Saturday, 28 June 2014

Toll House at Windsor

If you have ever travelled to Windsor along Windsor Road and over the Fitzroy Bridge at South Creek, you may have noticed the small white building tucked next to the bridge. This is the Toll House, where during the nineteenth century, tolls were collected for using the road. If your ancestors lived in the Hawkesbury during the 1800s they would have most likely paid tolls here at some time or other. It is one of only two intact toll houses remaining in NSW, the other is at Mt Victoria in the Blue Mountains.

The concept of charging tolls for the use of a road or ferry was in wide use throughout the United Kingdom and Europe and was introduced into NSW by Governor King in 1802. Permission was granted to Andrew Thompson  to charge a toll for the use of his "floating bridge" over South Creek near the Green Hills (now Windsor) in 1802. There was possibly earlier buildings on the present site however there are no surviving records. 

Sydney Gazette & NSWAdvertiser 9 March 1806, p. 1
Retrieved  from

Tenders were called for a Toll House in 1834 and the building was completed in 1835. In the 1864 flood "the town the waters came up within a foot of the Barrack gate, Bridge-street ; and the Fitzroy Bridge was totally under water. The toll-house and adjoining houses...were entirely flooded" according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. As a result the building was practically demolished as a result of the 1864 flood when the building was actually shifted off its foundations. It was rebuilt with some alterations shortly after. It is a small building with three rooms and a projected bay window, which the toll keeper could view the road from both angles, to collect tolls. 

In 1886 a deputation was made to the Minister for Works, urging the toll to be abolished as it was unjust particularly as many others throughout the country had been removed. The toll was eventually abolished by the Windsor Road Trust in 1887.

Toll House at Windsor  1947 Courtesy of the State Library of NSW [No. d1_40918]

In 1975 a new high level bridge was constructed over South Creek almost concealing the Toll House from view. The building, has in the past, been damaged by both vandals and rising flood-waters however the exterior of the building was restored in 1997. The public can view the Toll House from the outside by walking from Court Street, on the pathway down beside the Fitzroy Bridge.

Sources :
Exploring the Hawkesbury / Ian Jack
Macquarie Country / D. G. Bowd
Windsor Toll House : user pays in the 19th century / Justin O'Connell
Sydney Gazette & Sydney Morning Herald newspapers on Trove 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A visit to the Hawkesbury in 1832 - Trove Tuesday

James Backhouse 1794-1869 was a naturalist and Quaker missionary. Born in Durham, England to a Quaker business family in Durham, England. He was employed at a Norwich nursery, working with some Australian plants and became interested in the penal colony, prison reform and transportation. With an increasing interest in social conscience Backhouse met up with George Washington Walker 1800-1859. George was a Quaker, businessman and humanitarian, was born on the 19 March 1800 in London. From his employees he learnt integrity and honesty of the Quakers and he joined the Society of Friends as a result. In 1828 he established the Temperance Society in Newcastle.  

In 1831 the two men departed England as missionaries, to observe the colonies. The trip was financed by the London Yearly Meeting. The pair arrived in Hobart in 1832 where Lieutenant-Governor, Sir George Arthur, was keen to co-operate with the two men. They provided Arthur with reports of their findings and suggestions for improvements as they were given limitless access to the penal settlements. They visited New South Wales in 1835 and spent two years touring Norfolk Island, Moreton Bay, Port Macquarie penal settlements as well as the Aboriginal Station at Wellington. Backhouse and Walker gave Governor Bourke detailed reports of these which were also sent back to the various authorities in England. These reports contributed to improvements and development of penal reform. They promoted the development of charitable organisations including the Temperance Society and British and Foreign Bible Society. They also promoted temperance and Aboriginal protection committees.

