Memories of Parramatta in 1837 by Mr. John Taylor

Mr. John Taylor Discourses of Long Ago.
Interesting and Amusing Reminiscences.
(written in 1897)

It was noon on a bright day in the beginning of October, 1837. A crowd of Parramatta folk had gathered at the corner — where the Sydney-Windsor road (yet to be called Church street) intersected the then main thoroughfare of the town, George-street.

A Somewhat Motley Crowd

had assembled there — 60 years ago. Minor officials, a sprinkling of soldiers off duty, a few score of the leading tradesfolk, a crown of laboring men, a hand full of settlers from the adjoining wheatlands and orchards, the inevitable mob of street loungers, a few dozen curious women. The centre of attraction was a little hunchbacked man on a big horse. Among the onlookers was a host of wondering half-informed children. From the lips of one of those young witnesses — now, in 1897, Mr. John Taylor J.P. — did we take down the story. I — then a youngster of ten or eleven — said Mr. Taylor, stood by the side of my uncle Walker at ”the corner” that day, and saw

Old Lord Dunn,

the general factotum of the time, ride down and read the proclamation declaring Her Majesty Queen Victoria, “Queen of Great Britain and Ireland,” and half a hundred other things about her which impressed me the more because I didn’t in the least understand them. Old Lord Dunn was of course not a real lord. That was his sobriquet — but if he had any other name be never went by it. He had his title, and his wife (a woman of his own class) was “Lady Dunn.” He was the official promulgator of intelligence — that is, he was town crier. He had his chariot — a wheel barrow; and his residence — a stone house, even then an old structure, but still standing, immediately opposite the present mansion of the Hon. George Thornton. Poor old Lord Dunn — he was murdered eventually in the old house.

A View of the Governors’ House at Rose hill, in the Township of Parramatta. The British Library.

The Reverend Samuel Marsden, who was practically the Government representative in all official matters, commissioned Lord Dunn to make.

The Official Proclamation of the Queen’s Accession to the Throne.

and lent the little hunchbacked crier his own fine horse, of seventeen hands high, for the purpose. Lord Dunn made that proclamation as he had made proclamations of various sorts in years preceding and was to make others for years later — but never before or after one of that kind. The proclamation was made in every town and hamlet in the colony, and was the official confirmation of the news of the death of William IV and the accession of the princess Alexandrina Victoria, that had reached us by English newspapers and official and private despatches by the “Lord William Bentinck” sailing ship a few hours previously. I think I alone remain — at least in Parramatta — of the crowd found Lord Dunn that day. Sir Richard Bourke was then Governor General of the colony and its dependencies — which practically meant.

The Whole Australian Continent.

A full regiment of soldiers was then stationed in the town under Colonel French, and was quartered in the lower barracks. The soldiers had then to do duty at the gaols and other institutions, as well as mounting guard at Government House, and taking charge of the men in the road gangs. Mr. Campbell was the local police magistrate, and resided at the bottom of George-street — near the present “Queen’s Wharf.” Mr James Purchase was clerk of the court. The chief, if not the only medical man (apart from the military staff) was Dr. W. Sherwin, a native of the young colony, who had studied his profession under the distinguished politician,

Dr. Bland

Dr. Sherwin finished his professional education in England, and on his return was specially requisitioned by the leading inhabitants of Parramatta to practise, in the town. I have the requisition in a box hereabouts — added Mr. Taylor. Of all the signatories, not one now survives. Dr. Bute Stewart arrived shortly afterwards. He resided opposite Walsford’s. The Courthouse was then the old building behind Mr. F. D. Henderson’s Store. The gaol was on Alfred Square. The stocks had a place in front. The watchhouse was opposite — on the site of the present Congregational schoolroom. The river was crossed by a low level wooden bridge, the approaches to which run down through the properties now occupied by Mrs Houison (on the south side) and Mr. L. A. Simpson (on the north side.) The chief constable of the colony that day was John Thorn —next in command was Sam Horn. Of these I will tell you more by and bye. 

On the top of May’s Hill there then stood

The Telegraph,

— a full-rigged flag-mast. It was in charge of Mr. W. Randall, who occupied the Round House adjoining. He was Government signal-man; and from the vice-regal residence a short half-mile to the north east, Governor Bourke could see the colours flying, denoting the arrivals in Sydney Harbour. From the Sydney Flagstaff Hill (the Observatory, Sydney) Randall received his signals by way of “One-tree-hill” in the district of what is now Ermington. The signal on Sydney heights was there read by means of a telescope) by a man ever on the watch. It was then repeated by him and read by Randall’s telescope on the eminence behind Government House, and the flags were flying here before the incoming vessel dropped anchor in Sydney harbour. It was not bad work for those days.

And, talking of Observatories, the Government Observatory of the colony was then on the slight hill in the Park, where now stands an obelisk denoting the site. Mr. Dunlop, the eminent scientist, was Government Astronomer.

View of the town of Parramatta from May’s Hill, ca. 1840 / painting attributed to G. E. Peacock. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

There were in those days

Thirty-nine Hotels

or public houses in the town of Parramatta — the boundaries of which were then practically what they are to-day. Eighteen of these were in Church-street and eleven in George-street. (Mr. Taylor here gave the names of the twenty-nine licensees). The others were chiefly in Macquarie and Phillip Streets, or out towards the brickfields in the north-east. The present number of “licensed houses” is 17. Does this show advance or retrogression? queried Mr. Taylor with meaning emphasis.

