search web this site
Paterson River history

search web this site

Ralph Mills Clarke

Ralph Mills Clarke was born in London in 1788 and probably trained as a carpenter and joiner in his father's business at Knightsbridge. In 1810 Ralph Clarke became a Royal Marine and by 1811 he had been promoted to sergeant. During five years of naval service he was wounded twice in battle, and in 1815 became an out-pensioner of Greenwich Hospital.

Sufficiently recovered, he sailed for New South Wales on the ship Dick, arriving in 1817. He then served with Lieutenant Phillip Parker King and Lieutenant Frederick Bedwell on the cutter Mermaid undertaking a naval survey of the Australian coast to complete the work of Flinders and Cook. Clarke left the Mermaid in 1818 to pursue his building trade in Parramatta, and he arrived in the Paterson area about 1821.[1]

map showing location of Clarke's hut

Clark's hut is marked at top left on this 1831 map.

Clarke's time at Parramatta and his move to Paterson closely parallel the movements of the Rev. George Middleton. Clarke possibly met Middleton in Parramatta and decided to move to the Hunter Valley with him.[2] When Middleton selected 400 acres of glebe land on the river at Patersons Plains in mid 1821, Clarke built and lived in a hut located on the northern section of the glebe then known as the Orphan School Farm.[3]

Clarke's hut is marked, close to the river near the top of the 1831 map shown here. The horizontal line at the top is the boundary between the glebe land and James Webber's grant. The lockup and punt at Old Banks are labelled at the bottom of the map.

After James Webber took up land adjoining Middleton's glebe in 1822, he employed Clarke on the land that Webber would later call 'Tocal'. No doubt Webber made good use of Clarke's building skills, as apparently Clarke built Webber's house (which has not survived). Clarke also rented some land from Webber, Clarke being described as a tenant farmer at Tocal in 1826/27.[4]

In this period Clarke built various structures in the district including the punt that operated at Old Banks. In 1824 he built the second home at Lemon Grove for John Swan[5] and it is claimed he erected a chapel-school house there[6] (but was this the nearby lockup-courthouse at Old Banks that also served as a chapel?). Later, in 1835, Clarke supervised the building of the Paterson Hotel (also known as the Paterson Arms Hotel), designed by John Verge for its owner, James Phillips of Bona Vista.[7]

District Constable

On 3 November 1826 Ralph Mills Clarke was appointed as District Constable and Poundkeeper for Patersons Plains, a position responsible among other things for the supervision of several 'Ordinary' Constables.[8] Clarke's career was marked by both high and low points.

In October 1828 when a man drowned in the river at Patersons Plains, local Coroner William Dun asked Chief Constable Clarke to organise a boat and coffin so the victim could be buried promptly. But it was late afternoon and Clarke was tipsy. Clarke continued to drink with others in a hut near his own, and the dead man was not interred that evening. Dun reported Clarke for neglect of duty, and the governor ordered the Paterson Bench to investigate. Clarke admitted he was 'not quite sober' but defended himself by arguing he had delegated the job to one of his constables. The governor decided to dismiss Clarke but Dun interceded and Clarke escaped with a severe reprimand.[9]

Not long after the drowning incident, Ralph Mills Clarke married Ann Pugh at Patersons Plains on 17 December 1828 and they subsequently had two children.

Clarke showed courage and application to duty in the arrest of a large number of absconded convicts and several armed 'bushrangers'. In one instance, on 29 November 1829, an armed gang broke into the house of James Adair at Cardoness near Vacy. The robbers put a pistol to the heads of James' brother and sister (James was absent) and made off with a considerable quantity of household valuables. Four of the armed robbers were later captured, tried, sentenced to death and hanged. Recipients of the £50 government reward for their capture included 'Ralph Mills Clarke, late constable at Paterson's Plains, now living in Sydney'.[10]

Clarke held the position of District Constable until at least 17 August 1830, which is the last time his name appears in the Sydney Gazette in that role. He was possibly made redundant, as the position of District Constable at Patersons Plains disappeared from the official listing in 1831 [CS Annual Returns]. Perhaps it is no coincidence that in January 1831 he was ordered to attend the Supreme Court in Sydney regarding his alleged insolvency, his hearing to be held on 29 January.[11]

Later that year he was appointed Poundkeeper at Patersons Plains, effective from 1 November 1831, and then re-appointed Constable from 25 January 1832. Ralph Mills Clarke resigned as Constable at Paterson at the end of 1832 and was living in Sydney in 1833.[12]

