Grafton – A Unique History


This year due to health issues, I have had a dramatic change of life-style. This included retiring as a busy community volunteer and the closing of my history research and publishing business, ‘Heritage Path’. Consequently, I have also taken down my website, also known as ‘Heritage Path’ . I’m always the optimist and am hopeful this will not be permanent.

Heritage Path

Only five of my seventy odd publications on family and local history are still available and can be purchased from me privately. These are: “The Eggins Family History” (1990) ; “The German Community in the Clarence River District” (1999) ; European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″ (2000), “As Time Goes By – Grafton’s Fascination with Time Pieces” (2009) and ‘Life and Times of the Carr’s Creek Area 1839-2013” (2013).

Over the next few weeks I will share extracts and excerpts from some of my out of print books to help family historians put their ancestors into context, of time and place, on the Clarence River.

Grafton is a city situated on the Clarence River in Northern New South Wales, and is about 80 km inland, from the mouth of the river.

The first settlers arrived here in 1838 to cut timber from the banks of the river. Soon afterwards pastoralist arrived and took up ‘Runs’ or ‘Stations along the river, and the surrounding area.

A small settlement first appeared on the south bank of the river, but it wasn’t long before the north bank was also settled.

Some ten years later the settlers petitioned the Government to have a town laid out and the land surveyed to be sold by Government auctions.

In 1848, Surveyor William Wedge Darke was sent to lay out the town and survey land for sale. The town was called ‘Grafton’ in honour of Governor Fitzroy’s grandfather, the Duke of Grafton.

The first land sales took place in 1850. The town grew quickly as more land became available through Government auctions.

When the NSW Municipality Act was passed in 1858, Grafton was one of the first towns to petition the Government to form a Municipality. The petition was successful and the following year on 20 July 1859, Grafton was formally gazetted as a municipality.

Soon after incorporation, Grafton could boast to having, a Post and Telegraph office; a Steam Navigation Company; a Custom House; a Court House; a School of Arts; a National School; Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist churches; a gaol; a ferry; and a hospital. These being the first of their kind on the northern rivers of New South Wales.

Grafton was also the first city on the northern rivers. The foundation stone of Christ Church Cathedral was laid in 1874, and soon afterwards Grafton claimed city status. However, it was not officially proclaimed a city until 1885, several months after the opening of the cathedral in 1884. There were only six cities in New South Wales at the time:- Sydney, Newcastle, Bathurst, Armidale, Goulburn and Grafton.

Some fifty years later Grafton was to have another ‘first’. 1934 saw the establishment of the Jacaranda Festival, the first floral festival in Australia. Today the city is known the world over for its Jacaranda trees and festival.

The city grew from strength to strength over the years and in 2009 celebrated the Sesqui-centenary, or 150 years of Local Government.”

During 2009 I wrote and published three books on Grafton and its heritage, all of which, although some are long out of print, can be found in many town and family history society libraries.

The above extract is from the ‘Introduction’ of these publications.

Grafton-First City on the North Coast, Our Unique Heritage Cover

In the first book “Grafton- First City on the North Coast, Our Unique Heritage”, I explained not only how the city got it’s name, but the unique connection it has to the Duke of Grafton, of Euston Hall, Thetford, Norfolk, in England, even today.

There are also connections to other branches of the Fitzroy family. Although the following branch of the Fitzroy family is not the direct or principal line of the Dukes of Grafton, never the less it, has a very important connection with the city too.

Charles Fitzroy, born 14 July 1764, was the younger brother of George Henry Fitzroy, and the second son of Augustus Henry, the 4th Duke of Grafton and his wife Anne Liddell. Charles Fitzroy married Frances Munday. Their son, Charles Augustus Fitzroy, born 1796,grew up in the early years of the Napoleonic era. He entered military service and obtained a commission as a lieutenant in the Horse Guards when he was sixteen, and was a staff officer at the Battle of Waterloo.

