The first group of settlers at Prospect Hill

By 1791 the government farm at Parramatta had about 400 acres of crops planted, mostly maize. In that year Governor Arthur Phillip started granting small plots of land (mostly 30 to 70 acres) to emancipated convicts. Some convicts had spent years in prison and prison ships in England before being transported. Some of them who were under seven-year sentences were therefore near to completing them. The first to be granted land was James Ruse who was given a plot known as Experiment Farm at Parramatta in 1789. An acre and a half of the ground was cleared for him and a hut built. He continued to receive rations from government stores for eighteen months. After that period he became independent of such support and, according to the agreement, the land became his own.

As the experiment with James Ruse seemed to be promising success, thirteen grants of land at Prospect Hill were made to emancipated convicts in July 1791 on similar conditions. On 5th December 1791, just a few months after the land grants, Watkin Tench visited the community and reported on its progress, before he finally left New South Wales to return to England. He lists the grantees in geographical order from north to south as they are shown on map below (except that he writes Marlow for Morley, and William Kilby's grant, just south of William Parish's, was soon to be taken over by Charles Bishop). Through Tench we have a full description of the Prospect Hill settlement soon after its establishment:

... I determined to visit all the private settlers to inspect their labours, and learn from them their schemes, their hopes and expectations.

In pursuance of my resolution, I crossed the country to Prospect Hill, at the bottom of which live the following thirteen convicts, who have accepted allotments of ground, and are become settlers.

Men's namesTradesNumber of
acres in each

Number of
acres in
John SilverthorneWeaver401
Thomas MartinWeaver401
John NicholsGardener402
William Butler, and his wifeSeaman50
________ Lisk(1)Watchmaker      |
William Parish, wife and a childSeaman602
William Kilby, and his wifeHusbandman601
Edward Pugh, wife and
two Children
Samuel GriffithButcher401
John Herbert**
James CastleHusbandman402
Joseph Marlow*** 46
John Williams, and his wifeCarpenter501

* In partnership
** Not out of his time; but allowed to work here at his leisure hours, as he has declared his intention of settling
*** In a similar predicament with Herbert.

The terms on which these allotments have been granted are: that the estates shall be fully ceded for ever to all who shall continue to cultivate for five years, or more; that they shall be free of all taxes for the first ten years; but after that period to pay an annual quit-rent of one shilling. The penalty on non-performance of any of these articles is forfeiture of the estate, and all the labour which may have been bestowed upon it. These people are to receive provisions, (the same quantity as the working convicts), clothes, and medicinal assistance, for eighteen months from the day on which they settled.

To clear and cultivate the land, a hatchet, a tomahawk, two hoes, a spade and a shovel, are given to each person, whether man or woman; and a certain number of cross-cut saws among the whole. To stock their farms, two sow pigs were promised to each settler, but they almost all say they have not yet received any, of which they complain loudly. They all received grain to sow and plant for the first year. They settled here in July and August last. Most of them were obliged to build their own houses; and wretched hovels three-fourths of them are. Should any of them fall sick, the rest are bound to assist the sick person two days in a month, provided the sickness lasts not longer than two months; four days labour in each year, from every person, being all that he is entitled to. To give protection to this settlement, a corporal and two soldiers are encamped in the centre of the farms, as the natives once attacked the settlers and burnt one of their houses. These guards are, however, inevitably at such a distance from some of the farms as to be unable to afford them any assistance in case of another attack.

With all these people I conversed and inspected their labours. Some I found tranquil and determined to persevere, provided encouragement should be given. Others were in a state of despondency, and predicted that they should starve unless the period of eighteen months during which they are to be clothed and fed, should be extended to three years. Their cultivation is yet in its infancy, and therefore opinions should not be hastily formed of what it may arrive at, with moderate skill and industry. They have at present little in the ground besides maize, and that looks not very promising. Some small patches of wheat which I saw are miserable indeed. The greatest part of the land I think but indifferent, being light and stoney. Of the thirteen farms ten are unprovided with water; and at some of them they are obliged to fetch this necessary article from the distance of a mile and a half. All the settlers complain sadly of being frequently robbed by the runaway convicts, who plunder them incessantly. (Tench 1793, Ch. 16).

The single men were each granted 30 acres, those with wives 50 acres, plus 10 acres for each child. Wide strips of bush called driftways were created between each pair of land blocks to allow for communication routes. However the driftways had the unfortunate effect of providing cover for attackers whether escaped convicts who wished the raid the settlers' stores or the original inhabitants of the area who resented the settlers' disruption of their means of subsistence.