Whilst travelling around, James Backhouse kept a diary. In 1834 they returned from Wellington and were making the journey from Penrith to the Hawkesbury. His diary records in a manner “which 'preachifying', 'botany', and 'moral reflections' are mixed up with the itinerary in a purely Quaker fashion. The following is a transcription from the Windsor & Richmond Gazette 10 November 1900 of some of their reflections of the district.
21  October 1834 - We walked by way of the little village of Castlereagh to Windsor, a town of about 1500 inhabitants, beautifully situated on the Hawkesbury, and of very English appearance, where we found pretty good accommodation at an inn.
22 October 1834 - We called upon some of the inhabitants, and made arrangements for holding some meetings, in which we were assisted by the Wesleyan Minister.
23 October 1834 - We went to Richmond, another little town on the Hawkesbury, 4 miles distant from Windsor. The country here is very fine and productive, with extensive grassy flats along the sides of the river. On these, people continue to build and reside, notwithstanding that there have been floods at intervals of a few years that have risen far above the tops of their houses. A respectable Wesleyan at Richmond told us that he had heard of our visit to Wellington Valley several days ago from a Native, who had had the particulars detailed to him by a Black from the country. Our persons costume, and many other particulars, including our manner of communicating religious instruction, had been minutely described. And on our Wesleyan friend enquiring what the Black supposed all this meant he replied, "God Almighty come and sit down at Wellington," implying that the Most High would be worshipped there. The scattered natives of Australia communicate information rapidly, messengers being often sent from tribe to tribe for great distances. In the evening we returned to Windsor.
24 October 1834 - Accompanied by a thoughtful military officer, we walked to the villages of Pitt Town and Wilberforce.  At Pitt Town we were helped in obtaining a place to hold our meetings by the Episcopal Minister.
25 October 1834 - We had meetings at Richmond to the forenoon, and at Windsor in the afternoon. There was a painful feeling in both meetings on behalf of such as profess to be awakened, but do not maintain an inward exercise of the soul … who try to feed upon external excitement, instead of upon the ‘True Bread’ which cometh down from Heaven, etc
26 October 1834 - Had a temperance meeting in Government School-room at Windsor, ninety members being present.
27 October 1834 - Visited the jail, and addressed the prisoners. Afterward walked to Wilberforce, and had a meeting in the school house with a congregation consisting chiefly of Australians of European extension with whom I had an open time in preaching the Gospel, to which as regards its powers, the auditors seemed much of strangers…
28 October 1834 - At 6 this morning had a religious interview with a party of 24 employed in replacing a wooden bridge over South Creek, close to Windsor. In the afternoon visited the hospital and had a meeting of about 40 patients assembled in one of the 4 wards. In the evening met 120 persons in the school-room at Pitt Town. The district of Pitt town contains about seven hundred inhabitants, many of whom have been prisoners and are notorious for their drunkenness, profligacy and neglect of public worship.
29 October 1834 - We returned to Richmond and made call upon several persons for the purpose of furnishing them with tracts. In the afternoon we held a meeting at Currajong, a scattered settlement on the ascent of the mountains near the confluence of the Nepean and Grose Rivers, which uniting, form the Hawkesbury. The land here has been cleared and numerous cottages erected, but the inhabitants, who are chiefly Anglo-Australians, seem very uncultivated. In the evening we returned again to Windsor. The country in this neighbourhood was settled at an early period of the colony. Some of the alluvial flats on the Hawkesbury, which is navigable to Windsor for small craft, are very rich, and the people are now busy planting maize or Indian corn. Crops of this useful grain are often obtained after wheat has failed from frost, drought, or hot winds.
30  October 1834 - At 6 o'clock in the morning we mounted a 4 horse coach which stopped for breakfast at Parramatta and arrived at Sydney in 4 hours and a-half, the distance being 38 miles. Between Windsor and Parramatta there are a few large orange orchards, which are said to yield very profitable produce to their owners.  

Quakers traditionally encouraged education and Backhouse and Walker were optimistic about the British and Foreign School Society distributing material and text books on their journey. “Many schools in the colonies followed its curriculum and it became the official system in the early public education of some colonies. They encouraged savings banks, benevolent societies, and ladies' committees for prison visiting on Elizabeth Fry's model. They inspected hospitals and recommended humane treatment for the insane and asylums.”  

