Remains of the Government Farm Re-discovered

We are very excited about receiving notification of the re-discovery of the footings of the Government farm on the former site of the Palais Royale in Hunter Street. We will be visiting the site this morning and will give updates as they come to hand.

Here are three artistic representations by Joseph Lycett and Sir Thomas Mitchell:

Collector's Chest - c1820
Lycett – Collector’s Chest – c1820 (State Library of NSW)


Lycett - Newcastle, New South Wales, looking towards Prospect Hill. (1816?) (Courtesy Newcastle Region Art Gallery)
Lycett – Newcastle, New South Wales, looking towards Prospect Hill. (1816?) (Courtesy Newcastle Region Art Gallery)


Mitchell - Fieldbook C40 1828 see 'u' for Government Cottage
Mitchell – Fieldbook C40 1828 see ‘u’ for Government Cottage

In the meantime please look over these notes prepared concerning the significance of this site to the history of Newcastle and the Nation compiled over the last few years.

Notes on Threlkeld’s First Year in Newcastle 1825 – By Gionni Di Gravio

Lycett painting of Newcastle circa 1817 showing former Palais site at far right. Courtesy of Newcastle Art Gallery

The item above is a painting that is located in the Newcastle Regional Gallery. All photographic reproductions of this painting cut off the right hand side showing a dob of white paint, which we understand is the Government cottage that the Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld occupied upon his arrival in Newcastle in 1825.

This was the Government cottage we believe was located on the current site of the ruins of the Palais Royale. It was our foundation University Archivist who drew my attention to it back in 2003. No published version of the painting showed the white dab. I rang their curator Donna Robson for permission to bring in a photographer to the Gallery to photograph the whole thing including the extra inch. We were so excited to be able to get the thing photographed and up online.

Soon afterwards I was contacted for information relating to the Newcastle’s West End, especially the Aboriginal connections. I prepared the following notes mostly from the Diaries of Threlkeld published by Niel Gunson in 1974.

Threlkeld sailed from Sydney aboard the Eclipse with his family on the 7th May 1825 and arrived in Newcastle the following day on the 8th May 1825.

On Monday 9th May he made a journal entry that the Commandant had informed him that his cottage was ready. He moved into his cottage which was located “in a very lonely situation a mile and a half from the town” on the Tuesday evening. We believe this was adjacent to Cottage Creek and the site of the present ruins of the Palais Royale.

During the period, besides his preparations for his new abode at Bahtabah, he recorded a number of occurrences at Newcastle in the vicinity of his cottage. (This cottage was painted by Lycett entitled “Newcastle, New South Wales, looking towards Prospect Hill. ”

Look for the little dab of white paint on the right hand side of the painting:

Image 7. Joseph Lycett’s ‘Newcastle, New South Wales, looking towards Prospect Hill’ c.1816-1818.

White Robbers
Firstly, on his arrival he said that his greatest fear was from robbers that had burgled him on three occasions, and that he was in fear of being burgled every night. Newcastle having just emerged from being a penal settlement.

A Native Welcome Dance
On the Wednesday evening, 11 May 1825, Threlkeld records that natives had assembled around his house cooking a kangaroo. After they had eaten, they came to invite him and his family to see their dance “which was on account of our arrival among them.” He noted that they were naked and that when “they had concluded they thanked us for our visit and wished us good night.”

Jemmy tells Threlkeld a creation story
Threlkeld on Sunday 15th May 1825 [Gunson p.88] recorded a local creation story in his public journal that he:

“Had some conversation with 4 or 5 Natives who could speak a little broken English, questioned them concerning who made the Sun, moon, stars &c. One of them replied that long while ago one Black fellow threw the vermin from his head into the fire and they jumped up (for became) these things. When they were informed God made them, Me don’t see was the reply for I do not know. Endeavoured to make them understand the object of my mission. They appeared pleased and asked where we should reside in the interiour.”

In a retelling of this story in an installment of his Reminiscences published in the Christian Herald 8th July 1854 pp174 – 175 [Gunson p.46] he reveals the name of the Aboriginal who related the story:

“Conversing with an interesting Black, named Jemmy, I endeavoured to ascertain their ideas respecting the creation of the Sun, Moon and Stars. The answer was that a black fellow, a long time ago, made them by throwing vermin from his head into the fire which became a black fellow who made them!”

Native Healing
On the 22nd May 1825 he witnessed a healing ritual performed upon a young girl.

Natives Camped Nearby
On the 29th May 1825 he said that the natives had encamped around their dwelling in Newcastle and had moved around three times previously due to the infestation of fleas that had been attracted to them on account of their dogs.

A Native Burial
On the 3rd June 1825 [Gunson, p.89-90] Threlkeld was invited to witness the burial of a young girl. The location was at a spot in the bushes on a barren sand hill covered with bushy scrub.

“After the ceremony of interment was over one came to me and in broken english begged I would not disclose where the body was laid. On enquiring for the reason of this injunction they told me that they were afraid the white fellow come and take her head away.”

Threlkeld reports the atrocities of Whites against Blacks
On 5th Decemeber 1825 he writes to the Attorney General that he had:

“heard at night the shrieks of Girls, about 8 or 9 years of age, taken by force by the vile men of Newcastle.” He had also seen a man with his head beaten with the butt-end of a musket for not handing over his wife. And also that there are now “two government stockmen, that are every night annoying the Blacks, by taking their little Girls, and I am now waiting to be informed, when they are in the native camp to get them apprehended, but then, as was the case once before, the evidence of the Black cannot be admitted, and indeed they are really terrified to speak. My wonder is, that more Whites are not speared than there are considering the gross provocation given. At this time we resided at the Government Farm Cottage about a mile, or so, from Newcastle.”

