The Centenary of the House of Windsor, 1917 – 2017

The 2017 Australian Historical Association (AHA) Conference was held in Newcastle, New South Wales between 3 – 7 July.  It was held just before the centenary of the proclamation of the House of Windsor, and the paper I presented at the conference is posted here on the precise anniversary of that date, 17 July 1917.  It is a marker of the centenary and its continuing significance in the histories of Australia, the Australian States, the other old dominions, India, the United Kingdom, the contemporary Commonwealth, the Crown and the dynasty itself.

The post consists of two parts: an introduction with the conference abstracts and so on, followed by the paper proper with the images displayed in the presentation, and citations for all quotes.

Click on the images for a larger, more readable version.

INTRODUCTION (Conference papers)

Slide 1


Allegiances beyond Borders: South Australia’s journey from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor

Summary of Abstract

Appealing for royal support during a crisis is an old tradition, but what happens when the king is cast as part of the problem?  Can new traditions, new entanglements emerge?

17 July 1917: The House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha metamorphosed into the House of Windsor.  German Süd Australien was dead, new/old histories and entangled genealogies were inscribed on palimpsest landscapes, and then…?


A century ago this month the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty in Britain became the Windsors.  This was much more than a mere name change.  It capped a series of ‘de-Germanising’ or ‘de-Europeanising’ tactics by George V during the Great War to strategically reposition his dynasty and its future as fundamentally British.  The change drew upon, and consciously projected, stories and traditions of a mythologised ancient past of ‘Anglo’ and ‘Celtic’ mixing or fusing to create a new and uniquely ‘Briton’ dynasty with shared genealogical and emotional links to every British community in the world.

South Australia was one of those British communities, and the dynastic strategy both mirrored and was interlinked with responses to a vicious anti-German campaign in the State.  Between 1.5 and 4 per cent of South Australians shared some degree of German heritage, and the campaign to demonise, exclude and contain them between 1915 and 1918 was visceral and relentless.  It was also, measured by its own objectives, perhaps the most successful such campaign in the Empire.  Like the dynastic name change, the mass ‘toponymic cleansing’ of German place names in South Australia reached its fruition in 1917.

But, like the king, the opponents of South Australia’s anti-Germanists drew upon a mythologised traditionalism of what they called ‘admixture’ in response to anti-German ‘racialism’.  Both sides invoked the dynasty and its supposed histories in support of their claims and counter-claims. Eventually, a re-imagined and newly-traditional royal family emerged, transformed for the cultural needs of modern South Australia.


Bruce Baskerville has an interest in the ways old institutions, such as crowns, are transported, adapted, re-formed and re-imagined in new realms, especially settler societies.  His recent University of Sydney PhD thesis is titled The Chrysalid Crown: An un-national history of the Crown in Australia 1808-1986.

The Session

Place: Newcastle City Hall, Hunter Room 1, Friday 7 July 2017, 11:00-12:30 session.

Session Chair: Prof Dane Kennedy, George Washington University, and opening keynote speaker on ‘Colonial Cosmopolitanism: Mobility, Cross-Cultural Networks and the Struggle for Postcolonial Sovereignty’.

Panel Theme: Royal Exile, Travel and Transformation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Speakers: Prof Robert Aldrich, Dr Cindy McCreery and Dr Bruce Baskerville.


THE PRESENTATION (largely as spoken)

I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the place where we meet, pay respects to elders past and present, and welcome Aboriginal people to this session.

Slide 2 | Spot the difference

JULY 1917 OR JULY 2017?

This paper is extracted and summarised from part of one chapter in a thesis, so because of the time available many details are passed over.  Please don’t hesitate to ask me in the Q&A.

In this paper I will tell a story about allegiance, and how it can dramatically change while appearing to be unchanging, how an ostensible disentangling was really a new entangling, presented as recovering an older, truer history.

Along the way, the Crown and dynasty were transformed, as were the people of South Australia and, perhaps more significantly, the emotional bonds between settler subjects and their king-emperor.

Looking at Slide 2, which is counter-factual story and which is journalism?  There are enough clues to tell them apart, but a century ago in 1917, the first was still a viable projection of a likely (but rapidly receding) future, while the second, by changing the references to Islam to Germans, would have sounded very much like every-day press commentary in Adelaide.

The settings are Balmoral, London and Melbourne, but replace them with the Barossa, Kaiserstuhl and Adelaide, and timelines and places become indistinct and mixed-up.

Let’s try and untangle a few knots.

Slide 3 | ‘A Good Riddance’


A century ago this month the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty in Britain became the Windsors.  This anniversary on 15 July marks more than a mere name change.  It capped a series of ‘de-Germanising’ or ‘de-Europeanising’ tactics by George V during the Great War to strategically reposition his dynasty and its future as fundamentally British.  The change drew upon, and consciously projected, stories and traditions of a mythologised ancient past of antique peoples mixing or fusing to create a new and uniquely post-Roman ‘Briton’ dynasty with deep emotional links to every British community in the world.

In mid-1917 the Australian newspapers reported vague announcements about the King changing the dynastic name to the House of Britain, “a title that would embrace the dominions”.  Then, on 19 July, the papers across Australia reported

“The King signed a proclamation, announcing that he had adopted the family name of Windsor, and had relinquished all German titles and dignities”.[1]

Australian High Commissioner and former Labor Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, and the South African High Commissioner were present when the king signed the proclamation. The dominions had been at the very heart of this decision.

The new name was reported to be “entirely English in its history”, which would “give gratification throughout the Empire”.[2]  Over the next few months, the nature of this ‘English’ history was spelled-out in the press.  Emphasis was placed on a royal lineage stretching over several dynasties to before the Norman conquest.  The change of name was presented as the workings of ancient and venerable ‘tradition’.

The characteristics of the tradition had four main inter-related elements: Windsor was ‘English’ in its historical associations, it was a ‘natural’ choice for a dynastic name, the new dynastic rules were ‘democratising’, and it would be welcomed throughout the Empire.  Paradoxically, this ‘tradition’ relied upon innovation to invoke a reimagining among the King’s subjects of the Crown itself.

 The change involved a sacralising component with its principal sacred site being Windsor Castle where, in its inner sanctum of the Chapel of St George chivalric rituals were performed beneath the armorial banners of the Knights of the Garter.  Press descriptions sought to invoke a mythical or even magical past for Windsor Castle, from the seat of King Arthur to being Charles I’s prison before his regicide.  Evoking the name Windsor was a key legitimating device.

Windsor was a ‘natural choice’ because it cleansed alien (non-British) influences and emphasized the ‘national character’ of the dynasty. Shed of its recent (Hanoverian and Saxe-Coburg) German influences, the name Windsor emphasized a return to the more ‘democratic’ traditions of the ancient past.  Princely status was to be limited to the immediate family of the king, and was welcomed as if something ‘Australian’ had become part of royalty.

It also allowed the related dynasties of continental royalty, a recent accretion, to be abandoned.  Marrying into European dynasties, said to avoid taking sides during the English civil wars, was no longer necessary. Royal children would now take British spouses from within the Empire.

Slide 4 | Windsor Castle, viewed from a train

The ancient royal pedigree stretched back to Cerdic of Wessex and Malcolm Canmore of Scotland, a pedigree Anglo and Celtic reflected in the British communities of the Empire. It was, reported the press, this

“… intimate association through that ancestry with the history and growth of the British nation that King George wishes to impress upon both his own family and the peoples of the Empire”.[3]

This was a powerful narrative about a tradition in which king and people had a shared ancestry that was emotional, spiritual and ideological.  It was a continuity with a past deeper than any historical research could verify.  This ‘natural’ continuity was cast, not as medieval, but as part of an enduring national character.  Having invented this continuity and its character, innovation masked as a restoration underpinned the abandonment of extended dynastic relationships.  The novelty of the dominions and the metropole equally sharing the imperial centre further extended the ‘tradition’ of a shared dynasty and common genealogy.

The 200 years of German influence since George I had assumed the throne in 1714 were thus swept aside as a mere detour from ancient tradition embodied in a venerable, mystical, unbroken lineage of sovereigns that linked old pre-Conquest Windsor with every modern imperial city and eventually every household and every subject in the remotest corner of the Empire.

Through this romanticised tradition the ‘intimate association’ between the King and every single subject, direct, emotional and unmediated, could be imagined.  The press across Australia reinforced the ‘tradition’ by providing the visual representations for audiences who would never actually see Windsor Castle.  This was a dynasty to which all true Britons could be loyal, and the new technologies of cheap mass printing and photography would make it accessible to all.

So, how was this change experienced in war-time South Australia?

Slide 5 | Kaiserstuhl


South Australia was one of those British communities ‘intimately associated’ with the king.  The dynastic strategy both mirrored and was interlinked with responses to a vicious anti-German campaign in the State.  Between 1.5 and 4 per cent of South Australians shared some degree of German heritage, and the campaign to demonise, exclude and contain them between 1915 and 1918 was visceral and relentless.[4] Like the dynastic name change, the mass ‘toponymic cleansing’ of German place names in South Australia reached its fruition in 1917.

Anti-Germanism in an organized sense in Australia began early in the war. The All-British League formed in Port Adelaide in February 1915 is an example of one of the more virulent anti-German organizations.

The League’s core objectives were:

“First, to advocate forever the shutting out of all foreigners from Government and municipal posts; secondly, to prevent foreigners from becoming members of Parliament or justices of the peace; and thirdly, to jealously guard against the ascendancy of any language over English in the curriculum of State-aided schools.”[5]

‘Foreigner’ essentially meant German, and over the next four years the League campaigned relentlessly to have Germans (by which it meant anyone of German birth, or German parentage or grand-parentage, wherever they were born) removed from the South Australia Parliament and magistracy, municipal councils and public employment, to remove the franchise from all Germans in local, State and Federal elections, for all German or Lutheran schools to be closed or taken over by the State and to have all German-language publications suppressed.  It wanted all land owned by Germans to be compulsorily acquired and used for returned soldier settlements.  It demanded that all German-origin place names be replaced by British or ‘Australian native’ names.  By 1918 it was advocating the wholesale deportation of all Germans.

The League’s campaigns were visceral, bigoted, jingoistic and highly public, and they found strong support in The Mail newspaper. League branches were established throughout the state and its activities were widely covered in the South Australian press.[6]  It had a spectacular success with cleansing the map of South Australia of German place names. In May 1916, The Mail published a map of South Australia showing German toponyms, followed a week later by a hysterical article urging their removal under the headline “Deutschland Über Süd Australien”.[7]  For The Mail, German names and the ‘gutteral language’ were becoming “outrageously offensive”, and the premier example was Kaisterstuhl, or the Emperor’s Seat, near Tanunda.  This place name showed the ‘characteristic audacity’ of Germanic thinking “in applying such an appellation to a portion of a British range of hills”.[8]  Another example was Sedan, named by German settlers to commemorate the Prussian victory over Napoleon III, a victory they still secretly celebrated every year.  Any traveller to South Australia, claimed The Mail, would think that the Kaiser, not King George, was ruler of the land.  A “few drab, unimaginative, anaemic and ductile individuals” might object[9], but in support of its quest The Mail quoted Henry de Halsalle, author of the sensationalist best-seller Degenerate Germany (surely one of the most appalling books ever printed), who had written:

“Germany is beyond question the most vice-ridden country in Europe.  She is as libidinous as the American negro, and vastly more diseased”.[10]

Any German who objected to changing the names was inherently disloyal, claimed The Mail, and should be immediately interned.

On the other hand, The Register cautioned against purity in regard to place names, noting that it was not always simple to decide which was a ‘British’ name: “One need not go beyond the Royal Family to illustrate the ease with which confusion may arise” wrote the editor.[11] However, rather than direct opposition it could only advance some gentle derision:

“It would be small consolation to a permanently disabled soldier a year or two hereafter to reflect that, even if he were not sufficiently fed and cared for, at any rate “Kaiserstuhl”, of which probably he had never previously heard, had been turned into some other less offensive specimen of nomenclature”.[12]

In early August 1916 the South Australian Parliament passed a unanimous resolution to remove all place names of an ‘enemy origin’.  The offending Kaisterstuhl was highlighted, as was the imagined probability that, if the Germans won the war, they would undoubtedly rename King William Street as Kaiser Wilhelm Strasse.[13] The League’s fear was not of German invasion, but of a German victory over Britain resulting in Australia being claimed by the Germans as a war prize.  The parliamentary debate was single-sided and at least 96 German-language place names were removed under the Nomenclature Act 1917. It was the largest mass toponymic cleansing of a landscape in Australia during the war.  The League’s campaign had captured the whole South Australian parliament, and it freely dragged the German ancestry of the royal family into public controversy.

Coupled with a more general equating of royal dynasticism with an insidious Deutschtum (or cultural infiltration) that had already set aside a site for the Kaiser’s new Australian throne near Tanunda, the storm was embroiling ideas about the Crown and dynasty within a larger conflict of ideas about Britishness in Australia. Britishness, not so much as a nationality, but as an ideal or a set of values, perhaps encapsulated in a revealing conflict between ideas of racial purity and miscegenation.

Slide 6 | Pirie Street Wesleyan Church


Like the king, the opponents of South Australia’s anti-Germanists drew upon a mythologised traditionalism of what they called ‘admixture’ in response to anti-German ‘racialism’.  They invoked the dynasty and its supposed histories in support of their claims.  The League was not without its opponents.

