Friday, 19 December 2014

First traffic lights in the Hawkesbury

Do you when the first traffic lights appeared in the Hawkesbury and where? 

These days we take traffic lights for granted as they appear on most major roads. A bit of background on traffic lights - the first set of traffic lights appeared in NSW in Sydney in 1933, on the corner of Kent and Market Streets but it wasn't until 1937 more lights appeared. In 1959 the then Department of Motor Transport actually established the first linked set of traffic lights in Australia along the Parramatta Road. 

It wasn't until the 1960s that traffic lights became more widespread throughout the greater Sydney Metropolitan area and rural centres in NSW. The first set located outside the Sydney metropolitan area and the districts of Newcastle and Wollongong was in Tamworth in 1966.

The image shows Mr Deane with 2 officers of Department of Motor Transport.
Windsor & Richmond Gazette 21/2/1968 

The first set of lights in the Hawkesbury was officially switched on in Windsor on the 19 February 1968, according to the local newspaper.[1] These were situated at the busy intersection of George Street and Richmond Road near McQuade Park which was (and still is) well-known for car accidents. They were a ‘vehicle actuated system’ which meant they were adjusted to the traffic flow. The lights were turned on by the local politician Mr Bernie Deane who gave a short speech to the small crowd. Deane was the local member for Hawkesbury between 1950 and 1971. He was was sure that the lights would assist the pedestrians particularly the young and the elderly trying to make their way across the busy intersection. He also thought the lights would be very useful if the local swimming pool went ahead in McQuade Park. Although there were plans for the pool in the park, it was eventually constructed in Church Street, South Windsor. 

Mr Deane also stated in his speech that the installation of the lights in Windsor was "yet another indication of the progress being made in this district."

For more information about traffic signals in NSW see Paul Rand's website.

[1] Windsor & Richmond Gazette 21 February 1968 p. 1

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Struck by lightning 1816 - Trove Tuesday

In October 1816 it was reported in the Sydney Gazette, that a young lady had died in the Hawkesbury after being tragically struck by lightning. 

Mary Ezzy who lived on the outskirts of Windsor NSW was finalising the preparations for her forthcoming marriage, which was to take place on the 21 October. Ironing her wedding gown adjacent to a window, Mary aged 16, was observed by her older brother and a friend Miss King. A storm hit mid-afternoon with rain, thunder and lightning. All three were knocked over by the force of the strike but Mary was “enveloped in a blaze, her hair having taken fire.”  James Mileham, the local surgeon, was sent for but was unable to do anything and it appears she died instantly.  A dog was also “found dead” at the scene. Mary was singed on her chest, back and one of her arms. 

Mary died whilst ironing her wedding outfit in 1816. Photo: M. Nichols, 2014.

Ten of the twelve panes of glass where the lightning struck were broken and the floor scorched from the window to where Mary lay. The vehicle which was to carry Mary and her mother to Sydney for her special event a few days later was then used to convey the news of her death and later transport the family to her burial on the 19 October held at St. Matthew’s Church of England Cemetery, Windsor. 


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

1809 Flood at Hawkesbury

This week in 1809, heavy rain had begun which eventually turned into a deluge and led to the Hawkesbury flooding. The July/August flood reached 14.49m with at least 8 people perishing as a result. This followed a big flood in May 1809 where the water rose 14.63m. There were heavy losses of crops, livestock and belongings. Read the accounts from The Sydney Gazette, 6 August 1809, p. 2. 

