The Australian Agricultural Company was incorporated in 1824. With a capital of one million pounds, an agreement with the British Government was undertaken that a million acres of land in NSW would be alienated to the Company under certain conditions.
A Court of Directors was appointed and a colonial committee to advise. This committee had control of expenditure and the appointed agent was to answer to them. They were to select the most advantageous site for the million-acre Grant. The Company’s main purpose was the production of fine wool with the addition of crops not readily available in England. They would provide workers for the Colony at no cost to the Government and also employ a large number of convicts. The Directors of the Company in England requested that James McArthur, H. H. McArthur and James Bowman assist the new agent Robert Dawson with advice and information as to the most suitable land for the Company’s purposes.
John Oxley, the Surveyor-general was consulted and suggested the Liverpool Plains, the district he had first sighted in 1818. The Committee rejected this and Port Stephens was suggested.
In 1795 four runaways from Parramatta, John Tarwood, John Watson, George Lee, and George Connoway were found in the area by Captain Broughton captain of the ship Providence. Broughton had anchored in the port to escape bad weather.
After the penal colony was established at Coal River in 1804, other runaways frequently followed the coastline to Port Stephens where they were prevented from going any further unless they managed to procure a canoe from the natives. At this time escapes became so frequent that authorities decided to station a party of soldiers under a corporal at the point where the absconders were first likely to be found. This area became known as Soldiers point.
After the station was abandoned, settlers mostly ignored the area. Timber getters such as Daniel Farrell and Patrick Farrell employed by Sydney Trader Simeon Lord were to be found but otherwise there were few European inhabitants until the area came to the attention of the Australian Agricultural Company.
When newly appointed Commissioner of the Company, Robert Dawson arrived in 1825 with 79 settlers on the York and the Brothers, he set out to examine Port Stephens and the country around Maitland, Luskintyre and Newcastle. In 1826 he travelled northward to Port Stephens, crossing the inlet where he met an advance party with horses and equipment and they then followed the Karuah River. Dawson then determined the site for the future settlement. Read about his travels here
Dawson left the party at Port Stephens to continue setting up the main camp while he returned to Sydney by schooner to gather the remainder of the settlers and stock awaiting him at Retreat Farm. While Dawson was in Sydney, Mr. Harrington, (secretary of the Company), Henry Dangar, (Govt. Surveyor) and John Armstrong, (Company surveyor), explored the country beyond the harbour bringing back a very favourable report.
Five months later a substantial settlement had been formed and by October 1000 head of cattle, and 2000 sheep were grazing.
James E. Ebsworth
Under Dawson’s management the undertaking did not flourish to the Company’s requirements and he was dismissed and replaced by James E. Ebsworth. The number of sheep on the estate by 1828 was 17,459, a huge increase in just three years; the population reached almost 600 and farms and gardens had been established to provide food. There was a lumber camp at Booral, a wharf and other buildings as well. Twenty-three stations had been established and were connected by roads by the time Dawson left.
Newcastle Coal Mines
The Company was granted 2000 acres of land at Newcastle in the late 1820’s and intended to develop the Coal mines in a more efficient manner. The Government handed over possession of the Newcastle Coal works in 1830 and by 1831 the Company had repaired machinery and commenced operations. Read about the first mine here.
A.A. Company Convict Button
The official opening was held on the 10th December 1831 and the new Commissioner, Sir William Edward Parry was accompanied to the Company's wharf in Watt Street by Sir Thomas Brooks, Rev. Threlkeld and other dignitaries. A large crowd cheered as two loaded coal wagons descended on an incline plane at the same time the empty ones were drawn up. The full wagons then travelled along the railroad to the wharf where the bottom of the wagon was dislodged by a single blow.
Dawson left the party at Port Stephens to continue setting up the main camp while he returned to Sydney by schooner to gather the remainder of the settlers and stock awaiting him at Retreat. The steamerSophie Jane Sophie Jane was loaded and as she pushed off the assembled miners gave three cheers. Many convicts were employed in the mines. Francis McNamara (Frank The Poet) was one of the few who could put voice to his protest.
