Memories of Parramatta in 1837 by Mr. John Taylor

Parramatta’, ca. 1847+. Watercolour.
Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales.

I have already spoken of Dr. Sherwin. He is connected with the above history in 

A Peculiar Way

which shows the high, if old-fashioned, character of the man. The doctor was returning home via the Windsor-road one afternoon, and when just the other side of what are now “Murray’s Mills” was bailed up by Macnamara’s North Rocks gang. In reply to them the doctor declared (what was the truth) that he had no money on him. The gang said they must have money; in default they half-threatened to take his watch and chain. This was an heir-loom in Dr. Sherwin’s family. A parley resulted; and

The Bushrangers

ultimately agreed to hold the watch for redemption later in the day by the doctor at a sum agreed on. Dr. Sherwin rode into town, procured the money, rode out again and took his watch out of “pawn”. Not till then did he consider himself free to breathe to other ears (especially to official ears) a word of the story; but immediately on reaching town the second time he went straight to the constabulary. Thorn and Horn acted promptly on the information, and within 12 hours the gang was a thing of the past.

The Soldiers’ Barracks

were near the present Queen’s Wharf. Under them and facing the river were the cells in which the chain gang men, who were then engaged on the building of Lennox Bridge and other works, were housed at night. They were marched to work every morning after breakfast, their dinners were brought to them on the “job” by the “good-service men,” and they returned at night to their dens. Soldiers with loaded muskets were ever in charge.

In this connection, said Mr. Taylor, I can remember our boyish delights. When the soldiers, mustered at night to pass into the barracks, withdrew their charges and left little heaps of powder emptied just outside, 

The Youngsters of Parramatta

— I was one of them — greatly enjoyed setting these off by means of matches. But the matches of those days! long slips of wood topped with sulphur, which were drawn by one hand through a slip of sandpaper held between the finger and thumb of the other.

The poor wretches who built Lennox bridge — many a time have I passed them at work! We boys had some pity for them too, and we knew something of the virtues of tobacco — if it was only “fig.” We would slit part of a “fig” into small pieces — mere shreds; and as we crossed on the low timber bridge or over the river-bend near the ironed workmen, watched for the sentry’s glance to slip away. Then — at the same half second — one, two, three shreds of tobacco would slip to the ground; and glances from the nearest men would flash to us knowingly and gratefully before the guard’s eye resumed its supervision. Poor follows! Tobacco was their only solace and relief, their only entertainment and enjoyment. And we know it. But we were often as maliciously mischievous as we were kind. Especially did

Old Solly Bumpkin

the Jew, find this out. Solly was forever getting drunk, and drunkenness was punished by “the stocks.” The misdemeanant would sit outside the gaol just beyond the river crossing, ignominiously held by the feet. He would be exposed to the unsympathetic weather and the more unsympathetic treatment of youthful tormentors. Many’s the time we have condoled with old Solly till we were near enough to “bash” him — and bold. 

Messrs J. and W. Byrnes perhaps were

The Greatest Parramatta Firm

of that day. The brothers were sons of Sergeant Byrnes, who had accompanied Captain Phillip to Botany Bay in 1788, and had assisted at

The Proclamation of the Colony

at Sydney Cove in January of that year. I knew him well; and was acquainted also with other old men whose memories covered the interval between the landing of Phillip and the years of my own time. But to return to the sons. They were agents for all the steam companies of the era. They managed the running of the passenger steamers, and — to pick up intending travellers —ran one or more ‘busses from ‘Ashby’s corner’ and other prominent points to the wharf, free of charge.

The Female Factory

was almost exactly where the Hospital for the Insane now is. The Military Hospital was in Macquarie-street — the present Benevolent Asylum. The Government Hospital was the place that still continues to serve the needs of the county as the District Hospital. The colonel of the regiment and the officers of the staff lived in Barrack Square. The single officers of the company lived in Linden House, Macquarie-street — now occupied by Mrs. Griffith. The married men lived here and there about the town. Every evening at 6 p.m. the bugler sounded at the top barracks for mass. A few minutes afterwards he would sound at the corner of Church and Macquarie streets for officers’ mess. The officers’ mess-room was the house opposite Ritchie’s property in George-street and owned by the Byrnes family and now occupied by Mr. DeSaxe. The band played every evening in front of the house during the mess-dinner. The

Old English Hotels

of Parramatta were in that day famous throughout the colony and had a name even in other lands. It would not have been easy to improve on the hospitality and accommodation at Nash’s “Woolpack,” the “Red Cow,” and the “Australian Arms.”