The Postal Rates

were then as under: —

For every letter not exceeding half an ounce in weight (for a distance of not more than 15 miles) 4d; (for distances from 15 to 20 miles) 4½d. There were no adhesive stamps in those days. The postage was collected on delivery and the letters were delivered on arrival of the Sydney coach twice-a-day.

Coach Travelling.

The coach Hero — a picture of which appeared in the Christmas issue of The Argus — left Parramatta for Sydney in the morning — many a time have I myself gone by it — while the Tally he left Sydney for Parramatta. They would return in the afternoon, reaching their respective homes at about 10 pm. The coaches were of the best English stage-coach pattern and were largely built by Urquhart, of Parramatta, whose name was one of renown in those days. Like his brother, who was perhaps the leading coach-builder in Sydney in that generation, he represented the best English skill and experience; and I believe the brothers came of a great coach-building family in the old land. The fare was:— For an inside seat, 4s 6d; for an outside, 3s. (What an “outside” meant on a good blustering winter’s day man by imagined). The great coaching office was then at Watsford’s Hotel at the corner of Church and Phillip Streets, where Cardinal’s buildings now stand.

The Post

The coach would remain all night in the yard of the Post Office — which was then at the cottage now occupied by Mr. R. L. Dunn. A Mr. Denning — familiarly known as “old Denning” — was letter deliverer, and he would daily and nightly — especially nightly — make his appearance at the house of the townsfolk. At 10 p.m. old Denning’s visit might be expected. His easy walk would be heard, and entering, he would carefully count down on to the householder’s table the letters directed to the household; checking off his “fourpences,” and “sixpences” and ending up with a statement of the total sum due, for which he wanted, and got, spot cash. He then disappeared into the night, to repeat the process till his round was ended.

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The River Traffic

was very thriving in the year of Lord Dunn’s proclamation. We had at least two passenger-steam-boats — the “Experiment” (Captain Toby) and the “Australian” (Captain Morris). They each made one round-trip in the day, starting at 9 am and 4 pm; cabin 3s, steerage 2s. They were actual steamboats in 1837, but only a very few years before our passenger river service had been ignorant of steam. The boats were then worked by paddle-wheels turned by horses. When I was quite a youngster, said Mrs. Taylor, I was taken, as a treat, one Sunday afternoon to see the boat ‘Experiment’ — that used to be worked by horses. The trip to Sydney occupied in the “steam” days of 1837 about 2½ hours. The steamers came to the Queen’s Wharf, save at exceptionally low tide.

In that far-off year, George-street was

The Main Thoroughfare.

But the places of business were also numerous along the Sydney-Windsor road (Church street). The leading drapery establishment of the town was Mrs. Cox’s, at Honiton House. A good second was Foulcher’s, at the corner of George and Smith-streets. A combined drapery and grocery establishment was kept by a Mr Tyrer (who was afterwards succeeded by a better known man — Mr. Shackles) next to Vahrenkamp’s Buildings, Church-street. The leading confectioner was George Box, next door to Foulcher’s — in a little house that, singularly, has been occupied by a bakery or confectionery business ever since. 

The Leading Stores

on the day of the proclamation were J. and W. Byrnes’, at the bottom of George-street; and Tincombe and Watkins’, where my brother’s (Mr. Hugh Taylor’s) shop now is. Also I remember Charles Faires’ store at the Church and Phillip street corner, and I think there was a J. Hamilton just across the water, where Mason and Co.’s business establishment now stands. Not, of course that these were all. The little shops were legion. There was a row of them — in tiny dolls’ houses, it almost seems to me now — right along where Mrs. Gallagher’s and Murray Bros business places are today. But for the matter of that the structures generally were of

An Unpretentious Order

— low wooden cottages mostly. On the day I stood holding my uncle’s hand and listening to Lord Dunn’s proclamation at “the corner” — still “the corner” of Parramatta — the south west angle (now the old court house site) was an open paddock; on the south east (now “Tattersall’s”) was another open paddock; opposite (where is now the Bank of N.S.Wales) was the Australian Arms Hotel — a house ranking next to the “Woolpack” and the “Red Cow” in importance and architectural pretensions; and on the fourth side was the White Horse Hotel. This was a great hostelry then, and is now perhaps

The Oldest Business Place

of its kind in Parramatta. It had been built by John Thorn the chief constable, who lived in the house now occupied as Mr. J. E. Bow den’s offices. Thorn had already gained fame for his “wiping out” of the bushranger Macnamara and party at North Rocks, or rather in the neighbourhood of Gowan Brae. Thorn, with his lieutenant, Sam Horn, and one or two other officers of the peace, shot the ring-leaders and secured the other men. This gained them great honor. Thorn received as a reward a grant of land at what is now Thornleigh — whence the name of the place. Horn had a similar grant a few miles beyond, and his name is commemorated there — Hornsby. Further, Thorn erected the White Horse hotel leased to advantage, and became wealthy.

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