Peat of Peats Ferry

Copyright Carol Baxter 2012
Prepared for Peat descendant Jeanette Bradley

Fairview Point and Peat's Blight

A year after George’s second marriage, he appealed again for a grant of land. Writing from No.28 Castlereagh Street in August 1829, his petition contained the following information:

The Memorial of George Peat, humbly sheweth that your Memorialist is a native of the colony, is married, has a family and is a shipwright. That your Memorialist has by his Industry been enabled to realise a property consisting of 60 head of cattle, for which he has been for a long time obliged to pay for the depasturing to his great disadvantage. That your memorialist has also by the same means, namely his Industry and Frugality obtained a further property of two houses situated in Kent Street in the Town of Sydney and which he now lets to tenants for the yearly sum of £80 Sterling and has besides a small vessel of fourteen tons burthen.

That your Memorialist never having received any Indulgence from Government, hopes Your Excellency will be most graciously pleased to give him such a Grant of Land for the purpose of depasturing the beforementioned cattle and their probable increase, as Your Excellency may in Your benign consideration deem Your Memorialist from the Testimonials hereunto affixed worthy of, and thereby relieve him from the heavy expense he is at present obliged to incur for their keep.[93]

Chaplain William Cowper, who had performed both of George’s marriages as well as numerous baptism and burial ceremonies for members of his family, supported his appeal by declaring in writing: “Mr G. Peat is, I believe, a person of sober and industrious habit.”[94]

George’s petition was apparently ignored as he wrote a letter to the Colonial Secretary six months later making the same request. Dated February 1830 and written from No.4 Erskine Street, Darling Harbour, George provided similar information although providing the additional information that the profits from his small vessel amounted to £90 per annum.[95] Informed that this missive was “irregular”,[96] George responded a few weeks later with another petition, noting that it was written in compliance with instructions received from the Colonial Secretary, and including brief details of his age, marital status, family size and age of eldest child as well as the same information about his real estate holding, livestock and vessel. George added:

That your Memorialist never having received any land from Government or otherwise respectfully solicits your Excellency will be graciously pleased to give him such a Portion of Land as your Excellency may deem meet and that his property as above stated may give him a claim.

That your Memorialist is willing to reside on any land that your Excellency may be pleased to grant to him and he trusts that as his character has always been exemplary that your Excellency will be pleased to take this application into your favourable considerable.[97]

The necessary worthies attached their character assessments, with William Cowper repeating his previous remarks, merchant Edward Wollstonecraft writing that “I have known the Memorialist for 7 or 8 years and believe him to be a very sober, honest and industrious man, and deserving of the indulgence which he requests from His Excellency the Governor”, and Robert Campbell adding: “I have known the Memorialist from his youth and have reason to believe him to be a deserving character”.[98]

Checking through their records, the authorities determined that George had never received any previous orders for land and accordingly noted that there was “no objection” to his application.[99] He was approved for a small grant on 20 October 1830,[100] with the order noting that:

His Excellency the Governor has been pleased to sanction your receiving an allotment of land, to contain between Forty and One Hundred Acres, according to the situation and quality of the soil, at one of the places which have been set apart for small settlers, on the express condition that you become resident thereon, within six months from the date of the order for taking possession, and continue so residing on, and cultivating the same, for seven years, under penalty of its being immediately resumed by the Crown. Should you be desirous of obtaining Land on these conditions you are requested to call at this office within one month from this date and enter into an engagement for the fulfilment of them; upon which you will receive the necessary authority for selection.[101]

George entered into his bond on 11 November,[102] and set about finding a suitable location for his land grant. Traders like George Peat who regularly travelled along the Hawkesbury River “became familiar with every aspect of the river’s profile, as they ferried the produce of the Hawkesbury alluvial flats to the Sydney markets and returned with stores”,[103] a familiarity that no doubt precipitated George’s decision to select land near Mooney Mooney Creek. Perhaps he saw this site as being suitable for shipbuilding purposes in addition to grazing and cultivation. On 23 February 1831 he wrote to the Surveyor General:

