The little church on the hill

For years and years I’ve driven past this little tiny church perched up on the top of a hill and always wanted to visit. With a cemetery spilling down the hill behind the church you could just imagine the stories that were held within the church and the graveyard itself.

As with many churches, this one comes with it’s own special history. In 1838 William Lawson called for tenders to build the church and it was subsequently built by James Atkinson, opening in 1841. St Bartholomew’s Church was the first church to open in Prospect.

Some of you may think that the name William Lawson sounds familiar and you would be right …… Back in 1813, William Lawson, Gregory Blaxland, William Charles Wentworth, along with their servants, horses and dogs, set off on an exploration which would ultimately create history. These three explorers would undertake the first successful crossing of the Blue Mountains by European settlers.

Many fellow Sydney-siders would know that all three now have towns named after them. William Lawson lived very close to the site of St Bartholomew’s church, his home which he named Veteran Hill was located at what is now the Prospect reservoir.

William Lawson passed away in 1850 and is buried in the St Bartholomew’s Church graveyard. The family vault (along with numerous other graves) has been restored with help from Blacktown City Council and the hard working people of The Friends of St Bartholomew’s.

The first burial to occur at St Bartholomew’s Church was in 1841, for Ann Goodin, aged 15. Her grave still stands today.

One of the great things about exploring this cemetery is that you can read about the people buried here, which gives you an insight and connection into their lives.

In 1967 the church was closed due to continuing vandalism, decay and a declining congregation. The last church service was held on Christmas Eve 1967.

By 1891, 360 burials had been recorded. Although the sale of burial plots ceased many years ago, burials can still occur on the site in previously purchased plots.

For over 30 years the church and cemetery stood on top of the hill overlooking the highway, slowly deteriorating. In 1989 part of the church was destroyed by fire, including the roof the 1850’s organ.

This important historical site is now owned by Blacktown City Council and they have, over the years, undertaken extensive restoration work, which is very important to keep the history alive.

The Friends of St Bartholomew’s group, who consist of an amazing group of volunteers, also assist the council to protect and conserve the integrity of the church and cemetery. Not only do they undertake restoration work, but they run tours, Ghost Tours and open days to help raise much needed funds.

This church and cemetery is one of the most historic sites in the Blacktown area and one of a few visible reminders of the former Prospect Village. By continuing the preservation and upkeep of the church and surrounds, it’s helping to keep alive the reminders of the local colonial past and the personalities which helped shape our history. The church is now listed on the State Heritage Register.

We both love learning about the history and stories behind the places we visit, but when we find something like this that is so close to home it is really special. This little church sits on top of a hill, surrounded on both sides by the M4 motorway and the Great Western Highway, thousands of people drive past every single day and wouldn’t have any idea of the history that is contained within.

Reading one of the brochures we thought that this sums up this church perfectly “St Bartholomew’s stands on its hill at Prospect, a quite oasis in the middle of a sea of development. It’s a testament to the pioneering families of the locality and the later individuals and organisations who recognise the importance of preserving this iconic site.

St Bartholomew’s Church & Cemetery is located in Ponds Road, Prospect, NSW.

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Tassie Trip Day 2: Port Arthur

We were both excited to visit Port Arthur and what better way to spend our 5th wedding anniversary!

The story of the Port Arthur Historic Site is a story of many people, places and moments.  It wasn’t only a prison for convicts, over the years it was also home to military personal and free settlers.

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It’s had a very long history and one of many hardships, but to be able to walk in a place with so much history and so many stories is a privilege.  It’s a testament to the amazing people who protect and restore our heritage like this for us to enjoy.

Britain started transporting convicts to Australia from about 1788.  Most were sent here for very minor crimes by today’s standards, and these included many woman and children as well.  It was very rare that any returned home after their sentence.

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The Pydairrerme people were the traditional owners of the land that we now know as Port Arthur.  The Port Arthur penal settlement began life as a small timber station in 1830, using convict labour to produce sawn logs for government projects.

By 1840 more than 2000 convicts and soldiers lived at Port Arthur and it was now a major industrial settlement producing many things, predominately boats and ships.

The last convicts left and Port Arthur closed in 1877.  From then the site was renamed IMG_0158Carnarvon and land was divided up with people taking up residence in and around the old site.

Severe fires in 1895 and 1897 destroyed many of the old buildings and gutted the Penitentiary, Separate Prison and Hospital, but the new residents were determined to create a livable township for themselves. Subsequently they built more buildings and amenities such as a post office, cricket club and lawn tennis club.

