Monday, 26 August 2013

Felton Mathew's Diary

Primary sources, such as diaries, are valuable historical sources. They provide helpful insights into a particular period in the past. Diaries are useful in adding substance to our research. One interesting diary is that of Felton Mathew 1801-1847.

Felton, a surveyor, arrived in NSW in 1829 to take up a position as Assistant Surveyor of Roads & Bridges. Shortly after his arrival he was joined by his cousin, Sarah Louise Mathew c1805-1890 and they were married on the 21 January 1832 in Sydney. The Mathew's resided in Windsor however Felton spent most of his time attending to his field work to the north and northwest of Sydney. His wife Sarah accompanied him on several of these expeditions and wrote most of entries in a series of diaries. Felton accompanied Captain Hobson to NZ as the acting surveyor general and kept a diary. The diary records key events relating to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. He also chose the site of Auckland as the proposed capital. Felton died en route to England in Peru on the 26 November 1847. 

The original diaries (total of 6) are held by the National Library of Australia  The diaries have been transcribed in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society and some excerpts were transcribed by Bruce Jones and were originally available to access on his web site which is no longer accessible. Fortunately the website was archived on Pandora on the National Library of Australia website. One volume, covering the NZ period in the 1840s, is held by the Museum of New Zealand

Here are a few samples from the diary:

Wednesday 20th [20 JAN 1830]
Left the Finger post and arrived at Wiseman's on the Hawkesbury. The leading features of the country are the same as in yesterday's march – ranges upon ranges of barren & unprofitable rock without an acre of land available for agricultural purposes. Approaching "Wiseman's" there are some pretty & romantic peeps of the Hawkesbury, winding through the valley; and there is the first good land I have seen in the Colony. It consists of prime but not extensive tracts of alluvial land; but it bears a miserably small proportion to the ranges of useless rock, which here rise perpendicularly to an immense height, clothed with timber & brush from base to summit & giving an irregularly wild & romantic affect to the Scenery. 

Saturday 23rd [23 JAN 1830]
Heavy rain at intervals throughout the day which has prevented our working in the field. Accompanied by McLeod & Larmer, crossed the River to Wiseman's to procure some corn &c – – Shot (at one shot) two birds of the Cockatoo Species – one of them ash-colour tinged with yellow about the head – throat canary colour – breast a dusky brown back & wings raven – tail consisting of twelve feathers two upper ones raven – 10 others the same colour, banded about the middle with broad bands of bright crimson-edged yellow … They were both of the same size & measured from tip to tip of the wings 3 feet 3 ins. & from beak to tail 19 ins.

Wisemans  Ferry Inn. Taken M. Nichols 2013.


Jany 27th–28th [27- 28 JAN 1830]
Finished Smith's and began measuring Rose's Farm Finished Rose's Farm – and returned to the Camp – from the difficulties I met with in measuring these two Farms, I was deterred from commencing Grono's which is of the same description and much more extensive:– fearing that if I remained to finish it, I should not reach the camp by the time the bullocks returned from Sydney, and should thereby occasion a delay which is contrary to the spirit of my instructions. Such would certainly have been the case – for the bullocks returned this night to our camp.

The following are excerpts compiled by Sarah Mathew, and are written in the first person of her husband, Felton and are called "Stray Leaves from the Journal of a Wanderer in Australia."

Janry 18th 1830 
We are now approaching the Hawkesbury and have had occasional peeps of this beautiful stream, and the fertile flats on its banks. We are not 50 miles from Sydney, yet we have travelled a country as wild, and a solitude as profound as if no human beings existed in these desolate Forests; or the enterprize and industry of the white man had never reached these shores. But now the scene changes, descending by a rocky and precipitous pass, and emerging from the Forest, the river appears some 50 feet below, winding round a point comparatively low, and the Farm and Inn called Wiseman's, judiciously placed in the bend of the river, on a fine alluvial flat, all in rich cultivation, affords quite a relief to the eye and mind, almost wearied with the monotony of chaotic rock and primeval Forest. But the whole scene is magnificent. ... The scenery is so magnificent, so wild; the actors in the scene such a contrast: the wide and rapid river, The heavy flat Ferry boat with our baggage is slowly crossing, and the gambols of the unwilling bullocks resisting the efforts of the men to coax them into the large Punt which is to be towed over by the boat are sufficiently ludicrous. Some of them are very refractory, and the shouting of the men, awakening echoes among the rocks, and disturbing the quiet solitude, altogether forms a picture as novel as striking to one as I stand on the bank of the river watching the scene. Our camp is now pitched in a romantic sequestered Glen on the Northern bank of the River. Open to the water, but shut in on all other sides by the same towering masses of rock and wood, which as the Glen rapidly narrows allmost meet at the head, leaving only a narrow rocky bed for a mountain torrent. The weather has been dull for some days, and the rain is now descending merrily. My tent being new is not yet water tight so I calculate on being rather damp ere morning. However it is much needed and wished for, and will do more good in an hour, than I shall in a year.

Note: spelling and grammar has been left, as is.

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