‘Ready at all times’: the Hawkesbury resistance to the Rum Rebels

This paper was presented to the Hawkesbury District Historical Society on the 200th anniversary of the Rum Rebellion (1808 – 1810) as the Society’s Australia Day address in 2008, at Pitt Town.

 “Ready at All Times, at the Risque of Our Lives and Property”[1]:

The Hawkesbury Resistance to the Usurpation known as the Rum Rebellion


Tonight, on this 200th anniversary of the overthrow of Governor Bligh, I want to explore the story of those who opposed the Usurpers, and the price they paid, especially among the Hawkesbury settlers.

Setting the Scene: New South Wales in 1808

Firstly, I want to set the scene, and ask you to imagine a New South Wales that is very different to today.  Sydney was the capital, and to the west were the impassable Blue Mountains.  The colony’s population of about 8000 convicts, settlers and soldiers was spread between the two towns of Sydney and Parramatta, and the country districts of the Hawkesbury, Baulkham Hills, the Field of Mars and more sparsely The Cowpastures.  Beyond the County of Cumberland there was also the remote penal station at Coal River, the Queensborough, Phillipsburg and Kingston settlements on Norfolk Island, and the newer settlements at Port Dalrymple and Hobart Town in Van Diemen’s Land.

The colony was largely maritime in its outlook: the principle highways were by river and sea rather that overland, significant economic activities centred on the seasonal sealing and whaling in the southern fisheries, and one of its major means of convict imprisonment were restrictions on convict labour in boat building and fishing.  It probably seemed natural to many people that the governance of this ‘South Seas’ colony rested in the hands of a succession of naval officers, and that the seemingly unlimited powers of the early governors were not unlike those of a sea captain.

The Hawkesbury District was the most ‘inland’ settlement in the colony, and even it was frequently journeyed to and from by way of the river and the coast rather than the rough road to Parramatta.  Boat building and maintenance were a feature of the district’s economy, which along with regular flooding suggests the importance of the aquatic environment even when far from the sea.

It was into this marine colony that Captain William Bligh RN arrived in August 1806 as the fourth governor of New South Wales.  He immediately made his mark felt, not least by providing public assistance to the Hawkesbury settlers who had just survived their fourth devastating flood with great losses to their crops and stock, as well as houses, sheds, roads and even lives.

Old New South Wales, around the time of the Usurpation

Old New South Wales, around the time of the Usurpation

This then is the stage upon which the drama of the Rum Rebellion would be played out.

How others have seen it

I was probably first struck by the idea of a resistance to the Rum Rebellion a few years ago when I read HV Evatt’s 1938 history titled Rum Rebellion.  In his introduction Evatt wrote of Governor Bligh exercising his authority in favour of the agriculturalists and poor settlers and against the wealthy traffickers and monopolists.

Evatt's 1938 history of the Usurpation.  Image Editions Books

Evatt’s 1938 history of the Usurpation. Image Editions Books

Bligh has had over 200 years of bad press, but my objective tonight is not to try and rescue his reputation.   Neither is it to look at the motives and actions of the Usurpers and the other chief protagonist, John Macarthur.  Instead, I want to focus on the “agriculturalists and poor settlers” that Bligh apparently championed.  Who were they? How did they show their support for him?  How did they resist the Usurpation?  What did it cost them?

Evatt provides a good coverage of the 19th century historiography of the rebellion[2]; and Brian Fletcher writing in 1968 covered the 20th century writings[3].  The Hawkesbury settlers have been cast as either hostile to the uprising and loyal to Bligh, or as worthless characters easily bribed to sign petitions.  These points of view can be traced directly back to the opposing arguments advanced at the trial of one of the rebel leaders, Colonel Johnston, in 1811.  There is also another view, in which the settlers and the loyalists resisting the Usurpers are simply ignored as peripheral to the main action revolving around Bligh and Macarthur, Johnston and Foveaux, and Government House Sydney on the 26th January.

Governor William Bligh.  Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. VI (1898)

Governor William Bligh, friend of the ‘small settler’. Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. VI (1898)

The Hawkesbury’s local historians have devoted only a few pages to the Usurpation before moving quickly on to the glories of the Macquarie era.  The most notable is probably Bowd, who in 1969 wrote that the Hawkesbury settlers were loyal supporters of Bligh, who promoted their welfare as the colony’s food producers.  They disputed Macarthur’s right to make a welcome address to Bligh on their behalf, and drew up their own welcome.  Bligh set a good price for purchasing their grain for the public stores, and the settlers publicly pledged their loyalty to his government.  After the overthrow of Bligh, the settlers were forced to sign a petition of support for the Rebels, but most recanted as soon as they could and subsequently signed several petitions calling for Bligh’s restoration.  Bowd noted that “It was well within the power of the ruling junta to bring ruin upon those who opposed them”, and cited the example of Martin Mason who was forced to sell his farm[4].

Elsewhere in his book Bowd also makes occasional references to the mixed fortunes of many during this period.  William Cox was absent from the colony, and so “…free from the factionalism of the period…” which later made him eligible for appointment as Chief Magistrate in 1810; Richard Fitzgerald “…had the direction of Mr J MacArthur’s affairs …[and]… sided with the usurpers…”, and was appointed a magistrate during their regime; Andrew Thompson had “…made an implacable enemy of Macarthur…” and was dismissed from the magistracy during the Usurpation; Thomas Arndell, the first magistrate at the Hawkesbury, was a prominent supporter of Bligh; Archibald Bell “…was made a magistrate at the Hawkesbury by the rebel administration and was given a grant of 500 acres…”.  The “…courage and forthrightness…” of Andrew Johnston at Portland Head was evidenced when he “…christened his youngest son James Bligh in 1809, when the rebels were in charge of the colony…”.  William Singleton “…was a signatory to the various petitions that circulated during the Bligh period…”.

Two decades later in 1990 Powell & Banks included in their Hawkesbury River History an essay on the settler Peter Hibbs[5].  The author noted that during the Usurpation Hibbs was spared the foreclosures on loans suffered by many of Bligh’s supporters, and “…appears to have had two bob three ways…”, having signed petitions both supporting and opposing the Usurpers.

A cast of characters begins to emerge from these writings.  Magistrates are being replaced; petitions of support and opposition are being signed – sometimes under duress; support for Bligh or the Usurpers is being demonstrated in various ways.  Clearly, something is going on, and it seems to be of greater importance that a few drunken soldiers dragging a notoriously bad tempered viceroy from under his bed in Sydney.  Several historians have acknowledged the hardships suffered by the Hawkesbury settlers, although not all of them have been kind.  The two issues evident in the work of local historians, the replacement of the magistracy, and the settlers’ public petitioning, point to two themes in the ‘Rum Resistance’ as it was played out on the Hawkesbury stage that I will explore a little further.

So what was the ‘Rum Rebellion’?

But what was the Rum Rebellion?  Briefly, the arrival of Governor-designate Bligh in August 1806 was warmly welcomed by the Hawkesbury settlers, and many in Sydney, but viewed with some suspicion by vested interests in the local military force, the NSW Corps, popularly known as the Rum Corps.  This was confirmed by the first meeting between Bligh and the colony’s wealthiest man, and former Rum Corps officer, John Macarthur.  They met in the garden of Government House Parramatta at a dinner hosted by retiring Governor King, and almost immediately quarrelled when Macarthur began pressing his claims for a large grant of land.  It was a bad omen for the future.

Old Government House Parramatta, where Bligh and McArthur first met in the viceregal gardens.  Image NSW Heritage

Old Government House Parramatta, where Bligh and Macarthur first met in the viceregal gardens. Image NSW Heritage

Relations between the two parties deteriorated rapidly.  In the absence of a political assembly, their conflicts were fought out in the local courts.  By the summer of 1808 the political atmosphere was poisonous, and on the evening of the 26th January the officers of the Rum Corps under Major Johnstone and Lieutenant Bell marched on Government House Sydney where they seized the Governor and placed him under house arrest, declared a state of martial law to exist, and freed Macarthur from the Sydney jail where he was awaiting trial.  He was carried by a drunken mob through the town.  This has been variously described as a coup d’état, a rebellion, an uprising or an insurrection, although they usual description at the time was a usurpation (according to its opponents) or the overthrow of a tyrant (according to its supporters).

One of the first actions of the rebels was to isolate Bligh.  Bligh wrote to Lord Castlereagh that “Every precaution was used by the rebels to prevent any communication with the interior of the Colony.  Guards were set on the road to Parramatta, and no one suffered to pass.”[6]  Bligh hoped that during the night he might be able to escape from Government House and flee to the Hawkesbury, where he could rally the settlers and other loyalists.[7]  However, as he later told Castlereagh, “…the Settlers are in a very enraged state of Mind at the indignity I suffer through my arrest …[however] their want of Arms has prevented much bloodshed, and the precaution of disarming them…[some months earlier], whereby the Military became of greater power, has by this means acted against us, and enabled them to act with greater confidence”.[8]

The Usurpation lasted for nearly two years, covering almost the whole of 1808 and 1809.  This period, sometimes called the interregnum or the rebel administration, has three distinct phases.  The first lasted for six months under the command of Major Johnstone, with Macarthur as his Colonial Secretary; the second for nearly six months under the command of Colonel Foveaux; and the third for twelve months under Lt Col Patterson, although Foveaux appears to have held the reins of power during this phase as well.  Each of these men occupied the office and used the title of Lieutenant Governor.