With the settlement’s later closure came the first tourists.  By the 1920’s the Port Arthur area had three hotels, two museums and guides, they were definitely starting to cater for the many tourists, nothing has changed to this day.

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Ship Building at Port Arthur

One of the greatest problems facing the authorities of Port Arthur was balancing the need to punish the convicts against needing to make the station a profitable enterprise. Convicts could not simply spend their days getting flogged and rotting in a cell, they needed to be reformed through a combination of religion, education and trade-training.IMG_0199

Ship building was introduced on a large-scale to Port Arthur in 1834 as a way of providing selected convicts with a useful skill they could take with them once freed. Only those convicts deemed well-behaved and receptive to training were allowed to work at the dockyard. Up to 70 convicts were employed at the yard at its height, with the majority engaged in the menial task of cutting and carrying timber. The remaining convicts were the carpenters, blacksmiths, caulkers, coopers and shipwrights who actually built the vessels.

Fifteen large ships and over 140 smaller vessels (from whale boats, to rowboats and punts) were launched from the two slipways. These ships were known for their craftsmanship and durability, with one, the 270-ton Lady Franklin, enjoying over 40 years of service. The hull for a steamer, the Derwent, was even constructed at the Port Arthur dockyards. The yard was also used as a regular servicing lay-by for ships plying the busy east coast route, vessels often hauling in for refit and repair.

Though successful, the ship building operations at Port Arthur ceased on a large-scale in 1848. A growing colonial economy, recovering after a severe depression in the early 1840s, meant that private ship builders did not want to compete against a government yard producing ships at a cheaper rate and lobbied for its closure.

Today the site of the dockyards is a short walk from the main settlement. The original Master Shipwright’s residence still stands, as does one of the original slipways. A later building, the Clerk of Works’ residence, also stands on the location of one of the original dockyard sawpits and a later blacksmith.

Source:  This section was taken from https://portarthur.org.au/history/history-timeline/

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Isle of the Dead Cemetery Tour

IMG_0172We chose to do this optional tour as, well when has Shelly ever turned down the opportunity to visit a cemetery!

A short ferry ride and you arrive on this small island which was the final resting place of more than 1000 convicts, soldiers and civilians who were buried there between 1833 and 1877.  This is a guided tour and you get a great insight into the life and death of some of Port Arthur’s residents.

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Once on the island you realise that there are two very distinct burial sections.  The convicts were buried in unmarked graves on the low southern end, while the military personnel and free civilians were buried in marked graves with quite elaborate headstones.  These are all located on the top of the island, on the high northern end.  The story is that convicts were the lowest of the low and looked down on in life so it was only fitting that they were looked down on in death.  I’m guessing the only positive thing from this is that after 1850, some of the convicts were allowed to have headstones.  We really do have a very sad history.

It was a very quiet place and quite haunting in many ways as you hear the stories of these poor people who were buried in unmarked graves without a future thought.  The fact that there were so many graves on the island meant that we would have actually been walking over the top of people’s graves.  Very interesting tour and highly recommended, but a very somber tour as well.

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IMG_0272Unfortunately one of the first things many people think about when you hear Port Arthur is not the tortured past, but the more recent horrific massacre and Australia’s worst mass murder that occurred there on Sunday 28th April 1996.  The events from that day will forever remain in our memories as we think of the many lives that were lost.  Within the grounds they have a small plaque mentioning the names of the people who lost their lives.  This sits discretely within the Memorial Garden to honour these people and the tragic events that unfolded that day.

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Port Arthur is one of eleven historical places that form the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property.  These sites are spread throughout Australia and together they tell the story of Australia’s convict heritage.

Attraction Information:  Your entry ticket includes entry to the site for 2 consecutive days, a short walking tour, a harbour cruise and access to over 30 buildings across the 100 acres of grounds.  You can also purchase separate optional tours such as the Isle of the Dead Cemetery Tour, Point Puer Boys’ Prison Tour or Ghost Tour.

Port Arthur is open 7 days a week.

Telephone:  1800 659 101

Email:  reservations@portarthur.org.au

Website:  www.portarthur.org.au

The good thing is that proceeds from your entry fees contribute to the ongoing conservation and development of the Port Arthur sites.

When you purchase your tickets you are given a playing card.  You can then go and find your matching card to read the story about one of the convicts.

I think everyone will take something different from their visit to Port Arthur.  As you hear about and feel the stories of the convicts, soldiers and free people you can’t help but immerse yourself into their history and situation.  They say that Port Arthur’s tale is told in many ways and it will stay with you long after you leave, and that’s definitely true.

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