On the 12th December 1825 Threlkeld reports that he witnessed an Englishman beating the blacks. Upon inquiring, the Englishman said that they had insulted him, but that he learned that a girl of 10 years old was hiding in the bushes away from the Englishman’s “violence”, and that the person being beaten was the father of the girl who refused to allow her to be taken away by him.

Threlkeld came to Newcastle in 1825 to set up a mission for the Aborigines of the region. Where did the powers at be locate him upon his arrival, but on the outskirts of town, customarily the place where the Aborigines were.

Also generally located on the outskirts of towns are cemeteries, and general white rabble. Nearby was the Honeysuckle corroboree grounds as well as burial grounds.

The official burial ground for whites at that time was Christ Church, but it is a possibility that since Threlkeld records witnessing an Aboriginal burial in the vicinity of his cottage in Newcastle, that it was also an informal burial site for whites as well, especially those who had been executed or for some reason could not be buried at Christ Church.

Honeysuckle Point (or Cottage Creek) cemetery was officially dedicated on the 25th October 1841, with the first recorded Catholic burial being on the 11th May 1842.

It is also possible that ‘Cottage Creek’ got its name from the Government cottages that were located there, and occupied by Threlkeld on his arrival. His record of what he witnessed while living in Newcastle is what I have aimed to present.

It is also interesting that late last year we discovered the actual date of Biraban’s (M’Gill) death, which has remained a mystery until now. Biraban was the famous Awabakal chief who assisted the Rev Threlkeld compile the first grammar of an Aboriginal language in Australia. Scholars have estimated his death as occurring between c.1842-1850. He actually died on the 14th April 1846.

This was made possible by chance clue found in the Rev Wilton’s reply (dated the 1st May 1846) to the Circular ( i.e. Aborigines. Replies to a Circular Letter, addressed to the Clergy, of all Denominations, By Order of The Select Committee on the Condition of the Aborigines. Ordered, By the Council, To be Printed 31st October 1846. Sydney: Printed by W.W. Davies, At the Government Printing Office.). He said that:

“McGill, the Aboriginal Chief of this tribe, by whose assistance the Rev. L.E. Threlkeld compiled his grammar of its dialect, on my speaking to him lately, but a few days before his death, upon this subject, remarked “they died off like sheep.””

Could it be possible that Biraban, who was speaking with Wilton (who incidently was stationed at Christ Church Newcastle) at the time, just days prior to his death, was also buried at the Aboriginal burial grounds in the Newcastle foreshore area. It could be the burial place of one of this region’s most important and influential Aboriginal figures.

Where were the Aboriginal Burial Grounds?
From the Article entitled “Early Burial Place – Borough Market Site” from the Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners Advocate, 13th November 1915 p.3. Mr Peter Streit (who arrived in Newcastle in 1857) said that the location of the School of Arts in Newcastle was a burying ground for the Blacks.

“Mr Streit avowed that the site of the Newcastle School of Arts was a burying ground for the blacks, but he could not say whether the old market site was similarly used, although it was quite probable, especially as bodies had been found there. Mr Streit said that when he arrived in 1857 the West End Cemetery had just been opened. He remembered at the time old pioneers of thirty and forty years living in the place who referred to the new cemeteries in such a phrase as “What a fuss people make of burying nowadays. Why we used to nail a box together, and put them in the ground.”

Another informant in the same article, Mrs J.S. Rodgers (born in 1843) said that a paddock existed on the present site of the Newcastle School of Arts and that: “The tide came up to that point, and a sandy beach ran along the harbour front to the Queen’s Wharf, which was a squared mound made of ballast.” And also:

“In those days there were many blacks, and they numbered nearly, or quite, as many as the white population. She always understood that the Aborigines were buried in the paddocks in the vicinity of Hunter Street, but they were very reticent as to the actual places where they buried their dead. Mrs Rodgers had no recollection of any white person having been buried in the paddocks, and had never heard of any such internments.”

Then later in the article it says, and I am not sure if this is Mrs Rodgers’ opinion or the author of the article, but:

“It was quite possible that in the very early days, prior to the existence of any actual cemetery grounds, that white people had been buried in the paddocks, where the aborigines had found their last resting place.”

There’s so much in a little dab of paint, isn’t there.

Gionni Di Gravio
18 February 2008

“Fear and Loathing” – Mike Scanlon. Newcastle Herald 21 July 2007 pp.12-13.

Gionni Di Gravio

2 thoughts on “Remains of the Government Farm Re-discovered

  1. Nice work Gionni re possible images of the Government Cottage – or in your words, ,Government Farm. You will recall mention in the Bigge Report of a ‘summer house’ for the Commandant built about a mile out of the settlement. Because this was a government cottage, the place, at the outskirts of Newcastle, became known as Cottage Creek. It is doubtful in my mind, that the ‘white dot’ is the Government Cottage due to its location depicted well inland. The current location of the footings of the Government Cottage (also Known as Wellers’ Cottage) at the Palais site have been well known for many decades and appear in NAMP 1997, and several cadastral maps dating back to the 1880s. Of course, the original shoreline was within 50m of the cottage, hence my judgement that the white dot is another structure, possibly near Civic Park. As for the Macaquarie Chest images, it looks to me to be a hut situated around the location of Fanny’s nightclub based on the western edge of the hill. Also, the hut appears on the western side of the creek, whereas, the cottage was located on the eastern side. The bend in the creek (direction of the outlet) is in the opposite direction to the original creek form which curved to the east before it was modified in the 1890s. There were also several other creeks as noted in the Armstrong Map. Of course, Lycett may have been trying to impress his boss Wallis by attempting to fit the Government summer house/cottage in – but he had a reputation as an accurate topographical painter.

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