Goulburn Centenary

By James Colwell

Young Witness

24 May 1921

(and letters)

When the centenary of Goulburn was celebrated in October, 1920, there seemed little, if anything, wanting to add to the completeness of the historic pageant, so well conceived and successfully carried out.

And yet there was one link missing, a link which has now been supplied. This pageant, it was well said at the time, epitomised the history and the progress of Goulburn.

For example, there were representations of Oxley and his party, who camped on Rocky Hill, an elevation to the north of the town, on October 25, 1820, an event which Oxley thus sets out' "Stopped for the evening on what are called Murrewa Plains, now named by the Governor, Goulburn Plains."

Following Oxley's party in the pageant came that of Hamilton Hume, who passed over the Murrewa Plains two years before Oxley pitched his tent on the hill.

The organisers of the pageant, therefore, made an error in judgment when they placed Oxley and his party before Hamilton Hume.

Hume was the pioneer, and as the pioneer he was entitled to first place in the assignment of honours.

However, this is a small matter, and at that we may let it pass.

Someone, at a later date, not satisfied with the name chosen by Macquarie, sought to supplant it by the substitution of Lorn, an effort which fortunately proved abortive, and Macquarie's choice remained.

Hume, then, was the first white man to cross the fertile plains when making his way to Lake Bathurst.

But it was Oxley who probably made such glowing representations to Macquarie, the Governor, on the fertility and excellence of the country that he decided to found a settlement there.

Macquarie was seeking land for the soldiers and ex-service men who desired to settle under the Southern Cross rather than return to the fogs and frosts of dear old England.

And very liberal grants some of these early settlers received, and with few exceptions very good use they made of their possessions.

Here and there some settler bartered his right for a bottle of rum to hasten his descent to Avernus, for while the world lasts it will never be without its quota of fools.

If the organisers of the pageant had given representations of these rum maniacs the moral effect would have been good.

Thus there are four names which are interwoven in the history of Goulburn: Hume, the first to white man to tread the soil; Oxley, the first to form a camp, and to report on the splendid country; Macquarie, who formed and then, named the first settlement; and Goulburn, whose name is perpetuated in the settlement to-day.

The work of Hume and Oxley is well known everywhere; Macquarie's name is a household, word, as it well deserves to be; but of Henry Goulburn, who can tell us anything?

 Certainly not the average Australian, and probably not many of the residents of this city of the plains.

The aim of the writer is to do honour to a great man, and to give him, if possible, his niche in that temple of fame which Australia is slowly building for all the world to see.

The task is made opportune and doubly interesting by the fact that Goulburn's portrait in oils has recently found its way to Sydney, and may now be seen at Angus and Robertson's in Castlereagh-street.

Someday, let us hope, Australia will realise how great s the debt she owes to those collectors who are gathering historic treasures which future Australians will look on with wonder and delight.

This famous portrait, the work of H. W. Pickersgill, R.A., was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1832.

It was done for Sir Robert Peel, into whose possession it passed, remaining in the Peel family until their collection of pictures was dispersed a few years since.

Henceforth Sydney will be its home.

This portrait, in every way worthy of Pickersgill, who is well known as a successful painter of portraits, takes first rank amongst the 363 pictures which he exhibited at the Academy.

These portraits include Wordsworth, the poet of the Lakes; Jeremy Bentham, the writer; Hannah Moore; William Godwin, the novelist; "Monk" Lewis, the friend of the Prince Re- gent and of Byron; George Stephenson; and Sir T. N. Talfourd, barrister and author.

The portraits of these eminent men may now be seen in the National Portrait Gallery.

The residents of Goulburn may justly feel proud of the man after whom their city is named, for he was intimately associated with Sir Robert Peel, the Duke of Wellington, and Lord John Russell.

He was on such intimate terms with Peel that he was bound to him in the bonds of political and private friendship for more than 40 years.