They also travelled interstate visiting Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide and returned home via Mauritius and South Africa where they travelled almost 10,000 kms spreading the word and recording their observations. Throughout their journey of the colonies, Backhouse collected and recorded botanical specimens which were sent back to Kew Gardens. The genus of a myrtaceous shrub was named Backhousia in his honour. Walker returned to Hobart in 1840 and married. He retained his concern for those less fortunate. In 1848 Lieutenant-Governor Denison noted that Walker was “the very personification of a mild, benevolent, and excellent Quaker. Even here, where sectarian and religious party feeling run higher than anywhere I have ever known, men of all denominations unite in speaking well of George Washington Walker.”   George passed away on the 2 February 1859 in Tasmania.

Whilst Walker returned to the colonies, Backhouse returned to England in 1841. He kept up with his nursery business whilst travelling extensively around the British Isles collecting botanical specimens. He continued his interest and concern in the places he had visited and also published A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies in 1841 which contained important material relating to conditions of both the penal settlement and the Aboriginals of the time. Backhouse passed away in York on the 20 January 1869. These two men had Evangelical concerns for humankind and resolved to bring about change by practical means.

The Hawkesbury District. (1900, November 10). Windsor and Richmond Gazette (NSW : 1888 - 1954), p. 1. Retrieved April 22, 2014, from
Mary Bartram Trott, 'Backhouse, James (1794–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 April 2014.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Bowman Flag

Did you know that the first recorded use of the kangaroo, emu and shield on an Australian flag was first flown in the Hawkesbury? 

The flag was made by members of the Bowman family and flown at their farm, Archerfield, in Richmond to celebrate the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar

John Bowman was a free settler from Scotland who arrived on the “Barwell” in 1798 with his wife Honor and two children. He was granted 100 acres at the Hawkesbury and encouraged his brother William to also migrate. William arrived on the “Nile” in 1801 and also settled in the Hawkesbury. 

Although the victory of Trafalgar took place in October 1805, news only reached the colony six months later and a postscript appeared in The Sydney Gazette 13 April 1806 To mark this significant milestone, Governor King recommended “a day of thanksgiving” for the inhabitants of the colony.

Bowman flag, 1806 / said to be by Mary Bowman
Courtesy of the State Library of NSW

Apparently the flag was created with silk from Honor Bowman’s wedding dress, although it is not confirmed whether Honor or her nine year old daughter Mary, did the actual sewing, although it is said to be by Mary. The design includes the rose, shamrock and thistle (floral symbols of England, Ireland and Scotland) with “unity” and Nelson’s famous motto “England expects every man will do his duty” which was used to bring together the troops at the commencement of the Battle of Trafalgar.  The actual painting of the flag is believed to have been done by a professional.  The flag was kept by descendants of the Bowman flag for almost 100 years when it was presented to the Richmond Public School by Bowman great grandchildren in 1905. In 1917 it was decided that the noteworthy artefact should in fact be held by the State Library of NSW therefore the flag was transferred. The local newspaper reported the details. The State Library has held the flag ever since. 

Close-up of the Bowman flag, 1806
Courtesy of the State Library of NSW

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Windsor Bridge tragedy

An unfortunate workplace tragedy took place in Windsor 140 years ago. The incident occurred when a young boy who was working on the Windsor Bridge inadvertently fell into the river and drowned in 1874. Humphrey Albert Douglass, who was almost ten years old, was employed working on the bridge being built over the Hawkesbury River at Windsor. The boy was “walking along the foot board of one of the large punts, when he fell into the water” on 21 January 1874. Before he could be pulled from the water he unfortunately drowned. Humphrey was the son of James and Mary Douglass.

