Elizabeth and Anthony Rope’s life at The Ponds, 1791- ?

Elizabeth and Anthony Rope’s life at The Ponds, 1791- ?[i]

The Ponds Dundas Valley DSCN14990001 cropped 2

The Ponds Creek was originally a series of swamps, soaks and tributaries along Dundas Valley. The name Dundas came into use in the late 1790’s but not officially until the late 1800’s.  Originally the home of the Darug speaking Wallumedda clan.  www.parracity.nsw.gov.au

Captain Watkins Tench lists the Ropes among the settlers at the Ponds during his last visit to the area on 6th December, 1791. Bonwick’s ‘Return of Land in Cultivation…as of 16th October, 1792’, dates Anthony as being settled at the Ponds on 10 January, 1792.  Perhaps January was when Anthony’s sentence expired and he ‘officially’ received the grant.  If that was the case, by mid-January Anthony could have been farming full-time,[ii] and the family would only have needed to visit Parramatta for their weekly ration, as well as for replacement tools, seeds, clothing, medical assistance, and divine services.  

Whatever the case, by the beginning of 1792 Elizabeth and Anthony would have been well settled into their new environment.  The Ponds, so named because of the large ponds of good water in the area, was located in the gently rolling hills and creeks around Dundas Valley.  Elizabeth would have noticed the quiet and the sense of isolation in contrast to the bustle of Parramatta, especially while Anthony was at work in town.

Because of their two children they had the largest allotment: seventy acres reaching over the hill between two creeks or ponds.  The other 14 or so allotments were settled by couples, or, as in the case of Anthony’s friend John Summers, were share-farmed by two men.[iii]  In the centre of the small community was a military detachment of one officer and 3 privates, who were to protect the new settlers until the clearing of the land was complete.[iv]

my sketch of The Ponds grant

Upon settlement they would have received the same provisions and equipment, and would have been under the same conditions, as the other ex-convict settlers. The family would have been given enough grain for the first year and tools.  Tools were given to both men and women;  each receiving a hatchet, a tomahawk, two hoes, a spade, and a shovel.  A number of cross-cut saws were shared among the community, and muskets were given to each family for their protection.  Also, at some settlements, a convict was given to a family as an assistant.

As well as tending to the vegetable garden and assisting Anthony with the bulk crops, Elizabeth would have been making clothes, cooking, and caring for the needs of their children: Robert, now almost three and a half years old, and Mary, just over six months.  At the time the home gardens included vegetables, such as cabbages, greens, peas, kidney-beans, turnips, carrots. leeks, parsley, all of which did well in the Australian climate.  The larger crops were wheat and other grain.

They had obviously immediately set to work clearing the land and planting.  Records show that by February 1792 the Ropes had 8 1/2 acres cleared from trees, and another 8 1/2 acres were under wheat and maize;  a major improvement since the previous December. They would have built their own hut, to which a brick chimney would have been added mid year.[v]  By February they had acquired one horse and eight hogs.  So they were doing well.  When Atkins visited the Ponds in March he was generally impressed, remarking that the settlers ‘are for the most part…very comfortably lodged…  In short they are in every particular much better situated than they could possibly be in England.’

It was a fulltime job as there were inevitable problems with scavenging hawks, crows and bugs, which meant replanting, as well as marauding absconders and local aborigines who were after anything edible or barterable.  Elizabeth and Anthony were also lucky to get the animals, for although two sow pigs were promised to each ex-convict settler, they were not always received.

In spite of their progress, however, it was too soon for the family to self support, and in February three of them are listed as still being on government stores.  Elizabeth was probably breastfeeding Mary, the fourth member of the family.  The stores were essential for the new settler’s survival, as it was becoming obvious that it would be some time before they would be self-sufficient.  The government had given them eighteen months to establish themselves, after which they would be taken off stores and would need to pay for the hire of their convict labour themselves.[vi]  After five years of continuous farming the land was theirs at one shilling per annum rent.

