The southerly buster roaring around the chimneys of their house ‘Glen Alpine’, and being unable to sleep, Isabella Reddall, decides to read over her old journals, picking the 1st December 1820, and the momentous occasion when Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his wife Elizabeth, announced their intention to visit Meehan’s Castle on their way to Campbelltown, where it was the Governor’s intention to perform a naming ceremony.
As word got about that important persons had arrived, people began to cluster around us, until all the inhabitants, other than those working, had congregated outside the inn.
“Shall we take luncheon before we begin?” asked the Governor. “Or liquid refreshment?”
It was agreed we would have something to drink and take luncheon later.
“Don’t unpack Joseph,” the Governor said to his servant. “We’ll take it in the inn.”
It was cool and dark inside the hut, with only small glimmers of light shining through cracks amid the slabs of wood making up the walls. The bar consisted of a row of barrels, with a slab of wood resting on top; also I was amused to see the walls covered with copies of the Sydney Gazette, painted with yellow shellac. Some semblance of decoration had been attempted by the addition of a vase of spring flowers. Yet, these had long since withered, but remained on a shelf behind the bar. Flimsy cotton curtains hung at the dusty windows, and straw was strewn across the dirt floor. I thought it a sorry place. What cheer could poor souls get from a visit here?
“Let’s sit, Isabella?” suggested Elizabeth. “The heat is quite exhausting.”
We did so, sitting on a pair of tea chests at a rough-hewn table, the three boys, and Julia settling on a wooden bench positioned against the wall. It amazed me to see how quiet the youngsters were, their eyes wide, wondering at the strange house in which they found themselves.
The innkeeper emerged from the shadows, and stood behind the bar.
“Good morning your honour. Bradbury’s the name. Sean Bradbury. Welcome to Bradbury’s Inn.”
“Thank you, my good man,” the Governor said. “We would like to take refreshment. Do you have wine?”
“We do sir. The finest in the district.”
Mr Bradbury was a skinny, wiry man, with thinning hair and an extremely wrinkled face, although I guessed he was still quite young. He leaned on the bar, the sleeves of his grimy stained shirt rolled to the elbows, showing his scrawny arms.
“Reddall! Meehan!” called Governor Macquarie, turning to them. “Will you take wine?”
A young girl had appeared behind the bar, being no more than sixteen; nevertheless, she was obviously expecting a baby.
“Shauna,” Bradbury said. “Get the gentlemen a bottle of the finest claret.”
“My dear wife sir,” he went on. “And while she’s about it. Is there anything for the ladies and the young gentlemen and young lady?”
“Elizabeth? Isabella? Children?” the Governor enquired.
“Do you think they have cordial, Lachlan?” Elizabeth asked her husband.
We looked at the girl, but she shyly shook her head.
“Well tea. Perhaps tea?”
This time Shauna smiled and nodded.
“Then tea it is. The children will have watered wine,” the Governor said, striding to the open door. “Gentlemen! Look at the fine aspect of the place?”
Thomas and Mr Meehan joined him.
Across from the inn was an expansive area of level grassland, interspersed with stands of stringy bark and eucalyptus trees. Slab huts were dotted here and there, smoke curling from their bark roofs. A woman was hanging washing on a line, while children ran around in the dust, chasing chickens. While, in the surrounding paddocks, horses, and cattle grazed under the hot sun.
“Isn’t it just a perfect place for a town? Ideal don’t you think?” the Governor continued enthusiastically.
“I’ll begin to measure after we’ve had our wine,” Mr Meehan said.
“I’m already granting land to free settlers and veterans,” Governor Macquarie said. “It won’t be long before we have a thriving population.”
“They’ll need a church,” Thomas said.
“Exactly Reddall! And you’re the man to build it don’t ya know! I can see it just over there.”
He pointed to a group of gum trees, a few hundred yards away, and at that moment Mr Bradbury reappeared.
“Your drinks, you honour.”
“Thank you Bradbury. Have the ladies there’s?”
“Shauna’s just this minuet giving it to them, your honour.”
As the girl poured the tea, it was hard not to notice her thin hands and arms, one of which bore the blue-black smudge of a tattoo. I wondered how she could ever have a child, since it appeared she could barely keep herself alive, let alone a baby. I felt remorse for her. She looked desperately poor and hungry, and I wanted to do something to help her. My only hope is that the Bradbury’s Inn will benefit when the town begins to prosper.
“How’s your tea, darling?” Thomas asked.
“Very strong. Too strong, I think.” I whispered.
“That’s how the Irish like it, my dear,” Elizabeth said. “So strong a spoon could stand in it.”
I stifled a giggled.
“I hope everything is to your satisfaction, ladies and gentlemen?” Bradbury said.
“Very nice. Thank you, Mr Bradbury,” we replied.
Feeling refreshed, we went outside into the sunshine, and since it was almost the middle of the day, the heat from the sun was intense. However, we were well protected, as Elizabeth, little Julia and I wore bonnets, the men and boys, their wide brimmed straw hats, which completely shaded their faces.
As Governor Macquarie emerged from the inn, people began to assemble once more, until quite a crowd had gathered, everyone talking excitedly. I decided folk seemed very poor; their clothes close to rags, some children not even wearing shoes.