In 1820 he married Mary Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond for whom the Richmond River and Lennox Heads in Northern New South Wales, were named. Charles Fitzroy, was made a captain in 1820 and a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1825, when he became Deputy-Adjutant General at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

Returning to England in 1831 he followed his grandfather into politics when he was elected to the House of Commons as a member for Bury St Edmunds, but soon afterwards he retired from the army and politics, when he was knighted and was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Prince Edward Island in Canada. From 1841 to 1845 he was Governor of the Leeward Islands. On 20 February 1846 he was given a commission as Governor of New South Wales.

There were many important developments in New South Wales during Fitzroy’s term of office:-convict transportation ceased; ‘squatting’ became more systematised and regulated; railways were introduced; a steamer postal service with England, Scotland and Ireland was inaugurated; gold was discovered; a branch of the Royal mint was established; the building of the Sydney Exchange and the Fitzroy Dock was begun and the University of Sydney was founded.

It was also during his term that the important Acts of 1850 and 1855 took place that led to the ‘Constitution’ and responsible government in New South Wales.

The death of his wife Mary, in Sydney on 7 December 1847, when she was thrown from a runaway carriage, was a terrible tragedy. Fitzroy himself was injured.

It was he, in 1849, who conferred the name ‘Grafton’, on the newly planned town, on the Clarence River, in honour of his grandfather, the illustrious Augustus Henry Fitzroy, the 3rd Duke of Grafton.

Fitzroy’s term of office ended in January 1855 and he soon returned to England where he died in 1858.”

Governor Charles Fitzroy’s, younger brother, Robert Fitzroy also had a distinguished career.

Robert Fitzroy, born 5 July 1805, was the son of Charles Fitzroy and his second wife, Frances Stewart. He was brought up at Wakefield, the family estate in Northamptonshire, was sent firstly to Harrow, and then in 1818, to the Royal Naval College in Portsmouth. By the time he was twenty-three he was in command of the naval frigate, ‘HMS Beagle’. He was instructed to carry out surveying and the  exploration of the South American coastline, and invited his friend, the naturalist, Charles Darwin, to accompany him. It was during this voyage that Darwin made his observations, which provided the inspiration, for the many years of hard work, on which his theory of ‘evolution through natural selection’ would be based.

Robert Fitzroy retired from the navy and entered the English parliament for a short while before being appointed Governor of New Zealand. He was recalled and returned to naval service commanding the first screw-driven ship to be commissioned by the Royal Navy. He also developed an obsessional interest in meteorology. With his long sea experience and inquiring mind he developed the fundamental techniques of weather forecasting, designed the first barometer and ships thermometer, and invented the system of storm warnings and signals, which saved countless lives in the ensuing decades.

The ‘HMS Beagle’, under another captain, visited Australian waters during the 1830’s and undertook much exploration around the Australian coast line. Some early Clarence River settlers have claimed to have been on board during these voyages.”

There are places called ‘Grafton’ in other countries in the world.

“In Dublin, Grafton Street, named after the 2nd Duke of Grafton, is famous for the statue of sweet ‘Molly Malone’.

In New Zealand, Grafton is a suburb of Auckland and was named for the Duke of Grafton, who was a patron of William Hobson, the first Governor of New Zealand. Grafton Bridge is an iconic Auckland bridge spanning Grafton Gully and connects the suburb with Auckland itself.

There are also several small towns in the United States of America named ‘Grafton’, which are in New Hampshire, West Virginia, North Dakota, Massachusetts and Ohio.

Although some of these places are also named in honour of the Duke of Grafton, they do not have the continued close ties with the Dukedom in England, nor can they, use the Coat of Arms of the Duke of Grafton as their Municipal Coat of Arms, a privileged endowment our city of Grafton enjoyed for over 80 years before amalgamation of the Clarence Valley Councils in 2004.”

Grafton City Municipal Flag

I hope these extracts has whetted your appetite for more history on the Clarence River district.