The previous year had seen some major changes in the settlement of New South Wales.  The focus of cultivation of crops and animal husbandry, which had moved from Sydney Cove to Parramatta and Norfolk Island, was now extending further north, east, and west of Parramatta.  Sydney Cove was now considered an administrative centre and a depot for stores, with the Governor’s main residence there.  Parramatta was the agricultural centre where the Governor had a second residence.  Commuting was the norm, and a pathway now connected the two towns.

As well, Sydney Cove was turning into a busy port.  One month after the last of the Third Fleet had departed in January, 1792, the first ship of the Fourth Fleet pulled into the harbour.[vii]  The bi-annual arrival of Fleets had begun.  By the end of 1792 this traffic was augmented by trading and Whaling ships, which had heard about the new colony in other ports, and were hoping to trade goods, as well as to carry out repairs and replenish supplies of wood and water.

The movement of ships and people between the Cove and Norfolk Island increased in frequency as convicts, supervisors, soldiers and provisions were ferried back and forth.  Often ships from the Fleets would be commissioned in this way before returning home.  Phillip also regularly diverted the returning ships to Batavia or Calcutta to purchase extra provisions, clothing, and stores.

The colony was still much in need, and there was the constant fear that the storeships from England would be delayed or shipwrecked.  So the weeks between one ship departing and another arriving were spent in anxious anticipation.  In addition, the stores, clothing and provisions, when they were landed and checked, were often damaged, underweight, or unsuitable for the climate and harsh conditions of the country.  In the end extra provisions were purchased from the trading ships as well, to make up for any losses or omissions.

The Fleets themselves were now commissioned from private firms by the English Government.  So the ships masters would view the exercise as a trading opportunity and not just the transport of personnel and government goods.  Shops were set up in huts on shore, and people would flock to purchase the wares.  Some newly settled convicts took the short-term option of selling their stock and leaving their land so that they could purchase the alluring ‘unnecessaries’ or a return passage home.[viii]  Disputes regarding money exchange and the price of goods began to form part of the Court’s agenda.  And, of course, convicts would regularly stowaway, and sailors abscond.

At the other end of the river, Parramatta continued to expand.  Many of the convicts and soldiers were now based in the area:  the convict men in agriculture or other trades, and the women making clothes from material they collected from the stores, acting as ‘minders’ for the men’s huts while the men were at work, or themselves working in the fields and, of course, getting married and having children.[ix]  Reverend Johnson calculated that by October 1792 he had performed 220 marriages and 226 baptisms since arrival.

Increasing numbers of First Fleet ex-convicts and ex-marines, who had decided to settle were, like Elizabeth and Anthony, on their way to becoming self-supporting.  New settlers were given land around Parramatta, in areas called Prospect Hill (west), the Ponds (northeast), the Field of Mars (along the creek) the Eastern Farms, the Northern Farms, and south of the creek.  As the crops from these outlying farms were harvested the excess was brought into town for barter or sale.

The area northwest of Parramatta, initially called ‘new farms’ and later named Toongabbie, was selected as the site for the new public farm.  In January 1792 the clearing began.  By June the convicts employed there were planting seed, and in September they had harvested the first crop of wheat and Indian corn.  The produce, if not stolen, was taken to the government stores where it was augmented by imported provisions, or stored as seed for the following season’s planting.[x]

Expectations for the future were high, and in April the foundations for a town hall, to include a market place for grain, fish, poultry, livestock and clothes, and a hospital were laid at Parramatta.  A ‘clerk of the market’ was appointed to register sales and barters, in an attempt to deter the sale and exchange of stolen goods.  Goods on sale at Parramatta market during May included:  hens, cocks, chickens, eggs, fresh pork, vegetables, tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco, soap and cheese.  New arrivals commented on how well the colony seemed to be doing, and how much the convicts had compared to labouring people in England.  The reality was that the colony was still struggling to feed itself.

