St. Albans Crest Mayoral Crest
More Information on the History of
New South Wales, Australia.
The village of St. Albans is situated on the banks of the Macdonald river branching off the much larger Hawkesbury river about 118 kilometers north west of Sydney, the largest City in Australia, and considering the areas historical links with the early Colony of New South Wales and the close proximity to Sydney the village of St. Albans is relatively unknown.
In fact the valley has been for many years been referred to by the locals as the "Forgotten Valley" as it has been by-passed over time by all the major road and rail routes leading north from Sydney.
The Macdonald river was discovered in June 1789 by Governor Arthur Phillip on his third exploratory voyage to Broken Bay and the Hawkesbury, he named it "The First Branch" presumably because that is what it was. He spent two days investigating the lower regions and was excited at the prospect of good farming areas promising the colony a reliable source of farm produce.
Settlers, mostly escapees, emancipated convicts or their freeborn sons, began arriving "unofficially" soon after. The first "official" Grants along the Hawksbury River were not allocated until 1794 to James Ruse and Charles Williams who simply added their number to "the list of those already established". By 1796, in an official survey, had 400 "white" people along the banks of the Hawkesbury. It is well documented that there were many people living up the narrow valleys who were not counted and many indeed "up the Branch". By the time the river flats were surveyed in 1833 the "First Branch" had been renamed the Macdonald after John Macdonald of Pitt Town, an early bushman, explorer and settler of some repute.
During this time the relations between the indigenous aboriginal population in the area was reasonably harmonious, the area being populated by the Dharug and Barkinung people who called the river Deerubbin. The natives treated the newcomers as welcome guests, teaching bush skills and assisting in the planting of crops, they did not realize that the whites intended to stay and claim ownership of the land. Property ownership was completely alien to the Aboriginal; one cared for the land, but did not own it any more than one could own the sky overhead or the air one breathed. A concept that unfortunately will never be with us today.
The convicts and their keepers were the dregs of English society and were a hard and ruthless bunch and unfortunately conflicts soon developed as the Aborigines were denied access to many of their traditional areas, with Yam beds destroyed as wheat and corn were planted on the river flats and the banks denied to them for fishing, their traditional foods. There are recorded cases of Aborigines providing labor on farms in exchange for a share of the crop and then massacred rather than given their share. They, in turn retaliated by setting fire to the crops just as harvesting was due. Regulations were introduced prohibiting Aborigines entry to established farm areas again denying them their food supply.
Since 1796 Troops had been stationed in the Hawkesbury area to "disperse" the natives.
Governors had been concerned that racial tension would drive the settlers back to the Colony at Port Jackson [Sydney Harbor] and inhibit the endeavors of the colony feeding itself from the fertile plains. Following any acts of Aboriginal aggression "hunting" parties went out killing large numbers of natives. The killing was indiscriminate and no care was taken to catch the real offenders, who sometimes were not black.
No form of protection was given to the natives, many, even children were cold-bloodily murdered, but rarely were charges laid against the white aggressors, and none were punished. Aborigines were not even permitted to give evidence in a Court of Law.
All in all, a sad and sorry tale.
Brutality was not confined to the blacks but was metered out liberally to the Convicts by their keepers, in most cases no better than themselves. Life was tough; as can be seen in a letter by Joseph Smith who arrived on the Second Fleet in 1790 aged 14 years. The following is some of the text of his "Voluntary Letter from an Old Settler" addressed from Macdonald’s River, 3rd October 1845.
"I arrived in the Colony fifty six years since; it was Governor Phillips time, and I was fourteen years old; there were only eight houses in the Colony then. I know myself and eighteen others laid in a hollow tree for seventeen weeks and cooked out of a kettle with a wooden bottom; we used to stick it in a hole in the ground and make a fire around it. I was seven years in bondage, and then started working for a living where ever I could get it. There was plenty of hardship then, I have often taken grass, pounded it, and made soup from a native dog [Dingo]. I would eat anything then. For seventeen weeks I had only five ounces of flour a day. We never got full ration except when the ship was in harbor. The motto was ‘Kill them, or work then, their provision will be in store’. Many the time I have been yoked like a bullock with twenty or thirty others to drag along timber. About eight hundred died in six months at a place called Toongabbie, or Constination Hill". [Still exists as a suburb of present day Sydney]
Further in the text he goes on to say……"They used to have a large hole for the dead, once a day men were sent down to collect the corpses of prisoners and throw them in without any ceremony or service. The native dogs used to come down at night and fight and howl in packs, gnawing the poor dead bodies."