“My dear friends,” the Governor said, holding up his hand for silence. “My wife, Elizabeth, and I are very pleased you have asked us to visit you today with the purpose of dedicating your township. I firmly believe that in a few years, this town will be the largest and wealthiest in the colony, next only to Sydney and Parramatta. My intension is to ask the Deputy Surveyor, Mr Meehan, to begin measuring the lay out, dividing it into lots. These will then be granted to free settlers, certificate of freedom men and veterans. In no time we will see a bustling community here.”
At this point, the Governor made a broad gesture towards my husband.
“You see standing beside Mr Meehan, my dear friend the Reverend Thomas Reddall. He has promised to build us a church. A church where you may marry your betrothed, baptise your children, and bury your dead. Moreover, there will be a grand courthouse, a hospital, a school, and a police lockup. These institutions will give you the security you deserve. Such an important place should have an important name. A name that is special, both to you, the Colony, and me. I therefore dedicate this settlement to my dear wife Elizabeth, and from henceforth it will be known as Campbell Town.”
“Three cheers for the governor!” a man shouted.
“Hip hip hooray!” the crowd cheered. “Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!”
As the people applauded, the Governor took of his hat, and made a great bow.
“Have you your measure Mr Meehan?” he asked, turning to him.
“I do sir.”
“Then you may begin,”
James Meehan, with my husband accompanying, began to measure the land where the church would stand. Here will be the axis for the grid of streets surrounding it. While Meehan measured, his servant stood with the pole, Thomas beside him, entering the figures in the field book.
While they were busy with their work, the Governor, Elizabeth, the children and myself toured the township, and were shocked to see the conditions in which the people lived. Our main concern was the lack of proper sanitation, or running water, resulting in a great risk of disease. The smell of sewage was constantly on the air. The Governor, however, gave the families reassurance, informing them that he intended to install sanitation immediately, instructing Mr Meehan to begin making plans for an irrigation scheme, utilising the proximity of the Nepean River.
We also noticed that many were Irish folk, Elizabeth explaining how they have fled their land of famine on hearing of the promised prosperity of the colonies. Although, it seems to me they have found themselves in almost the same situation.
Happy that he had visited enough of the tiny population, the Governor recommended we adjourn to the cool of the inn, where his servants had provided luncheon.
Wherever Governor Macquarie travels, be it over the mountains to the west, the ranges of the south, to the Illawarra or Lake George, he is never without his entourage of servants. A fleet of wagons follow him, piled with provisions, as well as tents, tables and chairs, clothes, and even the Governors bedstead and mattress. As soon as they encamp the servants erect the tents, the Governor’s being the largest, and able to convert to a dining room, as well as a bedroom.
In addition, everywhere he goes he insists on the best food, his entourage regularly enjoying a hearty breakfast at seven in the morning. Then, after a day spent exploring the district, a first-class dinner is provided in the early evening, six o’clock being the preferred hour. Once everyone has eaten, it is time to retire to bed. However, the day is not quite over for the busy Governor, since he writes his journal, says his prayers, and sleeps soundly, waking the next day at six.
To be honest, I have never encountered a less complicated man. He is used to army life, enjoys routine, impressing this on his colleagues and subordinates, who accept it willingly.
I was amazed when we arrived back at the inn, since during our absence; the shabby interior had been transformed into a dining room worthy of the Royal Hotel. The rough table of an hour ago now draped with a gleaming white tablecloth, and set with lustrous china plates, and shining silver cutlery. In the centre, tumbling from a silver bowl, a cornucopia of exotic fruit, the pinnacle of which, crowned by a huge pineapple. Light, filtering through the dusty windows, falling on the crystal glasses sending prismatic rainbows, dancing across the yellow newspaper on the walls, the entire picture seeming so incongruous to me, it was necessary to blink to confirm it to be real.
As a result, the luncheon Governor Macquarie’s servants prepared for us that day was splendid. Almost a banquet, I would say.
Soup and lobster, brought fresh that morning from Sydney by an express rider. Roast guinea fowl, and roast beef, served with spring vegetables, followed by a puree of summer fruits, served with crisp wafers.
What a merry assembly we were that afternoon, enjoying each other’s company and the delicious meal. As we laughed and chattered, the servants darted back and forth with course after course, all the while Mr Bradbury and Shauna gazing in astonishment. At one point, I saw a crowd of people gathered outside, peering through the windows and the open door. Might they remember this scene for the rest of their lives, I wondered? What a story to tell their grandchildren.
By now, it was extremely hot outside. Therefore, after lunch we remained in Mr Bradbury’s inn until the day began to cool. But being boys, John and Luke, became restless and asked if they could play outside, to which Thomas consented. Later, I looked out of the window and saw them in a paddock behind a hut, amused to see they had found several old sheep and were mimicking sheep dogs and having lots of fun rounding them together.
Eventually, with the twilight fast approaching, we were relieved to feel a cool breeze from the north east, sending flurries of dust into the inn. Hardly surprisingly, during the afternoon, while we rested, the servants had packed and loaded the wagon. As a result, when the Governor decided it was time to go, we were in our carriages, or mounted on our horses, in a minute.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” Elizabeth said to Sean and Shauna Bradbury. “Anytime you’re in Sydney, or Parramatta please do visit. I’d love to see your little baby.”
As we drove off, I looked back to see the Bradbury’s waving to us from the doorway. Then, Sean put his arm around Shauna and they disappeared inside the inn.