Everyone was still on reduced ration, a situation that had continued almost unchanged since November 1789.  Many of the convicts were starving and a number of newcomers commented on their appearance.  Atkins described them as ‘mere walking shadows’.  By March 1792 work was restricted to the hours between 5 and 9 in the morning, and 4 and 5.30 in the afternoon, as the convicts were too weak to do more.  Then in April, as in the previous year, rations were reduced further.

The rationing took its toll.  During the first half of the year at Parramatta, there were daily burials of convicts.  Small children were also vulnerable.[xi]  Quite a number of the convicts had never recovered fully from the lack of care during their journey out the previous year and were weak and malnourished.[xii]  In addition, the hand-mills, which England had sent out, were not strong enough grind the Indian corn, and the grain was being eaten raw.  In an attempt to bring relief, the Governor established a fishery on South Head, and sent gamesmen to Parramatta to procure fresh meat for the hospital.  The fresh protein, added to the large numbers of vegetables the gardens produced, and a little rum, gradually slowed the death-rate during the rest of the year.

Governor Phillip had been concerned and in June, a few weeks after the King’s Birthday, he visited the new settlement (Toongabbie) where most of the convicts were labouring.  He apologised to them for the small ration, and asked them to be patient, orderly and to do their duty.  He promised that storeships were expected, and that when the ships arrived the convicts rations would be increased if they behaved well.  He then released all those in irons, a gesture which usually coincided with the King’s Birthday.  Yet it was some months before rationing approached an adequate quantity.

By this time relations with the aboriginal inhabitants seems to have settled down once more.  Reverend Johnson mentions their daily presence in camp.  Five aboriginal people seemed to have been living permanently in the towns and are listed as being on government stores.  These were probably working for, or living with, some of the English.[xiii] There is mention of groups of aborigines stealing the ripening corn and other items from the outlying farms, but there is only one incident recorded of a ‘payback’ nature.  In May a convict was found dead, having been speared and cut as payback for firing on, and, it was assumed, killing, one of a group caught stealing goods from a hut.  Otherwise there is very little comment on relations between the two cultures.

Each new boatload of convicts, on the other hand, continued to cause as much trouble as they could.[xiv]  Whereas many of the convicts who came out in 1788 were now settling down and becoming ‘model’ citizens, the new arrivals went through the whole rebellious cycle of absconding, stealing, running scams, [xv]and mutiny, including attacking people for their provisions on the roads from Parramatta to Toongabbie or to Sydney. [xvi]

The court record for Parramatta on 9th January, 1792 is an example of the types of crimes committed by the convicts at this time.  The court heard seventeen charges of stealing chickens, corn, greens, vegetables, including from the Governor’s garden, clothing, money, of disorderly behaviour, and of going to Sydney without permission.  The severity of punishment, such as stocks, iron collars, lashes, executions, or transportation to Norfolk Island for life, did not seem to have deterred them.

As well as the community’s growth in size, a much more complex society was emerging.  The new colony was no longer just an extended ‘low security’ prison, but an agricultural and trading centre with two major towns and a number of satellite communities.  Reverend Johnson and Judge-Advocate Collins were both writing of their increased workload.

The Reverend was conducting divine services in three places: Sydney, Parramatta, and ‘a new settlement 3 miles west of Parramatta’ (Toongabbie).  Attendance, however, was still irregular and although four hundred acres of land had been given over for church use, no building to house the congregations had yet been erected.[xvii]  As well Johnson now had competition.  A number of the more recent convict arrivals were Irish and Catholic.  In November four males and one female signed a letter at Parramatta alerting the Governor to the inconvenience in not having ‘a pastor of our religion’, that is, a Catholic priest.

