 1855 the slipway was badly damaged in a storm, and had to be repaired.  The eastern stone seawall was built prior to the pier with an opening left in it, and was then joined to the pier, but a similar western sea wall was then demolished and apparently used to extend the eastern sea wall around the new blacksmith’s shop and stoneyard.

The slipway of the western side of Kingston Pier today, on the site of the original slipway built in 1853.

The slipway of the western side of Kingston Pier today, on the site of the original slipway built in 1853.

Construction of the pier changed the layout and land uses in the Old Town quarter of Kingston.  It was a major engineering and infrastructure project that lead to general renewal of the area.  Its more specialised land uses changed the landing place into a port: the ‘Port of Kingston’ became an imperial town, part of the Empire-wide shipping highways.  It increased the specialised character of the penal settlement, but retained fine grain of the Old Town townscape in contrast to the Roman grid style of the Royal Engineer’s designed New Town along Quality Row and Bay Street.  The stores, stockades, blacksmiths, stoneyard, police and guard outposts all indicate the main business of the port – the transportation of convict cargoes, and the need to maintain high security levels around such cargoes.

Despite the security, however, escape attempts and smuggling were also an integral part of the new port.  A practice was described in 1846 whereby joiners and cabinetmakers working in the Carpenter’s Shop, further along Bay Street, made ornamental writing desks, cigar boxes and so on from native timbers.  These were clandestinely traded with the boat coxswains for sale to crew and passengers on ships moored in the bay, and also used to smuggle tobacco and other goods into and out of the island[3].  Escape attempts were numerous, such as the convicts who overpowered another group of convicts waiting to take some officers fishing, and rowed across the bar and into the open sea.  Lt Lugard and two boatloads of soldiers gave chase and when they started to fire on the escapees, they surrendered and were made to row all the way back towing the two boats of soldiers[4].  Clandestine activities were perhaps facilitated by the quarter’s Old Town layout of narrow lanes and angled buildings, especially when enveloped by darkness and clinging sea mists.

In 1846 Magistrate Robert Stuart visited the island and reported back to Hobart Town on many things, including the conditions in the port just before completion of the pier:

“King’s Town”, the head quarters or principal station, is situated on the … shore of Sydney Bay, and little above the level of the sea. … A coral reef prevents the near approach of vessels to the settlement; and, as the anchorage is insecure, loading and unloading ships are tedious, being effected by boats, and crossing the bar, over which a very heavy surf generally rolls, is attended with great danger, as well from the surf on the bar, as from the intricacy of the passage, to avoid being thrown on a ledge of rocks immediately in front.[5]

Thomas Stewart reflected the sudden changeability of the seas around the Pier in a description written in October 1855:

“The barr was pretty smooth in the morning, I hoisted the red flag at the jetty F.Staff and the Ensign at G.H. F.Staff, and immediately after breakfast set out to the nearest point of land to ascertain for certain if it was the cattle ship … I could see the boat making for shore, hurried down to the jetty, but found the barr had become at times very rough, and at one of these times Capt. Raymond was within half a mile of the shore, but could not come nearer, turned and went back to the ship.”[6]

The inventory of buildings and structures that were to be transferred to the Pitcairners when they arrived included “Boat run, pier, etc.,  Stone pier running into the sea, with 2 flights of stone steps for landing, stone slip for launching boats, flagstaff, with stone work around the bottom.”

An old lighter on the Kingston foreshore: the design and materials for the lighters is similar to that of the whaling boats.

An old lighter on the Kingston foreshore: the design and materials for the lighters is similar to that of the whaling boats and lighters left by the departing convicts in 1856.