Superintendent of Tocal

In 1834 Ralph Clarke and his family began an association with the new owners of the Tocal estate that would last, on and off, until his death in 1841. Sydney-based merchants Caleb and Felix Wilson purchased Tocal in mid 1834 and appointed Clarke as superintendent to look after their Paterson interests.[13]

From July 1835 to August 1836 Clarke's name regularly appeared in the returns of convicts tried at Paterson as he brought Tocal's convicts to court for minor offences such as neglect of work. Presumably he and his family were then living on Tocal while he was the estate's superintendent. In April 1837 a convict killed another man in a drunken fight at Tocal, and the witness statements confirm Ralph and Ann Clarke were living at Tocal. Ralph Clarke was called to the scene of the crime and said in part of his statement:

Where he was dying near the door of his hut is covered with blood. He bled at least a bucketful it was a most dreadful sight to see. I have seen many men lying dead on the Deck of a Ship after Action, but the sight is not so piercing to the feelings as a Cool premeditated murder...[14]

By mid 1838 Clarke no longer worked for the Wilsons, but was re-appointed as Superintendent of the Tocal estate in April 1839. At this time his address was the Bush Inn at Paterson and it is not known if he returned to Tocal to live. He remained Superintendent of Tocal until killed by a falling tree in October 1841 while working on the construction of the current Tocal Homestead. He is buried in Morpeth Cemetery alongside his mother-in-law. Ann re-married and is buried in Paterson with her second husband, James Clements.[15]

Descendants of Ralph Mills Clark live in the region today.

Notes and references

1. Information supplied by Ralph M Smith in Tocal History Notes vol 2 (1998), 5-7. See also HRA 9, 208 (Bathurst to Macquarie, 12 December 1817).

2. The evidence for Clarke's move with Middleton is circumstantial but is further strengthened by the fact that Clarke lived on part of Middleton's Glebe.

3. Clarke to Cowper, 12 December 1828 & 6 February 1829. CS In-letters 9/2714, SRNSW.

4. Baxter, Carol (ed.). General Muster List of New South Wales 1823, 1824, 1825. Sydney: Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record, 1999; Wentworth Family Papers – lists of landowners 1826-27. Mitchell Library ML A767 CY reel 736, 56.

5. Coote, Shirley. 250 years of Swan Family History. Gunnedah: by the author, 1985, 19.

6. Hunter, Cynthia. The Settlers of Paterson's Plains. Paterson: Paterson Historical Society, 1997, 33-34.

7. Threlfo, Shirley. James Phillips and Bona Vista, Paterson River. Paterson: Paterson Historical Society, 1999, 7.

8. Sydney Gazette 22 January 1827 p1 (on-line).

9. CS to Patersons Plains Bench, 15 November 1828 & 4 August 1829, CS LB 4/3827, 2 & 459 [reel 2807], SRNSW; Townshend to CS, 1 July 1829, 29/549 in 4/2038, SRNSW.

10. Adair to CS, 2 December 1829, CS In-letter 29/9584 in 4/2193.3 [reel 2196], SRNSW; Anley to CS, 6 June 1833, CS In-letter 33/3924 in 4/2193.3 [reel 2196], SRNSW.

11. Sydney Gazette 17 August 1830, 18 & 27 January 1831 (on-line). The result of the insolvency hearing has not yet been found.

12. Sydney Gazette 29 November 1831, 14 February 1832. The NSW Colonial Secretary was advised of Clarke's resignation in a letter written on 1 January 1833 - indicated in CS to Anley, 14 January 1833, CS LB 4/3833, 538 [reel 2809], SRNSW.

13. Sydney Herald 23 October 1834.

14. Colonial Trials and Records, Benches of Magistrates, X708 [reel 662], SRNSW; Clerk of Peace, Depositions - Supreme Court, Paterson 2 May 1837, Rex vs Bernard Lyons and James Lemon, 9/6309, SRNSW.

15. Australian 12 June 1838; Sydney Gazette 6 & 9 April 1839; New South Wales and Port Phillip General Post Office Directory for 1839, 30; Australian 29 September & 1 October 1840, 18 February 1842; Clements, PM. Burials in St Paul's Church Cemetery Paterson 1839 to 1900. Paterson: Paterson Historical Society, 1996, 142-143.

External links

See also

An overview of settlement at Patersons Plains up to the end of 1821.

An overview of settlement at Patersons Plains from 1822.

Further research needed

  • Ralph Mills Clarke's memorials re land, in the NSW CS papers, 2/7826 reel 1110 (1828 to 1840).
  • Other RMC CS papers from 1826.
  • RMC papers in Mitchell Library (card index etc).
  • result of RMC's insolvency hearing.