I beg to inform you that I have made a selection of my allotment on a point of land lying between two islands at the entrance of Mooney Mooney Creek, bounded by the Hawkesbury, and extending back so as to include the quantity, and have to request that you will include the same in your next half-monthly return for His Excellency’s approval.[104]

Approval to assume possession was bestowed upon George on 21 April 1831,[105] although the land was not officially granted to him until 16 March 1840.[106] By the time the deeds were being prepared late in 1839, George had named his grant “Fairview Point”, the land being described as:

Sixty acres, parish unnamed, opposite Spectacle Island in the Hawkesbury River, commencing at a marked tree on the Hawkesbury River and bounded on the North by a line east twenty-eight chains to Mooney Mooney Creek; and on all other sides by the waters of that Creek and the Hawkesbury River, to the marked tree aforesaid.[107]

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This bald description conveys no sense of the beauty of the area, the “fair view” after which his grant was evidently named. Later reports from newspaper correspondents remedy this situation. As George’s grant was to become an important stepping stone on the route from Sydney to Gosford,[108] numerous references to George himself and to the area in which his grant was situated are found in newspaper reports and historical publications. One correspondent writing half a century later about the “railway works at Peate’s Ferry” described the vista:

The Hawkesbury River, as most colonists know, is one of the most beautiful in the world. It lacks, of course, the charm of the handsome buildings on its banks, the cultivation of the Thames, the Rhine, and the rivers of Europe; but most lovers of the picturesque prefer the jutting rocks, the dense natural foliage, and the, as yet, unchecked reign of primitiveness to anything that art or settlement can do. One of the prominent and most picturesque features of the river is its abnormal power of reflecting surrounding objects. The trees on the banks actually seem more real in their mirrored than in their natural state. Each leaf, knot, and piece of ragged bark seems magnified and the tints are actually heightened in the water, which is of an olive green, but as clear as crystal.[109]

Another correspondent also paid tribute to the beautiful scenery: “At Peat’s Ferry a magnificent panoramic view of the Australian Rhine is obtained [with] the river here appearing like an immense lake, studded with richly foliaged islands … and affording abundant material for the artist’s sketch-book.”[110]

In accepting the terms of his grant, George had agreed to settle on his land within six months of the possession approval,[111] indicating that he should have settled at “Fairview Point” by October 1831. George still described himself as a shipwright at Portland Head in a baptism entry in July 1831,[112] however as he was listed as a “shipwright on the banks of the Hawkesbury” in January 1834,[113] the Peat family presumably relocated to “Fairview Point” in the intervening period. It is uncertain if George actually used “Fairview Point” for shipbuilding purposes, or if he continued to record himself as a shipwright throughout the 1830s as this was his primary occupation. He interchangeably described himself in later baptism entries as a shipwright at the Hawkesbury in February 1836,[114] a boatbuilder in Sydney in December 1837,[115] a farmer at the Hawkesbury in 1840[116] and as a shipwright in Sydney in October 1841.[117] As all of these baptism entries were performed in Sydney and as George appears to have regularly moved between his Sydney residence where he conducted his shipbuilding enterprise, and his Portland Head and Hawkesbury River properties where he had cattle grazing and land under cultivation, this suggests that he described his occupation and residence as whatever seemed most useful or most accurate at the time.

Over the following few years, George acquired additional blocks of land situated a short distance from “Fairview”. On 14 October 1835 he purchased 50 acres lying a few miles south-west of “Fairview” on the southern shores of the Hawkesbury. He paid an initial deposit of £3.2.6 on that day, and the remainder of the £31.5.0 purchase price on 18 November 1836, prompting the Inland Revenue Office to write to the Colonial Secretary requesting that the deeds be prepared.[118] The land was described as being situated “at the head of a Creek flowing into the Hawkesbury at its confluence with Berowra Creek”, and the deeds were signed on 4 January 1836.[119] In view of its location, this block ultimately became known as “Peat’s Bight”.

