Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Depression Era Housing on Sydney Harbour.

Today we went on a very pleasant bush walk in the Balls Head Reserve at Waverton. This sandstone headland in Sydney Harbour has panoramic views across to the Sydney CBD and Barangaroo; Goat island, Mort Bay, Birchgrove and Balmain; and on the eastern side to North Sydney and McMahons Point.

There are several walking tracks, including the Middens Walk, and it is easy to forget that this very peaceful place is just some 1.5 kilometres from the heart of the City.

One point of interest is the various caves such as Tom's Cabin that we came across. During the Depression years, people came to live in the caves and shelters on the headland. To provide income, they cut timber to sell for firewood and clothes props. By 1931, most of the trees across the top of Balls Head were gone.

Toms Cabin (above left)

After the Depression, a Beautification Scheme was organised and due to the cooperative efforts of residents, naturalists and forest league groups in conjunction with North Sydney Council, some 2350 trees had been planted in 17 annual tree planing days up to 1948.

Bush regeneration began again in 1979 and Balls Head is now managed as a bushland reserve. It is an important refuge and habitat for wildlife including possums, bats, gheckos, blue-tongued lizards and many species of birds.

I couldn't resist a little history:
  • Balls Head is originally home of the Cammeraygal people;
  • It is named after Lieutenant Lidgbird Ball who was the Commander of HMS Supply of the First Fleet.
  • In 1825, Edward Wollstonecraft received a land grant of 212 hectares from Crows Nest down to the Harbour and including Berry Island and Balls Head.
Edward Wollstonecraft and his brother-in-law and business partner, Alexander Berry were significant landowners in the early days of New South Wales.

History Services NSW has some 447 records of convicts assigned to Wollstonecraft and Berry.

If you are researching a convict ancestor , you should go to our website at:http://www.historyservices.com.au/convicts.htm

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Towrang Stockade

The Towrang Convict Stockade was the chief convict camp in the southern district of the New South Wales Colony from about 1833 to 1843. The Stockade site is located next to the Hume Highway, twelve kilometres north of Goulburn, New South Wales.

The convicts housed here were engaged in the construction of the Great South Road from Sydney to Goulburn under the Surveyor General, Sit Thomas Mitchell.

At all times there were approximatey two hundred and fifty convicts at Towrang. Harsh discipline was imposed. Convicts slept on bare boards with a blanket each and ten men to a cell.

We visited the site of the Stockade on a trip to Canberra earlier this year.

On the southern side of the Highway, near the Rest Area, we found the Towrang Bridge and six stone culverts which have not been affected by modern day roadworks to the main highway.

The keystone of the Towrang Bridge reads 1839. Many consider the bridge was designed by David Lennox, who was responsible for Prospect Bridge and the Lapstone Bridge in the Blue Mountains.

On the northern side of the highway is the actual site of the Stockade. This is truly fascinating to explore although it involved a trek through some very grass.

The remains here include:

1) Powder Magazine situated on the bank of the Wollondilly River. It is thought that the Magazine was used to store the blasting powder used on the road construction.

Rubble Heaps of the Stockade Buildings. The soldier’s quarters and convict huts were of wood and stone construction. The Stockade buildings were laid out in the form of a hollow square on a ridge running down to the Powder Magazine. Another row of huts was located closer to the river where there still remain a row of heaps of rubble. Another row of huts was located on the upper side of the main quadrangle.

Weir built for the stockade.

Cemetery. Only three headstones remain in the cemetery across Towrang Creek from the Stockade, where both soldiers and convicts were buried. The inscription on one headstone reads:

'Sacred to the Memory of John Moxey, Private Soldier 80th who departed this life 16 November 1838, aged 38 years, 22 years service. Remember me as you pass by as you are now so once was I, as I am now so you must be, prepare for death follow me. This stone was erected by his comrades as a token of respect towards a good and deserving soldier’.

Another headstone is to the memory of Elizabeth Weiticker, died June 9
th, 1841, aged 33 years and the third is to Mary Brown, died 25th June, 1841, aged 4 years and 1 month.

A sign at the Cemetery site states that the following three persons may be also buried here:

"James Fielder – By the Guildford buried 17 February 1839, and

Monks – By the Lancashire, buried 15 February 1839, who were killed by blast exploding.

John Feagon [Fagan] – By the Minerva, buried 27 August 1840.

Other convicts are recorded as dying at the Convict hospital, Goulburn and by drowning (probably here in the Wollondilly River)."

