Monarchies, Decolonisation and Royal Legacies in the Asia-Pacific | An Excellent Conference

Chinese monarchists and revolutionaries lobby Chinese leaders in Sydney for support c1908. Image source.

The 6 and 7 of December 2017 were marked by the third annual conference on monarchies at the University of Sydney.  I have attended all three, and each year they have just gotten better and more assured, like a good red!

There were 13 scheduled papers, with three additional papers and a final roundtable discussion, plus a conference dinner all of which made for a packed and stimulating two days.  Geographically, the papers touched upon almost all points in an area roughly bounded by India, China, Japan, Australasia, Samoa and Hawaii, with a particular focus in two sessions on Indonesia and the Netherlands East Indies.  The dynasties were indigenous, such as Norodom (Cambodia), Hamengkubuwono (Yogyakarta), Tupou (Tonga) and Yamato (Japan), as well as colonial Hanover, later Windsor (India, New South Wales) and Orange-Nassau (Netherlands New Guinea).

Juliana, Queen of the Netherlands, portrait on 10 Guilder note, Netherlands New Guinea. Image Source.

Several themes emerged from the papers, each responding in some way to the conference title ‘Monarchies, Decolonisation and Royal Legacies in the Asia Pacific’.  Papers also touched upon sources and raised further issues for future research.

Some general observations are useful at this point.  The distinctions between settler and plantation colonies were not as sharp as I expected (or as Imperial historiography had lead me to believe).  There seems to be as much overlap and continuity as there is difference.  The symbolism of monarchies and crowns was treated seriously in all the papers, rather than regarded as something ‘soft’ or curious and not really suited to thoughtful study.  Female royals such as queens and vicereines seem much more evident in Asia Pacific royal history than in Australian history, although I suspect that may be a historiographical rather than historical affect?  The new technologies that came with colonialism produced records, especially visual records such as photographs, that are increasingly available for research.  This was also evident in earlier conferences where speakers touched upon, for example, the rapidly developing technologies that shortened long-distance travel and brought royals and subjects into closer contact.


The major storylines (for me) arising from the papers fall into five main themes: historiographical biases, change and continuity, power relationships, religious relationships and symbolism.  I touch upon each below, in a fairly generalised way that I hope will not identify anyone’s specific work or reveal new and innovative ideas and projects they are working on before they are ready for publication.

Victoria, Empress of India, 1876-1901  Image source.

Historiographical exclusions

Many speakers referred to the absence, or very limited, attention given to imperial and indigenous monarchies during the huge transitions across the Asia Pacific between the 1940s and 1970s.  Nationalist historians, writing as colonial powers withdrew from or abandoned erstwhile territories, largely ignored monarchical and viceroyal forms and practices.  This has deeper implications, for example in settler societies such as New South Wales a failure to notice the contribution of locally-resident Chinese intellectuals, within the framework of common British subjecthood, to wider debates about citizenship.  Another effect has been the largely invisible exclusion of viceroyal histories from Australian nationalist histories.

Historiographical biases have occasionally been raised in earlier conferences, but were this year a more persistent theme, all the more remarkable for being identified across so many areas.  This has much potential to receive more attention in the future as ‘national’ historiographies are re-examined by newer, younger eyes not so bounded by twentieth-century borders.

Elizabeth II, Queen of Ceylon, 1952-1972 Image source.


Change and continuity

Many papers explicitly or implicitly challenged ideas of monarchies as timeless and unchanging structures.  The active insertion by several speakers of temporal dimensions into the study of sovereigns and reigns reinforced perhaps counter-intuitive ideas of royal identities being retained through change, not stasis.

Crowns are engaged in continual processes of re-making and re-imagining, some more effectively than others.  This can be seen through the co-option of western trappings of monarchy, especially in Pacific island kingdoms, or the presentation of royals as exemplars of middle class respectability.  Another lens was articulated through arguments over whether royal change was a return to original, purer forms of monarchy or a transformation into new democratic institutions; whether ancient rituals were being reinstated in older forms stripped on later accretions, or were rituals being commodified for consumption by newly-wealthy consumer cultures.

A third perspective, or perhaps group of inter-related perspectives, could be heard in arguments over whether the retention of indigenous monarchies at the end of a colonial period was intended to keep old elites within the new nation-states, even if, in retrospect, this often turned out to be transitional rather than permanent.  This view segues into the divisibility of the British crown and the creation of the ‘tropical dominions’, the very diverse uses of the royal prerogative by viceroyals and, I think, an emergence of viceroyalty as a distinct ‘type’ of monarchy.  Some of these papers hark back to Miles Taylor’s key note at the first conference in which he identified the viceroyal use of royal prerogatives as an area in need of research, an area the third conference presages as likely to grow in the future.

Standard of the Governor General of India, 1947-1950. Image source.

Relationships and power

This is a theme that might seem rather ‘standard’ in any study of monarchy, but when discussions move to models of monarchical authority within imperial contexts, such as a centre-periphery model versus network models, and questions of how types of monarchies reflect conceptions of power and state, some assumptions can be challenged.  The primacy of metropolitan centres may be unquestioned from a European perspective, but from an Asia Pacific perspective they have to be questioned.  Imperial subjects, whether indigenous or settler, lived within more polycentred societies in which viceroyalty and indigenous aristocracies may be just a splendid, and more tangible, than far-away Europe.

One fascinating entrée into this theme came through art history, with the active competition between indigenous and colonial artists for painting or photographic royal and viceroyal portraits, in which subjects are depicted in both indigenous and imperial costumes.  This seems to challenge ideas of a simple one-way Western re-imagining of indigenous monarchies through Orientalist lens.

Another avenue came through papers in which monarchs or dynasties form alliances with non-elite or minority groups that, again, seems counter-intuitive.  Tentative links between these alliances and the role of petition cultures in colonial societies, both settler and plantation, are suggested, as were symbolic and competitive relationships between royals and political classes.  This in turn leads to considering the complexities of the intergenerational transmission of titles and roles in indigenous dynasties and power structures, complexities that could be misunderstood by colonial powers, or could be very well understood and manipulated to imperial ends.  Scholars need to distinguish between positions taken today by leadership/elite groups and local/family/clan groups within indigenous communities about historical and contemporary monarchies, and avoid conflating these dynamics.

A final thought in power relationships arose in discussing ways the decolonising of museums, and repatriation of cultural materials, brings indigenous/monarchical relationships to the fore, and can reveal long histories of educating imperial royals about indigenous people, strongly suggesting the need to better consider indigenous agency in indigenous/crown relationships, especially when mediated through imperial art and museum collecting practices.

Prince William receives gifts from Aboriginal elders in Central Australia, 2014. Image source.

Prince William offered in 2014 to help find and repatriate Pemulwuy’s remains from a British museum. Image source.

Relationships and religion

Another timely theme was the complex relationships between crowns and religions.  One area this was explored was in the transitions from one dominant religion to another, such as from Hindu to Muslim in Java.  Another was the role of Christianity (or perhaps more specifically particular Christian denominations) in shaping and developing new court forms drawing on both indigenous and European practices, such as in Tonga.  A third area touched upon contemporary royals as defenders of civil society against political and religious fundamentalism. This was a disparate theme, but one which I suspect carries a lot of promise for future research.

The Sultan of Johore defends his secular kingdom in 2016. Image source.


It seemed to me that papers from scholars working mainly in Asian rather than European studies were more conscious of distinctions and relationships between symbolic and worldly or temporal power, and less likely to regard the symbolic as being of lesser significance.

Distinctions between symbolic and temporal or worldly roles and authority helped to draw-out considerations of the symbolic powers indigenous monarchs retained when colonial administrations took over day-to-day decision making.  Another was the many ways in which indigenous monarchies and aristocracies were incorporated into imperial honours systems, which seems to have been more widespread than just the British Empire.  The phrase “Ornamentalist community of interest” may be a way to go beyond Cannadine’s original thesis.  The importance of understanding dynastic or internal quarrels over symbolic authority as more than personal desires or vanity was also touched upon.

