1810 to 1819

Chapter 4

The year 1810 was a quiet one, with the only excitement being the escape of James Ratty, Peter Hogg, and Edward Tobin, who were on board the Lady Nelson which was anchored off Camp Cove. They were to be taken to the Hunter River settlement but slipped overboard and vanished into the wilds of South Head, never to be heard of again. 

Governor Macquarie had been in the colony for 16 months when he paid a visit to Watsons Bay.  The description of the report is most famous for the lines, “where the native fig-tree spreads its foliage into an agreeable alcove. Beneath its verdant canopy a cold collation was presented; and after a stay of nearly two hours at this beautifully romantic spot the Company returned to Town.”

In full; “On Tuesday HIS EXCELLENCY the GOVERNOR, and Mrs. MACQUARIE, accompanied by His Honor the LIEUTANANT GOVERNOR and Mrs.O’CONNELL, Mrs. PALMER of Walloomoolla, and a party of Officers among whom were those of His Excellency’s Staff made an excursion to South Head by water ; His Excellency making a visit of inspection to North Harbour, en-passant. In the evening the Party alighted from their boats in that part of Camp Cove (now called Watson’s Bay) where the native fig-tree spreads its foliage into an agreeable alcove. Beneath its verdant canopy a cold collation was presented ; and after a stay of nearly two hours at this beautifully romantic spot the Company returned to Town”                                                 .                                               Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 13 April 1811, page 2

Despite opposition from the government back in England, Governor Macquarie wanted to transition New South Wales from a penal colony into a community of emancipists and immigrants who could sustain themselves rather than be a cost to the government.  While later he would establish the townships along the Hawkesbury and the west, initially he addressed the opportunities he saw in South Head and the land between it and Sydney Cove.

His first road building work was South Head Road, which would link Sydney to the pilot and lookout post at Watsons Bay.  It made sense to simply widen and resurface the rough track that John Harris had cleared eight years earlier. 

Twenty-one men of the 73rd Regiment, constructed it in just ten weeks.  This doesn’t sound like a project that would require the building of a stone cottage at Watsons Bay to house the Officers supervising the building.  It also made no sense to build it at the end of the road, when it was more likely they would have camped in tents as they progressed from Sydney Cove along the track. 

South Head Road was the first of many roads built by Macquarie to be financed by public subscription. He believed that local residents would be the only beneficiaries from the construction of good roads, so they should be prepared to assist in the cost of their building. The South Head Road allowed him to make land grants in Bondi in 1810, Rose Bay in 1812 and Double Bay in 1821.

In October, he published a new regulation forbidding anyone from riding, moving stock or driving “cars, carts or wagons” through Hyde Park to connect with the South Head Road.  A new road was built from Pitt St to connect with it (Liverpool and Oxford Sts).

Back to the cottage at the Watsons Bay end of the South Head Road. I doubt very much that it was built specifically to house an officer or officers supervising the building of the road that only took ten weeks.  It could have been one of the houses built back in 1789 to house the men manning the flagstaff. 

It almost certainly wasn’t the house built by Robert Watson.  That would have been occupied from 1814 to 1822 by Robert and Rebecca Murray.  Rebecca was Robert Watson’s daughter and Robert Murray the new harbour pilot, appointed to take over from Watson.  Robert Watson himself may have continued to live there occasionally himself, even though he had a house at The Rocks. He might also have lived here again in 1818 when he was appointed as the first Lighthouse keeper.

The Murrays married on the 26th of April 1811 and moved to Watsons Bay when he was appointed as a pilot in 1814.

The Colonial Secretary Index indicates that Robert Murray had a son, Robert, born in 1808.  His mother was Mary Gough; however, it is thought that he grew up with Rebecca being his stepmother. Robert jnr. died in 1881.