And further……"I new a man hung there and then for stealing a few biscuits, and another for stealing a duck frock. A man was condemned, no time, take him to a tree, and hang him. The overseers were allowed to flog in the fields. Often have seen men been taken from the gang, had fifty, and sent back to work. Any man would have committed murder for a months provisions. I would have committed three murders for a weeks provisions. I was chained seven weeks on my back for being out getting wild greens, wild herbs. The Reverend Marsden [known as the flogging Parson] used to come it tightly to force some confession. Men were obliged to tell lies to prevent their bowels from being cut out by the lash. The Laws were bad then. If an Officer wanted a mans wife, he would send the husband to Norfolk Island……….
After seven years I got my liberty, and then started working about for a living where I could get it……..
He goes on and finishes with…..’No man worked harder than I have done. I have about me one thousand pounds ready cash. I also have got 80 acres – 30 acres, 50, 75 beside my house, and some fine cattle. We are never without a chest of Tea in the house, we use two in the year. I have paid stg. 40 for a chest of tea in the colony, Tea is a great comfort."
For a boy of fourteen to spend seven years of his formative youth amongst such horrors and survive to become a respected farmer in indicative of the inborn character of some of the early convicts. When chained gangs were building The Great North Road crossing at Wisemans Ferry northward towards Wollembi in the 1820’s many escaped and were hidden, fed, and helped by the emancipists and found their way into the hidden valleys of the Hawkesbury.
These were tough times indeed…….
However, In this time, only 20 Km. downstream from what is now St. Albans is the town of Wisemans Ferry, a center on the Hawkesbury river popular for camping, water-ski-ing and other boating activities. There, many people would have noticed the junction where the Macdonald joins the sweeping bend of the Hawkesbury and may have glanced up the narrow valley from where the tributary flows….. But few cross the Ferry and venture further.
Wisemans Ferry is named after Solomon Wiseman who on the 30th. October 1805 appeared at the Old Bailey in London and was sentenced to be hanged. This was later commuted to transportation for life and a new destiny in the penal colony of New South Wales. Solomon’s wife Jane and son William were allowed to accompany him and they, and another son Richard [born during the trip], arrived aboard the "Alexander"in August 1806.
Our Solomon prospered as a hard merchant sea trader in the new colony and in time was operating a small fleet of trading vessels and owned a number of Sydney Inns.
In 1817 Governor Macquarie granted him some 200 acres of Hawkesbury land and in 1827 he opened his first ferry service that still runs at the same location to this day. [Now operated by NSW roads]. Today there are two ferries providing access to St Albans along roads following the old goat and horse tracks on either side of the Macdonald, winding through rich country and farms of cattle, melons, fruits and corn. For part of the journey the road remains unsealed but the beauties of the landscape provide ample compensation.
Most of the course of the river is very rugged, and away from the narrow floodplain the soil becomes barren and sandy. The clearing that was carried out in the early 1800’s was all that is usable. Thirty kilometers north of St. Albans the valley becomes so narrow that there is no room for cultivable land and as families were large, farmers were forced to cultivate the flood plains down to the riverbank and even up the slopes.
The first reliable record of the Macdonald valley settlers resulted from a survey by Felton Matthew in 1833-34. The map [the original is in the NSW archives] showed some 86 land holders, some with several blocks. The survey was from the mouth of the Macdonald up to the Boree Swamp that is now part of the St. Albans Common.
Records show that it seems fairly definite that Governor Macquarie had a vision to turn his Penal Settlement into a self-supporting Crown Colony linking the "Coal River" [now Newcastle] with the Hawkesbury area; and had drawn up overall plans. Later Governors Brisbane and possibly Darling and Bourke, to some extent, followed Maquarie’s original ideas.
Early maps show that original "Branch" farm grants as being in the Townships of Benton, Macdonald and Howick. With the establishment of a central township called "The Village of Macdonald" [now St. Albans] at the site of a drovers camp called "Bullock Warf" from whence cattle were shipped to the Colony by boat. [The river being navigable at that time]. Halfway downstream towards the Hawkesbury was to be the "Town of Benton" [Bent Town] and north of the "Village of Macdonald" the "Town of Howick". Benton and Howick were at least actual sites by 1823 as there are titles registered in the old land title records of that time. Benton finally became Central Macdonald as it is to this day. The "Village of Macdonald" was fully surveyed in 1837 and four years later gazetted under the name of St. Albans on the 26th of January 1841.
