Macquarie's Towns

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In 1809, Lachlan Macquarie was appointed fifth Governor of the young European settlement in Sydney, New South Wales. In November of that year he set out on an inspection of the settlements along the floodplains of the Hawkesbury and Nepean Rivers to the west of Sydney, following a series of floods that had resulted in serious loss of life and property. These settlements along the floodplain had been established as early as 1794 and were important for the survival of the Sydney colony, as they produced almost half of the food supply needs.

At the end of the tour, Macquarie determined that towns needed to be established on higher ground near the existing floodplain settlements. His aim was to encourage the residents of the flood plain holdings to relocate to the safety of the towns from which they could travel down to manage their farms during daytime hours.

To this end, on 6 December 1810 at Government Cottage, Green Hills, Macquarie proclaimed the five towns that would become known as the 'Five Macquarie Towns'; Windsor (Green Hills), Richmond, Castlereagh, Pitt Town and Wilberforce.

Government Cottage, Windsor
Government Cottage, Green Hills, where Macquarie proclaimed the five towns.
The building was demolished in 1919.

Photo: State Library of New South Wales

The following extract from Macquarie's journal describes the naming of the towns:

Thursday 6th. Decr.

At 9 O'Clock this morning, as soon as we had Breakfasted, I set out, attended by the Surveyors, Mr. Cox, Mr. Fitzgerald, and the Gentlemen of my staff (- leaving Mrs. M. at home) to visit the several Farms on the opposite side of the River, and to examine and survey the proper ground for a Town and Township for the Farms on the Left or North Bank of the River Hawkesbury liable to be flooded by the inundations.

Having crossed the Ferry at the Green Hills to the North side of the River, we proceeded by the Front & Center line of Farms alternately as far down the River as Kershaw's Farm, about 7 miles from the Green Hills; and thence returning by the Back Line of Farms passed over the Common in rear of them, where we looked for an eligible Spot for the intended Town & Township for the accommodation of the Settlers of the Phillip District and others inhabiting the Northern Bank of the River Hawkesbury, and after carefully surveying the different Parts of the Common we fixed on a very safe and convenient situation for the Town and Township in this part of the Country; which done we returned home and arrived at Government Cottage at ½ past 2 O'Clock. - Took some refreshment and walked out to survey the Grounds belonging to the Crown in and near the present village on the Green Hills, and also the adjoining Public Common marked out for this part of the Country in the time of Governor King; a convenient part of which it is now my intention to appropriate for a large Town and Township for the accommodation of the Settlers inhabiting the South side of the River Hawkesbury, whose Farms are liable to be flooded on any inundation of the River, and to connect the present Village on the Green Hills with the intended new Town and Township. - After viewing the ground and maturely considering the importance of the measure, the scite [sic] and situation of the new Town was at length fixed finally upon - the exact scite [sic] of the new Church and Great Square being particularly marked out, as well as the extent and situation of the new Burying Ground; the Acting Surveyor, Mr. Meehan, receiving orders to measure and make out a Plan of the whole.

Lachlan Macquarie statue at McQuade Park, Windsor   
A pensive Lachlan Macquarie at
McQuade Park, Windsor

Photo: Brian Walters

A large Party of Friends dined with us today, consisting in all of 21 Persons, including our own Family. - After Dinner I christened the new Townships, drinking a Bumper to the success of each. - I gave the name of Windsor to the Town intended to be erected in the District of the Green Hills, in continuation of the present Village, from the similarity of this situation to that of the same name in England; the Township in the Richmond District I have named Richmond, from its beautiful situation, and as corresponding with that of its District; the Township for the Evan or Nepean District I have named Castlereagh in honor of Lord Viscount Castlereagh; the Township of the Nelson District I have named Pitt-Town in honor of the immortal memory of the late great William Pitt, the Minister who originally planned this Colony; and the Township for the Phillip District; on the North or left Bank of the Hawkesbury, I have named Wilberforce - in honor of and out of respect to the good and virtuous Wm. Wilberforce Esqr. M.P. - a true Patriot and the real Friend of Mankind.

Having sufficiently celebrated this auspicious Day of christening the five Towns and Townships, intended to be erected and established for the security and accommodation of the Settlers and others inhabiting the Cultivated Country, on the Banks of the Rivers Hawkesbury and Nepean; I recommended to the Gentlemen present to exert their influence with the Settlers in stimulating them to lose no time in removing their Habitations, Flocks & Herds to these Places of safety and security, and thereby fulfil my intentions and plans in establishing them.

For various reasons, Macquarie's intentions were not taken up in the way he would have wished. In some cases the town sites were too far distant from the farms; in other cases, the sites had no suitable fresh water. Further flooding in February, 1817 prompted the Governor to again encourage the settlers to build in the flood free areas. Despite this it was really only at Richmond and Windsor that more than a token response occurred.

However, many buildings from the early years of the 19th century remain. In all of the Macquarie towns, a church and cemetery were among the first facilities to be provided and these are still prominent. But numerous other early structures can be found, especially in Richmond and Windsor.

Probably the most significant change over the 200 years since Macquarie's inspection has been the change in agriculture on the river flats. The presence of the expanding city of Sydney to the east has seen food crops being largely replaced by extensive areas of turf farms. Even more dramatic has been the complete destruction of the agricultural lands on the Castlereagh floodplain. Sand and gravel extraction has proven to be more economically viable than food crops and pasture. Eventually, the whole floodplain will be rehabilitated as a series of recreational lakes - the Penrith Lakes Scheme. The southern part has already been completed and was the site of the rowing and canoeing events for the 2000 Olympic Games.

Laclan Macquarie Quote

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