An inquest was held the following day at the Sir John Young Hotel in Windsor. James Douglas gave the following evidence, which was reported in the newspaper Australian, Windsor, Richmond, & Hawkesbury Advertiser 24 January 1874:

James Douglas stated that he was a carpenter, and the father of the deceased, he saw him last alive on Wednesday morning at 7 o'clock; he was engaged on the Windsor Bridge works; when witness went home to his dinner he heard that his son was drowned, he went to the bridge immediately and was there some time before the body was found; he saw it taken out of the water; the body was dead and was that of his own son; deceased was ten years old.

The verdict “accidentally drowned while at work at the Windsor Bridge” was returned by the Coroner Mr. J. B. Johnston and a jury. The accident was witnessed by another boy who was pulling the punt which was being used for the traffic across the river. Not many people are aware of the tragic death of this young boy, a sad reminder of how fragile life was. Humphrey was buried at St. Matthews Church of England, Windsor.

Windsor Bridge, 1879. Government Printing Office, State Library of NSW

Saturday, 11 January 2014

A dreadful storm in 1847

In 1847, there was one of the most terrific storms that was ever experienced in Windsor. The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported on the 8 February 1847 that it was a hailstorm ... black clouds met each other, as if in secret conclave, whilst the horizon became gradually dark as the shades of evening closed up on the fated town of Windsor. The report continued, The storm commenced the lightning flashed exceedingly vivid and the thunder followed, rolling with awful solemnity. Rain, hail and tempest, came in their course ... the hail stones were of an immense size, many of them equalling a hen's egg ... the fury of the storm having ceased, the unfortunate inhabitants felt thankful, and proceeded to examine the state of their houses, which in most instances presented a deplorable appearance.” At 11 o'clock that night the storm recommenced and serious damage was done to various parts of the town.

St Matthew's Church of England, Windsor. Photo: M. Nichols

A number of buildings suffered much damage. At St. Matthew's Church, pictured above, eight large windows (comprising of 480 panes of glass) were completely smashed. Twelve windows at the nearby rectory were also smashed. The Presbyterian Church on the corner of George and Christie Street, lost fifty panes of glass. The Wesleyan Chapel lost 300 panes whilst the Hospital lost 150 panes. Other properties with smashed windows and minor damage included Cross's large building in Windsor's Macquarie Street, Millers' public house, George Freeman's, Dr. Stewart's, T. Byrnes, Mr. Edward's druggist shop.  Mr. Mountford's shop was badly damaged and not only were windows smashed but the glass jars and bottles in the shop windows damaged.

The local glass manufacturer and workmen must have been kept busy replacing all the panes of glass after this disastrous event.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

1874 technical details of the Windsor Bridge

The Windsor Bridge over the Hawkesbury River was officially opened on the 20 August 1874. The town celebrated in great style with about 7000 attendees and the day was observed as a general holiday. The Australian Town & Country Journal published the interesting sketch below, as well as an informative article about the construction of the newly opened Windsor Bridge on the 22 August 1874.

The New Bridge over the Hawkesbury at Windsor. Australian Town & Country Journal, 22 August 1874, p. 20. 

 The article, retrieved from Trove, is reprinted in full below:

This want of a bridge over the Hawkesbury River at Windsor has been felt for many years. In 1864, [politician James Augustine Cunneen 1826-1899] presented a petition from the inhabitants of the district for the erection of a bridge at Windsor, but it was not until June, 1871, that the Legislative Assembly voted the necessary funds for the construction of a low level bridge.

There was much diversity of opinion as to the advisability of constructing a low level bridge at the site proposed, as the floods rise there to a height of more than 50 feet above low water. The Commissioner and Engineer for Roads was however, instructed by the Government to prepare designs for a low level bridge, and to invite tenders for its construction. Mr. Andrew Turnbull's tender was accepted in December 1871 and the work began on the 15 January 1872.

