Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

History revisited - likeable man drove development

450px-Archibald_Clunes_Innes_(Captain) The one portrait I have seen of Archibald Clunes Innes presents him in army dress uniform as a young captain in the English 3rd or Buffs Regiment. His formal jacket encloses his neck, creating an elongated effect; his head with its black hair and brown eyes seems to sit a little uncomfortably on the jacket’s buttoned top, somehow separated from his body.

By all accounts, Innes was a likeable man. He was certainly an interesting one who left an imprint on the North that survives to this day. Glen Innes carries his name,

In 1822, Innes arrived in Sydney in 1822 as captain of the guard in the convict ship Eliza. He was twenty two. In December 1826, Innes was appointed commandant of the penal settlement at Port Macquarie.

Growing up in New England, I had no idea that the then sleepy sea side town had been such a big place and so early in the colonial history of New South Wales.

To put this in context, in 1788 the total European population of New South Wales was 1,030. At the time that Innes took control of the Port Macquarie penal settlement, the convict population was around 1,600. In just five years, a totally new colony had been built from scratch.

The story of early Port Macquarie is an interesting one that I might tell later. For the moment, my focus is on Archibald Innes.

Innes only stayed at Port Macquarie for six months before returning to Sydney. There he worked as a military officer before resigning his commission and becoming superintendent of police and magistrate at Parramatta. In 1829 he married Margaret, the daughter of colonial secretary Alexander McLeay, in one of the most lavish social weddings the colony had yet seen. We remember McLeay today in terms of a river (the Macleay), a Sydney Street (Macleay Street) and Elizabeth Bay House, the magnificent home built by Andrew McLeay.

With the opening of Port Macquarie to civilian settlement, Innes returned in 1830 as police magistrate with a 2,568 acre (1,039 hectare) land grant and a contract to supply the convict population with food. From this point, he built a business and pastoral empire that included Waterloo, Innes Creek, Kentucky, Beardy Plains and Furracabad on the Tableands. The last became the site for the new township of Glen Innes.

Innes owned stores and hotels and organised the building of the first road between Port Macquarie and the Tablelands as a way of getting supplies up and bringing wool back for shipment from Port Macquarie.. Using convict labour, he built a major house at Port Macquarie and transformed the surrounding land into the fabled Lake Innes, for many years the greatest pastoral property north of Sydney. There he entertained lavishly.

Reading the diaries and descriptions of life at Lake Innes, this is a very Jane Austin world: visits by dignitaries, military officers or young men from the New England, dances and decorous rides, collecting flowers and the beauty of nature. We know that it won’t last, that the crash of the 1840s is coming, but we can still share some of the joys.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 4 September 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013.

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