Early Settlement

Passages to the North West Plains by Michael O'Rourke.
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18



passage map 3

Colonisation of the Upper Hunter Valley

The first British settlers along the Upper Hunter River arrived in dribs and drabs. Some were individual entrepreneurs acting for themselves while others were the agents of absentee employers.
    The applicant would select a piece of land, or rather a whole district, and apply to the Governor for a grant. Indifferent to the Aborigines, the grantee or his agent then
 returned to the frontier, usually accompanied by ‘assigned’ convicts, to take up occupation.
    He might bring up his assigned convicts and sheep or cattle before he received the Governor's authorisation, but more commonly this was done afterwards. The ex-naval lieutenant William Ogilvie, for example. chose 'Merton', opposite modern Denman, on a walking trip (!) with the ex-naval surgeon Peter Cunningham in April 1825. (Cunningham was aged 36.) Ogilvie occupied his grant some time later that year leaving his family in Newcastle until his assigned convicts had finished building a family house. Captain Francis Allman too, the Government Commandant at Newcastle, in March 1825 received a grant opposite present-day Muswellbrook which he called 'Overton'.
    Other colonists staked out claims beyond 'Muscle Brook' [Muswellbrook] up to present-day Aberdeen. Peter McIntyre 'apportioned' 'Segenhoe' on Pages River, north-east of latter-day Aberdeen, for his employer T P Macqueen in May 1825, occupying it later that year; and a further 2,000 acres for himself which became 'Blairmore', on Dartbrook Creek opposite modern Aberdeen. 'Segenhoe' and 'Blairmore' were not established, however, as going concerns until 1826-27. 


The advancing line of British farms ran in two directions from Patricks Plains [modern Singleton]: (1) upstream or north-west along the river towards Denman, and (2) NNW towards the area of modern Liddell Power Station, whee the New England Highway now runs.
    As we have seen, the highest farm in the valley in October 1824 when Henry Dangar came back from his first expedition to the Liverpool Plains was Dr George Bowman's property 'Ravensworth', south-east of our Liddell Power Station, which is to say: nearer Singleton than Muswellbrook. Probably Bowman's overseer and convict workers had established the farm in about September, because the Governor's Secretary issued the order for his land grant in August 1824.

passage 5

Above: Landholdings beyond Singleton; east of Jerrys Plains. Notice James Bowman’s ‘Ravensworth’ top-centre and George Bowman’s holdings, centre.

Previous |  Content |  Next

Michael O'Rourke has kindly given us permission to reproduce this literary work in web form on this site.

Thank You!


Support local history


59. ADB, ‘James Bowman’.

60. “Assignment” vs “ticket of leave”: Convicts were were put to work on arrival in NSW, either providing labour for public works such as roadmaking, or through assignment to an individual for whom they would work. Both free settlers and emancipists (ex-convicts) were commonly assigned convicts as servants, farm labourers, etc. A ticket of leave was a parole document. Once granted to him or her, a convict was free to seek employment within a specified district but could not leave the district without the permission of the government or the district's resident magistrate. Each change of employer or district was recorded on the ticket. A convict who observed the conditions of his ticket-of-leave until the completion of one half of his sentence was entitled to a conditional pardon, which removed all restrictions except the right to leave the colony.

61. Wood, Dawn in the Valley 1972: 53-55. I rely heavily on Allan Wood's and Roger Milliss' work throughout this paper.

62. Muswellbrook: named for its river mussels. Wood 1972: 42 ff, 87 and 102 ff; Gray 1975. Muswellbrook (originally 'Muscle Brook') was so called on account of its freshwater mussels. A number of the first settlers in the Upper Hunter such as Peter McIntyre (1783-1842), William Ogilvie and Peter Cunningham (1789-1864) have become well-known; their names can be found in nearly every book on early New South Wales. In this paper we shall also recognise some of the lesser names among the ‘invaders’, such as James Greig and John Pike. 

63. Wood 1972: 45, 62.  Power station: Lake Liddell, a late 20th century artefact, of course did not exist in 1824. Several other grants made at this time - to Blaxland, Grieg, Arndell, Mills, Carter and Cavenagh - remained orders on paper for some months; their men did not take up their masters' drays, cattle and sheep until later.

Would like to be a sponsor on this site?

Contact our administrator now!


Support local history