Peat of Peats Ferry

Copyright Carol Baxter 2012
Prepared for Peat descendant Jeanette Bradley

Peat's Ferry and Peat's Road

With a shipbuilding business in Sydney as well as agricultural and pastoral land on the Hawkesbury River at Mooney Mooney Creek and Portland Head, George needed to travel between his various properties, no doubt undertaking most of his earlier journeys by boat. However as his livestock holding grew and as other circumstances arose, the need for a land route between his various properties soon became obvious. With an enterprising nature, George availed himself of the services of a black native and marked out a trail from Sydney via his “Fairview” property all the way to the Brisbane Water[147] where a settlement at Gosford settlement had been established and where George later acquired land. Although historians declare that “Peat’s skill as a pathfinder is proved by the adoption of his line by the official surveyor’s”, such a declaration fails to pay tribute to the aborigines who originally marked the trail or to George’s amicable relationship with the aborigines allowing him to benefit from their local knowledge.

As word of George’s track reached the ears of northern-bound travellers, pressure was mounting for an additional road link between Sydney and the northern settlements.[148] Prior to the 1840s, travellers heading north from Sydney to Newcastle either travelled by boat or were forced to make a 165-mile journey along the Great North Road via Windsor, Wiseman’s Ferry, St Alban’s, Wollombi and Maitland.[149] Although appeals for a shorter route had been made in the 1830s by residents of both the Newcastle and Brisbane Water districts, official action was not taken until the 1840s.[150] In September 1843, the Lower Hawkesbury correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald observed:

It has occurred to us that considerable saving both in time and inconvenience might be effected in the route from Sydney to Brisbane Water by the formation of a line of road to meet the Hawkesbury at a point near the vicinity of the heads in lieu of the long, tedious and circuitous journey at present resorted to by the great north road and it appears that the plan has not merely been proposed, but acted upon and that there are no less than two separate lines marked out, the one to cross at the mouth of Mangrove Creek, the other at Mr Peat’s residence a few miles lower down. Without wishing in the least to interfere with the proposed arrangements, we may be permitted to observe that the originality of the measure was, we believe, Mr Peat’s, who long since following the guidance of a native black, well versed in the geography of the country, undertook and carried out the measure of marking the entire line from Brisbane Water to his residence, and from thence again to near Sydney, proposing at the same time to establish a punt at Fairview in the event of the measure being approved and supported. The other and later candidate for having found a new cut is, we understand, Mr Taylor, the publican at Mangrove, who has already established a punt from his premises and we imagine is sanguine in the preference given to this line. As far as our knowledge of the locality extends, we are decidedly in favour of the original measure proposed by Mr Peat, considering the journey from Sydney to Cowan decidedly the most direct and every way convenient route; the transit at Fairview is likewise unobjectionable, from whence the continuation by Mooney Mooney Creek is easy and direct until it meets the present track a few miles from Gosford. Whereas the sole recommendation in Mr Taylor’s proposition would be the avoiding one ascent by proceeding by way of Blue Gum Flat, which saving is more than counterbalanced by the numerous difficulties and impediments. We shall only remark, that both parties deserve great praise for their perseverance in endeavouring to advance the interest of the District, and whichever way the decision tends, we wish the fortunate party success.[151]

By April 1844, George Peat’s route had been officially chosen for the road from Sydney to Brisbane Water and the construction of his punt began:

The Brisbane Water Council have determined upon the new road via Fairview, Mr Peat’s property, in preference to that proposed by Mr Taylor, of Mangrove. We understand that a new punt is preparing, for the purpose of passing between Fairview and Kangaroo Point, and from Mr Peat’s long practice we feel assured this somewhat lengthy, and, in rough weather boisterous, passage will be rendered secure by a boat fit to live in any weather. Having been at considerable outlay in fitting his premises for public accommodation, we doubt not but a hostelry established at this point will be an acceptable traveller’s rest, and remunerating speculation to the worthy proprietor.[152]

The distance from Kangaroo Point on the south to Mooney Mooney Point on the north was 2600 feet (nearly 800m),[153] and as an experienced shipwright and mariner, George apparently decided that a simple punt would not suffice. On 3 July 1844 the Sydney Morning Herald reported:

Mr Peat, of Fairview, whose property intersects the new line of road from Brisbane Water to Sydney, at the point of crossing the Hawkesbury, is engaged, we learn, upon the construction of a punt upon an improved principle, to which, from the great width of the river and its consequent roughness in heavy weather, he intends applying steam power – an undertaking which must, as it deservedly should, ensure him the most extensive patronage.[154]