Murray was a busy man in the weeks before his wedding.  This was as a result of what was reported as:

MUTINOUS CONDUCT.—This day a seaman belonging to the brig Perseverance was brought before a Bench of Magistrates, and charged by the Master of that vessel with having, upon the night of the 26th of February, refused to comply with his orders, and accompanied his disobedience with mutinous expressions. The case was, that the vessel was at the Coal River at the time, and having accidentally got a-ground, the hands were of necessity obliged to use considerable exertion for several days in getting her off and repairing her damage : That on the night above mentioned Mr. Robert Murray, the master, who had been on shore on duty, went on board, and found that the people had all gone to bed, and set no watch, to do which all Masters are strictly bound by the Port Orders : That Mr. Murray called the hands up, and insisted that one should remain on deck: and that the prisoner said with an oath that he would keep no watch, for that the ship was moored, and he would go below. In reply to which the Master sent him a prisoner on board His Majesty’s vessel Estramina, on return of which to Sydney he was lodged in gaol.

The Judge ADVOCATE, who presided at the Bench, expatiated on the extreme misconduct that had brought the prisoner to the bar, and on the malignant species of offence whereof he had been convicted upon oath, without any circumstance of extenuation. As he had already suffered some confinement, however, the Bench had taken that into consideration: and as he was but a young man, they cherished a hope that lenity would have its desired operation on his mind. They had in their humanity, therefore, thought proper to pass no severe sentence on him but that he should be kept to hard labour in the Gaol Gang for the space of 30 days.                                        Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 13 April 1811, page 2

 Then on the 10th of December 1814:

HIS EXCELLENCY the GOVERNOR has been pleased to appoint Mr. Robert Murray to be Pilot in Port Jackson, in Room of Mr. Robert Watson, who has resigned that Situation.

………… By Command of His Excellency

………………………………….. The Governor,

The second but longest staying family to settle at Watsons Bay were the Humphries.  Sometimes recorded as Humphreys, they moved there in 1815. In all likelihood, the Murrays and Humphries arrived at the same time.

It is uncertain exactly when Patrick was born and how old he was when he was transported to the colony in 1793.  Comparing ages listed in his transportation records and military service records, he was most likely around 25 years old. If the family records are correct and he was baptized in Dublin, Parish of St Paul’s on 4th May 1767, he would have been 26.

Family legend has it that while he was found guilty of stealing lead and sentenced to transportation, he was really the victim of a conspiracy.  The family story is that English soldiers took the family cow to supply their officer with milk.  Rather than simple give in, Patrick shot the cow and the English planted lead on the family property to fabricate a charge of theft.

Whichever the case, Patrick was sentenced to 7 years and after 5 years served on a farm at Toongabbie near Paramatta, he was given a ticket of leave.  In 1801 he joined the NSW Corps., under the command of Captain Prentice.  He was recorded as being 5 feet 5 ¼ ” in height, had light brown hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion. 

Patrick was a member of the NSW Corp when it rebelled against Governor Bligh on the 26th January 1808.  It is said that the entire force was at Government House when Bligh was put under arrest, however he wouldn’t have played any significant role.

The NSW Corp. was recalled to England; however Patrick was one of the 447 who chose to stay in the colony, and one of 265 who transferred to the 73rd Regiment, which arrived with Governor Macquarie.  The 73rd Regiment was renamed the 102nd Battalion when it arrived in Sydney from Scotland.  This is why Patrick is recorded by a number of people as serving in both.

Pay Roll sheets on transfer show Patrick to be 40 years old at the time and having served 9 years and 10 days.  Patrick and many of the others became members of the veterans company which was primarily assigned to garrison duty.

Terrence and Catherine McMahon and children arrived on the convict ship Minerva in January 1800.  We may never sort out the fact from the fiction regarding the McMahons.

The family traditional story is that he was a soldier and she his wife came as a free settler. They believe he was posted to guard the flagstaff at South Head and that he drowned there in 1801.  It was believed that Catherine then met and married Patrick Humphries, who might also have been at South Head at that time.

