Life of a Free Settler in 1832

Hunter Valley manuscript leaf

Hunter Valley manuscript leaf

Day Shift -15/07/2008 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Producer: Jeanette McMahon
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University

Newcastle University Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses a new addition to the Collections in the form of an authentic manuscript account of a settler’s life in the Hunter Region. The manuscript which was written in early 1832 is by an as yet unknown author. His interesting (and in some instances amusing) views on women, floods, pigs, bushrangers and the legal system will be discussed.

View and read the manuscript online on flickr – Hunter Valley Manuscript c.1932

Broadcast Notes:

Where did it come from?

It was originally donated anonymously to The Tweed River Historical Society Murwillumbah Museum a few years prior to 1998. No records were kept of the transfer and part of the original manuscript was subsequently lost. In December 1998, after preliminary enquiries and due in part to the importance of the manuscript to the Hunter Region, the Society transferred the manuscript to the custodianship of the Newcastle Regional Museum who in June 2008 transferred it to the care of the University’s Cultural Collections (Archives) as a item better suited to documentary research.

What is it?

The manuscript is a portion of a larger work written by settler on the Hunter River, presumably around the Maitland district, in early 1832. There are 41 leaves of hand written text divided into sections and chapters. What has come down to us are chapters 2 sections 4 and 5; Unknown chapter sections 2 and 3; Unknown chapter sections 2,3; Chapter 3 sections 4 and 5; Chapter 4 sections 1 and 2. The order is still being ascertained with some of the leaves. The final two are badly damaged and may have originally formed part of one of the sections dealing with servants. We also know that parts of the manuscript were lost while in the  Murwillumbah Museum. There is a partial transcription which was made prior to this, and which we still need to examine to see whether it includes anything from the lost sections.

How do we know when the manuscript was written?

I can tell you with some certainty that the date at which it was penned was around February-early March 1832. The author (who only refers to himself as ‘the writer’) makes a statement relating to two steamers plying the river and the building of a third. This statement allows us to target a potential date for the manuscript. The Sophia Jane was in operation by November 1831, and the William IV was launched in the same month, but did not begin its run until the 15 February 1832. The ‘third’ being built on the Williams was the ‘Experiment’ which was not completed until May 1832. Therefore our writer penned the manuscript sometime between February and May 1832. Later on in the manuscript he makes reference to a story in the Sydney Herald about a fellow dying of cold in the bush, so this could point to the colder months in 1832. He also appears unaware of the severity of the floods in the district, especially the one in 1826 prior to his arrival in 1829. This is another clue, as another severe flood occurred on the 24 March 1832, so I would assume that he was writing just before that date, sometime around February-early March 1832.

What does it say?

The author begins with a discussion between native born people and emigrants. What he means by ‘native’ is not as we understand as ‘aboriginal people’ but white people born in the colony. He begins by describing the differences between those who emigrated here refer to themselves as ‘Sterling’ while those who are native born are known as ‘currency’. He goes on to speak about a range of topics including the nature of life  in the district, the landscape, shipping along the river, flooding, agricultural matters, female convicts and women in general, the legal system, pigs, the relationships between settlers, emancipists and free settlers (exclusives) and bushrangers.

Who is the author?

We do not know the identity of the author. Wheat we do know is that he was a free settler on the Hunter River (presumably in the Maitland district), who arrived some time around 1829. He has an amazing sense of humour, especially when talking about pigs. The section of the manuscript concerning pigs and the trouble they cause between the settlers is very funny. He talks about quality of life in New South Wales (Australia) in general terms, and breaks off into local examples based in the Maitland district. He is also an apologist for the emancipists’ cause. Who he was remains an interesting mystery.

Hopefully we might find someone out there that recognises who the author might have been, or might be inspired to search him out.

Gionni Di Gravio
University of Newcastle
July 2008

I wish to thank Mr Ron Madden (see comment below) and for information on the Steamers and when they were operating, as it greatly helps in dating this manuscript. (April 2011)

One thought on “Life of a Free Settler in 1832

  1. Thanks to Ron Madden for the following information concerning when the William IV came into operation:

    Author : Ron Madden (IP: ,
    E-mail :
    URL : http://UoN-RE-SurveyorMitchell
    Whois :
    ERROR ON UoN WEB PAGE – re MItchell survey book 1828 – PLEASE NOTE THAT William IV steamer DEFINITELY NOT OPERATIONAL November 1831 – First run to Newcastle started 15 February 1832- See newspaper link below.

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