Sir William Edward Parry
Sir William Edward Parry was appointed Commissioner in 1830. Parry, previously a Captain in the Royal Navy and an Artic explorer, placed the settlement at Port Stephens under a strict regime and began building, clearing and road making. In 1831, after a chance meeting with Hamilton C. Sempill in Sydney when he was informed by Sempill of excellent land at the Liverpool Plains which would be suited to sheep breeding, he decided to send Henry Dangar to seek more suitable land as replacement for their present grant.
In March 1832 Parry travelled from Port Stephens via the Hunter Valley with Henry Dangar, Charles Hall and William Telfer to examine the land that Dangar had found at the Peel Valley and Liverpool Plains. The party proceeded to the Peel Valley through Maitland, Glendon, Ravensworth, Segenhoe, crossed the Liverpool Range to Warrah, Goonoo Goonoo, Quirindi and Currabubula. They met Joseph Brown and his overseer Mr. Cann and explored up the Namoi River past present day Manilla. Parry noted the coloured limestone near Attunga and returned to Port Stephens via Crawney.
Officers of the Company at Port Stephens in 1832 were:
Captain R.G. Moffatt of the 17th Regt of foot was in charge of the military establishment which comprised a sergeant, and 13 rank and file.
In August 1833 after negotiation, Parry arranged to exchange land at Port Stephens for the land in the Liverpool Ranges and Peel Valley
Six thousand sheep were then moved to the Peel grant. The company erected its first buildings (houses and stores for its employees and 200 convicts) along a track that became Ebsworth Street. The house for the Peel Superintendent, Charles Hall was known as Calala.
While Dawson’s tenure was made difficult by his relationship with the Company Directors, Parry also had a multitude of problems during his time at Port Stephens. Recalcitrant convicts, idle indentured servants, bushrangers and floods all added to his difficulties. A major thorn in his side throughout his tenure was William Barton, (father of Australia’s first Prime Minister Edmund Barton) the Company accountant, who was later to return to England and publish The Affairs of the Australian Agricultural Company in 1833. This was an attempt to vindicate his actions while employed by the Company and defame Parry. He later sued Parry for a breach of covenant. (See Barton v. Parry in the Asiatic Journal)
Sir William Edward Parry returned to England in 1834, handing command of the Company to Henry Dumaresq who moved into Tahlee House with his wife and children.
A report written by Parry concerning the Company's state of affairs was delivered by Mr. Ebsworth at the annual meeting in June 1835. The shareholders heard that lands selected in lieu of those given up by the Company were now in the possession of the Company's agent and some of the flocks were placed on them. The new location at Liverpool Plains consisted of 250,000 acres, and at Peel's River of 310,000 acres, which together with land at Port Stephens made a total of 640,000 acres. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Dumaresq, the company's new commissioner, spoke in the highest terms of these lands; but as the location at Peel's River was preferable for sheep, the flocks had been removed there and the Liverpool Plains were occupied by the company's cattle. The stock of sheep belonging to the company as follows:
French Merinos 4,940
Saxon Merinos 2,866
Anglo Merinos 1,55
Improved colonial 27,257
The stock of horses, including thorough-bred colonial and others was 384; and the company preserved 2,803 head of cattle consisting of Durham improved, colonial and others.
Arrangements had been made by Colonel Dumaresq for the sale of surplus stock and sheep and horses and other cattle had been sold which had produced £2,700. Part of the horse stock had been sold to furnish supplies for the Madras army; an officer residing in the colony expressly to make purchases (Captain Collins). Wheat sowing up to June had continued favourably and the quantity of land under cultivation was as follows: 8 acres of tobacco, 278 acres of wheat, 29 acres of barley, 128 acres of maize and 94 acres of grass, turnips, etc. A powerful mill had been built at Stroud and the saltpans which had arrived were nearly completed at an expense of about £400. The wool from the company flocks had realised £7,017/13/6d and hides £208/2/3d. The sale of coal from the mines had increased considerably and was expected to exceed 8000 tons. A depot had been formed at Sydney for shipping coals as ballast and the project for making salt from sea water would be beneficial as the curing of colonial beef was thought to be rapidly increasing.
