Solomon Wiseman, of Wiseman’s Ferry
By George G. Reeve (1924)
SOLOMON WISEMAN, with his wife (an English lady) and their two young sons, arrived at Sydney on August 20th 1806 by the Alexander (Captain Brooks).
The elder of the boys was William, who was born in England on November 1st.1801, and was celebrated in later times of the colonial sealing trade, as Captain Wiseman. His history is very fascinating. He learnt the craft of the sea from his uncle, another Captain Wiseman, who died in England many years later. Captain William Wiseman the younger married Miss Matilda Grono, daughter of the famous Captain Grono, at Ebenezer Church, Hawkesbury River, on June 22nd 1829.
The famous brig industry was built at Captain Grono’s shipbuilding yard at Pitt Town in 1826. She traded with seal oil and fur-skins between the southern New Zealand coast and Sydney, and various other ports of the world, notably Port Louis, Mauritius, for about five years. She ultimately came to an untimely fate, being lost in a gale at Stewart Island on February 28th 1831, when mostly all on board, including the master, Captain William Wiseman the younger, ten seamen, and six New Zealand women, perished.
Two survivors came on to Sydney by the Caroline. After the arrival of the Alexander at the Cape of Good Hope on her way to Sydney Mrs Wiseman gave birth to the second son on July 3rd 1806. This son Richard Alexander Wiseman, many years afterwards inherited, as the eldest surviving son of three, all the property and landed estate of his father at the Hawkesbury, where he was highly esteemed by his servants, and notable also as a pioneer agriculturist. His death occurred at Berrima, on his way to Sydney, on May 24th 1856, at the age of 19. Two other sons and two daughters were born later to Mr. and Mrs. Solomon Wiseman in Australia.
On arrival Solomon presented recommendations to Governor Bligh and was given a grant of 200 acres of land on the banks of the Hawkesbury opposite the first branch of the river, and adjoining Singleton’s Mill grant, the place famous in the history of this country, and known as Wiseman’s Ferry.
Three hundred assigned Government men were allotted to him as superintendent of road construction, in order to make the portion of the North Road (two miles of the road being cut out of the solid rock immediately on the north side of the river) over the range of hills on to Wollombi, thence to Maitland. On the hill to the right on the north bank are the ruins of the old convict, stockade, with one or two other official buildings, long since fallen into disuse; but time was when they had their uses, and to pretty lively purpose. In the days when the settlement was in going order a number of soldiers were quartered there, their duty being to see, in the last resort, to the general good behaviour of the gangs of convicts employed in road construction and in working on Solomon Wiseman’s farming estate.
Amongst such a large body of men there were, of course, some refractory ones, and sometimes there were some floggings to be done, for the times were hard and stern.
At one time, three convicts escaped from the stockade and swam across the river with their leg-irons on. On reaching the southern bank they scaled the stone wall round the homestead and stole some pumpkins. On returning two were drowned and the survivor on reaching the stockade was discovered by one of the guards. The following day he was given fifty lashes with the ‘cat-o’-nine-tails’ by the ‘scourger,’ at the instance, of the discoverer.
The flogged man made a promise to his fellow-convicts that he would kill him when he got the chance, which he did shortly afterwards by driving a pick through the overseer’s skull in an unguarded moment.
The prisoner was afterwards hanged on ‘Judgement Rock,’ a high towering rock on the northern side of the river above the old stockade ruins, where punishment was meted out to the convicts who offended.
Opposite, on the south or Sydney side of the river, is a large, overhanging rock which is known as ‘Court House Cave’. It was at this spot that the first official court was held in the early ‘thirties. David Dunlop of Wollombi being the first resident magistrate in the district.
The original Wiseman homestead is a commodious stone structure, most solidly built. It was slightly altered during the twenties of last century, and turned into a public-house, as well as being his residence, during Solomon Wiseman’s lifetime, when it was known as the Branch Inn.
The building has for many years past been known as the Hawkesbury Hotel. Some of the older residents have originated a story that one of the rooms there is haunted.
A few years ago a box of sovereigns was found under the floor in what is supposed to have been Mrs. Wiseman’s bedroom, and a pair of leg-irons and other relics of the olden days have been unearthed in the garden next to the old mansion.
Solomon Wiseman died on November 28th 1838, aged 61 years, and was buried beside, his first wife (nee of Jane Middleton) in his own grounds, adjoining his residence on the southern side; but after the erection of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in 1841 the bodies were disinterred and reburied in a vault under the floor of that church, where they rested for many years.
The church at last fell into decay, however, so for many years the coffins, like the church, were subjected to sacrilegious vandalism. When the cemetery two miles down the river was made, Solomon Wiseman’s bachelor grandson of the same name (a son of John Wiseman, of Granbalang, on the Hunter River, near Singleton) removed what was left of his ancestors thither, and a marble headstone records the dates of their deaths.
Mrs. Jane Wiseman (nee. Middleton) died at the early age of 45 years on July 20th 1821. Her husband then married Mrs. Sophia Williams Warner. This lady bore no children to Mr. Wiseman, and died at Hammersmith, a suburb of London, at the age of 90 years, during July 1870.
The copper plate let into the foundation stone of the old church of St. Mary Magdalene was rescued by a local resident from the ruins (it is said to be now in the possession of the Milson family, of North Sydney). The inscription thereon was as follows :-“The foundation stone of this church, dedicated to God and Divine worship, to be denominated the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, was laid on June 3rd. 1841. S. G. Dalgely. James Ascough, Alexander Books. Joseph Fleming, and Thomas Green, Trustees. And the Rev. Edward Gifford Pryce, B.A., Minister of the Parish.”
– Sydney Mail, Wednesday 3 September 1924.