In June 1856 the Morayshire hove into view from the Pier, carrying the new settlers from Pitcairn.  The settlers were not very impressed.  Their leader, the Rev. Nobbs, wrote that they were: “…very much disappointed with its [the Island) appearance … a succession of hillocks and shallow ravines covered with short brown grass, but scarcely a tree to be seen.  Every face wore an expression of disappointment.”  The Reverend does not mention the pier or landing place, but his wife Sarah made a passing reference to it in a letter she wrote a few months later: “[We] land on Sunday, June 8th, amid squalls of rain, which thoroughly drenched us.”[7]  Despite his first impressions, by the end of that month Nobbs was writing of the island as a ‘goodly heritage’.

During the 1860s and 70s, the pier witnessed the arrival of the Melanesian Mission and the comings and goings of its staff and its students from islands to the north, as well as many visits by whaling vessels that continued from the convict era.  By the 1880s and 1890s the port quarter around the pier had become a hive of whaling activities, and Kingston had became one of the South Pacific’s whaling towns.

One of the many graves of the crew of whaling ships in Kingston Cemetery: Antone John of the ship 'California' who died 5th November 1878.

One of the many graves of the crew of whaling ships in Kingston Cemetery: Antone John of the ship ‘California’ who died 5th November 1878.

There are many newspaper reports of whaling activities around Norfolk during the 1880s and 1890s, with whaling ships coming and going, trading with the Islanders, and of many occasions embarking or returning Norfolker crew members.  Apart from the opportunities for adventure, travel, trade and income, another attraction may have been revealed when the American whaler Canton called at Pitcairn Island in 1881: “…as she had a boat’s crew of Norfolk Islanders on board, there was a joyful meeting.  Souvenirs and letters were bought from thence, which report domestic matters generally…”[8].

American crewmen often holidayed in Kingston, and Isaac Robinson was appointed US consul to look after their affairs[9].  In 1882 the death of one of his daughters was reported in the Sydney newspapers: “ROBINSON.-October 2, at the Pier, Norfolk Island, Alice Quintal, aged 17, eldest beloved daughter of Isaac Robinson, of  that place”.[10]  In 1889 Robinson was appointed as the United States consul on Norfolk Island.[11], and in 1900 the consulate was one of the places that flew its flag to mark the anniversary of King’s landing in 1788[12].  The Robinsons lived in the old Surgeon’s Quarters above the Pier, with a commanding view of all commercial activities around the pier and the port quarter including the whaling companies boatsheds, boiling pots and quarters.  This was a strategic location for a foreign consulate, and as United States influence expanded in Pacific Islands through Hawaii, Samoa, Guam and the Philippines, it is not hard to discern concerns in Sydney and London about American intentions on Norfolk during the 1890s when planning a new undersea telegraph cable to connect the Empire.[13]

The fear that drove the reinstatement of New South Wales administration of Norfolk Island: the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii by American planters in 1893, followed by US annexation in 1898.

Was this the fear that drove the reinstatement of New South Wales administration of Norfolk Island? –  the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii by American planters in 1893, followed by US annexation in 1898.

Hawaiian postage stamps bearing the portrait of the deposed Queen Liliuokalani, an honoured guest in London at Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1887.

Hawaiian postage stamps bearing the portrait of the deposed Queen Liliuokalani.

Was the Empire port town in danger of following the example of Honolulu or Apia or Manila?  Whether the Pier was a scene for such imperial intrigues, the 1896 return of Norfolk’s administration to New South Wales was followed by substantial investment in Norfolk’s infrastructure.  Major repairs were undertaken on the pier in 1897 and 1898 to replace facing stone and rebuild the slipway[14].  The town was surveyed in 1904 with a town plan being drawn up showing lot boundaries and street names.  The newer Bounty Street, Pitcairn Street and Bligh Street, recalling an older British Pacific heritage that predated the whaling industry, joined the older Pier Street and Bay Street.  The opening of the Pacific Cable Station at Anson Bay in 1902 brought Norfolk firmly back into the imperial fold, although it was well away from the any prying eyes down at Kingston.