New technologies also have a role to play, illustrated by the use of photography in connecting indigenous and imperial monarchs and visually revealing one to the other, and pointed to ideas of how cosmopolitanism can be accommodated with ideas of imperial subjecthood.

Bharani Thirunal Lakshmi, the Senior Rani of Travancore, wearing the insignia of a Companion of the Order of the Crown of India.  Image source.

The Princess of Wales, later Queen Alexandra, wearing the insignia of a Companion of the Order of the Crown of India.  Image source.

The Order of the Crown of India was established by the Empress Victoria in 1878, and membership was only open to royal, aristocratic and viceroyal British and Indian women.  Its better-known Australian members were Lady Caroline Denison (vicereine, Van Diemen’s Land, Norfolk Island and New South Wales, 1847-1860) and the Duchess of Gloucester (vicereine, Australia 1944-1947).


Moving on from the themes evident across papers, some speakers also drew attention to sources beyond political or administrative archives.  Art, especially portraiture, was one such source, and within (although not entirely) art history, being attentive to styles of clothing and dress, and to the accoutrements and backgrounds framing the subject of a painting can suggest avenues for research beyond the paper archive.  Photographs, and their provenance, were also skilfully deployed in some papers, and offered one way of gaining perspectives from a subject’s point of view on royal, viceroyal and aristocratic institutions and personalities.  Obtaining such perspectives was a point of discussion on several occasions.

A closer reading of the forms and rituals of courts, whether royal, viceroyal or aristocratic, were highlighted by several papers, as was the architecture and landscapes of viceroyal residences.  The evolution of these forms and styles has some element of organic response, some element of intention and design, but commonly they have a capacity to be read for underlying power and spiritual/religious relationships, and changes and adaptations in those relationships, and to understand the formation of new symbolic relationships between sovereigns and subjects in colonial environments.

Queen Salote Tupou III of Tonga, r. 1918-1965. Image source.

Future research issues

By the end of the conference, I think several discrete areas for future research were clearly evident.  The first of these is the language and vocabularies of ‘monarchy’.  These need to be better understood, even if only to provide some common ground for shared conversation.  Asian Pacific monarchical structures are not the same as European, and European monarchies had to be adapted to Asia Pacific societies which, in some cases, had in turn to adapt to imperial ideas of monarchy.  I think these are better approached as iterative and mutable processes that require particular vocabularies.  Many indigenous titles and hierarchies are not easily translatable into English or European languages, and these more nuanced understandings need to be comprehended by scholars today who do not need to ‘simplify’ such structures for imperial audiences.  Royalty, viceroyalty, aristocracy, nobility, gentry and commonalty are not all the same, and better understandings of historical and contemporary vocabularies will help avoid their conflation if multiple power and symbolic relationships are to be understood.

The second area of research lies in power and symbolic relationships.  One is understanding the ways indirect rule created or reinforced new monarchies and dynasties who can be understood, not as subservient to imposed empire, but as classes in transition.  There is a need to ask who is involved in these processes, and why.  Polycentric power structures and systems need to be identified and comprehended, especially if these are counterpoints to singular imperial hierarchies in which all roads lead to a European metropole.  A related area is to ask how viceroys and colonial administrations understood the popular power and authority (or claims to such authority) by indigenous monarchs and rulers, and vice versa.

As the colonial era transitioned into the era of the nation-state during the mid-20th century, I think it is worth considering the strategic choosing of sides by indigenous monarchs, such as Cambodia, Yogyakarta and Hyderabad, even Japan.  Not all indigenous monarchies failed to survive the transition, so what strategic, long term thinking did they employ, how were they able to transform themselves, and why did some fail where others succeeded?  What was the role of relationships between newly professionalising colonial administrations and local aristocrats in preparing (or not) for such transitions.  Finally, it would be useful to ask who rejected royal forms of government in new post-colonial states, and who benefited from such rejection?

Her Royal Highness Princess Mangkubumi, Crown Princes of Yogyakarta.  Image source.

Spatial and material issues

The third area for research, I think, lies in spatial and material history.  Palaces, Residencies, Government Houses – such imperial or royal sacred spaces become desacralised when monarchs are overthrown and dynasties terminated, but which is cause and consequence, and how iterative is such a process?  How much reliability can be given to statements/ or inferences by political classes and curators that post-royal or viceroyal estates are ‘opened up’ as popular museums?  Can narratives of museumising spaces/places be read and questioned as analogies or metaphors for reconceptualising a crown or dynasty as historical and past?  In order to deal with such matters, it is necessary to consider the cultural imaginaries provoked and maintained through the architecture and landscapes of such residences.  I make a special plea, here, for greater attention to ‘built heraldry’ in viceroyal settings.  There is some relevant literature on European and Brazilian examples, but they can’t be applied uncritically to the Asia Pacific – which leads back, in a way, to questions of language and vocabulary.

Government House Sydney. Image B. Baskerville.

Finally …

I hope this conference report will convey some sense of the scope of contemporary, ‘right now’, work on royal histories from Australasian (in the older, looser sense of ‘south of Asia’ or ‘southeastern Asia’) or perhaps ‘Tenggara’ perspectives.  These perspectives have some resonances with similar work in Europe but also have some distinctive Austral-Asian characteristics.  However, this report may imply a coherence and specific research program that does not really exist.  As far as I know, none of the conference speakers focuses exclusively on royal history or court studies, and they come from a diverse range of disciplinary fields.  Compared to similar studies in Europe the field is in its infancy, but it also has its own particularities that are beginning to develop (see programs below).  Professor Robert Aldrich and Dr Cindy McCreery, both of the University of Sydney’s History Department, are the leaders in this development, and I look forward too much more original and innovative work to appear in the future.  Roll on ‘Monarchies Conference No 4’!

Conference Programs: No 1 Crowns and Colonies: Monarchies and Colonial Empire, 2014, No 2 Royals on Tour: The Politics and Pageantry of Royal Tours, 2015, No 3 Monarchies, Decolonisation and Royal Legacies in the Asia-Pacific, 2017.


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.

Bound for the Norfolk Plains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brickenden, built for William Archer in 1828

Brickenden, built for William Archer in 1828

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] Ibid: 7

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

[6] ibid 14

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

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

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

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

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

‘Yes-No’ South Sydney: the federation referenda of 1898 and 1899

‘Yes-No’ South Sydney: a brief study of how the people of South Sydney voted in the two federation referenda of 1898 and 1899.

 A Centenary of Federation 1901-2001 essay

Looking back, it all seems so inevitable. Federation. Could we imagine the Australian continent divided into six separate countries – a Republic of New South Wales, a Dominion of Western Australia, and so on? Could we imagine an Australia without the Anzacs?, without Qantas? Could we imagine a national flag without the southern cross and federation star? Could we imagine a country without a capital named Canberra? Could we imagine border disputes, perhaps even wars, between say New South Wales and Queensland over land use in the headwaters of the Darling River? Could we imagine that the word ‘Australia’ was merely a geographical description? Federation – it seems so sensible, so logical, so inevitable. But, was it always so?

‘Yes-No South Sydney’

The men of what is today the City of South Sydney voted for delegates to a Federation Convention in 1897 and in two referenda in 1898 and 1899 on the question of whether to federate. Women in New South Wales did not gain the vote until 1902. The results of the men’s voting suggest the possibilities of alternate histories, of federation today not being at all inevitable, of there being no Commonwealth of Australia.

English: Boundaries of the City of South Sydne...

Boundaries of the City of South Sydney (1989-2003) at the time of the Centenary of Federation in 2001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The New South Wales Premier of the time, George Reid, was nicknamed ‘Yes-No’ Reid for his equivocation over whether to recommend a yes or no vote in the federation referendum of 1898. It is an epithet that could perhaps also be applied to the male South Sydneysiders of a century ago.