John Macarthur Esq.  Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. VI (1898)

John Macarthur Esq. Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. VI (1898)

There were various fallings-out between the Usurpers, and their aims, never very clear or unified apart from hatred of Bligh, shifted and changed over time.  Bligh was kept imprisoned in Government House Sydney until he agreed to leave for England in February 1809.  This proved to be a ruse, and instead he sailed for Hobart, where he remained exiled on HMS Porpoise until he heard of Macquarie’s arrival and sailed back to Sydney.  The Usurpation ended in fact when Macquarie arrived in the colony at the end of 1809, and officially on New Years Day 1810 when Macquarie assumed the office of Governor and revoked all the acts of the Usurpers.

The orthodox view of the rebellion: Raymond LIndsay's 1928 painting of Major Johnson announcing the arrest of Bligh, depicted in the heroic style of liberators justly overthrowing a tyrant.  Image HHT

An orthodox view of the rebellion: Raymond LIndsay’s 1928 painting of Major Johnson announcing the arrest of Bligh, depicted in the heroic style of liberators justly overthrowing a tyrant. Image HHT

While the Usurpers claimed to have rescued the colony from a tyrannical governor, Bligh and the loyalists invoked the language and imagery of the French Revolution to describe the Usurpers. Bligh asserted that a jubilant Macarthur crowed on the night of the overthrow that “Never was a revolution so completely affected, and with so much order and regularity”, and described Nicholas Bayly, the “…self-created Lieutenant-Governor’s Secretary …” coming to Government House “…and in a very Robesperian manner he read and delivered a paper to me…”.[9]  It is a symbolism that was soon picked up by local songsters, perhaps most notably in ‘A New Song …On the Rebellion’, written sometime in 1808[10].  Some of its more notable lines are:

The voice of rebellion resounds o’er the Plain.

The Anarchist Junto have pulled down the banner

Which Monarchical Government sought but in vain

To hold as the rallying Standard of honor,

The Diadem’s here fled

From off the Kings head

And further on:

And the New Gallic School in its stead have erected,

John Bull’s would-be pupil, how dare he to frown

His French education was too long neglected.

That Turnip head tool

Jack Boddice’s fool.


A clown in his gait, and a fool in his Face,

The Carmagnol Mayor

Has here got an heir.

‘Off the kings head’, ‘Gallic school’: some of the allusions seem obvious; other less-so.  John Bull’s would be pupil and his neglected French education is an allusion to Foveaux’s French ancestry and the French revolution; Turnip Head refers to Johnston, Jack Boddice to Macarthur; the Carmagnole was a popular song and dance during the French revolution, and is an allusion to the first revolutionary Mayor of Paris, Jean Bailey, a principle in the execution of Louis XVI who was later guillotined himself, and thus a play on the name of Nicholas Bayly – the song writer noted of Bailey that “His hopeful namesake has been no less active in putting down monarchy here, being a Principal in the Rebellion now existing”.  And while there were no appointments with Madame Guillotine on the Parade Ground in Sydney, the association of the Usurpers with violent revolution and the destruction of lawful authority was commonly made over the Cumberland Plain in such ‘pipes’.

'Trying out the guillotine', a French revolution cartoon showing Louise XVI about to be executed while revolutionaries make coarse remarks, seemingly unaware that they will soon meet the same fate.  Bailly may be the fifth figure from the left, exclaiming 'Paris has re-conquered its king'.  Image UCL

‘Trying out the guillotine’, a French revolution cartoon showing Louise XVI about to be executed while revolutionaries make coarse remarks, seemingly unaware that they will soon meet the same fate. Bailly may be the fifth figure from the left, exclaiming ‘Paris has re-conquered its king’. Image UCL

The Right to Petition

The principle means by which we have some idea of the reactions to the Usurpation by the Hawkesbury settlers lie in the petitions and counter-petitions they drew up and signed.

Petitioning the King, and by extension anyone in authority, without fear of persecution was a long-recognised right. The settler’s petitions usually took the form of an address to someone in authority, with their welcome address to the newly arrived Bligh in 1806 the first in a series.

Fletcher analysed the four petitions from the Hawkesbury settlers of 22 September 1806, 29 January 1807, 25 February 1807 and 1 January 1808, which cover the period from Bligh’s arrival to the eve of the Usurpation.  There are also two petitions of 17 February 1809 and 17 March 1809 during the Usurpation, and then another of 1 December 1810 after the first year of the Restoration under Macquarie.

Fletcher showed that about 75% of the Hawkesbury settlers had signed the pre-Usurpation petitions, included old and new settlers, large and small land holders, emancipists predominated numerically, but almost all of the free settlers had signed.  The January 1808 petition had been broader, including some Parramatta and Sydney landowners, and about 30% of the signatories were not farmers but tradesmen and labourers.  The Portland Head Presbyterians were consistent signatories.  Thus, he concludes that the petitions are as representative of the settler’s views as we are ever likely to know.  Fletcher also makes the point that, while signatories to a petition supporting the Usurpation were very soon afterwards renouncing their support and claiming their signatures had been obtained under duress, no such allegations were ever made by the pro-Bligh petitioners.[11]  The signatories were mainly men, but a small proportion were women, presumably those who held land in their own right?

Evatt ascribes great importance to the petitions, describing them as a ‘Bill of Rights’.  Their key demands were freedom of trade and an end to monopolies and extortion, justice to be administered by civil rather than military authority, and debts to be payable in currency rather than goods.[12]

The words of the petitions, in addition to these general points, can speak for themselves:

22 September 1806, with 244 signatures – Asked Bligh to protect the people in general in their rights, privileges, liberties and professions, as by law established; suffer the laws of the realm to take their due course; and that justice be administered by the Courts authorized by His Majesty, according to the known law of the land;

29 January 1807, 156 signatures – ‘We will be ready at all times, at the risk of our lives and property, lawfully to support our native laws and liberties under a just and benign government’;

25 February 1807, 546 signatures – ‘We have willingly enrolled our names for the defence of the country; and request that you dispose of rebellious ringleaders and principles to prevent future conspiracies and stop keeping liege subjects in constant alarm’;

1 January 1808, 833 signatures – ‘We hold ourselves bound, at the risque of our lives and properties, to support Your Excellency; we request freedom of trade, and trial by jury, and have confidence in your detailed research and knowledge of the whole country;

17 February 1809, 14 signatories “who came free into the colony” (mostly around Portland Head) – we abhor and detest the rebellion; the military continues to monopolise trade and land; there is favoratism, corruption and excessive punishments by the Officer-Judges; we remain loyal to Bligh; and pray for protection and relief from the rebels;

17 March 1809, 15 signatories “who came free into the colony” (mostly around Portland Head) – we fear our houses being assailed, our wives and daughters violated, our property plundered; the government is corrupt at all levels; we were forced to sign an address of support for Johnston under fear and terror; bands of soldiers and abandoned and worthless characters are intimidating settlers and burning effigies of Your Excellency; drunkenness is everywhere; we need speedy protection and relief’

1 December 1810, 94 signatures – congratulate Macquarie on his arrival; and give thanks for the appointment of William Cox as a local magistrate – to which Macquarie thanked them, and advised that he had fixed on the sites for the new towns.

Freedom of trade, trial by jury and judicial fairness are central to the earlier petitions, as well as expressions of loyalty to Bligh.  The settlers petitioning against monopolies indicates this remained a real issue for them, although recently the journalist Michael Duffy[13] and historian Peter Cochrane[14] have both claimed the monopoly problems had been overcome, especially in the rum trade,[15] and Chief Justice Spigelman also seems to have taken a similar view in his Australia Day Address last week[16]

The two petitions prepared in 1809 are markedly different, being signed only by the free settlers, stating the terror there are living under, and seeking help.  They were also made and sent to Bligh after he had left Government House Sydney, perhaps in the hope that the Usurpers did not control Hobart and he could get help.  The petition of 1810 marks the post-rebellion settlement: a new untainted magistracy and new towns above the floodwaters.

The Terror in the Hawkesbury

Petitioning, however, did have its consequences.  The Usurpers could not let the settler’s constant challenges to their pretended authority go unnoticed, especially when they had so boldly and publicly signed their names to every petition, and published the pre-usurpation petitions in the Sydney Gazette for all to see.

Masthead of the Sydney Gazette, two years before the Usurpation began.

Masthead of the Sydney Gazette, two years before the Usurpation began.