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In April 1837, George’s “Fairview” property was the scene of some excitement. Three convicts who had escaped from Goat Island were pursued to Mullet Island and then lost. One of the convicts was discovered soon afterwards standing sentry over a boat about a mile up Mooney Mooney Creek and taken in custody to “Mr Peak’s [property] at the corner of the creek and the Hawkesbury”. The other men were recaptured a week later.[120]

Meanwhile, George’s interest in acquiring land in the district continued, with applications being made to purchase land surrounding his Peat’s Bight block. In June 1836, he applied to purchase 50 acres of land lying immediately to the south-west of his Peat’s Bight land,[121] however his application possibly failed to include the appropriate identifying information as two months later he submitted another application for 50 acres of land. Curiously, in the August 1836 application, George noted that this land lay in the Parish of Cowan near Berowra Creek and was bounded on the north[122] by “George Peat’s 50 acres”, that is, his Peat’s Bight grant.[123] Surprisingly, details of Geor ge’s application were not despatched to the surveyor at this time, forcing George to take further action. On 14 March 1838 he wrote to the Colonial Secretary stating:

Having applied nearly two years ago for fifty acres in the Parish of Cowan and being desirous of cultivating the land I have to request that the Surveyor may be instructed to measure it.[124]

Memoranda appended to George’s letter indicate that the land had not been measured because it was situated “in a very out of the way place”. The authorities noted that as a result of George’s application, the land had been advertised in September 1836 as being available for sale in December of that year “but was not sold on that day in consequence of not being measured, [and] it has not been measured since”.[125] Surveyors were in fact reluctant to survey land in isolated places both because of the time involved in undertaking the journey and because of the difficulty they experienced in finding the site of the land if the applicant was not in residence. In response to George’s complaint, a letter was despatched stating that “it will be measured as soon as possible”[126] however no such block is shown on the early maps for the area. In fact, surviving records suggest that the 50-acre block George originally applied for was eventually surveyed as a 30-acre block lying immediately to the east of his Peat’s Bight land,[127] and that George did not purchase the block, this land being sold to George Sullivan in May 1840.[128]

Curiously, George did not purchase another two blocks of land he applied for in 1838. On 16 February 1838 he signed an application describing the land he wished to purchase as follows:[129]

1st portion – 20 acres or more County Northumberland near the head of Mooney Mooney Creek about a quarter of a mile south of Edward Flood’s 18[?] acres purchase, bounded on the East by Mooney Mooney Creek and all other sides by lines to include the quantity.

2nd portion – County of Northumberland, Mangrove Creek. Bounded on the West by Mangrove Creek opposite Fail Island and on the North, East and South by section lines.[130]

The land was approved for sale at 5 shillings per acre and was advertised in April 1838,[131] however if sold, was not purchased by George Peat. It is interesting that George expressed an interest in acquiring land at Mangrove Creek at this time, as a few years later when the possibility of a road from Sydney to Brisbane Water was being examined, both “Fairview” and Mangrove Creek were proposed as sites for the Hawkesbury River crossing.[132]

On 14 October 1838, George applied to purchase 150 acres in Cowan parish south-east of “Fairview”, the land being bounded on the north by Jerusalem Creek, off Cowan Creek.[133] Again George’s application appears to have been approved and the details despatched to a Surveyor however George failed to purchase this land as well. It seems surprising that George would apply to purchase four or five blocks of land[134] over a five year period yet fail to purchase any of them. No explanation for this curiosity has been found to date.

Although George never attempted to purchase the little island in the Hawkesbury River lying a short distance west of “Fairview Point”, this site became known as “Peat’s Island”, a name which it carries to the present day.[135]

A reference to a George Peat in July 1837 probably also relates to this man. He was the master of the cutter Nancy and expressed his willingness to accept donations to help the owner and master of the colonial trader Adventure, which was wrecked on a trading journey to Newcastle.[136]

Australian Town & Country Journal 15 November 1884 p.26

Australian Town & Country Journal 15 November 1884 p.26