HISTORY OF BLACK SPRINGS
WE ACKNOWLEDGE AND RESPECT THE ANCIENT CULTURE OF THE ABORIGINAL PEOPLE THE GUNDUNGURRA, WIRADJURI & DURAG, WHO CARED FOR THIS LAND
Long before any white man had crossed the Blue Mountains, the first inhabitants had walked the land for thousands of years. The higher country in our area was traversed by the surrounding Indigenous nations, to travel to their summer and winter camps, and for hunting and gathering. They preferred the lower areas close to rivers for setting up camps, and the rough high country provided an abundance of wildlife for food and skins.
The Black Springs area lies within the fluid border areas between the lands of the Gundungurra, Wiradjuri and Durag people. Other Aboriginal nations also used the tracks as trading routes. These ‘paths’ were not marked but ‘known’.
One of their crossing paths was the plateau near Kanangra Walls where smooth round holes can still be seen, worn into the rock surfaces by the grinding and sharpening of stone axes and spear heads. Another was the route between their Gundungurra summer camp at the head of the Cox’s River to their winter camp in Burragorang Le Tonsure, Dual, Bian, Coocoogong (a Gundungurra chief) Bundles, Broughton & Gilderoy (from the Darug nation)./Camden.
The track used by the explorers were shown to them by the original inhabitants. who knew many ways over the land. Some of the first nation people associated with our history were ‘trackers’, Bradbury,
AVOCA CATHOLIC CHURCH - 1888
ST AIDAN’S ANGLICAN CHURCH - 1891
GREG GRADY AND CLIVE BEHAN BUILD SHOP 1937
SHOP PROPRIETORS - CLIVE BEHAN—1938-1944
PAT FORAN 1947 -1956
MAX HANRAHAN 1956 - 1960’S
POST OFFICE -TOM STAPLETON (CLOSED 1970’S)
WILLOW SPRINGS ROAD BLACK SPRINGS - 1940’S & 50’S
FORESTRY COMMISSION DEPOT - 1953
FIRST HOME BUILT IN NEW VILLAGE, RESERVE AVE
MORTON AND BETTY GIBBONS (HOTHAM) - 1956
BERNIE AND DOREEN ENGLISH’S GARAGE AND SHOP -1957
BLACK SPRINGS SCHOOL -(FIRST TEACHER BRUCE CADY) - 1959
SPORTS GROUND AND TENNIS COURTS - 1962
FIRST FAMILIES IN NEW VILLAGE
BEHAN, BRAID, DAVIS, ENGLISH, FORAN, GIBBONS , HANRAHAN, HOTHAM,
MAZZOTTI, PERROTT, STACY, STAPLETON, WILDS, WILLIAMS & WILSON
Interesting Localities surrounding our district which impacted our district:
The ABERCROMBIE RANGES
The wild country around the Abercrombie River was a popular ‘laying low’ hideout for anyone wanting to avoid the law. It was well known as a safe refuge for ‘bushrangers’ fleeing from the authorities in the mid 1800’s Bushrangers, Fred Lowry, John Foley, Larry Cummings and Ben Hall, are some who sought the safety of the Abercrombie Ranges.
Danny Maloney, who lived a short ride from the Abercrombie hills, is said to have made boots for Ben Hall and his gang.
CHINESE GOLD DIGGERS
The gold rush brought thousands of Chinese to NSW. Anti-Chinese sentiments started to rise among the European settlers, because the Chinese were so successful. A riot in 1861 sent the Chinese to find gold in the less populated regions. Remains of Chinese workings could be found around ISABELLA, ARKSTONE and the ABERCROMBIE areas until recently. Ah Long, an old goldminer and Chinese herbalist, had a hut on the Gibbons farm beside the Isabella River in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s.
DOG ROCKS was named because the native dogs lived among the rocks.
The Dog Rocks was also another favoured spot for bushrangers. It was used as a lookout, as the road from Bathurst to the south of the district was easily seen from its heights
In 1863 the Hall Gang held Assistant Commissioner Keightly from Dunn’s Plains, on top of ‘Dog Rocks’until a 500-pound ransom was paid for his release.
The Dog Rocks Road is one of the oldest roads in NSW.
