Searching for Allan Cunningham’s Parramatta home

Parramatta: a treasure trove of stories

It’s not what has been lost that amazes me but how much has survived.

D. Hall, Historian

For a long time The Allan Cunningham research team has searched for the actual street number in Macquarie Street where Mr Cunningham lived. To date we have not been successful, however, if you read the 1827 newspaper article quoted below you can come close to pinpointing his address on a street map, of the CBD of Parramatta.

The house of Allan Cunningham’s neighbour Mr Gooch, in Marsden Street, burned down. Mr Cunningham’s house on the westside, adjoining the ruined house, was in danger but was saved by his neighbours, Messrs Walker, Moore, White and Smith.

The Australian newspaper, 16th November 1827

The house the reporter referred to was Allan Cunningham’s rented cottage situated in Macquarie Street Parramatta, adjoining Mr Gooch’s house in Marsden Street. The cottage was his home between 1823 and 1831. Although it was poor Mr Gooch, possibly the bricklayer Robert Gooch, who lost his home, our focus in this blog is on Mr Cunningham because his home contained things that where important to the international scientific community of the day, the colonial colony of New South Wales and are important to us today.

I’m not sure if Mr Cunningham witnessed the drama of his rented cottage coming close to destruction. He was collecting plants and seeds around Sydney at the time. It was lucky for all of us that it was saved by his neighbours for if his house had burned down he would have lost his orchid collection along with a lot of irreplaceable notes, journals, maps plus seeds, live plants and so much more. All these wonderful things very nearly went up in smoke. His rescued botanical specimens and the maps and journals recording his discovery of the Darling Downs are all considered precious to our history and can be found archived and stored carefully with various scholarly institutions and museums around the world. He would have been horrified when he found out how close his property came to being lost.

It is possible that he lived near 142 Macquarie Street on the westside of Marsden Street.

Map Parramatta, Corner of Macquarie Street and Marsden Street
Allan Cunningham lived near the corner of Macquarie and Marsden Streets Parramatta, possibly at 142 Macquarie Street as numbered in this 2008 map adapted from Google Maps 2008

There is so much colonial history located in Parramatta that a visit had been on our To Do List for ages. It’s a treasure trove of historical stories. An opportunity arose when the Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS) invited members and friends to join them on a walking tour of Parramatta as part of National Archaeology Week 2008. So we packed the video camera, still camera and notes, maps and paraphernalia and off we went to Circular Quay to catch the Rivercat up the Parramatta River to the Parramatta CBD.

Although we were ready to video the trip from the Quay up the river on our new camera, we found it too difficult to find anything remotely cinematic from our position within the Rivercat. Seated low and looking out windows smeared with sea salt we could see lots of mangroves and the deep brown of the still water and not much more. Fortunately, the Parramatta Sun has posted a short video of the Parramatta Jetcat on YouTube so I’ve been able to show it in this blog.

A short video showing the Parramatta Rivercat (YouTube) courtesy of the Parramatta Sun

It would have been lovely to capture an image of Hannibal Macarthur’s mansion “The Vinyard” later known as “Subiaco” where Allan would have spent many happy moments, but it’s long gone; or a picture of the Parramatta Orphans School but if you can see it from the river, we missed it. All I remember from the trip is the occasional view of commercial buildings peaking out over the top of the mangroves and the activity of the people seated near us. Nothing much has stayed in my memory of this journey.

Arriving at the wharf in CBD of Parramatta, we joined up with the other RAHS members and spent the next few hours enjoying a very informative walking tour of the Parramatta CBD which took in various Archaeological sites. It was a really good introduction to the area, however we were unable to get a sense of how it was back in the early 1800’s. Trying to imagine it when it was made up of cottages and gardens was difficult, in 2008 the area is filled with commercial buildings with little architectural beauty.

On the walk we were shown an example of a water well. I found this interesting because an early Sydney water well was mentioned in Richard Johnson’s book “The Search of the Inland Sea” which is about John Oxley (1738-1828). Louisa Oxley, the four year old daughter of the famous explorer drowned in a water well in 1825 (her mother was and Elizabeth Marmon).

Clay brick water well Parramatta c1817
This historic well once provided drinking water for the “Hawkesbury Settler” hotel which had been built on this site prior to 1817. The hotel, which had changed its name to “The Babes in the Wood” by 1829, occupied this site until its demolition sometime between 1878 and 1882. The well is constructed from hand made clay bricks.

Another geographic point that we wanted to visit was the Corner of Phillip and Church Street where Phillip Parker King’s cottage Rosehill stood. The King’s lived in the cottage between 1818 and 1822. Eventually they moved to their property Dunheved at South Creek (St Mary’s).

Map Parramatta, Corner of Church and Phillip Sts Parramatta
Map Parramatta, Corner of Church and Phillip Sts Parramatta. Phillip Parker King and his family lived here between 1818 and 1822 (Map adapted from Google Maps 2008)

The photo below, shows the buildings that stand on the King’s property in 2008. If Archaeologists could dig beneath this building I’m sure they would find remnants of the King’s domestic bliss. John Septamus Roe referred to their marriage as “one of the happiest he had ever witnessed”. He stayed with them at Rosehill cottage when he assisted Phillip Parker King with his maps and journals recording their five maritime journeys mapping the coast of Australia between 1818 and 1820. An excellent book, telling the story of these journeys, is Marsden Hordern’s King of the Australian Coast.

Corner of Church and Phillip Streets Parramatta
Parramatta, Corner of Phillip and Church Street 2008
where Phillip Parker King and his family lived in their home
called Rosehill Cottage 1818 to 1822

Sources: ((Source: The Australian 16th November 1827, Mitchell Library Sydney Microfilm)) ((Source: Curry S, Maslin BR & Maslin JA (2002. Allan Cunningham Australian Collecting Localities)) ((Source: Heward Robert – A Biographical Sketch of Allan Cunningham.)) ((Hordern Marsden 1997 King of the Australian Coast: The Voyages of Phillip Parker King in the Mermaid and Bathurst))

This article was written by Diane Challenor
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