George Reid (Australian politician)

‘Yes-No’ Reid – New South Wales and later Federal politician George Reid: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is interesting to consider some of the referendum results of 1898 and 1899. In 1898 the ‘no’ case in South Sydney won the day with 51% of the vote, while in 1899 the situation reversed when the ‘yes’ vote just reached 52%. Between the two referenda the ‘yes’ vote increased slightly in each of the South Sydney electorates except Redfern where the ‘no’ vote increased and Paddington where it stayed equally divided 50:50. The most consistent ‘no’ voters were in Erskineville, Newtown-St. Peters and Woolloomooloo, while the strongest ‘yes’ vote (of 57%) was recorded in Darlinghurst in the 1899 referendum. Generally, the more working class the electorate, the more likely it was to vote ‘no’. Thus, Woolloomooloo recorded a 54% ‘no’ vote and Newtown-St. Peters recorded a 58% ‘no’ vote in the 1898 referendum. In contrast the ‘yes’ votes were concentrated around the university in Campderown, the wealthier heights of Darlinghurst, and the city side of Surry Hills. The biggest change between the two referenda was in Waterloo, where a 54% ‘no’ vote became a 53% ‘yes’ vote.

Why two referenda, and why such results? The first question is fairly straight-forward to answer, the second rather more complicated. Voters in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia voted in a referendum on 3rd June 1898 on whether to accept federation. In New South Wales the parliament required the ‘yes’ vote to be greater than 80 000 for the referendum to pass. In the event, the number of ‘yes’ votes was only 71 595 – although 5 300 more than the ‘no’ vote. Following the failure of the referendum the colonial premiers met in secret and agreed to several changes to the proposed federal constitution. These changes included more power for the House of Representatives relative to the Senate, and locating the federal capital somewhere in New South Wales. The New South Wales parliament removed the 80 000 votes requirement, and a second referendum was held in five colonies (this time including Queensland). On the 20th June 1899 the referendum passed in NSW, 107 420 ‘yes’ votes to 82 741 ‘no’ votes.

The second question of why such results in South Sydney is a little more complex to answer, and involves issues of labour and capital, catholic and protestant, votes for women, and white Australia. South Sydney is one of the birthplaces of the Australian Labor Party, and the 1896 party conference called for election to the proposed House of Representatives and the Senate to be on a population basis, and was critical of the proposed equal representation of the states in the senate as being undemocratic. In 1897 the party called for a single chamber federal parliament, and the use of the citizen’s initiative referendum. The party ran candidates for election to the Federation Convention in 1897 but, like the catholic candidates, failed to have any elected. It then campaigned for a ‘no’ vote in the 1898 referendum and, although Premier Reid succeeded in having the proposed constitution amended to reflect some of the Labor Party’s concerns, it also campaigned for a ‘no’ vote in 1899.

This badge from 1906 shows the use of the expr...

This badge from 1906 shows the use of the expression “White Australia” at that time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Party was, however, supportive of the possibility of extending the colonial white Australia policies across the whole continent by a federal government. They particularly criticized the immigration and use of coloured labour in Queensland and the pearling industry of northern Australia. There was a constantly reiterated fear of coloured labour being paid lower wages than white labour, and thus driving white wages downwards. Keeping Chinese and Pacific Islanders, in particular, out of Australia was argued as the best way of raising white wages. All of the elected Convention delegates subscribed to a White Australia Policy for this or other reasons.

At least two of the Convention delegates favoured votes for women. Action to achieve such a goal in the proposed federal constitution was spearheaded by the Women’s Federal Leagues. The League had been founded during the 1898 referendum campaign in Sydney by Maybanke Wolstenholme, and early in 1899 a second branch was founded by the Lady Mayoress of Sydney, Mrs Helen Harris. How much the functions and activities of the Leagues influenced the votes of the men of South Sydney requires further research, but it may be relevant to note that the two supporters of women’s suffrage at the Federation Convention where amongst the five delegates who also supported restricting the powers of the proposed Senate – a goal of the Labor Party.

The respectable women of the Women’s Federal Leagues, however, were also supported to varying degrees by the liberal, middle class men of the Australasian Federation League and the Young Men’s Federal Convention. The Federation Leagues had begun in the Riverina border towns in the early 1890s, and when a meeting was called to form a League in Sydney Town Hall in mid-1893 it was disrupted by Labor Party leaders who attempted to have a resolution made supporting a ‘democratic republic’. The Young Men’s Federal Convention had originated in the St. Paul’s Young Men’s Union in Redfern, and its convention in Castlereagh Street in early 1897 drew about 250 professional men aged under 30. Their Convention argued for the Crown, for two houses of parliament and a strong senate, for the federal capital to be in Sydney, and for federation to go ahead without Queensland if required. These men generally supported a strong senate with equal representation from each state, which distanced them from the Labor Party goals.

Thus, when the men of South Sydney voted in 1898 there were clear divisions between the working and professional classes. They all supported a White Australia (for different reasons), but differed on most other issues with the powers of the proposed senate being a symbol of those differences. Following the failure of the first referendum Premier Reid had succeeded in having the proposed federal constitution amended to reflect some of the Labor Party concerns regarding the senate, and to have the capital located in New South Wales as advocated by the Young Men. These changes appear to have influenced at least some of the men of South Sydney to change their vote. It is notable that the ‘yes’ vote in the city side of Surry Hills increased from 51% to 56%. This was the location of Sydney’s Chinatown at that time and, despite the threat of a continental White Australia Policy under federation, the Chinese men were reported to favour federation as it would remove the harassment they continually faced at the inter-colonial border posts.

A complex web of motivations can be seen here influencing how the men of South Sydney cast their votes in the federation referenda. The change between the two referenda was not great, although it changed the balance from narrow support for the ‘no’ case to narrow support for the ‘yes’ case. This contrasts with the strong support shown in the border districts and the north coast where the ‘yes’ vote reached into 80 and 90 percentage points. The men of South Sydney, working class and professional, did have an influence of the shape of the federal constitution in areas such as the powers of the senate and the location of the new federal capital, and early Commonwealth legislation such as the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 which implemented a national White Australia Policy and the Franchise Actof 1902 whereby white women gained the vote nationally and in NSW.

Federation Monument, Grand Dr, Centennial Park...

The Federation Pavilion in Centennial Park, Sydney enclosing the ‘Commonwealth Stone’ on the site where the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed on 1st January 1901.  (Photo credit: trent shepherd)

The South Sydneysiders of a century ago were not whole-hearted federalists and many were no doubt attracted to the rival proposals by the nationalists for NSW to be a separate country, and the unificationists for New South Wales and Victoria to merge as a single nation without the rest of the colonies in Australasia. In the end, the results were accepted, and South Sydneysiders were no doubt heavily represented amongst the 250 000 people who lined the great parade route through the city and into Centennial Park where the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed at 1pm on the 1st of January 1901.

The new Commonwealth established some of its first functions in South Sydney: the High Court sat for the first time in 1903 in Darlinghurst Courthouse, the first headquarters of the defence forces established in 1901 was in Victoria Barracks, Paddington, and the Commonwealth Pensions Office was first located in Chalmers Street, Surry Hills. Interestingly, these were the ‘yes’ vote areas.

Darlinghurst Court House, Sydney

First seat of the High Court of Australia: Darlinghurst Court House, Sydney (Photo credit: State Records NSW)

It is important to understand, therefore, that federation was not inevitable. It is a historical processes that continues today, and it has many varied causes that can be explained and understood. South Sydneysiders today may be more enthusiastic about federation (or at least, about being Australian) but history shows that we cannot inflict that enthusiasm on our forebears, but instead must strive to understand their motivations in their times for what was simply one of several alternate futures.

Premier ‘Yes-No’ Reid probably reflected the mixed attitudes of ‘Yes-No’ South Sydneysiders a lot more than he realised.


This essay was written by Bruce Baskerville, and presented at a public forum organised by South Sydney Heritage Society Inc. and South Sydney City Council as a Centenary of Federation event, at the new Florence Bartlett Library in Kings Cross on Saturday, 20th January 2001.