Whaling did not simply vanish. The whaling town was still evident in the early 1900s when Miss Florence Coombe came ashore, bound for the Melanesian Mission school at St Barnabas:

There is no harbour, and in the winter it is impossible for boats to get to land. … We have anchored on an early morning in September … Now the first whale-boat is put off from the shore.  In a few minutes a handsome, swarthy, bare-footed Norfolker, in shabby clothes, and a home plaited straw hat in his hand, is bowing before us with the grace and dignity of a Spanish nobleman, and in a soft, quaint drawl he bids the strangers “We-elcome to No-orfolk I-island!” … very soon afterwards, when the whale-boat has been crammed from stem to stern with boxes and packing cases of all sorts, you find a somewhat rickety perch atop a huge row of stores … the process of landing is not to easy, for these green rocks are as slippery as ice, and unless you are ready to jump at the moment the word comes, the opportunity is past, and a leap would be into the sea, instead of onto the land.  But don’t look around at the boiling surf.[15]

A cruise ship moored in Sydney Bay to disembark passengers at Kingston Pier

A cruise ship moored in Sydney Bay to disembark passengers at Kingston Pier

Cruise ship passengers disembarking from zodiacs at Kingston Pier - on a calm day!

Cruise ship passengers disembarking from zodiacs at Kingston Pier – on a calm day!

In 1907 a whaling boat was setting out from the pier when it was capsized by heavy surf.  Another boat was launched to rescue the crew, one of whom, Tilly Adams, was badly hurt and the capsized boat was smashed to pieces on the rocks beside the pier.[16]

However, as petroleum oil began replacing whale oil, the use of the pier declined, and by 1914 when a visitor to the island described a fairly typical landing at Kingston there was no mention of whaling boats:

October 7th.  The great event of the Island, the arrival of the monthly steamer from Australia, drew us, with the rest of the population, to the landing place, which this month was the “Town” the wind being favourable. … the familiar old “Makambo” casting anchor on its none too smooth anchorage, two big row boats struggled off through the heaving surf to meet her, well before she got in and a long delay again before the medical inspection was over and the few passengers came ashore kept the crowd of Islanders intently watching  and waiting.  The scene was like a huge country picnic  … every inhabitant of the Island, apparently, waiting to receive this one connecting link with the outside world.”[17]

In 1914 Norfolk Island became Australia’s first external island territory.  New opportunities for customs and duty-free exports to the mainland opened up, and  the export of lemon juice, passionfruit pulp, bananas, oranges and other sub-tropical produce and fish boomed[18].  Every visit by a ship to the pier attracting the increasingly organised carrying of casks of produce by the island lightermen, utilizing skills and lighter designs descended from the whalers and the boats left by the convicts[19].

The Pier’s 20th century history is as rich and varied, and only briefly touched upon here.  By the 1920s when whaling resumed, it did so in Ball Bay, well away from the Pier and Kingston[20].  World War Two brought dramatic changes as Kingston again became a military garrison, with extensive gun emplacements and other defences overlooking the port and a steady stream of military transports to the Pier unloading heavy machinery and personnel.  Ironically, it was the war that ended the Pier’s pre-eminence as Norfolk’s gateway to the world.  All this war-time activity lead to the building of the aerodrome and the development of the new town of Burnt Pine[21].  The post-war focus has been on the development of air transport and air services.  Cargoes still arrive by ship and are unloaded by the local lightermen, and the occasional cruise ship and passing yacht calls in, but the Kingston Pier is now more the haunt of fishermen, tour guides, swimmers and strollers rather than the heavy commercial uses of the convict transports and whalers.

Another cargo is unloaded from the lighters, guided by the lightermen.

Cargo is unloaded from the lighters at Kingston Pier, guided by the lightermen.

Cargo is unloaded at Kingston Pier from two lighters lashed together.

Another cargo is unloaded at Kingston Pier from two lighters lashed together.

Once the lighters have been unloaded, the launch tows them back out past Kingston Pier to the moored ship for another load.

Once the lighters have been unloaded, the launch tows them back out past Kingston Pier to the moored ship for another load.

