Old East India Company Windmill, Government Domain, Sydney

Old Windmill. Government Domain, Sydney, 1836, lithograph, by J.G. Austin, State Library of New South Wales, PXA 662p

In the early days of Sydney, this windmill stood in the Domain near Government House stables. Its exact position was close to the statue of a huntsman with dogs by Henri Alfred Jacquemart, which is still in the grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens. Built of stone, it was owned by the Government and was used for grinding the grain of the settlers.

According to Freeman’s Journal, the windmill was built by the East India Company who were granted land around Farm Cove. The Governor of New South Wales later took forcible possession of the mill which resulted in a drawn-out lawsuit between the company and the government. Finally, in 1835 Sir Richard Bourke had the mill taken down and removed.

An interesting story about stolen money that had been buried in the ruins was recounted by ‘Fido’ in 1897, letter to the editor.

During the lawsuit between the company and the Imperial Government, the land was held in trust by the Internal Revenue Office. In the year 1832, my father was employed at the Internal Revenue Office at the corner of King and Macquarie streets.

The Collector of Internal Revenue, Mr Wm. McPherson, put my father in the possession of two cottages at the mill for a residence. At this time, where the Bent-street entrance is was occupied as a large dairy, kept by Mr W. Stone. I was a frequent caller at the dairy and knew the people that kept it. There was a large gate near the dairy; it stood a bit in from Bent-street, and faced Macquarie-street, with two large Norfolk Island pines on either side. This was the entrance to the company’s mill, but it could not be called a public entrance in the accepted meaning, it being on private property.

While we lived at the mill a remarkable thing occurred; it was the unearthing of the money stolen from the Bank of Australasia, which was buried in the mill. I wrote an account of this to the Freeman at the time of the International Exhibition; but as it might be interesting now, with your permission, I will relate a few of the main facts as they came under my own notice.

As I said before, the mill was long thrown idle by the action taken by Governor Macquarie. It was now fast falling into decay; it was a weird-looking object, with its enormous hardwood racks stretching far away in the air. The rails had long since been blown away from the racks. It was very broad at the base and strongly built with cut stone. It was a circular building and stood about ninety feet high. It had one door on the ground floor, which faced towards Government House; the ground floor was an earthen one; the floor above was floored with hardwood and stood about fifteen feet above the ground floor; there was a square opening in it, and hardwood steps about eight feet wide leading to the floor above.

It was under those steps that the stolen money was buried. A person standing at the front of the mill would have a clear view of the entrance gate and the road leading to the mill. Our residence was on the lower side of the mill and faced to the north-west. I don’t think a good view of the road could be had from there, as the mill intervened. It was one fine morning about the year 1833 or ’34 that myself and three sisters were playing in front of the mill when we saw two men coming down the road bearing something between them.

It being an unusual occurrence, we lost no time in acquainting our mother, our father not being at home. Our mother came out to see the men and learn their business. We could see they were two rough looking men and bore a suspicious look about them, and carried a large tub between them. On reaching where we stood, one of them informed their mother that they had been sent by a gentleman to get a tubful of the earth out of the mill.

The request was a remarkable one, as they could obtain good soil anywhere outside; but as it was a ground floor, and they were sent by a gentleman, mother thought she had better tell them to take it, as from the appearance of the men we all wished them away. This decision of my mother I believe saved our lives, as no doubt they were prepared to commit murder in case they were discovered, which was liable to happen at any moment.

On getting my mother’s permission, they went into the mill and closed the door after them, this being no easy matter, for the door had rusted on its hinges from being continually left standing wide open, and this circumstance added greatly to our suspicions, seeing that the only light they would have would be the faint light through the hatchway from the floor above. How long they stayed? It was a considerable time. I know my mother had gone back to her household duties, taking my two youngest sisters with her. I and my sister drew back from the mill but planted ourselves in a spot where we could see the door. After waiting some time, we saw the door open, and the men appeared, bearing the tub between them.

As we kept well out of sight they could not see us; they gave a look around to see that they were not watched and then started up the road, bearing the tub between them. On reaching the gate, which was about a hundred yards from the mill, they rested for a moment to change sides, giving a sharp look around at the same time, when they darted through. We stopped in our hiding place for a considerable time for fear that they would return, but they were gone.

As soon as we could muster the courage to leave our hiding-place we started for the mill. The door was left half open. On going inside we saw the ground had been disturbed underneath the steps, and there were lots of papers flying about the mill. We thought the whole business very strange at the time; but we had not long to wait for a solution, as those two men were shortly after arrested in trying to pass some of the money which was known as the money stolen from the above bank, and they were proved to be two escaped convicts from Norfolk Island, no doubt two of the gang that had been sent down there for life some time previous, as they knew where it was planted. They were sent back to the island.

This engraving by J. G. Austin was done around 1831. Even though the walls of the Government House stables are still recognisable the mill is depicted as a rugged old pile with the bush hut beside a few sparse shrubs and flowers.

by Geoff Barker, Senior Curator, Research and Discovery

References
VIEWS OF OLD SYDNEY The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912) 14 January 1888: 81. Web. 28 Sep 2017
A BIT OF OLD SYDNEY HISTORY. (1897, January 23). Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1932), p. 20. Retrieved March 20, 2018, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115469052

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