The right of Bruce Baskerville to be identified as the moral rights author of this work is hereby asserted in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968 of the Commonwealth of Australia.

A Walking Tour of O’Connell Town (now Newtown), NSW

A Walking Tour of O’Connell Town & parts of Bligh’s Terrace, (now all now called Newtown), in the inner-west of Sydney, New South Wales.


Begin at the corner of Church Street and Federation Street, Newtown, then follow Church Street, Raper Street, Hordern Street, Chalder Street, Egan Street and Prospect Street, in O’Connell Town, then cross over O’Connell Street into Campbell Street, Susan Street, Stephen Street and Victoria Street, back across O’Connell Street again to leave Bligh’s Terrace and return to O’Connell Town along Victoria Street, Egan Street, Mechanic Street and Victoria Street again to the junction with Church Street, and end at the gates of Camperdown Cemetery and St. Stephen’s Anglican Church.

Estimated time:
about 1 – 2 hours, depending on time available, the weather, your interest, and so on.


Look at any street directory of the Camperdown and Newtown area and the neat little patchwork of squares between Church Street, King Street, Missenden Road and Carillon Avenue stand out among the jumble of surrounding roadways. This street pattern reflects the historical development of Newtown from farms to villa estates, each then subdivided with little regard for neighbouring subdivisions. This tour focuses on the patchwork exception.

In the beginning . . .

The tour area covers the centre of Governor William Bligh’s Camperdown Estate, granted to him in 1806 by his outgoing predecessor, Governor King. He named it Camperdown after the site of a naval battle he had fought in off the Dutch coast. By the 1840s the Estate has passed into the hands of Sir Maurice O’Connell.

Portrait of Rear Admiral William Bligh by Alex...

Portrait of Rear Admiral William Bligh by Alexander Huey, 1814 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maurice O’Connell arrived in Sydney with the 73rd Regiment of Foot in 1809, and the next year he married Mary Putland, widowed daughter of Governor Bligh. Mary was a headstrong woman, with an open hostility to her father’s enemies and a sense of dress that shocked many of her contemporaries. On one occasion she was laughed at by soldiers when she wore a diaphanous gown to church. By 1813, Governor Macquarie wanted the 73rd removed from the colony because Mary

…naturally enough, has imbibed strong feelings of resentment and hatred against all those Persons and their Families, who were in the least inimical to her Father’s Government … tho’ Lieut. Colonel O’Connell is naturally a very well disposed Man, he allows himself to be a good deal influenced by his Wife’s strong rooted Prejudices against the old Inhabitants of this country who took any active part against Governor Bligh.

The regiment sailed for Ceylon the next year.

0197 Sir Maurice Charles O'Connell and Lady O'...

0197 Sir Maurice Charles O’Connell and Lady O’Connell (Photo credit: GSofV)

In 1838, the O’Connell’s returned to Sydney, with the now Sir Maurice in command of the military forces in the colony. Lady Mary O’Connell soon made her presence felt when she had ejection notice served upon most of the residents and institutions in Parramatta claiming that the land was part of her inheritance. Eventually, a settlement was reached whereby the Parramatta land was forfeited but her ownership of all the other estates were confirmed. These included Camperdown Estate. In 1842, this estate was subdivided and sales began to be made, with the huge sum of £25,000 being eventually received. Most of the blocks were villa allotments between 800m2 and 2 hectares in size, but around this area smaller residential lots and streets were marked out.

It is interesting to note that O’Connell Town, as the village became known, was strategically sited on the highest part of the estate, and designed to a tight grid plan, with views over the surrounding countryside and main roads (hence Prospect Street) – this probably suggests Sir Maurice’s military background. The village was presumably also intended as a service centre for the surrounding villa estates, hence Mechanic Street and Brick Street (now Victoria Street), with the colony’s first modern cemetery bounding the west. To the east of O’Connell Town two further urban subdivisions named Bligh’s Terrace and Camperdown Terrace stretched along the north side of King Street with a more middle class ambience. A ‘terrace’, in this sense, meant a row of houses on the top or face of a slope, and the streets are all long and follow the contour of the Orphan School Creek catchment. Graceful feminine names such as Susan, Isabella and Elizabeth replaced the utilitarian street names of O’Connell Town, and two squares, one for the Church of England and the other (Sarah Square) for recreation, provided more salubrious open space than the burial ground.

During the winter of 1846, Sir Maurice was Acting Governor, and Lady Mary was again resident in Government House. The symbolism of such a return to the scene of her father’s ousting must have been greatly pleasing to Mary. In 1848, the O’Connell’s were preparing to return to England when Sir Maurice suddenly died at their Potts Point mansion, ‘Tarmons’. The body was interred in the Devonshire Street cemetery (now the site of Central Station), but was soon after shifted to Camperdown Cemetery as the first burial in the new graveyard. Lady Mary then spent some years in Paris before retiring to Gloucester, where she died in 1863.

On tour . . .

  1. Vista from the corner of Church Street and Federation Street. The view from this corner encompasses the greensward of Camperdown Memorial Rest Park and the landmark of St. Stephen’s church spire and the enclosing sandstone wall on one side, and the village of terraces and cottages gathered around the base of the church on the other.

    Newtown, Sydney, St Stephen's Church seen from...

