Peat of Peats Ferry
Copyright Carol Baxter 2012
Prepared for Peat descendant Jeanette Bradley
The Brisbane Water District
The newspaper report in 1843 discussing the two potential routes for a new road to the north had not only announced that George had marked out a line from Sydney to his residence on the Hawkesbury but also from thence to Brisbane Water. Considering George’s business interests, it is not surprising that he should require a land route between his Hawkesbury River properties and Sydney, however the fact that he had also marked a route north to Brisbane Water indicates that by 1843 he had interests in that vicinity as well.
The nature of George’s early business interests in the Brisbane Water district has not been determined to date, however he described himself as a shipwright of Brisbane Water on 7 July 1845 when he purchased 2 roods of land [half an acre] bounded on the west by Mann Street, Gosford. The land had been owned by William Hamilton of Sydney and was purchased by George for ₤21. Current parish maps reveal that George’s land lay on the eastern side of Mann Street directly opposite Vaughan Avenue.
George had been voted a member of the Brisbane Water District Council early that year, raising the possibility that he was either required or felt it necessary to have a landholding in the district to adequately fulfill this role.
The District Council of Gosford had been constituted in 1843 and George was evidently one of the earliest councilors for the district. The Maitland Mercury reported in May 1849 that he had been returned again to serve as a member of the Brisbane Water District Council. He retired in 1855 in accordance with the charter, and elections for new councilors were held on 1 May 1855 however as no nominations had been received, new councilors were not elected at that time.
George’s involvement with the Brisbane Water district apparently ended soon afterwards. On 12 August 1856 he sold his Mann Street land to innkeeper H.A. Crause of Brisbane Water for ₤40, a profit of nearly 100% in eleven years.
Later years at the Hawkesbury
The Sydney-Gosford road was still being constructed in January 1850 when George applied to lease 1280 acres at “Peat Ferry, Hawkesbury River”. George was interested in land lying immediately to the north of his “Fairview Point” property however his application was considered “objectionable”. According to appended memoranda, it was not customary to lease land adjacent to high roads, and in this particular case concerns were expressed that there could be interference with the “making of or travelling by” the new line of road to Gosford that was in the course of construction. George was advised to apply for land in a different location, although the authorities suggested that he did not apply for land lying immediately to the north of his 50 acres as this was a Reserve. The course of action George followed after the rejection of his application has not been determined to date.
The Peats continued to travel between their Sydney and Hawkesbury River properties in the 1840s and 1850s. George’s daughter, Elizabeth, was interviewed shortly prior to her death in 1925 and talked about her childhood:
Mrs Campbell, Peat’s surviving daughter, tells of frequent journeys on horseback and by carriage along the road to and from the residence at Fairview Point. Residing in Kent-street, she attended school in Sydney. All long vacations were spent at Peat’s Ferry. Open-house was kept for travellers passing along the lonely road. On Sunday the Church of England clergyman attended at George Peat’s house and conducted a service, attended by the scattered settlers of the Lower Hawkesbury. Robert Lowe, afterwards Lord Sherbrooke, often spent a vacation here. Messrs Hovenden, Hely, Osborne, Milson and E.H. Hargraves (the gold discoverer) were constant visitors on the way to their estates further north. Captain Wiseman, too, called frequently.
George’s house at Fairview was in fact “noted for its hospitality until he lapsed into his final long illness”.
George was described as being “late of Fairview Point” in a marriage notice in 1862 however he and Frances had evidently returned to their Hawkesbury home within the following couple of years. Frances wrote to their daughter Elizabeth on 21 June 1864 about George’s illness and the loneliness she was experiencing at their Hawkesbury residence:
I dare say you have heard before this how ill your dear father has been, and still continues very helpless. I am sorry to say he is not able to stand. He seems so affected with weakness down his left side; and so resigned to the will of the Almighty in all he suffers. I hope and pray he will soon be better … let me know how you all are; it is the only pleasure I have, to hear from you all. I hope I shall be able soon to take your father to Sydney, though I think he would rather remain here. I often wish I was near some kind person, or someone to stay a short time with me as it is rather lonely for me.
Although George had been suffering from ill health, Frances predeceased him. She died of bronchitis on 18 August 1866 at 3 Crescent St, Church Hill, Sydney, the residence of her daughter Annie and son-in-law William Hayes. She was buried three days later at Camperdown Cemetery.
On 27 March 1867 George purchased a further 65 acres lying immediately to the north of his “Fairview Point” land. He had probably applied to purchase the land in 1866, however his reasons for acquiring this land when his health was clearly compromised are uncertain.
A few months later on 18 June 1867 George assigned all of his real estate to his son-in-law John Campbell who was to serve as trustee for his four surviving daughters. George’s daughter Elizabeth Campbell still held some of the land at the time of her own death in 1925.
George was also residing with the Hayes family when he died of valvular disease of the heart on 9 August 1870 although they had relocated in the intervening period to 103 Crown Street, Woolloomooloo. He was buried two days later at Rookwood cemetery.
Although George and Frances both died intestate, no reference to the administration of George’s estate has been found. However the Perpetual Trustee Company made an application for the administration of Frances’ estate valued at £1200, and on 17 May 1901 letters of administration with the power of sale were granted to them.
Even though members of the Campbell family still retained some of George’s Hawkesbury River property in 1925, George’s “Fairview Point” house was long gone. Historian J.A. Ferguson remarked in 1925:
The dwelling at Fairview Point was burnt down while vacant some time after his death. Today, a few crumbling stones mark the spot, but fortunately a photograph of the building, while still retaining some of its original appearance, was taken [in 1880] after the fire. This discloses a two-storey house of respectable dimensions. The stones contained in these ruins were removed at a later date and used in the erection of a church upon an adjacent island in the river. Today little else remains upon the old property at Fairview Point but the ruins of the house, an ancient and picturesque colonial oven, and the gravestone of Peat’s daughter.
Of the later history of Peat’s ferry road, Ferguson reported:
For some years the upkeep of the road seems to have been neglected, and a final blow to the ferry was struck by the opening of the Hawkesbury Railway Bridge [in 1889]. The bridge crossed the Hawkesbury River at a point 36 miles north of Sydney, 10 miles from the sea, and about 2 miles from Peat’s Ferry.
Aware of the importance of this route to the north, Ferguson predicted:
It is within the realm of possibility that a traffic bridge will one day span the old crossing-place of Peat’s Ferry, and enable motorists to proceed directly to Newcastle and Maitland along a road unsurpassed for scenic effects.
Ferguson’s prediction proved accurate. By 1929 a direct road connection to Newcastle – later known as the Pacific Highway – had been built, although it was not until 1945 that the road bridge over the Hawkesbury was completed. In the intervening period, two ferries were built to carry cars across the Hawkesbury, the ferries being appropriately named the George Peat and Frances Peat. Engineer F. Laws wrote in 1929:
It will be of interest to record that the ferry will be established practically on the line of that which was inaugurated by Mr George Peat shortly after 1840, and we of a later day are, by the adoption of this site, paying a just tribute to the judgement of an early pioneer who, venturing into the unknown, selected, with true intuition, the best position that Nature has provided for the crossing over the Hawkesbury of a road between Sydney and the north.