It has been understood, and written in many publications, that the name St. Albans was given in memory of the English birthplace of one William Bayley [now Bailey due to miss spelling, a common occurrence due to wide spread illiteracy in the colony]. This has been proven to be untrue as William Bayley has been identified in the English records as born in Staffordshire in 1756 and was sentanced in Staffordshire [30th. July 1788] to seven years deportation arriving aboard the "Matilda" in August 1791 aged 35 years. St. Albans is in the English county of Hertfordshire some considerable distance away.
He married his first wife Ann Archer [also a convict] in Australia in 1797. In later years William and his Wife moved to live with his oldest freeborn son John. John was granted the first land near the village in 1823 and named it named "First Farm". Young John was a prolific breeder….. He married twice and fathered some 18 children; many direct descendants still live in the valley to this day. He was known locally as "Governor" Bailey.
The only connection that the writer can find with the town of St. Albans is the fact that also living in the valley at this time was an unrelated Bailey family. This often caused confusion between the two families, compounded with the fact that the oldest son of this Bailey family was also named John. He was known locally as "Squire" Bailey.
This John Bailey and his brother Thomas were born in England as a result of the marriage of Ann Smith and Thomas Bailey in 1809 in London England. Our Ann Smith was from St. Albans England, she was christened on the 2nd July at the Abby, St. Albans, Hertford, England, married in London that is close to St. Albans, Hertfordshire.
Ann Bailey and children John aged 5, and Thomas aged 3 arrived on June 19th 1815 on the female convict ship "Northampton" , she was tried in Middlese Goal on the 6th July 1814 and was sentenced to 14 years. She was a London Servant aged 27 years. (Records from Pioneer Register #2)
She died 1.10.1843 in Windsor, (buried : St. Matthew's) There is no mention of Ann's Husband Thomas, Ann was alone with her two sons when she was deported.
John "Squire" Bailey married Elizabeth Prosser on the 14/1/1833 at the "Lower Branch, Hawkesbury" most likely now Wisemans Ferry.
He lived in the Valley and died on the 14/11/1890 at St. Albans. He had 9 Children.
Brother Thomas married Mary Ann Baker at Windsor on the 30/7/1833. They had 7 children.
Based on the above connection, and the close bond through the trials between the Brothers and their Mother Ann Bailey ne Smith. It is this writers belief that the name change to St. Albans was in honor of Ann Smith and her birthplace in England.
In July 1842 the first land sales were held in St. Albans and John Sullivan of Wollombi purchased seven allotments on which he constructed the Settlers Arms Inn, still trading as a purveyor of conversation, beer, and accommodation to this day. There has been some confusion as to the construction date of the Settlers Arms as 1836 however this would appear to be the time that the license was issued, number. 36/10, but the next record is 37/251 to John on 5th. July 1837. Record taking at that time was erratic at best. However a report by the Hawkesbury correspondent in the Sydney Morning Herald of 1st. March 1848 probably finalizes the date later. It reads. "The township which a few years ago was marked out upon this river, has been built on by only one individual, Mr. Sullivan. He has erected a very reasonable stone house two stories high, which we understand he intends to open as an Inn." [Implying that it was not open then.] Remembering that the first land sales were held in July 1842. However…
The Settlers Arms Inn now occupies a delightful position facing the river and is in an excellent state of preservation.
There were a number of Inns in the valley and they still stand after restoration as private residences. The oldest licensed Inn in the valley was The Industrious Settler, built by Arron Waters in 1833 located a few kilometers north of St. Albans, and another early Inn was The Victoria Inn, erected by David Cross in 1842, about five kilometers from the Hawkesbury river junction.
By the mid 1840’s the population had reached its peak of more than 1000 people on about 100 small properties. As a community they were industrious and religious, the valley once supporting seven small churches and four denominational schools. There are many old ruins throughout the area as testimony to this. The St. Albans Anglican Church, near the top of Wharf Road is the only church still in use. This is the second church at this site the first being a timber chapel opened in 1843. This was in use for thirty years until it was replaced by the current stone building. Another interesting stone church remaining in the village is the old Wesleyan Methodist church in Espie Street. This was built in 1902 and is now in private hands, a reminder of almost 150 years of Wesleyan influence in the Macdonald valley.