MOUNT DAVID was a thriving mining town at the turn of the century. The mine employed at least 130 men in its ‘heyday’. Walter Martin was the mine manager. The town had a number of pubs, a bank, church, dance hall and shops. The mine closed because of underground water, which filled shafts and made it impossible to dig deeper.
The BRISBANE VALLEY area is just north east of Black Springs and the landholders were part of the Black Springs community. Some of them were involved in the building of Avoca Church, and the early schools. Their children attended Mimosa Dell and Daisy Bank Schools
Many surrounding areas, such as Porters Retreat, Shooters Hill and Isabella had their own Church, Post Office and Store. Porters Retreat also had a Police Station and Hall.
First Settlers to Black Springs
The original inhabitants of this land are the Australian Aborigines of the Wiradjuri, Darug and Gundangara people.
The first Europeans to set foot west of the Blue Mountains were escaped convicts, who fled into the wilderness country surrounding Sydney. Some escaped just a few months after the first fleet’s arrival in 1788.
John Caesar was one escapee, who roamed the unexplored areas of the Sydney Colony. The first of his many escapes was in 1789.
George Bass was in the Burragorang Valley in 1796. Other white men had also walked these tracks, as early as 1792 when John Wilson lived with the Gundungurra people for several years. He walked a number of tracks over the mountains, not knowing exactly where he was, so his travels were not officially recorded.
Bass and Flinders mentioned a group of white men and women, (escaped convicts), living in the wilderness of the Illawarra in 1797. The Illawarra borders the Burragorang area.
Francis Barrallier crossed the Kowmung River south of Kanangra Walls, in 1802.
Folklore, handed down from our ancestors, place our pioneer relatives among those earlier explorers.
Surveyor George Evans named the Campbells River when he crossed it on December 8th 1813. Evans and his party were sent by Governor Lachlan Macquarie to explore the land west of the Blue Mountains after Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson’s exploration that same year. Evans named both the Campbells & Fish Rivers when exploring the O’Connell plains near Bathurst.
Explorer, Charles Throsby, on 25th April 1819 pioneered exploration west of the Blue Mountains, when he left the Cowpastures, (near present day Camden), and travelled sou-sou-west, then west, nor-west and nor-nor-west, finishing his journey near the site of Bathurst. Governor Lachlan Macquarie stated in a despatch that: “The richest fertile country passed over by Mr Throsby…will be fully equal to meet every increase of the population.”
The first record of exploration in the Black Springs Area is that of Charles Throsby in 1819.
An earlier track followed a line blazed in 1818 by surveyor James Meehan, Throsby and Hamilton Hume, which went generally east of the present Hume Highway, passing over the Mittagong Range near the Gib, through Bong Bong and Sutton Forest and by a circuitous route to Bungonia. Throsby’s line followed this track until beyond Sutton Forest where it deviated west, following the Bathurst expedition route as far as the Goulburn Plains.
The earliest explorers covered a vast tract of land stretching from Bong Bong, over the Cookbundoon Ranges to the County of Argyle near Taralga, the Burra Burra Lagoon and continuing north over the Abercrombie River to the Campbells River and on through to Bathurst.
When Lachlan Macquarie visited the Cookbundoon Range in October 1820, he praised the explorers for paving the way southwest of the Blue Mountains.
On 20th October 1820, explorer John Oxley travelled from Bathurst through the region. Oxley and his party followed the river, continuing on its eastern side, while travelling through Swatchfield and camped on the headwaters of the Campbells River that evening.
Surveyor James Meehan formerly marked a track in 1821 –
“From the Burra Burra Lagoon, (present day Taralga), which extended northerly across the Abercrombie and Colborne rivers, (Little River, Porters Retreat), to the source of the Campbells River.”
The First Record of Settlement in the Black Springs Area
William Davis, James Meehan and Philip Hogan, (United Irishmen), came to the Colony as convicts on board the ‘Friendship’,in 1800. Edward Redmond, also a United Irishman, arrived in the Colony on the ‘Minerva’, in January 1800. These four men had a major influence in the first settlement of the Black Springs area.