The changes in the magistracy noted by Bowd are important, for the magistrates of this period not only presided over the local courts.  They were also the agents of the civil government.  They were often consulted collectively by the governor of the day, forming a sort of privy council.  The replacement of Arndell by Bell symbolised the power of the Usurpers, further reinforced by Bell’s known alignment with Macarthur’s ‘Exclusive’ faction (Thompson was an emancipist), and the granting of land to him that included Richmond Hill, the highest point in the district, again symbolically bringing the whole district under the gaze of the Usurpers, reinforced their ‘Exclusive’ approach to governance.  The replacement of Thompson (an emancipist) with Fitzgerald (an emancipist sympathetic to the rebels) strengthened their hand.

Under the governments of Bligh and King, the Hawkesbury settlers has a role in the governance of their district through their control on the local Commons trusts, and in the colony through the inclusion of their magistrates in the vice regal ‘privy council’.  Government House at Green Hills had been the centre of public authority since the mid-1790s, and during the Usurpation it was the local command centre for their administration under Commandant Bell and the new magistracy.  It was a place where proclamations and orders were issued, musters were organised and sometimes held, official business was transacted, and official functions held.  It was the seat of government in the district.

Bligh had his own large property near Pitt Town named ‘Blighton’, which was operated as a model farm, intended to demonstrate to the settlers new methods of agriculture to help improve their farming practices.  Bligh’s Overseer, Andrew Thompson, wrote in 1807 of Bligh’s “…wisdom and attention to farming and improvement, which the Sovereign was pleased to practice at Home, … as an example to all others…”[17].  It was a practical contribution to supporting the local settlers, and something of a cause célèbre for the Usurpers, who claimed the farm was evidence of Bligh’s corruption as he used public resources, such as convicts, livestock and stores at the Crown’s expense for his private gain[18].  It stood as a symbol of the resistance, a model of orderly, productive husbandry in the community, in stark contrast to the illegality and repression that emanated from the rebel-controlled Government House.

Sketch map showing the location of 'Blighton' (upper right) in the Hawkesbury District.  Historical records of New South Wales, Vol. VI (1898).

Sketch map showing the location of ‘Blighton’ (upper right) in the Hawkesbury District. Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. VI (1898).

The Usurpers were well known by their redcoat uniforms, their use of the Union flag and Royal Arms, and their too-frequent toasts and shouts of God Save the King.  Their use of the Public Seal, with its depiction of convicts landing at Sydney Cove, was limited – party because Bligh had managed to sequester the Public Seal to prevent its capture by the Usurpers until they forced him to reveal its location, but also because the promise of convict redemption alluded to in its design was anathema to the Exclusives among the Usurpers.  Bligh issued a proclamation from his exile in Hobart which states in part “That I only am empowered to keep and use the public seal for sealing all things whatsoever [in] the territory and its dependencies”.[19]  The hijacked symbols of Royal authority failed to impart the legitimacy the Usurpers craved.

The resisters also had their symbols, the most notable (I believe) being the ‘Bowman Flag’.  The flag, made by the women of the Bowman household, shows a shield with the entwined rose, shamrock and thistle of England, Ireland and Scotland, supported by a kangaroo and emu, with two motto ribbons: the upper reading ‘Unity’, and the lower Nelson’s great signal at Trafalgar ‘England Expects Every Man to do His Duty’.  On one level, the flag celebrates Nelson’s victory.  The news had reached New South Wales in April 1806, six months after the battle[20].  It was four months before Bligh’s arrival, but already the tensions that would lead to the Usurpation were building up.  In the context of the Usurpation, the flag takes on a different meaning.

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

The Bowman Flag, symbol of the Hawkesbury Resistance. Image NSW Heritage

Nelson was a naval hero and true patriot who fought for his king and country, unlike the Usurpers who overthrown the duly appointed governor for their own personal ends.  Unity amongst the settlers was vital if they were to resist the rebels, as it was their duty to do.  The intertwined floral emblems suggest the mixing of nationalities among the settlers, and placed upon a shield further suggests that this diversity gave them strength, just as the recent union of England, Scotland and Ireland had created a newer, greater Britain that Nelson had defended.  The kangaroo and emu supporters, their heads turned warily over their shoulders, indicate the new country into which the settlers were putting their roots, and were ready to defend.  The flag invokes the settler’s loyalty to resist the Usurpers, its imagery patriotic without being obviously subversive.

Thus our stage has been furnished: the scenes of good and bad have been painted, the building props set up, and all embellished by the contested heraldry of reds, whites and blues.  Now its time for the actors to make their entrances and exits.

The main leaders of the Hawkesbury settlers, going by the principle signatories on the various petitions and the work of Brian Fletcher, were Andrew Thompson, Thomas Arndell, George Crossley, Martin Mason, John Bowman, William Cummings and Thomas Matcham Pitt.  In Sydney, Robert Campbell, John Palmer and William Gore were prominent supporters of Bligh; as was George Suttor at Baulkham Hills.  Fletcher states that after leaders such as Thompson and Crossley had been silenced under Johnston, settlers such as Mason and Suttor took over the leadership of the loyalists.[21]  I have not yet identified any Norfolk or Vandemonian leaders, but note that Lieutenant Governor Collins in Hobart issued an Order in April 1809 prohibiting the newly arrived Norfolk settlers “..and other persons…” from addressing letters and petitions to Bligh while he was in the town, on pain of being bought before a magistrate to answer for their actions.[22]  Presumably the addressees were leaders in their communities, and were approaching Bligh for a reason.

A brief look at how some of the Hawkesbury leaders fared during the Usurpation is illustrative of the repressive nature of the rebel administrations.

Thomas Arndell, English free settler who married his convict wife Elizabeth in 1807, was a resident magistrate appointed at the Hawkesbury by 1802.  During the usurpation, he was dismissed from the magistracy, and his pension was discontinued without explanation.  In 1809 he wrote to Viscount Castlereagh, praising Bligh and stating that he had been forced to sign a petition following the Usurpation supporting Johnston, and that “…artifice and threats” and been used to force the “…frighted inhabitants” to sign the same petition.  Macquarie restored his pension in 1810.[23]

Andrew Thompson, Scottish emancipist, was appointed a constable in 1796 and succeeded Thomas Rickaby as Chief Constable in 1804, a Trustee of the Nelson (Pitt Town) and Richmond (Ham) Commons in 1805, shipbuilder, store and inn keeper, farmer and brewer, overseer of Bligh’s model farm; he was dismissed as Chief Constable during the Usurpation under Johnston, although he later received grants of land in Sydney under Foveaux and at Minto under Paterson; appointed by Macquarie as a magistrate, he was the first emancipist to hold this office.[24]

George Crossley, English emancipist, a lawyer, acquired a farm at the Hawkesbury in 1801, acted as a legal advisor to the Provost-Marshall and the Judge-Advocate, and to governors King and Bligh, although he was prevented from formally working as a lawyer because of his conviction; he helped the Judge-Advocate prepare a case against Macarthur, and was at Government House Sydney advising Bligh on his correspondence when the rebels surrounded the House and captured Bligh; he may have been the author of some of the Hawkesbury petitions; he was arrested by the rebels, and tried by them for practising as an attorney, convicted and sentenced to 7 years transportation to Coal River.

Bligh gave his version of Crossley’s trial: “McArthur used every endeavour to win over Mr George Crossley to assist him … but when [he] found that he could have no influence over Crossley, he endeavoured to injure him, first by attributing to him such situations as he did not hold; and secondly, by his influence over the Military Officers, procuring a Sentence of Transportation to the Coal-Mines for seven years against him for giving his assistance to the Government”.[25]

Macquarie released Crossley from the mines, and when he petitioned the new Governor for compensation he stated that he had “retired to his farm at the Hawkesbury [and would]…endeavour to recover from the ruin in which he is now involved …humanity cannot compensate for your memorialist’s two years’ imprisonment in the sixty third year of his life, but it is in Your Excellency’s power to assist him to forget that past by extending to him your protection, advice and assistance…”.  Crossley was allowed to sue the rebels that sat in the court which convicted him, and was awarded £500.  However, he was unable to practice as a lawyer again, despite several attempts to do so.[26]

Martin Mason, English surgeon and free settler, farmer at South Creek, was forced to sell his farm in 1809 after publicly stating that he was prepared to take a settlers address to England to present Bligh’s case.  Gore wrote to Viscount Castlereagh in 1809, nominating Mason as an illustration of the lawless state of the colony under the rebels.  Mason had been apprehended on the road to Parramatta “…by men armed with naked cutlasses…”, and taken before the Commandant at that town “…who grossly insulted and examined him on the subject of a letter…” Mason was writing to Castlereagh.  He was then taken to Sydney, where he was examined by ‘rebel justices’ “…as to his motives for writing the intercepted letter…”.  The letter was detained by Paterson and its contents suppressed, indicating how the loyalists were being “..persecuted with unrelenting severity”.  Gore asked Castlereagh to forgive the badness of his writing, as in avoiding the “…miscreant traytors …[and] revolutionary partisans…”, he had had to write“…in the woods … by stealth and piecemeal”.[27]