According to the original design, the total length of the bridge was to be 406 feet, composed of eight main spans of 44 feet each, and of two approaches 32 feet and 22 feet respectively. The abutments were to be of timber; and the nine intermediate piers of cast iron cylinders and screw piles braced with strong wrought iron beams. The screw piles and cylinders to be sunk to the rock, and lewised thereto by heavy wrought iron bolts, previous to being filled up with cement concrete.

In October 1872, three of the iron piers had been sunk 4 feet into the rock to the depth of 25 feet below river bed; each column was lewised with four inch bolt and filled up with strong cement and concrete, supporting a ring of 9-inch radiating bricks; enclosing a cone of concrete to the top of the pier. From the nature of the strata found in sinking those piers, it became doubtful whether screw piles could be used, as the bed of the river to the rock consisted of drift timber, silt, and boulders deposited by floods.

A test screw-pile, 2 foot 6 inches in diameter, was, however, put down in the middle of the stream; but the rock could not be reached, owing to the difficulty of removing the drift timber. Mr. Bennett, the Commissioner and Engineer for Roads, then decided to give up the screw-piles and to use cylinders for all the piers.

Many freshes and several heavy floods retarded operations; and the sinking of all the piers could not be completed until December, 1873. Although a few feet only of the iron columns appear above water, the cylinders reach to an average depth of 40 feet below summer level. By the use of the sand-pump and air-lochs, boulders, drift-wood, and logs, several feet in thickness, were removed at considerable depths, and each pillar firmly bedded and lewised four feet into the solid rock. The bracing beams were also fixed below water by divers, before the erection of the superstructure.

The extraordinary floods at Windsor which reach to a height of 51 foot above low water, or 36 feet above the decks of the bridge, made it necessary to have the superstructure unusually strong; and much ingenuity is shown in tho design for securely fastening it to the piers. The deck is 21 feet 6 inches wide; and is composed of planks five inches thick, securely fixed to five ironbark girders 17 and 18 inches by 16 inches and 44 feet long, strongly bolted to corbels and capsilla firmly secured to-the iron piers. The whole of the timber is ironbark, which has little buoyancy under water, and the girders are fine specimens of our colonial wood.

All the joints are covered with iron fish-plates, bolted with inch bolts, and it is evident from the massive fastenings throughout, and the great strength of the structure in every detail, that the engineer has taken every precaution to prevent the floods from making a breach in any part of the bridge. The handrail is also ingeniously contrived to protect it from the large quantity of drift timber brought down by the floods. The foot of every rail post swings on a stout bolt secured to the girders, and the top is jointed to a two-inch wrought iron pipe, provided with sockets and collars at every 44 feet; the total length being held in place by two iron couplings in such a manner that one man can lower the whole alongside the girders in ten minutes.

The amount of Messrs. Turnbull and Dixon's contract was £8287; but an additional expenditure of about £2000 was rendered necessary by the substitution of cylinders for screw piles in the piers, and by the addition of two spans to the bridge to prevent future encroachment on the approaches. It was observed that moderate floods bring large deposits of sand and drift; but that heavy floods scour the river bed to a considerable extent.

The total length of the bridge as completed is 480 feet. The abutment on the Windsor side is built of iron backed with masonry in cement; and that on the opposite bank is protected by sheet piling reaching below summer level. A new cutting has also been made on the Wilberforce side for the approach, which is covered with ironstone gravel. The number of cast-iron cylinders used in the piers is 130. They are six feet long, and 3 feet 6 inches in diameter, and their weight exceeds 150 tons. They were cast at the Mort's Dock and Engineering Works at Balmain; and are another instance of the facility afforded for such works by colonial establishments.

The inhabitants of the district may well be pleased at the completion of this fine bridge; and it will be satisfactory for them to know that it has been ascertained by the officers of the Department of Roads and Bridges, in reference to the traffic and the disastrous floods of the Hawkesbury River, that, while the deck of the Windsor bridge is free from flood, the Richmond bridge is covered with three feet eight inches of water, and that the Windsor bridge is crossable twenty-two hours after the stoppage of the traffic at the Richmond bridge.

