Place of Many Crows (Part 5)

19 August 1953 Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga)

By Eric Irvin

A brief history of the foundation of Wagga Wagga.

This is the fifth of a series of articles to appear daily, tracing the history of the foundation and early growth of the town of Wagga Wagga. The complete history will be published in book form later.

There was a considerable outcry in N.S.W. against transportation in the late 1830's, and the abolitionists succeeded in forcing their views on both the Colonial and the Home Governments. 

But in 1838 the N.S.W. Legislative Council decided against the abolition of transportation, in the face of a public opinion which, though articulate, was not then so well organised as it very soon became.

Among the reasons given by the Council for the continuation of transportation to the colonies were:

"That in the opinion of this Council, the sudden discontinuance of transportation and assignment, by depriving the colonists of convict labor, must necessarily curtail their means of purchasing Crown lands, and consequently the supply of funds for the purposes of immigration," and "That, in the opinion of this Council, the produce of the labor of convicts, on assignment, is thus one of the principal, though indirect means, of bringing into the colony, free persons; it is obvious therefore that the continuance of immigration in any extended form, must necessarily depend upon the continuance of the assignment of convicts." (8). 

However, the Council was defeated by the abolitionists, for in 1840 transportation to N.S.W. was abolished.

Various attempts were made in succeeding years to revive it, but the people had discovered their power and how to use it. 

Wages in Wagga In 1848-49, in the Murrumbidgee district, and in Wagga particularly, attempts were being made by the pauper-laborers (9) to make a stand against the constant attempts of employers further to lower wage standards. 

The Wagga correspondent in the Sydney Morning Herald had quite a lot to say about this state of affairs “Wages have fallen considerably during the last four months.

Shepherds were getting from £21 to £23 per year, and watchmen from £18 to £20.

The former may now be hired at from £16 to £20, and the latter from £14 to £18.

After shearing there is no doubt but shepherds will [be] had at £15 and watchmen at £13 and £14 per year .... 

"We have always found that high wages produced habits of extravagance in the laborer, for their moral and social conditions being depressed below the standard by which good order and economy is assured, the motive to spend is always in excess above the disposition to save, and high wages remove the little economy they possess altogether.

As proof of this nearly all our 'old hands' who have had the advantages of wages, varying during the last nine years (with the exception of 1844) from £1 per week to £23 per year, are little better than paupers. 

These men offer the most resistance to the advancing reduction of wages, and owing to their dogmatic and short sighted opposition, the settlers have generally to replace them by new hands, who keep constantly arriving from the counties where they are ranked 'old hands' themselves, having been displaced by emigrants." (10). 

From its literary style, and the sentiment it contains, it is fairly obvious that this biased and patronising paragraph was the work of F. A. Tompson

When the privileged classes began to see that the end to transportation was inevitable, their outcries were loud and long.

They saw all too clearly that the day would arrive when they would not only have to pay for all their labor, but would also be liable at law for maltreating it.

However, in 1849, Earl Grey gave them some little hope when he attempted to reintroduce transportation. One ship, the Hashemy, actually landed its miserable cargo, and such "enemies of their country" (as they were termed by the Goulburn Herald of the day) as the residents of Wagga, Gundagai and Yass asked for 50, 100 and 200 convict servants respectively to be sent to their areas. (11). 

Convicts wanted the letter sent from Wagga to the Colonial Secretary on April 2, 1849, and signed by William Macleay and John Peter, read: 

"Sir: with reference to Earl Grey's despatch of September 8, 1848, having relation to the sending of convicts to this Colony, we have the honor to request that His Excellency the Governor will on arrival of the first ship containing convicts be pleased to forward at least 50 ticket-of-leave holders to this district.

Independent of our approval of the proposal contained in the despatch alluded to, we are induced to make this request from the very great scarcity of labor in this district, and the remote probability of emigration at the expense of the Colony fully satisfying its wants." 

It is odd to think of a “very great scarcity of labor” at a time when, according to the Wagga correspondent or the Sydney Herald, the employers were busy reducing wages to the barest minimum. 

Wagga got none of these convicts but E. W. Flood did. 

Convicts were intimately connected with the establishment and growth of Wagga, supplying both labor and brains from the day in 1832 when the first stations were established in the district. 

Later, when the police post was established, convicts and ex-convicts were among the members of Wagga's early police force - as they were throughout the force in the Colony. 

One of them was a highly respected and, ultimately, very wealthy blacksmith in the town.

Another founded and ran for many years what is still to this day one of Wagga's best hotels.

A third, who had been assigned servant on the Hume and Hovell expedition in 1824, later came to the Wagga district and settled on the land, where he founded a family whose name still lives in Wagga. 

The police office at Wagga, for some years after its foundation, was a clearing house for convicts of all types who passed through the district. P. A. Tompson, as clerk of Petty Sessions, wrote numerous letters to the principal Superintendent of Convicts in Sydney, requesting tickets-of-leave, and conditional pardons for these men. The last batch to arrive in the district (per Hashemy, 1849) were all registered or checked at the Wagga police office on their way to Edward Flood's property, presumably the one at Narrandera. 


(8) Select Documents in Australian History (Clark) 

(9) “the pauper-laborer,” a term used by the great English colonist Edward Gibbon Wakefield to describe the unfortunate subsistence-level working man of his time. 

(10) Sydney Morning Herald, September 29, 1849. 

(11) The Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser, June 9, 1849.