    Newtown, Sydney, St Stephen’s Church seen from Camperdown Memorial Rest Park, south side (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  2. Raper Street timber houses Almost all of the remaining 19th century timber buildings (workers and artisan housing) in Newtown are located on the fringes of O’Connell Town (Hordern, Raper, northern O’Connell and Susan Streets). Virtually all of the 29 identified timber houses in Newtown are located within this area. The clustering of timber houses on the fringes of O’Connell Town contrasts with the brick houses of the same period in the centre of the village, and indicates that the social strata within the village were clearly marked out. These timber houses are a combination of refurbished older buildings and sensitively designed infill buildings of the 1980s.
  3. The street marks the centre of Raper’s Paddock. This followed the northern boundary of O’Connell Town, and was used at various times as a cattleyard and a dairy. In 1877 the paddock was subdivided and ‘joined’ to O’Connell Town by extending Hordern and O’Connell Streets and creating Chalder Street.
  4.  Federation terraces, 50-74 Egan Street. ‘Raper House’ once occupied this site looking northwards over Rapers Paddock. Canon Taylor, minister at St. Stephen’s between 1868 and 1907, apparently used the house for many years as a parsonage. In 1910 a new Rectory was built in Church Street, next to the church, and soon after Raper House was demolished and replaced by this row of 13 single storey terraces.  This is the longest single terrace row in this part of Newtown. It is built in the Queen Anne style – note the coloured lights in the windows, the filigree workwork and the tuck-pointed, polychrome face bricks. The houses remain in remarkably intact condition – note that none of the brickwork has been painted, and few alterations seem to have been made to the facades. Building such long rows of terrace housing was uncommon by 1911, and only seventeen other terraces from this period have been identified in the whole of South Sydney.
  5.  1960s walk-ups, Prospect Street. These red brick ‘walk-ups’ date from the 1960s, and are so-named because the upper levels are only accessible by stairs, not lifts. They are illustrative of public housing built throughout the inner city and elsewhere during that period, and were portrayed at the time as the modern answer to the ‘slum’ housing said to characterise the inner city.
  6.  old civic area, corner Longdown Street and Missenden Road. The first Post Office in present-day Newtown operated from a building in Bligh’s Terrace somewhere between Missenden Road and Stephen Street from the early 1850s until 1882. The Municipality of Newtown was proclaimed in December 1862, and the building was also used for Council meetings between 1863 and 1866. In 1866 the town clerk, Mr W Mackay, was committed on forgery charges. As well as the Post Office and Council Chambers, the Anglican Church contributed to the civic nature of this precinct.
  7. Creating a civic space here, however, was subverted almost from the beginning when the Newtown Railway Station was opened in 1855 in Station Street, a kilometre to the west on the other side of the cemetery. This lead the centre of the area away from O’Connell Town and Bligh’s Terrace towards the present civic hub around the Newtown railway bridge.
  8. 1850s sandstock terraces, 5-9 Longdown Street. This plain little Victorian Georgian terrace, built in the late 1850s or early 1860s, is an earlier version of the cast iron lace or filigree style, only with the filigree of wood – note the diamond lattice work, wooden columns, frieze and railing, and the wooden bay partitions. The pink bricks are sandstocks that would have been locally made, although no other examples have been found in the area of such soft colours.
  9.  William Mitchell Activity Centre, Longdown Street. This site was one of the two ‘squares’ in Bligh’s Terrace, and the surrounding streetnames were originally Longdown, Rose, Isabella and Ann Streets. The first St. Stephen’s Church of England was built in the square in 1844, with the entrance facing Isabella (now Victoria) Street with a view along Stephen Street to New Town Road (now King Street). Designed by Edmund Blackett, the foundation stone was laid on Boxing Day (St. Stephen’s Day) by Bishop Broughton, and the completed brick church was consecrated in 1845 at a service attended by colonial dignitaries such as the Governor, the Mayor of Sydney, and the O’Connell family.
  10. The church was at first a branch of St. Peter’s Cook’s River, but in 1846 a separate Parish of Camperdown was created. In 1862 this became the Parish of Newtown. By this time the church was becoming to small for the growing local population, and fundraising began in 1866 to build the present St. Stephen’s. The last service was held in early 1874, after which the building became the Parish Hall. The hall was extensively remodelled in 1907, and continued to be used until 1938 when it was destroyed in a fire.The square was acquired by the Council, and by 1951 Sydney City Council’s Longdown Street Cleansing Depot was operating from the site. The walls along Victoria and Rose Streets exhibit elements of a 1940s modernist style. In 1968 the South Sydney Municipal Council was formed, and the depot converted to the No 3 Victoria Street Welfare Centre by enclosing and refurbishing the garage and planting lawn and trees. The building currently houses the William Mitchell Activity Centre and the Jane Evans Day Centre run by South Sydney City Council.
  11. Champion Textiles Building, 16-18 O’Connell Street. This building is the former NSW Railway & Tramway Recreation Club. In 1909 a Tramway Recreation Club was formed with premises in Enmore Road. In 1910 railway men were invited to join, and the NSW Railway & Tramway Club was formed. This site was purchased for £178 and the foundation stone was laid in 1911 by the Minister for Mines. The building cost £1,800 and was opened on 8 July 1911. The Club included a gymnasium (with boxing ring, wrestling mats and vapour baths) on the ground floor, and billiard tables, facilities for chess, draughts and so on on, and a reading room and library on the first floor. The flat roof was used as a miniature 25-yard rifle range. Alcohol and gambling were forbidden, and women were excluded from membership.
  12. This version of the ‘federation warehouse’ style is marked by the the plain red face brick, the large windows and the rectangular, symmetrical shapes. The site was previously occupied by a stonemason’s yard.
  13. warehouse conversion, 10 O’Connell Street. The site, occupied by several small cottages until 1910, now encompasses brick structures of varying ages that have been used for industrial purposes during most of the 20th century. Mostly built over 1911 and 1912, the buildings initially housed Short, Wand & Son, manufacturing chemists, Australian Eucalyptus Ltd., essential oil distillers, and an artificial flowers factory. Most recently it has been occupied by the Colonial Engineering Company. During 1997 the building was converted into apartments. The function of the place has obviously changed, but its contribution to the inner city streetscape has been maintained.
  14.  old Sydney Confectionary Co., factory, 10-12 Egan Street.From the 1880s until the mid-1920s a bottle merchants and dealers yard occupied this site. In 1928 the Sydney Confectionary Company opened for business in the new factory building. The building is illustrative of the redevelopment of the area early this century. Factories were built on land occupied by sheds, stables and yards possibly to take advantage of the proximity to nearby working class housing as well as accessibility to rail and road transport.
  15.  1850s cottages, corner of Mechanic and Hordern Streets.Hordern Street was one of the more developed side-streets off King Street by the 1850s. The poet Henry Kendall moved with his mother, twin brother and sisters to Newtown in 1857, and in 1859 Mrs Kendall was living in Hordern Street. The exact location of this house has yet to be determined. Presumably Henry was living in the same house when in 1859 he began contributing poems to the literary journal Month. He later moved to Enmore Road.

    Henry Kendall

    Henry Kendall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  16. The group of single story, cottage-like terrace houses at 11-15 Hordern Street were built between the 1840s and 1860s Their steep gabled roofs, small paned windows, valance and smooth stuccoed walls are illustrative of artisan housing in the area. Being sited between Mechanic and Brick (now Victoria) Streets suggests the probability of locally made sandstock bricks and other local materials and craftsmanship contributing to their timeless vernacular charm. The building materials and location distinguish them from the timber cottages on the lower fringes of the village.The scale and arrangement of the small buildings on the corner of Hordern and Mechanic Streets is almost the same as that on the corner of Campbell and Little Queen Streets, indicating the similarity in time and style of these two spots, the one in O’Connell Town and the other in Camperdown Terrace. The single storey building with the double-hipped roof was built about 1841.The shop with an office or residence above at 20 Hordern Street was built in 1913 in a smaller version of the ‘federation warehouse’ style for Barker, Coutts & Co, auctioneers. It replaced an earlier building used as stables. Note the large Diocletian window motif, the brick piers that break up the front, and the parapet and cornice, and the contrasting timber half wall of the shop-front. The site was formerly occupied by Gummerson’s Stables.Narrow laneways run north-south through the area and date from the 1842 subdivision. These were formerly essential for the removal of nightsoil (i.e. toilet pans) and rubbish. There is a slab and corrugated iron building on the elbow of Crook Lane. This old shed or stable is the only wooden slab building known to exist in Newtown (and possibly the inner city). In the 1880s a builder named Mr Crook occupied this site, and he may have built the shed or perhaps extended an earlier structure.
  17. Victorian houses, corner of Victoria and Hordern Streets.The buildings around this intersection are larger and more impressive that at the previous intersection. They all post-date the opening of the new St. Stephen’s in 1874. This hints at a change in the area’s social standing associated with relocating the church from Bligh’s Terrace to O’Connell Town. This early ‘gentrification’ was marked not only by the re-naming of Brick Street as Victoria Street, but also the settling of the name Newtown over the whole area.
  18. Designed by Edmund Blackett and built 1871-74, St. Stephen’s is acclaimed as one of the finest colonial Gothic buildings in Sydney, and a Blackett masterpiece. Note the landmark quality of the spire, the steeply pitched roof, and the carved Pyrmont sandstone. The view line along Victoria Street leads directly through the cemetery gates and up to the tip of the spire, with the double-storied buildings around the intersection framing the perpendicular vista.The two-storey weatherboard terrace at 38-40 Hordern Street was built in the 1880s. Note the corrugated-iron ‘jerkin head’ roof and hipped verandah roof, the wide, timber framed french doors on the balcony and the cast iron filigree fences. In 1901, Signora Fabris, a teacher of singing, was living in No. 40.The two-storey terrace at 34-36 Hordern Street was built in the 1870s, and may be a local example of the ‘colonial Grecian’ style. Note the absence of windows in the front wall, the solid, symmetrical arrangement of doors and bays, the bracketed parapet, and the tiny french doors on the balconies, as well as the smooth, stuccoed walls.The two-storied terrace and corner shop at 23 Hordern Street dates from the 1870s. Note the unusual balcony above the shop shaped by the typical corner shop diagonal entrance.
  19. building site, corner of Victoria and Church Streets. The cemetery was originally a part of Bligh’s Camperdown Estate that came under the control of the Sydney Church of England Cemetery Company established in 1847. The company had been specifically formed to establish and maintain the cemetery. The church was not built for another two decades, and had to be designed to fit among the already existing graves.