A letter writer to the Advertiser, styled ‘A Woman’ put their principle arguments forward a few months after the League’s formation.  She argued that old traditions of

“personal honour, domestic fidelity, commercial integrity, political probity, reverence for the law, chivalry towards woman and the Anglo-Saxon love of truth”

would send a cold shiver up the spines of the League.[14]  One of The League’s objectives, she argued, was to cultivate ‘race-hatred’, an objective that made vice-regal patronage of the League unacceptable.  The King’s representatives should not be taking sides and supporting ‘racialist distinctions’ between members of the community.  A Woman argued there were ‘enormous’ numbers of intermarriages between Briton and non-Briton in South Australia, including many leading citizens.  Further, she said, the League’s own rules would exclude the King and royal household from membership because of their ‘mixed descent’.  The League’s arguments, she concluded “are more fitting for a back-lane harangue, but most unsuitable for [exhibiting] British fairplay”.[15]

Responses to A Woman show two opposing streams of thought.  Captain Cromarty, secretary of the League, wrote that a Briton would never raise the issue of the King’s ineligibility for League membership and that mixed marriage was a menace.[16] Another critic invited A Woman to join the League, but was sure she wouldn’t because the King and the royal household would be absent: “Membership is an honour reserved for people of British parentage, and there are some privileges that even the King cannot enjoy”.[17]  Still another critic answered that the League had no fear of being disloyal to the British throne, as distinct from the German-blooded King.[18]

A Woman’s supporters, such as the influential Methodist preacher the Reverend Henry Howard, on the other hand, stated that the League’s rules were so ‘narrow and un-British’ that he would never join, would prevent “our own Governor’s Lady, the Prince of Wales, the Mother-Queen and even the King himself” from joining.[19]  Those with an ‘admixture of foreign blood’, he added, had ‘a splendid record of citizenship’.

A Woman, or ‘those of her lineage’, was castigated for not only being rude, ill-mannered, and a complainer, but also for ‘no doubt’ being connected with German Australians, likely the wife of a ‘moneyed German’, a carping pro-German, and perhaps harshest of all, an accusation that A Woman was actually a man, born of pro-German parents in Adelaide.[20]

Another response to the shared genealogy of the British and German royal families was evident in the Catholic media.  “The present reigning house in England, the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha … is a German house”, stated Sydney’s The Catholic Press unequivocally, and so from a ‘racial descent’ point of view it was entirely accurate to say that the Kaiser is half English.[21] This inversion of the claims that the British royals were partly German to a claim that the German royals were partly English, and both were racially impure, added another tension.  Various ‘histories’ of the royal surnames of Wettin, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Hanover and Guelph, all indicating shared Germanic origins of the two royal houses, became common fare in some Catholic newspapers, especially in apparent responses to children’s letters. They presented a history that emphasized Orange subversion in Ireland supported by Germanic elements in the English royal family, the head of the Church of England being required to be a Protestant descendant of German Hanoverians, the extended dynastic network that turned royalty into assets of ‘Deutschtum’, and Lutheranism and Anglicanism being essentially the same (non-Catholic) denomination.

By the end of 1917 a further layering of this ‘history’ had evolved that positioned Ireland as the only truly non-German nation or race in the British Empire.[22] In this narrative the Welsh, the Scots and especially the English had for centuries been ‘enthusiastic’ for all things Germanic.  Only the Irish had supported the French in the Franco-Prussian War, it was claimed, while the Scots had been happy to be flattered by the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas wearing kilts and adopting Highland ways, and the Welsh kept the Prince of Wales Germanic motto of Ich Dien.

The racial inferiority of the royal family implied by the All-British League in South Australia was further complicated by a layer, also couched in a language of racial distinction and hierarchy, of Irish separateness promoted through the Catholic press in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in which the royal family served as a metaphor for a Germanic and inherently repressive ‘English’ (i.e. German) state.

The king’s re-naming of the royal house cut through, although did not entirely dispel, these rancorous debates.

Slide 7 | George V knights Monash


The new Royal House of Windsor actively attached itself to the dominions.  King George personally invested General John Monash (Victorian-born son of Prussian-Jewish parents) as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on the battlefield at Amiens in 12 August 1918. The King’s use of the ‘ancient’ ritual of battlefield investitures was within the new context of a direct and ‘intimate’ relationship between the King and his dominion subjects.

During 1917 and 1918, at least two strands of dominion loyalty and settler Britishness were in open conflict, represented in the nationalist League and the less-organised traditionalists.  The populist, anti-German, jingoistic, tabloid press darling All British League was able to influence state politicians of all shades, from both the conservative and labour movements, with its head office in working class Port Adelaide and branches in working and middle class suburbs and country towns.  Its vision of Britishness was bigoted and proudly discriminatory, and quite prepared to reject a conjectural membership by the King on the basis of his German ancestry.

The League’s nationalism, through the medium of shared support for the White Australia Policy, segued into a left wing, pro-Catholic strand in the labour movement.  But, it never took on the League’s virulent anti-Germanism just as the League never accepted Catholicism as an authentic voice of Irishness.  Both, however, cast the dynasty as inherently ‘German’ in character.

The more-subtle strand was the dynastic loyalism of the ‘traditionalist’ that emphasized the ancientness of institutions and mythic and legendary origins. This provided a strong continuity over time that maintained social cohesion and allowed for evolutionary change.  Crude nationalism was an anathema, and ideas of ‘admixture’, or mixed marriages, were advanced as a continuation of historical traditions that had grown out of centuries of such mixing.  It was exemplified by the writings of A Woman and the Reverend Henry Howard.  The invention of the House of Windsor with its sacred imaginings appealed to their spiritual and esoteric leanings.  WJ Hudson wrote in 1988

“[In the 1930s] Australians … focused, not on the bond between dominion and king, but on ‘the individual relationship of the citizen to the King.’”[23]

That Australians could have such a focus is explicable by the invention of the House of Windsor that produced the enthralling affect described by Hudson.

A month after the change, the King instituted the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Its creation was welcomed across the Empire, clearly linking the new royal house and the dominions, with its first recipients including Australians, Canadians and South Africans, as well as trades unionists and nurses.

Slide 8 | Rhapsodic public greetings of the Prince of Wales, heir to the new dynasty, in Adelaide, 1920

The traditionalists focus on history and culture rather than politics emphasized the ‘intimate’, direct relationship between sovereign and subject.  This meant participating in a timeless mystical bond, connecting through the mists of ancientness to a time when people of different origins were coming together and forming a new people.  These relationships were evident in the rituals and ceremonies of orders of chivalry and the sacred place of Windsor Castle with its own magical origins.  These ‘conjoinings’ created, and continued to create, British peoples and communities around the globe that were historical and natural, that were enduring and would continue into the future.  This was a Britishness that placed the King in the heart of every subject, and it could be imagined, vice-versa.

The League’s anti-Germanism left deep scars, evident in 1920 during the Prince of Wales’ tour of South Australia.  There were complaints that the prince’s emblem displayed the German words Ich Dien, and snide questions of whether his great-grandfather (Prince Albert) was a ‘good German’. The Catholic Southern Cross noted that as “King George V of Windsor (late Saxe-Coburg Gotha)” was celebrating his 55th birthday, the English continued to pursue a policy of “Prussianism’ in Ireland”, and the Prince chose to visit Adelaide on 12 July, “the festival of hate on which the ‘loyal’ Orange lodges … are accustomed to vilify Catholics”.[24]  The traditionalists’ recognition of multi-ethnic ‘conjoinings’ as an element in the forming of new Britons/Britains needs to be set against these war-time shadows, but as the slide shows ‘Windsorness’ had its victories.

The German contribution to communal or national identities in Australia was effectively silenced for several generations (and, I think, remains one of Australian history’s characteristic ‘silences’).  But, the traditionalists beliefs suggest there were counter-narratives to ideas of racial purity and White Australia that invites further research.

Slide 9 | George V’s funeral hatchment, Adelaide 1936 (thanks to Richard d’Apice for bringing this image to my attention)

The dominions were not passive recipients of these changes.  Through the war effort they affirmed their status as equal but separate bodies politic within the empire.  But the body natural of the one king was also transformed, transfused with mythic ancient Briton-ness and re-born as wholly British.  There would be no more membership of the once great, now wrecked, European royal and imperial dynastic network.  It was a naturalization and modernisation shaped by the times, and by it the Windsor’s avoided the fate of the continental imperial dynasties.

Settler Britons in the dominions, like South Australia, through their own often conflicting imaginings of loyalty, dynasticism and Britishness eased the way for the Crown to evolve and change while all the time appearing to be maintaining, even recovering, continuity and tradition.  The dominions helped save the Crown during the Great War.  After 1918, a British sovereign would no longer be a mere European dynast, instead she would be the living embodiment of the greatest and only truly imperial Crown left on the planet.  A truly Briton king had been born on 15 July 1917, and only he was fit to wrought a victorious new throne atop the ruins of the Kaiserstuhl in South Australia.

Slide 10 | Windsor triumphant, Saxony vanquished

[1] ‘House of Windsor | Royalty’s New Name’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 1917, page 7.  Some 40 different newspapers carried this same story, some in abridged or extended versions, around Australia.  The official notice was in Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No 121, 2 August 1917, page 1

[2] ‘House of Windsor | Royalty’s New Name’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 1917, page 7

[3] ‘Royal Names and Titles’, Gippsland Mercury, 24 July 1917, page 3

[4] Figures from Commonwealth of Australia, Census 1911$File/1911%20Census%20-%20Volume%20II%20-%20Part%20II%20Birthplaces.pdf

Peter Monteath cites a figure of 10% in ‘German South Australia on the Eve of the War’, in Melanie Oppenheimer at al, South Australia on the Eve of War, Wakefield Press, Mile End 2017: page 161.

[5] ‘The All-British League | Important Additional Aims | Stirring Address by Mr Owen Smyth’, The Daily Herald (Adelaide), 4 March 1915, page 6

[6] The League was established in a meeting at Port Adelaide on 15 January 1915.  By the end of 1915 it had 18 branches, by the end of 1916 24 branches, by the end of 1917 34 branches, and by the end of 1918 40 branches.  None were operational by 1920.  It also had a rifle club, which members were encouraged to join.  It claimed to have ‘well over 5,000 members’ in March 1917 (about 1.2% of the South Australian population).  Database of branches compiled by author.

[7] Deutschland Ueber Sued Australien | Work for the Government Christener’, The Mail, 27 May 1916, page 10; ‘Deutschland Über Süd Australien | How does the Government regard German names?’, The Mail, 3 June 1916, page 10

[8] ‘German Names Must Go | British Spirit and Sentiment Thoroughly Aroused | Pseudo-Patriots Vigorously Condemned’, The Mail, 17 June 1916, page 10

[9] ‘German Names Must Go | British Spirit and Sentiment Thoroughly Aroused | Pseudo-Patriots Vigorously Condemned’, The Mail, 17 June 1916, page 10

[10] Degenerate Germany, T. Werner Laurie, London 1916.  Online edition available here , accessed 5 October 2014.  De Halsalle is a shadowy figure, described variously as an intelligence officer and a journalist, author of several moralistic tracts on the allegedly sordid behaviour of German women, actors, homosexuals and others he classed as degenerate; he also railed against using the term Anglo-Saxon as being a Germanic term.

[11] ‘German Names’, The Register, 12 July 1916, page 6

[12] ‘German Names’, The Register, 12 July 1916, page 6

[13] ‘German Names Doomed | Parliament Orders Change | Legislators’ Unanimous Vote | “The Mail” Thanked | “No More Loyalty In Germans Than In A Fly”, The Mail, 5 August 1916, page 10

[14] ‘All British League | To the Editor’, The Advertiser, 18 June 1915, page 10

[15] ‘All British League | To the Editor’, The Advertiser, 18 June 1915, page 10

[16] ‘All British League | To the Editor’, The Advertiser, 18 June 1915, page 10

[17] ‘All British League | From W R Butler’, The Register, 21 June 1915, page 3

[18] ‘All British League | From Once Too Tolerant’, The Register, 21 June 1915, page 5

[19] ‘All British League | From the Rev. Henry Howard’, The Register, 19 June 1915, page 13.  The Governor’s wife, Lady Marie Galwey, was the daughter of a Bavarian countess

[20] ‘All British League | From GLJ’, The Register, 24 June 1915, page 5

[21] ‘The Kaiser’s English Blood’, The Catholic Press (Sydney), 29 June 1916, page 4

[22] ‘Irish always Anti-German | Historical facts’, The Catholic Press, 13 December 1917, page 12

[23] WJ Hudson and Martin Sharp, Australian Independence: Colony to Reluctant Kingdom, Melbourne University Press, Carlton 1988: pages 4 and x

[24] letter to the editor from ‘Nothing German’, The Mail, 17 July 1920, page 5; ‘Some Pertinent Answers to Correspondents’, Southern Cross, 25 June 1920, page 18


Save Historic 38 Moreton Terrace, Dongara, Western Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two useful websites to explore are the Shire of Irwin and the Irwin District Historical Society .

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

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

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

Save 38 Moreton Terrace – Submission Letter

Save 38 Moreton Terrace – Submission Heritage Assessment and History


Commons of Colonial New South Wales

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

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


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

Definition of a ‘Common’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First: Ask a Question

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

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

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

What Records are Available for Researching a History of Commons?

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

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

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

State and Mitchell Libraries, Macquarie Street, Sydney.

