Settling in at Dartbrook 1826.
The opening of the Pitt Town – Bulga road, the Putty Road, in 1823 was timely for George Hall. He applied for lands in the Hunter Valley for himself and four of his sons, the first application having been made in April 1825.
The years 1825 and 1826 saw the Hall family settling in along the Dart Brook, a tributary of the Hunter River. The 3000 acre (1200 ha) block that would become the Halls’ Dartbrook station was surveyed for George in May 1826 and other smaller blocks on the Dart Brook for four of George’s sons, William, John, Thomas and James, soon after. Gundebri was a later purchase. Although the deeds for the original Dart Brook blocks were not issued until 1831, it is generally understood that the Halls occupied the land before survey. It is probable that Thomas Simpson Hall settled at Dartbrook in 1825 or 1826. The 1828 Census shows him in charge of 4700 acres, 700 cattle, 2 horses and 8 convict workers.
Dartbrook would become the base for future expansion northwards with Thomas directing operations and his younger brothers as his lieutenants. His older brother, William, remained with George to manage affairs in the Hawkesbury Valley. William and Thomas were George’s right and left hands.
In 1828 George owned only 33 horses and this number decreased to 31 in 1830. Although William later became known as an expert horse breeder and supplied the Australian army, horse breeding was evidently not, in the 1820s, one of George’s priorities and he would not have been over anxious to send many to the Hunter Valley.
Almost certainly Thomas Hall made the 300 km journey from Pitt Town to Dartbrook on foot, with a couple of horse-drawn carts carrying stores for the journey and tools for use in building, housing, stock yards and fencing. In 1828 there were only two horses on Dartbrook; probably the two original cart horses supplied from George’s herd. Thomas would have taken his assigned convict workers with him, and those of his brothers with land grants in the Hunter, particularly John and James. Given the number of men on the trip, Thomas probably took a mob of cattle, too, carefully chosen for ease of handling, immediate food and future increase.
Heifers in calf would have been a logical choice and an older cow or two, chosen as natural leaders to keep the younger animals from straying away from the mob; perhaps a couple of young bull calves.
The assumption, that Dartbrook and the other Hunter Valley stations, were stocked from the Hawkesbury Valley, should not be made although Thomas, himself, developed extensive herds of Poll Shorthorns from his own imported stock. The Australian Agricultural Company (AACo.) was formed in 1824, by Act of British Parliament, initially for the purpose of improving flocks of merino sheep for fine wool production, along with tobacco, flax and other crops for possible export. A site on the Karuah River, west of Port Stephens, was chosen for the settlement and, by 1826, 1000 head of cattle and 2000 sheep were grazing on the AACo holding. Acting in George’s name, Thomas may have bought stock from the AACo. Imported Shorthorns were also to be found in Scone and the Halls are said to have bought cattle from a Bylong breeder, John Lee in 1848, possibly to stock properties to the north of Dartbrook.
Despite the advantages of a surveyed road, the trek through the highlands between the Hawkesbury and Hunter Valleys would have taught Thomas and his company much about the realities of moving cattle through the 300 km of rugged, heavily timbered terrain between Pitt Town and Dartbrook, compared with less than 100 km through cleared, undulating lands to the Auburn Farms. With or without dogs? Unknown.
During his first year or so at Dartbrook, land clearance, building and fencing would have preoccupied Thomas but he probably returned to Pitt Town periodically, for stores and equipment, and to report progress to his father and William. Discussion of dogs, indispensable in rough timbered country, can hardly have been avoided during one such visit, nor can the need for stock horses as well as draught animals. Dartbrook House was occupied in 1840 and may have been completed as early as 1835 to receive Thomas’s wife, Ann McGinnis (daughter of a convict, George McGinnis) after his marriage in that year.
Thomas had no knowledge of British working dogs except for whatever was already in New South Wales – he was born in the colony – and his older siblings were children when they left England, but both their parents had farming backgrounds and would surely have been familiar with the dogs used in Northumberland. George and Mary probably wrote home, from time to time, and it would have been Thomas’s parents who thought to import working dogs and who arranged the necessary business with family contacts in Northumberland. Dartbrook was the obvious destination for the imported dogs, well away from chance matings with dogs in the Pitt Town area, and at the frontier and control centre of future moves northward. Thomas was given the task of caring for them and breeding up their numbers. Given that letters to and from England were months on the way, it is unlikely that the imported dogs arrived at Dartbrook much before 1830.
During the 1830s the expansion of the pastoral industry, combined with an expanding whaling industry and capital inflow from Britain, fuelled rapid growth in the New South Wales colony but downturn began in 1840 with the 1838-1840 drought. A wave of bank failures in the early 1840s appear not to have affected the Halls but the economic conditions and the drought, itself, certainly checked George’s plans for northward expansion. George’s death, in 1840, might have halted those plans permanently had not his family decided to carry on as George would have wished and when conditions favoured them, in the name of the George Hall Estate, “The Firm” as the family called it. Business as usual, under the direction of William and Thomas Hall.
The 1830s were a period of consolidation during which Thomas was able give his attention to breeding on from his imported working dogs and the need for effective dogs assumed new urgency in the 1830s. Criticism of the convict transportation system was becoming louder and the Molesworth report to the British Government in 1837 recommended abolition, describing transportation as “not just exile but slavery as well”. For pastoralists like the Halls this foreshadowed labour shortage. In 1833 convicts made up 40% of the New South Wales population.
The Order-in-Council ending transportation to New South Wales was signed in 1837 and the last convict ship to Sydney arrived in late 1840. Land owners, such as W.C. Wentworth, agitated for reintroduction of transportation as a labour supply for wool growers and other free immigrants who had been attracted to the colony by the prospect of land grants and assigned convict labour. Wentworth’s lobby had considerable clout and a small number of transportees were sent to New South Wales during the later 1840s. The last convicts arrived in New South Wales in 1850.
© Noreen Clark 2019.
Reference. RDP 2001-07: A History of Last-Resort Lending and Other Support for Troubled Financial Institutions in Australia 4. The 1840s Depression Bryan Fitz-Gibbon and Marianne Gizycki . October 2001 https://www.rba.gov.au/publications/rdp/2001/2001-07/1840s-depression.html