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Paterson River history

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Norwood estate and Francis Blower Gibbes

NSW land grant for Trafalgar veteran and Jamaican slave-owner

Lieutenant Francis Blower Gibbes arrived in Sydney on the ship Hugh Crawford in April 1825[1] as a semi-retired naval officer and was immediately promised a land grant of 2,000 acres by NSW Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane. Gibbes chose his grant on the west bank of the Paterson River opposite George Townshend's Trevallyn.

After a short stint on leased land near Scone, Gibbes moved onto his Paterson River grant with six convict servants in November 1825, the same month he was appointed a Justice of the Peace and honorary magistrate, one of the first magistrates on the Paterson River.[2]

Gibbes named his grant "Norwood" in memory of his father-in-law Norwood Saffery who had died in England the previous year (1824).[2a]

Norwood's 2,000 acres

Norwood's 2,000 acres on the west bank of the Paterson River. In today's terms it is 3.5km southwest of Gresford on the Glendonbrook Road. The Trevallyn property is directly across the river from Norwood although Trevallyn homestead is a bit further to the north.


Gibbes stood out from other wealthy settlers who were given large land grants on the Paterson River in the 1820s. His past was more dramatic and somewhat disturbing when judged by later standards.

Francis Blower Gibbs was born in 1782, son of plantation and slave owner Francis Blower Gibbes of Millennium Hall, Jamaica.[3] Francis (the son) chose a career in the Royal Navy and served as acting lieutenant on HMS Daedalus in 1801, then on HM ships Intrepid, L'Oiseau and Redbridge. He saw action in the West Indies, on the African coast and during long blockades in the North Sea. In 1805 he became flag lieutenant (aide-de-camp) to Vice-Admiral Collingwood in HMS Royal Sovereign and served him in this role in the Battle of Trafalgar.[4]

The Battle of Trafalgar

Lieutenant Francis Blower Gibbs stood by Collingwood's side in the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. During the battle Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson formed his ships into two columns to attack the combined French and Spanish fleets. Nelson led one column in HMS Victory while Collingwood led the other in HMS Royal Sovereign. Both leading ships were heavily battered but remained afloat. In a decisive victory for Britain, the Franco-Spanish fleet lost 22 ships and the British none.[5]

Gibbes' plantation and slaves in Jamaica

By 1818 Lieutenant Francis Blower Gibbs RN had inherited his father's sugar and rum plantation near Montego Bay in Jamaica. The estate was named "Millennium Hall" and over 170 people were enslaved there to work the plantation when he became owner. There were 154 slaves on the estate when he arrived in New South Wales in 1825, leaving "Millennium Hall" in the hands of manager.[6]

Return for Millennnium Hall in 1825

Return for Millennnium Hall in 1825 showing Francis. B Gibbes as owner and 154 people enslaved there.

Gibbes leaves New South Wales

When Gibbes arrived in New South Wales in 1825 he left his wife and family in Jamaica, so it is not surprising that he did not stay long. Although his commission as NSW Justice of the Peace and honorary magistrate was renewed in 1827[7], his footprint in the official records faded from then on. He was assigned a convict in 1828 and two in 1830 but these were placed with his manager at Norwood.

Gibbes does not appear in the 1828 census of NSW nor in the 1836/37 NSW convict muster. Evidently he left for Jamaica in late 1827 or early 1828 and did not return to New South Wales until late 1836.

Jamaican Slave Revolt

Gibbes' situation in Jamaica changed suddenly. The Great Jamaican Slave Revolt of 1831-32 began on 25 December 1831 in the hills above Montego Bay, in the general locality of Gibbes' estate. Over 11 days the uprising involved up to 60,000 of the 300,000 slaves in Jamaica. The uprising eventually led to the unconditional emancipation of slaves in 1838.[8]

The revolt induced Lieutenant Francis Blower Gibbes to eventually sell his Jamaican estate. After the revolt his wife and three children left Jamaica for safety and lived with relatives in South Carolina, USA, for several years.[9] In 1839 his elder son, also named Francis Blower Gibbes (1815-1904), joined him at "Norwood" on the Paterson River.

