Interesting Objects: 60 years of the Hawkesbury Historical Society Collection

Deed to the farm of Samuel Jackson This deed is the only 1794 grant deed known in Australia.What do a doll called Ruth, a miner's couch and a 222 year old document have in common?

They are all part of our latest exhibition, which pays tribute to Hawkesbury Historical Society, sixty years old in 2016. The Society has been collecting objects significant to the history of the Hawkesbury since 1956, when a group of history-lovers first met and adopted a Constitution setting out the Society's rules, aims and objectives.

That meeting eventually led to the establishment of the Hawkesbury's first museum, in a building on Thompson Square owned by one of its members, (now known as Howe House). In 2008 Hawkesbury City Council built an award-winning new home for the Collection, which by then had grown to around 5,000 objects, and took over the running of the museum using professional staff and volunteers.

Eight years later, the museum continues to attract large numbers of visitors, who come to see the objects so lovingly collected and conserved by the foresighted Historical Society, selected members of which are helping to create a special exhibition of those objects that they, as individuals, find the most interesting and significant.

They include the Society's first minute-book (chosen by Ian Jack), kept by inaugural Secretary Doug Bowd, a local teacher and historian whose books on Hawkesbury history are still regarded as essential reading.

There is also the original Title Deed to the farm of ex-convict settler, Samuel Jackson, issued in November 1794 (chosen by Jan Barkley Jack). This deed is the only 1794 grant deed known in Australia.

Other items include John Tebbutt's celestial globe (chosen by John Flavin), an exquisite lace collar and 1920s black beaded dress (Carol Carruthers), a miner's couch (Judy Newland) and a model gaff-rigged cutter (Ted Books OAM). 

Hawkesbury Heroes 

Tom Sowden

This exhibition focuses on the lives of some of the Hawkesbury men who fought in WW1.

The display includes a uniform and kit belonging to Brigadier General John Jackson Paine, (forebear of prominent local solicitor, John Paine) who volunteered for service and was given command of 2,700 troops on HMAT (His Majesty's Australian Transport) Ceramic, the largest in a fleet of transport that transported the various AIF formations to their respective overseas destinations. The Paine Family has donated the items to the museum for its permanent collection.

Also from the museum's collection are letters home from Edward (Tom) Sowden, who fought in the Middle East, was wounded, and repatriated to Sutton Veny in Wiltshire, where an Australian base depot, rest house and hospital were located during and shortly after the war. Tom spent Christmas 1918 at Sutton Veny and enjoyed what looks like a good Christmas by the standards of the time.

According to Museum Curator, Rebecca Turnbull, 'Christmas dinner consisted of roast chicken and pickled pork with giblet sauce, baked and mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts, followed by Christmas pudding with brandy sauce, then fruits, nuts, confectionery and English ale.' On the back of the menu Tom has written a note: 'To Mary with best wishes from Tom as a momento (sic) of the Xmas dinner we had.' Tom finally made it home to Windsor, but died of war wounds.

Also on display are a beautifully illustrated commemorative certificate, presented to T J Christie of Lower Portland by the Municipality of Windsor, with thanks and appreciation for his service; as well as pay books, medals and other items.  


truck crossing
North Richmond Bridge, 1956

If there's a Hawkesbury story we all know about, it's the 'flood' story, right? Well, you might be surprised. As recently as February 2012, a Hawkesbury resident was reported as saying that he did not realise his McGraths Hill home was at the risk of flooding. And he is not alone: a 2001 survey conducted in Richmond revealed that one in five of those surveyed did not know that they were living on a flood plain.

It's a big story, and we aren't trying to cover every aspect of it. Rather, we have chosen some main themes, including how reports of floods have changed, from the dramatic descriptions of nineteenth century scribes, and painstakingly prepared illustrations and engravings, to photography, film and TV. It includes the oldest known documentary footage of Windsor Bridge in flood, as well as ABC TV news reports from 1961, 1986, and 1990. In 2012 the Hawkesbury Gazette's Facebook page showed how social media can be used to inform and engage the local community in ways never seen before.

We also look at the history of flood rescue – in 1869 the first ever volunteer flood brigade in the country was formed at Windsor; stories of tragedy and heroism; and what it means to live with floods, a learning curve that began with Governor Macquarie, and continues to this day. There will almost certainly be another major flood in the Hawkesbury-Nepean, but are we ready for it? What will its impact be? What have we learnt? We hope to show people how their homes could be affected in the future, and how they can prepare themselves for an emergency.

This exhibition won the award for Best Exhibition (Exhibition Projects - Museums; 3-10 Paid Staff) in the 2015 IMAGinE awards, presented annually by Museums & Galleries NSW, the peak body representing 500 museums, galleries and Aboriginal cultural centres across the state.

River, Land, People

Image of Margaret Catchpole
Margaret Catchpole

The main exhibition paints with a broad brush the themes and events that have made the Hawkesbury what it is today, beginning with the Darug people, whose lives revolved around the Deerubbin (better know today as the Hawkesbury) River. The river was vital to the survival of the Darug, as it was for the white settlers, who were subjected to its tendency to flood on many occasions. The worst of these was in 1867, and on display in the museum is a gauge showing the height of the flood at its peak. Margaret Catchpole wrote:

'This happened the 22nd of last March [1806]… Some poor creatures riding on the houses, some on their barns, crying out for God's sake to be saved, others firing their guns in the greatest distress for a boat. There were many thousands of head [of pigs]– all kinds of cattle lost, and so many bushels of all sorts of grain was lost so now this place is in great distress.'

Catchpole had arrived in the colony after being convicted of horse-stealing, sentenced to death, commuted to seven years transportation, making a daring escape from gaol, being recaptured and sentenced to transportation for life. She was one of many people who left their mark on the local community as well as making a contribution to the wider world. Others were Mary Archer, who set the precedent by which Europeans became legally accountable for killing Aborigines, and Andrew Town, who made a fortune as one of the most successful horse breeders in the country, only to lose it all in the economic recession of the 1890s.

Previous Exhibitions 

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