Port Jackson to ‘Garden Hill’ Wollongong
There was a bustle and expansiveness about Sydney in the year 1839. Charles and Susan Murray and their children were eight of the 8,416 people who reached New South Wales in that year on assisted passages. The population was increasing rapidly from its penal roots in 1788. Its population would rise from 19,000 in 1836 to 30,000 four years later. Outside Sydney, another 100,000 completed the colony’s European population. As well as new immigrants arriving, the transportation of felons was still swelling numbers when the Murray family arrived on the Susan in March 1839 as emigrants.
An emigrant ship arrives in Sydney.
It is likely that the arrival of a vessel from ‘home’ was greeted by swarms of little boats as local residents came out to look for relatives or friends on board. When the Susan passengers disembarked at Circular Quay, they were surrounded by wooded hills and an occasional building with several other sailing ships tied up at anchor in the bay. The temperature of the Sydney area reported in the Sydney Gazette on that day was ‘76 degrees, weather clear’. In fact, the remarkable clearness of the atmosphere particularly struck new arrivals, ‘so different to the diffused effect of an English landscape …’ . James Morris (1973) draws an attractive picture of Sydney as it appeared to new arrivals in 1840.
‘Sydney was surprisingly impressive, for a city that had been in existence scarcely more than half a century. As the great three-master from England sailed carefully between the headlands of Port Jackson, then as now one of the supreme moments of travel, to discover the glorious sheltered harbour within, with its islands and wooded coves sprawling languid under the sun. As the stranger approached this celebrated and notorious place, populated first by thieves, murderers, whores and paupers, he saw before him not a dismal penitentiary, but a prosperous and not unattractive seaport of some 30,000 inhabitants, set pleasantly on a green peninsula, and busy with the masts and riggings of many ships. A steam ferry puffed back and forwards across the harbour and among the trees on the outskirts of the town, looking across the water, were isolated villas and cottages on the foreshore, like pleasure pavilions in a great water-garden’. On that clear, fine autumn day in 1839 when the Susan dropped anchor, the sparkling waters of the harbour under the vast blue sky, bathed in sunlight, could only gladden the emigrants’ hearts.
When they finally disembarked and ventured ashore, there was the town itself with its busy streets, bustling with riders and carriages. The whitewashed cottages and two-story houses were spread comfortably along the streets, most with their own gardens full of colourful flowers, fruit and vegetables. However, convicts in chain gangs, dressed in their broad-arrow uniforms, were still a common sight in Sydney, as were the men from the newly built Hyde Park Barracks. ‘Gangs in arrowed clothing were working on the streets as road navvies, on the new gaol, the military barracks, the dock, Dawes battery and Fort Macquarie. Others trudged down to work on the new botanic gardens on the slopes above the harbour – surely one of the most beautiful work sites in the world’.
New South Wales Governors Bourke & Gipps
The previous Governor (1831-1837) of New South Wales, Dublin-born Sir Richard Bourke, had resigned in frustration in 1837 and left NSW to return to Ireland. Bourke, a paragon of Anglo-Irish liberal achievement had come up against the closed society of the colonial exclusives. Outside the Mitchell Library In Macquarie Street, Sydney, stands the imposing bronze figure of Richard Bourke. Few Sydneysiders today would realise why an adoring public, many of them Catholic and from the lower classes, would have donated so generously to erect a statue of the Irish-born lieutenant-general who was governor of NSW from 1831 to 1837. Bourke was a staunch supporter of the rights of Irish Catholics. He established religious equality on a just and firm basis and introduced humane reforms in the treatment of convicts, freedom of the press, trial by jury and the subsidised immigration of free settlers. He also sought to provide for all citizens with a sound and progressive system of public education
Sir George Gipps, Bourke’s successor as Governor (1838-1846), had arrived in Sydney in February 1838. Although his administrative efforts were characterised by integrity, a devotion to duty and a capacity for hard work, Governor Gipps would also find, during his term, opposition from the rich and powerful in New South Wales. The colony of New South Wales stretched from Cape York in the north to Wilson’s Promontory in the south, westwards to the border with Western Australia, more than two thousand kilometres from Sydney, and eastwards from the shoreline so as to include ‘all the Islands adjacent’ and Norfolk Island.
In the late 1830s, colonial employers’ need for labour, together with the imminent loss of convict workers by 1841, had induced Governor Bourke to establish the bounty system to finance immigration, particularly of mechanics, farm labourers and single females. The numbers of assisted migrants to the colony swelled immediately. The Government (or Wakefield) system operated up until 1840. Charles Murray’s Certificate of Entitlement as a bounty immigrant stated merely that he was ‘brought out by Govt’. There was no mention of a sponsor’s name or letter of recommendation.
