Login   Sign Up 


Parramatta: a treasure trove of stories

by di2 

Posted: 28 September 2008
Word Count: 1104
Related Works: A time line that sings • In the footsteps of Allan Cunningham • Polypodium dictyopteris (lance fern) • The King`s Botanical Collector Preface • The Tomb of Phillip Parker King • 

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

“It’s not what has been lost that amazes me but how much has survived." D. Hall, Historian
On 16th November 1827 The Australian Newspaper reported:
“The house of Allan Cunningham’s neighbour Mr Gooch, in Marsden Street, burned down. Mr Cunningham’s house on the westside, adjoining the ruined house, was in danger but was saved by his neighbours, Messrs Walker, Moore, White and Smith.”

The house the reporter referred to was Allan Cunningham’s rented cottage situated in Macquarie Street Parramatta, adjoining Mr Gooch’s house in Marsden Street. The cottage was his home between 1823 and 1831. Although it was poor Mr Gooch, possibly the bricklayer Robert Gooch, who lost his home, our focus in this blog is on Mr Cunningham because his home contained things that where important to the international scientific community of the day, the colonial colony of New South Wales and are important to us today.

I’m not sure if Mr Cunningham witnessed the drama of his rented cottage coming close to destruction. He was collecting plants and seeds around Sydney at the time. It was lucky for all of us that it was saved by his neighbours for if his house had burned down he would have lost his orchid collection along with a lot of irreplaceable notes, journals, maps plus seeds, live plants and so much more. All these wonderful things very nearly went up in smoke. His rescued botanical specimens and the maps and journals recording his discovery of the Darling Downs are all considered precious to our history and can be found archived and stored carefully with various scholarly institutions and museums around the world.

He would have been horrified when he found out how close his property came to being lost.

For a long time we’ve sought out the actual street number in Macquarie Street where Mr Cunningham lived. To date we have not been successful, however, if you read the 1827 newspaper article quoted above you can come close to pinpointing his address on a street map, of the CBD of Parramatta. It is possible that he lived near 142 Macquarie Street on the westside of Marsden Street.

There is so much colonial history located in Parramatta that a visit had been on our To Do List for ages. It’s a treasure trove of historical stories. An opportunity arose when the Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS) invited members and friends to join them on a walking tour of Parramatta as part of National Archaeology Week 2008. So we packed the video camera, still camera and notes, maps and paraphernalia and off we went to Circular Quay to catch the Rivercat up the Parramatta River to the Parramatta CBD.

Although we were ready to capture the trip from the Quay up the river on our new video, we found it too difficult to find anything remotely cinematic from our position within the Rivercat. Seated low and looking out windows smeared with sea salt we could see lots of mangroves and the deep brown of the still water and not much more.

It would have been lovely to capture an image of Hannibal Macarthur’s mansion “Vinyard” later known as “Subiaco” where Allan would have spent many happy moments, but it’s long gone. Or a picture of the Parramatta Orphans School but if you can see it from the river, we missed it. All I remember from the trip is the occasional view of commercial buildings peaking out over the top of the mangroves and the activity of the people seated near us. Nothing much has stayed in my memory of this journey.

Arriving at the wharf in CBD of Parramatta, we joined up with the other RAHS members and spent the next few hours enjoying a very informative walking tour of the Parramatta CBD which took in various Archaeological sites. It was a really good introduction to the area, however were unable to get a sense of how it was back in the early 1800’s. Trying to imagine it when it was made up of cottages and gardens was not within our capacity.

On the walk we were shown an example of a water well. I found this interesting because an early Sydney water well was mentioned in Richard Johnson’s book “The Search of the Inland Sea” which is about John Oxley (1738-1828). Louisa Oxley, the four year old daughter of the famous explorer and Elizabeth Marmon, drowned in a water well in 1825. At the time when I read the story I wondered how a person could drown in a water well.

I imagined the water well look similar to a well with a waist high wall covered by a small roof with a bucket dangling down into the depths similar to illustrations that went with the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill. The water wells used in the colony were very different and quite dangerous. They had very low walls sometimes only three bricks high, no roof and no bucket supplied and of course no lighting. At an archaeological dig I saw and example of the colonial style water well and then I understood how the four year old Louisa Oxley could have fallen in and drowned.

Another geographic point that we wanted to visit was the Corner of Phillip and Church Street where Australia's first Admiral, Phillip Parker King lived in a cottage called Rosehill. The King’s lived in the cottage between 1818 and 1822. Eventually they moved to their property Dunheved at South Creek (St Mary’s).

The property was covered by city buildings. If Archaeologists could dig beneath the building on the corner, I’m sure they would find remnants of the King’s domestic bliss. John Septamus Roe, midshipman on the famous Mermaid and later on the Bathurst, referred to their marriage as one of the happiest he had ever witnessed. He stayed with them at Rosehill cottage when he assisted Phillip Parker King, his captain, with his maps and journals recording their five maritime journeys mapping the coast of Australia.

This article and accompanying images can be view at :

1) The Australian 16th November 1827, Mitchell Library Sydney Microfilm
2) Curry S, Maslin BR & Maslin JA (2002). Allan Cunningham Australian Collecting Localities
3) Heward Robert, (1842) A Biographical Sketch of Allan Cunningham. Part One appeared in The Journal of Botany Volume IV, printed in London 1842; and Part Two and Three appeared in The London Journal of Botany Volume I, also printed in 1842
4) Hordern Marsden (1997), King of the Australian Coast: The Voyages of Phillip Parker King in the Mermaid and Bathurst
5) Challenor Diane (2007, 2008), Research Notes

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 10:25 on 30 September 2008  Report this post
An interesting and clearly told account.

I think I've been to Parramatta as it's the nearest shopping area for my sister who lived in Greystanes. I didn't realise how important it was historically.

'Colonial colony' seems strange and I think you must have meant to edit it to something else like British colony.

I liked all the info about wells, too. Of course, water wells are just called wells in the UK because they wouldn't be any other kind. Almost all of the ones to be seen in old houses or in picture books are of the sort you described with a low stone wall and a bucket. Chinese history is full of stories of people deliberately drowned in wells by being thrown in. PD James has a story called 'An Unsuitable Job for a Woman in which the heroine is thrown down a well in the grounds of an old cottage. The last one I saw was in the gounds of The Red House, formerly owned by William Morris, not far from where I live.

Good luck with the research.


To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .