Book Launch At The Old Toongabbie Government Farm

Have the fearsome convict stories and the loathsome reputation of the old Toongabbie Government Farm in early colonial times sometimes caught your interest? The launch of historian Jan Barkley-Jack’s latest publication Toongabbie’s Government Farm: an Elusive Vision for Five Governors 1791-1824 on 7 September 2013 will give those who have always wondered about this harsh place, an opportunity to visit the site itself.

Everyone is welcome at the launch, which is to be held on what were the extensive wheat and barley paddocks where initially, hundreds of men and women convicts already weak from the voyage to New South Wales on the Third Fleet and later vessels, toiled relentlessly. Today part of the site is ‘Third Settlement Park’, in Edison Parade, Winston Hills and the book launch will take place there after a 10.30am plaque unveiling nearby to mark the heritage of the site being recognised and placed on the State Heritage Register. The picturesque, rock-strewn and tranquil Toongabbie Creek which runs through the site, previously named and protected for thousands of years by the Aboriginal people, in its urban setting still defies the reality of that early European settlement wrought with brutality and pain of the lash.

Michael Flynn, the well-known historian and author has written the Foreword, and will launch the book. Michael has indicated that those interested in colonial and family history ‘will be fascinated by these new perspectives on the penal colony as it struggled to secure a reliable food supply’. Perhaps one of your forebears was amongst that human struggle.

The stories about its harshness are already well-known. Jan includes them in the first chapter to set the context for the subsequent little-understood, but lively changes to the Farm that cast much light on the general colonial political and economic rivalries between rich and poor, as well as clarifying the immensely controversial part the Toongabbie Government Farm played in the history of the colony.

 Details of these horrors were added to by Hawkesburyites Henry Hale, and a Mr S. many years later, when he told the story of a later Richmond resident called James, who was so weak from exhaustion on the Farm he almost couldn’t prevent himself from being buried alive, presumed one of the daily dead. Mr S. also mentioned 800 deaths in 6 months on the Farm and told how once a day men were sent out ‘to collect corpses’. Women too were sent to the Farm until around 1803 to mind the huts, make flax or clothes and to weed in the treeless sun-burnished paddocks.

But it is the years beyond 1793 that provide the insight into the ongoing emotional fortitude of those sent there, and Jan’s research shows for the first time, how not all of the convict inmates on release moved as far away as possible. Many sought initial grants in its shadow and stayed and raised families there. Some came on to the Hawkesbury later to live. The Farm’s public profile remained high, until, through the lack of foresight of Acting Governors Grose and Paterson and Governor Hunter by 1800, its power was eroded. It transformed from premium agricultural institution in New South Wales to flourishing stock station to a sad decaying shell, an out-moded reminder of a colony prior to the British Government’s decision around 1806 for a free economy in the colony where private farming became more important than public.

By quirky fate, both the Toongabbie Government Farm and the Hawkesbury became linked to William Bligh’s overthrow and embroiled the governor in turmoil. The British Government went even further and decided all Government Farms were now obsolete. Lachlan Macquarie implemented this new policy with a twist. He applied for Toongabbie Farm to become his own colonial estate.

 The book has been published by Toongabbie & District Historical Society and is in A4 format with cardboard spine and covers. It contains 120 pages with 36 colour plates and 9 black and white plates and includes maps. In addition there are tables showing the stock and agricultural details year by year, as well as early settlers by date of promise of grant 1792-1795. Three appendices include lists of grants given by Governors Hunter and King in the district of Toongabbie, a distinct entity to the Government Farm but highly influential in causing its demise. Some of these settlers came on to the Hawkesbury, and the details of the Hawkesbury Government Farm are also included.

 It will be of special interest to those with 3rd-Fleeter connections and with Pitt, Royal Admiral and the 1790s Irish transports. Some of the convicts sent to Toongabbie in the early days are identified by name. The price of the book is $30 but this does not include postage. The book can be purchased after 7 September 2013 from local outlets and the Toongabbie Historical Society.