The Prospect Heritage Trust Inc.

William Lawson Snr

© Prospect Heritage Trust Inc.

William Lawson was born on 2 June, 1774. He was educated in London and became a qualified surveyor. In June 1799 he paid 300 hundred pounds for a commission in the NSW Corps. Ensign Lawson arrived in Sydney, with the Corps, on the Royal Admiral on 22 November 1800.

Soon after arriving in the Colony he was posted to Norfolk Island where he formed an association with a convict, Sarah Leadbeater. Whilst living on Norfolk Island they had 2 sons, John and William Jnr. By the middle of 1803 Lawson had acquired 44 acres of land and was breeding stock and selling pigs to the Government. When he left Norfolk Island in 1806 he had reached the rank of Lieutenant. Lawson, Sarah and their two sons sailed back to Sydney on the Lady Nelson, which was captained by a man named Simmons. Their 3rd son, Nelson Simmons, was born on 26 May, during the voyage.  On 23 March 1812, William Lawson and Sarah were married at St John’s Church, Parramatta by special licence. They had a total of 11 children, 4 of which died in infancy.

On 12 June 1806 Lawson took up farming at Concord and was given 18 cows from the Government herd as part payment for services rendered. Lawson also purchased his first land at Prospect, 30 acres that had been granted to James Cleaver in 1794. (now under the north-eastern end of the Reservoir Wall).

On 27 January 1808, William Lawson, now a magistrate, was appointed aide-de-camp to George Johnston. In April 1808, as a result of his involvement in the deposition of Governor Bligh, Judge-Advocate Richard Atkins brought a charge of treason against him.  Later that year Lawson was appointed Commandant at Newcastle.

In 1810, with other members of the discredited New South Wales Corps, Lawson returned to England for the trial of Major George Johnston, but in 1811, before the trial began, he and 2 fellow officers made plans to return to Sydney. They arrived from England on the Guildford on 19 January 1812 and were appointed to Macquarie’s ‘Corps of Veterans’, which was made from former members of the New South Wales Corps who wished to settle in the Colony. Later in 1812 Lawson was in military control of Liverpool.

In 1813 he set out from Prospect to meet Gregory Blaxland and William Charles Wentworth at Blaxland’s South Creek farm, from which the three of them left for the expedition which discovered the first satisfactory route over the Blue Mountains.

On 12 February 1814 Governor Macquarie offered each of the three explorers 1000 acres west of the Blue Mountains.  Lawson accepted the offer and in July 1815 he crossed the Nepean and set out to drive 100 head of cattle to Bathurst to take up his property, which he named Macquarie.  

In 1819 Lawson was appointed Commandant of Bathurst and during this period, he led a further three major explorations to open up the Mudgee district, where he became the first and largest landholder.

In a letter dated 28 February 1822 to his business agent in London he wrote:

My family are now living in my new house, which is a very good one, built of brick and stone which cost me about fifteen hundred pounds. I have named it Veteran Hall, Prospect.

He resigned from the position of Commandant of Bathurst in 1824 and then he concentrated on his pastoral interests at Prospect and on the western plains.

By 1827, his Prospect property covered 3,000 acres.

By 1828 apart from his Prospect and Kurrajong properties, he also had stations in the Bathurst-Mudgee-Wellington district with a total area of about 150,000 acres on which he grazed 84,800 sheep, 14,700 cattle and 100 horses.

Lawson played an important part in the horse breeding and racing industry of early Australia. In 1824 he imported a thoroughbred sire, The Baron and in 1838 he imported Emigrant, this horse was known as Lawson’s Emigrant. He also bred many good horses. Two of these were Spring Gun and Nell Gwynn. At the April, 1828 Sydney Turf Club meeting Spring Gun won the Produce Stakes and Nell Gwynn won the Turf Club Plate. Later that year Spring Gun won the Governor’s Cup at the inaugural meeting of the Australian Racing and Jockey Club.  In 1829, at the Sydney Turf Club meeting Spring Gun won the Brisbane Cup and the Wentworth Purse. Other horses from the Lawson studs that became well known on the race tracks were Belinda, Plenipotentiary, Election and Tramp.

On 15 February 1838 a meeting was held at Mrs Walker’s Inn, Parramatta for the purpose of establishing a Club for the maintenance of a Subscription Pack of Fox Hounds, to be called the Cumberland Hunt. There was a unanimous vote that the Club be formed, and William Lawson was elected as a Committee Member.

William Lawson was a member of our first partly-elective Legislative Council from 1 July 1843 until 20 June 1848. He was the Member for the County of Cumberland. Lawson did not share Wentworth’s extreme views and opposed him on several occasions. In 1844 he did not support the squatters and in 1846 opposed a reduction of the price of land.!OpenDocument

On the 1848 Landholders list the following properties are listed as his: Cunba-derryderry, Creenbar Creek, Bungebar, Binnia, Ulindar Creek, Honeysuckle, Pekobutta, Camboogle & Combang, Breewan, Nirangarie, Mowabla, Lagoons Talbragar, Coraobingle.

Lawson was a man of strong religious beliefs. In 1824 he played an active part in the establishment of Scots Church, Sydney and in 1838 again was involved in the establishment of Scots Church, Parramatta. By August 1836 he had began to lead the Prospect community in the building of a church.

In 1838 Lawson put notices in two Sydney papers calling for tenders for the Prospect Anglican Church. On 2 October, 1838, a contract was signed with James Atkinson of Mulgoa for the erection of the church. William Lawson was the Senior Trustee for the building.

William Lawson, known as ‘Old Ironbark’, often walked to Sydney on business, returning the next day.

William Lawson died on 16 June 1850 and was interred in a family vault at St Bartholomew’s Anglican Cemetery, Prospect.

Source: Historical notes collected by Robert Brown

Old Ironbark, William Beard

Horsemen of the First Frontier (1788-1900), K.R. Binney

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Picture: William Lawson Snr (c1840’s) - Mitchell Library