At the finish of the meeting a vote of thanks was given to Sir Edward Parry for his work while commissioner and he was presented with a piece of plate to the value of two hundred guineas.
Phillip Parker King
Phillip Parker King R.N., was appointed Commissioner in 1839, succeeding James Ebsworth who had taken over temporarily on the death of Henry Dumaresq in 1838. King continued the improvement of the company’s stock, including horses. The Company began to make available for sale to local pastoralists some of its bloodstock, although this was later found to be unprofitable.
Wool was transported by bullock drays to Port Stephens for shipment to England. The drays also transported supplies to the New England region.
Transporting wool and goods by Bullock dray was a difficult means of transport so Capt. King decided to introduce a number of mules from South America, as they were able to carry heavy burdens along the mountain roads. They were used for a number of years however were not successful. A number of them were supplied to explorer Ludwig Leichhardt on his expedition in 1847 (leaving from Stroud) from which he never returned.
Captain King also experienced many set backs, as his predecessors had. His tenure co-incided with the depression of the 1840’s. Serious problems occurred when stock depreciated in value and became difficult to sell. The drought caused 80 acres of wheat to be lost at Stroud and Booral. King was also troubled with supplies of labour in the pastoral, Agricultural and mining activities of the company. One hundred Irishmen were sent out by the Company, however they proved unfit for the duties they had undertaken, absconded or refused to ratify the agreements they had taken with the Company. →
Welsh miners introduced to work the mines in Newcastle were of little use to the Company, although Scottish shepherds did prove useful and English miners such as Ralph Thornton who arrived on the Emerald Isle in 1841, settled in to their work without causing the Agent Mr. Croasdill any further worries.
In May 1844 the inhabitants of the Stroud district were kept in a 'state of excitement' for some time, fearing a visit from six convicts who had made their Escape from Newcastle in the 'Brothers'.
They had landed near Seal Rocks between Port Stephens and the Manning River. Upon Captain King hearing of the escape he immediately dispatched guards to out-stations and a party to proceed up the Myall River to attempt to capture the escapees. Nothing was seen of the prisoners however and the Mounted Police under Lieutenant Gall were then sent to the district. Although pursuit parties were sent in two different directions, they also failed to catch up with the bushrangers. The six men had made their way to 'Bunderbot', a cattle station of the Company's and bailed up all the inmates for several hours before decamping with firearms, provisions, clothing and horses.
Back in Carrington, upon hearing of this, Captain King immediately set out with two troopers of the Maitland Police and several other well mounted citizens. They came upon the bushrangers the following day at noon twenty miles from 'Bunderbot'. The six men were secured immediately and returned to the Stroud lockup where they were examined before Captain P.P. King R.N., and P.G. King, Esq., J.P., and fully committed for robbery and being illegally at large with firearms.
Captain King generously rewarded the party who made the capture with a gift of £30, independent of the reward to be recovered under the government regulations. From the fatigue the bushrangers experienced since abandoning the vessel, one of them became so ill that Capt. King kindly provided two horses and a cart to take the whole of them to Raymond Terrace, where they would go on board the steamer for Newcastle under an escort of the mounted police.
The six bushrangers - James Edwards per Royal Admiral; Henry Elgan per Waterloo; Henry Hughes per Exmouth; Robert Whitehead per Lord Lyndoch; Samuel Ringwood per Moffatt and Buchanan Wilson per Marquis of Huntley, were later sentenced to transportation for life to a penal settlement.
