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 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85851796
Mary Bartram Trott, 'Backhouse, James (1794–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/backhouse-james-1728/text1899, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 April 2014.

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