John Bowman, Scottish free settler, farmer at the Hawkesbury since 1798, Trustee of Richmond (Ham) Common in 1805; sued by Nicholas Bayly in 1808 for calling him a rogue, he was imprisoned, and in 1809 his property was seized and auctioned by Bayly as Provost-Marshall.  This apparently destroyed his financial security, and in 1813, long after the Usurpation had ended, he had to sell most of his property to pay further debts.  The settlers petitioned Viscount Castlereagh in 1809 to show that they had no hand or part in the Usurpation, and mentioned Bowman’s case as an example of excessive punishments meted out by corrupt rebel judges: “When your memorialists applyed for protection they are frequently treated with insult, and if they presumed to appeal to the [rebel Lt Governor] they are liable to be dragged to prison by convicts and locked up without meat, drink, fire or candle, or even straw to lye on, with the most abandoned thieves.  [John Bowman] was locked up in the same cell with three malefactors under sentenced of death, tried, fined, and imprisoned without being taken before a magistrate, remanded, and again confined with the above malefactors.  His offence was unguardedly saying that Nicholas Bayly was a rogue in recommending and promising to support his (Bowman’s) servant in prosecuting his master for false imprisonment … tho’ the servant had acknowledged his [original] offence”.[28]

Thomas Matcham Pitt, English free settler and relative of Lord Nelson, farmer at the Hawkesbury since 1802.[29]  Pitt is the only one of the resistance leaders who does not seem to have suffered any retaliation – perhaps his connections with Lord Nelson protected him?

These individual biographies reflect the language and methods employed by the Usurpers to break the resistance.  One response to this persecution, symbolic in its application but with real consequences, was refusal by the loyalists to acknowledge the legitimacy of the rebel courts.

In March 1808, Provost-Marshall Gore, whose office Nicholas Bayly had now usurped, was tried for perjury.  His response to the charge was an emphatic “I will not plead; I deny your jurisdiction”.  The rebel magistrates sentenced him to be transported for seven years to Coal River, to which Gore responded: “You have conferred on me the greatest Honor you are capable of conferring, the only Honor I could receive from such Men. Loyalty and Treason could not unite”.[30]  Similarly, a charge against George Sutter of seditious libel was met with Sutter declaring “I deny the legality of this Court; you may do with myself as you please”, for which he was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and a fine of one shilling.[31].  A similar case of seditious libel against John Palmer and Charles Hook was met with a similar refusal to plea, and they were fined £50 and imprisoned for three months.[32]

It also appears that Bligh was not the passive recipient of the settler’s adoration.  By the spring of 1808 Foveaux was complaining that Bligh “…was exerting every means in his power to inflame the minds of the settlers by sending emissaries among them, who promised in his name that in the event of his restoration to the Government he would make them rich and happy.  I thought it my duty to inform him that if he persevered … I would send him to England … [and] remove him from Government House and be obliged to impose additional restraint on his person…”.[33]  Foveaux later tried again to remove Bligh to Government House Parramatta, but he again refused to budge.[34]

The botanist George Caley visited Bligh in October 1808, and described the repressive atmosphere inside Government House Sydney:  “Meeting him [Bligh] in the hall, expressing as he went into the parlor, “You see how they have served me; they might have well as done the same to the King of England.”  Having shut the door, he desired me to sit down in a corner of the room, where I perceived the sentinels could not see me.  He began his discourse (which was mostly whispered) by wishing me to write to you [Banks]. … I conceived [this] of but little use, for I was strongly persuaded by my own mind that the letters would be intercepted [as both ships in the harbour were under Macarthur’s control]. … about the conduct of Lieu’t-Gov’r Foveaux – as he styles himself …When he had the command of Norfolk island he was spoken of as a very severe man, but here at present it evidently appears he is aiming at becoming popular.  But what is the use of the popularity of convicts? … he is acting a very sly, cunning part.”[35]

Government House Sydney floor plan in 1808: note the parlour where Bligh and Caley met, on the right.  Historical records of New South Wales, Vol. VI (1898)

Government House Sydney floor plan in 1808: note the parlour where Bligh and Caley met, on the right. Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. VI (1898)

The Terror elsewhere – Baulkham Hills and Norfolk Island

The settlers around Baulkham Hills tended to support those at the Hawkesbury, notably George Suttor, a free settler who had been farming at Baulkham Hills since 1802.  Bligh had promised him another land grant, but the overthrow prevented the grant being made.  Suttor was a leader of the settlers, and selected to go to London with Mason in 1808.  He refused to attend a muster being held by the rebels, and was ordered to court in Parramatta, then taken to Sydney.  While he was away, five convicts were sent to his house, he claimed by Foveaux, where they abused his wife, and drove away his cattle.  Suttor had to give them two bottles of wine to get the cattle returned.  The next week he was jailed for six months, as were four others men who had refused to muster, including Martin Mason.[36]  Like the refusal to recognise the jurisdiction of the rebel courts, the refusal to attend musters was another form of resistance employed by the loyalist settlers.

The situation on Norfolk Island during the usurpation is unclear.  The British authorities were prevaricating between closing the island and keeping it open.  Foveaux had returned to Sydney in 1807 with instructions to maintain the settlements, but by August 1808 had commissioned the ‘City of Edinburgh’, through Macarthur, to evacuate half the population to Hobart.[37]  The majority of the Islanders did not want to leave, some of them having spent 20 years establishing their farms and families, and they had no great love for Foveaux who had been Commandant on the island between 1800 and 1804.[38]  Nevertheless, 224 settlers and all their possessions and livestock were removed from the Island in September, arriving in Hobart on the 2nd October.  Lt Governor Collins reported to Foveaux that the voyage had been longer than expected, provisions were running low, and “Several of the settlers complaining, some that their property had been plundered on the voyage, others that it was not forthcoming”.[39]  Collins directed the magistrates to investigate, and their report seems unsurprising: while much property had gone missing, they were unable to fix responsibility on any individual.  Bligh wrote later that same month “Concerning the poor settlers of Norfolk Island”.  The evacuation had not been approved by him, and the ‘City of Edinburgh’ was “…the infamous ship which sold and distributed her liquors to McArthur and his emissaries at the time of the insurrection”.[40]

Collapse and Restoration

By the end of 1809 the Usurpation had dragged on for two years.  The initial excitement had long dissipated and been replaced, for the loyalist settlers at the Hawkesbury and elsewhere, by sullen acceptance punctuated by acts of civil disobedience such as not attending musters or denying the authority of rebel courts, petitioning for the restoration of Bligh, and managing their farms as best they could.  They, like Bligh, new that eventually relief would arrive from England and, like Bligh, they firmly believed that the lawful order would be restored.

On the 28th December 1809 Major Lachlan Macquarie and the 73rd Regiment sailed into Sydney Harbour.  The Regiment landed on the 31st December, and on the following New Years Day Macquarie issued the proclamations and orders by which he took control of the colony.[41]  There was no resistance from the Rum Corps or Paterson’s administration.  Macquarie reported that on his arrival he had “…found the colony in a state of perfect tranquillity, but in a great degree of anxiety for the long expected arrival of a new Governor.”[42]

He found the public stores almost empty, and the hoped-for harvest from the Hawkesbury destroyed in the flood of August 1809; the public buildings in a state of decay; and Bligh exiled in Hobart.  Within the first week of his government, Macquarie undid all that could be undone of the rebel administration: all public appointments were declared invalid, and the former officials were restored to their offices; all land grants and leases were declared null and void; all trials and investigations were declared invalid; all official papers and records were to be returned to Government House within one week; all grants and leases were revoked, specifically including grants to soldiers.  However, by another proclamation he prohibited the settlers from taking actions against rebel officials unless they had committed illegal acts of oppression and injustice, and called upon the inhabitants to demonstrate “…forbearance, and the importance of that union, tranquillity and harmony in the present crisis” rather than “…the constant recourse to a vexatious and obstinate system of litigation”.  Wrongs would be righted, but there would be no general retaliation and purging of the Usurpers.

Macquarie made it a priority to visit the Hawkesbury, and already had formulated a plan for relocating the settlements to high ground.  But that’s another story, suffice to note that of the five towns he established in the district, three he named after Whig reformers, although two are now remembered as Tories.  Wilberforce was named after the great anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, Castlereagh commemorated Viscount Castlereagh, Colonial Secretary, now remembered as a reactionary but at that still committed to Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform, Pitt Town recalled Britain’s first prime minister who supported parliamentary reform, Catholic emancipation and abolition of the slave trade, and was also a friend of Wilberforce and patron of Castlereagh.  Pitt and Castlereagh were key figures in the union of Great Britain with Ireland in 1801, which they believed would overcome sectarian differences, and in the wars with revolutionary and then Napoleonic France.  I think the names were intended as a tribute to the beliefs the settlers had stood for in their resistance to the Usurpation: the rule of law, progress through reform, resistance to arbitrary rule, and freedom of trade and commerce.

