Cowra – Early Days – W Duggan

EARLY DAYS IN COWRA – W DUGGAN. Written in 1905.


The following history of the Early Days of Cowra was entered for competition at the recent (1905) show for a prize presented by the late Mr Peter Murray, the one condition imposed by the donor of the prize was “that literary merit was not to be taken into consideration.” There were only two entries, which were handed to Mr R Stevenson by the Committee of the School of Arts to adjudicate upon and his award is appended. By permission of the writer Mr W Duggan, the history is presented to our readers, without revision, and will, no doubt, be perused with considerable interest.



The first record flood was in the year (18) ’44. It was the first seen by white inhabitants then on the river. It was the month of October of that year. On the Merriganowry Station, the property of Mr J Grant, of Lowther Park, there were eleven hundred fat sheep, full fleeced, drowned. There were three men in a hut located on the ground which was then the late Mr Butler’s estate, the late Mr Andrew Lynch being one. They loosened the sheep from the fold to take them to high ground but had not proceeded far when they found they were surrounded by back water from the river which had broken over a mile further up. The sheep were carried away and the men had to seek refuge in a tree where they remained all night. At daybreak, Lynch ventured to swim to high ground, and landing safely, met a number of aboriginals who were on the lookout for the men at the hut. He directed them to where he left the two men and they, proceeding in their canoes, got them safe on  land. Besides the sheep, there were large numbers of horses, cattle, etc, drowned. There was one lot of poor cattle which were brought up from the Hartley district, the property of Mr Richard Duggan, turned out on Grant’s run to recover strength but seventy of them were never seen after the flood.


I first saw the present town of Cowra – or Cowra Rocks as it was then called – in ’45. There was one solitary house occupied by a poundkeeper called Best, on the bank of the river about where Poignand’s coach-building shop now stands. There was a pound yard along Bridge Street where Poole’s hotel now is, and a small cultivation paddock where the Rev. D. O’Kennedy’s grass paddock now stands. The ground occupied by the Roman Catholic Church and Convent was then a sheep yard owned by Jeremiah Grant, who had a head station at the Yellow water Hole ()now called Milton) Andrew Lynch being  overseer. They used the township temporarily for a sheep station in summer time. The first hotel was built by Thomas Kirkpatrick, part of which forms the Australian hotel now. It was then called the Fitzroy Hotel. It was built in the year ’46. After him folowed the first store, kept by John McCray, who was storekeeper and blacksmith. About the year ’49 followed a tailor, shoemaker, and carpenter. The hotel passed from Kirkpatrick to a man named Miller.


The first teacher taught nine pupils in the back shed of the Fitzroy Hotel of which were:- William and Mary Duggan, William, John and Sarah Bus and two Conroys, the others I don’t remember. Soon after, the people had collected some money and had a school built on the flat, a two roomed wooden building with a bark roof. The school teacher’s name was Pearce. He didn’t remain long, and there was no school for two years after. The next school also broke up, and there was none till the year ’53. It was re-opened in ’53 by Lennox, who had about 26 scholars, some of which were:- William Duggan, Hannah, Elizabeth and Alick Middlemis, James, John, Catherine and Sarah Cummings, John, Hannah and Charlotte Tindal, Richard and Margaret Neville, Ellen, Daniel, Patrick and Mary Ann O’Brien, James and Jane Robinson, James Keys, and others. This school broke up and the first permanent school was opened by Madame Rigaut and husband between ’57 and ’60.


The first mail service was brought to Cowra in ’46, and the Fitzroy Hotel was the Post Office. It was carried on horseback by Patrick Marooney, and later on by an hotelkeeper in Carcoar.


The first survey of Cowra took place in ’53. I saw the surveyors take the first line of Lachlan Street, from the School House. The first land sale followed shortly after, and the first allotments of land were sold at very high prices. The allotment on which Poignand’s shop brought ninety pounds. It was bought by David Robertson.


The year 1850 started with a very severe drought. In ’51, the effects of it were that three parts of the cattle in the district died, and the small crops of wheat all failed, working bullocks and horses were either  dead, or unable to carry provisions from Bathurst to Cowra (as Bathurst  was the nearest flour mill at that time, and consequently the settlers had to use rice instead of flour. In about ’50 or ’51 Mr Louden built a small flour mill at Carcoar. Up to that time, every settler had to grind his own wheat with the common steel mill. The hut keeper had to grind three men’s rations, carry water and firewood to the hut, make fires and watch the sheep at night against the attacks of the native dingoes.