The need for administrators, supervisors and skilled workers was increasing, a point that Phillip continued to make in his letters to England.  He was also alerting England of the need to pay skilled workers, as the ships masters were offering passage home in return for work, and draining the colony of experienced tradesmen.[xviii]  The skill pool was further reduced by accidents, sickness and by some who had been here long term requesting retirement.[xix]

Some of Phillip’s needs were addressed during the year.  Atkins, a magistrate, arrived in February, and was posted to Parramatta to deal with criminal matters there, as well as assist Judge-Advocate Collins in Sydney.  In October a replacement surgeon, a master carpenter, a master miller and a settler experienced in cultivation arrived.  The gaps were also filled by ex-convicts who had proved themselves trustworthy and were granted remission and jobs.[xx]

Money was now a commodity, partly due to the trade instigated by the arriving ships, but also due to skilled workers needing to be paid, and the increasing numbers of ex-convicts having to support themselves.  By October shops for private trade had opened in Sydney and Parramatta.[xxi]  In response to Phillip’s requests ‘three thousand-eight hundred and seventy ounces of silver in dollars’ arrived in November on the transport Kitty.  One thousand were immediately dispatched to Norfolk Island, the rest was held in Sydney as ‘public money’.

Education appeared on the agenda.  By March 1792 three schools had been established for the children of civil and military families, and some convict children: one at Parramatta, another in Sydney, and the third at Norfolk Island.  Those in Sydney were run by schoolmistresses;  the one in Norfolk by a convict ex-teacher.[xxii]  Reverend Johnson was writing to England for financial support and resources, such as books.  He stressed the need for educating convict and aboriginal adults and children.  He also canvassed for additional teachers, ‘as I fear that a school mistress wd not do so well neither be proper to instruct the men Convicts’, and missionaries for ‘the ignorant and benighted heathens’.

The arrival of Major Grose in February, as Lieutenant Governor in charge of the NSW corps, began well.   He was agreeably surprised by the colony.  But this was not to last.  He was soon unwilling to abide by Phillip’s more democratic philosophy.  By October he was complaining to Phillip and England that he and his soldiers had been placed on the same ‘unwholesome’ ration as everyone else, and of the limits placed on the availability of liquor.[xxiii]  In spite of Phillip’s opposition, he and his Officers privately hired the Britannia to go to the Cape of Good Hope and bring back provisions they considered essential for men of their rank.  It seemed as though the battles that Phillip had fought with the First Fleet officers were about to recur.

However Phillip by this time had had enough.  His decision to resign, publicly announced at the end of October, caused a flurry of activity as long-termers, like Judge-Advocate Collins and Surgeon-General White, also submitted requests for leave in the hope of accompanying him home.  Phillip had slowly been working towards consolidating his administration throughout the year, and October and November were spent finalising all accounts, writing detailed reports to England, restating his mandate for the colony, updating records of provisions, stores and personnel, and granting absolute and provisional pardons to those he considered deserving.

On Friday 7th December Phillip conducted his last item of business and officially closed his government.  Then on Monday 10th at 6pm, he ‘quit his charge’ and embarked on the Atlantic.  He was received near the wharf on the east-side, where his boat was lying, by Major Grose at the head of the NSW corps.  There the NSW corps ‘paid him all the marks of honour’.  The officers of the civil department, and the three marine officers who were to accompany him to England, were in attendance.

On board were the last of the marines, two convicts whose period of transportations had expired, and two aboriginal men, Bennillong and Yem-mer-ra-wan-nie, who were friends of Phillip.  They had decided to travel with him, much to the distress of their wives and friends.  The following day those officers who were to remain behind sailed with Phillip down the harbour.  At 9am they disembarked, and gave three cheers as the ship prepared to move between the heads and depart the colony.

It was not without regret on both sides.  In Phillip’s view, the colony was now approaching ‘that state in which I have so long and anxiously wished to see’.  From the standpoint of those who had worked alongside him since the beginning, it was a great loss and ‘no small degree of concern in the settlement’.

Major Grose was sworn in by Judge-Advocate Collins, and immediately began to institute military, rather than civil rule.  Nothing in future was to be done, including court proceedings and punishment, without Grose’s and his officers’ approval and direction.  A few days later a distinction in rations was ordered, with all civil and military personnel placed on full ration while the convicts’ allowance remained restricted.[xxiv]  Some of the convict-settlers responded by selling off their stock in order to buy spirits.  As Atkins commented, ‘times are changed’.