Bligh did not hear of Macquarie’s arrival for some days, and it took him nearly three weeks to get back to Sydney.  He landed in Sydney Cove in the afternoon of the 17th January “…to the great satisfaction of the people, expressed by their cheering…” he later wrote to Castlereagh.[43]  Bligh spent the next few months in Sydney, gathering evidence for the trials of the Usurpers in England, finally leaving on the 12th May.  The Hawkesbury settlers do not seem to have drawn up an address of farewell.


I began with some questions to which some answers can now be attempted.

Who were the Hawkesbury settlers?  Fletcher probably answered this question in 1968.  They comprised most of the landholders in the district, emancipist and free, as well as some of the small business people. Fletcher considered they were a representative cross-section of the community, concluding that on “…a balance of probability … there was strong support for Bligh at the Hawkesbury”.

How did the settlers show their support for Bligh?  Their petitions are the obvious answer, and they have been the main evidence cited since 1811 and earlier.  However, there are other ways: ‘Blighton’ is associated with their support for Bligh and the royal authority he represented (remember Thompson’s analogy with King George, who was also known as ‘Farmer George’); and the Bowman Flag can be read as the real symbol of their resistance to the Usurpers.

How did the settlers resist the Usurpers?  Firstly, we have two waves of their leaders, all prepared to publicly engage with the rebel regimes, often a great personal cost.  The tactics of civil disobedience were employed in denying the legitimacy of the rebel courts, and in refusing to attend musters held by the rebel magistrates, again at great personal cost.  There were also visits to the detained Bligh, often under a cloak of subterfuge; and the surreptitious writing of letters to authorities in England telling them of what was happening.  And there were the ‘pipes’ such as A New Song … of the Rebellion, softy but surely subverting rebel authority.

What did their loyalty cost the settlers?  For the leaders, the costs included fines, foreclosures, imprisonment and transportation to Coal River; while their supporters endured abuse and humiliation from the soldiery and packs of convict ‘let off the stores’, theft of their property, a general failure of law and order, and sights such as the drunken burning of effigies that reminded them of the excesses of the French Revolution, and made the men fear for the safety of their womenfolk.

By the time of the Restoration under Macquarie two years of the rebel regime had been endured.  There could have been a viscous counter-revolution, and may well have been had Bligh still been in Sydney.  However, Macquarie brought with him a policy of reconciliation, and was able to have this in place by the time Bligh returned from Hobart.  His most notable example was the rehabilitation of Foveaux, something that Bligh could neither understand nor stomach and, I suspect, neither could the settlers.  However, worn down by the long Usurpation, and once again devastated by floods, I suspect that their relief at the Restoration overcame much of the accumulated bitterness.

The local histories now speak warmly of the Bells and Fitzgeralds, with no reference to the bitter circumstances in which these families were planted in the Hawkesbury.  Little mention is made of the dark days of the usurpation.  The effects of Macquarie’s policy of reconciliation appear to have lasted long into the present day.  In this sense, the Hawkesbury is probably a microcosm of the healing that had to take place in Sydney and Parramatta, Norfolk Island and Van Diemen’s Land, even at the Coal River.  Perhaps it has worked so well that today we are not really sure of the importance of the rebellion to our history as Australians?

In their resistance, the settlers reflected a tradition of actively building a better or new society in English history through ‘parliamentary’ means, not violence, which itself had developed as a response to several centuries of civil wars and Saxon/Celtic and Catholic/Protestant conflicts.  Other ways had to be developed to effect social and political change, and were sealed in the compact of the Glorious Revolution only 120 years before.  It was part of the ‘invisible baggage’ they brought with them to New South Wales, that distant maritime country on the far side of the globe, and which is also part of our history.  It was Usurpers who were the reactionaries, contrary to the loyalists use of allusions to the French Revolution.

To oppose a tyrannical or unjust government is the right thing to do.  That is what a commoner or citizen does.  The actions of the Hawkesbury (and other) settlers, especially under the ‘second wave’ of leaders such as Suttor and Mason, and the Portland Head Presbyterians, demonstrated their claims to be morally and legally right, and ultimately it was their resistance that was vindicated, not the usurpation.

The Rum Rebellion was not just a colourful colonial curiosity.  We have had no military coups, no civil wars, since that time.  We can reflect on this Australia Day, and on this bicentenary of the Usurpation, that we should in no small measure give thanks to the Hawkesbury settlers and their courageous resistance for what Macquarie might have called “…the importance of that union, tranquillity and harmony” in our Commonwealth today.

The signature of Governor Lachlan Macquarie: symbol of the Restoration.  Image SRNSW

The signature of Governor Lachlan Macquarie: symbol of the Restoration. Image SRNSW

[1] Title taken from ‘Address of Hawkesbury Settlers to Bligh’, 29th January 1807, in Historical Records of New South Wales, Volume VI, Government Printer, Sydney 1898: 237

[2] Evatt, HV., Rum Rebellion: a study of the overthrow of Governor Bligh by John Macarthur and the New South Wales Rum Corps, Angus & Robertson, Sydney 1938

[3]Fletcher, B., ‘The Hawkesbury Settlers and the Rum Rebellion’, in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 54, Pt 3, 1968: 217-237

[4] Bowd, D.G., Macquarie Country: a history of the Hawkesbury, the author, Netley SA 1969: 8-10.

[5] Wilson, E., & Richmond, T., ‘The Saga of Peter Hibbs’, in Powell, J. & Banks, L. (eds), Hawkesbury River History: Governor Phillip, exploration and early settlement, Dharug & Lower Hawkesbury Historical Society, Wisemans Ferry 1990: 91

[6] Bligh to Castlereagh, 30 April 1808, HRNSW, Vol. VI: 432

[7] Evatt, op. cit.: 141-142

[8] Bligh to Castlereagh, 30 April 1808, HRNSW, Vol. VI: 438

[9] Bligh to Castlereagh, 30 April 1808, HRNSW, Vol. VI: 431, 435

[10] Mackaness, G., (ed), A New Song, made in New South Wales on the Rebellion, by Lawrence Davoren, Edited with an Essay on Historical Detection, Notes and Commentary, Review Publications, Dubbo 1979

[11] Fletcher 1968, op. cit; 230

[12] Evatt, op. cit: 69-71

[13] Duffy, M., ‘Captain Bligh’s Other Mutiny’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19-20 January 2008: 34

[14] Cochrane, P., ‘Bligh’s Bounty of Disputes: Review of the Week: “Captain Bligh’s Other Mutiny”’, by Stephen Dando-Collins, Sydney Morning Herald, 29-30 December 2007: 27

[16] Spigelman, J., ‘Coup that paved the way for our attention to the rule of law’, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 January 2008.

[17] Thompson to Bligh, 26 March 1807, HRNSW, Vol VI: 263

[18] Fletcher, 1968: 220

[19] Proclamation, 29 April 1809, HRNSW, Vol. VII: 109

[20] Huxley, J., ‘Going Into Battle for Nelson’, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 October 2005: 11

[21] Fletcher 1968, op. cit.; 231

[22] General Order, 25 April 1809, HRNSW, Vol VII: 101

[23] Fletcher, BH, ‘Arndell, Thomas (1753 – 1821)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, Melbourne University Press, 1966: 27-28; Arndell to Castlereagh, 7 February 1809, HRNSW, Vol VII: 19-20.

[24] Byrnes, JV, ‘Thompson, Andrew (1773? – 1810)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, Melbourne University Press, 1967: 519-521.

[25] Bligh to Castlereagh, 30 April 1808, HRNSW, Vol. VI: 427

[26] Allars, KG, ‘Crossley, George (1749 – 1823)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, Melbourne University Press, 1966: 262-263; Fletcher 1968, op. cit.; Crossley to Macquarie, 15 February 1810, HRNSW, Vol. VII: 288-289

[27] Bowd, op. cit.: 10; Gore to Castlereagh, 25 March 1809, HRNSW, Vol VII: 90-93

[28] Fletcher, BH, ‘Bowman, John (1763 – 1825)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, Melbourne University Press, 1966: 138-139; Settler’s memorial to Castereagh, 17 February 1809, HRNSW, Vol VII: 33-34

[29] Walsh, GP, ‘Pitt, George Matcham (1814 – 1896)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, Melbourne University Press, 1974: 446-447; Bowd, op. cit.,: 135.

[30] R. v. Gore, Court of Criminal Jurisdiction, Grimes AJA, 21 March 1808, Decisions of the Superior Courts of NSW, 1788-1899, http://www.law.mq.edu.au/scnsw/html/CoupagainstBligh.htm,  accessed 25 January 2008

[31] R. v. Suttor, Court of Criminal Jurisdiction, Kemp AJA, 8 December 1808, op. cit.

[32] R. v. Palmer, R. v. Hook, Bench of Magistrates, 18 March 1809, op. cit.

[33] Fouveaux to Cooke, 21 October 1808, HRNSW, Vol VI: 783-784.