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

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

Place | County | Locality | Area | Purpose | Papers

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

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

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

Land Title’s Office, Queens Square, Sydney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Government Records and Archives

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Gadsden: Chapter 1 passim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[13] Proudfoot, op. cit.

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

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

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

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

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

[19] Government Gazette, 10 January 1865: 69

[20] Government Gazette, 6 December 1867: 3304

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

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

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

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

[25] Government Gazette, 6 December 1867: 3304

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[33] Helen Proudfoot.

[34] Government Gazette, 6 December 1867: 3304

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deconstructing Crowley’s ‘Western Australia’, 1992

Recent political conflict over claims by the Western Australian government for a reconsideration of the GST distribution to the states and territories prompted some media commentary in eastern Australia that this was a restatement of old but enduring claims by Western Australians for secession from the Commonwealth of Australia.  Such claims have generally been dismissed as illogical, unreasonable and generally derisory, almost as if they were intended to provoke an amusing reaction from crazy separatists.[1]  It reminded me of this paper I wrote back in 1992, which still provides a useful perspective on questions of a Western Australian or Westralian identity.

[1] See for one example George Williams, ‘Western Australia’s strident secession threats just empty words’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4/5/2015, page 16


 Francis Keble Crowley began his work as a lecturer in history at the University of Western Australia in 1952 after completing a PhD at Melbourne University. Over the next twelve years he exercised a persistent influence over the shape of Western Australian history until his departure for Adelaide University in 1964. It is the aim of this essay to deconstruct Crowley’s works during this period, and reveal them as a form of gentryism that constituted ‘Western Australia’ as a historical and social ideal within a Eurocentric ‘colonial discourse’.


There is no pre-given, historically ‘true’ ‘Western Australian’ ‘history’ that can be ferreted out from beneath the ideological overlaying of raced, classed and gendered versions of history; no essential or natural defining feature of ‘Western Australia’ that can explain its history in gentryist terms. By assuming that Western Australians have inherent characteristics and objective identities consistently and predictably different from other Australians, and that these generate definably Western Australian needs and interests, gentryist historians imply that regional difference is a natural rather than a social phenomenon.


Poststructuralist colonial discourse invokes, not Western Australia and gentryism as concrete historical objects, but ‘Western Australia’ and ‘gentryism’ as defined and constructed within the particular discourses of colonialism. The story is then no longer about the things that have happened to Western Australians and how they have reacted to them, instead it is about how the subjective and collective meanings of Western Australia as a category of identity have been constructed, and what have been the effects of such constructions.

Map of Western Australia, 1922

Map of Western Australia, 1922


The concept of gentryism has been a convenient but hegemonic signifier that homogenises ‘Western Australian history’ into questions of regionalism and social élitism. Gentry histories tend to pass over the role and examples of ‘non-élite’ cultures and sub-cultures not organised according to a ‘Westralian’ ethos. History as gentryism is a product of colonialism, so that in effect the élite culture of gentryism continues to participate in the colonisation process, and knowledge is restricted within the boundaries of existing Eurocentric paradigms.


The central symbol of gentryism is the Pioneer. The legendary Pioneer was originally an ‘early settler’ that had arrived before 1850, but was later extended to include all rural settlers, generally men. Aborigines, women and the town dweller have rarely found a place in the pioneer pantheon. During the 1979 sesquicentenary celebrations, Western Australians were exhorted to continue the work of the pioneers, putting service to the community above self, and expressing gratitude to them for showing us the way. Adulation of the Pioneer encourages reverence for the past, celebrates individual rather than collective or state enterprise, and provides a classless, raceless and genderless society in which difference is obliterated by the generous application of the label of Pioneer.[1]


For gentryist historians it is 1829, not 1788, that is the symbolic year in which history began. Western Australia was a wilderness being settled by civilised families from the Services and county society who believed that they mixed in the ‘first order of society’. Gentlemen fared well, but labour shortages eventually necessitated the introduction of convicts. These were quietly and easily assimilated into the ‘respectability and comfort’ of married, propertied life. The gold boom of the 1890s, Group Settlement of the 1920s and even post-War immigration in the 1950s produced similar results as each group of settlers was absorbed into ‘Western Australia’. Dissent, repression, conflict, poverty, deviance and insecurity are denied any existence, as is the familiar triptych of ethnicity, gender and class.[2]




One outcome from the recent Royal Commission into the business dealings of the Western Australian Government was a brief public debate on the process involved in selecting which official documents are archived and which are destroyed.[3] Concurrently with this debate the West Australian newspaper carried reports of a similar nature involving organisations within the community such as the Aboriginal Legal Service, the WA Municipal Association and the failed Western Women group, as well as the debate concerning the Freedom of Information Bill soon to be presented to the Western Australian Parliament.[4] It was in creating his definition of just what is Western Australian history that Crowley first turned his attention to the question of archives.


The Records of Western Australia was published in 1953:

The aim of this work has been strictly utilitarian – to provide a starting point for more detailed investigations, and thereby to lighten the labours of research during its early phases.[5]

Crowley believed that “…a full description…” of the public and private records of the state was needed due to the growing interest in historical research in Australia. The student of Australian history needed both bibliographies and guides to locating original records.[6]   The ‘full description’, however, had some fairly definite boundaries, some imposed by the records themselves, some imposed by Crowley.


The structural boundaries identified by Crowley are the fact that surviving records are a “fortuitous residue” of those originally created, that a number of departmental archives were still uncatalogued and unused and remain in the condition in which they had accumulated, and that the lack of space and staff in the State Archives precluded the transfer of ‘bulky’ collections of public records to either the State Archives or other repositories where they would be publicly accessible.[7] Only those public records that have survived and been catalogued, and which are publicly accessible, are ‘the records of Western Australia’.


The boundaries imposed by Crowley are several. He cites the inability of the compiler to forecast future trends in historical research, the inaccessibility “…even [for] bona fide students…” of certain records, the requirement for records of public administration to conform to an alphabetical arrangement (even if this means grouping together smaller agencies as collective groups of records that do not reflect their nominal or working relationships), and the necessity for all future records to conform to this structure.[8]   Records that are not likely to be useful for future research, that are inaccessible, and that do not conform to archival tidiness are excluded from the definition of ‘the records of Western Australia’.


Thus, the records of Western Australia are not an untidy portfolio of past events, but a very carefully circumscribed set of documents. Crowley does make some allowance for records that do not conform to archival neatness:

…[these] records are described in their natural structure in the place where they are stored.”[9] (my emphasis)

The implication of this statement and others is that colonial administration (at least) was fairly haphazard, and that it developed organically, with the chaotic ‘natural structure’ of the records as evidence of this. Fortunately, the professional archivist and the professional historian are able to elevate this chaos to ordered modernity, and so make ‘the records’ available for public use.


Can Crowley’s assumption be allowed to pass unchallenged? The guides produced by the State Archives to the Colonial Secretary’s Office correspondence between 1829 and 1883 are but one example that can be used to show that records where carefully arranged and filed, that making copies was a standard practise, and that the system was updated as required by changing political or administrative procedures.[10] While gaps in such records series are frustratingly labelled ‘missing’, the apparent randomness of such gaps could suggest the purposeful destruction of certain records for specific purposes, rather than negligence on the part of public servants. I suspect that Crowley’s assumption about the nature of such early record keeping would not stand up to a detailed study.


There is one further length of the boundary being imposed by Crowley that needs consideration. The record must be Western Australian. The definition of such a document requires that it have been written about, or published or written in Western Australia, or by a Western Australian. While “…purely scientific and technical publications…” have been excluded, a large amount of private records relating “…to the general history of Australia and the development of the British Commonwealth of Nations…” are included.[11] The first part of the definition is a tautology: if Western Australia exists, there must be Western Australians, and because Western Australians do exist, there must be a Western Australia. The object is defined by reference to itself – because it is true it is real, and because it is real it is true. The second part of the definition firmly places Western Australia within the context of Australia and the Empire – it is defined by being an element within a larger and more total object, ostensibly the British Empire, but in effect the whole age of European imperial expansion. What people in the past have understood by the term Western Australia is not at issue. The historian’s tidy definition created a certain Western Australia that guided archivists in their selection of documents for preservation and students in their studies of its history – with the result that Western Australia came increasingly to fit the definition.


Because the words Western Australia are written on maps, and books are published about Western Australia, and birth certificates carry the title Western Australia, Western Australia can be established as a concrete fact. It is a real entity within a hierarchy of civilisation. Crowley has defined Western Australia by the careful selection of documents and the naming of them as ‘THE records of Western Australia’.




The creation of apprentice professional historians in Crowley’s classes created the need for comprehensive and accessible source materials, and the need for some concept of Western Australia that would be the object of study. The Records of Western Australia created the Western Australia that Crowley and his students would study for the next decade and beyond.   While it is true that the work did provide a ‘utilitarian tool’, the tool box was of a definite construction of Crowley’s. As he said:

The labour of compiling can never bring completeness. There must be physical limits to the extent of the investigation…[12]

The difficulty in forecasting future research trends could only be a problem in trying to ensure that the ‘records’ will be those required for such research. By implication, those not likely to be so required can be safely disposed of as being non-Western Australian. The naïve expectation that all future ‘records’ will conform to the structure created by Crowley quite simply denies any knowledge of a history of administrative change and adaptation. The exclusion of science and technology from the ‘records’ is a statement about the non-Western Australianness of these pursuits. Presumably they lie within the imperial rather than the colonial realm.


Crowley’s exclusion of inaccessible documents from the definition of ‘the records of Western Australia’ seems to imply that there are certain mysterious areas that are neither Western Australian nor fit subjects of historical research. Does he mean adoptions, government property matters, law enforcement or other state actions?[13]   Whether the records of the Royal Commission referred to above are destroyed or restricted, their very inaccessibility would, according to Crowley’s definition, make them non-Western Australian. The corruption they document can therefore be excluded from being Western Australian, as can corrupt political and business practises in general. Not being Western Australian, they will not need to be studied be the gentryist historian.


Crowley followed The Records of Western Australia with two articles published in the journal of the (Royal) Western Australian Historical Society. Each addressed the definition of Western Australia established by Crowley, as well as extended the boundaries established by Crowley to the production of Western Australian history.


‘Master and Servant in Western Australia 1829-1851’ appeared in 1953.[14] Crowley’s discussion of the regulation of labour in the early colony was something quite new in Western Australia. At first glance the emphasis appears to be on the power of the masters through the indenture system, and their attempt to transplant a reciprocal lord-tenant system of social and economic relationships in the 1830s. This was followed by the codification of the indenture system under the control of a magistracy of masters in the 1840s. However, what could be an attack on the masters, and so a rupture in gentryism, is rather a newer and more sophisticated view of the gentryist position.


Crowley disputed the Wakefieldian claim that the slowness of development in the early colony was derived from a shortage of labour. This shortage had supposedly resulted from an exodus from the indenture system by labourers able to take up land. Instead, the majority of servants were released by masters who could no longer afford to pay them, although some servants did remain in service for a long time. Land regulations prevented servants from taking up land until their indentures expired, while the land holdings many acquired were small, ensuring that they remained available for part time or casual work, which suited the master’s depleted pocket.


While disputing Wakefieldian claims over a century old may indicate a certain lack of historiographical development in Western Australia, the salient point to notice in Crowley’s discussion is the lack of conflict in this period of adaptation in the colony. This is reinforced by Crowley’s claim that the inability of Perth landowners to sell or rent land to labourers “…must be taken as a sign that labourers did not always seek independence in landownership…”.[15] Having thus established that a class of wage-earning labourers had been created in the colony through a consensus between the colonial gentry and their servants, Crowley was able to absorb the labouring classes of pre-convict Western Australia into the pioneer pantheon. The labourers were not in conflict with the gentry for control of the land, but had instead entered into a new, colonial form of the old reciprocal relationships they had known at home, now mediated through the payment of wages. This consensus came about because:

…the behaviour of the masters and servants depended on their characters, and the influence of a new environment on the age-old traditional relationship between them…[16]

The consensual character of the Western Australian had been forged from the iron of tradition in the furnace of the colonial environment. Consensus was a central element of the mystique of gentryist Western Australia. Crowley had used the records of Western Australia, as defined by himself, to provide a sound historical basis for the myths of gentryism. These myths had been remembered and recorded in the pages of Early Days since 1926. Now, they were to be modernised and professionalised, and made relevant for the new post war Western Australia of the 1950s.


In 1952, Liberal Premier Ross McLarty invited three academics from the University’s History Department:

To enquire into and report –

  1. Who was responsible for placing before Sir John Forrest the plan for pumping water to the Goldfields by the method of pumping water which was adopted in the Coolgardie Goldfields water supply scheme?
  2. Who was chiefly responsible for persuading Sir John Forrest that the method adopted was practical and that it was within the financial means of the State?[17]

The resultant report was published as a book in 1954. Its conclusions were that the Engineer-in-Chief, C Y O’Connor and his departmental officers had placed the plans before Forrest, while the credit for persuading Forrest of the plan’s feasibility belonged to no single person.[18] The eminence of Forrest assumed in the Premier’s invitation is fully supported by the enquirers. At no point is this eminence examined. The terms of the enquiry require his eminence, as do the conclusions reached. The colonial society constructed by the enquirers arrays people by function beneath the Great Man. The most notable of these are the experts and engineers of the Public Works Department (PWD). They had devised the scheme and provided the necessary technology upon which Forrest made his political decision to proceed. These results supported those of a number of previous enquiries on the matter that had resulted from claims by Mr N Harper that the pipeline had been his idea, and that he had persuaded Forrest to adopt it.[19]



While the book is the collective work of three authors, it contains a number of elements found in Crowley’s individual works. A somewhat corporatist view of society emerges, with everyone contributing to the common good on the basis of their expertise and training. Within this construct the state becomes a benign institution rather than the invisible entity it had traditionally been in gentry historiography. It ensures the orderly arrangement of the professions in such a way that they can be effectively utilised by political decision makers – the Great Men such as Forrest. All other individuals are homogenised into groups that are named by occupation. The effect of such blending is to increase the personality of the Great Man, and thus emphasize the role of the leader.