The first Court House was opened in the year ’56, and Mr George Campbell (the owner of Muffden Park, now Jerula), was the first magistrate. Thomas Ellis was the first constable stationed at Cowra and James Cleghorn lockup-keeper.


I first saw the water hole (now Milton) in the year ’45; it was a fine sheet of water where the cattle used to muster ion hundreds. The country was swarming with cattle from all the stations around. About two miles higher up the creek were the remains of a great stockyard built by Mr Woods, then the owner of Lowther Park, to muster the wild cattle in. The flat leading to the west bears the name of Woods to the present day; the old diggings were at the head of it and bear the name of Woodstock. That yard served for many years as a mustering yard for all the settlers in the district.


From 1845 to 1851 the general wage of a workman was from 6/- to 7/- per week; shepherds received twenty pound per year; hutkeeper sixteen pounds per year, and rations, which were:- 10lbs of flour or one peck of wheat, 10 lbs of beef or mutton, 1/4lb of tea, and 2 lbs of sugar; shearers received 12/6 per hundred and find themselves; sheep washers got 15/- and rations and worked seven or eight hours a day. All the sheep were washed before being shorn at that time.


The first BONA FIDE farmers started at Cowra between ’47 and ’50 – four brothers, George, William, Michael and John Tindal, natives of Nepean or Hawkesbury, they sub leased a piece of land from Bus and Neville, on the Taragala homestead – the ground now occupied by the Chinamen’s gardens on the bank of the river, and cleared about 20 acres in the fashion of that time; they grubbed the small ones out, felled the big ones with the axe, and the extra big ones they left in the field and ringbarked. They drew logs and brush together and made the fence. They grew wheat and tobacco. They sold the tobacco at 3/- per lb. They held that farm till ’61.


Henry Fulton, Muffden Park (now Jerula); James Blackett, Carri Park; John Neville, Milburn Creek; Edward Markham, Spring Vale; Joseph West, James’ Park; Robert McDiarmid, Waugoola; Thomas McKell, Grubing; William M Rothery, Cliefdon; (the Sheet of Bark was unoccupied); James Sloan, North Logan; William Norman, Wattamondara; O’Sullivan, Breakfast Creek; John Grant, Merriganowry, were the station owners of that time.


There was one public house at Canowindra kept by Michael Dwyer and a pound-keeper named White. All the freehold land along the Belubula at that time belonged to grant. The year ’52 was a record year of rain and floods. The Lachlan River didn’t quite reach the water mark of ’44, but the Murrumbidgee washed away the old township of Gundagai and wagga. There was a number of people drowned and great loss of property in the shape of buildings and livestock.


In the year ’51, in the month of May, the first gold was discovered at Summer-hill and a few weeks later gold was discovered on the Turon River. This discovery was made by a Californian digger named Hargraves.  The change brought over the country was beyond credit by anyone who knew it before. From all parts of the country, men rushed to the diggings as fast as they could get free from their engagements. Labour of any kind could not be got for money. Sheep owners were the worst off among the settlers; when shearing time came there were no shearers to take the fleece from the sheep. The gold-finding on the Turon and its tributaries was so plentiful that rich finds were reported every day. Three blackfellows at Louisa Creek brought in a cwt. nugget.  The leader of the Government then was William Wentworth, who got an Act passed putting £3 a head on every man that went on the diggings, his motive being to keep  the men off the diggings to work for the settlers. The diggers organised together and resisted this Act. They sent in four men to notice the authorities that they would not pay this license. They arrested the four men and put them in the lockup. There were 1500 men surrounding the police, trying to release the men but through the influence of two clergymen they desisted for the time. One a Roman Catholic priest and a Church of England minister. In the meantime the Government sent 100 soldiers from Sydney.


Gold was discovered in the Port Philli[p district just after New South Wales and the fields in Port Phillip, as it was then called, were yielding more than even New South Wales. The result of the Government Bill was that the Turon diggers cleared from New South wales into Port Phillip. The held a demonstration before they went and burnt Wentworth’s residence above Sofala. There were some men in rich claims who paid the license and remained. The result of that Act made it worse for the settlers than before, for it cleared all the men from the Colony. Within the ten years from ’51 to ’61 the reverse of things occurred. In 1861 Robertson’s Land Bill was passed. That was the first Bill that opened the land to the people. Before that it was closed against them. The sheep that were sold in Goulburn for 2/6 a head in ’58 brought 22/6 in Melbourne . Bullocks which before were selling at 25s brought £7 or £8 a head; any fair hack horses brought £20 and upwards.

The record flood of 1870 was the largest one in Cowra.

[COWRA GUARDIAN  11 November, 1905.]