[34] Foveaux to Paterson, 27 October 1808, HRNSW, Vol. VI: 786; Bligh to Castlereagh, 28 October 1808, HRNSW, Vol. VI: 789

[35] Caley to Banks, 28 October 1808, HRNSW, Vol. VI: 795-799

[36] Suttor to Bligh, 1 January 1809, HRNS, Vol. VII: 1-4

[37] Foveaux to Cooke, 21 October 1808, HRNSW, Vol. VI: 784

[38] Hoare, xxx; Britts, MG, The Commandants: the tyrants who ruled Norfolk Island, KAPAK Publishing, Norfolk Island 1980: 48-58

[39] Collins to Foveaux, 23 October 1808, HRNSW, Vol VI: 785, and footnote

[40] Bligh to Castlereagh, 28 October 1808, HRNSW, Vol. VI: 788; also Bligh to Castlereagh, 30 April 1808, HRNSW, Vol VI: 424

[41] Proclamation, General Orders, HRNSW, Vol. VII: 252-254.

[42] Macquarie to Castlereagh, 8 March 1810, HRNSW, Vol. VII: 303

[43] Bligh to Castlereagh, 9 March 1810, HRNSW, Vol. VII: 309


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:

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:

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?


  • 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.

Bound for the Norfolk Plains

Remembering the Deportations of the Norfolk Islanders to a Lost World in the South

 The name ‘Norfolk’ is a prominent feature of the Tasmanian landscape.  Norfolk Bay in the south east and Mt Norfolk on the west coast were named by Matthew Flinders in 1798 when he circumnavigated Van Diemen’s Land in his Norfolk Island-built sloop “Norfolk”.  The town of New Norfolk was named for the Norfolk Islanders who were deported from Norfolk Island and settled there between 1806 and 1808, as were various Norfolk street names around the state[1].

But perhaps the most melancholy name recalls the last wave of Norfolk Islanders expelled from the island in 1813 and re-settled just south of Launceston in a district called the Norfolk Plains.  Norfolk Island was settled in 1788, abandoned in 1814 and then re-settled in 1825.  The connection between Norfolk Island and Tasmania’s Norfolk Plains has been obscured for many years until the recent World Heritage listing of the Australian Convict Sites shone fresh light on this lost world.

This is the map of Port Dalrymple displayed on...

This is the map of Port Dalrymple displayed on page 186 in The Life of Matthew Flinders by Ernest Scott. The image has been rotated 90° clockwise from the original. The caption reads: PORT DALRYMPLE. Discovered 1798 in the Norfolk Sloop by M. FLINDERS. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Norfolk Plains is a farming district surrounding the villages of Longford and Cressy on the floodplain of the Lake (now Macquarie), South Esk and Liffey rivers of northern Tasmania.  For several thousand years this land formed part of the country of the Palawa people.  In 1804 British colonization of northern Van Diemen’s Land began with the arrival of a party of officials, soldiers and convicts under Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson to establish the town of Launceston at the head of Port Dalrymple, as the Tamar estuary was then called.  Governor King in New South Wales, previously the founding Lieutenant Governor of Norfolk Island in 1788, had sent Paterson to begin the colonization, and within a short time his party had penetrated deep into Palawa land.  They found countryside that was lightly timbered, fertile and well watered, and in 1805 an area about 17 kilometres south of Port Dalrymple was set aside as a Crown reserve.

Typical forested landscape that the Norfolk Islanders encountered in 1813 on the Norfolk Plains: completely different to the gentle rainforests of Norfolk Island

Typical forested landscape that the Norfolk Islanders encountered in 1813 on the Norfolk Plains: completely different to the gentle rainforests of Norfolk Island

Governor Lachlan Macquarie arrived in New South Wales in 1810 to suppress the Rum Rebellion, free Governor Bligh and re-establish the Crown’s authority.  He also received instructions to complete the abandonment of Norfolk Island that had begun in 1806.  In 1811 during his tour of Van Diemen’s Land he visited the reserve.  He noted the “fine extensive rich plains” and decided they would provide a convenient solution to his Norfolk Island problem[2].  He named the plains the Norfolk Plains, clearly intending to entice the Norfolk Islanders to this new home[3]. The very name Norfolk Plains conjured up an image of abundance and plenty with a reassuring touch of homeliness.

Despite a mixture of incentives and force, neither Governor King nor Governor Bligh had really supported abandoning Norfolk Island despite explicit instructions to do so from London.  Both men supported the Norfolk Island settlers and their desire to remain in the home they had spent nearly 20 years building.  Macquarie had no such affinities, and he placed Lieutenant Tankerville Crane of his own 73rd Regiment in charge of the island with orders to let the buildings and public works run down and to entice the islanders to leave. The last of the Islanders were not willing emigrants.

Macquarie instructed Surveyor General Meehan to mark out fifty farms of varying sizes at Norfolk Plains, and in 1813 the “Minstrel” and then the “Lady Nelson” arrived at Launceston with some 145 Islanders, who were taken upriver to their newly allocated farms on either bank of the South Esk River[4].

The Lady Nelson, moored in the Thames in 1803.  Image Wikipedia

The Lady Nelson, moored in the Thames in 1803. Image Wikipedia

The Islanders had been divided into three classes: first class contained the officials and ex-military settlers, second class the ex-convicts with large families and well managed properties, and third class all the rest.  Compensation for giving up their island home was to be given to the settlers, depending upon their class.  The compensation consisted of a sliding scale of land swaps, free convict labour and government rations, clothing and other stores, with first class receiving the largest share for the longest period.

The Islanders found that the compensation was not always available or not always adequate, and often sought a more generous settlement.  However, by the time they realized this they had already been relocated to their new farms, and found they had little bargaining power.  Relations between Norfolk Plains and Sydney were often strained and tense.  These settlers had remained on Norfolk Island the longest, evading earlier inducements to deportation, and resented leaving their island home.  It was not a good recipe for successful settlement.

Contemporary observers such as Commissioner Bigge, and some later writers, have blamed the islanders for their failure to thrive and prosper at Norfolk Plains[5].  They claimed that the island’s rich soil and gentle climate, easy access to government stores, failure to learn new technical skills, and lack of Aboriginal resistance had made them lazy settlers.  They failed to invest their compensation into improving their new properties, and came to rely upon hunting rather than farming to supplement their government rations.  Perhaps most damning of all, it has been claimed, their convict origins meant they lacked vigour and prudence and instead favoured a life of “indulgent idleness”.  They continued to associate with other ex-convicts, and the new values required for success on the frontier were stifled.

These reasons have been given to explain the apparent failure of the islanders to make a success of life on the Norfolk Plains.  The islanders were encouraged to grow wheat, which they did and initially received good prices, but the practice of continual cultivation without resting the land that was undertaken on Norfolk Island and in Britain lead by the early 1820s to declining soil fertility.  Smut, a fungal disease of grain crops, was also badly affecting their crops by 1819[6].  Declining crop yields followed the completion of the compensation arrangements, and combined with lingering resentment at their forced deportation from Norfolk Island saw some of the Islanders sink into a melancholic despair marked by drunkenness and neglect of their properties.

As early as 1813 other settlers were arriving on the Norfolk Plains and they began buying the properties of the depressed Islanders, or taking up their grants that had been resumed by the Crown as well as new grants of land, often extensive in area.

One of these new settlers was Thomas Archer, who arrived at Port Dalrymple in 1819 to take charge of the Commissariat Store.  In 1817 he had received a 320 hectare grant on the Norfolk Plains just south of the Islanders original grants, and by 1819 had built a large brick-nogged timber homestead named “Woolmers” overlooking the Macquarie River[7].  In 1821 he resigned from the Commissariat to devote himself to developing his expanding pastoral estates.  Within a few years he was a justice of the peace and a magistrate, and in 1826 became a member of Van Diemen’s Land’s first Legislative Council. Thomas’ brother William arrived in the colony in 1824 and acquired 420 hectares of land on the Macquarie River opposite “Woolmers”.  Some of this land was originally granted to the Norfolk Islanders who later returned it to the Crown, and he named it “Brickendon”.  He marked his field boundaries with hawthorn hedges, which 180 years later are still actively managed and form a feature of the landscapes of the Norfolk Plains to this day[8].

Woolmers, old wing of main house, built c1819, for Thomas Archer

Woolmers, old wing of main house, built c1819, for Thomas Archer

Brickenden, built for William Archer in 1828

Brickenden, built for William Archer in 1828

The Archer’s wealth was based upon pastoralism, and especially wool, unlike the Norfolk Islanders whose resettlement was based upon growing wheat.  The early descriptions of the Norfolk Plains as lightly timbered and well watered suggest their pastoral promise, as does the reliance the Islanders quickly came to have on hunting.  That the Islanders also realized the value of turning to grazing rather then farming is perhaps indicated by the conviction and hanging of several of them for sheep stealing by the early 1820s.  By that time, only seven of the original grants to the Islanders remained in the ownership of the Norfolk Island families.  The others had left the district, joined the local labour force or died.