The Great Man: Crowley's biography of Sir John Forrest

The Great Man: Crowley’s biography of Sir John Forrest


The problem with Mr Harper’s claim was that he was not an ‘official engineer’ in the PWD. To have accepted his claim would have been to accept the amateur’s competence as equalling that of the professional, not only in the field of engineering but also history. Harper’s refusal to accept the verdicts of historians such as Battye and Murdoch, and bodies such as the Western Australian Historical Society, directly challenged the authority of historians to interpret the past. The authority of the historian is portrayed in the book as being akin to that of the judge, and it was towards establishing this as a ‘truth’ that Crowley’s next project was partly directed.


‘Problems in Local and Regional History’ appeared in 1956 in Early Days as a lesson for ‘amateur’ historians writing their local histories.[20] Much of the article addresses the methodology needed for writing local history. All historians, says Crowley, must be familiar with certain techniques acquired through example and training. The boundaries of their subject must be determined, the sources surveyed, the questions that the sources are likely to answer determined, and the questions then answered. Unfortunately, local historians have too often relied upon a ‘scissors and paste’ approach, with the result that they have been obsessed with detailed chronicles, the earliest days, gentry pedigrees, and the unimportant and insignificant, all based upon either one or a very limited range of sources.


The University of Western Australia had been producing theses and reports covering local and regional histories within Western Australia since 1941, but their standard was not uniform. A permanently high standard could only be maintained through the formal teaching of techniques and close supervision. While historical society journals across Australia had for thirty years “…established a sort of tradition that ‘unscholarly and undocumented snippets constitute history’…”, the universities had not necessarily upheld a professional standard either.[21]


Crowley’s discusses treating Western Australia as a regional history. Such a treatment, he claims, will show the inadequacies of generalisations about Australian history. The difference in the convict experience, the timing of self-government, the 1890s, the lack of conflict between pastoralists and farmers, church and state, and labour and capital, and the development by the state rather than individuals of dairy farming show that many of the all-Australian historical themes are inapplicable or mistimed in Western Australia.


To overcome such inadequacies, Crowley proposed a hierarchical model that sought to totalise Australian history into a truly ‘national’ story.   National history is to have its “proper position” at the apex of the pyramid, district and local history constituting the broad base. Regional and state history is superimposed upon this structure. The boundaries of regions and districts have to be clearly defined, and their varying stages of growth ascertained:

Historical research will then be a corporate activity to which each scholar contributes in terms of the relation of his own field of study, geographically and historically, to the whole.[22]

Such a means will enable Western Australian history to ‘correct’ inadequacies in national history. This total, or national, history would reflect the national society, composed of a diverse range of horizontal geo-political layers that are traversed by vertical social groupings. Professional historians occupy one such vertical space, while the amateur, by definition a non-professional, only exists on the margins and more properly occupies an ‘other’ space.


Crowley’s Western Australia is a concrete reality. He concludes ‘Problems in Local and Regional History’ with an analogy between the historian and the judge. Both summon all available witnesses and bring in evidence, both try to ensure that the evidence is corroborated independently, both endeavour to establish the main facts which are in doubt by inference from known facts. The difference is that the historian can pronounce a verdict of ‘almost not guilty’, or ‘so much guilty or not guilty’, and so on. The ‘problem’ in local and regional history is that the historian cannot be judged by universal criteria. Only the properly trained historian can apportion responsibility for historical events, and therefore know the true value of a historians work.[23]


In this manner Crowley appropriated gentry historical writing, not challenging it but incorporating it into the academy, creating a ‘new gentryism’. Only the professional historian can judge the worth of another historian, and clearly the work of ‘amateur’ historians has been found wanting. Amateurs can contribute by “…correcting much error and by bringing to light and preserving documentary and oral evidence not hitherto known to exist…”, but only the professionals can write ‘true’ history.[24] This true history is, of course, the history of the Western Australia created by Crowley. By definition, the amateurs are almost non-Western Australian, but by accepting Crowley’s modernisation of gentryism they can be accorded handmaiden status. As with the changing relationship between masters and servants, the change is accepted by both professionals and amateurs as being for the common good – which in this case is Western Australian history. The consensus, however, has been manufactured by the professionals, just as it was by the masters.




Crowley then wrote a chapter on ‘Education and the State’ in Alexander’s Four Bishops and their See in 1958, before attempting his first general history of Western Australia.[25] A Short History of Western Australia appeared in its first edition in 1959, and a second, co-revised edition with Brian de Garis appeared in 1968.[26] This was an abridged version, used as a standard school text for many years, of Australia’s Western Third that was published the following year.[27]


The titlepage of Australia’s Western Third carried the dedication that “The prize of history is the understanding of modern times”. ‘The modern times of 1960 can be understood through new gentryism’ is perhaps the subtext of this dedication. A Short History‘s chapter one ‘Early Days: 1826-1849’ is Western Third‘s chapter one ‘Foundation: 1826-1849’, while chapter two ‘Convicts to the Rescue: 1850-1869’ becomes chapter two ‘Pioneering: 1850-1869’. The early settlers have laid the foundations of Western Australia today, and the convicts have become pioneers – at least en masse. This general elevation of the early days from failure and the chain gang to the respectability of foundation building and pioneering is part of the correction of the inadequacies of earlier general histories that the professional historian is able to achieve by proper training and access to public records.


A glance through the index will find entries for a number of facets of Western Australia that had not usually been considered as part of its general history, but which suggest the totality of Crowley’s national history:

Atomic bombs, 288, 371

Beer gardens, 329, 368

Class distinctions, 25-6, 124-5

Dwalgup clover, 296

Emu Bitter, 328

Flogging, 30, 34-5, 42

Golf, 234

Hebrew Church, 237

Italians, 268, 337, 346

Jersey Cattle, 299

Kerosene, 207, 233, 251

Larrikinism, 369

Margarine, 345

Neon signs, 351

Observatory, 146

Prostitutes, 118, 236

Quoits, 121

Ringbarking, 104, 136, 205, 214

Socialism, 185, 188, 271

£34 Million Agreement, 203

Tinned-dog, 89, 103

Used-car dealers, 363

Vlaming, W., 3

Wildflowers, 12, 79

X-rays, 368

Y.M.C.A., 193

Zamia palm, 45

Over 24 two columned, small print pages Crowley managed to index something under every letter of the alphabet. The new gentryist Western Australia seemed to be all-encompassing An entry such as ‘prostitutes’ seems to indicate a view of history that is agentryist, but the prostitutes are Japanese and in Broome, safely foreign and ‘other’, signifying what is non-Western Australian and clearly demarking the boundary of Western Australian history. The entries for ‘Dwalgup clover’, ‘kerosene’, ringbarking’ and ‘tinned dog’ mark the further absorption of rural settlers into the pioneer pantheon; while ‘beer gardens’, ‘golf’, ‘neon signs’ and ‘used-car dealers’ bring the urban dwellers into Western Australian history.

K is for Kerosene

K is for Kerosene


The problem, however, is that within this total history of Western Australia, ringbarking and women’s suffrage, kerosene and the Aborigines Protection Board, class distinctions and the Crawley baths, soil conservation and soap factories are all accorded roughly equal importance as events with little formal analysis to tie them together, so that Western Third tends to become ‘one damn thing after another’. The few individuals that are mentioned tend to be the Great Men, notably Sir John Forrest, while extensive space is given to economic and political developments. There are no amateurs in Western Third, only the successful professionals. Australia’s Western Third could be considered as the apogée of new gentryism. However, in reaching this very zenith, new gentryism can be seen as simply the old emperor in modern clothes, and rather transparent ones at that.


A clear example of the same basic allegiances of old and new gentryism can be seen in Crowley’s discussion of contact between the Nyungar and the settlers. It is the same story that can be found in Battye and other gentryists. The Aboriginal population was small and offered little resistance; they were no match for European arms; some were shot stealing food; habitual offenders were sent to Rottnest; the Battle of Pinjarra in 1834 was retaliation for the murder of several settlers; more Aborigines died from diseases than bullets; the New Norcia Mission was the first attempt to educate aborigines in European ways. This is the first mention of Aborigines, and it does not occur until page 18, in the second-last paragraph of the first chapter. The description of the geographical spread of the settler’s frontier imitates the boundary of Western Australian history, which so very obviously excludes any understanding of Aborigines other than as objects of colonial administration – especially the justice system.


Reverence for the Great Man has been increased, and the flock of faithful Pioneers has been substantially expanded. The state is now a benign structure that allows the value of each citizen’s contribution to the whole to be assessed and used by other citizens properly qualified for such a task. The historian, imbued with the mystique of ‘training’, is able to determine the correct version of events in the past and the present, this being his (inevitably his) proper role in the body corporate. Crowley’s Western Australia is a corporate state utilising the resources of capital and labour, women and men, black and white to provide the greatest common good. The non-Western Australians, such as the prostitutes and the Aborigines, are expelled as strange, enslaved as tools but excluded as human beings.


The historian is especially privileged because he, like the judge and the Great Man, is able to summon the facts, apportion responsibility, and determine the truth. Through Australia’s Western Third, Crowley determined who and what was Western Australia and who and what was not. ‘Western Australia’ has been recast, with the basic gentry consensus intact but now professionalised and more able to continue its domination of the field of history in Western Australia.


Having created a Western Australia and chronicled its history, Crowley turned his attention to local history with Westralian Suburb in 1962.[28] The history was commissioned by the South Perth City Council, although its reason for doing so is not stated. South Perth had been declared a city in 1959, which was rapidly followed by the opening of the Narrows Bridge and Kwinana Freeway, and in 1960 of the South Perth Civic Centre.[29] Crowley states in his conclusions that:

To the historians of future years…the story of South Perth will appear to fall naturally into two divisions – before and after the spanning of the Narrows.[30]

An arrangement of photographs in the final chapter of the new civic centre, the new Narrows Bridge and freeway, the Mayor and City Councillors of 1962, and the permanent Council officers suggests that the book was commissioned to mark this accession from Arcadian backwater to metropolitan hub.


Westralian Suburb carries the hallmarks of gentryism, best typified in the following passage:

In 1929, a century after the first settlers had forcibly dispossessed the aborigines of the district and frightened to death many of the picturesque black swans, the colonists’ suburban descendants constituted a remarkably peaceful and conforming community. No riots or revolutions had marred their history. There had been no violent economic fluctuations, no mass unemployment, no abject poverty, no great division between rich and poor, and no political or religious issues on which to divide public opinion. South Perth – predominantly Anglican, Puritan, and Conformist – was not scarified by sectarianism or raked by deep social distrusts.[31]


The symbolic year of 1829 magically removed the local Nyungar from history and disturbed the local environment. But, it was a fertile land, and the settler society that flourished upon it was one of harmony, equality and co-operation guaranteed by social homogeneity.


Westralian Suburb is an interesting local history, following Crowley’s usual pattern of avoiding personalities except for the Great Men, blending all others into social groups of some sort, and corporatising South Perth’s history as one of interaction between these groups, wherein political success is defined by the ability of the whole community to produce stable, long-term municipal leaders. Almost all the groups defined are various combinations of middle-class Anglo men who manufacture the consensus for the common good in South Perth. If new gentryism was a practical working theory, then it should be reproducible at local as well as national level. Westralian Suburb is, in many ways, Australia’s Western Third writ small.


The early years of Crowley’s writing in Western Australia had seemed exciting as he constructed his model of professional history, the true history of the real Western Australia. His true history, however, was a theoretical base for gentryism, and once applied to writing a general history it inevitably produced a gentryist history not that distinguishable from the work of Battye and Colebatch except in the expanded size of the pioneer pantheon.


Crowley’s final contribution before leaving Western Australia was ‘Western Australian History 1952-1964: retrospect and prospect’, published in 1964.[32] Overall, Crowley was happy with the development of new gentryism over the last decade:

The achievements in Western Australian historiography since 1952 have been considerable, but very uneven.[33]

He nominated the convict system, the mining industry, pastoral and agricultural development before 1901 and Western Australia at war as four areas in urgent need of the historians’ attention. The history of Western Australian relations within the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions also required attention, especially as:

Western Australians will become more conscious of their position as white settlers facing great nations of nationally conscious non-Europeans.[34]

It is in this final article that Crowley finally acknowledges his gentryism:

[Australia’s Western Third] did not intend to ‘replace’ the earlier works of Kimberly and Battye, but rather to complement them by providing a more effective bridge between colonial history, national history and contemporary affairs. The earlier works will continue to remain standard references on many aspects of the early colonial period, which they examine in detail.[35]

Stannage stated in 1985 that:

Other historians with the [gentryist] tradition, at times questioning it, but never escaping from it, include Professor F.K. Crowley in his Australia’s Western Third[36]

Crowley never escaped gentryism because he never really wanted to.




