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Field of Mars Common

By the time of the third Governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King, it was clear that the size of the land grants, especially to the former convicts, was too small for farming purposes. To permit better use of grants already made by Government order published in the Sydney Gazette on 12 August 1804, Governor King created a number of Common grounds. In addition to the Parramatta and Sydney Common and 3 others, he also created the Field of Mars Common. As the Order stated:

“Whereas it is necessary, for the Preservation and Increase of the Breeding Stock, that Portions of Land should be reserved adjoining those Districts where a number of Settlers have been fixed in small Allotments bounded by others: And it being impracticable to locate larger Allotments to all who now possess, or may hereafter possess Stock.”

The Field of Mars Common comprised almost 5, 050 acres from the Hunters Hill peninsular to the Pennant Hills Ridge. Each Common was to be run by three trustees nominated by neighbouring landholders but appointed by the Governor who held at least 100 acres ie excluding those expected to make the most use of the Commons. The first trustees were David Brown, Francis Oakes and James Squire.

Initially timber getting from the Common was the preserve of the Pennant Hills Tmbergetting Establishment [1]. Then in 1819 the Government reserved the right to graze cattle to the Government herd [2]. These two events were also linked because the extraction of timber destroyed the forest grasses and so suitability for grazing cattle diminished.

By the 1840s “disreputable people” were inhabiting the Common who used it for ‘sly grog selling’ as well as a hide away. The first map of the Commons was by Surveyor Galloway in 1847. It not only established that the Common comprised over 6235 acres but also shows the location of a number of huts. One such hut was that of Mary Martin in Beecroft and her daughter and son-in-law, the Coups, near what is now Coups Creek on the Comenarra Parkway. Mary Martin’s story is elsewhere on the web site but suffice to say that she was the daughter of one First Fleeter and the wife of a second. 

Throughout the 1850s the government tightened controls on the use of the Commons and sought to manage the illegal usage (by the poor) and over grazing (by the wealthier).

Then from the 1850s through into the 1860s there was mounting campaigns to sell off part or all of the Common to fund infrastructure such as bridges over the Parramatta River. Whether the whole of the Common actually had any value for farming was disputed by some like James Bellamy of Pennant Hills who said that “there is half of the common that is rocky and mountainous and could not be converted to any purpose but stone quarries.”  The Bill to resume part of the Commons was passed in 1874 and Gladesville and Iron Cove Bridges were opened in 1881 and 1882. Strathfield Station opened in 1885 presaging the commencement of the Northern Railway line.

In 1884, 400 men were employed clearing part of the Common near Ryde in anticipation of the first subdivisions. Clearing by unemployed men, of land in the locality of what is now Beecroft commenced in May 1886. The siting and naming of a railway platform called ‘Beecroft’ is dated 23 June 1886. The first Crown land sales commenced in Beecroft on 9 July 1887. 122 of the 189 lots were sold. These and subsequent auctions up until 1895 fell within an area largely defined by Boundary, Hull and Castle Howard Roads.

In the land to the east of the subdivisions, John Brown became the major landowner at the head of the Lane Cove River (and not in Beecroft) in the late 1850s. Brown’s Waterhole adopts his name. A number of unemployed people lived in the caves along the Lane Cove River in the 1920s and 1930s. Then in 1938 what is now the Lane Cove National Park was formed.

The remaining parkland was criss-crossed by water pipes between 1905 and 1937. Sewer submains were constructed in the early 1950s and in the mid-1960s the Electricity Commission built a high voltage transmission line from Sugar Loaf Point via de Burghs Bridge and then across Browns Water Hole at Pennant Hills. 

[1] for which see a separate article on the website

[2] Sydney Gazette, 13 November 1819