Place of Many Crows

By Eric Irvin    

15 August 1953 Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga)

A brief history of the foundation of Wagga Wagga  

This Is the second 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.

Having in 1832, fixed on the location of the runs (in this case North and South Wagga) the young Tompsons and Bests would no doubt return to their homes to report the success of their efforts. 

All this is, admittedly, supposition, but existing evidence supports rather than refutes it.

R. J. E. Gormly bears out this contention when he states:

'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.' (7). 

In 1832 Frederick Tompson was 18 years of age.

His brother Edwin was his elder. 

With regard to the Bests, Gormly further states: 

'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 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 were only a hut and stockyards at Best's Wagga station, where shepherds cared for the stock.' (8). 

Established fact 

He then quotes his father (James Gormly, M.L.C.) as having placed it on record in June, 1907, that the Davis family were in residence at North Wagga as early as October, 1844.

However, Gormly senior's statements on early Wagga are not always reliable, and this statement must be taken at its face value only.  

The established fact, so far, is that the Bests and the Tompsons were the first settlers to inhabit the sites on which North and South Wagga now stand.

It is doubtful, however, whether the boys established the respective runs. 

It is not very likely that their fathers would entrust to them, at their age, the difficult task of establishing a new run in virgin country inhabited by blacks.

When it is borne in mind that these youths would also have been in charge of stockmen and shepherds considerably senior to them and requiring a strong and ruthless man to control them, it may safely be assumed that they under took the journey in company with their respective fathers. 

A further proof of this contention is contained in the notice of the death of the senior Tompson (Charles), who died at Clydesville, Surry Hills, on January 10, 1871. 

'Our obituary notice this morning chronicles the death of Mr. Charles Tompson, the father of our townsmen Messrs. F. A. and E. H. Tompson.

The deceased gentleman was the pioneer of squatting in this district, having opened up the Murrumbidgee in the year 1832 by forming Eunonyhareenyah and other stations, extending from Kimo to Gobbagumbalin.

He also formed a heifer station on the site of the present township of Hay, but was driven off by the aboriginals. Mr. Tompson continued to hold extensive squatting property in this district until 1850.' (9).

Fair imitation 

The Best station was named wagga Wagga, a name said to have been derived from the aboriginal term for 'place of many crows.' The name exhibits a clear use, by the aborigines, of onomatopoeia, 'Wa-gah Wa-gah' being a pretty fair imitation of the crow's cry.

The earliest references to the name occur on the licences Issued to William Best for the 'Wogo Wogo' run. (10), 

From the foregoing, there-fore, it will be seen that a chronological list of events concerned with the establishment of the town of Wagga must commence with: 

1832 - William Best and Charles Tompson established their runs on the south and north banks respectively of the Murrumbidgee. 

In the fourteen years which followed the establishment of the Best and Tompson holdings various other squatters established themselves on both sides of the Murrumbidgee River in what were then known as the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee districts. 

By the year 1846 many homesteads were also established, but the area was still officially 'beyond the boundaries' (i.e. outside the settled districts). 

By 1848 practically all the land along the Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Murray River frontages had been occupied. 

Occupation of the country between the rivers (the back blocks) came later. (11). 

The consequent increase in the population of the area, coupled with the fact that it lay on the route taken by overlanders travelling their stock between Melbourne and Adelaide, brought many attendant troubles to employers of assigned and hired labor

Hired servants absconded from service: assigned servants were insubordinate or neglected their duties, and the nearest police centre to which employers could apply for a legal settlement of the many disputes and inconveniences which thus arose was distant some 70 miles, at Tumut. 

The Government in Sydney were not ignorant of the state of affairs which existed in general beyond the boundaries, and in 1846 the Legislative Council passed a law which authorised the establishment of police stations and Courts of Petty Sessions beyond the boundaries, at points to be fixed upon by the Government, on the advice and/or request of settlers.

Governor petitioned On February 22, 1847, sixteen licensed occupiers of Crown lands beyond the boundaries, who had properties on the north and south banks of the Murrumbidgee River and elsewhere In the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee districts, applied to Governor Fitzroy for the establishment of a Court of Petty Sessions 'at such part of our district as on mature consideration your Excellency may deem advisable, begging leave however respectfully to suggest that a station called Wagga Wagga 70 miles lower down the river than the Tumut Court would in our opinion be found peculiarly eligible.' 

It it because of this letter, and the men who appended their signatures to it, that the town of Wagga was ultimately established. 

'To His Excellency Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy, Knight, Captain General and Governor in Chief of the Territory of New South Wales. May it please your Excellency. 

'We the undersigned licenced occupiers of Crown lands and proprietors of stock beyond the boundaries, beg leave most respectfully to represent to your Excellency that we inhabit a large tract of country on the North and South banks of the River Murrumbidgee, known as the districts of Lachlan and Murrumbidgee. 

''That these districts being on the great lines of thoroughfare leading to Melbourne and Adelaide, are very peculiarly situated, inasmuch as they are exposed to the evils arising from the opportunity and inducement afforded to numerous travellers and overland speculators to entice and lure away our servants, who, in the absence of all magisterial authority and control, are not only thus, to our most serious in convenience, frequently at the most critical periods, inveighed from our service, but from the consciousness of impunity are engaged in a most reckless spirit of insubordination. 

'The distance from most of our respective stations to the Tumut or Binnilong, which are the nearest Courts of Petty Sessions, is from one to two hundred miles.

Under these circumstances we feel assured that your Excellency will see and admit that we are virtually without that protection which as licenced occupiers of the soil we have a right to expect, and we confidently believe that we have but to make our position known to obtain from your Excellency such relief as it is in your power to afford.

'We therefore most earnestly request that your Excellency will be pleased out of the provision noted by the Legislative Council last session for such purposes, to allow so much as will provide for the maintenance of a Court of Petty Sessions at such part of our district as on mature consideration your Excellency may deem advisable, begging leave, however, respectfully to suggest that a station called Wagga Wagga 70 miles lower down the river than the Tumut Court would in our opinion be found peculiarly eligible.

'As a proof of our deep anxiety to obtain so desirable an object, we would propose to contribute amongst ourselves, should it be deemed requisite by the Government, the funds necessary for the erection of suitable buildings.' (12).


(7) and 'Daily Advertiser.' April 23, 1949. 

(8) 'Daily Advertiser,' January 11, 1811. 

(10) R. J. E. Gormly in the 1949 series of articles in the 'Daily Advertiser.' 

(11) Same as (5). 

(12) Quoted by permission of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, from the records of the Chief Secretary's Department, N.S.W., held in that library.