Joint venture with George Townshend

750 acres of Crown land adjoining Norwood on the north and fronting the Paterson River was advertised for sale in October 1836. In January 1837 Lieutenant Gibbes and his neighbour across the river, George Townshend, purchased the 750 acres for £187, becoming owners as "joint tenants". The deeds were issued to them in April 1837.[10]

Townshend was declared insolvent in 1843 and his assets seized by a court order, thereby entangling Gibbes in the disposal of their jointly owned 750 acres. When they originally bought the land they agreed that Townshend's share would be 150 acres of river frontage while Gibbes would get 600 acres containing some river frontage but mainly "back country" (see sketch below). In a series of complex legal transactions and family arrangements after the death of Gibbes in 1844, his son Francis Blower Gibbes finally became sole owner of the 600 acres in 1855.[11]

600 acres added to Norwood

A sketch showing the 600 acres added to Norwood following settlement of Townshend's bankruptcy and administration of Gibbes' estate after his death in 1844.[12]

Father and son at Norwood

Francis Blower Gibbes junior arrived in New South Wales in 1839 to join his father who had returned to New South Wales at the end of 1836. From 1839 father and son lived at Norwood, with the son apparently running the estate. In November 1839 the son was assigned six convicts (one was a butcher, four were labourers and one was a domestic servant).[13] It was the first time convicts had been allocated to Norwood since 1830 and a sign that Francis Gibbes junior planned to actively manage the estate.

reappointment of FB Gibbes junior as magistrate

The reappointment of FB Gibbes junior as magistrate.

In June 1842 "Francis Blower Gibbes, Esq., of Paterson" was listed as a newly appointed magistrate. Given the new appointment and no mention of the title "lieutenant" or "captain", this was probably the son. In September 1844 it was definitely the son who was reappointed as magistrate (see press clipping at right).[14]

The son had taken over management of Norwood. In December 1842 Francis Gibbes senior officially leased Norwood's 2,600 acres to his son Francis Gibbes junior for 21 years at £50 per year.[15]

Short-lived family reunion

On 10 January 1843 Francis Blower Gibbes senior's wife Elizabeth arrived in Sydney with their daughter Emilia and younger son William. Finally the whole family was to be reunited at Norwood after years of separation. Alas, it was not to be. Elizabeth brought news of an unexpected development in Jamaica that apparently required urgent attention. Francis Gibbes senior took the next available ship from Sydney. On board the barque Ann Gales that departed Sydney on 15 January 1834 was "Captain Gibbes, RN".[16]

The family reunion had lasted a mere five days and they would never see Francis Gibbes senior again. He contracted a fever in Jamaica and died on 17 July 1844.[17]

Gibbes family at Norwood

The Gibbes family continued at Norwood following the death of Francis senior in 1844. After the administration of his complex Will and by family agreement, Norwood's 2,000 acres passed to the younger son, William,[18] while the 600 acres on the north of the estate eventually passed to the elder son, Francis (see joint venture with Townshend above). Despite William's ownership, Francis held a 21-year lease on the 2,000 acres and continued to reside at Norwood with his widowed mother to farm the whole estate. William moved to Sydney and then Melbourne and was not involved in running Norwood.

Francis junior served as a Paterson River magistrate through the 1840s and into the 1850s. He also took an active part in community affairs, including attending various meetings about the import of coolie labour, allowing NSW grain into Britain, the transportation of "exiles", and establishing a race course at Paterson.[19]

In 1853 Francis married Annie Butcher at Scots Presbyterian Church, Sydney but she died at Norwood in November 1854 (perhaps in childbirth?).[20] The following month all of Norwood, comprising William's 2,000 acres and Francis' 600 acres, was advertised for sale.[21] Both blocks were purchased by James McCormick of Gresford for £2,000 and £600 respectively.[22] By the time the sales were finalised the whole family had relocated to Melbourne where Elizabeth Gibbes, the matriach and widow of Francis senior, died in 1858.[23]

view of Norwood in background c1860-1880

A rare glimpse of what is possibly Norwood homestead in the background, taken from across the river at Trevallyn c1860-1880 (State Library NSW).

Francis Blower Gibbes' second life

In 1860 Francis Blower Gibbes remarried, to Fanny Plummer in Melbourne where he was somewhat reborn as an artist.[24] Jack Sullivan noted that "apparently a reluctant farmer while at Norwood, Francis Blower followed the career of a prolific watercolourist and art teacher in Melbourne showing in some 15 exhibitions. He was Secretary of the Victorian Academy of Arts for 16 years". He died in Melbourne in 1904 and was interred with his mother in St Kilda Cemetery. His wife Fanny died in 1909 and was also interred there.[25]

Two figures on a country road, Hunter Valley, by Francis Blower Gibbes 1879

"Two figures on a country road", Hunter Valley, by Francis Blower Gibbes 1879. Did he paint it from memory or make a nostalgic return to Norwood in later life?