Throughout the valley are the remains of a number of small cemeteries. Some of the earlier settlers, especially in the upper valley, buried their dead on their properties. The funerals of those closer to town, in many cases, progressed by boat to the old St. Albans Burial Ground, a few kilometers south of the village beside the river, founded in 1826. This site had in the past suffered much by neglect, floods and vandalism but now is thankfully in a suspended state of preservation. Therein lie the remains of some of the earliest pioneering families of the area. Namely; Bailey, Sternbeck, Fernance, Jurd, Morris and Walker.
To this day the local valley people still bury their own dead; affording the deceased the ongoing respect from the living as is the want of this close-knit valley community.
The current cemetery is in a lovely nook, on a hillside, just a short walk north of the Village and contains a continuum of remains of those families descended from the first settlers and those who have arrived over the course of time to make this valley their own.
Since 1824 an area north of St. Albans of approximately 1040 hectares along Mogo creek has been in use as common land. This has its roots in the traditional "Common" of England and is designed to compensate "villagers" for the small size of their allotments.
Perpetual succession to the St. Albans Common was granted on the 4th. of March 1853 to five trustees, who were to act on behalf of the "Settlers, Cultivators and other Inhabitance of the District". The land is private property, reserved for the use of the "Commoners" and is still run by the Commoners themselves through the Trustees. As well as being host to stock the Common has an extensive lagoon which provides a refuge to many water birds and wildlife.
The whole area is now listed as a conservation area ensuring its preservation for future generations of St. Albans Commoners.
There is an atmosphere of decay and rural charm about St. Albans that belies a troubled past. The summers are hot and the winters frosty. The valley has an average rainfall of about 800-mm but often suffers prolonged dry periods where the river slows to a trickle.
Beyond the tidal influence the Macdonald in recent years is reduced to a series of pools strung along extensive sand beds. A sad indictment to the white settlers and their lack of knowledge cleared the riverbanks of trees resulting in massive silting and degradation of the riverbed as respective floods ran their natural course. What a wonderful sight the Valley must have been for the thousands of years under Aboriginal custodianship who trod lightly on their land. "Tall stands of water Gums, Mimosa trees and thick beds of reeds holding the banks firm to provide deep water to Bullock Warf". Old settlers often wrote of spanning the river on fallen tree trunks prior to 1949, testimony to the narrowness of the riverbed in years past. In his definitive study of the "Catastrophic Channel Changes in the Macdonald Valley". H. M. Henry indicates that there is evidence that the channel is returning to its old state. Another hundred years perhaps?
This forlorn sight is deceptive, since the river has and can still become a raging torrent after heavy rain. There were devastating floods in 1867, 1889, 1913, and particularly 1949. [Twelve meters high at St. Albans]. Supposedly the biggest on record.
Mr. Price Morris recorded a vivid boyhood memory of the 1889 flood.
"The flood played the deuce at St. Albans; it was higher than the big flood of 1867 by five feet. The town lies fifty feet above the riverbed and the floor of the bridge was forty feet from the sand. It [the bridge] was covered in June 1889. The CourtHouse was not washed away but the Police quarters were. The water rose to the eaves [second story] of Jurds Hotel [Settlers Arms Inn] and left a hole seven feet deep in front of it. The old house was of stone, but some of it washed away. The floodwaters rose to the veranda eves and washed away five houses, and another newly built on the other side of the river. The builder, Bailey, with his wife and several youngsters had occupied it for a few weeks only and when the floods came they had to take refuge in the darkness of the night on the mountainside".
And so it was. By 1940 the valley numbers had reached a low point of about 100 persons, with most of the small farms amalgamated into larger holdings, but the valley has fought back from near extinction and its population is increasing with a new influx of 20th. Century "settlers" keen to make the valley prosperous and maintain the heritage that attracted all of us to this "Forgotten Valley". Old Donald Sternbeck, [Deceased] a descendent of one of the earliest valley families always maintained that the land is still capable of yielding riches in response to hard work and hoped the new settlers would understand this. Old William Price Morris [grandson of Price Morris died in St Albans in 1957 age 83] was quoted as praising "the wonderful pioneering spirit of the early settlers, as well as their honesty to one another and their ready willingness to help their fellows in time of trouble as they toiled up and away from the conditions that beset them".
Thus we have the uniqueness of the Australian way of life, encapsulated in our small corner of the world and forever in the hearts of townsfolk of St. Albans and the Macdonald valley.
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