    Camperdown Cemetery

    Camperdown Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  20. The five hectare cemetery was acquired by the Company in 1848 from Sir Maurice O’Connell. The ground was consecrated on 16 January 1849, and the remains of Sir Maurice were transferred from the old Devonshire Street cemetery to become the first burial in the new cemetery. By 1868, over 15 000 burials had taken place, and from then on, new burials were severely restricted. A further 2 000 occurred up to 1900, then only another 18 up to 1926, with the last burial being in 1949.Newtown Municipal Council gained control of the cemetery in 1912. In 1925 the original wooden fence was removed and parts donated to the Technological Museum (now The Powerhouse Museum). After much lobbying by Newtown Council, the State Government finally agreed to converting the cemetery to a park, and in 1948-49, headstones were relocated inside the new stone-walled enclosure, possibly designed by Morton Herman, that now marks the much reduced cemetery. The new Camperdown Memorial Rest Park then became only the second public park in Newtown.
    English: Camperdown Cemetery, Sydney, The monu...

    English: Camperdown Cemetery, Sydney, The monument to the family of John Roote Andrews, monumental mason. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    The cemetery supported several service industries. This building site was the site of JR Andrews & Sons, monumental masons and lead cutters from 1849 until the 1870s. John Roote Andrews is reputed to be responsible for 90% of the headstones in the cemetery, including that of Nicholas Bochsa and the Dunbar tomb. Andrews was also an earthenware dealer and may have been involved in brickmaking. After the effective closure of the cemetery in 1868, the business shifted to Australia Street, with sons of JR Andrews establishing further operations at Enmore, Rookwood and in the city. Upon his death in 1881 John Roote Andrews was buried in Camperdown Cemetery. The widowed Mrs Andrews continued to live in a house on the site for some years after her husband’s death.

Leaving O’Connell Town . . .

This brief walk around the oldest part of Newtown has been a walk through a cultural landscape. Each stop on the route has simply exposed a tiny fragment of the many layers of history that make and remake the story of Newtown all the time.

In the 1840s an idealised, hierarchical village was planned centred upon middle class Bligh’s Terrace and artisan O’Connell Town that remains reflected in the street pattern. The location of the new railway station in 1855, however, drew the centre away to Newtown. In 1874 St. Stephen’s Church of England moved westwards to crown the skyline above Newtown. The first wave of redevelopment changed names attracted somewhat wealthier residents. By the 1910s the middle classes were moving to the new suburban fringes, and factories and their workers began to dominate. The slum clearance movement of the 1930s-1960s made some impact with the building of several ‘walk-up’ blocks. The return of local self-government in 1968 brought municipal welfare to the old St. Stephen’s site. In the 1980s and 1990s the social structure is again changing as young professionals and alternate lifestylers move into the area, mixing with older families. An appreciation of the character and built heritage of Newtown, long evident among local historians, has now become more widespread. Adaptations of older buildings to new uses or renovations and restorations of existing older houses have now begun to add their contribution to the complex historical development of Newtown.

Most of the former O’Connell Town-Bligh’s Terrace-Camperdown Terrace subdivision dating from 1842 forms a proposed heritage conservation area under South Sydney Council’s Heritage LEP, currently on public exhibition.


This tour was researched and compiled by Bruce Baskerville for the 1997 Royal Australian Historical Society’s Annual Conference with Affiliated Societies held at the University of Sydney, School of Nursing, Mallet Street, Camperdown, Sydney, over the 11th and 12th October 1997. South Sydney Heritage Society hosted the walking tour.

The right of Bruce Baskerville to be identified as the moral rights author of this work is hereby asserted in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968 of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Surry Hills Academy, Bourke Street, Surry Hills, NSW

This history was originally written in 1995 as part of a heritage assessment of a building for which considerable change, possibly demolition, was planned as part of the redevelopment of the site.  The format follows that often found in heritage assessments in New South Wales of the period, and is drawn from an analysis of the documentary evidence and of the evidence of the fabric of the building.


1.1 Original Land Grant and subdivisions including the site, 1790s-1840s

In 1794, Commissary John Palmer received a Crown Grant of 28.3 hectares on the hills to the east of Sydney town that he named “George Farm”. By 1800, Palmer had acquired an 81 hectare estate in Surry Hills and a 40 hectare estate in Woolloomooloo. In 1808, he lost his public offices because of his support for Governor Bligh during the Rum Rebellion, and then spent several years in England giving evidence to inquiries regarding the coup. Palmer’s business activities were severely hampered, and in 1814 the Sheriff ordered that the Surry Hills estate be auctioned to settle his debts. Surveyor-General Meehan planned the estate subdivision, but few of the streets had been established before the sale took place. Twenty seven lots were sold, including the triangular, 2.42 hectare Block No. 7, to Joseph Underwood, which he in turn sold in 1819 to Edward Riley. This block was bounded by what became known as Bourke Street on the west, Botany Road on the north-east, and blocks 19 and 20 to the south, which were purchased by Captain Richard Brooks and Isaac Nichols respectively. In 1825, Riley suicided, leaving two conflicting wills. Nearly two decades of litigation followed, preventing much further development of the Riley Estate, as the contested land became known .

In 1831, Surveyor-General Mitchell re-planned the Surry Hills street pattern so that it aligned with the city grid pattern, but these new road alignments were contested by many of the land owners, and often ignored in their subdivision patterns. In 1832, a Select Committee of the Legislative Council inquired into and reported upon the “…projected formation of lines of streets on the Surry Hills” in order to divide the estate evenly between the seven Riley legatees. The alignment of Bourke Street followed Mitchell’s plan, and became one of the main north-south boundaries within the estate. Six smaller streets were created as east-west boundary lines, including Short Street .

English: Portrait of Major Sir Thomas Livingst...

Major Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792–1855), Surveyor General of NSW and surveyor of the Surry Hills street pattern in 1831. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brooks subdivided his block in 1831, and Nichols his in 1833. Wealthy Sydney merchant George Hill built his stone mansion “Durham Hall” on a Nichols lot in Albion Street, while another wealthy Sydney businessman, Lancelot Iredale, had his John Verge-designed “Auburn Cottage” built in Bourke Street on a Brooks lot. Both mansions had extensive gardens and summerhouses, adding to the gentry atmosphere of this part of Surry Hills at the time. Kass described this Brooks and Nichols subdivision area as a “nest of gentry” during the 1830s-1860s.

English: durham hall, surry hills, sydney

Durham Hall, Albion Street, Surry Hills, Sydney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1841, one of the wills was proven in the Supreme Court, and control of the Estate passed to trustees to dispose of in order to fund several annuities for the Riley legatees. The trustees had the estate surveyed for subdivision, and began selling off the blocks from 1845.

The Wedge Darke map of 1847 shows Short Street, joining Bourke Street and Botany Street, with its east-west alignment and dotted projection eastwards to South Dowling Street indicating that it is a Mitchell-planned street. The map also indicates a building on the site in Short Street, but no building facing Bourke Street. The Woolcott & Clarke map of 1854 indicates an additional building on the site apparently facing Bourke Street, but the two structures remain separated by a yard. The Bourke Street building also appears to be set back from the building line.

1.2 Development of Allotment 14, Block E 7, Riley Estate, 1849-1995

1.2.1 “Surrey Hills Academy and the ladies seminary”, 1847-1871

In 1849, Allotment 14, Block E 7 of the Riley Estate of 341.4m2, and described as a “…parcel of land and premesis…”, bounded by Bourke and Short Streets, a lane, and another allotment, was sold by the trustees to Thomas Lawrence Dodd of Bourke Street, schoolmaster, for £109 7s 6d . Unlike the time-payment system described by Kass that was developed by the trustees to sell the lots and encourage their development, Mr (later Reverend) Dodd paid the full amount in cash at the time of the sale . The price of the lot indicates that a building of some sort was already standing on the site at the time of the sale, and Dodd’s address indicates that he may have already been living in the building, while his occupation indicates that he was operating the building as a school.