James Fielder and John Fagan were both convicts.

History Services NSW
has records on 32 convicts assigned to the Towrang (Tourang) Stockade.

The record for
James Fielder (per Guildford 1824), coachman from Sussex England, reads:

  • on arrival assigned to John Brabyn Esq;
  • 1825 - government servant with Andrew Johnston, Wilberforce;
  • 1828 - at Moreton Bay (3 year sentence);
  • 1832 - absconded from Hyde Park Barracks - apprehended;
  • 1833 - absconded from Parramatta Barracks since 16/6/1833;
  • 1837 - with William Coghill, Berrima , aged 39 years;
  • 1837 - absconded from W Coghill Bong Bong since 20/4/1837;
  • 1837 - absconded from W Coghill, New Wick, Newcastle since 4/9/1837 - apprehended;
  • 1839 - died at Tourang Stockade on 17 /12/1839.
If you are researching a convict ancestor who was assigned to the Towrang Stockade you should go to our website at:http://www.historyservices.com.au/convicts.htm

The Convict Heritage of Oxford Street Epping

Oxford Street Epping circa early 1900's (a painting by Joyce Armstrong)

Oxford Street today

On Thursday, 21 October 2010, Hornsby Council Mayor Nick Berman officially opened the $3.5 million refurbishment of Oxford Street, Epping, New South Wales.

This new look street adds another layer to the history of Oxford Street, Epping. But its beginnings as the site of a convict sawpit should not be forgotten. I have suggested to Hornsby Council that a plaque be erected to this effect.

Because of a growing demand for timber for export and for an ambitious building program in the Colony, Governor Lachlan Macquarie set up a government sawmill, the Pennant Hills Timbergetting Establishment in 1816. It was originally on the site of the ridge around the present Hull Road at Pennant Hills. In 1819 it was enlarged with addition of a new site along a ridge a little further to the south on the present Oxford Street, Epping.

The sawpit was on the western side of Oxford Street (site today of the Catholic Church and
adjacent shops) as it sloped down to Devlin's Creek. The camp site for the convicts being on the opposite side where the Epping Methodist church was subsequently built in 1905 over the site of the former convict kitchen.

By 1825, the area was called "Barren Ridges" or "Barren Hills" because much of the timber had been cleared leaving an eroding landscape and siltration problems down Devlin's and Terry's Creeks.

History Services NSW has records of 60 convicts who were attached to Barren Hills.

For example, William Organ (per Daphne 1819) who came from Waterford, Ireland and who was a "Wheewright and Sawyer" is recorded in 1825 as being in "Government employment at Barren Hills". He was later assigned to the Rev John Joseph Therry, Roman Catholic Chaplain.

If you are researching a convict ancestor who was assigned to Barren Hills, you should go to our website at:http://www.historyservices.com.au/convicts.htm

As part of the Macquarie 2010 Bicentenary Commemorations, the launch of "No Longer Barren" - a history of the Barren Ridges Convict Establishment and the Epping (Oxford Street) Methodist and Uniting Church 1820-2010, will be held on Saturday 27 November 2010 between 3pm-5pm in the worship centre at the rear of the Oxford Street Church. This will be hosted by Dr. Ian Jack, President, Royal Australian Historical Society.

This should be an interesting contribution to the history of Oxford Street, Epping.

If you are in interested in early Australian History or are researching a convict ancestor go to our website at:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Plymouth - The Australian Connection

On our recent visit to the United Kingdom we were interested in finding any references to Australian history, in particular to the convicts that were transported to our shores.

Although we passed through many places that were familiar to us as to where our convicts ancestors came from, it was not until we got to Plymouth that we found some memorial plaques on the Barbican that celebrated the Australian connection.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were six convicts (James Hammett, James Brine, brothers George and James Loveless and father and son Thomas and John Standfield) from the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset, who were transported to Australia on the Surrey in 1834.

They were sentenced for unlawfully administering oaths of loyalty to the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. This Society had been established to fight the continuing reduction in wages and was the beginning of trade unionism in England.

History Services NSW holds records on these six convicts.

They were later pardoned and four of the group returned to England embarking at Plymouth in 1838. The above plaque next to the Mayflower Steps at Plymouth commemorates this.

The First Fleet Ships

Another marble plaque commemorates the loading of convicts onto the transport ships,
Friendship and Charlotte at Plymouth in March 1787. These two ships then left to join
the rest of the First Fleet at Portsmouth from where they set sail to Australia on 13 May 1787.