The Pier had a brief moment of royal glory in 1974 when the Queen made her first visit to Norfolk Island.  The visit was well covered by the Women’s Weekly, with a picture-spread titled “Queen Shoots the Waves” showing the launch from the royal yacht Britannia almost lost in “…cyclone sized seas” as it approached the pier, and then showing the Queen on a wave-soaked pier meeting the Federal Minister for Territories.[22].  After nearly 140 years, the adventure of landing on Kingston Pier had not abated.

Visitors today can still inspect the original stone walls of the pier, patched and repatched by many succeeding generations, still see the waves crashing over its embankments, still feel it shudder with every crash, still watch boats being lifted over its sides into and out of the sea, still watch a ship being unloaded, still witness the annual Bounty Day re-enactment of the Pitcairner’s migration in 1856.  There are plenty of spots to sit and take in the patterns of the reef, the colours of the landscape and the views back towards the town, or just feel the salt spray or experience a glorious sunrise or sunset.

Lighters ready for use, outside the boatsheds beside the pier in Kingston

The colours of salt, sea and sun: lighters ready for use, outside the boatsheds beside the pier in Kingston

There are also plenty of spots just to let the imagination run wild and see once again those earliest settlers on a virgin beach, or the prisoners in the stockades awaiting shipment, or struggling in chains on the fruitless task of trying to extend the structure, or a large whale being brought in my men in small boats for the bloody rituals of flensing, or glimpses of smugglers and spies vanishing around a misty corner, or intrepid travellers clutching skirts and hats as they leapt from rocking boats onto slippery steps to be caught by strong arms and welcomed with lilting Pacific accents.  Miss Bertha Murrell wrote in her tour journal in 1915 “In the days of its youth Kingston must have been quite a little town.”[23]  Kingston Pier still provides shelter for these memories of that little town, and many more.

Definitions:

Pier – a structure of iron or wood raised on piles and leading out to sea, a breakwater, a mole

Jetty – a pier or breakwater constructed to protect or defend a harbour

Breakwater – barrier built out into the sea to break the force of waves

Wharf – a level quayside area to which a ship may be moved to load and unload

Quay – a solid stationary landing place lying alongside or projecting into water for loading and unloading ships

Port – a harbour, a town or place possessing a harbour, esp. one where customs officers are stationed

Harbour – a place of shelter for ships


[1] King’s journal, digitized online copy, State Library of NSW, pages 112-114 (http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/album/albumView.aspx?acmsID=412914&itemID=823541)

[2] KAVHA Inventory, Items H17, H18, H19 and J1.

[3] Report, Stuart to Comptroller-General in Hobart Town, 20th June 1846, and letter, Stuart to Comptroller General, 23rd June 1846, in E.F., Norfolk Island: the Botany Bay of Botany Bay, Sullivan’s Cove, Adelaide 1979:42 and 69

[4] Smith, N., Convict Kingston, the Author, Norfolk Island 1997: 37

[5] Report, Stuart to Comptroller-General, op.cit.: 36

[6] quoted in KAVHA Inventory, H21 & 22+

[7] Nobbs, R., George Hunn Nobbs 1799-1884: Chaplain on Pitcairn and Norfolk Island, the Author, Upper Hutt 1984: 50-51, 54

[8] ‘Norfolk Island’, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 March 1881: 7

[9] Tofts, R.G., Norfolk Island Whaling Days: Tales & Yarns, the Author, Norfolk Island 2010: 37-39.

[10] ‘Deaths’, Sydney Morning Herald, 5th December 1882: 1

[11] ‘Consuls and Consular Agents’, Maitland Mercy & Hunter River General Advertiser, 16th February 1889: 4

[12] ‘Norfolk Island News’, Brisbane Courier, 7th April 1900: 15

[13] ‘The Pacific Cable’, Brisbane Courier, 11th January 1895: 4; ‘Australia, the Islands and the East: Expansion of Messrs Burns Philp and Cos Shipping Trade’, The Queenslander, 25 March 1905: 28

[14] KAVHA Inventory, item H18.

