Lazy, lawless, drunken and in debt is the image of the exconvict settlers at the early Hawkesbury settlement until now. Whilst Hawkesbury (the Mulgrave Place district) is recognised as having special importance for its part in ensuring the survival of the colony, historians for the last two hundred years have continued to denigrate the first settlers there. The cultural bias of the contemporary chroniclers is here re-examined.

This book has exciting new material about Australia’s beginnings, and in particular, about the third mainland settlement which grew at the River Hawkesbury. It tackles controversial themes, including the meeting of Indigenous and European cultures, and even delves into the local results of the influence of the French Revolution. The popular myth of military supremacy is firmly debunked, especially with the patterns of land granting in the district pointing up that Acting-Governor Grose deliberately manufactured the Hawkesbury to be a low socio-economic area.

A specific focus on women’s lives highlights their varied roles which extended far beyond domesticity. At least eleven women at Hawkesbury between 1797 and 1802 were granted their own title to land, eight of these exconvicts. Sarah Cooley and John Stogdell were exceptional transportees. Stogdell developed an empire so vast that its details cast light, not just on Hawkesbury dynamics, but also on the eighteenth-century Sydney business scene. Their achievements stand alongside the fascinating glimpses of the daily lives of hundreds of the ordinary poor and exconvict Hawkesbury farming families explored here.

The new image of the Hawkesbury settler building from the rich detail of this research is a more complex one, encompassing determined farming, personal and wide managerial skills and in some cases, highly successful business networks.

Hawkesbury Settlement Revealed by Jan Barkley-Jack