After the Sydney Gazette notice advertised the arrival of the Susan emigrants, it appears likely that prospective employers such as the Osbornes, originally from Dromore, boarded the ship to choose suitable agricultural labourers, shepherds and female house servants to work for them on their Illawarra properties. From reminiscences of an elderly Illawarra pioneer, we get a contemporary glimpse of what happened when such ships as the Susan arrived in Sydney in the year 1839. Mrs. Atchison of Shellharbour was one of three children of William Thomas and his wife who arrived from England on the Westminster in that same year. She was a little six-year old girl in 1839 when the family disembarked in Sydney, but Mrs. Atchison, interviewed in 1925, could still remember the ship’s arrival.When the Westminster arrived at Sydney, Henry Osborne was at the wharf with a view to securing men for the building of his Marshall Mount House, and the laying out of his gardens and grounds.
The Osborne landholders of the Illawarra
Henry Osborne, who had arrived in Australia in 1829, received a grant of 640 acres in the Illawarra area, known as Mount Marshall. He later acquired large tracts of land at The Lakelands, Avondale and Kangaroo Valley as well as around Wollongong; including a Mount Keira property. Mount Marshall comprised 2,560 acres and, at that time, entitled Henry to between 20 and 30 free government labourers. The Mount Marshall homestead was commenced in 1839 and completed in 1841.
When the Susan arrived from Ireland, Henry’s brother John Osborne also needed labour for his Garden Hill property in the Illawarra. Whether Charles Murray knew, before he left his home in County Fermanagh, that he would have the security of promised employment in the Illawarra, or whether the Osbornes chose him only after the Susan’s arrival is not known. On arrival in Sydney families would spend a short time in the immigrant barracks then proceed to their destination, which in this case was Wollongong. It appears that Charles Murray was initially to be employed making bricks in Wollongong as piece work for Osborne properties
But even a short stay in Sydney town would surely have the family strolling down George Street, the main street of Sydney in 1839, to the sight of parrots and other unfamiliar birds of exotic plumage hanging in cages exposed for sale; and fruit stalls loaded with oranges, lemons, limes, figs, grapes and stone fruits of every description. ‘Men of all nations walked the streets of Sydney as well as South Sea Islanders and Maoris from New Zealand, who were sailors off the ships in the Harbour. The aboriginals no longer went about naked, but were now clothed in rags.’
The journey south – travelling to the Illawarra
From Sydney town, the family had to undertake another journey with all their goods and chattels, to the Illawarra. At that time, there were two alternate methods of travel. The overland trip from Sydney to the Illawarra was, by all accounts, inconveniently arduous, but with the formation of the Illawarra Steam Packet Company in 1839, the trip was made much more pleasant. In fact, the Murrays may have travelled on a steamer like the Thomas family mentioned earlier. In her interview, Mrs. Atchison, recounted that, as a small child when she landed with her family at Wollongong, ’Crown Street was a bullock track through the bush’. Upon the arrival of the little steamer William the Fourth at Wollongong, she described being helped ashore by one of the sailors from the steamer.
‘There was no wharf or landing place, and produce had to be also carried to dry land. The bullock driver, ‘Old Dan’, was there with his team and soon they were in the dray and making through the bush to a place unknown to them … along an apparently endless bush track, with only the bush craft of the driver to guide them on their journey. … There was a large building back from the landing place where the convicts were housed … Where Wollongong is today was then heavy timber, with about a dozen settlers’ houses erected in the bush.’
Mrs. Atchison also recalled the fires of the blacks camped at places along the road, and described the settlers’ places of abode as ‘just rough huts’. Charles and Susan Murray and their family would have come upon similar scenes as they came to the end of the journey to the Illawarra and to their new life at Garden Hill.
Some 1839 reminiscences in diary entries re Illawarra
Earlier that year, on 2nd January, the Earl Durham arrived in Sydney with another group of pioneers bound for the Illawarra. One such pioneer, Margaret Menzies, kept a travel journal of her experiences. Her husband Robert Menzies had bought a property in the Illawarra. She provides another view of such a journey. After their arrival, she describes two modes of travelling from Sydney to Wollongong.
Some of their party sailed from Sydney to Kiama aboard the Alexander McLeay with all their goods and chattels, while Margaret and Robert, themselves, went overland via Liverpool. They rode from Liverpool to Campbell Town for an overnight stay and then the next day travelled 11 miles to Appin before breakfast and another 25 miles to Wollongong, arriving at 7 o’clock in the evening. After spending the night there they continued southward, calling first at ‘Dr. John Osborne’s at Garden Hill’ and, later in the day, at ‘Mr. H. Osborne’s at Marshall Mount.’