[15] Coombe, F., School-Days in Norfolk Island, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London 1909: 12-14

[16] ‘Whale-Boat Capsizes: Narrow Escape of Crew’, The Argus, 24th July 1907: 6

[17] Quintal, S., (Ed), Norfolk Island 1914-1916: a visitor’s memoirs, OnLine Suppliers, Norfolk Island 2001: 16-17

[18] Ibid: 13, 20-21 27, 34, 49; O’Collins, M., An Uneasy Relationship: Norfolk island and the Commonwealth of Australia, Pandanus Books, Canberra 2002: 91-92, 101-103

[19] KAVHA Inventory H32 (2 x 15t launches and 3 whale boats transferred to the Pitcairners in 1856); ‘An Old Art Flourishes in Stockyard Road’, The Norfolk Island News, August 1976: 28

[20] Tofts, op. cit.

[21] Hitch, G., The Pacific War 1941-1945 and Norfolk Island, the Author, Norfolk Island 1992

[22] “Queen Shoots the Waves: Royal Visit to Norfolk Island’, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 27th February 1974: 8-9

[23] Quintal, op.cit.; 37

Kingston Under The Ground

Kingston Under The Ground: some glimpses of the town beneath the grass

(original paper given at Rawson Hall, Burnt Pine, Norfolk Island, Saturday 26th November 2011)

The Kingston we see today is mainly the official town of the 1830s and 1840s, but it overlays the older 18th century town of Sydney Bay, as well as abandoned quarters of the 19th century town that are now little known.

The grand buildings and avenues of Kingston indicate the scale of the public works in the 1830s and 1840s that could be achieved with unlimited and well skilled convict labour.  It also tells us something about the commandants and their vision for the town and its future, and about the larger colonial and national forces that have shaped Norfolk Island’s history since 1788.

Kingston’s history has been dominated, in the recent past, by horror stories of the gallows, whip and lash, but archaeology can reveal to us another story, of men and women and children who have been born, lived and died here, struggled and laughed, been good and been bad, of a living community that can still be experienced.

The Town on Sydney Bay

The old town was born on 6th March 1788 when a party of convicts, officials and soldiers landed on the sandy shore, erected their tents and claimed the island for King George III.  Under the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Philip Gidley King RN, the town began to develop in a way that reflected many other coastal villages on rocky shores that the settlers were familiar with.  Although King had been born and raised in the Cornish town of Launceston, some 20 kilometres from the sea, his layout of the settlement reflected its English origins.  Just as Launceston was dominated by a castle on a hill, so the Government Houses of 1788 and 1792 were sited on a ridge overlooking the landing place and the roads that eventually lead inland to Ball Bay, Queensborough and Philipsburg, as well as keeping the whole settlement in view.

Plan of Kingston (then called Sydney or Sydney Bay) in 1793

Plan of Kingston (then called Sydney or Sydney Bay) in 1793.  Click on the map to enlarge it.

The Old Town was fairly compact, with the principal buildings in the area between the landing place and Government House along St George’s Street and Cascade Street (now Pier Street), and a hospital and several cottage-lined lanes, including Sirius Street and Cook’s Street, running off Church Street (now Bay Street) in the area now covered by the New Gaol ruins.  A major change to the town took place in 1804 when the third (and present) Government House was built on Dove’s Plot Hill, well away from the town but still close enough for its presence to be visible to any of the townsfolk.

As the town developed between 1788 and 1814, its growth occurred in two main phases.  The town really took shape around the landing place and along the beach between 1788 and 1796 under King.  The first courthouse, gaol, school, and church were located in this area.  In 1790 a hospital and hospital garden was built at the end of the cottage rows, between the beach and the swamps, anda year or so later lime burning had begun in the Chimney Hill area.  This established the town’s east end as the industrial quarter around the canal built in 1795.  It ran around the back of Chimney Hill to drain the swamplands. On the other side of the canal the Burying Ground was in place by 1796, marking the eastern limits of the town.