The ships surgeon John Washington Price wrote that he attended Catherine when she was pregnant and that she was the wife of a soldier. The ship’s record of convicts has him listed as both “Frank” and “Francis”.  His occupation was a “sawyer” or “labourer” and his crime “obtaining money under false pretenses”.   She doesn’t appear in any of the ship’s records.  Then again, the records aren’t complete.  She is however recorded in other documents as having served her time and been freed. There is also a record of a conviction of Catherine McMahon in Dublin in 1794 or thereabouts.  All of these are documents produced in New South Wales and errors in dates reasonably common. Details about convict or free settler less likely. 

It is almost certain that Catherine and Francis arrived as convicts, as husband and wife with two children, and possibly jointly guilty of “obtaining money under false pretenses. Many convicts spent the rest of their lives, reinventing their past, and burying their convict past.  It would seem that Catherine was one of them and even created confusion about her age.

Whatever the case, Catherine was widowed in 1801 and married Patrick in 1802.  She had three children with Francis McMahon: Francis, Elizabeth and John. 

Elizabeth was born on board Minerva and delivered by the surgeon John Washington Price on 27th March 1799.  John was born in New South Wales.  In an 1816 record of convict women who had arrived in New South Wales in the previous 20 years, she is recorded as Cath McMahon, arriving in 1800 on board the Minerva having been tried in Dublin and convicted in the 1790s.

Catherine and Patrick Humphries had five children while they were posted at Toongabbie and Windsor; Michael at Parramatta 19th December 1803, Thomas at Parramatta 22nd December 1805, Catherine at Parramatta 24th January 1808, George 11th February 1810 christened Sydney 1812, Ann 2nd Aug 1812 baptized Sydney. 

In the 1814 muster when they lived at Windsor, she was recorded as the wife of a “veteran” and having 8 children.

Only now was Patrick posted to the South Head Flagstaff, and they were there in October 1815, when David Humphries was born on the 17th October 1815.

John Griffiths, who published “Industry and Perseverance” at http://www.davidbrown1801nsw.info/, in a section titled The Humphrey’s Story, as passed down by granddaughter and great granddaughter to the authors sister, wrote that “One of the other family stories was about St Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1802 was an opportunity for Irish folk of the colony to celebrate. Irish friends of Catherine and Patrick gathered on Gibson’s Beach during late afternoon and that night. ‘Guests arrived by small boat (sails and/or oars) and celebrated until the early hours of next morning’. Light was ‘provided by massive driftwood fires set up on the sand.’  The occasion was only a few weeks after Catherine’s and Patrick’s marriage, and a likely additional incentive for celebration.”

It is more likely that this event happened at some time after 1815 when they were well settled in Wicklow cottage.  The cottage is most likely to have been the one built to house the original men manning the flagstaff.  At the time of the establishment of the flagstaff and the building of a cottage to house the men manning it, Governor Philip was already building with sandstone and bricks.  There is no evidence of a quarry anywhere at Watsons Bay and it was more likely that stone was brought by boat from The Rocks.

Shortly after Robert Murray arrived at the Bay, he buried the remains of a Mr.Palmer who was the surgeon on board a whaler called  “Catherine”.  Palmer went overboard on July 1815 and John reported that he had recovered and buried “… the skeleton of a hand and some other bones” in January 1816.

The next five years appear to have been uneventful for Murray, other than performing his regular duties of maintaining a crew for his boat and regularly piloting ships into and out of the harbour.  Being a maritime community, drownings were to be a regular event at the Bay.

John Lloyd had been found guilty of stealing a watch in 1786 and arrived in the colony in 1788 as a 23-year-old, ready to serve out the remaining five years of his sentence.  Twenty-three years later he was a fisherman at South Head, and when returning from Sydney Cove with two veterans of the 102nd regiment was drowned in a storm.  Reports claimed that the storm had the intensity of a hurricane and Lloyds boat filled with water and sank.  The bodies of the soldiers, Thomas Sills and the other simply recorded as Hinsol, were never found.  Both had been posted to the lookout station at South Head and no record of their existence remains.  Such was the destiny of many of Patrick Humphries colleagues in the 102nd.