No later references to steam propulsion have been found so it appears unlikely that George pursued this idea. However by December 1844, not only was George’s ferry completed, but accommodation was also being provided for travellers:

By advice from the lower portion of the river, we find that Mr Peat has completed his arrangements and that the ferry at Fairview, above Porter Bay is already established. The amazing facility thus afforded to travelers on the Brisbane Water road is pregnant with great advantage, and we have little doubt but the increased traffic will amply remunerate the spirited proprietor. Mr Peat has at present a substantial horse-punt afloat, which crossing near the entrance of Mooney-Mooney Creek, where the tongue of the land on which the property is situated abuts into the main river to the opposite point, enables the traveler to save an immense extent of cheerless and difficult bush-riding, and by an almost direct route conveys him into Lane Cove, about eight miles below Pennant Hills; any one conversant with the lay of the country will at once observe the advantages it possesses. We may add, that if in case of accident, or from stress of weather, the traveler is obliged to be detained at the Ferry, that Mr Peat has been at considerable expense in fitting up his splendid new building, which in point of comfort, convenience and respectability, we are creditably informed, may vie with most of the leading houses of accommodation throughout the colony. The continuation of the line to Maitland by Wyong, will no doubt materially enhance the amount of traffic by way of Fairview. Mr Peat is deserving public support as well as acknowledgement for the present undertaking.[155]

With the construction and operation of George’s ferry, the area experienced a name change. Although the names Kangaroo Point and “Fairview”/Mooney Mooney Point remained, “Peat’s Ferry” came into use not only as the means by which the crossing was achieved, but also as the name of the crossing site.

Soon after George established his ferry, a line of road was discovered from Peat’s Ferry to Wollombi. A newspaper correspondent reported in March 1845 that:

… it is found that a bridle road is capable of being used, which, crossing the old post road from Hawkesbury to Brisbane Water, near the turn off to Brisbane Water, will join the new line from Gosford to Sydney, and give an immense saving of distance, besides avoiding the inconveniences and jumps up of the Great North Road … We believe there is little doubt but that a good road might be constructed through these hitherto unused sierras. At all events the undertaking deserves encouragement, and will be the means of bringing us into more frequent and ready communication with the port of Gosford, independent of affording easier and better watered track for the driving of cattle to the Sydney market.[156]

Despite the fact that George’s route to Gosford had been chosen as the site for the new road, and that he had built a punt to assist travellers crossing the river, George did not purchase the Kangaroo Point land - that is, the land on the southern bank of the Hawkesbury that served as the docking station for his punt - until some months after the line of road to Wollombi had been discovered. His application for ten acres of land on the tip of Kangaroo Point was lodged in November 1845,[157] and he ultimately paid £25 for this land a year later.[158] Perhaps George had decided by this time that his punt and accommodation house would prove fruitful financial undertakings and that it would be wise to control the land on either side of the river.

George also acquired another block of land around this time. Describing himself as a shipwright of “Fairview Point”, George purchased 50 acres of land at Green Point on the Hawkesbury River (later known as Big Jims Point) on 23 December 1845 for £50.[159] The land had been purchased by James Branan in 1835 and was situated not far from “Fairview Point” on the eastern bank of the Hawkesbury between its junctions with Mangrove Creek on the north and Berowra Creek on the south.[160]

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In order to purchase the land at Kangaroo Point and Green Point, George apparently found it necessary to obtain additional finance. On 9 October 1845, George and his wife Frances mortgaged their Kent Street property to builder Charles Jenkins of Sydney for £100.[161] The mortgage was paid out in September 1852,[162] presumably from money George realised after the sale of his ferry to the Government.[163]

Although George was able to purchase this important Kangaroo Point land, the deed made allowances to preserve “the present road from Sydney which passes through the land to the point”.[164] However the “road” from Sydney was still merely a track at this time as road building had not commenced.

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In the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society article “Peat Ferry and the Route to the North” (Vol. 24 pp.244-252), author James Jervis discusses the road building project:

The question of completing a road via Peat’s Ferry to Gosford was raised in 1847 and on April 29, 1847, the Deputy Surveyor-General, Captain Perry, was informed that the Governor approved of his personally inspecting the line. Captain Perry reported on May 8, 1857, that he had examined the road from the head of the Lane Cove to the Hawkesbury, and found it to be exactly what was required to complete the communication with the north. The chief difficulty which presented itself, the ascent from the Hawkesbury, had been overcome by the settlers themselves, who had also cleared a passage of six miles.