A second wave of building between 1800 and 1804 under Lieutenant Governor Joseph Foveaux of the New South Wales Corps produced a stout Gaol near the landing place and the present Government House (now the oldest operating vice-regal residence in the Commonwealth of Nations), as well as a number of new roads, bridges and seawalls, and a wooden-piped water supply to the town.  New lime kilns were built in 1802 to provide lime for further building works.  He also had instructions to build those essential 18th century welfare institutions, an orphan school and a workhouse, although it is not clear whether either was ever built.  After Foveaux’s departure, there was little new building work as arguments flew between Sydney and London over whether to close down or further develop the island.

The 1804 wing of Government House

The 1804 wing of Government House

Entrance to Government House cellars, beneath the 1804 wing.

Entrance to Government House cellars, beneath the 1804 wing.

Eventually the decision to close the island was made, and despite delays and dogged resistance from the settlers they were all eventually removed, and the darkest days of the town, which was by then known as Kings Town, came in the late summer of 1814.  A gang of thirty convicts and their guards rounded up the last of the stock, and killed and salted them for the deported settlers.  The last two remaining settlers, Thomas Ransom and William Hutchinson, then had to set the whole town ablaze.  As they sailed away on the Kangaroo on the 28th February 1814 from Sydney Bay for Port Jackson they left behind a smoking and silent town, populated only by the dogs that had been left behind to devour any remaining stock.  It must have been an apocalyptic site.

For the next eleven years the ruined town lay abandoned, although occasionally visited by passing whalers looking for water, and was even rumoured to be a haven for pirates.

When the convicts and soldiers returned in 1825, the town was covered by grass over two metres high growing among the chimneys and other ruins of the stone buildings.  Captain Turton of the 40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment reported back to Sydney that the town, although largely in ruins, retained plenty of stone buildings that could be restored, even for temporary uses.  The convicts included a group of mechanics from Port Macquarie, brought over for their building skills who were quickly put to work rebuilding the town.

Buildings that are known to have been restored or repaired (using the present-day names) include the Surgeon’s Kitchens (1792), the wards of the Civil Hospital (1793, possibly the church), the Guardhouse (1794, possibly the old bakehouse), the sea side of the Double Boatshed (1796), the Old Gaol (1801, demolished 1850), the Bakehouse (1794, demolished1848, possibly an old officer’s quarters), the Carpenter’s Shop (1790s, demolished 1849, now site of the REO Café), Government House (1804), the Chimney Hill canal and canal bridge (1795), the first hospital (1790, demolished 1828), the beach Lime Kilns and the Chimney Hill quarry.  Bay Street (formerly Church Street west), Pier Street (1788, formerly Cascade Street), Crankmill Lane (possibly part of St George’s Street), Middlegate Road, the Longridge Road (1792, formerly Queensborough Road) and the landing place (1788) also came back into use, as did the Arthur’s Vale Dam (1795).

Ruins of the Civil Hospital (1829), built on the foundations of the Barracks (1792), which was planned to be the Church of England.

Ruins of the Civil Hospital (1829), built on the foundations of the Barracks (1792).  The foundations were originally planned for the Church of England.

Arthur’s Vale was Kingston’s first country district, being used for growing food from the early months of 1788.  Field boundaries, altered creek channels, re-routed roads and the ruins of several buildings survive in the archaeological layer of the valley.

Alignment of old road around the top of Arthur's Vale joining the Queenborough Road and generally 'up country', and now called Country Road.

Alignment of old 1790s road around the top of Arthur’s Vale joining the Queenborough Road and generally going ‘up country’, and now called Country Road.