Hawkesbury River in flood by Michelle Nichols

Accounts were on Tuesday last received in town of the Hawkesbury Settlement being again flooded; and in the course of the following day those accounts were unhappily confirmed; a Mr. BULL of Sydney, who was at the house of Mr. John BENN, down the River, at the commencement of the flood, informs us, that little or no rain fell in that quarter until Saturday evening the 29th ultimo, when a heavy rain set in which continued without intermission until Monday morning. That a rise in the water was perceived between 10 and 11 on Sunday night, and continued for some hours to rise gradually, but afterwards with an astonishing rapidity until the whole of the surrounding farms were laid under water. About noon on Tuesday it was at the highest; and in the course of the afternoon abated 5 or 6 feet; but, in consequence of the deluges of rain that fell in the evening and night of Tuesday, the water rose again several feet. On Wednesday it began again to fall, and by the noon of Thursday had decreased 10 feet from its greatest height. Among the principal sufferers that we have heard of down the River, is Mr. BENN; he having lost upwards of 300 head of swine, 100 sheep, about 1000 bushells of wheat threshed or in stack, and a stack of barley, besides a valuable property contained in his dwelling-house and barn, among which were two chests of tea and a ton of sugar, but a few days prior received from Sydney. 

The Sydney Gazette, 6 August 1809, p. 2.

From the Green Hills, the following report contained in a private letter, dated on Tuesday night, 11 o'clock, was received in Town on Thursday; "With regret I inform you of the dreadful scene that at the present moment chills me with excessive horror. The whole of this extensive settlement is one uninterrupted sheet of water. The lower range of houses upon the Green Hills is immersed; and the River has formed a juncture with the South Creek, across the Hills, through RICKERBY's grounds upon the River side, and those of the Rev. Mr. MARSDEN on the Creek. Yesterday and last night was a most dreadful season! The danger encroached with a rapidity never before witnessed; and the cries of the numerous families who were more imminently exposed were rendered still more agonizing by the impracticability of affording them immediate relief. In one alarming instance, a young man a settler, his wife, and three children, were seated on a ladder lain across the fork of a tree, in which situation they contrived to sustain an equilibrium for nearly three hours, the man a great part of the time clinging by his hands at the end of the ladder; but alas; yielding to fatigue, he forsook his hold and all were in consequence precipitated into the deluge. The woman and children were picked up; but the fate of the unfortunate man is doubtful. A settler at Cornwallis passed the Hills this morning on the top of a small wheat-stack; his fate is unknown; but it is much hoped he may have been preserved by some of the boats employed in this humane work. In another, and truly melancholy instance, eight persons are supposed to have perished in one spot. The names of those supposed unfortunates have been mentioned; but from this I must refrain, hoping the account may be erroneous, or at the least exaggerated. At present all is uncertainty and dread, all terror and astonishment. Some lives are lost; many have been saved by the exertions of the mere enterprising, directed by our Magistrates, who by their example encouraged the toil of rescuing whole families from the very verge of fate. And I cannot omit to mention the active and indefatigable exertions of Messrs. THOMPSON and BIGGERS, to whom, under the direction of Divine Providence, many are indebted for their lives ... Their fatigues were equal to their dangers, which were increased by the extreme darkness of the nights; during which their boats were repeatedly stove, and it was with difficulty they could with their crews preserve their lives. Many others who volunteered their exertions are also entitled to every praise. At the order of Mr. BELL, the Church was appropriated to the reception of the sufferers brought to the Hills, and such as were destitute were victualled from the Store, and every measure that humanity could devise was adopted to alleviate as much as possible the misery of their condition. It is considered that the perpendicular rise of the River could not be much less than 85 feet from the general level, and to have exceeded that of March, 1806, by 6 or 8 feet or perpendicular height; and unfortunately happens at a time of year which totally destroys the prospects of the settler, and the dependence of the Colony upon this Settlement for the next year, as the sown wheat will in all probability perish in the ground in most of the lower situations. At the farm of Mr. S. TERRY nine persons viz COOLEY, of Toongabbee; MUNSEY, of Hawkesbury; HODGES, servant to a gentleman of Sydney; MAHOMED an Asiatic, his wife and two children, and two black men - had endeavoured to secure themselves on the top of the barn, which fell in about 5 on Monday evening; but as there was no other resource left, they continued upon the roof for about two hours after, when the wife of MAHOMED fell through the thatch with one of her children in her arms, and was no more seen. COOLEY endeavouring to save the other child, which clung to MAHOMED, the father, slipped off with the infant, and in like manner disappeared; as did MUNSEY also. MAHOMED and the two black men saved themselves in trees, and HODGES swimming about in the dark at length got into the stream, by which he was carried between 5 and 6 miles before any impediment opposed his rapid course; when happily he found safety among the branches of a tree; from whence he was at length taken by a boat, and conveyed to a place of safety.