Unveiled on 13 March 1987, it reads as above:

Another memorial on the Barbican is one to:

"Plymouth Men who Helped to found Modern Australia" including John Macarthur and William Bligh.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Convict Ancestors and Newgate Prison

While on our recent visit to London we walked up to the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court), at the corner of Newgate Street and the Old Bailey, just inside the City of London . There we found a plaque locating the site of Newgate Prison.

In nineteenth century London, the Old Bailey was a small court next to Newgate Prison. Behind the walls, dark prison cells housed prisoners awaiting trial, execution or transportation.

These were the paths trodden by many of the convicts that were transported to New South Wales. It is fascinating to walk in the footsteps of our convict ancestors and take in the sad history of the places from whence they came on their journey to New South Wales.

Newgate was a medieval prison built in 1188 on the site of a gate in the old Roman London Wall (bailie). It was destroyed and rebuilt many times in its history. In particular, the old prison was demolished in 1777 as the above photo attests. A new prison was built and in 1783 the site of London's gallows from moved from Tyburn to Newgate.

In the Museum of London , one of the exhibits was a door from Newgate Prison circa 1780. It was in this atmosphere then that we find our convicts.

If you are researching a convict ancestor, and would like a ready summary of the information that is available, you should go to our website at:http://www.historyservices.com.au/convicts.htm

Monday, June 21, 2010

Visiting Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island is the largest island in Sydney Harbour. It will always be part of the story of Sydney. It is mostly known for its maritime heritage being a base for shipbuilding and repairs for both the Royal Australian Navy and other shipping companies. But is also has a rich convict heritage as a penal settlement.

In 2001, the Sydney Harbour Federation assumed control of the island and embarked upon major restoration works and activities to attract the public.

This year Cockatoo Island is one of the major venues for the 17th Biennale of Sydney Festival. Running from 12 May to 1 August 2010, 56 artists are exhibiting 120 works on the island. In 2008, there were 80,000 visitors to Cockatoo Island for the Biennale. This year some 100,000 visitors are expected.

Mary and I visited Cockatoo Island on Sunday 16 May, and of course we were interested in the convict heritage.

(at left - Mess Hall)

[at right - Old Military Guardhouse , site of Serge Spitzer's Biennale Exhibit Molecular (SYDNEY) (2002-10)]

In 1839, Governor Sir George Gipps chose what was then an uninhabited island as the site of a new penal settlement for convicts being transferred from Norfolk Island . They were put to work on building a stone prison barracks, a military guardhouse and official residences.

The convicts also quarried the island's sandstone for building works in Sydney such as Semicircular Quay, and were employed in the construction of the Fitzroy Dock (1847-1857) which was the first of the two dry docks on the Island. They provided all the services to run the island - gatemen, overseers, mechanics, wardsmen, watermen and gardeners.

History Services NSW has some 360 records of convicts who were imprisoned on Cockatoo Island.
One interesting find on the highest part of the island was the remains of the huge grain storage silos that the convicts had carved out of the sandstone.

It had been Governor Gipps plan to conserve supplies of grain in good seasons and minimise price fluctuations during times of drought and shortages.

There were twenty bottle-shaped silos measuring 5.8 metres deep and 6.7 metres in diameter, with a sealed man-hole at the top. They could each hold from 84 to 140 tonnes of grain.

(above left - partially exposed grain storage silo, Cockatoo

History Services NSW
records that two convicts, James Halliwell (per Camden 1831) and Daniel Torpy (Per Eliza 1832) "suffocated in a silo on Cockatoo Island on 4 October 1852".

Conditions in the penal settlement on Cockatoo Island were notoriously overcrowded and it was the subject of regular enquiries into the state of prisoner accommodation and the administration. The settlement was finally closed in 1869 when the convicts were transferred to Darlinghurst Goal.

The prison buildings have been currently nominated for World Heritage listing along with other convict sites around Australia. Archaeological digs are in progress and have revealed important evidence from Cockatoo Island's convict past.

[above right - entrance to two solitary confinement cells and two storerooms, Cockatoo Island)

If you are researching a convict ancestor who was assigned to Cockatoo Island, you should go to our website at: http://www.historyservices.com.au/convicts.htm

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Governor Macquarie Visits Newcastle

Governor Macquarie made three visitis to Newcastle during his term of office.