Many of the other buildings such as the old government houses, the school, the court house, and many of the cottages were originally built of timber or brick noggin and not rebuilt.  They survive, however, in an extensive archaeological layer just beneath the current land surface around the Pier and around Chimney Hill.  Car parking is restricted in the old St George’s Street area (now a grassy field west of the Crankmill), and around the old lime kilns, to protect this fragile resource from compression.  In both places fragments still come to the ground surface after rain, and bumps and depressions in the ground surface signal the ghosts of the old town below the grass.

Lane around Crankmill ruins, on general alignment of St George's Street, looking northwards from Land Place site.

Lane around Crankmill ruins, on general alignment of old St George’s Street, looking northwards from the Landing Place site.

Lane around Crankmill ruins, on general alignment of Church Street, looking eastwards.

Lane around Crankmill ruins, on general alignment of old Church Street, looking eastwards to the Crossroads.

The backways of the New Town

The canal had been built to drain the Kingston Swamps in 1795, but it was in the 1830s that the first serious attempts were made to drain and manage the wetlands.  Lieutenant Colonel James Morisset of the 48th (Northamptonshire) Regiment commanded the penal establishment between 1829 and 1834.  He lived in the restored 1804 Government House with his wife Emily and five young children, three of them born in the house, and was responsible for constructing much of the creek channel along its present straight alignment and the earliest of the bridges.

Morisset’s successor as Commandant, Major Joseph Anderson of the 50th (Queen’s Own) Regiment, and a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars in Spain, transformed the marshlands into a picturesque domain for Government House.  Anderson lived in Government House with his wife Mary, and six young children.  Major Anderson is to Kingston what Sir Christopher Wren is to London or Walter Burley Griffin is to Canberra.  His name adorns the pediments and plaques of several of the new town’s principle buildings.  Anderson introduced a scheme to transform the marshlands into a classical Arcadian setting for the vice-regal residence.

The area that is now the Kingston Oval was laid out as an extensive parterre garden called ‘The Boulevards’, with the creek diverted through a curving channel called ‘the Serpentine’ that, after flowing beneath several bridges passed through a grotto-like tunnel cut through the middle of Chimney Hill and into the re-built canal.  The channels were lined with loose coral stone rubble, and a timber sluice gate beside Old Bay Street Bridge maintained a constant water level in the Serpentine.  The military and civil officials and their ladies promenaded through the gardens on summery evenings, while convict gardeners laboured through the day to maintain this reminder of metropolitan glamour and sophistication.  Bligh Street separated the public gardens from the vice-regal domain.

The lines of the 'drains' built in the early 1830s, viewed from their convergence at the Chimney Hill tunnel or grotto.  The Serpentine is the dark green area in the centre, and the Boulevards and later sports fields were located in the greensward to the right of the Serpentine (this remains in use as Kingston Recreation Ground today, with cricket pitch).

The lines of the ‘drains’ built in the early 1830s, viewed from their convergence at the Chimney Hill tunnel or grotto. The Serpentine is the dark green area in the centre, and the Boulevards and later sports fields were located in the greensward to the right of the Serpentine (this remains in use as Kingston Recreation Ground today, with its cricket pitch reputedly the oldest in Australia).

Anderson left the Island in 1839, and his successor, Major Thomas Bunbury of the 80th (Staffordshire Volunteers) Regiment, instituted a more ‘practical’ approach to penal administration.  He considered the serpentine to be a sewer made to “fetidly meander” through the gardens, which he converted into sporting fields “for athletic pastimes and exercises such as cricket, quoits, bowls and footballs” that are still in use today.

He also demolished Irish Town, a hamlet of huts behind the New Military Barracks where soldiers and convicts traded in stolen goods and especially the illicit tobacco that was widely grown across the Island and also smuggled by trading ships in the harbour.  The quantities of clay pipes recovered from archaeological digs show the popularity of tobacco at this time.  The soldiers at first refused to destroy Irish Town, and fronted Bunbury with loaded muskets but he coolly stared them down.  The military were as rebellious as the convicts, and within months Bunbury and the regiment were withdrawn from the Island and sent to India.  The clandestine bazaars of Irish Town, along with the formal parterre gardens and the romantic serpentine and grotto, receded into memory.