The questions posed at the beginning of this essay were how have the subjective and collective meanings of Western Australia as a category of identity been constructed?, and what have been the effects of such constructions? A number of conclusions regarding these questions can now be made with regard to the 1950s and early 1960s.


That orthodoxy has existed in historical writing on Western Australia since the 1890s has been outlined by Stannage and Bolton.[37] This orthodoxy has been named gentryism, and until the 1950s it had largely been an amateur pursuit organised to a large degree by the Western Australian Historical Society. The methodology of this ‘old gentryism’, as typified in much of the material published in Early Days, was that of reminiscence. The histories of the Society by Birtwistle and Hasluck are both examples of reminiscence gentryism.[38] The intellectual component of old gentryism can be found in the works of its Great Men, such as Battye and Colebatch, whose methodology could be described as reportage. Both men had academic and journalistic experience, and their histories tend to be meticulous reporting of political and economic history in the manner of the objective reporter. But, whether of the reminiscence or reportage style, old gentryism had no specifically articulated theoretical underpinning.


Crowley was able to take the credo of consensus and exclusivism in gentryism, and ‘modernise’ the orthodoxy while retaining these fundamentals. His first move was essentially a political move designed to gain some acceptance within the local historical community. This he did by publishing articles in Early Days, and by footnoting his use of private records (usually reminiscences) in his articles. The ‘amateurs’ journal gained increased status and the footnoting affirmed the correctness of these remembrances. Publication of The Records of Western Australia was a crucial event in the formation of ‘new gentryism’. By this work, the magisterial role of the professional historian was established by his naming of what was and was not Western Australian.


Thus, with a group of followers and a basic theoretical knowledge, Crowley was able to reaffirm the basic gentry values of consensus and exclusivism by showing how these regional qualities had been naturally determined by the planting of traditional English values in the new colonial environment. The social élite in this real place were the true Western Australians, who could be easily identified by the label of Pioneer. The real structure of Western Australian society was in the nature of the corporate state, with professional guilds uniting employers and employees. Such an organisation of common interests avoided class and political conflict and promoted consensus as negotiated by the interest-neutral state. The Secession campaign and referendum of 1933, and the acceptance of the King’s refusal to intervene, are an example of Western Australian society working in this way.

Secessionist meeting in 1934: the gentryist construct of 'consensus' has been used to imply acceptance of defeat.  Image State Library of WA.

Secessionist meeting in 1934: the gentryist construct of ‘consensus’ has been used to imply acceptance of defeat. Image State Library of WA.


Such a model for ‘national’ history was created by Crowley to correct inadequacies in historical research and allow the true history of Western Australia to be discovered. Crowley’s national history, although clothed with the rhetoric of Australianism, was an explanation of Western Australian regionalism. Westralian nationalism was simply the new gentryism. The pioneers were the new gentry, and Western Australia was their nation. The professional historian was an essential part of this body corporate as he alone could adjudicate and decide upon the historical correctness of this parochial nationalism. To be a student-apprentice, or an amateur devotee, or an academic leader, the new gentryism had to be accepted as the definitive Western Australian history if the history being researched was to be accepted by writer’s peers.


This construction by Crowley has had a number of effects, some of which are still evident today.


The first was the creation of a new form of gentryism that was dynamic and robust. It maintained the dominance of a eurocentric colonial discourse in public and intellectual affairs from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. This academic gentryism was able to resist the intrusion of other forms of historical interpretation into Western Australian historical research. Marxism, psychoanalysis, feminism, and literary criticism failed to influence Westralian historiography until after the revisionists began their assault on new gentryism in 1976.[39] Crowley’s apparent project of developing a total model for the explanation of history is not exceptional for his time, but far from being original, he was in fact strengthening the status quo.


The Western Australia for which Crowley’s records speak cannot be the voice of Western Australia ‘as it was’. It is the voice of a Western Australia constructed in the mid-twentieth century. Thus, Crowley’s review of writing on Aboriginal history in 1964 concerns missionary activity, welfare systems, and the extension of political rights to Aborigines. Anthropological work on traditional and contemporary Aboriginal societies “will be of great assistance to historians of government and mission welfare policies.”[40] Aborigines only exist as the other, the non-Western Australian, tools for the development of Western Australian (white) professions such as anthropologists and historians, but of no inherent ‘historical’ significance. Thus, new gentryism actively worked to reinforce racism and white supremacy within both the historian’s guild and the wider Western Australian community.


The role of amateur historical societies in the historian’s guild has been adversely affected by new gentryism. In 1952, they had been the constituency Crowley had to win in order to reform gentryism. Professionalism, however, will not allow a blending with amateurism. Rather, within the historian’s guild constituted by Crowley there exists a hierarchy in which the amateurs occupy a marginal place, some still clinging to old gentryism in the form of genealogy or biography. The role of the professional is equated by the amateurs with the ‘un-real’ and the distant ivory tower. There is a communication gap that is ignored by the professionals and bemoaned by the amateurs.[41]   This acute gap was acknowledged by the President of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society in her 1991 report:

That personal element is also present…as our policy is to collect material which relates to known individuals who lived in Western Australia. This manifests the close connection with our past; an intimate knowledge of our forebears is there for the asking. The members themselves are often descendants and knowledgeable about the early families.[42]

The confusion of old reminiscence gentryism and new gentryism evident in the president’s report reflects the marginalisation of the amateurs, perhaps even their wilful neglect by professionals no longer dependent upon their approval. There is a question of whether the historian’s guild still exists – it seems that a paradoxical effect of new gentryism has been, ultimately, to destroy the consensus in Western Australian historical writing. Or, perhaps it simply staved off such a rupture for twenty years: a comparison with such events in other states would be useful in this regard.


Bolton wrote in 1979 that:

there can be no serious doubt that Crowley’s presence in Perth gave the study of Western Australian history an impressive stimulus which placed it far in advance of any other state; and which has still to be rivalled.[43]

Crowley’s stimulus was that of modernising and reinforcing the status quo in a post-war Western Australia of economic growth and social change. His professionalised new gentryism ensured that the old colonial vision remained intact and reinvigorated, and it ensured that the stream of new historians being produced by the University remained firmly within that conservative mainstream. As Stannage has said of Crowley’s pupil:

Geoffrey Bolton may not have entirely escaped [gentryism] either.[44]


FK Crowley died at Cronulla, NSW on 16 October 2013 aged 88. One of his obituarists, quoting a former UWA student of Crowley’s, concluded “All who would write WA history stand on Frank Crowley’s shoulders. He should be judged by his works and the benefits that accrued” (Rod Moran, ‘Working Class Historian, West Australian, 6 November 2013)



Alexander, F., Crowley, F.K., and Legge, J.D., The Origins of the Eastern Goldfields Water Scheme in Western Australia: an exercise in the interpretation of historical evidence, UWA Press, Nedlands 1954.

‘Annual Reports’, Early Days (10) 3, 1991.

Attridge, D. (Ed), Post-Structuralism and the Question of History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989

Birtwistle, I.T., ‘Royal W.A. Historical Society: recollections of its first decade’, Early Days (VII) II, 1970.

Bolton, G.C., ‘The Idea of a Colonial Gentry’, Historical Studies (13) 51, October 1968.

Bolton, G.C., ‘A Local Identity: Paul Hasluck and Western Australian self concept’, Westerly (4) December 1977.

Bolton, G.C., ‘Western Australia Reflects on its Past’, Stannage, C.T. (Ed) A New History of Western Australia, UWA Press, Nedlands 1981, chapter 22 passim.

Crowley, F.K., ‘The Present State of Research in Western Australian History’, University Studies in History (11) 1, 1953.

Crowley, F.K., The Records of Western Australia, Publications Committee of the University of Western Australia, Perth 1953.

Crowley, F.K., ‘Master and Servant in Western Australia 1829-1851’, Early Days (IV) V, 1953.

Crowley, F.K., ‘Problems in Local and Regional History’, Early Days (V) II, 1956.

Crowley, F.K., A Short History of Western Australia, Macmillan, London 1959: revised edition with de Garis, B.K., Macmillan Australia, Melbourne 1970

Crowley, F.K., Australia’s Western Third: a history of Western Australia from the first settlements to modern times, Macmillan, London 1960.

Crowley, F.K., Westralian Suburb: the history of South Perth, Western Australia, Rigby, Perth 1962.

Crowley, F.K., ‘Western Australian History 1952-1964: retrospect and prospect’, University Studies in History (IV) 2, 1963-64.

Else-Mitchell, R., and McDonald, D.I., ‘History On and Off Campus’, Royal Historical Society of Victoria Journal (57) 3, September 1986.

Hasluck, Sir P., ‘The Founding of the Society: some personal reminiscences’, Early Days (VIII) I, 1977.

Hirst, J.B. ‘The Pioneer Legend’, Historical Studies (18) 71, October 1978.

Royal Western Australian Historical Society Newsletter (14 & 15), 1975-1976.

Stannage, C.T., ‘Western Australian History 1964-1974: retrospect and prospect’, Teaching History (8) 2, August 1974.

Stannage, C.T., ‘Uncovering Poverty in Australian History’, Early Days (VII) VIII, 1976.

Stannage, C.T., Western Australia’s Heritage: the pioneer myth, UWA Extension Monograph Series No. 1, Nedlands 1985.

State Archives of Western Australia, A Guide to the Colonial Secretary’s Office (CSO) Inward and Outward Correspondence 1828-1878, and ibid 1878-1883, undated leaflets in current use.

‘The Objects of the Society’, Western Australian Historical Society Journal and Proceedings (I) I, 1926.

Thomas, T., ‘Some Parting Shots from a Jovial Critic’, West Australian -.11.1964.

Young, R., White Mythologies: writing History and the West, Routledge, London 1990.



[1] Stannage, C.T., Western Australia’s Heritage: the pioneer myth, UWA Extension, Monograph Series No. 1, Nedlands 1985, pp4-7 (hereafter – Pioneer myth); see also Hirst, J.B., ‘The Pioneer Legend’, Historical Studies (18) 71, October 1978, pp 316-337.

[2] Pioneer myth, op. cit., pp 1-3. For an earlier discussion of the Gentry, rather than gentryism, see Bolton, G.C., ‘The Idea of a Colonial Gentry’, Historical Studies (13) 51, October 1968, pp307-328

[3] Quekett, M., ‘Inquiry records row rages on’, West Australian 27.10.1992, p8; anon. ‘Cabinet record was changed to confuse’, ibid 28.10.1992, p13; Thomas, B., MLA (letter) ‘My honesty’s a matter of record’, ibid, 29.10.1992, p10; Lukis, M., ex-State Archivist (letter) ‘Archival controls’, ibid, p48; McGeough, P., ‘Secret witness reveals fear of life’, ibid, 30.10.1992, p1; Van Niekerk, M., (feature) ‘Records fuss done to death in old China’, ibid, p2; McGeough, P., (feature) ‘MP’s brawl puts a life on the line’, ibid, pp8-9; Marchant, Prof. L., (feature) ‘Posterity must have all the facts to judge’, ibid; Pendal, P., MLC, (letter) ‘Law must apply to all’, ibid, p49; Brunton, P., Pres., Aust. Society of Archivists (letter) ‘Save valuable probe records’, ibid, p49.

[4] Molloy, S., ‘Records prompt meeting’, West Australian 27.10.1992; Barrass, T., ‘Secrecy stays in FOI Bill: Minister’, ibid, 28.10.1992, p36; Quekett, M., ‘Councils see risk in open records’, ibid, 31.10.1992; Manly, C., ‘Dumped papers revealed bank’, Sunday Times, 1.11.1992, p5.

[5] Crowley, F.K. The Records of Western Australia, Vol. I, Part 1, Perth 1953, p vii (hereafter – Records of WA)

[6] ibid, p ii

[7] ibid, pp iv-v

[8] ibid, pp ii-xi

[9] ibid, p xi

[10] State Archives of Western Australia, A Guide to the Colonial Secretary’s Office (CSO) Inward and Outward Correspondence 1828-1878 and ibid 1878-1883, leaflet, undated but in current use.

[11] Records of WA, op. cit., p xiii

[12] ibid, p ii

[13] These are three of a number of areas recently listed by the Minister for Justice as not being subject to proposed Freedom of Information legislation because they dealt with personal privacy or commercial confidentiality: ‘Secrecy stays in FOI Bill: Minister’, West Australian 28.10.1992, p. 36.

[14] Crowley, F.K., ‘Master and Servant in Western Australia 1829-1851’, Early Days: journal and proceedings of the Western Australian Historical Society (IV) V, 1953, pp 94-115. The Society, established in 1929, was awarded the ‘Royal’ prefix in 1963, so both terms are evident in the bibliography.

[15] ibid, p 107

[16] ibid, p 115

[17] Alexander, F., Crowley, F.K., and Legge, J.D., The Origins of the Eastern Goldfields Water Scheme in Western Australia: an exercise in the interpretation of historical evidence, Nedlands 1954, p1.

[18] ibid, p 109

[19] ibid, ‘the Controversy’, pp 10-14

[20] Crowley, F.K., ‘Problems in Local and Regional History’, Early Days (V) II, 1956, pp 19-28.

[21] ibid, pp 20-22

[22] ibid, p 25

[23] ibid, pp 27-28

[24] ibid, p 22

[25] Alexander, F., (Ed) Four Bishops and their See; Perth Western Australia, 1857-1957, Nedlands 1957.