On 5 th August 1818, he laid the foundation stone for the construction of a breakwater to be built from the mainland to Nobbys Headland. This was to be known as the Macquarie Pier. It was to be built using convict labour and rock quarried from the Fort Scratchley area (then Signal Hill). The Pier was not completed till 1846 but was very strategic in making the Port of Newcastle what is it today.

On the previous Sunday, 2nd August 1818, Governor Macquarie officially named the newly completed "Christ-Church". He has commissioned this to be built in 1817 and it was designed by the convict artist, Joseph Lycett. Today the present church stands as the magnificent Christchurch Cathedral at the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle.

We visited Nobbys recently and did some exploring. Nobbys was previously known as Hackings Point and Coal Island. But from the earliest days of the Colony of New South Wales, it was always known that there was coal at Newcastle.

On the seaward side of Nobbys Headland, I found what appears to be the brickwork of an entrance to an old coal mine. Another interesting discovery was that of part of the old railway line out to the headland.

History Services NSW has extensive records of convicts who were assigned to the Newcastle area, including those who laboured at Nobbys. It is recorded that two convicts, viz, John Reddish (per Earl Grey 1838) and John Atkins (per Dick 1821) "absconded from Nobby's island off Newcastle, in a boat on 12/5/1842" . The latter "was in irons".

If you are researching a convict ancestor who was assigned to the Newcastle area, you should go to our website at: http://www.historyservices.com.au/convicts.htm

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Red Cow Inn

We lunched recently at the ever popular Sydney Rowing Club at Abbotsford Point overlooking the Parramatta River.

There is one wall in the Club preserved as containing the only remaining sandstone bricks of the Red Cow Inn (originally named the Red House and later the 'King's Arms") and Cottage built in 1837 on this spot.

The four corner holding nails of the plaque on this wall are hand-made square nails used in the flooring of the original cottage.

Today, the rivercats service the busy Abbotsford Wharf at Abbotsford Point.

In 1832, from this location on the Five Dock Farm, a punt service was established to carry people, horses and carriages across the Parramatta River to Bedlam Point. For many years this was the only river crossing between Sydney Town and points north on the Great North Road to Wisemans Ferry and New England.

The Red Cow Inn was a popular watering hole for travellers crossing the River to Bedlam Point and also for those travelling by water between Sydney Town and Parramatta.

In the Convict Database, History Services NSW has records of convicts assigned to the Fivedock area. For example, John Taylor (per Asia) who is recorded as "having absconded from William Wilson, Parramatta Road, Five Dock since 4/10/1843"

If you are researching a convict in the Five Dock area, you should go to our website at: http://www.historyservices.com.au/convicts.htm

Also in the Hotel and Liqour Licensees Database, History Services NSW has a complete index of over 52,000 persons who were licensed in the New South Wales liqour industry from 1856 to 1900.

For further information go to: http://www.historyservices.com.au/hotels.htm

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Ghost Train to Toronto

On the weekend, Mary and I travelled to Toronto for a friend's 60 th Birthday celebration.

Toronto is on the west side of Lake Macquarie, New South Wales. It is a beautiful spot and we intend to come back with our group of friends later in the year.

With an eye to its history, we could not resist to see what Toronto had to offer.

Firstly we found the old railway station which is no longer operational. It closed in 1990 after 91 years of serving the local passenger community. Oroginally a tramway was constructed in 1891 from Fassifern Railway station to Toronto. A variety of steam engines was used on this line including a horsedrawn carriage. The line was converted to a branch railway in 1911 terminating at Toronto. Many thousands of passengers travelled here for holidays at Lake Maquarie over the years, including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) who visited Toronto in June of 1920.

Next we found a plaque commemorating the site of Reverend Lancelot Edward Threlkeld's second Mission for Aborigines which he established in 1830 on his 1280 acre land grant "Derambambah".

History Services NSW
has some 20 records of convicts assigned to the Reverend Threlkeld in the Newcastle area, including one Charles Adams who arrived in the Colony in March 1823. He was assigned to Government House in Parramatta in April 1823. In 1828 at age 22 years, Adams is recorded as being a "servant" and a 'bullock driver' with Rev E Threlkeld, Lake Macquarie.

If you are researching a convict ancestor who was assigned to Reverend Threlkeld , you should go to our website at:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Green Hills Burial Ground

Today Mary and I visited Pitt Town and Windsor, two of the Macquarie towns. Although we had been there many times before, we did a photo shoot of the many historical sites and buildings that remain today as a testiment to the districts's heritage.

