Origins of Wagga; Early Settlement of District

By R. J. E. Gormly

23 April 1949 Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga)


The Author - This is the first of a series of articles, to appear at fortnightly intervals, dealing with the history of Wagga and district. The author, Mr. R. J. E. Gormly, was born in Wagga more than 80 years ago. Though now living in retirement in Sydney, he spent most of his life here, served for some years as an alderman and was otherwise prominent in civic affairs. Mr. Gormly has retained a lively interest in the scenes of his youth and contemplates writing a full-length history of Wagga and district. Daily Advertiser

Not to be confused with James Gormly,


To commence with I want all my readers to join with me in paying homage to the memory of those wonderful pioneers who came to Wagga Wagga and the adjoining districts about 120 years ago.

The majority of the people today cannot realise the hardships endured by those early settlers. 

For instance, just think of the conditions in front of a man who had to load onto a bullock dray a year's supply of food, clothing, household effects and building requisites and then start off on a Journey of about 300 miles.   

Of course, he had to take with him his live stock, but If he had a wife and children he had to consider the danger from the aborigines. 

Many of the early pioneers around Wagga Wagga came from around Campbelltown and Appin, but the presence of hundreds of blacks along the Murrumbidgee and Tumut Rivers made it very unsafe for women and children to be left alone in the day time in the remote in- land districts. 

Even as late as the year 1838, nine members of Faithfull's party of 14 men travelling with stock from Albury to Port Phillip, were killed by the blacks. 

When the early settlers came down the Murrumbidgee below Gundagai in the early eighteen thirties there were no roads after leaving Mitchell's Road near Marulan, and even from Sydney to Marulan the roads were a nightmare to the teamsters.

There were many unbridged rivers and creeks to be negotiated and Rasorback and other mountains to be crossed. 

At Gundagai Kimo Hill was so difficult that Captain Sturt, in 1829, crossed over the Murrumbidgee River and crossed back again at Nangus, so as to avoid going over Kimo Hill.

It was many years after that the cutting was made around the hill and a fairly good road made there. 

Early Wagga I know the country from   Jugiong to Narrandera very well, and also a big slice of the country radiating out from Wagga, but I Intend to start my story from my native city of Wagga Wagga, where I was born over 80 years ago. 

The pioneers had, in 1832,reached down as far as where Wagga Wagga now stands. I do not know the exact date. A definite date was fixed as to when Peter Stucky settled at South Gundagai because the date -October 20, 1828 - is engraved on his tombstone in the cemetery there. 

Who were the first pioneers to settle at Wagga? 

To give an answer to such a question we must not forget   that the city is on both the right and the left banks of the river, and that in the early days of Wagga there were about the same number of houses on each side of the river at the crossing place which was then the hub of the village. 

In 1832 the Tompson family brought their stock along the right bank of the river and occupied the frontage from Thorne's Wantabadgery Station down to what is now known as Duke's Bridge, Just below Wagga. 

About a year earlier, the Tompsons had stocked Mickey's Corner (Kimo), near Gundagai. 

The Best brothers also came along with their, stock in 1832   and made a station on the left bank of the river. Their hut and stock yards were erected near the river Just below the Wagga race   course. I saw the remains of the old yards there many years ago. 

One of the Tompsons' stations and yards were at North Wagga   lust behind where the Black Swan Hotel now stands. I am   inclined to think that the Tompsons stocked North Wagga (then part of Eunonyhareenyha Station) some short time before the Best brothers stocked the left bank of the river. 

I reason this way: Would the two Bests go across the river and (go below the Gumly Gumly Station, which came down almost to the Wagga pumping station, or would they choose the country at North Wagga and around the many lagoons nearby? 

I think that the Tompsons had the first choice and the Bests had to take their stock over to the left bank of the river. Old Route At that time teamsters came down along the right bank of the river so as to avoid Tarcutta Hill and also Tarcutta and Hillas Creeks; also Adelong Creek. 

All those who had stock along the Murrumbidgee near Wagga in the early days were 'squatters', because they were grazing their stock 'beyond the limits of location.' In other words, they were 'out of bounds.' 

At that time the boundary line to the 'Nineteen Counties' (the settled districts) crossed the Murrumbidgee River to the south of Yass.

It was not until the year 1847 that 'licences to depasture stock beyond the limits of location' were granted by the Crown. 

The licence fee was 10 per annum for an unlimited area at first.

Later on a separate licence was required for each station of 20 square miles, because it was found that some of the graziers were holding more than a dozen stations for one licence fee of 10, whilst some of the poorer settlers were paying their 10 for a few hundred acres.  

One grazier had 27 stations for his paltry 10. A few graziers adopted the plan of renting part of their huge areas to the poorer settlers 'on the thirds.' 

First Settlers 

In 1832 the two Best brothers (Robert Holt and Peter) and the two Tompsons (Frederick and Edwin) were quite young and not married, so their fathers were really the backbone of the enterprises.

The head of the Tompson family was Charles Tompson, of 'Clydesdale Estate' near Windsor.

He came to Australia in 1798 and had a large family of sons and daughters all born in Australia. 

His eldest son, Charles, Jnr., born In 1806, has been described as being the first Australian born poet and he became a prominent civil servant in Sydney.

Another son, Alfred, spent some years in America. Two other sons, Edwin and Frederick Anslow, became squatters on the Murrumbidgee, later on becoming two of the leading citizens of Wagga and were held in very high esteem.

I will have more to say about these two men later on. 

The head of the Best family was William Best, who had an estate near Parramatta.

When his sons, Robert Holt Best and Peter Best, came along to Wagga in 1832, Robert Holt was only 17 years of age and it was not until 1846 that he brought his wife and children to live at Wagga. 

The oft'-repeated statement that Robert Holt Best's family was the first family to reside in Wagga is quite incorrect.

Before 1846 there was only a hut and stockyards at Bests' Wagga Station, where shepherds cared for the stock. 

First Child  

 In my next article I will give some details about the first man who brought his wife and children to live in what is now Wagga Wagga.

And I hope to lead the way to solving the problem as to who was the first white child to be born in Wagga. 

To do this, I will have to flatly contradict many statements that have appeared in the Press during the last 20 years.

I have been gathering up Information about the early settlers around Wagga for many years, and when I make some mistakes as to facts I hope that those people who can put me right will kindly do so. 

Too many people have left it too late to place on record their knowledge of the doings of the brave families who opened the beautiful country around good old Wagga Wagga.