[26] Crowley, F.K., A Short History of Western Australia, London 1959: Melbourne 1970.

[27] Crowley, F.K., Australia’s Western Third: a history of Western Australia from the first settlements to modern times, London 1960.

[28] Crowley, F.K., Westralian Suburb: the history of South Perth, Western Australia, Perth 1962.

[29] ibid, ‘chronology of events’, p 118.

[30] ibid, p 111

[31] ibid, p 85

[32] Crowley, F.K., ‘Western Australian History 1952-1964: retrospect and prospect’, University Studies in History (IV) 2, 1963-64, pp 9-34.

[33] Ibid, p 32

[34] ibid, p 34

[35] ibid, p 12

[36] Pioneer myth, op. cit., p. 3.

[37] ibid; and Bolton, G.C., ‘Western Australia reflects on its Past’, in Stannage, C.T. (Ed) A New History of Western Australia, Nedlands 1981, chapter 22 passim (hereafter – WA reflects)

[38] Birtwistle, I.T., ‘Royal W.A. Historical Society: recollections of its First Decade (1926-1936)’, Early Days (VII) II, 1970, pp 39-56; Hasluck, Sir P., ‘The Founding of the Society: some personal reminiscences’, Early Days (VIII) I, 1977, pp 7-22.

[39] 1976 is probably a fairly arbitrary point, but I date the revisionist challenge from Stannage’s ‘Uncovering Poverty in Australian History’, which occasioned some rancorous debate with the Historical Society establishment.   See Early Days (VII) VIII, 1976; ‘Council Notes’, RWAHS Newsletter (14) 1, January-February 1975, p12, ‘Council Notes’, ibid, (14) 6, July 1975, and ‘President’s Annual-General Meeting Report, 26th March 1976’, ibid, (15) 3, April 1976; also for a restatement of the gentryist position see Bolton, G., ‘A Local Identity: Paul Hasluck and Western Australian self concept’, Westerly (4) December 1977.

[40] Retrospect and prospect, op. cit., pp, 28-29.

[41] For a recent discussion of this situation in Victoria, see: Else-Mitchell, R., and McDonald, D.I., ‘History On and Off the Campus’, Royal Historical Society of Victoria Journal (57) 3, September 1986, pp 1-8.

[42] Medcalf, M., ‘President’s Report for the year ending 31 December 1991’, Early Days (10) 3, 1991, p 210.

[43] WA Reflects, op. cit., p. 686.

[44] Pioneer myth, op. cit., p 3.

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.

1, 2, 3 History: Norfolk Island’s inconvenient history

Some thoughts on writing KAVHA’s history, originally presented at the KAVHA Public Research Centre, No 9 Quality Row, Kingston on Friday 15th April 2011, for National Heritage Week 2011

 Bruce Baskerville explores the ways in which histories of the Kingston & Arthur’s Vale Historic Area (KAVHA) have been written and used, with a focus on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd Settlements method (‘1, 2, 3 history’) of organising history, and whether it is time to look at writing history in different ways.


I grew up on the Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Western Australia.  My father was a crayfisherman.  The islands are wind-blown low lying rocky outcrops surrounded by numerous coral cays and reefs, perfect crayfish habitat but very dangerous for shipping.  The name Abrolhos comes from a Portuguese phrase meaning ‘keep you eyes open’.

Typical scene of fishermen's jetties and rocky coast, Big Pigeon Island, Wallabi Group, Abrolhos Islands

Typical scene of fishermen’s jetties and rocky coast, Big Pigeon Island, Wallabi Group, Abrolhos Islands

The island are littered with shipwrecks, and it was just a short ride from Big Pigeon Island, where our camp was, to the site of the Batavia shipwreck, a Dutch East Indiaman wrecked in 1629 just as a mutiny was about the break out.  The little island where the survivors straggled ashore was known as Batavia’s Graveyard, not just because of the shipwreck but because of the subsequent insane and gory massacre that took place.  When Dad was at a loose end we would all pile into the boat and go over to the now more prosaically named Beacon Island to see ‘what the museum are up to’.  There were always artefacts undergoing conservation work or being packed up to be sent to Fremantle.  At other times we would go over to West Wallabi Island in the dinghy and play in the ruins of ‘the Fort’, to where some of the survivors had escaped the bloody regime on Batavia’s Graveyard.  At over 350 years old, the little fort is the oldest European structure in Australia, and as a boy I often day dreamt about the struggles it once witnessed.  The Batavia shipwreck site is now listed on the National Heritage List (NHL).

'The Fort' on West Wallabi Island, after heavy rain, built by survivors of the Batavia shipwreck and massacres in 1629, the oldest European-built structure in Australia.

‘The Fort’ on West Wallabi Island, after heavy rain, built by survivors of the Batavia shipwreck and massacres in 1629, the oldest European-built structure in Australia.

There is a close connection between the Abrolhos and Norfolk.  In 1822 Captain Philip Parker King, born here in Kingston in 1791, was in charge of a surveying expedition circumnavigating the continent.  He visited the Abrolhos, and the Wallabi group in particular, noting the many dangerous rocks and channels.  In fact, his mastheadman had mistaken the islands for a cloud shadow[1].  The next day he visited the adjacent mainland, and named Mt Fairfax and Moresby’s Flat-Topped Ranges after Commander Fairfax Moresby, a man who would later play an important role in the Pitcairner’s emigration to Norfolk.  PP King was the first Australian-born Admiral in the Royal Navy, and a speaker at last year’s history conference nominated him as the Norfolk Islander who has made the greatest contribution to Australian history.

Phillip Parker King, c1816.  Image State Library NSW

Phillip Parker King, c1816. Image State Library NSW

Today I work in another NHL site by the sea, but now in the Pacific rather than the Indian Ocean.  I wonder now was it Batavia’s Graveyard that stimulated my interest in history?  Or perhaps it was my great-grandfather Harrison, the son of a convict, who was completely blind but always had an endless supply of stories about the ‘olden days’.  Who can ever really know, other than that somewhere in that long-ago almost forgotten boyhood I was bitten by the history bug, and have remained well and truly bitten ever since.

National Heritage List (NHL) Values

KAVHA’s National Heritage List statement of significance is infused with history.  It is not listed specifically for its ‘history’ as such, but historical values permeate the statement of significance.

Criterion A “Events and processes” refer to its landscapes shaped by convict and Pitcairner settlement, the role of penal systems and changes in penal philosophy, its role in the development of NSW and VDL, an example of a place of severe punishment and in fuelling the anti-transportation movement.  Criterion B “Rarity” refers to a “distinctive Polynesian/European community” and the Norf’k language.  Criterion C “Research” is about the museum collections, archaeology, and documentary archives.  Criterion D “Principal characteristics of a class of places” covers the architectural styles, the ruins, and the ‘town plan’ of Kingston.  Criterion G “Social value” covers traditional practices such as the continuing use of the cemetery as well as sporting and recreational activities across the site, and Criterion H “Significant people” lists associations with Philip Gidley King and Alexander Maconnochie.

The word ‘history’ rarely appears in the statement of significance, but all of these values are shaped by historical processes.  They span the Polynesian, convict and Pitcairner periods without distinguishing between them: they all contribute to KAVHA’s national heritage values.

The ways KAVHA’s history has been written

Historiography is the study of historians and the ways they write history.  It is about the history of the ways history has been written.  It is a history of writing history, and the study of the changing interpretation of historical events in the works of individual historians.

Any student enrolling in history at university will be introduced to historiography in the first year, and be able to enrol in ever-more detailed study of this subject as they progress through their course.

Some people find this idea quite confronting, that history is a product created by historians rather than a set of concrete scientific facts that can be discovered.  This is a huge area of debate among historians, and there are many contending schools of thought[2].  In a very general sense, there is a basic division between those who regard history writing as an art that is conveyed by story telling, and those who regard history as a science based upon statistical analysis.  In reality, there is probably no historian who belongs exclusively in one camp or the other, as all rely upon some sort of verifiable research for their information, and use some sort of story telling to make their research available to readers.

I gravitate towards the end of the ‘history is art’ part of the spectrum, to the view that narrative and story telling are central to the historians work, but that story must be drawn from and seek to explain good verifiable research.  There is no doubt in my mind that, after looking at many of the histories written about Norfolk Island, telling a good story has been upper-most in the mind of many of Norfolk’s historians or history writers.

Histories come in many forms.  There is the conventional ‘history book’, as well as in more recent times films, radio, television, videos, DVDs and so on.  Histories also come in the form of pamphlets and brochures, catalogues and guides, museum exhibitions, public artworks, websites and so on.  A heritage historian will also say that the landscape and everything in it is a history text, if you know how to read it like a book.

I have analysed 43 written histories for this paper (I know there are more, but I think that’s a representative sample), published between 1860 and 2009.  Some of them you will know, such as Lady Belcher’s The Mutineers of the Bounty, and their descendants in Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands, published in New York in 1870, or the several editions and revisions of Merval Hoare’s Norfolk Island published in Queensland between 1969 and 2003.  Others are relatively unknown, such as Florence Coombes’ School-days in Norfolk Island, published in London in 1909.  Others again may not be usually considered as ‘history’, such as Alice Buffett’s Speak Norfolk Today: an encyclopedia of the Norfolk Island language, published on Norfolk in 1999 and Sue Draper and Tracey Yager’s Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama exhibition booklet published on island in 2004.  The least known, but possibly the most radical, is Professor Raymond Nobbs’ unpublished Historical Review written in 1992 for the first KAVHA Interpretation Plan.

Overall, these publications can be talked about in several ways.

Chronologically, five predate 1914 when Norfolk Island became an Australian territory. Eleven pre-date 1979 when Norfolk achieved self-government.  The great majority (76%) have been published since 1980.  Eleven have been published since 2000 – the same quantity in the last decade as in the whole of the period before self-government.

Where have they been published?  All of the pre-1914 books were published in London, California or New York, by missionary or religiously-oriented publishers.  The pattern doesn’t really change up to the Second World War.  The first publication here on island was Britts’ The Commandants: the tyrants who ruled Norfolk Island in 1980, although the first printing of a history book on Norfolk seems to be Beryl Nobbs-Palmer’s Dictionary of Norfolk Words and Usage in 1986.  The publication details in locally published and/or printed books since 1980 don’t follow a consistent format, but I’m guessing from these details that it is in the mid-1980s that the technology and materials for printing and binding books first became available on Norfolk?

With the majority of Norfolk’s history books published since 1980, it is useful to ask whether they all tell the same story or are there particular approaches or themes that predominate.  The question is easier to ask than answer.  Based upon the content of each book, I have divided the authors into four groups: Norfolkists, Australianists, Localists and Academics.

Norfolkists tend to focus on the distinctiveness of Norfolk, especially its Pitcairner culture, and its separateness from Australia.  Australianists tend to focus on Norfolk’s connections with Australia.  Localists tend to focus on details of Norfolk’s history, often in small or discrete periods (e.g. Norfolk language, the cemetery).  They are most like local historians in mainland communities.  Academics, like the localists, have tended to focus on discrete events and studied them in their own right (e.g. the Sirius shipwreck).

The output of these groups is not even: Norfolkists account for 36% of Norfolk’s history books, Localists for 33%, Academics for 20% and the Australianists for 11%.  The ‘contest’ for readers, so to speak, is not between Norfolkists and Australianists, but between Norfolkists and Localists.  This suggests that Norfolk’s version of the history wars is being waged between two different versions of Norfolk Island history, rather then between pro-Norfolk or pro-Australia histories as might be generally supposed.

The Norfolkist histories dominated the early 1980s to the early 1990s, but have very gradually been superseded by the Localist histories in the late 1990s and late 2000s.  This trend is illustrated by looking at three key historical events.  The Bicentennial in 1988 resulted in four histories being published: one Norfolkist, one Australianist, one Localist and one Academic.  A decade later and the Centenary of Federation in 2001 saw two Localist and two Academic histories.  A half-decade later and the Sesquicentenary of the Pitcairner migration in 2006 saw two Norfolkist histories.  Apart from another Norfolkist history in 2008, the decade was dominated by Localist and Academic histories, in contrast to the Norfolkist 1980s and early 1990s.

This gradual change also reflects a change in who publishes the history books.  The Norfolkist histories tend to have been published and printed by commercial off-island publishing houses, whereas the Localist histories tend to have been self-published by their writers and printed on-island.

Coming back to the National Heritage List, it could be expected that the Australianist histories would have featured more prominently.  Why is it that, in fact, they are the smallest group of written histories?  Why do they all take a single basic form: a guide to Government House?  One of the Academic histories, Maeve O’Collins’ An Uneasy Relationship, looks at the evolution of the federal administration on the island between 1914 and the 1930s.  The Australianist histories, generally speaking, look at political power, and how it is displayed and acted out.  There is very little writing about the role of the Norfolk Island-born in Australian history, or vice versa.  Philip Parker King is emblematic of this situation, but just to mention the men and women who served during two world wars, or the aviatrix Bonnie Quintal, merely hints at a wealth of unexplored histories.

I believe there is one history book that is the key to understanding history writing on Norfolk, and that is Merval Hoare’s Norfolk Island: an outline of its history 1774-1968.

