Saturday, March 5, 2016

Revisiting Robert Forrester's 1794 Grant

It’s seven years since Robert Forrester, First Fleeter was published. In that time technology has overtaken our lives and Google Earth has become a godsend to many, including family historians. I love Google Earth even if it has proved me wrong in my understanding of Robert Forrester’s first land grant of 1794

I have to fess up. Robert’s first land grant was not where I thought it was. It did not lie alongside Deerubbin Park but was further along Cornwallis Road. 

I was alerted to this fact by that excellent researcher Michael Flynn, as he compared the old parish map with today’s view from space. Here’s the original parish map: 
And here’s much that same view today, courtesy of Google Earth. The view is slightly extended at the bottom edge to show the location of St Matthew's Church, just to the left of the word Google. It's hard to get your bearings when you drive along Cornwallis Road, but close examination of the Google Earth map of Robert’s original land grant reveals a shed complex close to its northern boundary. Michael Doyle’s old grant has a shed complex with a shiny roof relatively close to its southern boundary. My objective was to find this combination of features at ground level.
Recently I spent a fascinating hour of detective work, simulating a drive down Cornwallis Road, Windsor, NSW while sitting at my desk in Melbourne. It was fun. I could turn my imaginary car around and drive back the other way, and turn sideways to look at individual properties.  Amazing stuff.

What was I looking for? As explained above, I wanted to locate adjoining properties with the correct building configurations as viewed from space. Eventually I worked out that the address of Robert’s property today is 104 Cornwallis Road.

Next I asked myself - by what landmark can this property be identified when driving along Cornwallis Road from Windsor?  Here's an easy guide. Drive past the avenue of palm trees and the ‘Windsor Turf’ sign on your left, and stop when you reach the large spreading tree seen in the background of the following picture.
Opposite the tree is the sign commemorating members of the Eather family drowned in the 1867 floods.  The sign fronts their old block (originally the Lachlin Ross grant). Next door, beyond the Eather farm gates, was Robert’s land, the property with the green grass in the middle distance of the next photo.
Drive on a short distance down Cornwallis Road, either in reality or via Google Earth, across the land which was once Robert’s original grant. His northerly boundary is marked by the fence post between two driveways leading towards the Hawkesbury River. The property on the right hand side of the fence post belonged to Robert in 1794.
Robert’s original grant was always bisected by Cornwallis Road. Turning 180 degrees from the fence post and looking across the road, the remaining section of his property faces the lower Blue Mountains. The whole property is now as level as a bowling green and apparently used for growing turf.
Beyond the large green shed on his former block, another section of the paddock is screened from the river by a high levee bank. Oh for that degree of flood protection in his day! 

The view of the river when standing on this levee bank is today obscured by trees and tall shrubs, but it’s still possible to see the tower of St Matthew’s through the foliage. Robert spent the last few years of his life living back on his original grant, in the abode beside the river, enjoying this same view of the church tower. Don't forget that his son-in-law Charles Homer Martin was punished for his part in the building scam involving St Matthew’s Church. (More details are in my book Southwark Luck.)
Steep river banks, lush foliage and rampant weeds make life difficult for photographers, but here’s another view of the Hawkesbury River taken while standing on Robert’s old land. The river flows from left to right.
Should I ever get to revise the Forrester book, pages 114-117 will need to be amended in line with this 'virtual tour'. Meanwhile, copies of Robert Forrester, First Fleeter can be purchased through BookPOD.

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