Margaret Menzies noted in her journal a drought prevailing at the time of their arrival in 1839. She observes, ‘Complaints were loud from all quarters of the want of water for man and beast and even in this district which is truly a paradise when compared to other parts was parched and the grass withered up’. She later complains that, ‘everything rose tremendously in price … First [rate] flour is now 46/- per cwt and Second [rate] ditto 43/- an immense price…’
Yet another 1839 diary, that of Lady Jane Franklin, wife of the Tasmanian Governor, reveals conditions during a week she spent in Illawarra during the course of a six week overland journey from Port Phillip to Sydney. On 11th May, 1839, Lady Franklin wrote that she passed the house of Mr. [John] Osborne on her approach to Wollongong, and went on to describes the town
‘…. we come on broad ugly streets; there are brick town houses here. Temporary wooden boarded huts for the mechanics are built on their allotments till the houses are erected … There is a great run on Illawarra now. Every boat brings fresh emigrants … Wollongong about three and a half years old … The present town is a long parallelogram with the length at right angles to the sea. There are three streets.’
Attending church at Wollongong on the Sunday of her visit, Lady Franklin writes, ‘the present English service was performed in the Bishop’s school house’. She added that the Presbyterian service was performed in the Court House, and the Catholics had a wooden chapel at the back of Kennedy’s Inn. As devout Catholics, the Murrays, too, would likely have attended Sunday Mass at Kennedy’s Inn.
In fact, the Murrays could take comfort in the fact that the Catholics had quite a presence in the area. The Sydney Gazette of 17 April 1833 reported that, ‘the Rev. J. J.Therry visited Wollongong, and celebrated mass in the barrackroom there to a numerous congregation of the Roman Catholic persuasion.’ On 13th October 1840, the foundation stone of St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral in Wollongong was laid. It then took some nine years to complete.
Access to education for their school-age children would be a priority for Charles and Susan Murray and their fellow Irish emigrant families living in the area. In May 1839, Lady Franklin, in her dairy, notes that a school ‘on the Irish plan’ was being erected in Wollongong, at a cost of £3000, calling it ‘the first experiment of Sir George Gipps.’ A school building was duly erected in 1839/40 on a site in Crown Street under the system of education initially propounded by Gipps’ predecessor, Governor Bourke. It is likely that the younger Murray children obtained some years of education at this school after their arrival at Garden Hill.
It was now up to Charles and Susan and their children to lay down the groundwork for the family’s future in this new country. Many years of hard work were ahead of them before the time when they could own their own land – the dream of all the emigrants from the old country. But succeed they would. Through hard work and battling the elements through good years and bad, Charles Murray and the extended families he sponsored from Ulster would go on to become settlers and landowners in the Shoalhaven district of New South Wales.
To go to Chapter Five, click here .
To return to the Murray Index page, click here
- 1841 New South Wales Census.↵
- Sydney 200. Sydney : Ozwald Ziegler Enterprises Pty Ltd, 1970. P.42.↵
- Meredith. (1844), p.35.↵
- MORRIS, James. Heaven’s command: an imperial progress. London : Faber & Faber, 1973.↵
- Australians 1838, Fairfax, Syme & Walden Associates, 1987 (p.286).↵
- Opposition to transportation commenced in the late 1830s and led to the last convict ship arriving in Sydney in December 1840.↵
- From 1841, however, the bounty system changed and landholders in New South Wales were able to sponsor specific immigrants or families before they left Ireland.↵
- NSWRS Reel 1307 4/4825.↵
- NSWSR Bounty Ships Certificate of Entitlement Reel 1307 – 4/4849.↵
- McDONALD, W.G. (Ed). Earliest Illawarra: its explorers and pioneers, IHP:1989. p.117.↵
- NSWAO Reel 2654 p.219, The Return of the Disposal of Immigrants on the Susan.↵
- OSBORNE, A. Notes on the present state and prospects of society in New South Wales, London, 1833, p.278 (cited in Henderson 1983).↵
- A bustling place: a brief story of Wollongong. Wollongong: Rural Bank (pamphlet held by SAG).↵
- McDonald 1966, p.117.↵
- HENDERSON, K & T. Early Illawarra: people, houses, life: an Australian monograph 1838 Canberra:ANU, 1983, p.117.↵
- Commonwealth Jubilee 1951 (pamphlet held by SAG Ref. B4.500/1/PAM)↵