First edition of Merval Hoare's Norfolk Island, published in 1968

First edition of Merval Hoare’s Norfolk Island, published in 1968

The book is divided into four sections, each covering the a distinct period between 1774 and 1945, with a fourth period ‘The Postwar Years’ covering 1946 to the present day.  Mrs Hoare is the first writer to use the terms ‘First Penal Settlement’, ‘Second Penal Settlement’ and ‘Third Settlement: The Pitcairn Islanders’ to label the sequence of periods covered by the book.  Others had used the terms before, but usually vaguely and often only to distinguish between two convict periods.  No previous history book was organised according to this 1, 2, 3 structure.

Presumably Mrs Hoare had read many of the earlier histories, and had become accustomed to these usages.  Perhaps the idea helped her arrive at a convenient structure for her book.  Her book is notable for its time.  It was comprehensive in its coverage, it was easily readable and accessible in paperback form, and it was contemporary, bringing history right up to the present day.  Mrs Hoare had been a student at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, and brought a scholarly rigour to her research that contrasts with earlier publications.  She sought to tell a whole or complete story of Norfolk Island, which again contrasted with earlier writers.  And, with a retail price of just $3.95, it was bound to be influential.  That influence can be seen in many subsequent histories.

Both the Norfolkist and Australianist historians adopted Mrs Hoare’s first, second, third settlements structure.  An early example is a journal article by R. Nixon Dalkin published in 1971 called ‘Norfolk Island – the First Settlement 1788-1814’[3].  This structure shapes all the versions of Government House guidebooks, and also the writings of Professor Raymond Nobbs, most notably his history trilogy of First Settlement in 1988, Second Settlement in 1991 and Third Settlement in 2006.  The leading Australianists and Norfolkists both use this approach.  The Localist and Academic historians, in contrast, have not paid so much attention to this “1, 2, 3 History”.

The ways that 1, 2, 3 History has been used

The PHA (NSW) held its silver anniversary conference, Islands of History, last year here on Norfolk Island[4].  One of the speakers was Babette Smith, author of Australia’s Birthstain and several other books.  Babette’s conference paper was titled The Handover: a glimpse of men and management in the penal colonies.

Babette Smith in Kingston, April 2011.  Photo Robin Nisbet

Babette Smith in Kingston, April 2011. Photo Robin Nisbet

It is the conclusion to Babette’s paper that has captured my attention:

The end of the Norfolk Island penal colony and the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders have traditionally been treated as two separate stories. In this they are a metaphor for the disjunction in Australian history between the first half of the nineteenth century and the second. It is a gap that has allowed distortion about the convict era to flourish and so prevented Australians from achieving a realistic and profound understanding of our own society.[5]

Several issues leap out at me: the idea of two separate histories, the idea of Norfolk Island as a part of Australian history, the idea that our understandings of the convict era are distorted.  But for now, I’d just like to explore that first idea of separate histories.

This idea of separate histories is represented here on Norfolk by two forms: the periodisation of 1st, 2nd and 3rd settlements, and what might be called the ‘1855 or 1856 Disjunction’.

In 1938, the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr. Howard Mowll, in a radio broadcast to the island from St. Andrew’s Church of England in suburban Summer Hill, repeated what seems by then to have been the accepted version of the island’s history:

In 1826, convicts found guilty of additional crimes while serving sentences in New South Wales were transported there.  Like animals they lived and like animals they died.  In 1855 the second settlement was evacuated from the island and a year later the Pitcairn Islanders settled there.”[6]

You will note he said that the penal station, which he identified as the ‘second settlement’, was closed in 1855 and a year later the Pitcairners arrived in 1856.

A reading of the documents from the period reveals a different story to that given by Dr Mowll.  On 7th May 1855 the Lady Franklin and the mission boat Southern Cross left for Hobart with a large group of convicts and soldiers, leaving behind a small party of officials and convicts to maintain the island until the Pitcairners arrived.  Over a year later, they did arrive on the Morayshire, and on 8th June were greeted on the pier.  For another 2½ weeks the Pitcairners and the convicts lived together as the island was gradually handed-over to the newcomers.  On 26th June 1856 the convicts and officials sailed for Hobart on the Morayshire.  Perhaps this had been a brief, but uneasy and sullen time that the Pitcairners had not wanted to recall in their histories?  Well, what did they say about it at the time?

A seaman who attended the funeral of the infant Phiebe Addams on 15th June wrote “Every body on the island was present, and the scene was very affecting and nearly all the Europeans present were in tears[7].  The Pitcairner’s leader, Reverend George Hunn Nobbs, wrote in his journal with some empathy after burying the baby, that …we committed the mortal remains to its parent earth in that graveyard, where stands the record of many whose crimes banished them from country and friends...”[8]  Reverend Nobbs asked Governor Sir William Denison if one of the convicts, William Fields, could stay with them, but Denison refused the request[9].  Lt Howard of HMS Herald wrote in his journal that “The convicts behaved very well in the fortnight they were with the natives, teaching them to manage the stock and to plough, work the mills, drive bullocks etc. and considering the strange things horses, ploughs etc. are to people who never saw them before, they learnt a good deal.”[10]  John Buffett wrote in his journal that ‘We were treated with great kindness by the Constables and prisoners.’[11]

So, not only did the Pitcairners and the convicts live together, learning skills and making friends, but they actually seemed to enjoy their time together.  Their actual experience wasn’t one of separation and dislike, but of sharing and socialising, and formally and informally transmitting a knowledge about the island that continues to be reflected in, for example, the survival of many of the convict era place names to this day.

The Morayshire, as depicted in a large mosaic panel telling a story of Norfolk's history located in the Norfolk Airport Terminal.

The Morayshire, as depicted in a large mosaic panel telling a story of Norfolk’s history located in the Norfolk Airport Terminal.

Perhaps Dr Mowll just made a slip of the tongue with his dates?  An easy thing to do, but I think not.  It is an enduring view, repeated in many other written histories since then, that the convicts left in 1855 and the Pitcairners arrived in 1856.  It emphasizes separation and difference, and stresses a lack of continuity and commonality.  It was most recently restated this month in the preamble to the governance reform document agreed between the Federal and Territory governments.[12].

The 1855 or 1856 Disjunction is important because it shows that trying to set up separate, self-contained periods is fraught and not really achievable, even when the events that mark either side of that boundary between the periods appear at first glance to be so clear.

Dr Howard Mowll, Archbishop of Sydney 1933-1958

Dr Howard Mowll, Archbishop of Sydney 1933-1958

Dr Mowll also referred in his radio broadcast to the ‘second settlement’.  This division of Norfolk’s history is usually expressed as 1st (1788-1814), 2nd (1825-1855/56) and 3rd (1856- present) Settlements.  The break between the 1st and 2nd settlements has been strongly enforced by the heritage histories of Kingston written from the 1970s onwards.  Government House is a prime example.  The original house was built in 1804 and burnt out in 1814, then ‘renovated’ (the word used at the time) between 1826-28 and occupied in 1829 by Commandant James Morriset and his family.  The State Rooms, the kitchens and the cellars all survive from 1804, with 1820s Norfolk Island Pine joinery, but every written history dates this building to 1828 or 29.  It has been labeled in the Government House guidebooks as the 4th Government House, preceded by the 1st (1788-1792), 2nd (1792-1804), both behind the pier, and the 3rd (1804-1814) houses.  For me, the house dates from 1804 and it is time to accept that and tell its larger story.  Trying to shoehorn it into the ‘2nd Settlement’ period is only useful for maintaining this periodisation, and actually serves to obscure its earlier history just because it is, quite frankly, an inconvenient history.

These attempts to impose tidy chronological periods on Norfolk’s history, with each period distinct and hermetically sealed from each other are, I believe unsustainable.

History is messy and untidy, as revealed by the attempts to deal with the island’s Polynesian history.  Polynesian artefacts have been recovered on the island for many years.  Lieutenant Governor Phillip Gidley King noted in 1788 evidence of earlier Polynesian settlement in the form of banana groves and buried canoes, and the two Maori men, Tuki and Huru, who he brought here in 1793 recognized many of the objects that littered the landscape[13].  During the 1990s extensive archaeological excavation revealed evidence of a substantial Polynesian village behind Emily Bay.  Some writers have tried to re-label the periods as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, others have thought to collapse the two convict periods into one period to preserve the 1, 2, 3 arrangement, but neither approach has really caught on.  To add to the confusion, information was given to me last year by Dr Tim Causer, a London-based speaker at the Islands of History conference, who has found instructions to ship captains from the period between 1814 and 1825, when the island was supposed to be ‘abandoned’, to avoid the pirates based on Norfolk Island![14]  Merval Hoare wrote in the final paragraph of the First Settlement section in her Norfolk Island that “The crews of casual ships calling during the next eleven years found an empty island, quiet except for the bird song…”  So, she writes that ships called in – what for, who were they?  Perhaps we should now be talking of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th settlements?

Dr Tim Causer in Kingston, April 2011.  Photo Robin Nisbet

Dr Tim Causer in Kingston, April 2011. Photo Robin Nisbet

The 1, 2, 3 method of organising history

Breaking up the past into periods or blocks of time, and giving them names or labels, is called periodisation.  This is a way of trying to set out a framework for understand the past, such as the Tudor Dynasty or the Jurassic period.  History is a long continuum, or perhaps cycle, and in that large scale all systems of periodisation are arbitrary, often overlapping, and continually being challenged and changed.  However, periodisation is useful because it provides a tool for describing and analyzing small chunks of the past, and interpreting that past on a human scale.

Just talking about a method of periodisation makes us think about it, and whether it helps us answer the questions we might be asking.  Periodisation as such can be a useful tool for understanding the past, provided that it does not become rigid and set in stone, and used to obscure or prevent historians from researching and writing about the past in other ways.

The NHL Statement of Significance refers to the 1, 2, 3 periods, but not in a rigid way.  Historical events and processes are described to illustrate the significance of the site, but we don’t end up with anything like the first settlement being significant against one criterion and the third against another.

As I have argued, the importance of the 1855 or 1856 Disjunction is that it clearly illustrates a major problem with the 1, 2, 3 method: just when does each period begin and end.  It may be easier to consider the whole of the 1850s as a decade of change across Australasia.

As is alluded to in the Babette Smith quote, the 1850s is an important period in Australasian history.  In Victoria and New South Wales, the gold rushes of the early 1850s have the iconic role of terminating the convict era and issuing in a new era that is supposed to be the foundation of contemporary Australia. Norfolk of course lacks a gold rush period, but its place is taken by the departure of the convicts and the arrival of the Pitcairners in 1856.  In Western Australia, it is the end of the free enterprise Swan River Colony in 1850 and the arrival of the imperial convict establishment.  In New Zealand settler self-government from 1852 and the Maori King movement between 1853 and 1858 mark the period.  New Caledonia became a French penal colony in 1852.  Clearly, the 1850s was a momentous decade all across Australasia, but whether it is a distinct ‘period’ should still be regarded with a critical eye.

the 1850s began with a new colony being created by separating the Port Phillip District from New South Wales, heralding the beginning of a momentous decade of change throughout Australasia.  Image My Place

The 1850s.  Image My Place

The apparently neat periodisation of 1st, 2nd and 3rd settlements that has been used in writing Norfolk’s history by Norfolkists and Australianists actually masks a richer, wilder, more fluid and interwoven history.  How is the Polynesian period to be accounted for – do we even know if there was only one period of Polynesian settlement?  Perhaps there were more than one?  Once the periods are questioned, other questions arise.  Are the convict periods really one or two?  Does the Pitcairner period end when the majority of Pitcairn descendants are born on Norfolk rather then Pitcairn?  And so on.  Are these 1, 2, 3 periods still helping us understand the past in the early 21st century?

After I read Babette Smith’s book Australia’s Birthstain I came to different questions about the convict past and especially the invention and imposition of the convict stain.  Did the 1850s really mark the end of convictism in eastern Australia, and its commencement in Western Australia and New Caledonia, or does it mark another phase in the same story.  As transportation ended the convicts did not simply disappear.  Instead, they became the skeletons in the community closet, the measure of shameful ancestry and doubtful national characteristics, romanticized as innocent hanky-stealers or disparaged as useless dregs of the Old World.  It is a painful story than can be lost, unable to be confronted and at least some of the distortions revealed and despatched, if the past is divided into separate and unconnected periods.

Babette Smith argues that the separation of convict and Pitcairner history on Norfolk is a metaphor for a distortion in Australian history that separates the convict era from everything that follows.  The 1855 or 1856 Disjunction, and 1, 2, 3 history, are both markers of this distortion.  It is also reflected in the obscuring and even denial of earlier, non-second settlement, dating of buildings and structures such as Government House, and the ambiguity shown towards the Polynesian period.