He was one of Peel's executors, and when Lord John Russell proposed a public funeral for Peel it was Goulburn who declined the honour.

Throughout his long political career he was respected by all parties. Croker writes of him as a most excellent and honourable man, with high principles, both moral and political.

During his long political career he played many parts, first entering the House of Commons in 1808 and relinquishing this honour only when death called him in 1856.

Sitting first as member for Horsham, he afterwards represented St. Germans, West Looe, Armagh, and Cambridge, the last borough for more than 25 years.

His first office was that of Home Secretary in Spencer Percival's Administration.

At Peel's request he became Under-Secretary for War and the Colonies.

From 1818 to 1826 he was one of the members for the borough of West Looe, and it was during this time that he was brought into touch with the colonies, though Macquarie probably knew of him some years before.

Goulburn rapidly rose to more important positions.

He became Chief Secretary to the Marquis of Wellesley, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who, afterwards assuming office as Prime Minister, made Goulburn Chancellor of the Exchequer.

As Chancellor he succeeded in saving the country over £2,000,000 in interest alone by converting stock into a lower rate of interest.

Goulburn narrowly escaped being Speaker of the House of Commons. He was defeated by Charles Shaw Lefevre.

Lefevre polled 317 votes and Goulburn 299.

Goulburn, who was born in London, was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his M.A. degree, afterwards receiving his D.C.L. from Oxford.

He married Hon. Jane Montagu, the daughter of the fourth Lord Rokeby.

His eldest son, who had an exceptionally brilliant career at Cambridge, being senior classic and second wrangler, died at the early age of 30.

Goulburn himself when 72 years of age died at Betchworth House, near Dorking, his remains being placed in the family vault at Betcthworth. Goulburn's brother, Edward, distinguished himself in the army, at the Bar, and in authorship, though the critics say that his rapid promotion was due to his brother's influence rather than to his personal merit, Edward Goulburn's son became head master of Rugby and Dean of Norwich.

In the light of these facts we repeat that the residents of Goulburn do well to honour the man after whom heir city is named; and this State is to be congratulated on securing Pickersgill's famous portrait.

Henry Goulburn

The Sydney Morning Herald

21 January 1922


It may be as well in the interests of accuracy, to correct two of the statements made by Mr Colwell in his otherwise very interesting article on Henry Goulburn.

In the first place, it was not Macquarie who named Goulburn Plains.

Macquarie's own journal as well as much other evidence, shows that they were so named two years earlier, by Surveyor Meehan, the first discoverer.

Macquarie named Breadalbane Plains, but left Meehan's name alone.

In the second place, Henry Goulburn's connection with Australia began long before he was member for West Looe.

He was Under-Secretary for the Colonies from August, 1812, to December, 1821; his first official letter to Macquarie is dated "25th September, 1812."

Goulburn Vale, on Liverpool Plains, is also named after him, but the two Goulburn Rivers (in New South Wales and Victoria, respectively) are named after his younger brother, Frederick, who, in 1820, became Colonial Secretary of New South Wales.

Jan. 20. I am etc Arthur Jose


The Sydney Morning Herald

23January 1922


In reply to Mr Jose's letter, Mr Jose failed to observe that I quoted Oxley who wrote: "Stopped for the evening on what are called Murrews Plains now named by the Governor Goulburn Plains."

I thought that I was safe in following Oxley.

But Mr. Jose says, No; Oxley is wrong. Macquarie's own journal, as well as much other evidence shows that they were so named two years earlier by Surveyor Meehan, the first discoverer.

"In the interests of accuracy”, to borrow Mr. Jose's phrase, will Mr. Jose favour us with this evidence?

It would be more convincing, than flat denial and much more satisfactory to your readers.

Mr. Jose failed again in reading my words dealing with Goulburn's connection with Australia.

Mr. Jose says: "Gulburn's connection with Australia began long before he was member for West Looe."