These included the site of Governor Bligh's farm on the outskirts of Pitt Town; site of the Government Cottage (c1796-1919) where Governor Lachlan Macquarie named the five "Macquarie Towns" on 6 December 1810; St Matthew's Anglican Church (begun 1817); St Matthew's Rectory (1825); and the Hawkesbury Museum c1820 which was the home of the Hawkesbury's chief constable John Howe.

One of the most rewarding finds was the site of the Green Hills Burial Grounds, located on a patch of undeveloped land at the back of the Jolly Frog Hotel at Windsor. Not easily accessible from the town, we had to park in Court Street and walk down past the Toll House and go under the (Windsor) road bridge and over the bicycle roadway. We then came upon the site which today is a very peaceful green patch among the hustle and bustle of the modern day Windsor.

Green Hills was the earliest burial ground in the Hawkesbury district being used for burials from around 1806-1810.Governor Macquarie designated a new burial ground to be used from 1810 which is now the cemetery in St Matthew's Church of England.

From 1810, Green Hills however continued to used for the burial of convicts with the last convict being buried there in 1834.

The Hawkesbury district is rich in convict history. History Sevices NSW has extensive information on the large number of convicts assigned to the district.

If you are researching a convict ancestor, you should go to our website at:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australia Day and your Convict Ancestor

Happy Australia Day to all our readers.

This day gives us an opportunity to reflect on who we are as Australians. For many of us this will focus us on our ancestors who came to this land as convicts from England.

Our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd spoke fondly of his convict ancestor, one Thomas Rudd, at an Australia Day function at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Sunday.

History Services NSW Convict Database has the following information recorded for the said Thomas Rudd:

  • arrived at Port Jackson from Portsmouth on 28 June 1790 aboard the Neptune (Second Fleet). Sentenced at the Old Bailey on 23 May 1787 for a term of seven years;

  • arrived at Port Jackson for a second time from England on 12 June 1801 aboard the Earl Cornwallis. Sentenced at the London Gaol Delivery on 19 February 1800 for a term of seven years;

  • 1808 - sought assistance and was granted capital from John Blaxland for payment of wages;

  • 1813 - subscribed to a building fund for a court house at Sydney;

  • 1814 - recorded as a landholder at Liverpool;

  • 1816 - required to prove he was free or be returned to government service. Resided at Liverpool;

  • 1819 - assigned a convict servant, Edward McQuade (per theship Guildford which arrived at Port Jackson on 8 April 1816);

  • 1822 - recorded as a landholder of Liverpool (free by servitude);

  • 1824 - resident at Campbelltown - signed a letter to the Sydney Gazette asking for government investment in capital works at Campbelltown.
If you are researching a convict ancestor, and would like a ready summary of the information that is available, you should go to our website at:http://www.historyservices.com.au/convicts.htm

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A German Convict?

Yesterday, on a very hot Sydney day, I was interviewed by Dennis Gastmann for the German documentary series “With 80,000 Questions Around the World". In this show, the reporter travels to foreign countries to learn about their history, culture and tradition.

Dennis and his camera man, Thomas Hipp, are in Australia for one week and are scheduled to conduct four feature interviews for a program on Australia Day.

I was was questioned on issues such as:

  • Do Australians regard themselves as a Convict nation? This is apparently a common perception in Germany.

  • What is the significance of Australia Day, which many Aborigines refer to as Invasion Day.

  • My own convict ancestry and what it is like for an Australian to discover they have a convict ancestor.
The program will be aired on German Public Television on 1 March 2010.

A search of the History Services NSW Convict Database found that 21 convicts were native of Germany. An interesting German convict was George Bennet alias Isaac Davis, who arrived in Sydney on the convict ship Waterloo on 12 June 1837. George was aged 55 years when he arrived and was a native of Brenham, Germany. He had been previously transported to the Colony on the convict ship Guildford in 1824 and had escaped during June 1835. In 1844 he was before the Hyde Park Barracks Bench of Magistrates for making a false statement. At this time it was discovered that he had not received any additional punishment for previously absconding from the Colony. For punishment, the Bench of Magistrates recommended that he serve two years on Cockatoo Island as punishment. He eventually received his Ticket of Leave for the Parramatta district in November 1847, which was later altered to Sydney district, so long as he remained employed by Mr. Isaac Norris of Pitt Street.