The accounts from Richmond Hill are of the same distressing tendency; but from Portland Head no communication has yet been received. The loss of stock has been very severe, as well as grain, no possible estimate can be formed at present. As soon as the melancholy intelligence was received His Honor Lieut. Governor FOVEAUX left Town, accompanied by James FINUCANE, Esq. Secretary to His Honor the Lieut. Governor, with intention to proceed to Hawkesbury direct; but was obliged to return, as the roads were impassable. The Banks of George's River were unfortunately inundated at the same time; and a great quantity of stock and other property lost. In Major JOHNSTON's stock-yard 490 sheep were drowned; Mr. McCALLAM lost 300, and several houses were left in ruins. We have much satisfaction in reporting, however, that fewer persons have lost their lives than at first was apprehended; an account received last night stating, that many who were unaccountably missing have since been heard of, and are in safety. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Toll House at Windsor

If you have ever travelled to Windsor along Windsor Road and over the Fitzroy Bridge at South Creek, you may have noticed the small white building tucked next to the bridge. This is the Toll House, where during the nineteenth century, tolls were collected for using the road. If your ancestors lived in the Hawkesbury during the 1800s they would have most likely paid tolls here at some time or other. It is one of only two intact toll houses remaining in NSW, the other is at Mt Victoria in the Blue Mountains.

The concept of charging tolls for the use of a road or ferry was in wide use throughout the United Kingdom and Europe and was introduced into NSW by Governor King in 1802. Permission was granted to Andrew Thompson  to charge a toll for the use of his "floating bridge" over South Creek near the Green Hills (now Windsor) in 1802. There was possibly earlier buildings on the present site however there are no surviving records. 

Sydney Gazette & NSWAdvertiser 9 March 1806, p. 1
Retrieved  from

Tenders were called for a Toll House in 1834 and the building was completed in 1835. In the 1864 flood "the town the waters came up within a foot of the Barrack gate, Bridge-street ; and the Fitzroy Bridge was totally under water. The toll-house and adjoining houses...were entirely flooded" according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. As a result the building was practically demolished as a result of the 1864 flood when the building was actually shifted off its foundations. It was rebuilt with some alterations shortly after. It is a small building with three rooms and a projected bay window, which the toll keeper could view the road from both angles, to collect tolls. 

In 1886 a deputation was made to the Minister for Works, urging the toll to be abolished as it was unjust particularly as many others throughout the country had been removed. The toll was eventually abolished by the Windsor Road Trust in 1887.

Toll House at Windsor  1947 Courtesy of the State Library of NSW [No. d1_40918]

In 1975 a new high level bridge was constructed over South Creek almost concealing the Toll House from view. The building, has in the past, been damaged by both vandals and rising flood-waters however the exterior of the building was restored in 1997. The public can view the Toll House from the outside by walking from Court Street, on the pathway down beside the Fitzroy Bridge.

Sources :
Exploring the Hawkesbury / Ian Jack
Macquarie Country / D. G. Bowd
Windsor Toll House : user pays in the 19th century / Justin O'Connell
Sydney Gazette & Sydney Morning Herald newspapers on Trove 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A visit to the Hawkesbury in 1832 - Trove Tuesday

James Backhouse 1794-1869 was a naturalist and Quaker missionary. Born in Durham, England to a Quaker business family in Durham, England. He was employed at a Norwich nursery, working with some Australian plants and became interested in the penal colony, prison reform and transportation. With an increasing interest in social conscience Backhouse met up with George Washington Walker 1800-1859. George was a Quaker, businessman and humanitarian, was born on the 19 March 1800 in London. From his employees he learnt integrity and honesty of the Quakers and he joined the Society of Friends as a result. In 1828 he established the Temperance Society in Newcastle.  

