Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Experimental Farm at Parramatta

One of the days out that Jane suggested to us was to visit Parramatta.  This involved a bus ride to the Circular Quay and a ferry ride to Neutral Bay.  I had given up on extra anti-histamine tablets and gone to decongestion tablets, thus I missed the sights on the way there and back, falling asleep almost the instant I sat.  After that day I broke the tablets in half so I could remain conscious.  Owing to my state of health, I took no photos of our trip to Parramatta, but Bill took a few. 

We were both amazed at the evidence of the impressive flooding everywhere around the dock.  Whilst I wasn't feeling particularly creative and enthusiastic, I did still enjoy the lovely warm weather and I remembered a great deal of our two tours. 

On the way to Parramatta we passed through Harris Park, where we ate the most amazing Middle Eastern fast food:  chicken and sausage kebabs, hoummus and tabbuleh salad.  I wished they'd open up something like that in the North East of England.

The oars are just decoration, but I wondered if they might be
 useful if the flooding had continued...

So what is Experimental Farm?  The First Fleet of convicts arrived in Sydney in 1788, one of whom was a man named James Ruse, from Cornwall, who has convicted of larceny (some silver and two watches valued at £5).  Ruse had served most of his sentence on a convict hulk on the River Thames, but was then transported to finish his sentence.  I learned a new vocabulary word:  'emancipist', referring to convicts who had finished serving their time and were free.  Prior to his crime and conviction, Ruse had been a farm labourer in Cornwall and the Governor of the colony, Governor Phillip had concerns about the burden of provisioning all the convicts and their keepers in this new land. 

As an experiment, in 1789, the Governor gave newly emancipated James Ruse 1 1/2 acres of land to farm, to see if it were possible for emancipists to become self-sufficient and if so how long it would take.  If Ruse was successful in this endeavor he would be given 30 acres to own and farm for himself and his family.  Ruse married Elizabeth Parry who came over on the Second Fleet and was the first woman emancipist there.  Within 18 months they were able to feed themselves from this plot of land and they were given their 30 acres.  It was only 'middling' quality soil according to Ruse.  He sold this 30 acres in 1793 to a Naval surgeon who arrived with the Second Fleet, named John Harris, and got more fertile land elsewhere, near the Hawkesbury River. 

Before we leave Ruse there was a story our tour guide told that I'm not finding elsewhere.  Apparently there was a Naval officer on the First Fleet who claimed to be the first footer on the shore from that journey.  However, in fact, he was carried ashore on the back of a convict - James Ruse.  This made Ruse in fact the first to step ashore and he was apparently proud of that.

Experimental Farm Cottage, built by John Harris

John Harris built the present building which we toured, in the Indian bungalow style.  Harris had his fingers in a lot of pies during his time in this area:  in addition to continuing to practice medicine, in 1800 he was made a magistrate and was in charge of the local police.  The following year he was appointed Naval Officer, putting him in charge of the Port of Sydney.  He later helped to found the Bank of New South Wales.  Through grants or purchase he amassed thousands of acres of land. 

In 1803 Harris was charged with 'disclosing to others the opinions of members of the court while acting as prosecutor' at a trial.  He escaped any penalties because the wording of the charge was in error, claiming his indiscretion had occurred on '19 ultimo' instead of '19 instant' - meaning the 19th of the previous month instead of the 19th of the current month.  This lucky escape amused him and he later named his home in Sydney 'Ultimo House' and the area around it came to be known by the same name.   I'm sure he was a very intelligent and industrious person and that the world was a much simpler place that might actually allow a single person to claim expertise in the fields of medicine, law and finance.  However, his amused use of the name Ultimo suggests to me he was a bit of a scamp. 

Harris died in 1839 without issue, leaving property valued at about £150,000.  His will left his property to be divided between his brothers for their lifetimes and then to any of their legitimate sons named John Harris.  Our tour guide indicated that when the heirs named John Harris ran out, the court allowed the terms of the will to be change, something I'd not realised could happen.  We were later to hear of another example of such activity around a will.

Never mind the people, what about the house?  I could happily live there; I think I could live anywhere with a veranda and warm weather...

The wood floors had gaps where the original oakum had dried out and fallen through.  There were French doors leading to the veranda from several of the rooms.  As with many early pioneer homes it was furnished simply and I noticed a lot of items hand made by volunteers.  I'd never before seen knitted 'penny jugs'.  The guide said that spare change was kept in such a little container for paying for deliveries and such.   He pointed out a trunk with a domed lid.  These were called 'first class' trunks because the arched lid prevented them from being at the bottom of a stack; they had to go on top.  There was a large knitted and stuffed ottoman next to a rocking chair.  Door stops were bricks covered with brocade.   There was a lovely hexagonal patchwork quilt on one of the beds. 

After the tour we were given directions to the next venue, having bought a double ticket.  We were told it was a 25 minute walk to Old Government House, but don't you believe it; it's closer to 45 minutes.  We were nearly turned away by the woman at the front desk as she thought the last guide had gone home.  Bless him, our guide at Experimental Farm (first name, Harley) happened to arrive by car just as we were leaving and he insisted that we either be refunded or that he would do the tour, but then the usual guide turned up having not left after all.  I'm glad it worked out that way, as I also enjoyed that second tour.

Of course, you don't have to make that 45 minute walk, you just have to wait for my next post...

No comments: