Sunday, 25 March 2018

"Macquarie" - A Little of our Local History

Yesterday, while Mick was at work I ventured out halfway to O'Connell.  The occasion was an open day at the Historic property of "Macquarie".  I had driven past the unimposing front gate for the best part of twenty years, so it was interesting to finally see what was up the driveway.

It turns out that "Macquarie" is the first farm and oldest residence west of the Blue Mountains. In 1814 1,000 acres of land was granted to William Lawson  in appreciation of his part in the famous Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson expedition to cross the previously impregnable blue mountains and discover the fine grazing lands to the west. That was in 1813.  Next George Evans surveyed the route for a road and in 1814-15 William Cox, using convict labour, built over 100 miles of road in under six months, known as Cox's Road.  In May 1815 Governor Macquarie travelled across the new road and proclaimed the site of Bathurst. 

This part of the world never had a lot of trees, but there is plenty of clay, so all the buildings were constructed from bricks made on site.  It is estimated that there are over a million bricks in the collection of buildings.

As was the norm at the time, convict labour was used for farming and was also used to build the homestead and surrounding buildings. This was in the early 1820s. In a letter Lawson said at one time he had 100 convicts.  It is believed that there were skilled tradesmen among the convicts as the quality of the brickwork in the buildings and an underground silo is anything but rudimentary.  

The property was purchased about 10 years ago by the Hennessys who are endeavouring to restore it.  Yesterday was special, in that Professor Dame Marie Bashir, former Governor of New South Wales, came to unveil a plaque to commemorate the restoration of the Convict Barracks.  She is the third Governor to visit the property.  Governor Macquarie visited in 1821 and Governor Fitzroy in 1847.

I didn't get out there until lunch time, so missed the official bits, but was amazed to see so many cars in the paddock.  It appears that members of Historical Societies from near and far came for the day, probably outnumbering the locals.  There were long queues to tour the house and the convict barracks.

Let's go for a walk.

The homestead is Georgian in style and relatively simple, given the distance to transport items.  All the gardens are new.   It doesn't appear that the homestead ever had much of a garden.  The queue wound right across the front and down the side of the house.

Mr Lawson selected a wonderful spot for his home, being near two rivers but being on  a rise with splendid views.

It was quite crowded as we walked through the house, just down the central hallway to view two rooms on either side.  Notice how thick the walls are in the doorway.

This stag head has hung here for over 100 years, a relic from the previous owners.  The property has only had a few owners during its life time.  Prior to the current owners, the McKibbon family lived on the property since 1885.

The sandstone fireplace surrounds were beyond repair, so have been replicated.  In this sitting room a large window has been installed between the two original windows to allow more light and to make the most of the outlook.

The dividing wall has been removed here.  The building initially consisted of just the four rooms on display, with a separate kitchen.  With additions there were eventually 27 rooms.

This room had the fireplace moved from the corner to the centre of the wall.  The timber bearers under the floors were badly rotted and had to be repaired, but the original floorboards were used wherever possible.  There was much rising damp throughout the buildings which has taken quite some repairing.

You can see in this back bedroom how low the doors are.  A much simpler mantle piece here.

Considering how simple the architecture is, I was surprised at the beautiful craftsmanship on the staircase.  If you look to the top you will see a barred window.  The staircase leads to the attic area, which was the dormitory for the female convicts.  It was just one big bare room. 

A delightful garden has been planted to the rear of the house.  There are rooms on both sides of the garden creating a U shape.  There is also a cellar.  Note the dormer windows to the servants quarters.

Dame Bashir (on the left) was generous with her time, chatting to several people.

The Convict Barracks, now restored. Once again, it was in a very poor condition prior to its restoration.

I loved the look of the sky behind to rustic old bricks.

Once inside, we noticed where names had been written on the wall.

Don't you love the collection of old boots on the mantle. The pair on the left are true hob nail boots.

What a collection!!  That is a man trap in the middle.  Yuck!  The very large irons second from the right were punishment leg irons.  You could hardly lift them.  My, how times have changed - thankfully.  Having said that, life for many convicts apparently wasn't too bad when assigned to rural areas.  Governor Macquarie was all for the convicts to serve their sentence and then go on to make a good life for themselves in the colony.  That thinking was part of the reason he was recalled to England.  Australia was supposed to be a hell hole, not somewhere to have a good future. When you look at the list of names that served as convicts at "Macquarie", you see many well known Bathurst names, that indeed did well themselves, or their descendants have.

Once outside again I noticed the lovely brickwork above a door.  

Inside that door is a very simply furnished room.

What a nice, simple vignette.

Now it was time to explore some of the outbuildings.

The carriage house is still in its dilapidated condition.  Notice how the bricks are suffering from rising damp.  This was prevalent in all the buildings.

Yes, there is even still a sulky.

I love checking out old shearing sheds.  They are wonderful buildings and have that very distinctive smell.  Lawson, after John Macarthur and Samuel Marsden, was one of the earliest prominent sheep breeders in Australia.

The side of the shearing shed shows the short lengths of corrugated iron used on the roof.  I'm guessing all the buildings would have originally had shingles.

Remnants of old shearing plants.

A selection of wool bale stencils.

By now the sky was getting quite dark to the south and looked wonderful behind the shearing shed.

And finally, a view of the rear of the house.  The Convict Barracks are just to the right of this photo. The lean to at the back of the Convict Barracks was originally the blacksmith's shop.

I'm so pleased I took to trouble to go and visit.  It is great to see such significant early buildings being saved and the homestead turned into a family home with modern comforts, while retaining its historic features, rather than let fall into total disrepair. Hopefully, it will continue to be looked after for generations to come.


Anonymous said...

Hi Janice wow what a post,i loved reading through your post and you took some beautiful pics,thankyou for sharing i love history and found this very interesting ,thankyou xx

Chookyblue...... said...

Wow loved my history lesson .......

Jenny said...

What an interesting visit you had to this historic property. And a mind blowing million bricks made, that's quite a production and must have involved many workers.

Gail said...

I will never see everything I want to see in Australia! This looks lovely and I'd like to compare it to US historic homes of the same era-that would be interesting!

Fiona said...

An interesting one to visit.... and lovely to have all the history revealed... so good to see buildings like this being restored

Michelle Ridgway said...

What a great post! Loved it from first word til last! Fantastic piccies. Thanks so much for sharing xx

Bloom said...

So glad you took the time to visit Macquarie Janice! And for generously taking the time to share it with us. Great post! I think as Australians, we downplay our history a bit. We think that it's insignificant compared with European history, both in terms of timescale and its convict roots. And yet, it is so important to understanding who we are as a nation today. I love that some of those convict names are now well known, successful Bathurst families. Speaks for our resilience as a people! How wonderful that there are people who have the energy, determination and funds to restore properties like 'Macquarie', and that there is increasing public interest in our history. Really enjoyed your story Janice! Thank you. X