In 1831 the two men departed England as missionaries, to observe the colonies. The trip was financed by the London Yearly Meeting. The pair arrived in Hobart in 1832 where Lieutenant-Governor, Sir George Arthur, was keen to co-operate with the two men. They provided Arthur with reports of their findings and suggestions for improvements as they were given limitless access to the penal settlements. They visited New South Wales in 1835 and spent two years touring Norfolk Island, Moreton Bay, Port Macquarie penal settlements as well as the Aboriginal Station at Wellington. Backhouse and Walker gave Governor Bourke detailed reports of these which were also sent back to the various authorities in England. These reports contributed to improvements and development of penal reform. They promoted the development of charitable organisations including the Temperance Society and British and Foreign Bible Society. They also promoted temperance and Aboriginal protection committees.

Whilst travelling around, James Backhouse kept a diary. In 1834 they returned from Wellington and were making the journey from Penrith to the Hawkesbury. His diary records in a manner “which 'preachifying', 'botany', and 'moral reflections' are mixed up with the itinerary in a purely Quaker fashion. The following is a transcription from the Windsor & Richmond Gazette 10 November 1900 of some of their reflections of the district.
21  October 1834 - We walked by way of the little village of Castlereagh to Windsor, a town of about 1500 inhabitants, beautifully situated on the Hawkesbury, and of very English appearance, where we found pretty good accommodation at an inn.
22 October 1834 - We called upon some of the inhabitants, and made arrangements for holding some meetings, in which we were assisted by the Wesleyan Minister.
23 October 1834 - We went to Richmond, another little town on the Hawkesbury, 4 miles distant from Windsor. The country here is very fine and productive, with extensive grassy flats along the sides of the river. On these, people continue to build and reside, notwithstanding that there have been floods at intervals of a few years that have risen far above the tops of their houses. A respectable Wesleyan at Richmond told us that he had heard of our visit to Wellington Valley several days ago from a Native, who had had the particulars detailed to him by a Black from the country. Our persons costume, and many other particulars, including our manner of communicating religious instruction, had been minutely described. And on our Wesleyan friend enquiring what the Black supposed all this meant he replied, "God Almighty come and sit down at Wellington," implying that the Most High would be worshipped there. The scattered natives of Australia communicate information rapidly, messengers being often sent from tribe to tribe for great distances. In the evening we returned to Windsor.
24 October 1834 - Accompanied by a thoughtful military officer, we walked to the villages of Pitt Town and Wilberforce.  At Pitt Town we were helped in obtaining a place to hold our meetings by the Episcopal Minister.
25 October 1834 - We had meetings at Richmond to the forenoon, and at Windsor in the afternoon. There was a painful feeling in both meetings on behalf of such as profess to be awakened, but do not maintain an inward exercise of the soul … who try to feed upon external excitement, instead of upon the ‘True Bread’ which cometh down from Heaven, etc
26 October 1834 - Had a temperance meeting in Government School-room at Windsor, ninety members being present.
27 October 1834 - Visited the jail, and addressed the prisoners. Afterward walked to Wilberforce, and had a meeting in the school house with a congregation consisting chiefly of Australians of European extension with whom I had an open time in preaching the Gospel, to which as regards its powers, the auditors seemed much of strangers…
28 October 1834 - At 6 this morning had a religious interview with a party of 24 employed in replacing a wooden bridge over South Creek, close to Windsor. In the afternoon visited the hospital and had a meeting of about 40 patients assembled in one of the 4 wards. In the evening met 120 persons in the school-room at Pitt Town. The district of Pitt town contains about seven hundred inhabitants, many of whom have been prisoners and are notorious for their drunkenness, profligacy and neglect of public worship.
29 October 1834 - We returned to Richmond and made call upon several persons for the purpose of furnishing them with tracts. In the afternoon we held a meeting at Currajong, a scattered settlement on the ascent of the mountains near the confluence of the Nepean and Grose Rivers, which uniting, form the Hawkesbury. The land here has been cleared and numerous cottages erected, but the inhabitants, who are chiefly Anglo-Australians, seem very uncultivated. In the evening we returned again to Windsor. The country in this neighbourhood was settled at an early period of the colony. Some of the alluvial flats on the Hawkesbury, which is navigable to Windsor for small craft, are very rich, and the people are now busy planting maize or Indian corn. Crops of this useful grain are often obtained after wheat has failed from frost, drought, or hot winds.
30  October 1834 - At 6 o'clock in the morning we mounted a 4 horse coach which stopped for breakfast at Parramatta and arrived at Sydney in 4 hours and a-half, the distance being 38 miles. Between Windsor and Parramatta there are a few large orange orchards, which are said to yield very profitable produce to their owners.  