James Meehan, explorer and surveyor, was assigned to Charles Grimes, the acting Surveyor General, in April 1800, the same year Meehan arrived at the Colony as an Irish political convict. James Meehan surveyed all the earliest farms in New South Wales and established a street plan for the early township of Bathurst.
William Davis was given an unconditional pardon and he obtained land in The Rocks area of Sydney in 1809.
On 19th November 1823, William Davis was permitted to proceed with cattle and servants to Argyle, the country south-west of the Cookbundoon Ranges.
On 3rd May 1825, Sir Thomas Brisbane, gave William Davis permission to purchase 1000 acres of land, situated in the County of Georgiana at a place known by the Native name Beemarang, or Swatchfield.
Reaching back to the very beginnings of Catholic life in Australia is the first Catholic Church built in the early 1840s. St. Patrick’s stands in the historic Rocks area and the names of William Davis, Edward Redmond, James Meehan and Philip Hogan are linked inseparably with St Patrick’s history.
In 1840, William Davis donated land, bounded by Gloucester and Grosvenor Streets from his 1809 grant, to build St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. The foundation stone was blessed on 25 August 1840.
William Davis, together with Edward Redmond, were both major shareholders in the first Bank of New South Wales. James Meehan became Acting Surveyor of Lands for the Colony and died on 21st April 1826.
Edmond Redmond leased land in the Campbells River area on the Eastern side of the Abercrombie River. His 1000 acres at Bingham, County Georgiana (Lower Arkstone) was granted in 1825, and surveyed on 31st August 1838.
Philip Hogan was granted 120 acres at South Creek in 1818. His next grant was 50 acres in the district of Sutton, County Argyle, on the 30th November 1822. Phillip and Mary Hogan’s son, Michael, had received his first land grant by 1822.
Mary McMahon was born in Innes, Ireland, in 1777 and transported to the Colony on board the ‘Rolla’ in 1803.
On 1st November 1809, Colonel William Peterson granted Mary 60 acres of land in the vicinity of Cooks River, St George Parish.
Philip Hogan married Mary McMahon on the 26th March 1810. Mary wrote to Governor Macquarie in 1810 asking for a land grant and pardon for her husband. In her petition, she requested that any papers be sent to Edward Redmond, The Rocks.
Philip and Mary Hogan’s family were established in the Abercrombie, Tuglow, Campbells River area possibly as early as the 1820s. After leaving South Creek, they settled at Hogan’s Station, Wiaborough, near the head of the Abercrombie River.
An old Hogan property, The Wrens Nest, at Porters Retreat, is recorded as early as 1829; however, the Hogan family was obviously well settled before then.
Philip Hogan died on 23rd May 1829. Philip’s Headstone epithet reads:
“How loved, how valu’d once avails thee not.
To whom related or by whom begot
A heap of dust alone remains of me:
‘tis all thou art – and all the proud shall be!”
Philip’s wife, Mary and their children went on to pioneer the areas of Black Springs, Tuglow, Duckmaloi, Bingham, Laggan and Limerick and many localities between all those regions. To this day, numerous old Hogan properties remain with the descendant families of Mary and Philip.
Mary Hogan died at ‘Tuglow’ on 7th September 1859 and is buried at the Black Springs Historic Catholic Cemetery.
Patrick Hanrahan arrived in the colony aboard the ‘Atlas 11’ in 1802, from Galway, Ireland. He was granted a Conditional Pardon for his services in assisting to make the first road to Bathurst.
Patrick Hanrahan is mentioned in 1822, along with Michael Hogan, Charles York and James Smithey, as receiving permission to take 117 head of their cattle through the Cowpastures over the Cookbundoon Ranges to County Argyle. Patrick Hanrahan’s second wife was Catherine Burke nee Hogan, daughter of Philip and Mary Hogan. Records show he was leasing land at Swatchfield on 1st January 1837.
John Larkin Scarvell, son-in-law of Edward Redmond, secured 2560 acres at Arundel Park in 1829.
Sarah McHenry, daughter of Rev Henry Fulton, was granted 1280 acres, between the head of the Brisbane Valley Creek and Swatchfield in 1829, as a free grant to a clergyman’s daughter.