It is difficult to imagine how Elizabeth and Anthony would have felt during this time.  Change is always unsettling, and they, like everyone else, were probably biding their time to see how advantageous or not, the new government was to be.  The inequalities in rationing would not have affected them greatly, as their allowance was supplemented by the produce of their farm, and their community was well enough away to function on its own.  As they do not seem to be mentioned in any records until 1794, they probably were not causing any trouble worth noting.

During the year they would have received the extra ration of spirits for the King’s birthday celebration in June.  They may also have benefited from the clothes which arrived, and were handed out to convicts, at the end of October.  They probably did receive one of the ewes, for the purpose of breeding, which Phillip gave to each married settler just before he left the colony.

But over the long-term, it seems that the changes brought in by military rule had their effect on Elizabeth and Anthony as well.  Not only was government provisions now unequally rationed, the military began to monopolise both the marketplace and the giving of land grants.  Military insistence on easy access to liquor meant that spirits became the preferred currency, the illegal distillation of liquor a preferred source of income, and farming being a lot of hard work for virtually nothing.

In addition Elizabeth and Anthony lost their third child, Elizabeth, who died in 1794 soon after birth, and could possibly be buried at The Ponds.  Although they were still there during 1795 for the birth and baptism of John, by the end of the following year the family is recorded as having settled at Mulgrave Place, near Windsor.  Perhaps they had had enough and walked off their farm to squat around the Hawkesbury like so many other people at the time, or perhaps they had received a settler’s permit there.[xxv]  Whatever the case their land at The Ponds was left unresolved for a number of years while the family focussed their efforts in the area bounded by the Hawkesbury and Nepean Rivers, South Creek, and Rope’s Creek.

c. Annette Maie, 2018

[i] The information for this story springs from the research my mother, Madge Rups, undertook in the 1970’s and 1980’s which I extended from late 1990’s onwards to include the social context and indigenous presence.  It is a compilation drawn from the Journals of the First Fleet, the Historical Records, the Picman Catalogue, the Colonial Secretary’s Papers, as well as articles from the Royal Historical Society Journal and Proceedings, and other writing.

[ii] Toby Ryan places Anthony working at Toongabbie, which is a government farm, around this time.  As the Ropes already have their own farm at the Ponds, I cannot see them living at both places, unless Anthony travelled to Toongabbie to work as a labourer from time to time.  Anthony’s trade is still listed as a bricklayer, so this could be what he still did in addition to working his own farm.

[iii] There is little mention of other friends of theirs.  Betty Mason, who lived with Elizabeth and Anthony for a while, and married Richard Hawkes in 1790 gave evidence at a trial in April 1792  But it looks as if she and Richard separated around this time.  By May Richard was established on a farm by himself, and at the end of the month she gave birth to a daughter under her maiden name.  At the daughter’s christening later that year, Phillip Morris was named as the father.  Isabella Richardson (nee Rawson) whose marriage to William in 1789 had been witnesses by Anthony, became a schoolmistress.  Both these women were probably based at or around Parramatta, and Elizabeth & Anthony may have remained in contact with them, but they may just as much have gone their separate ways.

[iv] The military presence was to deter poaching and violence.  All the food and water sources for the local aborigines were being increasingly taken over by the expanding settlement and understandably they would take from the farmer’s crops and animals for their own survival.

[v] In July Phillip organised builders to come in to add the chimneys to the huts ‘at the Ponds’, and to carry out other repairs.

[vi] By December Phillip was writing that more time would be needed.

[vii] This one with Lt. Governor Francis Grose, who was in charge of the NSW corps, soldiers, more convicts, and, as usual, limited provisions of salted beef and pork.

