1850 - 1899 Western Sydney - an outline history

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Gold had been discovered in California in 1849. Two years later it was found at Ophir, near Bathurst, NSW. Further gold discoveries throughout the 1850s and 1860s provided stimulation to industry and saw settlement spread into remote districts. Not all mineral activity was beyond Sydney. Silver deposits were found in the Burragorang Valley at the end of the century and in 1897 there were 600 miners at work.

In 1850 Victoria became independent from New South Wales. Responsible self government from Britain was granted in New South Wales in 1855. Electoral reforms in 1858 meant that most men over the age of 21 were allowed to vote. Two years later Queensland ceased to be part of New South Wales. Politicians were not paid until 1890 so there were few opportunities for working men to become politically active until the 1890s which saw the emergence of the Labor Party.

In 1855 the first government railway opened between Sydney and Granville ,extending south to Liverpool by 1856, and west from Parramatta to Blacktown by 1860 and on to Penrith with a branch line to service Windsor and Richmond, opening in 1864. Many of the smaller railway stations were added in later years as land was subdivided along the railway line and population increased. Other stations were built because a politician lived nearby. Henry Parkes was responsible for Werrington station (originally called Parkes Platform) in 1868 when he was living near by and a decade later for Canley Vale station near his home of Canley Grange in 1878.

The railway opened up the forest lands to the timber cutters. There were saw mills at virtually every railway station on the western and southern lines. Itinerant axemen were followed by small companies equipped with steam engines to mill the timber which was sent to Sydney as firewood and building materials. Cleared of heavy timber, the land was replanted with citrus orchards and vineyards.

Many small industries flourished along the rivers and creeks of the County of Cumberland. A paper mill, possibly the first in Australia, opened at Collingwood, Liverpool in 1868. Textile manufacturers in Parramatta, Granville and Liverpool had intermittent success, large tanneries flourished along South Creek at St Marys and along Prospect Creek at Smithfield in the 1880s, while heavy metal industry proved successful in the vicinity of Duck River.

Construction of the Upper Nepean Water Supply Scheme from 1879 to 1888 had a major impact on the growth of Western Sydney - and the survival of Sydney as a large urban centre. An impressive system of tunnels and open canals brought water to a new reservoir that was built beneath Prospect Hill. From Prospect, large timber trestles initially carried the water to Sydney until replaced by an open canal through Fairfield and Holroyd to Guildford then by pipes through Granville to a reservoir at Potts Hill near Lidcombe. The decade of construction brought hundreds of men into the southern areas of the County of Cumberland. Work camps of tents, bag huts and humpies followed the route - and with the men came their wives and families, many of whom chose to stay in the west and south west.

Many government charitable institutions were established throughout Western Sydney to care for men, women and children. Orphaned and destitute children were cared for in the Female Orphan School at Parramatta from 1818, the Male Orphan School at Fairfield from 1826 and the Roman Catholic Orphan School at Parramatta from 1844. Destitute men, often former convicts in the early years, found shelter with institutions such as the Benevolent Society of New South Wales which took over Liverpool hospital in 1853 and the Macquarie street and George Street Asylums in Parramatta from the 1860s. Newington House at Auburn became an asylum for aged and ill women who were moved there from Hyde Park Barracks in 1883. Nearby at Lidcombe a reformatory for boys was built but became instead in 1893 the Rookwood Asylum for Infirm and Destitute Men. The mentally ill were cared for in the old Female Factory which evolved into the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum in the1850s. Its overcrowded facilities gained some relief with the opening of Rydalmere Hospital for the Insane in the late 1880s. Adult offenders were imprisoned in Parramatta Gaol from the 1840s. Male juvenile offenders from 1867 might find themselves aboard the Vernon training ship. The girls' reformatory moved from Cockatoo Island to Parramatta in 1887.

Natural disasters struck the region, particularly along the Hawkesbury which recorded the highest ever flood in 1867 followed in 1874 by a great fire in Windsor which destroyed much of the town.

Intellectual and educational progress often relied on the commitment of individuals, such as Thomas and Hannah Moore of Moorebank whose bequest in 1856 established Moore Theological College at Liverpool. At Windsor in 1861 John Tebbutt, local astronomer, discovered a new comet and in 1863 built the first of four observatories. Private efforts were supplemented with government commitment to education with the passing of the Public Instruction Act in 1880.