Saturday, 24 January 2015

52 Ancestors 2015 - Week 5- Ploughing through - The farmers on the Hawkesbury

The theme for Week 5 of the 52 Ancestors 2015 challenge is plowing through. I am using the Australian / English spelling of ploughing and the context used in this post is looking at the early settlers, mainly farmers in the Hawkesbury district north of Sydney early in the nineteenth century, who not only needed to plough the land before planting their crops but also struggled on despite challenges they encountered.
Google Map of Hawkesbury River
The area along the Hawkesbury River was first explored in 1789, the year after the first convicts arrived in Sydney. The land around Sydney was not proving to be suitable for farming so it was necessary to find good farming land further afield to produce crops and raise livestock to feed the new colony. The decision to settle the Hawkesbury region was made five years later when, in 1794,  twenty-two settlers arrived to farm their thirty acre allotments.

William Roberts (1756-1820) and his family appear to be the first members of my family to have settled in the Hawkesbury District. Initially, in 1794, William received a grant of 30 acres of land near Sydney which he sold in 1800 for £60. This money no doubt helped him establish his properties in the Hawkesbury area where the family had moved after Governor Hunter had given William a grant of 50 acres at Mulgrave Place, near Windsor in 1796. In 1809 he purchased land from Thomas Hobby as well as purchasing land in Windsor.

John Pendergast (1869-1833) appears to have been living in the Hawkesbury area from the time of his arrival in New South Wales in 1800. In 1802 he and a fellow convict were renting 30 acres at Mulgrave Place. He later purchased Adlam's Farm, 80 acres at Upper Half Moon Reach, probably by 1806. In 1816 he was also granted land near Campbelltown.

The 1806 Muster shows that Charles Daley (1775-1831) owned 15 acres at the Hawkesbury (near Windsor). By the 1822 he had increased his landholdings to 26 acres.

Uriah Moses (1780-1847) was assigned to assist a landholder in the Hawkesbury area near Windsor (1806 Muster of Convicts) probably shortly after his arrival in New South Wales. By 1809 the Colonial Secretary's papers record that Uriah had delivered produce to the Hawkesbury government stores, indicating that he now had land of his own on which he was growing grain. Uriah increased his land-holdings and grain production and by 1821 had established a bakery at Windsor. He may have also have had a flour mill to process the grain he had grown.

The muster records can provide an indication of the crops being grown by family members in the Hawkesbury district. In 1818 Uriah grew wheat on three acres and maize on seven acres. He also had 14 pigs. William died in 1820 but the 1822 Muster shows that the land, now owned by his wife, had wheat growing on twenty acres, eight acres of maize, six acres of barley and half an acre of potatoes. There was also a garden and an orchard with the rest of land used as pasture for forty cattle plus fifty pigs.  In 1806 Charles had six acres of wheat, two acres of barley, seven acres of fallow land and he owned one pig. On Adlam's Farm John grew maize and wheat and had cattle and pigs on the property.

Although the land was fertile farming in the Hawkesbury area had its challenges. The land had to be cleared and the ground ploughed and generally prepared for the planting of crops needed to sustain the new colony. The farmers had to become used to the Australian conditions - seasons, weather - which were different from England. Once the crops started growing they needed to be protected from native animals looking for a feed. There were also pests that needed to be kept from the crops and the stored grain when it was harvested. For example in 1814 there was a plague of caterpillars in the district.

The Europeans were establishing their farms on land occupied by Aboriginal tribes and it was not long before tensions arose between the two very different cultural groups, each trying to live on the same land. The Aborigines were hunters and gatherers and this was sometimes extended to the livestock and crops of the farmers. Tensions soon arose between the two groups sometimes ending in murder. The government stationed troops in the area from the early days of the settlement to protect the settlers and farms and generally maintain law and order.

Then there was the river. The Hawkesbury River was responsible for the rich soil that was suitable for farming. It also provided a transport route to ship the supplies back to Sydney. However the  river flooded regularly. When looking at the map of the river it is easy to see how it curves and meanders resulting in a large flood plain that still exists today.  A Chronological Table of Events in the Hawkesbury, published in the Windsor and Richmond Gazette 10 December 1910 provides a list of some of the floods. In 1806, for example the river flooded three times - 
20th March, great flood at the Hawkesbury, crops destroyed, wheat 70/- to 80/- per bushel.
7th September, heavy hail storm at the Hawkesbury.
24th September, earthquake felt at Richmond Hill. 19th October, 300 acres of wheat inundated at South Creek. 22nd November, £7 paid for one bushel of seed maize.
The loss of crops and stored grain resulted in a steep increase in prices. These were followed by floods in 1808, 1809 and 1811.

Michelle Nichols describes some of the conditions experienced in the Hawkesbury area in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Feen Adlam and his servant were killed by Aborigines in April 1805 and the farmhouse burnt. This was the property later purchased by John Pendergast. After the 1806 and 1808 floods many of the settlers, including the Pendergast family, experienced financial difficulties and in 1808 the Provost Marshall was instructed to sell two of the farms belonging to John Pendergast. As Nichols notes the sale did not go through, so John must have found the money to pay his debts.

This was all part of the challenge of living in the new colony. The crops needed to be harvested and taken to market. Livestock also needed to be sold. Goods could be transported to Sydney along the river or by road via horse and cart. Accidents, however, sometimes occurred such as the death of Charles Daley as reported in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 26 May 1831:
On Wednesday the 18th instant, an inquest was held at Parramatta, before James Wright Esq. J. P. in the absence of the Coroner, on the body of Charles Daly, late of Windsor, who was accidentally killed on the previous evening, on the road near Parramatta, by the wheel of a cart, laden with maize, passing over his body. The jury returned a verdict accordingly.
Despite the challenges the members of my family who settled in the Hawkesbury area did plough on and helped create a new settlement as well as a comfortable and profitable living for their families in their new country.

The novel, The Secret River, by Kate Grenville is set in the Hawkesbury district during the early nineteenth century and portrays the challenges of the times.

Websites relating to Hawkesbury:
Hawkesbury Library Museum Gallery - the library holds the local history collection for the region
Hawkesbury on the net - includes a list of resouces
Hawkesbury Historical Society blog - Hawkesbury River
Hawkesbury - History
Hawkesbury People and Places


  1. thanks for this post - both my family and my husband's have Hawkesbury connections - my gt gt gt gt gd parents Richard Hicks and partner Margaret Howe and their baby Sarah Mary Hicks survived the 1806 flood when they were washed down river on the roof of a barn

  2. Maybe your family knew my family. Thank you for adding some additional information about the Hawkesbury