Friday, 20 February 2015

Fruit growing in the Hawkesbury

Fruit has been grown in the Hawkesbury since the early 1800s and by 1810 there were over 100 hectares of orchards growing peaches, plums and apricots.  From the 1820s the cooler climate in the Kurrajong area became popular to grow fruit and the hills were covered with fruit bearing trees.

Stone fruits and apples were well-suited to the elevated areas of Kurrajong and Bilpin were suitable for stone fruits and apples. Granny Smith, Delicious and Jonathan apples were grown. Some orchards grew peas in between the trees as an additional crop.

Orchards at Kurrajong early 1900s
Courtesy State Records NSW Digital ID: 12932_a012_a012X2450000131

Did you know by 1890 the Hawkesbury grew over 195,000,00 oranges? In the 1930s the district was struck with an outbreak of fruit fly forcing a number of orchards to shut down. Other fruit grown included pears, plums, currants, gooseberries, strawberries and cherries all performed well. Melons were grown up and down the river and were easily transported by riverboat. By 1944 there were still 286,000 citrus bearing trees all over the Hawkesbury which was 20% of NSW total. The 1956 flood destroyed a lot of the orchards situated along the riverbanks. Beautiful peaches also were grown around Wisemans Ferry and Maroota – who can ever forget the taste? 

Unfortunately the number of orchards in the Hawkesbury has drastically reduced over the past 30 years with only a handful remaining.

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Hawkesbury River - the Rhine of Australia

One of Britain's most popular nineteenth century authors, Anthony Trollope 1815-1882, wrote in 1873, the following, comparing the Hawkesbury River to other grander rivers found elsewhere around the landscape.

The Hawkesbury River has neither castles or islands, nor has it bright clear water like the Rhine 
but the headlands are higher, the bluffs are bolder, and the turns and manoeuvres of the 
course which the waters have made themselves, are grander, and to me more enchanting 
than those of either the European or American River.

Riverscape scene near Wisemans Ferry on the Hawkesbury River NSW, 1880-1909. One of a series of photographs probably taken on the Hawkesbury River by William Frederick Hall between 1880 and 1909.
From the collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum, viewed on Flickr 

Trollope was visiting his son Frederick who was living at the time in Grenfell NSW, he then travelled extensively around the countryside. He went by boat from Sackville past Wisemans Ferry and onto Sydney, accompanied by a number of politicians including the then Premier of NSW, Sir James Martin. Trollope was very impressed by the Hawkesbury as a destination and compared it favourably to the Rhine in Europe. He took copious notes and he published several books following the trip including his travels in a publication titled 'Australia and New Zealand' in 1873.

Title page of Australia and New Zealand published in 2 volumes

Trollope Reach, located just past Wisemans Ferry on the Hawkesbury River, was named in his memory. Trollope passed away 6 December 1882 in London and is buried at Kensal Green. He wrote over 50 publications, most of which can be viewed for free online at eBooks@Adelaide

Friday, 2 January 2015

Government Labour Settlement at Pitt Town

On the outskirts of Pitt Town is Nelson Common, it was established by Governor King in 1804 for settlers to use for grazing stock. One of several commons in the Hawkesbury district, it covered an area of over 2,000 hectares and later became known as the Pitt Town Common. 

In the early 1890s, part of Pitt Town Common was set aside as a Government Labour Settlement or Camp. Set up on 930 hectares, the settlement enabled the breadwinners of selected families during the 1890s depression, an alternative lifestyle operating along the lines of a co-operative or commune. By 1894 over 500 residents were living onsite; however it was disbanded after only a few years. 

Windsor & Richmond Gazette 30 September 1893 p. 5 

In 1894 the local newspaper reported that, "Close upon 600 men, women, and children are now located on the Pitt Town Labour Settlement, the men all industrious and hard-working beings, compelled through stress of bad times and absolute lack of employment to seek to make homes for themselves under new and altered conditions." The powers to be did not have the means to provide the inhabitants with clothing, in light of winter coming, so the media appealed to the community for help. The editorial stated,"It is not too much to ask that those who have been more favoured by Fortune should lend a hand in a good cause, and assist in rendering the lot of men, women, and children brighter and happier than will otherwise be the case."

In 1896 the site was converted to a Casual Labour Farm, this time the aim was to house unemployed men, in return for their upkeep. The local newspaper recorded the object of the farm was 'to enable men who could not obtain employment though ill put in a few weeks of comparatively light labour under wholesome conditions. They must all work but the work is to be suited to the strength and capacities of the men'. The chores consisted of light manual duties around the farm including the cutting of firewood. The number of men living and working on the farm peaked around 1907 with about fifty men and twenty boys recorded. Again this operation was short-lived and by 1910, the Labour Farm had ceased to operate.