Just so; and that is why my article states that Macquarie knew of Goulburn some years before he became member for West Looe.

Jan. 21. James Colwell.


The Sydney Morning Herald

24 January 1922


Anxious to get the facts straight with as little fuss as possible, I seem to have been too brief for Mr Colwell.

Here is some of the evidence he asks for:-

"The native name of these plains is 'Mulwary,' but which I have named 'Breadalbane Plains.' From the junction of the two rivers we continue our journey in a south-easterly direction till we reach the north-west boundary of 'Goulburn Plains,' so named by Mr. Meehan, the first discoverer, but which in fact is a continuation of the Great Mulwarry Plains." (Macquarie's Journal, entry for October 22, 1820).

"Those on the west side the Governor called Breadalbane Plains, those on the east side had been named Goulburn Plains by their discover Mr. Meehan, two years before." (Dr. Reid's Journal, same date.)

Meehan's original sketch of his 818 route has "Goulburn Plains” written on it just east of Terranna.

Oxley was not with Macquarie at the time; he joined that party four days later. The whole of this information was given to the Royal Historical Society by Mr. R. H. Cambage on July 26 last.

As for Mr. Colwell's second point, it appears to be a matter of phraseology.

In his original article Mr Colwell wrote - "From 1818 to 1826 he was one of the members for the borough of West Looe, and it was during this time that he was brought into touch with the colonies, though Macquarie probably knew of him some years before."

I do not suggest that Mr. Colwell was ignorant of the facts, but no one else, I think, could possibly gather from the words just quoted that Henry Goulburn's close connection with Australian affairs lasted from 1812 to 1820, and that Macquarie was receiving despatches from him at the rate of 23 a year before he was elected by West Looe.

 I am, etc., Jan. 23. Arthur Jose.

Goulburn 24

The Sydney Morning Herald

January 1922


We are much indebted to Mr. James Colwell for the information he has given in a communication to the "S M Herald" of January 20, concerning Henry Goulburn, formerly Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, after whom Goulburn Plains were named.

Concerning the discovery of these plains, however, we now have very full information in a paper by Mr. R H Cambage, on "Exploration between the Wingecarribee, Shoalhaven, Macquarie, and Murrumbidgee Rivers," read in July, 1921, before the Royal Australian Historical Society, in which he quotes extracts from original journals and field books which show the routes followed and the sequence of visits made by different explorers.

The Goulburn district was discovered by Surveyor Jas. Meehan, at one time Deputy Surveyor-General, and he was accompanied by Hamilton Hume, then 20 years of age.

Meehan, who was in charge of the party, discovered Lake Bathurst on April 3, 1818.

He then travelled northerly, to within 2 1/2 miles of the present City of Goulburn, thereby passing through practically the whole length of the Goulburn Plains.

He named both Bathurst Lake and Goulburn Plains.

In March, 1820, Dr Charles Throsby, uncle of Charles Throsby, the ancestor of the present Throsby families, went with Hamilton Hume and William, afterwards Sir William, MacArthur, to the Goulburn Downs or Plains, and Throsby wrote a very glowing account of the district to Governor Macquarie.

In August, 1820, Lake Bathurst was visited by Dr Throsby and Joseph Wild, the latter proceeding further for one day and discovering Lake George. On October 22 1820,

Governor Macquarie reached Goulburn Plains, three days before the arrival of Surveyor-General Oxley and Macquarie wrote: "The native name of these plains is Mulwarry, but which I have named Breadalbane Plains. From the junction of the two rivers we continue our journey in a south-easterly direction till we reach the north-west boundary of Goulburn Plains so named by Mr. Meehan, the first discoverer, but which in fact is the continuation of the Great Mulwarry Plains."

The two rivers referred to are the Wollondilly and Mulwaree Ponds.