Davis, Redmond, Hogan, Meehan and Fulton were a small group of emancipists who played an important part in the affairs of the Colony during Macquarie’s governorship. Their energy and ability justified Macquarie’s belief that good conduct and reformation should enable a man to regain his place in society, which he had lost when sentenced to transportation.
Name: Black Springs
The name ‘Swathchfield’ is first mentioned in a warrant from Governor Thomas Brisbane on 3rd May 1825, allowing William Davis to purchase 1000 acres in the “Counties of Georgiana and Westmorland Parish unnamed at Beemerang, or Swatchfield on the Campbells River.” The Parish of Swatchfield is a locality just off the Campbells River in East New South Wales and is situated about 130kms west of Sydney.
In 1858, Patrick Hanrahan Senior, referred to his fifty acres – “situated at Black Springs in the said Colony”. This was some 2 miles west of where the present day Black Springs village is located. Patrick and Catherine’s son, Michael Hanrahan, (Burke), was appointed postmaster of Black Springs on 1st October 1870.
The present day Black Springs was swampy, green scrub with tall timbers and once known as Kangaroo Flat, or Avoca.
On 25th October 1885, the Catholic Bishop of Bathurst, Bishop Joseph Byrne, held a three day mission in a tent at Kangaroo Flat, (located at St Aidans) and renamed the area Avoca after the vales of Ireland.
He stated in his diary – “Avoca, a new name given to Kangaroo Flat”. The area was widely known as Avoca until the mid 1950’s.
On the 2nd July 1954 it was dedicated as the Village of Swatchfield.
On 14th April 1961 the village name was altered under the Crown Lands Consolidation Act, 1931, to Black Springs.
Prior to 1950 the locals referred to the area as the ‘Crossroads’ and the only building was the relocated Post Office/Store.
Black Springs Post Office
Michael Hanrahan (Burke) was informed by G J Stevenson esq. JP of Swatchfield that he had been recommended as Post Master at Black Springs. Michael Hanrahan was appointed postmaster on the 1st October 1870.
Michael’s daughter, Julia, was assigned as postmistress on 2nd July 1910, following the death of her father. A telephone office was established on 30th September 1914 and a public telephone was available at the post office. The first households to have the telephone connected were the Stephenson’s at Swatchfield and the Burcher’s at Tilsbury.
John Edward Clive Behan succeeded Julia Hanrahan as postmaster on 1st July 1937. The Post Office was relocated to the cross roads where the current village of Black Springs is now situated.
The first school in the Black Springs area was Mimosa Dell. A successful application to open the school, was lodged in July 1876, by John Kessey, John Grady, Thomas Foley and Daniel Mc Fee and the school opened in 1881. From June 1883, Mimosa Dell school shared a teacher with Walbrook school. Mimosa Dell closed in 1948.
The second school opened at Swatchfield in 1881, after an application from Alfred Stevenson, James Hanrahan and John Foley was successful. Swatchfield closed in the late 1950’s
The third school, Daisy Bank, opened after an application was lodged on 4th September 1892. The families attending this school were Charles Moran, George Arrow, J M Behan, Patrick Behan, P Hanrahan, and E W Hotham. Daisy Bank closed in 1968. The current Black Springs School opened in 1959 and became the local primary school for all in the district.
The historic Avoca Catholic Church, St Vincent De Paul, was built in 1888 on land that was once part of Claremont, owned by Peter and Margaret Behan and donated by their son, John, in the 1880’s. The stone for the church was obtained from the bluestone quarry on Glenroy, a neighbouring property to the site, owned by Edward Hotham.
This beautiful old stone church stands as testimony to the early pioneers and remains the hub of Catholic faith in the area today, with Mass held each weekend.
The Anglican Dioceses of Bathurst procured land from the Catholic Dioceses of Bathurst on 29th January 1886 for St. Aidans Church.
Affectionately known as “The Little Tin Church”, St Aidans was opened by the very Reverend Dr Charles Edward Camidge, Anglican Bishop of Bathurst, on 14th March 1891.
From 2008 to 2012 there was a recess in services as no minister was made available.