Great credit is due to the contractors, Messrs, Turnbull and Dixon, for their energy and perseverance in carrying out, without any accident, such an important and difficult work, to the satisfaction of the Commissioner and Engineer for Roads.

More about the official opening of the bridge will follow.

Friday, 27 December 2013

A tragic trip

In days gone by, many inhabitants lived closed to the Hawkesbury River and its tributaries as it was quick to travel from one location to another by boat. By road the route between Lower Portland and Windsor is about 40 kms and by car would take about 50 minutes today. Over one hundred years ago the route by road, travelling by horse and cart could take about three to four hours, by boat the journey was considerably quicker.

Several generations of the Wall family resided at Lower Portland during the 19th century. Patriarch of the family was Thomas Wall (1794-1880) a convict who had arrived in 1815 and his wife Ann Huxley (1805-1869) whose parents were also convicts. Following their marriage at Windsor’s St. Matthews Church of England in 1822, Thomas and Ann raised a large family. Their son Richard was born in 1824 and he married Elizabeth Harriet Jones in Sydney in 1853. Their children included, Sidney born 1854, Thomas John 1856, Frederick 1858, George 1860, Martha Ann 1863, Rosanna Caroline 1865, Rachel Jane 1867, Drusilla Elizabeth 1870, Emeline Alice 1873 and Jessie Mary born 1876. Richard Wall was recorded as a farmer but was originally a cordwainer by trade. A cordwainer was a shoemaker who made luxurious footwear.

In 1881, the Wall family consisted of Richard and his wife Elizabeth along with an assortment of their unmarried children residing with them at Lower Portland. On 20 January 1881, a hot and humid summer’s day, Richard set out on a routine outing. He was visiting his older brother Thomas, who lived in Windsor and was accompanied by daughters; Martha 18 and Rachel aged 13. 

They left the house of Thomas Wall about 3.30pm in the afternoon to return home but later that evening the alarm was raised when they did not arrive at their destination. Apparently they got caught in a squall near Pitt Reach on the Hawkesbury River which upset the boat.  Following the hot day a southerly buster hit Sydney around 6pm with a small shower of rain and gusty winds. According to the Sydney Morning Herald report the boat was located upside down and empty with the occupants missing, sometime after the warning was raised. Thomas Wall was alerted of the tragedy and he travelled to Mrs Burdekin’s farm at about 11pm the same evening, to see what had taken place.  

As it was too dark, the search reconvened the following morning at 7am with Mr Woodbury, Mr J. Kirwan and William Pendergast lending a hand. Senior Constable Roberts also contributed to the search. He proceeded to a place called Foul Weather Reach and commenced dragging the river for the bodies and found two women’s hats on the beach, and opposite to them some parcels, and about 11 o’clock he found the eldest girl Martha Wall. William Grono then located the bodies of Richard Wall and his youngest daughter, they were clasped together when found.

An Inquest was held in Pitt Town at the Maid of Australia Hotel the following day.  Dr Thomas Fiaschi gave evidence at the inquest stating in his opinion the deaths resulted from suffocation by drowning. The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased met their deaths by being accidentally drowned, through the upsetting of a boat, on the evening of the 20 January 1881, according to The Australian, Windsor, Richmond, & Hawkesbury Advertiser. The district coroner for Windsor, James Bligh Johnston, Esq JP returned a result, death by accidental drowning.

The funeral, a most sad occasion, was held at St Thomas Church of England at Sackville on 22 January and the service was conducted by Rev. W. Wood. The three members of the Wall family were buried together at Sackville Reach Cemetery

The simple sandstone headstone recording the three names, is a reminder of this unfortunate
19thcentury tragedy. Photo: Jonathan Auld 2003.

The Hawkesbury community rallied around the Wall family and the community donated cash and goods to the worthy cause. John Gough and Thomas Boston were the official collectors and a list of donors appeared in the The Australian several weeks later.