[viii] Not all convict-settlers worked the land they were given.  Some just worked for their neighbours and forfeited their grant.  The result was they ended up back where they started:  homeless, off stores, and causing mischief.  Part of the reason was that many ex-convicts still wanted to return home and saw no purpose in making their home here.

[ix] Rather than supply convicts with ready-made clothes Phillip decided to keep everyone busy, and the women had to return the clothes to the stores once completed.  He had found that the convicts, generally, became more ‘socialised’ when they worked in some sort of trade, gradually leaving their convict language and behaviour behind.

[x] In October Phillip was writing of the 1,500 bushels stolen from the grounds, in spite of precautions taken to protect it.

[xi] The death tally for the year included 418 male convicts, 18 female convicts and 29 children.

[xii] In England the trial against the master of the Neptune, for ill treatment of convicts, was underway.  Later transports carried a naval agent to supervise convict’s treatment and a ‘medical gentleman’ to treat them if they fell ill.

[xiii] Rev. Johnston still had two aboriginal girls living with his family.

[xiv] Upon disembarkation in Sydney a number would immediately abscond into huts, and would have to be found, detained, and transferred to Parramatta by force.  By October Phillip had decided to curb this practice, sending them directly to Parramatta and Toongabbie instead.

[xv] One of the scams was that convicts were selling their supplied clothes to soldiers.  Phillip wrote of the need to distinguish them, and all other convict items, in some way, like with a special strip, so that they could not be sold or bartered.

[xvi] The path turned out to be a problem as thieves used it to move their stolen goods between Parramatta and Sydney, or abscond, without anyone noticing.  Phillip responded by stopping its use.

[xvii] The previous year the foundations of a church building had been laid at Parramatta, but the building was quickly converted into a prison, and by 1792 it had become a granary.

[xviii] Phillip, whose health was deteriorating, also continued to ask for leave: ‘the complaint seldom leaves me lately for more than a few days’.  His ailing condition was also remarked upon by a number of new arrivals.

[xix] In April Burton, a Botanist and Supervisor who had examined and reported on the soil in the settlements and cultivation areas around Parramatta, died from a shooting accident.  Phillip wrote: ‘I lost one whom I cannot replace and whom I could ill spare’.  In July, Arndell, the assistant surgeon based at Parramatta retired due to age, and settled on his farm at East Creek.  In October, Phillip commented that of the four superintendents sent out from England, only one was left who was effective.

[xx] Such as Stephenson, who began work at the provisions store in October, Kelly, who was employed as assistant surgeon at Toongabbie, Barrington, head constable of the Night Watch at Parramatta, and Robinson, who was employed at the Public Barn and Granaries at Parramatta.

[xxi] These shops had a licence to sell porter, but also traded other spirits, which led to some ex-convict-settlers setting up drinking houses on their farms and selling to others at inflated prices.  The result was ‘much intoxication.’

[xxii] One of the schoolmistresses was Isabella Richardson (nee Rawson) whose marriage to William in 1789 had been witnesses by Anthony Rope.

[xxiii] Even Phillip was eating the same rations as everyone else, although it was probably supplemented with game and wine.

[xxiv] Everyone’s rations had increased in June with the arrival of rice, dahl and soujee from Calcutta.  But as not many knew how to cook these foods it was of little help.  In July, salted beef and pork finally arrived and brought some relief.

[xxv] As later there were problems with the sale of The Ponds grant and arrears in rent, this could well have been the case.  It is really unclear what occurred.  Hawkesbury was viewed as the next promising area for farming, and ‘permits to settle’, not actual land grants, were given by Gov.s Grose and Paterson.  According to Paterson, by June 15, 1795 there were 400 people settled nearly 30 miles along the banks on both sides of the river (Mulgrave Place).  Anthony is not mentioned on this list.  (in Campbell, 1925, pp. 106, 107).  I also have in my notes, with a note to check with Colby, that mid 1797 Anthony sells the Pond grant to John Larkham for £50 with crops and  that Larkham then sues Anthony for not including the crops, and wins the crops.

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