Prospect Parish Map n.d. Source: NSW Lands Dept map no. 140726

No doubt the land boundaries were initially defined by being staked out on the ground. At some stage a rough survey would have been undertaken and a map drawn to show the grants. The details were then repeatedly copied as the maps were updated, so that the original land grantees' names (except William Kilby who was replaced Charles Bishop in 1801) were still being shown with their grant boundaries on maps of the early twentieth century. Later grantees have been added to the map but the original ones can be seen to be situated in a north-south linear strip of land from John Silverthorne's grant (now part of Fox Hills Golf Course) in the north, along the eastern slope of Prospect Hill and then curving westwards round its southern slopes to the grants of Joseph Morley (shown as Jospeh Marlow in Tench's table) and John Williams.

Higginbotham et al. have aligned some of the land grants fairly exactly to present features. This map shows the 1791 grants overlaid on recent (2000) topographical map. (Higginbotham 2000).

This was probably where the soil was judged the best, as volcanic basalt outcropping at the ridge was eroded and enriched the slope down to the creeks below. These are Greystanes Creek to the east which runs northwards roughly along the line of the wide north-south driftway shown on the above map, and Prospect Creek to the south which flows south-eastwards forming the boundary between Joseph Morley's and John Williams' grants. Since all of the original thirteen blocks sloped from the ridge line down to the creek, it was probably intended that all should have access to fresh water. However Tench says that most needed to carry water.

Prospect Hill was not the only area on which time-expired convists were settled. Also during 1791 about fifteen settlers were granted land to the north of Parramatta and about fifty on Norfolk Island. However Prospect Hill was the most exposed and for some years would be the "frontier" between colonists and indigenous Australians. Within a month of the first settlers starting to clear the land there was an attack on one of them.

In the beginning of the month [of August 1791] information was received, that a much larger party of the natives than had yet been seen assembled at any one time had destroyed a hut belonging to a settler at Prospect Hill, who would have been murdered by them, but for the timely and accidental appearance of another settler with a musket. There was no doubt of the hut having been destroyed, and by natives, though perhaps their numbers were much exaggerated; the governor, therefore, determined to place other settlers upon the allotments which had been reserved for the crown; by which means assistance in similar or other accidents would be more ready... (Collins 1798).

In May 1792 a convict was found killed by indigenous people, apparently in revenge for a shot fired in a previous confrontaion. (Collins 1798).

Further land grants were made at Prospect Hill in August 1792 to:
    John Brown, 50 acres on the south bank of Prospect Creek at the southern end of the settlement;
    John Limeburner, 50 acres just west of John Brown;
    John Trace, 50 acres on the north bank of Prospect Creek;
    John Baughan, 50 acres adjacant to John Trace;
    John Ocraft, 30 acres at the northern extremity of the settlement.
(Ryan 1981).

There were further grants in 1797 on the northern slopes of Prospect Hill, west of the present ridge line at Prospect Lookout:
    John Rowe, 60 acres on the west side of the northern summit, Prospect Lookout;
    Edward Miles, 30 acres adjacent to John Rowe to the north;

and in 1799:
    Lazarus Graves, 70 acres adjacent to John Rowe to the south;
    John Kennedy, 160 acres north and west of John Rowe and Edward Miles' grants.
(Ryan 1981).

In 1799 Ensign William Cummings of the New South Wales Corps was granted 75 acres at Prospect Hill (Ryan 1981). A change in the interpretation of government policy in 1792 had opened the way for grants of land to officers of the New South Wales. Cummings was the first beneficiary of this change, having obtained two grants of 25 and 100 acres "on the south side of the creek leading to Parramatta" in 1792 and 1799 respectively. His Prospect Hill grant was on the western slope of the east ridge, probably inmcluding the actual ridge top. It was the same 75 acre block which Nelson Lawson was later to own and where he built his house "Grey Stanes." (See quotation).

Two further grants were recorded in 1799, the land being inside the Prospect Hill ridge at its south-western corner:
    William Slaughter, 40 acres;
    George Stanbury, 20 acres.
(Ryan 1981).

In 1808 William Lawson was granted 550 acres on the western slopes of the west ridge where he was to build his home Veteran Hall. Other free settlers were also given grants, such as the surgeon D'Arcy Wentworth, granted 550 acres in 1819 and later 2200 acres. His grants comprised a large tract of land, from Greystanes Creek at the eastern edge of Prospect Hill right across what is now Wentworthville to Parramatta.

The histories of many of the Prospect Hill settlers have been thoroughly researched and are summarised on the Settlers page.

(1) George Lisk - Tench clearly did not know his first name. («)

Map of CSIRO lands in 2000 overlaid with boundaries of some 1791 grants. (After Higginbotham 2000)