Quakers traditionally encouraged education and Backhouse and Walker were optimistic about the British and Foreign School Society distributing material and text books on their journey. “Many schools in the colonies followed its curriculum and it became the official system in the early public education of some colonies. They encouraged savings banks, benevolent societies, and ladies' committees for prison visiting on Elizabeth Fry's model. They inspected hospitals and recommended humane treatment for the insane and asylums.”  

They also travelled interstate visiting Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide and returned home via Mauritius and South Africa where they travelled almost 10,000 kms spreading the word and recording their observations. Throughout their journey of the colonies, Backhouse collected and recorded botanical specimens which were sent back to Kew Gardens. The genus of a myrtaceous shrub was named Backhousia in his honour. Walker returned to Hobart in 1840 and married. He retained his concern for those less fortunate. In 1848 Lieutenant-Governor Denison noted that Walker was “the very personification of a mild, benevolent, and excellent Quaker. Even here, where sectarian and religious party feeling run higher than anywhere I have ever known, men of all denominations unite in speaking well of George Washington Walker.”   George passed away on the 2 February 1859 in Tasmania.

Whilst Walker returned to the colonies, Backhouse returned to England in 1841. He kept up with his nursery business whilst travelling extensively around the British Isles collecting botanical specimens. He continued his interest and concern in the places he had visited and also published A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies in 1841 which contained important material relating to conditions of both the penal settlement and the Aboriginals of the time. Backhouse passed away in York on the 20 January 1869. These two men had Evangelical concerns for humankind and resolved to bring about change by practical means.

The Hawkesbury District. (1900, November 10). Windsor and Richmond Gazette (NSW : 1888 - 1954), p. 1. Retrieved April 22, 2014, from
Mary Bartram Trott, 'Backhouse, James (1794–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 April 2014.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Bowman Flag

Did you know that the first recorded use of the kangaroo, emu and shield on an Australian flag was first flown in the Hawkesbury? 

The flag was made by members of the Bowman family and flown at their farm, Archerfield, in Richmond to celebrate the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar

John Bowman was a free settler from Scotland who arrived on the “Barwell” in 1798 with his wife Honor and two children. He was granted 100 acres at the Hawkesbury and encouraged his brother William to also migrate. William arrived on the “Nile” in 1801 and also settled in the Hawkesbury. 

Although the victory of Trafalgar took place in October 1805, news only reached the colony six months later and a postscript appeared in The Sydney Gazette 13 April 1806 To mark this significant milestone, Governor King recommended “a day of thanksgiving” for the inhabitants of the colony.