The creeks in Kingston are, to a large extent, convict-made drainage channels built by Morisset and Anderson to drain the marshes, and were often marked on 19th century maps as simply ‘drain’, without individual names. By the 1860s the Melanesian Mission clergy were blaming “the large drain choked up, a dry season, so that the swampy ground near the settlement has been dry…” for an outbreak of typhoid among the Pitcairners.

The Pitcairners inherited the terminology of drains from the convicts and adapted it for their own use.  In modern Norf’k laengwij a watercourse or creek is known generically as a ‘drien’.  Specific names such as Wortamil drien, Taun drien and Myuusik waeli (Watermill Creek, Town Creek and Music Valley) date from the late 19th to mid 20th century, and speak of a more modern age that could use reinforced concrete, machinery and paid workers to tame the marshlands.

After drainage works to control flooding in Kingston were completed in 1941 Anderson’s Arcadian landscape almost completely vanished, and the area was the driest it had ever been for the next fifty years until it was partly re-constructed in 1994-95 by the Kingston & Arthur’s Vale Historic Area Management Board.  Archaeological investigations undertaken at that time revealed the extent of Anderson’s works and some of the stone bridgeworks can now been seen among the reeds and drienflaegs.

After heavy rain in August 2011, some idea of the extent of the original swamps and fens as they existed in 1788 can be imagined from this view at the southern end of Bligh Street.

After heavy rain in August 2011, some idea of the extent of the original swamps and fens as they existed in 1788 can be imagined from this view at the southern end of Bligh Street.

Another view of the wetlands after heavy rain, looking northwards towards the Old Military Barracks with Bligh Street marked by the line of Norfolk Island Pines on the left.

Another view of the wetlands after heavy rain, looking northwards towards the Old Military Barracks with Bligh Street marked by the line of Norfolk Island Pines on the left.

Protecting Kingston’s archaeology and artefacts

A number of archaeological investigations have been made in Kingston since the late 1970s, and the relics and artefacts recovered are now managed by the Norfolk Island Museums and mainly exhibited at the Commissariat Store Museum in Kingston.  A 1983 excavation inside the Guardhouse, possibly the Old Town’s bakery dating from 1794, revealed seven layers of occupation including evidence of the 1814 fire, pipe stems, fish and bird bones, hihi shells, shards of porcelain, pottery and glassware, nails, and a piece of human skull bone.

The convicts, the military and civil officials have for a long time been treated as an amorphous mass, a single story of brutality and harshness.  The archaeology of Kingston, and especially many of the artefacts that have been recovered over the years, give us pause to stop and look, and appreciate a rich landscape of many cultural layers and a shared history.

Kingston’s Old Town is today the largest landscape of 18th century buildings in Australia.  However, even more of the old town survives as an archaeological layer, especially around the Pier area, the Crossroads and around Chimney Hill.  The national and world heritage listings of the site provide statutory protection for these areas, but the full extent of the archaeological layer remains unknown.

The Crossroads, Kingston (formerly junction of Cascade Street and Church Street, now of Bay Street and Pier Street), site of gallows and, allegedly, burial place for executed prisoners.

The Crossroads, Kingston (formerly junction of old Cascade Street and old Church Street, now of Bay Street and Pier Street), site of gallows and, allegedly, burial place for  prisoners executed in the Old Town between 1788 and 1813.

The wetlands provide archaeological evidence of various attempts to tame and control this water body, as shown by investigations in the 1990s.  Irish Town will also survive in the archaeological layer, and archaeological research in that area would provide a real insight into Kingston’s unofficial Soho district of the 1830s.

Like all good stories, the history of Kingston has many more chapters yet to be explored and written.  The archaeology of the town is of the highest levels of significance in Pacific, Australia and Empire history, and its further investigation in the future is sure to provide insights into our colonial and convict history unmatched by any other historic site.