A little earlier than the commencement of the reign, markets were regularly established and market days fixed by proclamation in the “Government Gazette ‘ for the towns of Sydney and Parramatta. A list of “markets at which dues could be demanded” was afterwards published by authority. The Parramatta

Market Property

included the pound; and, as is well known, occupied the grant of land in the heart of the town on which the Town Hall now stands. To most old Parramatta men this is still known as the “old market reserve.” In 1837 markets and pound stood there — my uncle, Walker was poundkeeper. He was also, I may mention one of the principal officers of the Wesleyan Church adjoining. But one great charm of Parramatta in those days (at least in our eyes) was the holding of

The Semi Annual Fairs.

The Parramatta fairs were more than popular – they were famous throughout the quiet moving Australia of that day. Every March and October saw these English fairs on the Market Reserve, and Parramatta fair days were virtually public holidays throughout the adjoining settled districts. The fairs were held about the time of the bull-yearly race meetings.


The Parramatta Races

were scarcely second to the fairs in time. They were held “out of town” or rather out of the settled part of the town — on what is still called the Old Racecourse. The enclosure consisted of about 100 acres, the entrance gate on the hill, were the southern boundary stone now is, being in charge of a man named Kearney. The principal people of those days attended both fair and race meetings. The first graziers of the colony would regularly exhibit their stock at the fair, and the old-time booths and fair-dances, cake stalls and exhibitions of skill in ball-throwing, cricket and other games made the market reserve very lively, and drew the people for miles round. No dream of railways or telegraph, or two-storied and three-storied buildings then.

This was the state of affairs in 1837. In that year (as in others preceding and others following) we had about Christmas time.

The Blacks’ Feast.

The local aborigines — then a fairly numerous host — were gathered in a ring (men within and gins and piccaninnies and dogs on side) in an enclosure “rub up” by men from the ”lumber yard,” and surrounded with bushes. The lumber yard was a place adjoining the Military Hospital in which men of different trades pursued their various callings. The Governor and suite would attend, followed by constables with rolls of blankets. Each blackfellow would be in turn accosted as His Excellency moved round the circle, and each would get his blanket, which he would generally pass back to his dusky housekeeper. The blankets were too often swapped for liquor before nightfall. After the distribution of blankets would come the feast — roast beef and plum pudding. The latter, I remember, was made by the inmates of the Female Factory over the water, and the viands , were trundled up from the institution to the feast-ground in the first vehicle handy. At nightfall the two or three hundred Blacks would have a feast according to their own fashion, generally on the vacant ground at the corner of Macquarie and Marsden Streets now occupied by the house “Mangoplah” where Sir Henry Parkes resided some 12 years ago. Others would go to higher ground — the Western Road near the tollbar for instance — and the feast fires could be seen and the drunken revelry heard till after midnight.

The only form of

Local Government

then consisted of the Board of Commissioners elected for the management of the market. Some of these at least were elected. Mr. James Byrnes and my father were, I think, on the Board in 1837. I myself had a seat there in later years; and I believe I am the only surviving member. The police magistrate was always ex-officio chairman.

In that year Mr. Campbell was police magistrate of Parramatta and lived at Newlands, where Mr. Neil Stewart now resides.

It was indeed a sight in those days to see “the district” attending St. John’s on Sunday morning. The Governor and family would drive in

Vice-Regal State

attended by military outriders, postilions etc — down into George-street and thence up Church-street. The Macarthurs would drive in, duly attended by their household servants, from Elizabeth Farm; the Blaxlands, from Newington, the Wentworths, from Toongabbie. The carriages of the Lawsons, Suttors, Fosters and other leading families would be seen approaching from various directions. Added to these were the military, the prominent townsfolk, and the duly marshalled school children. Then again would come a section of the “Government men.” The pews in 1837 were of the high square order. The Vice-Regal pew was curtained, and the seats of the high officials were more or less marked by symbols of office. The gallery ran round three sides of the interior of the building, and — to repeat an oft told tale — the pulpit was of the three-decker order.