The church was reinstated on 4th March 2012 by Bishop Richard Hurford and continued until the church was de-consecrated and closed by Bishop Ian Palmer on 26th November 2017 and was sold without consultation with its congregation, to help pay down Diocesan debts.
The church was re-hallowed by Rev Andrew Sempell, after a benefactor purchased the church and land and returned it to its congregation.
The church and land are to be used as a haven of peace and reflection. The land has become a Conservation Area with old growth forest intact.
The Black Springs area is renowned for its fertile basalt soils and high rainfall, ideal for farming and grazing.
The residents of the district sourced various viable means to make a living. Many ventures were tried and tested, such as gold mining; milling of natural timber; distilling of eucalyptus oil, together with pea and potato growing.
The production of fat lamb and beef cattle became, and remains, one of the most viable industries amongst local farmers.
In 1929 an area of land was dedicated as Vulcan State Forest, however it wasn’t until the 1950’s that the forestry industry commenced and more land was secured for planting pine. The forestry development supplied many locals with employment and the production of timber is a major industry in the region today.
John Foley - Bushranger
John Foley born in 1833 and died 26th Feb 1891 aged 58
Information condensed from story written by Mrs Narelle Kissell
John Foley has left an indelible mark in that Part of Australia’s Colonial History known as “The Bushranger Era”
John’s colourful story has been mentioned in several books and passed down orally through successive close-knit families of the Black Springs / Porters Retreat area.
John Foley’s story is unusual in that having paid the penalty for his crime, he settled down, married and became the father of a large family and a well-respected member of the community.
John and his brother Patrick were the sons of Lawrence and Mary Margaret Foley.
John and Patrick married two sisters the daughters of Peter and Margaret Behan of Claremont Black Springs.
John married Bridget Margaret Behan and Patrick married Ann Elizabeth Behan.
Australia’s first Bushrangers were convict escapees, many of them Irish who took to the bush in desperate attempts to be free. There were many stories and colonial rhymes shared around the huts and open fireplaces of our early settlers, with young lads listening keenly and believing the deeds against the law as being heroic. John would have been one of these lads.
Prior to his marriage to Bridget on 13th November 1877, in the Catholic Church at O’Connell, John lived a life outside the law.
John developed a friendship with Thomas Fredrick Lowry, Lowry had formed a relationship with Ben Hall and Frank Gardiner.
The friendship between John and Lowey, lead to unlawful exploits, the most brazen being the Robbery of the Mudgee Mail on 13th July 1863.
The story written by Narelle Kissell portrays a reckless and vehement time involving revolvers with shot outs. Fred Lowey was shot at Limerick on the Cooksvale.
John was finally apprehended and sentenced to 15 years gaol. He served 10 years and on returning home settled down to married life with Bridget.
John and Bridget lived on their small farm purchased by John in 14th June 1877. (now known as Aveleigh Elms on the Abercrombie Rd)
John and Bridget had 3 daughters and 3 sons.
John contributed to the building of the Avoca Church and one windows in the church is in memory of his parents Lawrence and Margaret Foley. John also has a window in his memory.
John died suddenly on 26th Feb 1891 aged 58 whilst riding home from the Avoca Church, he had suffered a heart attack.
Bridget was left to raise their children and lived in the area all her live. Bridget never remarried and spent the next 43 years devoted to her family and her faith.
John is buried in the Old Black Springs Cemetery.
The full “John Foley Story” by Narelle Kissell will be place in a booklet for the October festival.
Historic facts submitted by local historian, Alan Hoolihan, from documented resources, assisted by Christine Healey and Karel Hogan, with special mention to Thora Hogan and Paddy Grady Wozencraft.
Further information resources are available on Black Springs Community Association website –
The information on this heritage wall is based on resources that document the history of our region and those who pioneered our land. Careful research has been conducted, however, no written article is entirely perfect and although it has been our aim to provide the reader with details of early exploration of our region, there is always scope for discrepancies. Should there be a name, or event omitted, it has not been intentional as we have explored every avenue to attain accurate information. References are provided for information purposes only and do not constitute endorsement of any book or website. Please be aware that websites listed may change.
Map of Charles Throsby’s expedition 1819 (The Royal Australian Historical Society Journal and Proceedings Vol VII part V)