The Maitland Mercury recorded the following information in 1846:
'We have been favoured by a correspondent with some particulars of the census recently taken of the persons in the service of the Australian Agricultural company at Port Stephens. It appears that between the period of the census in 1841 and that just taken the number of persons in the employment of the Company had decreased from 633 to 532. The decrease is confined to the government men. In 1841 there were 262 persons in private assignment, while in March last there were only 9. The free population has increased from 308 to 443. The following is an abstract of the returns with which we have been furnished:
Married Males 83
Married Females 68
Single Males 276
Single Females 103
Arrived free or born in the colony 1841, 293; 1846, 382
Other free persons 1841, 25; 1846, 61
Holding tickets of leave 1841, 53; 1846, 80
In private assignment1841, 262; 1846, 9
Total 1841, 633; 1846, 532
Males 109; Females 57
Read only Males 58;Females 33
Read and write Males 192; Females 83
There are 167 houses. Of these 33 are built of brick, 134 of wood; 101 are shingled, 1 slated, roofing of the remainder not described; 166 are finished, 1 unfinished; 154 are inhabited, 13 uninhabited.'(1)
In 1847 the Company had a stock of 125,815 sheep. However after a particularly calamitous year with casualties from age, disease, accident, 4207 sheep being slaughtered, 5143 boiled down for tallow and others sold they were left with a stock of 94,962. The Company had also disposed of a large number of cattle, horses, ponies, asses and mules during the year. They sold 38,122 tons of coal an increase of over 4,000 tons from the previous year.
By the end of 1847 the total number of people employed (excluding females and children) by the Company was 472:
Early in 1849 the Maitland Mercury reported that Phillip Parker King 'that old respected colonist' was to travel to England on Company business with the intention of returning to Australia in 1850. James Edward Ebsworth took over as Commissioner for the Company in King's absence. He advertised the Company's rams for sale in September. Buyers could purchase a First Class Company ram for 50/-, Second class for 40/- and a Third class for 30/- by applying to Charles Hall who was Superintendent of the Flocks at Tellighery.
In May 1849 in England potential immigrants read of the Company's intention to throw open their grant of a million acres for the settlement of a 'respectable class of colonist who possessed some capital'.
They were told of the 'finest land in the colony' owned by the Company at Port Stephens where corn, cotton, tobacco, olives and oranges could be grown in abundance. Splendid pasturage for sheep cattle and horses was available. The land would not be sold at public auction but would be sold at a uniform price of one pound sterling per acre. Buyers could pay immediately or pay interest at the rate of 5 per cent per annum. As soon as a sufficient number of purchases were made the Company intended to charter a ship direct for Port Stephens with free passage to purchasers of allotments over 200 acres. The Company would provide provisions for the new arrivals and buildings would be prepared to receive them until they could provide food and shelter for themselves and family.
They were told the estate was within 100 miles sea voyage of Sydney with the river Karuah running through it. There were said to be several villages, churches and schools upon the property and a large population chiefly in the employ of the Company. The cattle on the estate included pure short horns, Devons, Herefords and Highlanders; the sheep thorough bred Saxony and Spanish merinos. There were salt and fresh waters abounding with fish and timbers, lime and building stone were said to be plentiful. Imported goods, implements and clothing could be purchased at the Company's stores almost as cheap as England where settler would also be able to sell their own produce.
By August the 'handsome cottages' at Carrington, formerly occupied by the officers of the Australian Agricultural Company were being put in proper repair, preparatory to the arrival at Port Stephens, of the first ship with emigrants (with their servants) direct from England.
By October the cottages were ready and the 'Tahlee Gardens' were fresh and gay. The vines at Carrington were looking better than they had for several years it was reported that the first ship with immigrants were expected daily. Captain Corlette had received instructions to be on the look out for the appearance of the ship at the Heads so that he could pilot her in safely to anchorage in the 'commodious and beautiful harbour of Port Stephens'.