Dodd’s Bourke Street address indicates that he was already living in one of the buildings, and this is confirmed by Directory entries. In 1845, he is listed at a “classical and commercial school, Hutcheson’s street, Surry Hills”. In 1847, he is listed at the “academy” in Bourke and South Streets, Surry Hills. Other entries in this directory indicate that ‘South’ street is a misprint for Short street. At the same time, Miss Dodd is listed at the “ladies day and boarding school, Bourke Street”. In 1851, Thomas Dodd is listed as a schoolmaster, of Bourke Street, along with the Misses Dodd at the ladies seminary in Bourke Street. By 1855, the Misses Dodd are listed at the ladies seminary in Bourke Street, next to the Wesleyan Chapel, with the Reverend James Huston the master at “Surry Hills Grammar School” in Short Street. Two years later, things remained the same, although John Gardener, schoolteacher, is also listed living in Short Street next to the Surry Hills Grammar School.

Thus it appears that the Short Street building was built between 1845 and 1847, and the Bourke Street building between 1847 and perhaps 1849.

The Short Street building was the Surry Hills Grammar School or Academy, and the Bourke Street building the ladies seminary.

In 1861, The Reverend Thomas Dodd, by then of Dungog, mortgaged the buildings to the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle for a loan of £1,250 at 8% p.a . In the same year, The Reverend James Huston was listed as the Principal of the “Surrey Hills Academy” at both 388 Bourke Street and the south side of Short Street . The use of the old spelling ‘Surrey’ associates the school with the earliest days of gentry settlement in the area. The spelling ‘Surry’ only became the standard form during the 1840s . In 1863 the Reverend Huston was listed at 388 Bourke Street, with James Rutledge, schoolmaster, listed at the school, 1 Short Street. In 1864, the Reverend Huston was listed at “Surry Hills Academy”, Short Street, and in 1864 and 1865 James Rutledge was listed as schoolmaster of Short Street. In 1865, the first trigonometrical survey of the city was carried out, and the individual buildings on the site were clearly mapped. The academy or grammar school and ladies seminary is shown as a single brick structure with timber verandahs and a fence dividing the yard. The structure is clearly divided between the Short Street building, the two halves of the Bourke Street building, and a structure joining the Short and Bourke Street wings .

Between 1866 and 1871, Miss Dodd, teacher, and William Bailey, professor of music and dancing, are alternatively listed as occupying the school building in Short Street. Between the late-1850s and mid-1860s, the Misses Dodd’s ladies seminary was operating from “Gayndah Cottage”, in Underwood Street, Paddington, but by 1866 at least one Miss Dodd had returned to Short Street

Thus between 1861 and 1871 both Bourke Street and Short Street were being listed as the site of the Surrey Hills Academy or school. The listings and the trig survey indicate that the two buildings had now been connected and were regarded as one structure. The school appears to have changed its focus in 1865/66 with changes from teachers with religious affiliations to perhaps a more social syllabus – and perhaps also a change from schooling boys and girls to girls only. The school is not listed in the grants made to denominational schools during the 1850s, and appears to have always been a private school, teaching secondary subjects of some kind, without any public funding .

The closure of the school in 1871 is most likely associated with the changing social character of this part of Surry Hills. As the gentry were moving out, lower middle class tradesmen and artisans were moving in. The local environment changed as villa estates such as “Auburn Cottage” were subdivided for terrace housing. It appears that the new residents of the area initiated the demand for the public schools in Surry Hills that developed during the 1870s and 1880s, although by 1871, only one public school was operating in the area from temporary premesis in Bourke Street .

1.2.2 A private townhouse 1871-1895

In 1869, Mrs Florabelle Warren, widow and Hugh MacMaster, builder, purchased the property from the Bishop of Newcastle for £1,210 and seem to have begun renting the Bourke Street (boarding school) building and the Short Street (academy) building separately. The academy was tenanted by the school until 1871, while the seminary was occupied by Mrs Warren and Mr MacMaster, and the boarding school by Mrs Mary Ann Thompson from 1865

It appears that, internally, the whole building could now function as three separate units – with the school facing Short Street, Mrs Warren and Mr MacMaster in the Short Street/Bourke Street (seminary) corner and Mary Ann Thompson in the other Bourke Street section (the boarding school) next to the chapel.

In 1880, Mrs Warren is listed as living at both 1 Short Street and 444 Bourke Street, with Mrs Mary Ann Thompson at 446 Bourke Street, next to the Wesleyan Chapel . It appears that the building was now functioning as two dwellings, with the former academy and seminary as one unit, and the boarding school next to the chapel as the other unit. The Water Board Detail Plan of 1883, updated in 1892 and 1896, shows a building essentially unchanged since 1865 except for the addition of further wooden structures at the back of the academy building, presumably cooking and washing areas and a toilet, and a small wooden building behind the boarding school building that was probably a toilet .

In 1890, Mrs Warren is listed at 346 Bourke Street on the corner of Short Street. There is no separate listing for 1 Short Street or the part of the Bourke Street building next to the Wesleyan Chapel, and the whole structure may then have been regarded as one building or house . Hugh MacMaster passed away in 1882, and Mrs Warren appears to have lived alone in the academy building until 1895, when she sold the site to William Cary, a Sydney businessman and resident of Glebe Point .

1.2.3 Rented premesis 1895 – 1990s

In 1895, Mr AW Cleary was living at 346 Bourke Street (on the corner with Short Street – the former seminary) and operating a dental surgery from the premesis, and a Mrs Molloy was living in 348 Bourke Street (the former boarding school). In 1897, 1 Short Street (the former academy) was occupied by Samuel Parr, accountant, and the following year by a Mr Hood, piano tuner, and these tenants the remained unchanged for nearly a decade. Thus, during the 1890s the whole building became rented residential and commercial premises .

William Cary died in 1906, and the property passed to his heirs Richard and Sydney Herbert Cary, and within a few months they sold the “…land and dwellings known as 346 and 348 Bourke Street and 1 Short Street…” to Emily Baxter of Sydney . Miss Baxter described herself on the land documents as a ‘spinster’, but since 1872 she had run a fashionable ladies college, the “Argyle School”, in Albion Street . Whether she intended this property to become part of the school, or to keep it as an income producing rental property is not clear. The “Argyle School” closed in 1912, and when Miss Baxter had the site brought under the Torrens Title system in 1918, the dwellings were all rented

In 1918 the whole building was valued at £2,000. The deposited plan shows the outline of a single building on the site that appears to be similar to that today . At that time Mr A. Cleary occupied 346 Bourke Street, Mrs A.F. Stanton occupied 348 Bourke Street and Peter Mullin occupied 1 Short Street. All were weekly tenants . Since at least 1910, 348 Bourke Street was operating as a boarding house, firstly under Mrs Hill, then later Mrs Stanton, Mrs Duke and Mrs Taylor, with perhaps Mrs Molloy also operating a boarding house during the 1890s, and possibly even Mrs Thompson since 1865 .

This early and continuous use of No 348 as a boarding house may indicate that this building had enough rooms for this purpose because of an earlier use as the boarding school section of the Misses Dodd’s ladies seminary.

In 1924, the Permanent Trustee Company acquired ownership of the site . In the 1930s, George Gellin and then Mr J. Aguggar continued to operate 348 Bourke Street as a boarding house, while Mr Cleary continued to operate his dental surgery until the late 1930s . Peter Mullin’s tenancy of 1 Short Street had been replaced by 1920 by John McGrath, and by 1925 by Mrs Leslie McGrath, possibly the widow of John. Mrs McGrath occupied the building until the late 1940s . Presumably a succession of tenants occupied the old academy and seminary buildings, and No. 348 continued to operate as a boarding house, until the recent past. However, the lack of directories for this more recent period has limited research on this matter.

In 1951, the Permanent Trustee Company sold the property to Thomas Edward Evans of Darlinghurst, retired. Mr Evans was declared a bankrupt in 1953, and control passed to the Receiver of his estate, who within a few months had sold it to Hepple Harry Clark of Darlinghurst, a garage proprietor

1.2.4 Recent

In 1985, ownership passed to Eileen Clark, presumably a legatee of Hepple Harry Clark, who in 1988 sold the property to Mars Australian Developments No. 2 Pty. Ltd. . The building presently (October 1995) appears to be unoccupied.

