‘Old Chum’ Revisits Parramatta and St. John’s

In April 1910, a taphophile visited Parramatta with the stated intention of ‘brush[ing] up memory in old St. John’s Churchyard’ (St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta), and ‘to see how the last resting places of many of Australia’s pioneers were cared for, and to ascertain if sentiment had entirely died out of this commercial age.’ Under the pseudonym ‘Old Chum,’ the cemetery’s latest visitor raised the alarm that the historic cemetery was in a state of ‘utter neglect and desolation.’ The relevant sections of the April 1910 article are transcribed below, and a link to the full article, which goes on to discuss other historic Parramatta cemeteries, is provided at the end of the post.


Jesse Hack—St John’s Cemetery in a Disgraceful Condition—The Resting Place of Early Australian Pioneers—Augustus Alt’s Tomb…


It was many years since I had last visited the old town of Parramatta. With the exception of one very short visit some eight years ago, thirty years had elapsed since I made a prolonged stay in the historic town. Thirty years had elapsed, too, since I last paid a visit to St. John’s Cemetery, where many of the rude and refined forefathers of the hamlet sleep. At that time Payten flourished at the Woolpack. Now the old Woolpack as an inn has disappeared, and the name decorates another hostelry.

CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE. [Left] The old Woolpack Inn and [right] the new Woolpack Inn. The courthouse pictured in the image on the right was built on the site of the old Woolpack Inn. “The Old Woolpack,” in J. Cheyne Wharton, The Jubilee History of Parramatta in Commemoration of the First Half-Century of Municipal Government, 1861–1911, (Parramatta: T. D. Little and R. S. Richardson, 1911), p. 35. Courtesy of University of California Libraries via Internet Archive; Standish G. Goodin, “Court House and Woolpack Hotel,” Presentation Album of Parramatta Views, (1898), PXA 1232/1 / FL3177016, State Library of New South Wales.

At the Woolpack Mr. Payten formed the first bowling green in New South Wales. Jesse Hack then flourished at the White Horse Cellars, and last week Jesse Hack, having completed his 85th year and having celebrated the diamond anniversary of his wedding, was carried to his last resting place in All Saints’ Churchyard. Mr. Hack was not a native of New South Wales, but he came to the colony in the year 1841, and soon after settled at Parramatta, and died there. In the days I write of Luke Dunn kept the Currency Lass, on the corner of Church-street and Pennant-street. The Currency Lass has ceased to exist as an inn, and Luke Dunn has been gathered to his fathers. Mrs. Oakes, said to be the first white girl born in New South Wales, was then living in Church-Street, on the corner of Phillip-street. An agreeable old lady, open to have a chat upon old times with anybody who could talk old times—the time that John Gray, a native of the town, made boots and shoes opposite the spot where he assured me he saw men in the stocks. That was the time when the Taylor faction and the Byrnes faction kept the town council in an uproar, and the people took their politics from Hughey Taylor or from one or other of the Byrnes, who were born politicians.

The old town was a busy spot in its day. It had several woollen mills, one established by the Byrnes family many years ago. At a much earlier date there was a mill built by an early colonist named Howell, a mill immortalised in verse by some rhymster whose name has not come down to us. Here are a couple of the verses, pathetic enough in all conscience:

Oh, don't you remember the tree, Ben Bolt,
That stood near the foot of the hill:
Where oft we have laid, in the noon-day shade,
And listened to Howell's old mill.
The mill-wheel has fallen to ruin, Ben Bolt,
And the rafters have all tumbled in:
And the quiet that hangs o'er the scene as you gaze
Has followed the olden din.

Oh, don't you remember the school, Ben Bolt,
And the master, so cruel and grim:
And the shady nook, and the clear running brook,
Where, as schoolboys, we all used to swim.
The grass grows o'er the master's grave.
And the then running brook is now dry;
And of all the boys who were schoolmates then,
There remains only you, Ben, and I.
Howell’s Mill, Parramatta – watercolour drawing, (c. 1850s), SV/45 / FL8998452, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

But it was not to moralise over the dead and gone glories of old Parramatta that I journeyed up the river and by the tram on Wednesday week. I wanted once more to brush up memory in old St. John’s Churchyard [St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta]. I wished to see how the last resting places of many of Australia’s pioneers were cared for, and so ascertain if sentiment had entirely died out of this commercial age. To say that I was shocked at the utter neglect and desolation about this historic burial ground by briefly expresses what I felt. There are humble men kept in memory there as well as men who led men and who governed men in the early days of our history. Interred there are the remains of H. E. Dodd, the body servant of Governor Phillip: he died in 1791. There are memories of the wife of Governor Bourke, and to the wife of Sir Charles Fitzroy: to the Wentworths [Catherine and D’Arcy] and the Blaxlands, the Tunks and the Pyes: to early missionaries Rowland Hassall and W. Shelley: to Commissary John Palmer, who came in the first fleet, and died in 1833. You can read the names of Nash (the early host of the Woolpack), Watkins, Pearson, and Doust, Shackles, Brown, and Oakes, Payten, Kenyon, and Thorn, MacArthur and Campbell, Howell of the mill, Parson Marsden and his wife, also their son Charles, who was father of the Bishop of Bathurst, now Assistant Bishop of Gloucester: many military men, and the first surveyor, Augustus Alt.

The only well-kept memorial in the cemetery is the vault in which lie the remains of Surgeon Harris, of Ultimo and the first fleet, and his wife, a recent interment being that of John Harris, of Thanes Park [sic], a nephew of the ancient surgeon, who was killed on the railway at Harris Park a few years back. The Harris mausoleum is well kept.

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. The grave of John Harris, his wife Eliza, and nephew, also named John Harris, in Section 3, Row K, No. 1, St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. Photo: Michaela Ann Cameron (2019).

The tomb of John Blaxland has fallen to pieces, filling up the vault, still exhibiting the coat of arms, however, sadly in keeping with the wreckage around. The Government could surely spend a pound or two in making presentable the tombs of the wives of Governors Bourke and Fitzroy. The tomb of Augustus Alt, in which I was particularly interested, is partly on the pathway. Its 85 years’ exposure to all weathers has not improved its appearance, and Archbishop Wright might do worse with a few pounds than spend them on the tomb of the pioneer missionaries Hassall and Shelley.

“Old Chum” continues to discuss Augustus Alt in detail before discussing other local cemeteries. Click the link below to read the article in full.

Old Chum, “Old Sydney, Parramatta Revisited: Jesse Hack. St. John’s Cemetery in a Disgraceful Condition.  The Resting Place of Early Australian Pioneers. Alt’s Tomb. The Kendall and Michael Families,” Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 – 1954), Sunday 3 April 1910, p. 11.