John Byott was another local, assigned to the government boats who drowned at Watsons Bay in 1814.  There are sections of the beach that drop very quickly into deeper water and John was grasping the bow sprit of a boat when it took him out of his depth.  It made for a horrifying sight for other crew members as he attempted to hang on and eventually slipped below the surface before anyone could help him.


MORE DISMAL EXITS.-On Wednesday afternoon last, Mr. Robert Murray, one of the pilots, Mr. Henry Cole, keeper of the light-house at Macquarie Tower, and George Prosser, a servant of the crown, left the king’s wharf for South-head, the place of their residences;—the two former were unhappily in a state of miserable, shocking inebriety ; and, what is more painful to record, neither of them arrived at their then destined haven. Capt. Beveridge, of the Midas, gives the last account of the boat they were in. The Midas was coming up the harbour on Wednesday evening, which was very dark, with a fair wind, when she was hailed by a boat on the starboard quarter, at a considerable distance, and the voice of poor Murray was distinctly recognised. The boat was once seen, but the ship still going on (as delay was dangerous), the little bark was no more beheld. The next day two oars were picked up on the beach, as well as part of the boat ; and since, one or two hats have been found floating ; all which clearly prove, and that lamentably too, that these three fellow-creatures were drowned. Mr. Cole leaves a wife and young family; and Mr. Murray, who for many years bore, in the colonial merchant service, and also under the Government, a character irreproachable for assiduity and integrity, leaves a widow (a young woman of the Colony) far advanced in pregnancy, to lament his premature end. We are unwilling, for the sake of those relatives that are now disconsolate, to mention anything that would have a tendency to give additional pangs to the wounded mind ; but, we should fail in the performance of a public duty, were we not to say, that such repeatedly woeful examples loudly enjoin a sufficiency of reflection to induce persons to abstain from those vices, that are at once so pernicious, and so awfully destructive in their consequences.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Friday 1 February 1822, page 3

He didn’t leave Rebecca in a particularly good position.  She was pregnant, her father Robert Watson had died the year before and Murray had been deeply in debt to “Robert Campbell the junior” of the Campbell merchant family. Just four and a half years later, she also succumbed to the demon drink:

A Coroner’s Inquest was held on Thursday morning last, at the sign of the Union public-house, in George-street, before G. M. Slade, Esq. Coroner, on the body of Rebecca Murray. From the evidence adduced before the inquest it appeared, that the deceased was the surviving widow of Mr. Murray, the late pilot-master of this Port, who it may be recollected by some, was accidentally drowned between two and three years ago. The body of the unfortunate woman in this instance, was found in her apartment a lifeless corpse, in the course of Wednesday, and from concurrent circumstances was supposed to have come by her death from suffocation, whilst in a state of extreme inebriety. Prior to the death of her husband, she was said to be a woman of temperate habits; but after his melancholy loss, had given herself up to habits of drinking. The Jury found a verdict, that the deceased came by her death from suffocation in liquor. –

Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848), Saturday 30 September 1826, page 2

Rebecca left her daughter Sarah Rebecca Murray to be brought up by the Henderson family of Brisbane Waters.  If the name Henderson sounds familiar, it was her mother’s new surname. After she had abandoned her three children after they left Norfolk Island, her new partner was John Henderson.  It also meant that in time Sarah Rebecca, would come to know Thomas Humphries when he took up his father’s land grant there in the 1828.

Nearby at Manly, the eight- and nine-year-old sons of John Randall were employed by the same Robert Campbell Jnr.  They were in a rowing boat attempting to land in large surf when their boat was destroyed.  One body was found nine days later and the other, never recovered.

Robert Watson had briefly returned to Watsons Bay in 1818 as the first Lighthouse keeper. The construction of the Macquarie Tower began in 1816.