Oak trees and hawthorn hedges: characteristic landscapes of the Norfolk Plains

Oak trees and hawthorn hedges: characteristic landscapes of the Norfolk Plains

It is a grim reckoning that within a decade only some 15% of the deported Norfolk Islander families had been able to realize the promise of the Norfolk Plains[9].  The rest have been harshly judged by both vocal contemporary critics such as Commissioner Bigge and by later historians who have all too readily invoked the convict stain as an easy explanation.

Map of the Brickendon Estate in the 1840s: some of these fields were originally granted to the Norfolk Islanders

Map of the Brickendon Estate in the 1840s: some of these fields were originally granted to the Norfolk Islanders

However, a more compassionate view of the Norfolk Islanders experience would understand the terrible impact of being forced to abandon a home they had spent two decades creating in a remote island wilderness, of seeing their farms and towns officially neglected and then hearing the news that they had all finally been deliberately burned in the great fires of 1814, forever destroying any chance of returning.  Twice exiled, they were transported to a land they first had to wrest from its Palawa stewards, then clear ancient woodlands, build roads, fences and houses anew, and suffer cruel winters so different to their sub-tropical island home.  Having been forced from their homeland they were then forced to take that of others.

Outbuildings (Bakehouse) at Woolmers, built c1840, on a frosty winter morning so different to the sub-tropical climate of Norfolk Island

Outbuildings (Bakehouse) at Woolmers, built c1840, on a frosty winter morning so different to the sub-tropical climate of Norfolk Island

Despite their weariness and resentment they tried to conform to expectations, following instructions to grow wheat on the Norfolk Plains then seeing their hard work dissipate before their eyes as plant diseases and soil exhaustion wreaked a slow catastrophe.  Some fell victim to melancholy and nostalgia as they saw friends and family succumb to alcoholism, carelessly accidental deaths, decaying farms, lassitude and crime while around them newer, more respectable emigrants rode the Empire’s rising demand for wool and the beginning of a wool boom that would last for decades.

Many of the Norfolk Islanders had been transported from Britain as convicts and had made an entirely new life for themselves.  Having to do it a second time at the Norfolk Plains was perhaps a step to far for some of them.  Even as they were fading from history’s page they witnessed the next phase in the convict system developing around them with the Assignment System.  The Archer’s estates at “Woolmers”, “Brickendon” and elsewhere on the Norfolk Plains prospered through the combination of wool pastoralism and cheap assigned mass convict labour.

The current chapel at Brickendon was built in the 1840s to replace an earlier chapel built for the spiritual reformation of convicts assigned to Brickendon Estate.

The current chapel at Brickendon was built in the 1840s to replace an earlier chapel built for the spiritual reformation of convicts assigned to Brickendon Estate.

Today, the name Norfolk Plains is largely forgotten.  By the mid-1830s it was reported there were 62 houses across the Norfolk Plains, and the toponym survived for a while as the name of official land, police and road districts and a parliamentary electorate[10].  But by the 1850s when Van Diemen’s Land changed its name to Tasmania to escape the opprobrium of the convict stain, the convict-tainted Norfolk Plains had been largely supplanted by the village names of Longford and Cressy.

The descendants of some of the Norfolk Islanders, such as the Saltmarshes, Coxes, Whites, Stevens, Claymores, Jordens  and other others did survive those early years and still remain in the district today, especially the Norfolk Plains East along the Pateena Road (the C531) between Longford, Perth and Hadspen[11].

Old Norfolk Islander families are still part of the Norfolk Plains: a rural letterbox on the Pateena Road

Old Norfolk Islander families are still part of the Norfolk Plains: a rural letterbox on the Pateena Road

View along Pateena Road in the heartland of the Norfolk Islander settlement on the Norfolk Plains

View along Pateena Road in the heartland of the Norfolk Islander settlement on the Norfolk Plains

The memory of the convict Norfolk Islanders and their ill-stared settlement at Norfolk Plains has been kept alive in family traditions and oral histories, while the convict powered estates such as “Woolmers” and “Brickendon” have captured the attention of historians.  Today Kingston & Arthurs Vale on Norfolk Island and Woolmers & Brickendon in Tasmania share equal billing as partners in the World Heritage listed Australian Convict Sites.  The stories of Norfolk Island, Norfolk Plains and Brickendon & Woolmers are part of the real stories of our shared convict past that still shape our convict-descended society today.

The Norfolk Plains and Woolmers & Brickendon Estates give us an insight into the workings of the convict system.  Rather than lurid stories of a cruel world dominated by the lash and chain, we can see a quieter but more enduring story of forced migration giving opportunities to some men and women for a new life they could never have experienced in Britain as they worked and developed the colonial and Imperial economies.   We can see the great costs and suffering of many of the Norfolk Islanders when forced to leave their island home.  We can see the movement of convicts and their families between the settlements, laying the foundations for new communities and eventually a new country.

The crest and motto ribbon used by the Archer family, and used today as the emblem of Woolmers Estate.  The motto means 'the end crowns the work.  William 'Harry' Archer of Brickendon Estate was later granted a coat of arms that incorporates these elements.  In contrast to the iconography of the colonial gentry, the convict and expiree families of the Norfolk Plains lacked any comparable symbols.

The crest and motto ribbon used by the Archer family, and used today as the emblem of Woolmers Estate. The motto means ‘the end crowns the work’. William ‘Harry’ Archer of Brickendon Estate was later granted a coat of arms that incorporates these elements. In contrast to the iconography of the colonial gentry, the convict and expiree families of the Norfolk Plains lacked any comparable symbols.

Their stories can seem contradictory and melancholic, but also foundational and full of potential.  History is so much more complex and interesting than the simple pieties of the lash and chain.  The slow but persistent deportation of the Norfolk Islanders to the south between 1806 and 1814 should be much better known and appreciated, as should the deep emotional connections their descendants maintain with their ancestral island.

Stimulated by the World Heritage listing in 2010 and the approaching bicentenary of the 2013 deportations, the lost world of the Norfolk Plains is awaiting rediscovery.

Emblem of the Archer's gentility: an old fashioned rose in the Woolmers gardens.

Emblem of the Archer’s gentility: an old fashioned rose in the Woolmers gardens.

Thanks to Launceston City Library (LINC) reference staff, Lorraine Green of North Midlands Council, Richard Archer of “Brickendon” and Liz McCoy of KAVHA Public Research Centre for their assistance with locating sources for this story.

Originally published in Your World Inflight Offshore (Norfolk Air), Issue 3, July-September 2011, pages 21-25

[1] Dennison, CJ, Where In Tasmania?, the Author, Glenorchy, nd (c1994):  70; Taylor J & Smith W, A Dictionary of Tasmanian Place-Names, unpub. MSS, 1993 (Launceston Library LSC Q919.46 TAY)

[2] Bassett, J M, Norfolk Plains: Exploration, Settlement and Development, 1805-1850s, unpub. Thesis, TCAE Newnham, 1979: 6 (Launceston Library, LSC 994.621 BAS).

[3] Calder, G., A Space for a Village: the founding of Longford, unpub. MSS, draft, copy provided by Lorraine Green 26th May 2011.

[4] Ibid: 7

[5] ibid: 10, 12-15, 22, 2369,

[6] ibid 14

[7] Brickendon World Heritage Site: William Archer and his family, brochure, 2011

[8] Map of Brickendon Estate, dated 1841, in possession of Mr Richard Archer of Brickendon, viewed 26th May 2011; see also Bassett, op. cit., 70-71

[9] Bassett, op. cit.; 15, 70; see also Calder, op. cit., footnote 5.

[10] Murray, H., The Encyclopaedia of Geography, Lea & Blanchard, London 1839: 139; Bassett, op. cit.: i.

[11] MacRae, M & Dadson, M, Pateena Road: Families and farms of the Pateena District, the authors, Longford 2008: 33-36, 39-44, 53-56, 61-64, 87-88.

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.


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.

1, 2, 3 History: a tour of Kingston, Norfolk Island

 1, 2, 3 History: a tour on Friday 15th April 2011, in Kingston

(to be read in conjunction with the previous post on 1, 2, 3 History)

A visit to a number of sites in the KAVHA where the boundaries between the settlements are blurry and obscure and challenge the neat 1st, 2nd, 3rd Settlements descriptions.

Tour maps:

We will use the fold-out map in Issue 2 of Your World Inflight|Onshore magazine because:

  1. It shows a larger range of building dates than any other map,
  2. It is an example of how asking new questions about KAVHA’s history is beginning to influence how others are seeing the site’s heritage values.

We will also use the KAVHA fold-out map, 2nd edition (2010), because it is bilingual with Kingston’s place names written in English and Norf’k, illustrating a changing and more inclusive approach to interpreting the site.