Bowman flag, 1806 / said to be by Mary Bowman
Courtesy of the State Library of NSW

Apparently the flag was created with silk from Honor Bowman’s wedding dress, although it is not confirmed whether Honor or her nine year old daughter Mary, did the actual sewing, although it is said to be by Mary. The design includes the rose, shamrock and thistle (floral symbols of England, Ireland and Scotland) with “unity” and Nelson’s famous motto “England expects every man will do his duty” which was used to bring together the troops at the commencement of the Battle of Trafalgar.  The actual painting of the flag is believed to have been done by a professional.  The flag was kept by descendants of the Bowman flag for almost 100 years when it was presented to the Richmond Public School by Bowman great grandchildren in 1905. In 1917 it was decided that the noteworthy artefact should in fact be held by the State Library of NSW therefore the flag was transferred. The local newspaper reported the details. The State Library has held the flag ever since. 

Close-up of the Bowman flag, 1806
Courtesy of the State Library of NSW

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Windsor Bridge tragedy

An unfortunate workplace tragedy took place in Windsor 140 years ago. The incident occurred when a young boy who was working on the Windsor Bridge inadvertently fell into the river and drowned in 1874. Humphrey Albert Douglass, who was almost ten years old, was employed working on the bridge being built over the Hawkesbury River at Windsor. The boy was “walking along the foot board of one of the large punts, when he fell into the water” on 21 January 1874. Before he could be pulled from the water he unfortunately drowned. Humphrey was the son of James and Mary Douglass.

An inquest was held the following day at the Sir John Young Hotel in Windsor. James Douglas gave the following evidence, which was reported in the newspaper Australian, Windsor, Richmond, & Hawkesbury Advertiser 24 January 1874:

James Douglas stated that he was a carpenter, and the father of the deceased, he saw him last alive on Wednesday morning at 7 o'clock; he was engaged on the Windsor Bridge works; when witness went home to his dinner he heard that his son was drowned, he went to the bridge immediately and was there some time before the body was found; he saw it taken out of the water; the body was dead and was that of his own son; deceased was ten years old.

The verdict “accidentally drowned while at work at the Windsor Bridge” was returned by the Coroner Mr. J. B. Johnston and a jury. The accident was witnessed by another boy who was pulling the punt which was being used for the traffic across the river. Not many people are aware of the tragic death of this young boy, a sad reminder of how fragile life was. Humphrey was buried at St. Matthews Church of England, Windsor.

Windsor Bridge, 1879. Government Printing Office, State Library of NSW

Saturday, 11 January 2014

A dreadful storm in 1847

In 1847, there was one of the most terrific storms that was ever experienced in Windsor. The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported on the 8 February 1847 that it was a hailstorm ... black clouds met each other, as if in secret conclave, whilst the horizon became gradually dark as the shades of evening closed up on the fated town of Windsor. The report continued, The storm commenced the lightning flashed exceedingly vivid and the thunder followed, rolling with awful solemnity. Rain, hail and tempest, came in their course ... the hail stones were of an immense size, many of them equalling a hen's egg ... the fury of the storm having ceased, the unfortunate inhabitants felt thankful, and proceeded to examine the state of their houses, which in most instances presented a deplorable appearance.” At 11 o'clock that night the storm recommenced and serious damage was done to various parts of the town.

St Matthew's Church of England, Windsor. Photo: M. Nichols

A number of buildings suffered much damage. At St. Matthew's Church, pictured above, eight large windows (comprising of 480 panes of glass) were completely smashed. Twelve windows at the nearby rectory were also smashed. The Presbyterian Church on the corner of George and Christie Street, lost fifty panes of glass. The Wesleyan Chapel lost 300 panes whilst the Hospital lost 150 panes. Other properties with smashed windows and minor damage included Cross's large building in Windsor's Macquarie Street, Millers' public house, George Freeman's, Dr. Stewart's, T. Byrnes, Mr. Edward's druggist shop.  Mr. Mountford's shop was badly damaged and not only were windows smashed but the glass jars and bottles in the shop windows damaged.

The local glass manufacturer and workmen must have been kept busy replacing all the panes of glass after this disastrous event.