History matters || It was the center of British civilization in the north | L’Express Armidale


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I wonder how many New Englanders know that for over a decade Port Macquarie was the center of British civilization in northern New South Wales? Maitland (1829) and its river port adjoining Morpeth (1831) would become the largest urban settlement in the north, but that was to be expected. Newcastle Penal Colony had been established in 1804 as a secondary punishment site for repeat offenders, but problems soon arose. READ MORE: The Battle of Vinegar Hill led to the settlement of the north. Newcastle was simply too close to Sydney’s flesh points, to be accessible by land, providing the incentive and the means to escape. There was also pressure to open the Hunter to European settlement. There were initial land grants under Governor Macquarie, but these were limited to small grants to ex-convicts. Further south, however, the settlers of Hawkesbury and the Sydney Basin sought new pastures for their growing herds. As a result, the Hunter was opened to European settlement in 1822. Explorer John Oxley had discovered and named Port Macquarie in 1818. This seemed an appropriate site for a new penal colony to replace Newcastle, although Macquarie was initially uncertain. Finally, in 1821, the decision was made to go ahead. READ ALSO: In seeking to discover this distant land called the past, we are all linked by current mentalities in ways that we do not always understand. Port Macquarie is one example. I had always thought of Port Macquarie as a small penal colony founded from and near Sydney, something equivalent to the establishment, including Grafton Prison many years later. The reality is different. For starters, the number of convicts sent to Port Macquarie was roughly similar to those sent to Port Jackson in the early days. It was not a small colony. Like Port Jackson, the convicts had to build the necessary infrastructure, including the barracks necessary to support the colony. Like Port Jackson, they were expected to grow their own food. And like Port Jackson, the government was interested in exports from the new colony that could generate economic gains. The new colony was to be a punitive colony, a dreaded place of secondary punishment. But to meet the needs of the new colony, the convicts volunteering to build Port Macquarie were offered special treatment. Later convicts sent to Port Macquarie were also granted special privileges in dealing with such things as their own gardens. This too had happened in Port Jackson, but it created a fundamental problem. It can be said simply. Port Macquarie was a place of secondary punishment, a place to be feared. How, then, do you balance the special treatment required to establish and then maintain the colony? There were no easy answers to this question. This has led to fluctuating treatment of convicts, with the official balance shifting between punishment and reparation. In the meantime, a new city had emerged.

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