Periods can’t be ranked

Stop 1:            No 9 Quality Row, Kingston

  • Land grant (Lot 33) to Nathaniel Lucas in 1791, surrendered to the Crown by 1814
  • Designed by Royal Engineers, built by convicts 1839-40, REO quarters until 1855, then occupied by transition staff (not sure which one, possibly William Waterson and his wife)
  • Balloted to Rev. George Hunn Nobbs and family 1856-1903, then returned to the Crown
  • Medical Officer’s Quarters 1903-1940
  • Burnt down 1940, rebuilt, burnt down again 1951, rebuilt 1968 by private lessee, reconstructed again 2000 by KAVHA
  • Lucas, Royal Enigineers, Nobbs were all significant in their day.  Can any one period really be said to be more important than another?
KAVHA Public Research Centre, 9 Quality Row, Kingston

KAVHA Public Research Centre, 9 Quality Row, Kingston

Impact of inconvenient history

Stop 2: Government House, Bligh Street, Kingston

  • On Dove’s Plot (proposed church site, after church site in Church Street was reallocated to the military) – hill was cleared and leveled: what does that description mean?
  • Kitchen – possibly Assistant Surgeon Jamison’s stone cottage of 1796?
  • Built 1803-04, renovated 1826-28, additional wings 1829-35
  • State Rooms, cellar and kitchen from earliest periods
  • The House is consistently presented as an 1830s building.
  • Span of famous residents: Major Joseph Foveaux, Captain John Piper, Captain Alexander Maconochie, Sir William Denison, Sir Charles Rosenthal – figures of national/international stature, not sadistic tyrants having their perverted ways, a stain on Australian history.
  • Orientation to both convict and military quarters is a 2nd settlement-centred interpretation – town layout in 1803 was different: views then were over town and to the islands: a ‘Country House’ outlook.  Quality Row built after renovations.
  • Prime example of an ‘inconvenient history’, the 1, 2, 3 method encourages interpretations of the House that are narrow and miss the strands of continuity.  Doesn’t stand up if looked at across all periods.
Government House, Kingston

Government House, Kingston, viewed from Quality Row

Bligh Street, Kingston, looking southwards from Quality Row

Bligh Street, Kingston, looking southwards from Quality Row

Transmission of knowledge

Stop 3: Chimney Hill, canal, and lime kilns, Bay Street, Kingston

  • Former industrial quarter of Kingston
  • Chimney Hill a vernacular place name since 1790s – how passed on?
  • Series of lime kilns in continuous use from 1790s to 1940s – how was operational knowledge passed on?  Only superseded by WW2 technologies and materials
  • Canal, built early 1790s around north of Chimney Hill to drain swamp, replaced early 1830s by Serpentine ‘grotto’ channel through Hill, then by 1941 concrete channel south of hill
  • Environmental change to swamplands and to bayside foreshore: show a story of humans shaping the landscape to their own ends.  The story can be read in the changes.  1, 2, 3 method separates each of these events so they appear unconnected.

    Chimney Hill (ridge on right) after after 150 years of quarrying for lime stone, with serpentine form of original entrance to Government House revealed by sequence of bridges from Bay Street, Kingston

    Chimney Hill (ridge on right) after after 150 years of quarrying for lime stone, with serpentine form of original entrance to Government House revealed by sequence of bridges from Bay Street, Kingston

Shared social values

Stop 4: Polynesian Marae site and Old Burying Ground, Bay Street, Emily Bay

  • Polynesian archaeology strongly suggests more than ‘occasional’ visits
  • No above-ground materials, very little documentary evidence – value of archaeology in the absence of built or documentary evidence
  • Old Burying Ground 1790s-1810s?  Dates uncertain.  Are graves still in situ?  Do pre-1820s headstones in present cemetery mark actual graves or are they moved from here – or elsewhere?  One used as a flagstone in 1840s renovation of OGH kitchen.
  • William Waterson returned, Norfolk King wanted to return, descendants still do – plenty of such stories: suggest strong genus loci or sense or spirit of place – something like the heritage list criterion of ‘social significance’.
  • This was the fringe of the Old Town, beyond the industrial area and across the creek [metaphorically, the River Styx].  King found Polynesian bones; other bones have been found in this area – Polynesian or European?  There is at least a ‘mortuary’ themed history of this area that would show attachment and settlement.  Other burial grounds across the island.  Is there is a sacred/spiritual aspect to such places that all communities have shared in some way.  1, 2, 3 method discourages exploring such histories.
Bay Street Bridge crossing canal, built early 1790s, connecting the Old Burying Ground to the left and the industrial area to the right.

Bay Street Bridge crossing canal, built early 1790s, connecting the Old Burying Ground to the left and the industrial area to the right.

Comparisons needed

Bay Street in existence since early 1790s – did it follow an even older abandoned Polynesian pathway?  Comparison: at the same time, roads from Sydney to Cooks River and to Parramatta following Cadigal paths.  Need more comparative work, as pointed out by many others, including Professor Nobbs.

Effects of 2nd Settlement Focus

Stop 5: The Old Town, Pier and Bay streets, Kingston

  • HMS Sirius site 1790 and causeway/stepping stones: metaphor for wider picture of known and unknown stories about same event and place.
  • Landing Place 1788 – ‘High Street’ – clue: building alignments – the Government Houses 1788/1792 (early layer exposed), OGH (Surgeon’s, Wentworth) Kitchen c1793, Civil Hospital Wards 3 & 4 c1793
  • Queensborough Road 1792
  • Surgeon’s Quarters 1826, US Consulate 1890s/1900s (whaling), Lions Club 1968
  • Guardhouse c1796/1841, Double Boatshed, seaside c1796/1841 (south wall scorch marks from ‘Great Fire of 1814’)
  • A focus on the 2nd Settlement in isolation has disconnected that period from roots in the older spaces of the Town of Sydney Bay, and in the very foundation of European colonization across Pacific Australasia.  The story of whaling and maritime activities is probably central to understanding the whole 19th century history of Kingston, across all periods.  The Localist historians have recognised the value of the whaling story, and the Academics have shown interest in maritime trade and voyages.
Bakehouse built c1793, later used as a Guardhouse in the 1820s, a library in the 1850s, and a boat shed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Pier Street, Kingston (Pier Store, built 1825,  in background).

Bakehouse built c1793, later used as a Guardhouse in the 1820s, a library in the 1850s, and a boat shed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Pier Street, Kingston (Pier Store, built 1825, in background).

Transmission of stories

Bloody Bridge, Gallows Gate, Murderer’s Mound, Quality Row? – early thanatourism from 1890s – ascribed a fantastic “history” to the site: where did these ideas come from – are they echoes of convict stories transmitted through the Pitcairners to the travel promoters??

Quality Row, Kingston, looking eastwards with Old Military Barracks on the left.

Quality Row, Kingston, looking eastwards with the Old Military Barracks on the left.

Bloody Bridge, at the eastern boundary of the Historic Area

Bloody Bridge, at the eastern boundary of the Historic Area

Murderer's Mound, outside the eastern boundary of Kingston Cemetery, reputed mass burial site of thirteen convict men executed after the Cooking Pot Riots in 1846

Murderer’s Mound, outside the eastern boundary of Kingston Cemetery, reputed mass burial site of thirteen convict men executed after the Cooking Pot Riots in 1846

Need for knowledge across periods

Stop 7: Pound Paddock, Quality Row, Kingston (depending upon time)

  • Town Creek or Soldier’s Gully Creek (layers of names) runs through here.
  • Tunneled/built over 1835, created Parade Ground.
  • Site of 1st All Saints Church 1870, destroyed in a cyclone 1872.
  • Church moved to Commissariat in 1874.
  • Old Military Barracks 3rd storey removed for Methodist Chapel 1884 – traces survive in interior gable ends.
  • St James Chapel Anglican 1842-1870, Methodist Chapel 1870s-1885 – 7th Day Adventist Church 1890s-1910.
  • 1908 Protest Burnings: Nos 1, 5, and 8 Quality Row, West Offices Old Military Barracks.
  • Missing buildings did not just vanish: they were quarried, recycled, parts still exist in other locations – connections to other local histories.
  • Pitcairner presence in the landscape is subtle, but it is not absent.  Often evident in what is no longer there.  That needs an understanding of what was once there, before jumping to any conclusions about motives.  Can’t address such a question without going beyond 1, 2, 3 method.
St James Church of England Chapel, built 1842, in north-eastern corner of the Prisoner's Barracks, view from Bounty Street, Kingston

St James Church of England Chapel, built 1842, in north-eastern corner of the Prisoner’s Barracks, view from Bounty Street, Kingston

Landscape is dynamic, not static.  It can be read like a document (e.g. new streets following old routes).  New chapters are always being written in the story of any landscape

The landscape fails to show nice, simple cleavages between periods: layers overlap, poke through into later layers, precise dating is uncertain.  Clean breaks between periods are not evident in the landscape – because they aren’t there.

“A historian of places needs a stout pair of boots” – an idea attributed to the great English landscape historian WG Hoskins, also to Australian historian Manning-Clark, also in the title of military historian Peter Stanley’s 2008 guide to visiting Australia’s overseas battle sites.

History is complicated and messy, just like real life.  Stout boots help us keep out feet on the ground – and encourage us all to get out there and explore our heritage places for ourselves, especially, as I hope I’ve shown you today, those places where the boundaries between the settlements are blurry and obscure and challenge the neat 1, 2, 3 method of writing Kingston’s history.