Parramatta’, ca. 1847+. Watercolour. 22.8 x 39 cm. Unsigned. Dated from date of construction of Byrne’s Cloth Mill shown at right (see Jervis, James. The Cradle City of Australia: a History of Parramatta 1788-1961. p.106. ML Ref. 991.2/3A1). Titled on verso in Sir William Dixson’s hand.; Sketches of New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria, by Lempriere and others, ca. 1830-1869. Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales.

was then the head of the Church of England in Australia; and Bishop (afterwards Archbishop) Polding had lately come from England to direct the Roman Catholic Church. A small modern chapel just behind the pound served the purposes of the Wesleyan denomination. Rev. Samuel Leigh, the very earliest Wesleyan minister in Australia, had the charge of Parramatta district. The Wesleyans of that day were very strong as a Parramatta Church. Their Sunday school, which I myself attended for years, and in which my uncle (Mr. Walker) was assistant superintendent, was numerically the first in the town. There were no circuits — or rather the whole colony was practically one circuit. There was a custom observed which, perhaps, tended to show the peculiar — almost filial — feeling entertained by tho early Wesleyans for

The Mother Church.

Every Sunday afternoon as St. John’s clock struck three, the lessons at the Wesleyan Sunday School ended and the children; and teachers formed up and marched to St. John’s Church, where they took their places in the gallery, as the Rev. Samuel Marsden began the office of evening prayer. We had no

night services then. The regiments attended church, headed in the morning by the Regimental Band playing appropriate hymn tunes, and in the afternoon by the drums and fifes. Tho Roman Catholic portion of the soldiery marched over to where

Father Therry

or Father Sumner officiated in an unpretentious brick church dedicated to St. Patrick, and situated just south of the site of the present St. Patrick’s Church, but running east and west. It had been erected only a year or two before. Father Sumner, then quite a young man, was removed after a short stay here, but returned as resident priest in later times. The Roman Catholic Parsonage was then in Macquarie street adjoining the Wesleyan Chapel.

The Legislative Council was 

The Only Parliament.

and it was composed purely of Government nominees, and neither Dress nor public. was allowed to be present. In the sixth year of the Queen’s Reign — 1843 — the elective element was introduced. Half the members of the Council were then allowed to be chosen by the people on properly qualification. Hannibal H. Macarthur, son of John Macarthur. was the first representative of Parramatta. In 1851 came a further advance and two-thirds of the members were then allowed to beelected.

At a later date, there were

District Councils

created under a special act. The Warden of the town (appointed by the Government) was Chairman and the ordinary members were elected on a property qualification. Such well known old townsmen as Messrs. James Byrnes, N. Payten, J. Houison, G. Oakes, J. R. Nichols and Hugh Taylor, senr. (my father) were members from time to time. To the District Councils succeeded Roads Trusts, and the incorporation of the town in 1861.


In 1837 we had absolutely none. It was not till years afterwards that the Commercial Banking Co. started a branch, in the premises now occupied by my brother Hugh. Later came the Bank of New South Wales. I leased them premises for their branch in the building where Mr. John Hunter’s haberdashery business is now carried on. Later they took possession of the “Australian Arms” building — the property of the Rous family, of which Mrs. Cairnes (the present manager’s wife) is a member.

There were several


in the district in those far off days. The Protestant Orphan School for girls was at Rydalmere; that for boys at Cabramatta. The former was in charge of a Mr. Kenny.

The great

Samuel Marsden

parson, ex-magistrate led all but master of Parramatta in the Governor’s absence, lived in the old parsonage, now known us the Cedars, from which in more than one sense he could and did command the town.

The military doctors were then Dr. Hill and Dr. Anderson, both men of considerable mark in Parramatta history. The name of the latter is perpetuated in the title of the principal ward of the town, and in the drinking fountains which were his gift. Dr. Hill and his brothers each left several children, whose names are well known in industrial and commercial life to-day.

Just six months before the news arrived of the accession of the Queen, Sir Richard Bourke had formally declared

The Town of Melbourne

founded. Batman — a Parramattan by birth — and Faulkner had, a year or so before, forced the hand of Government by settling at Port Phillip; but we of that day had a very vague idea of the locality.

The foundation stone of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church had been laid by Sir Richard Bourke a few weeks before the memorable day in October, 1837.

There was

A Soldier’s Theatre

in the newer barracks, and amateur entertainments were occasionally given in the principal stores. As for professionals, the well-known Sam Luzar and his daughter occasionally brought a company from Sydney to the long room of the “Woolpack” and gave a performance there, sometimes under official or possibly vice-regal patronage. The Governor, of course, used to entertain the country families and it was a sight to see the incoming of the leading people of those days to the Government House Ball.