Late in 1847 the Deputy Surveyor-General was informed that it was proposed to establish ferries at the Hawkesbury, Mooney Mooney and Narara Creeks. A Gazette notice in February 1848, stated that the ferries had been established. From this it would seem that Peat’s Ferry had been superseded by one run by the Government.[165]

In fact, George’s ferry had not been superseded by this time as three months later he offered to sell his boats to the Government. Dated 30 May 1848 Sydney, George’s letter declared:

In compliance with your request when I had the honor of an interview with you on Thursday last, that I should furnish you with a written statement of my views regarding the Ferry from Kangaroo Point to Fairview Point, Hawkesbury River, on the new line of Road from Sydney to Brisbane Water and Maitland, I respectfully beg to tender for sale to the Government for the convenience of the Public, a Horse Boat [?] to convey eight or nine horses across the above Ferry, and also a small flat-bottomed Punt capable of carrying three horses, and adapted to cross a small creek at Mooney Mooney. The terms of such sale being, that both boats be taken at fair valuation, and the larger one coppered at the expense of the Government.

I [?] also beg to state my willingness to bind myself to my[?] interest at the rate of Fiver per cent per annum on the outlay to be incurred by the Government both in the purchase and the expense attendant the coppering the Horse-boat for a period of twelve or eighteen months, or until the Road be completed, during which time I will undertake to keep the above boat running from Kangaroo and Fairview Points, under my own personal superintendence, and in consideration of the profits to be derived therefrom, to keep this boat in good and efficient repair.

With regard to the Mooney Mooney Ferry, I respectfully beg to inform you that I am well acquainted with a person of the name of Flood residing there, who I am at liberty to state will be glad of the opportunity of running the small punt across that creek in consideration of his retaining whatever remuneration may be derived therefrom.

I would lastly beg to propose that at the expiration of the eighteen months both these boats be put up for public competition and disposed of to the highest bidder should the Government think fit.[166]

Some remarks were appended to George’s letter, as follows:[167]

  • “Have not these Ferries been again advertised?” [3 June]

  • “Yes. Tenders to be received on the 12th instant.” [3 June].

  • “No Tenders have been received. [They] are to be advertised again.” [15 June]

George did not succeed in selling his boats to the Government at this time.

Work on the road from Pearce’s Corner to Peat’s Ferry was carried out over the following few years under the supervision of Captain Perry.[168] According to Henry Selkirk’s article “The Old Peat’s Ferry Road”:

From the late ‘forties work proceeded on both sides of the Hawkesbury by means of small contracts, and by road gangs – the latter being moved from place to place as occasion demanded, until in 1851 Mr Perry was able to report to the Deputy-Surveyor General by letter dated 7 August, that on the [Hornsby] side of the river from the tree known as the Cowan to the descent towards the river, the road can now be traversed by wheeled vehicles, and that, with a view to completion, he had moved a road gang from the five mile station to Kangaroo Point, at which point he further reports, October 25, 1852, that the punt recently purchased from Mr Peat is now in full working order, and that Jefferson, recently engaged as a ferryman, proves himself as particularly adapted for the working of a ferry.[169]

In 1925 an old-timer recalled the operation of the ferry in his youth:

It was a two-masted boat, and was worked by a jolly old jack-tar named Jefferson. He was a merry fellow, that Jefferson, and could spin a good yarn, or dance a lively step-dance with the next fellow. Crossing the Hawkesbury then was a rather slow process. One day I remember it took a whole day to get thirty-four horses across.[170]

The road from Sydney to Peat’s Ferry had been completed by April 1854 when a report stated that the whole eighteen miles from Pearce’s Corner to Kangaroo Point could be travelled by a wheeled vehicle.[171] A month later another report declared:

At this date [6 May 1854] the road between Pearce’s and Kangaroo Point (that part for 10 miles from the latter place to Sydney, measured, marked, and re-cleared of heavy brushwood and saplings) [is open]. On opposite side of river a wharf of considerable dimensions has been constructed, and the road from thence to Peat’s house completed onwards for a further distance of four miles. The road has been recleared for two miles further to the top of the mountain. Consideration is now being given to diverting the road to Gosford, instead of Wollombi. The annual dues estimated by Mr Peat amount to £50.[172]