The site was then set up as the Government Agricultural Training Farm in 1910 and named Scheyville, closing in the 1930s. For more information about the farm see the Scheyville Government Agricultural Training Farm post. In later years the site was used as a Migrant Accommodation Centre (1949-1964) for those wishing to settle in Australia after WW2. Then an Officer Training Unit during the late 1960s. National Servicemen were trained as part of their deployment in the Vietnam War. 

Over the last forty years the site at Scheyville has been used for a wide range of purposes including the accommodation for the Hawkesbury Agricultural College, now the University of Western Sydney - Richmond campus. There were also proposals for the site in the 1980s for a prison complex, an airport, rubbish tip and a residential development. In 1996 the Scheyville National Park covering over 920 hectares was established to conserve the fragile environment of this area. 

Friday, 19 December 2014


Do you when the first traffic lights appeared in the Hawkesbury and where? 

These days we take traffic lights for granted as they appear on most major roads. A bit of background on traffic lights - the first set of traffic lights appeared in NSW in Sydney in 1933, on the corner of Kent and Market Streets but it wasn't until 1937 more lights appeared. In 1959 the then Department of Motor Transport actually established the first linked set of traffic lights in Australia along the Parramatta Road. 

It wasn't until the 1960s that traffic lights became more widespread throughout the greater Sydney Metropolitan area and rural centres in NSW. The first set located outside the Sydney metropolitan area and the districts of Newcastle and Wollongong was in Tamworth in 1966.

The image shows Mr Deane with 2 officers of Department of Motor Transport.
Windsor & Richmond Gazette 21/2/1968 

The first set of lights in the Hawkesbury was officially switched on in Windsor on the 19 February 1968, according to the local newspaper.[1] These were situated at the busy intersection of George Street and Richmond Road near McQuade Park which was (and still is) well-known for car accidents. They were a ‘vehicle actuated system’ which meant they were adjusted to the traffic flow. The lights were turned on by the local politician Mr Bernie Deane who gave a short speech to the small crowd. Deane was the local member for Hawkesbury between 1950 and 1971. He was was sure that the lights would assist the pedestrians particularly the young and the elderly trying to make their way across the busy intersection. He also thought the lights would be very useful if the local swimming pool went ahead in McQuade Park. Although there were plans for the pool in the park, it was eventually constructed in Church Street, South Windsor. 

Mr Deane also stated in his speech that the installation of the lights in Windsor was "yet another indication of the progress being made in this district."

For more information about traffic signals in NSW see Paul Rand's website.

[1] Windsor & Richmond Gazette 21 February 1968 p. 1

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Struck by lightning 1816 - Trove Tuesday

In October 1816 it was reported in the Sydney Gazette, that a young lady had died in the Hawkesbury after being tragically struck by lightning. 

Mary Ezzy who lived on the outskirts of Windsor NSW was finalising the preparations for her forthcoming marriage, which was to take place on the 21 October. Ironing her wedding gown adjacent to a window, Mary aged 16, was observed by her older brother and a friend Miss King. A storm hit mid-afternoon with rain, thunder and lightning. All three were knocked over by the force of the strike but Mary was “enveloped in a blaze, her hair having taken fire.”  James Mileham, the local surgeon, was sent for but was unable to do anything and it appears she died instantly.  A dog was also “found dead” at the scene. Mary was singed on her chest, back and one of her arms. 

Mary died whilst ironing her wedding outfit in 1816. Photo: M. Nichols, 2014.

Ten of the twelve panes of glass where the lightning struck were broken and the floor scorched from the window to where Mary lay. The vehicle which was to carry Mary and her mother to Sydney for her special event a few days later was then used to convey the news of her death and later transport the family to her burial on the 19 October held at St. Matthew’s Church of England Cemetery, Windsor. 


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

1809 Flood at Hawkesbury

This week in 1809, heavy rain had begun which eventually turned into a deluge and led to the Hawkesbury flooding. The July/August flood reached 14.49m with at least 8 people perishing as a result. This followed a big flood in May 1809 where the water rose 14.63m. There were heavy losses of crops, livestock and belongings. Read the accounts from The Sydney Gazette, 6 August 1809, p. 2. 

Hawkesbury River in flood by Michelle Nichols

Accounts were on Tuesday last received in town of the Hawkesbury Settlement being again flooded; and in the course of the following day those accounts were unhappily confirmed; a Mr. BULL of Sydney, who was at the house of Mr. John BENN, down the River, at the commencement of the flood, informs us, that little or no rain fell in that quarter until Saturday evening the 29th ultimo, when a heavy rain set in which continued without intermission until Monday morning. That a rise in the water was perceived between 10 and 11 on Sunday night, and continued for some hours to rise gradually, but afterwards with an astonishing rapidity until the whole of the surrounding farms were laid under water. About noon on Tuesday it was at the highest; and in the course of the afternoon abated 5 or 6 feet; but, in consequence of the deluges of rain that fell in the evening and night of Tuesday, the water rose again several feet. On Wednesday it began again to fall, and by the noon of Thursday had decreased 10 feet from its greatest height. Among the principal sufferers that we have heard of down the River, is Mr. BENN; he having lost upwards of 300 head of swine, 100 sheep, about 1000 bushells of wheat threshed or in stack, and a stack of barley, besides a valuable property contained in his dwelling-house and barn, among which were two chests of tea and a ton of sugar, but a few days prior received from Sydney. 