Short St_01

Harry Hepple Clark’s Motor Garage, corner of Short and Bourke Streets opposite the Academy buildings, Surry Hills (Photo credit: dck)

South Sydney Council lists the site in its rate records as 348 Bourke Street, but not as 346 Bourke Street or as 1 Short Street . The part of the building facing Short Street still has its street address – 1 Short Street – written in metal figures near the front door. Officially, there is only one building on the site, a situation that has not existed since the 1850s.

060422_DarlinghurstSite_ 022

1 Short Street (grey building, left-hand side), c2010 (Photo credit: dck)

1.2.5. Surveys of the Property

  1. Wedge Darke, Survey of the South Eastern Suburbs of the City of Sydney, Archives Office NSW Map No. 5687, 1847 reproduced in draft South Sydney Heritage Study, Volume 2, p.39n.
    This map shows a structure in Short Street on the site of the academy building. It appears to be that building.
  2. Woolcott & Clarke, Map of the City of Sydney, 1854, reproduced in draft South Sydney Heritage Study, Volume 2.
    This map shows a structure in Short Street on the site of the academy building, and another structure in Bourke Street on the site of the seminary building. The two buildings are not joined, with the present courtyard an open yard between the buildings with access directrly from Short Street.
  3. Trigonometrical Survey of Sydney, 1865, frame F1-K2, Sydney Water Historical Records Unit.
    This map shows the present external structure almost wholly in existence by this time, with the two separate buildings now joined by a brick section, and with timber balconies facing Bourke Street and the now internal courtyard. A fence divides the yard, presumably separating the boarding section from the school section. This is also the only map that names the laneway at the back of the buildings as ‘Sarah Ann Lane’.
  4. Water Board Detail Plans, 1883, with additional information in 1892 and 1896, Sheet 1-64, frame 80064, Sydney Water Historical Records Unit.
    This map shows the building hardly changed since 1865. The only notable changes seem to have been the construction of several small timber outbuildings attached to the back of the academy building, and another wooden outbuilding at the rear of the boarding school building’s yard.
  5. Deposited Plan No. 71388, dated December 1917
    This plan indicates a shaded outline of the buildings that appears to be identical to that shown on the 1883 Detail Plan. The shape of the timber additions to the back of the academy buildings is slightly different, and they are clearly stated as being of weatherboard construction.
  6. Superceded Sewer Detail Sheets (Blackwattle Series), 1931-1939, Sheet Y1, 2nd Edition, frame 3819.
    This map differs from the 1883 Detail Plan only in that the Bourke Street balconies are clearly indicated, and part of a verandah behind No. 348 has been removed.


2.1 Stylistic Analysis

2.2 Interpretation of the Characteristics of the Old Colonial Picturesque Gothick and Old Colonial Regency styles

The picturesque gothick style used in the academy building conveys both religiosity and venerability on a site that, when first built upon the then open heights of Surry Hills, also provided a certain picturesque landscape quality. These characteristics were presumably associated with the literary and aristocratic pretensions of both the school principals and the parents of the boys enrolled at the academy, as well as notable colonial public buildings of the time such as Government House (1834). It was a style suited to preparing the sons of the colonial gentry for a future in public office and commerce.


Government House Sydney, the epitome of Picturesque Gothick in the colony (Photo credit: frizzetta)

The regency style used in the seminary and boarding school building conveys qualities of subtlety and classicism that associated the seminary with the ideals of femininity and beauty prevailing in the gentry classes at the time. Some of the largest mansions in the colony, such as Elizabeth Bay House (1832-38) and Camden Park House (1831+), as well as early terraces in areas such as Darlinghurst and Windsor, were built in this style, emphasising its suitability to ‘home’ making and the proper role that the seminary ‘ladies’ would one day fulfil.

The choice of names for the separate institutions further emphasises the pedagogical roles of these architectural styles when used in this way. An academy is a secondary school or place of study and the cultivation of literature, science, art, etc. A seminary is a training college of place of education. The picturesque gothick academy educated its boys in the higher arts, while the regency seminary trained its girls for graceful domesticity.


  • Keating, C., Surry Hills: the city’s backyard, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney 1991:16-17.
  • ibid, 19; Kass, T., The Builders and Landlords of Surry Hills, 1830-1882, unpub. MA Thesis, University of Sydney 1984: 46 – Keating and Kass both claim that Short Street was gazetted in 1848 as part of this process, but reference to the proclamation cited in their works does not support this claim – see NSW Government Gazette, 8.12.1848, p. 1778.
  • Kass, op. cit., 58-59.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 16, No. 215.
  • Keating, op. cit., 27.
  • Wedge Darke, Survey of the South Eastern Suburbs of the City of Sydney, Archives Office NSW Map No. 5687, reproduced in draft South Sydney Heritage Study, Volume 2, p.39n.
  • Woolcott & Clarke, Map of the City of Sydney, reproduced in draft South Sydney Heritage Study, Volume 2.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 16, No. 215.
  • Kass, op. cit., 79-80, and Land Titles Office, Book 16, No. 215.
  • Low’s City of Sydney Directory for MDCCCXLIV-V. The exact location of this school is unclear, although the present Hutchinson Street is only about 200 metres south of Short Street, in the centre of Nichol’s subdivision. The Wedge Darke map of 1847 clearly shows the street, without a name, and with some five buildings facing the roadway. It is possible that the reference is to an earlier location of Dodd’s school teaching, rather than to a different school that continued to operate after Dodd had opened the academy and seminary.
  • Low’s City of Sydney Directory for 1847.
  • Ford’s Sydney Commercial Directory, 1851.
  • Waugh & Cox’s Directory of Sydney, 1855.
  • Cox & Co’s Sydney Post Office Directory, 1857.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 77, No. 130.
  • The street numbering of Bourke Street has changed several times over the years – No. 388 (1861), 392/394 (1865-6), 444/446/448 (1867-70s) and 346/348 (1890s +) all refer to the Bourke Street frontage of the subject site.
  • Keating, op. cit., 16, f17.
  • Trigonometrical Survey of Sydney, 1865, frame F1-K2, Sydney Water Historical Records Unit.
  • Sands Directory, 1861, 1864, 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1870, 1871.
  • Sands Directory, 1858/59, 1866.
  • Distribution of sums voted for denominational schools, and lists of local boards of denominational schools, NSW Government Gazette, 1850, p152; 1851, p29; 1852, p328; 1857, p1595 and 1861, p1440.
  • Keating, op. cit., 41-42.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 113, No. 97.
  • Sands Directory, 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1870, 1871.
  • ibid 1880.
  • Water Board Detail Plans, 1883, with additional information in 1892 and 1896, Sheet 1-64, frame 80064, Sydney Water Historical Records Unit.
  • Sands Directory 1890.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 568, No. 884 and Book 815, No. 815.
  • Sands Directory, 1894, 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1905.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 815, No. 815.
  • Keating, op. cit., 42
  • Land Titles Office, Primary Application No. 21388, dated 30.3.1918.
  • Land Titles Office, Deposited Plan 71388, dated December 1917.
  • Primary Application, op. cit.
  • Sands Directory, 1895-1905, 1910, 1915, 1920, 1925, 1930, 1932/33.
  • Land Titles Office, Volume 2896, Folio 104.
  • Sands Directory, 1930, 1932/33, Sydney Telephone Book, 1935, 1940.
  • Sands Directory, 1915, 1920, 1925, 1930, 1932/33, Sydney Telephone Book, 1935, 1940, 1945, 1950.
  • Land Titles Office, Volume 2896, Folio 104.
  • ibid.
  • South Sydney City Council, pers. comm., 9.10.1995.


The history was researched and written by Bruce Baskerville in 1995 as a component of a conservation plan for the site .

The right of Bruce Baskerville to be identified as the moral rights author of this work is hereby asserted in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968 of the Commonwealth of Australia.