Oxley's entry on October 25, 1820, in his original field book, reads -"We stopped for the evening on what are called Murraweree Plains, now named by his Excellency Goulburn Plains". Mr. Cambage points out that the words "named by his, Excellency" were, interpolated by Oxley with a slightly darker pencil, so that it looks as if the Governor had ratified Meehan's name.

In a fair copy of this field book, now in the Chief Secretary's Department, Oxley's interpolation has been introduced into the text.

In the paper abovementioned, the author writes: "Although Meehan was in charge of the party which discovered Lake Bathurst and Goulburn Plains, there is little doubt that Hamilton Hume, with his natural gift of bush craft, and who, was then nearly 21 years of age, was of great assistance throughout the journey."

In response to a suggestion by Mr. Cambage the eminence near Terranna from which Meehan first viewed the district around the modern City of Goulburn has been named Meenan's Hillock, the latter being the term used by Meehan.

Mr Colwell alludes to a proposal to substitute for "the name chosen by Macquarie," that of "Lorn" and as this arose out of a matter of Government policy, it is worthy of more than passing notice it should be distinctly understood that whatever may have been in Macquarie's mind in regard to establishing a settlement at Goulburn Plains, he had nothing to do with the creation of the township of that name which was brought into being during the regime of Sir Ralph Darling, who on or about May 20 1829 approved of the preliminary design of "part of the town."

At this time the whole question of geographical nomenclature was under consideration and certain main principles were laid down for future guidance.

By letter dated June 23 1829, the Colonial Secretary informed the Surveyor-General that his Excellency had proposed certain rules which were to be adopted in giving names of places in future. Of these, rule No. 3 reads thus: -

"When the title of any distinguished personage is made use of as the name of a County, the names of the principal and other considerable towns in such County should, as far as possible have reference thereto by the adoption of the second title, family name, etc...".

"It is also proposed to call the town, lately named Goulburn, on Goulburn Plains by the name of 'Lorn' as more consistent with the principle adverted to in the preceding part of this letter."

In a letter dated June 29, 1829, the Surveyor-General informs the Colonial Secretary "that the district of Argyle was named after a favourite portion of Scotland known by that name rather than after the Duke, who, doubtless, derived his title from the same ancient source."

This being so, the association between the name of the district and that of its chief town became apparent, as the eldest son of the Duke of Argyle carries the title of Marquis of Lorn.

The Surveyor General then proceeds to combat the proposed change of name and urges, that as his Excellency himself favoured me with the name Goulburn Plains, it (the town) may be permitted to retain it.

In his protest Major Mitchell was upheld by the Executive Council, and on October 1, 1829, Governor Darling in his own hand endorsed the plan of the township of Goulburn Plains with his approval.

This township is now included in the City of Goulburn, and is practically what is now known as Goulburn North.

I am, etc, Department of Lands. Henry Selkirk. Jan. 23.

Goulburn 26 January

The Sydney Morning Herald



Mr. Henry Selkirk, of the Lands Department, is to be congratulated on the excellence of his letter which appeared in your issue of the 23rd.

The letter is valuable as a satisfactory and judicial presentation of the facts relative to the discovery and the naming of the Goulburn Plains.

It is valuable also I as an object lesson to those gentlemen who rush into print for the purpose of gratifying their vanity or their local jealousy.

From the information as set out by Mr. Selkirk and Mr. Cambage, it is evident that Meehan chose the, name Goulburn Plains, and that Macquarie ratified the choice when he gave his official sanction.

This would justify Oxley's entry in his field book to the effect that the district "was named by his Excellency."

So far nothing has been advanced to prove that Oxley was in error when he made that entry; or that I was in error when I reproduced it.

As a final word, may I add that my aim in writing the article on Goulburn was not to give prominence to the discoverer of the Plains or to the one who affixed the name?

My aim was to draw attention to Pickersgill's famous portrait of Henry Goulburn, which recently found its way to Sydney, and may now be seen in the Sydney Art Gallery.

I am, etc., James Colwell.  Jan. 24.