The Sydney Gazette, 6 August 1809, p. 2.

From the Green Hills, the following report contained in a private letter, dated on Tuesday night, 11 o'clock, was received in Town on Thursday; "With regret I inform you of the dreadful scene that at the present moment chills me with excessive horror. The whole of this extensive settlement is one uninterrupted sheet of water. The lower range of houses upon the Green Hills is immersed; and the River has formed a juncture with the South Creek, across the Hills, through RICKERBY's grounds upon the River side, and those of the Rev. Mr. MARSDEN on the Creek. Yesterday and last night was a most dreadful season! The danger encroached with a rapidity never before witnessed; and the cries of the numerous families who were more imminently exposed were rendered still more agonizing by the impracticability of affording them immediate relief. In one alarming instance, a young man a settler, his wife, and three children, were seated on a ladder lain across the fork of a tree, in which situation they contrived to sustain an equilibrium for nearly three hours, the man a great part of the time clinging by his hands at the end of the ladder; but alas; yielding to fatigue, he forsook his hold and all were in consequence precipitated into the deluge. The woman and children were picked up; but the fate of the unfortunate man is doubtful. A settler at Cornwallis passed the Hills this morning on the top of a small wheat-stack; his fate is unknown; but it is much hoped he may have been preserved by some of the boats employed in this humane work. In another, and truly melancholy instance, eight persons are supposed to have perished in one spot. The names of those supposed unfortunates have been mentioned; but from this I must refrain, hoping the account may be erroneous, or at the least exaggerated. At present all is uncertainty and dread, all terror and astonishment. Some lives are lost; many have been saved by the exertions of the mere enterprising, directed by our Magistrates, who by their example encouraged the toil of rescuing whole families from the very verge of fate. And I cannot omit to mention the active and indefatigable exertions of Messrs. THOMPSON and BIGGERS, to whom, under the direction of Divine Providence, many are indebted for their lives ... Their fatigues were equal to their dangers, which were increased by the extreme darkness of the nights; during which their boats were repeatedly stove, and it was with difficulty they could with their crews preserve their lives. Many others who volunteered their exertions are also entitled to every praise. At the order of Mr. BELL, the Church was appropriated to the reception of the sufferers brought to the Hills, and such as were destitute were victualled from the Store, and every measure that humanity could devise was adopted to alleviate as much as possible the misery of their condition. It is considered that the perpendicular rise of the River could not be much less than 85 feet from the general level, and to have exceeded that of March, 1806, by 6 or 8 feet or perpendicular height; and unfortunately happens at a time of year which totally destroys the prospects of the settler, and the dependence of the Colony upon this Settlement for the next year, as the sown wheat will in all probability perish in the ground in most of the lower situations. At the farm of Mr. S. TERRY nine persons viz COOLEY, of Toongabbee; MUNSEY, of Hawkesbury; HODGES, servant to a gentleman of Sydney; MAHOMED an Asiatic, his wife and two children, and two black men - had endeavoured to secure themselves on the top of the barn, which fell in about 5 on Monday evening; but as there was no other resource left, they continued upon the roof for about two hours after, when the wife of MAHOMED fell through the thatch with one of her children in her arms, and was no more seen. COOLEY endeavouring to save the other child, which clung to MAHOMED, the father, slipped off with the infant, and in like manner disappeared; as did MUNSEY also. MAHOMED and the two black men saved themselves in trees, and HODGES swimming about in the dark at length got into the stream, by which he was carried between 5 and 6 miles before any impediment opposed his rapid course; when happily he found safety among the branches of a tree; from whence he was at length taken by a boat, and conveyed to a place of safety.

The accounts from Richmond Hill are of the same distressing tendency; but from Portland Head no communication has yet been received. The loss of stock has been very severe, as well as grain, no possible estimate can be formed at present. As soon as the melancholy intelligence was received His Honor Lieut. Governor FOVEAUX left Town, accompanied by James FINUCANE, Esq. Secretary to His Honor the Lieut. Governor, with intention to proceed to Hawkesbury direct; but was obliged to return, as the roads were impassable. The Banks of George's River were unfortunately inundated at the same time; and a great quantity of stock and other property lost. In Major JOHNSTON's stock-yard 490 sheep were drowned; Mr. McCALLAM lost 300, and several houses were left in ruins. We have much satisfaction in reporting, however, that fewer persons have lost their lives than at first was apprehended; an account received last night stating, that many who were unaccountably missing have since been heard of, and are in safety. 

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