Place of Many Crows (Part 3)

By Eric Irvin  

17 August 1953Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga)

A brief history of the foundation of Wagga Wagga

This is the third 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.

The sixteen men who signed the petition to the Governor in 1847 for the establishment of a police post at Wagga bore names which are prominent in the history of this State. 

They were all property owners in the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee district, though few of them lived in it.

The petition must have circulated for a while In that district, and in Sydney, before it was finally delivered to the Governor. 

The men who appended their signatures to the petition were: George Macleay, Henry Osborne, Charles Tompson, E. W. Flood, M. Backse (or Barker), F. A. Tompson, G. Hill, J. B. Holden, B. Boyd, W. Robinson, W. Walker and Co., James Devlin, R. H. Best, John Peter, John A. Dallas, and W. Wentworth. 

“Wagga notified” in the margin of the letter appear the words: "Wagga Wagga notified as a Court of Petty Sessions 30 April 1847." 

A further note asks: "Shall the gentlemen signing this be informed?" dated May 6, followed by a terse "Yes" under the same date and a note to the effect that William Macleay had seen the letter on May 11. 

On April 30, 1847, the NS.W. Gazette bore notices to the effect that Mr. Michael Norton was appointed to be Chief Constable at Wagga and that Wagga was appointed as a place for the holding of Courts of Petty Sessions.

Mr. Norton was given a policeman named Murphy to assist him in carrying ou this police duties.

R. J. E. Gormly states that he had "three assisting constables."

On May 10 of the same year the Gazette listed Mr. Frederick Walker (who had been appointed C P. S. at Tumut on January 6, 1846) as clerk at the newly-formed Wagga Court of Petty Sessions. 

The Gazette for June 16 listed the appointment of John Peter, of Gumly Gumly, and Frederick Tompson, of Oura, Murrumbidgee, as Justices of the Peace (Magistrates of the territory and its dependencies). 

It is apparent that John Peter was the first magistrate to sit on the bench at Wagga. 

The appointment of Justice of the Peace in those days was an important and sometimes onerous one, for these men were the law's "maids of all work."

It is significant that of all the men who signed the application of February 22, 1847, to the Governor (and John Peter, was among them) not one added the initials "J.P." after his name, as any one of them would most certainly have done had he held the appointment.

Therefore it is safe to assume, for want of any evidence to the contrary, that John Peter was Wagga's first magistrate. F. A. Tompson, as it will be seen, sat on the Gundagai bench before, in 1849, he came to Wagga. 

The exact date on which Michael Norton, arrived at Wagga to establish the desired legal machinery is not known.

James Gormly, writing in 'The Advertiser' in 1905, stated that Norton took up his duties in July, 1847, and although many other of this writer's claims are suspect, there is reasonable evidence in existence to support this date. 

Memories at fault Writing from Wagga to the Colonial Secretary on August 24, 1852, John G. Church, John Peter and William Macleay (who signed the letter as the Wagga bench) said:"This court having been established in July, 1847." 

It so happens, however, that in this letter their memories were at fault, John Peter, in particular, should have remembered that on June 21, 1849, he signed a letter to the Colonial Secretary in which it was stated: "It will be borne in mind that our Court of Petty Sessions has been established little more than two years, and its first sitting took place on August 10, 1847." 

Even this letter leaves a doubt, for if the first sitting was held on August 10, 1847, and as this letter is dated June 21, 1849, the court would not have been "established little more than two years." 

It would have been a little less than two years. 

However, we know from a paragraph in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1847 that Norton had to forward a prisoner to Tumut in July for trial as the lockup at Wagga was not completed.

Apparently it was completed for the first sitting in August, 1847. 

With the establishment of the necessary machinery such as resident police and a Court House, on a spot a little over a mile from the Best station on the south bank of the Murrumbidgee (Gormly senior describes the spot as, being "now part of the river, and about 100 yards above where Kincaid Street joins the stream."

However, as he made three verifiable mistakes at the same time as he made this statement, it too must be taken at face value only), the sixteen pastoralists were able to restore some measure of the order they desired among their employees, and the place Wagga began to appear for the first time in the news.

At this time a Sydney Morning Herald correspondent who apparently lived at Gundagai (and who, judging on literary style, was certainly F. A. Tompson) used to contribute material under the general heading "Lower Murrumbidgee."

His first mention of Wagga (or, as the Herald printed it, "Warga Warga") dealt with the theft of the Melbourne mail by some thieves in the Wagga district, and their capture by Michael Norton and Murphy. 

"Too much praise cannot be awarded to Mr. Norton and Murphy for their zeal and energy, and the rapid capture of the scoundrels is a strong proof of the efficacy of the Warga Warga police, and an earnest of the public benefit likely to accrue from the establishment of police beyond the boundaries." (14) 

Maiden session 

The report then continued: "The maiden session of the Warga Warga court will come off this week, and from the business indicated there can be no doubt but the locality chosen for the establishment is the best that could have been selected to meet the wants of the district." 

Later on this correspondent reported, in a tone which even to today's, reader carries the conviction of "no better than they deserve."

The general clean-up among recalcitrant hirelings made by the Wagga bench at its first Sittings: 'At Warga Warga a court is held regularly every fort- night, and a great deal of business transacted.

The bench, by punishing hired servants for insolence and neglect of duties are impressing some wholesome lessons upon the operatives, who imagine they are punishable for nothing short of absconding from their agreements." (15) 

This paragraph contains a clue to the fact that there were two or more magistrates sitting at the Wagga court at the time.

If, as seems likely, the phrase "the bench - are impressing some whole some lessons" is meant to indicate the presence of more than one active magistrate at Wagga, then the chances are that this second magistrate was F. A. Thompson himself. 

He was, in 1847, resident at Gundagai, and would have thought nothing of travelling between that place and Wagga once a fortnight to attend the court. 

From the fact that sittings of the Wagga court under the Small Debts Act, took place as early as the first week in Nov., 1847 (16) it is apparent that hired servants were cowed into submission by the full rigour of the law. 

What the Masters and Servants Act commenced, the Small Depts Act completed. 

In fact, so successful was this new police post, and the choice of Wagga as Its site, that it was only six months after the appointment of Wagga as a place for the holding of Courts of Petty Sessions that the pastoralists again petitioned the Governor - this time for "the establishment of a village at Warga Warga." (17).

At this time the embryo village of Wagga could boast a combined court house and lockup, with one or two huts housing policemen and the first man to hold a publican's licence for Wagga Henry Collls. (18) 

The whole collection would not have made one substantial building, but these bark roofed slab huts were temporary affairs erected pending the erection of a brick Court House and police buildings, and the establishment of a town at Wagga. 


(13) "Daily Advertiser" March18, 1953,

(14) 'Sydney Morning Herald,' August 16, 1847. 

(15) 'Sydney Morning Herald.' October 7, 1847.

(16) letter to the Colonial Secretary, dated August 24, 1852. 

(17) Same as (15). 

(18) R. J. E. Gormly in the 'Daily Advertiser,' 1949.