On Thursday last, notwithstanding the severity of the weather, His Exᴄᴇʟʟᴇɴᴄʏ the Gᴏᴠᴇʀɴᴏʀ and Staff, accompanied by His Hᴏɴᴏʀ the Lɪᴇᴜᴛᴇɴᴀɴᴛ Gᴏᴠᴇʀɴᴏʀ, the Jᴜᴅɢᴇ Aᴅᴠᴏᴄᴀᴛᴇ, & Capt Gɪʟʟ, the principal Engineer, proceeded to the South Head, where (everything being in readiness for the occasion) His Exᴄᴇʟʟᴇɴᴄʏ was pleased to lay the foundation stone of a most useful building, intended for the several purposes of a Signal and Light house, and a Guard house and Barrack for a small military detachment. The centre of this building we understand, is to be raised 65 feet above the level of the eminence on which it is placed, and will form a square pyramidal tower; on the top of which a light is to be placed for the direction of vessels approaching the coast, which, from its elevation, will be seen at an immense distance at sea, and be an object handsome to behold from the Town of Sydney.—The wings of the building are to form the Guard house and Barrack.

Huge blocks of excellent stone are prepared for this edifice, and afford the strongest assurance that it will prove a permanent security for all vessels that may approach the coast.

To this building, which opens the prospect of a monument for future ages to contemplate with pride, His Exᴄᴇʟʟᴇɴᴄʏ gave the name of “Macquarie Tower;” and when considered with a view to the commercial interests and foreign intercourse of this Colony, it cannot fail of proving a most valuable and important acquisition.                   Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 13 July 1816, page 2

Just two months later, it was reported that a stonemason by the name of Thomas McGrath had escaped from the construction gang at the tower. From Wicklow, he had only just arrived in the colony to serve a seven-year sentence.

At the same time Manuel de Sylva aged 42, a sailor and sailmaker, convicted for life, and John Ferrara, also a Portuguese who had deserted from the Guilford which had transported McGrath both went missing.  For the next two years, they and another twenty-three men were regularly reported as being “Pirates” and the government was still pursuing them.  Manuel and John had been employed on the governments “Boat Crew” which were based at the end of George St.  The chances of them being part of Robert Murray’s pilot boat crew is slim, however if they were, they weren’t the last Portuguese to make Watsons Bay their home.

The tower itself was completed by November and the architect Francis Greenway was given a conditional pardon by Governor Macquarie. Not so fortunate was one of the unnamed men working on the tower. On the 13th December 1817 he fell from the top of the 80 feet (25 metres) tower, and died an hour later, in the boat which was taking him to town.

A different captain Watson reported on the efficiency of the Macquarie Tower:

The utility expected to be derived from the erection of the Macquarie Tower and Light House, is happily exemplified in Captain Watson’s account of its appearance when in view of it. ” On Monday morning last, at 3 A. M. saw the light bearing W. S. W. at 38 miles distance, but so brilliant that I thought it could not be more than 12 miles off. It was a certain guide, and at that great distance had all the appearance of a luminous star.” This is the first Commander who has been kind enough to favour us with an expression of its distant effect. Other Gentlemen, and mariners who experience its utility, will doubtless give the character of this revolving light to which it is entitled; but we are particularly indebted to Captain Watson for thus publicly noticing its appearance at so great a distance, as it tends to inspire confidence, while it secures the sons of maritime adventure from an ambushed danger.                                                                  Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 22 May 1819, page 2

There is a very good chance that this was Thomas Watson. Thomas was a sea captain who settled in Sydney in 1821 and was appointed as lighthouse keeper in 1822.  Between 1826 and 1837 Thomas was the Pilot, returning to commercial shipping and trading when he left the Bay. More about him in the next chapter.

In October, Robert Watson died at his home at The Rocks, and was replaced as lighthouse keeper by Henry Cole.

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