Mainland reviewers of Norfolk histories, although few and far between, have also remarked upon these distortions.  A reviewer of Merval Hoare’s Norfolk Island (1977 edition) wrote last year that

There are surely not many places on earth where a local history can be divided up so neatly into self-contained epochs, with virtually no strands between each era. Norfolk Island was uninhabited until the Polynesian diaspora around 1100 until approximately 1400.  Interestingly, Hoare’s book does not address this phase at all, … Over half of this book is devoted to the third settlement, which is after all, the longest phase of white settlement on the island.   At times I found myself wishing that the author would draw breath and move away from the narrative a little.  For example – how did Norfolk Island intersect with the passing Pacific traffic? What was the nature of the contact between Sydney and Norfolk Island in the first and second settlements?  There are obviously sensitivities that she is tip-toeing around: the eviction of the Pitcairn/Norfolk Islanders from the abandoned Crown buildings at Kingston; the reports about homosexuality that expedited the closure of the second settlement. … I read the second edition of this book, which has an additional chapter added onto what had clearly been the conclusion.  There has since been a third edition which has no doubt added an extra chapter again.  That’s the problem with this approach- it tends to result in more farewells than Melba, or perhaps the third book of the Lord of the Rings.[15] 

Another reviewer, and biographer of Major Foveaux (the first resident of Government House), after reading Peter Clarke’s Hell and Paradise became quite irritated and wrote:

Those who have read Robert Hughes’s Fatal Shore, which I described at the Australian Identities Conference in Dublin as ‘a fine novel loosely based on history’, will recognize the name of the monster of Norfolk Island.  Riddled with emotional adjectives, Hughes’s bestseller contrives to link disconnected events, misrepresent the routine as exceptional (and the exceptional as routine), and in the case of Foveaux, create a monster worthy of Dr Frankenstein. … Hughes is matched if not outdone by Peter Clarke’s elaborate coffee table book entitled Hell and Paradise: the Norfolk-Bounty-Pitcairn Saga.  This includes a verbatim transcript of a curious passage entitled ‘Recollections by a Commandant’s Wife’, which appeared in John McMahon’s 1913 work Fragments of the Early History of Australia from 1788 to 1812.  You will also find it quoted as fact in the Norfolk Island cabaret show ‘Trial of The Fifteen’. … Now the acceptance by McMahon and later Clarke of this as a factual document, relating to Foveaux, presents us with a number of problems … [The passage is] actually an extract from an 1859 novel by George John Lang … originally published as a series of short stories in Charles Dickens’ magazine Household Words.  Dickens was obsessed with Botany Bay, and had an important role in shaping perceptions of the colony through his entirely fictitious accounts.  Much as with modern film or television depictions, fantasy became reality.[16]

Cover of Hughes' The Fatal Shore, with Bradley's 1790 illustration of the wreck of HMS Sirius off Kingston on the cover (and yes, it is meant to be upside down).

Cover of Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, with Bradley’s 1790 illustration of the wreck of HMS Sirius off Kingston on the cover.

Periodisation is not the only culprit at play here, but 1, 2, 3 History encourages the periods to be pitched against each other.  Third is better than first, which better than second, and so on, as shown by a 2008 publication which reads “[the] 6 June 1825 – a settlement date that is not celebrated on Norfolk Island…[17]

This has been taken on board by others, as illustrated by these two quotes.  A New Norfolk tourist website in Tasmania writes on their history page that:

Over the next two years more than half the island’s population were evacuated and by 1814 the settlement on Norfolk Island was abandoned, and all buildings were destroyed to discourage unauthorised occupation of the Island.   Norfolk Island was to remain uninhabited for the next 11 years, until the second settlement, but that is someone else’s story….. [18]

The Society of Pitcairn Descendants take a slightly different tack on their website:

During the first and second occupations of Norfolk Island, the island was part of the colonies of New South Wales, and later Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). However, in 1856, the Pitcairners having arrived on Norfolk Island, Queen Victoria ordered that it be a separate colony of the British Crown.[19]

The Tasmanians (that is, ‘first settlement descendants’) separate themselves from the other settlements.  The Pitcairners (that is, ‘third settlement descendants’) also separate themselves from the other settlements.  Both groups rather unwittingly assume a use of the 1, 2, 3 method.  They have both accepted, perhaps innocently, the method without question, and developed a view of the past that maintains a certain status quo and is unwelcoming of any attempt to explore what the settlements, or the people of these settlements, might have in common, such as this place Kingston that they have both shaped and been shaped by.

There is some irony in that it is the ‘second settlement’ history, apparently so reviled and unworthy of commemoration, that is the focus of the site’s World Heritage values.

If 1, 2, 3, history is no longer a sustainable method for really understanding Norfolk’s history, then what alternatives are available?

Is it time to write KAVHA’s history in different ways?

I said before that possibly the most radical of Norfolk’s recent histories is Professor Raymond Nobbs’ unpublished Historical Review written in 1992 for the first KAVHA Interpretation Plan.  It may seem that I am contradicting myself, having identified Professor Nobbs as a leading exponent of 1, 2, 3 history.  However, his unpublished history features another aspect of Merval Hoare’s Norfolk Island that tends to get lost in the 1, 2, 3 method.  While Mrs Hoare presents the first and second settlements in a rather monotone way (in that they are only about the convict experience), her treatment of the third settlement is broken up into a number of chapters covering events such as whaling, education, and laws & administration, or places such as the Melanesian Mission and the Cable Station, or phases such as turn of the century and World War Two.  She allows for a more diverse history during the third settlement, and uses themes and places to tell those stories.

Professor Nobbs attempted to take this a stage further.  His 1992 work was structured around a set of 12 themes such as the natural environment, penology, the early Pitcairners, the sea and religion & education.  He rather summarily dismisses the Polynesians by assigning them to a preliminary discussion on ‘brief encounters and visitors to Norfolk Island’.

In an inversion of Mrs Hoare’s approach to the third settlement, Professor Nobbs then subdivides each of the themes into first, second and third settlement histories.  The opportunity for using a thematic history of, say, the sea to explore the many ways people have travelled to and from the island and lived from its marine resources between 1100 and the present day was not taken, and so to the potential move beyond a periodic history was not entirely realised.

Professor Raymond Nobbs.  Photo Odyssey

Professor Raymond Nobbs. Photo Odyssey

However, Nobbs in a brief discussion on why Kingston is the focus for Norfolk’s history, stated that in writing any history of Norfolk Island “…certain essential points must be born in mind.”  These are:

  1. All time periods need to be covered beginning with volcanic activity that created the island 3 million years ago,
  2. The whole island should be covered,
  3. There is scope for local histories to be developed, especially around the Mission Lands, Anson Bay, Cascade and the National Park,
  4. All sources, including archaeology, should be used,
  5. Need to understand why the surviving structures in Kingston are mostly those associated with authority,
  6. Be aware of the wider context of British and Australian history, and
  7. There is a need to overcome an undue emphasis on the second settlement.

These ‘essential points’, combined with a thematic approach, set out an agenda for historical research and site interpretation that, had it been explored in the early 1990s, may have lead to a different historiography to that I have explored today.

By the time the final version of the KAVHA interpretation plan was prepared in 1995, the 12 themes had been reduced to four storylines: Natural & Built Environment, The Penal Environment, Island Life and Industrial & Commercial Activity.  Unfortunately, the final plan was never adopted, and this work has instead been left to gather dust.  It is perhaps ironic that nearly 20 years later the KAVHA interpretation plan currently being prepared, by a very different method of analysing the several statements of significance for the site, arrived at a set of storylines for telling the stories of the place across time that are not dissimilar: Island & Sea, Voyaging, Hell & Paradise and Living Traditions.  These storylines, however, are not subdivided into first, second and third settlement periods.  Instead, it is proposed to explore these stories through biographies and events.  I think that the 18 Days in June 1856 is a prime candidate for exploring these themes.

Which, of course, leads us back to KAVHA’s statement of significance for its entry on the National Heritage List.

Professor Nobbs, in his unpublished Historical Review, commented on the role of Kingston in Norfolk Island history:

Kingston with Arthur’s Vale is indeed the appropriate area from which much of Norfolk Island’s past can be told and on which much of its history should focus.  So much either actually occurred here, or was the place from which many events emanated, thus determining the activity on the rest of the island.

Moreover, nothing else on this scale provides such tangible evidence of the past, and nothing else so excites a feeling for the history of the island.  All three settlements had their origins here, and anyone passing through Norfolk normally disembarked here.[20]

Nevertheless, he cautioned against putting all the history eggs in one basket.  Some parts of Norfolk’s history could be better told in other places, such as St Barnabas and Cascade.  Other districts on the island should not have their own local history obscured by regarding Kingston’s history as being the same things as Norfolk’s history.  Or, to put in another way, denying that there are other local histories or indeed other ‘whole of Norfolk’ histories centred on, say, Burnt Pine or Steele’s Point or Longridge, will not increase Kingston’s significance.

The ruins of the Longridge Agricultural Station, while part of the mid-19th century convict system, also signal the possibilities for exploring local histories on Norfolk Island in their own right.

The ruins at Longridge symbolise the possibilities for exploring local histories on Norfolk Island in their own right.

The Localist historians and researchers have been quietly working in this very area of research.  Examples include Gil Hitches The Pacific War, which contains a history of early Burnt Pine, Robert Tofts’ Whaling Days which looks at a single industry from the 1790s to the 1960s without needing to use a 1, 2, 3 structure, Helen Sampson’s Over the Horizon which reveals a distinctive Polynesian history for Emily and Cemetery Bays, and the two cemetery histories by R. Nixon Dalkin and Shane Quintal that provide Kingston’s east end with its own special character.

These histories have all avoided the 1, 2, 3 method, showing that it can be done.  At the local level, inclusive histories have been and are being written.  Perhaps what is needed now is a local history of Kingston & Arthur’s Vale that can draw out its several hundred years of human activities.  A thematic approach would help to rescue the town from bearing the burden of telling all of Norfolk’s history.

The convicts and the Pitcairners did share this place, especially Kingston and presumably at least Longridge and Cascade as well, even if only for 18 days, and they enjoyed and learnt from that time together.

Norfolk Island was once central to writing about Australian history, but over the last three or four decades it has simply vanished from the gaze of Australian historians (with the regrettable exception of Robert Hughes’ Fatal Shore, still echoing Dr Mowll’s fanciful view of ‘like animals they lived, and like animals they died’)[21].  My hypothesis is that the rise of 1, 2, 3 history, while potentially giving everyone their own segregated ‘patch’ of the past to write about, has actually deterred historians from considering the inclusion of Norfolk Island in a bigger history.  Instead, they have avoided an apparently exclusive history, possibly in some cases by a sensitivity to what they perceive to be the cultural mores of a ‘foreign’ society.  For example, is the historical knowledge that women on Norfolk had the vote between 1856 and 1897 adequately explained by saying “we did it first”, or could that story be explored to see whether it influenced the gaining of votes by women in New Zealand in 1893, South Australia in 1894, Western Australia in 1899, and eventually New South Wales and the Commonwealth in 1902?  I earlier referred to Philip Parker King, the armed forces and Bonnie Quintal as islanders influential on a national scale.  This is a hypothesis to be further explored.

KAVHA’s NHL statement of significance provides a set of values that can be tested using a thematic approach to history and story telling.  Doing this in a way that avoids the 1, 2, 3 method is the challenge.  It provides us with a research agenda for the future.

History writing in Norfolk and the rest of Australia has given us a distorted view of the past that now needs to be challenged if history is to be a part of, as Babbette Smith says, “achieving a realistic and profound understanding of our own society”.  And, I would add, the possibility of Kingston being the site of a new and inclusive way forward.

[1] Captain Phillip P. King RN, Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coats of Australia performed between the years 1818 and 1822, Vol. II, John Murray, London 1827: Chapter 4 passim, especially entries for 17th and 18th January 1822.

[2] For a recent example, and good summary of these debates, see Ann Curthoys and John Docker, Is History Fiction?, UNSW Press, Sydney 2006/2010.

[3] Dalkin, R. Nixon, ‘Norfolk Island – the First Settlement 1788-1814’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 57, Part 3, September 1971

[4] “Islands of History”, 25th Anniversary Conference of the Professional Historians’ Association (NSW), Governer’s Lodge, Norfolk Island, 18-25 July 2010

[5] Babette Smith, The Handover: a glimpse of men and management in the penal colonies, unpub MSS, paper presented at ‘Islands of History’ Conference.

[6]‘Norfolk Island: Progress Over 150 Years’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7th March 1938: 8

[7] Quoted in Shane Quintal, The Pitcairn Islanders of Town Cemetery Norfolk Island, the author, Norfolk Island 2008: 15

[8] Quoted in Raymond Nobbs, George Hunn Nobbs 1799-1884: Chaplain on Pitcairn and Norfolk Island, The Pitcairn Descendants Society, Norfolk Island 1984: 53

[9] Quoted in Nobbs: 64, 75

[10] Quoted in Quintal, op.cit: 10.

[11] Quoted in Smith., op. cit.

[12] Norfolk Island Roadmap, printed paper, dated 2nd March 2011, tabled in Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly, 9th March 2011

[13] Helen Sampson, Over the Horizon: the Polynesian settlement on Norfolk Island, the author, Norfolk Island 2005: 1

[14] pers. Comm., July 2010

[15] The Resident Judge of Port Phillip, review posted 17th November 2010, at accessed 11th April 2011.

[16] Whitaker, Anne-Maree, ‘From Norfolk Island to Foveaux Strait: Joseph Foveaux’s role in the Expansion of Whaling and Sealing in Early Nineteenth Century Australasia’, The Great Circle, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2004: 51-59

[17] Hubber, Brian, A Place of Angels and Eagles: the story of Norfolk Island, Norfolk Island Museums, Kingston 2008: 16

[18] ‘New Norfolk, Capital of the Derwent Valley’, History page,, accessed 11th April 2011.

[19] ‘Norfolk Island: The Website’, Government page,, accessed 11th April 2011

[20] Nobbs, op. cit.: 2

[21] for example, articles about Norfolk Island history published in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society increased then declined from 3 before the centenary of the Pitcairner migration in 1956, to 4 between 1956 and 1969, then none since, despite the foundation of the Norfolk Island Historical Society in 1964 and its continuing affiliation with the Royal Australian Historical Society.