The Oldest Building in Parramatta,

older, I think, than Lord Dunn’s cottage, Sorrell-street (and that his stood more than a century) — is a brick cottage going to decay nearly opposite Mr. Gilbert Smith’s, George-street. It was originally a store kept by Mr. Hassall, ancestor of the Hassall family, and has been up since Governor Phillip’s time. 

Where the gas-works bridge now stands was the town dam. Howell’s water flour mill alongside was worked by the overflow — a wind mill was afterwards established. A windmill stood where Mr. Ferris is now living. John Raine’s flour mill was “over in the bush” in the extreme north — where Murray’s mills now stand.

The year 1837 was one of scarcity.

The Wheat Crops

of Cumberland were below the average, but we did not then anticipate the semi-famine that awaited us. The Victorian era opened inauspiciously for us, indeed, as regarded the first essential of life; and before the second year of H.M.’s reign closed the four-pound loaf was 2s 6d!

The town of Parramatta was studded with slaughter-houses at that time. Peisley’s establishment was close to the foot of Sorrell-street — near where Mr. Erby’s cottage now is. Jones had a place near Mr. Stone’s cottage. Sullivan’s butcher’s shop and slaughter-house were not far away.

As to

The Legal Practitioners

of the day — we had Messrs. Lewthwaite, Armistead and Augustus Heyward. The last named was the district coroner. My father (Mr. Hugh Taylor senr.) acted as general agent for many of the Sydney practitioners. There was also an “unqualified” legal gentleman by the name of Davis, who was the refuge of folks who for various reasons fought shy of the regular solicitors.

The old racecourse in South Parramatta was owned by a Mr. Kerr; and when its racing days were over it was placed under offer to my father for £600. He thought it over and reckoned he would never see his money, again if he bought it. Kerr went away disconsolate — a ‘land poor’ man — to England. A few years later he died. The estate was cut up to advantage by the auctioneers in whose hands it was placed — Messrs. Bowden and Threlkeld — and brought about £10,000; the Church-street frontage bringing in places £4 a foot. By the way, we had a big land boom at

“Parramatta Junction,”

just after the railway was opened to that place in ’58. One subdivision near the present Woodville-road crossing brought £8 a foot. A big hotel was afterwards erected there, and did good business for years. The hotel has now disappeared, the place is an open paddock, and the land can be got for less than one-third of the above price. In 1837 the Parramatta Cherry Gardens occupied the site of the present King’s School, though before the end of the year a start was made with the school building. The gardens were the property of the Government, and only open to the public in a very restricted manner. The caretaker was Mr. Simpson, father of Mr. Justice G. B. Simpson, who attended The King’s School. 

The round-house in the Park, above old Government House, that still attracts hundreds was

Lady Bourke’s Bathing-room.

The water was pumped from the river at no small labor. In the amphitheatre behind Government House was a magnificent garden — vegetables, fruit trees and botanic specimens; while beyond, on the crest of the present hill-way cutting, were the Government House stables. Where the Bowling Club ground is now was a thick scrub. The site of the ranger’s cottage was then occupied by the dairy, over which long presided old Betty Hackler, who was certainly an old woman when she came to the colony in the very early days of its history, and is said to have been 107 when she cried. 

Editor’s Note:  Much more had Mr. Taylor to tell of the old days of ’37, and of the Parramatta of that day. We have only reproduced a portion of his interesting narrative.


  1. A View of the Governors’ House at Rose hill, in the Township of Parramatta.  The British Library.
  2. Sixty Years In Parramatta. (1897, June 19). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW: 1888 – 1950), p. 5.
  3. View of the town of Parramatta from May’s Hill, ca. 1840 / painting attributed to G. E. Peacock; Courtesy: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
  4. `Parramatta’, ca. 1847+. Watercolour. 21 x 34 cm. Unsigned. Dated from a picture in similar style at f.14 in the same portfolio. Titled on verso in Sir William Dixson’s hand; Sketches of New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria, by Lempriere and others, ca. 1830-1869; Courtesy: Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales
  5. `Parramatta’, ca. 1847+. Watercolour. 22.8 x 39 cm. Unsigned. Dated from date of construction of Byrne’s Cloth Mill shown at right (see Jervis, James. The Cradle City of Australia: a History of Parramatta 1788-1961. p.106. ML Ref. 991.2/3A1). Titled on verso in Sir William Dixson’s hand.; Sketches of New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria, by Lempriere and others, ca. 1830-1869; Courtesy: Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales

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