Story of Towrang Stockade

Goulburn Evening Post

12 November 1951

The story of Towrang and its Stockade was largely part of the story of the Great South Road, said Mr. S. H. Hume in the course of an address before the Goulburn Historical Society.

This road, surveyed by Major Mitchell in 1830 was constructed by convicts under the supervision of military detachments from the various regiments stationed in the colony from time to time. The use of convict labour necessitated the building of stockades along the route at points where there was no accommodation. One existed at Wingello but the one at Towrang was the principal one in the southern districts. There was some indication that this particular station had hopes of being ultimately a settlement of villiage, but the Stockade lasted only for 13 years from about 1833 to 1846.

Original Intention - Probably the demolition of the Stockade began in 1843 for Surveyor Larmer, in a document in the Lands Office, showed the area divided into small allotments with a view to sale. Lot 1 had thereon a small stone cottage, 8 old huts and four boxes, evidently horse boxes, and a shed. It was suggested that this collection should be converted into an inn. The buildings were valued at £60 and the grounds at £4 an acre. In its heyday, the Stockade must have been the proverbial hive of industry, for McAlister told us that there were seldom fewer than 250 prisoners at Towrang; the accommodation must have been inadequate even for those 5 days, when one took into account the number of soldier guards required, many with families. He had always assumed that soldiers were single men, for, judging by present day standards, it was incredible that a woman, other than those engaged in the oldest profession of all, should be associated with the horror and brutality of these penal settlements. Towrang was no exception. Life here was quite on a par with that at Port Macquarie, Port Arthur and other establishments of the same nature. The working bullock received far better treatment than that meted out to the human labour force. One thing they had in common both worked in chains.

Ten In A Cell - The men slept ten men to a cell with bare boards with a blanket apiece, whilst those serving 14 years, worked in irons. All wore black and yellow uniforms. Punishment for any misdemeanour, however trivial, was swift and terrible - 25 to 50 lashes for having a smoke or speaking to a passing traveller, and for the crime of absconding, 100 lashes after being caught. One, suspected of malingering, was handed 25 by Captain Rossi and Mr. Stewart, the P.M. This man was genuinely ill and died. These sentences were left in the capable hands of one Billy O'Rourke, known as the "Towrang Flogger." On one occasion he was relieved by "Black Francis," euphemistically referred to as "The Goulburn Castigator." Undoubtedly a lot of accounts were marked paid when Black Francis was murdered near "Run o' Waters" by some ticket-of-leave men he'd reported. Negro, flogger and pimp, he was a most unlovely character.

Christianity - Christianity at the settlement consisted of reading the episcopal service to the convicts on Feast Days (the Church's, not the convicts, for they knew no other), and the handing out of tracts. Apparently if a man's soul could be saved it did not matter much what happened to the earthly container. There were a few who fought for better conditions. McAlister's father amongst laymen was notable. Rev. Robert Cartwright and Dean Sowerby, the last a stalwart in every sense of the word, for he weighed 2½cwt., were all sturdy voices in a wilderness of horror.

The speaker went on to tell of bushranging. Following was an advertisement which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on August 3, 1844”:-

"Whereas, George Barber Esq., of Glenrock, near Marulan, Argyle, left his home on Wednesday, the 19th ultimo, on horseback, and went to Goulburn from which place he started on the road on the following afternoon to return home. He was seen in the evening of that day, passing the New Inn at Towrang Stockade; but has not since been heard of . . . the above reward £50 will be paid, etc. "Hamilton Hume,   "Glenrock, July 31."

Bargo Brush was a great cover for many of these, the earliest bushrangers, and it was safe to say that hundreds of travellers were held up in this area.

The Change - Gradually the red coat, musket and shako gave way to the peaked cap, blue tunic, white moleskins and carbine of the rapidly growing Mounted Police. The name “trooper” alone connected the two. Many of the soldiers at the Stockade joined the Police Force. By 1843 the Stockade was becoming a memory. In 1951, a stock-taking of what was left revealed the relic of a powder magazine, a little cemetery, two convict built culverts and a bridge. Of the three, the bridge is outstanding from an historical and aesthetic point of view. Beautiful work in a beautiful setting, the keystone bears the date 1839. It is believed to have been designed by David Lennox but the hands that built it were the hands of the men in the iron gang.