Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bedlam Point Convict Precinct

Remains of the Bedlam Point Wharf looking across to Abbotsford - July 2012
On the eastern side of Looking Glass Bay is Bedlam Point. Many times we have looked across the Parramatta River to this point from Abbotsford Wharf but we had not explored the area until recently.

What is the story of Bedlam Point?

The area was named Bethlem Point as early as 1820 and was officially called Bedlam Point soon afterwards. Bedlam is a corruption of Bethlam/Bethlehem which was the name of England's first lunatic asylum. Although the origins of our local naming are unclear, it certainly predates the building of the nearby Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum in 1838. [Angela Phippen and Margaret Farlow, Dictionary of Sydney 2008].

The distance between Bedlam Point and Abbotsford, at some 200 metres, is the narrowest point of the Parramatta River below Homebush Bay. In 1828, the Surveyor-General, Sir Thomas Mitchell recommended a crossing of the river here to facilitate a 'New Line' of the Great North Road through Abbotsford on the southern side to points on the northern shore.

From Bedlam Point, the Great North Road climbed up the hill to a government flagstaff (located near the site of today's Gladesville Post Office) and continued north-west along the ridge of today's Victoria Road to St Anne's Church at Ryde and then through Epping and Pennant Hills to join the old Great North Road at Dural. Construction of this section took place in 1829-31.

A cable-driven punt was established in 1832 from Abbotsford to Bedlam Point to ferry people, produce, livestock and carriages across the river. It was the only river crossing for some thirty years before being decommissioned in 1860's. 

Overgrown scrub on the original roadway to the Bedlam Point Wharf - July 2012
On site exploration at Bedlam Point is quite challenging. A lot of the area has been now overtaken by lantana bushes and over the years it appears that much hard fill has been dumped   on what would have been the original rubble paved roadway down to the shore.

However we were able to find some exciting evidence of convict history.

Convicts were employed in the area to work both on the building of a ferry wharf and the Great North Road extension. 
Our discoveries were:

1)The remains of the stone ferry wharf built by convicts in 1834 as seen in the photo at top.

2) A plaque telling the story of the Bedlam Point Convict Precinct. It was lain in a rock which bore a wedge-pit mark of a convict steel spike which would have been driven into the rock to break off a section. This pointer gave us a good idea of the likely line of the edge of the road leading down to the shore.

Plaque and Convict Rock
3) An interesting date carved into a rock - seemingly XVII XI?

Rock outdrop with convict carvings
4) A Latin phrase, De Mortious Nil Nisi Bonum which loosely translates as "Speak no ill of the Dead", carved along the top of the rock above. As the work of a convict labourer it may give us a clue to the thoughts of those working in the road gangs, or at the very least point to a skilled and well educated stoenmason. The initials ''AK'' appear above the inscription.

De Mortious Nil Nisi Bonum
 4) More initials carved into the rock. It is not possible to precisely identify to whom they may have belonged, but they are an interesting piece of colonial 'graffiti.'


"M J"

5) Convict pick marks in rocks on the right hand side of Punt Road looking up the hill. These rocks formed the roadside gutters for drainage.  

Convict Pick marks on the edge of the road
View looking up Punt Road with the above rocks at the mid right of photo  - July 2012
History Services NSW has records of two convicts that were known to have worked in the Bedlam Point area, viz:

George Frederick BROWN - per Royal Admiral, being recorded in 1832 as having been ''apprehended after abscondment from Bedlam Point'', and

William JONES - per Georgiana, being recorded in 1834 as having been  ''apprehended after abscondment from Detached Party, Bedlam Point''.

If you are researching a convict ancestor who may have worked on the Great North Road and  require more information, you should go to our website at :

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