Norwood after the Gibbes

James McCormick, who purchased Norwood's 2,600 acres from William and Francis Gibbes, also purchased a large amount of land adjoining Norwood on the south, west and north. According to McCormick himself, all this land, totalling 5,355 acres (including Norwood's original 2,600) generally became known as Norwood. In his complex Will made in February 1879, McCormick bequeathed the extended Norwood estate to be held in trust for his young grandson Joseph McCormick Doyle. Joseph was the elder son of McCormick's daughter Mary (c1834-1900) who married Edward William Doyle (1834-1899) at Gresford in 1862.[26]

The Norwood component of James McCormick's estate continued to be managed by trustees for nearly 40 years after his death in 1882, by which time trustees had come and gone, new ones appointed and the initial beneficiary deceased. The final trustees were George Gibson Park and John McKinlay Hooke who were appointed in 1904.[27]

Park and Hooke finally settled the Norwood component of McCormick's estate. In December 1920 a single Torrens Title was issued to George Gibson Park and John McKinlay Hooke for all of the extended Norwood estate of 5,355 acres. In March 1821 this land was approved for subdivision and split up a few months later by transfer to several beneficiaries of McCormick's Will. Part of the plan of subdivision is shown below.[28]

1921 subdivision of Norwood

The plan for the subdivision of Norwood in 1921. Thick black lines show the orginal 2,000 and 600 acres (added digitally).

In the 1921 adminstration of McCormick's Norwood estate, Alister McCormick Norwood Doyle became owner of the homestead block (lots 3 & 4); Ruby Mary Doyle received most of the rest of the original 2,600 acres (lots 7, 10, 10a, 11, 13 & 14); Gerald Bellew Doyle, a minor, received lot 2 with river frontage; and Gregory Norwood Doyle received lot 9.

So the name "Norwood", which began in memory of Lieutenant Francis Blower Gibbes' father-in-law, Norwood Saffery, became etched into the names of children of the Doyle family on the Paterson River a hundred years later.

Farm house in a landscape by Francis Blower Gibbes

Farm house in a landscape by Francis Blower Gibbes.


1. Sydney Gazette, 7 April 1825 page 2.

2. NSW Colonial Secretary's Correspondence, NSW State Archives and Records: 11 April 1825, 4/1842a no. 306 pages 49-58; 13 April 1825, 9/2740 page 13; 4 November 1825, 4/3515 page 532; 16 November 1825, AO Doc no. 4. Re leased land near Scone – Historical Records of Australia, ser. 1 vol. 14 page 344; Wood, Dawn in the Valley, pages 99-100. The deeds for Norwood were officially issued to Gibbes in 1840 – NSW Government Gazette, 1840 page 425.

2a. Unpublished notes by Elaine Mussared, Paterson Historical Society files.

3. Sir Aemilius Irving, James Irving of Ironshore and his Descendants 1713-1918, Canada, 1918, pages 10-17.

4. National Archives UK, adm 196-43. Also: The Australasian, 5 March 1904 page 44.

5. Wikipedia – Battle of Trafalgar


7. Sydney Gazette, 15 June 1827 page 1.


9. Unpublished notes by Elaine Mussared, Paterson Historical Society files.

10. NSW Government Gazette, 1837 pages 229 and 791. NSW Colonial Secretary, letters received re land (filed under Townshend), per (frame 756).

11. NSW Old Systems Land Titles, book 8 number 455; book 37 numbers 455 and 456; book 184 number 275.

12. NSW Old Systems Land Titles, primary sketch 21006.

13. NSW Government Gazette, 1839 page 1336.

14. Hunter River Gazette, 18 June 1842 page 3. NSW Government Gazette, 1844 page 1201.

15. NSW Old Systems Land Titles, book 3 number 14.

16. Colonial Observer, 11 January 1843 page 5; Sydney Morning Herald, 16 January 1843 page 2.

17. Sir Aemilius Irving, James Irving of Ironshore and his Descendants 1713-1918, Canada, 1918, page 14. See also the death notice in the Sydney Morning Herald, 9 January 1845 page 2.

18. NSW Old Systems Land Titles, book 26 number 382.

19. The Australian, 6 January 1842; Maitland Mercury, 4 October 1845, 2 September 1848 and 14 April 1849.

20. NSW Marriage Registration 53/1853. Maitland Mercury, 15 November 1854.

21. Maitland Mercury, 23 December 1854 page 4.

22. NSW Old Systems Land Titles, book 57 number 40 and book 43 number 429.

23. The Argus, 6 August 1858 page 4.

24. Victorian marriage registration 212/1860.

25. Jack Sullivan, Dr Henry Lindemann and Cawarra, Gresford, Paterson Historical Society, page 98. Victorian death registrations 1380/1904 and 13096/1909.

26. Last Will and Testament of James McCormick dated 11 February 1879 – Will no. 8145 in NSW Will Books per Family history information from public member trees on (requires confirmation from primary sources).

27. Re changes to trustees/executors – NSW Old Systems Land Titles, book 433 number 634; book 772 numbers 52 and 53.

28. NSW Land Titles: Primary Application 21006; Old Form Torrens Register, vol. 3142 fol. 10; DP10567.