Lake Macquarie History

Biography of Richard Fennell 1812-1885

Pioneer settler of Fennell Bay


Research by Dulcie Hartley

Richard Fennell can surely be described as a pioneer settler of north-western Lake Macquarie although he certainly arrived by tortuous route.

photo: aerial photo of fennell bay

On 13.11.1833 the 21 year old Richard Fennell arrived at Port Jackson on the barque “Ann” of 500 tons, The Master of the vessel was James Herd, and Richard was described as “Gentleman” on the ship's manifest. Richard was the son of Richard Fennell (1780 - 1827) and Ruhamah (1784-1850) and was born in London on 16th October 1812. Ruhamah was the daughter of William White who appears to have been in a warehouse business in Wood St London with her husband. Richard and Ruhamah's children were: William, Hannah, Ruhamah, Mary and Harriet who stayed in England, and Nathaniel Thomas and Richard who moved to Australia. It was the White family who ran a lucrative wine and spirit merchant's business, and Richard and Thomas' brother William (recipient of many of the letters from Australia) married into this.

In 1834 Richard was the licensee of the Freemason’s Arms, corner of King & George Streets, Sydney, and in 1836 was supposedly working on the “Sydney Gazette” newspaper. Richard eventually travelled to Gundaroo and was employed on the Holt family cattle station there.

On 20th August 1841 Richard Fennell married Louisa Matilda Haywood (nee Holt) at Gundaroo, the witnesses being L Holt and Mrs B Geary. By 1848 Richard was Licensee of the John Barleycorn Inn at Geary’s Gap, Lake George.

In 1847 Richard’s younger brother Nathaniel Thomas (Tom) Fennell arrived in Sydney. He was born in London on 5th February 1827. Tom travelled to Gundaroo, and both Fennell brothers gained farming, grazing and cattle experience while in this district.

Continuing drought motivated the Holt family together with Tom, Richard, Louisa and the children to return to the coast, initially leaving most stock at the cattle station to be collected later. After winding up his affairs Richard was £50 in debt and was required to sell much of his furniture, some of which had been sent from England. The two brothers did not always get on and Tom did not help with moving the stock or any other arrangements, apart from travelling to the coast and renting a property at Hexham from former Colonial Surgeon, Dr George Brooks. The party had a horrific experience travelling from Gundaroo to the coast with Louisa, Richard and four little children, one a baby, experiencing the rigours of the horrendous journey. They had to travel to Sydney to sell a horse and from there shipped bullocks and the dray on a steamer for Newcastle.

Richard considered the rent too high on the Brooks property, and the land (on the edge of the swamps) was marginal at best. Shortly afterwards he proceeded with Tom to Trialba Station, owned by Captain John Black who was then in England. There was a good cottage of six rooms with two kitchen outbuildings and stables etc. Tom had received some money from home and was entertaining lavishly. Richard, worried that he might get saddled with Tom’s debts, moved his family to a little hut on the station which was some distance away from the main home.

With Louisa and the children settled, Richard then travelled back to Gundaroo to bring the cattle back to the lake. As he had little help, it took him six weeks, sleeping outdoors in the rough to watch the cattle. After a most dreadful trip, he collected Louisa and the children and, once again, with cattle and all possessions, travelled to Boughton’s (Bolton) Point where he had arranged with Mr Boughton of Tillimby, Paterson, to rent his property. Richard described his new place of residence.

"The situation is beautiful, but with a bareness of land for pasture, with a small portion available for agriculture, but distant from the markets, and unfavourable compared with the rich leases on the Hunter and Paterson. We manage at times to find each other out but any stranger would find it impossible to get at us without a guide. It is a sort of refuge for the destitute and a very delightful refuge it would be for any person who possessed a moderated income".

Richard, writing home in 1851, described an accident which happened when Mr Boughton and Louisa’s uncle, Joseph Brooke, were drowned.

"They had trusted themselves in a very small dingy and it is thought when some distance out from shore Mr Boughton may have become frightened and fallen overboard and the old Captain has lost his life in endeavouring to save him".

With his landlord dead and a new owner, Richard was soon forced to move again, this time to reside at the Reverend L E Threlkeld’s old mission house known as “Ebenezer” on the rise which later became known as the suburb of Toronto, and the site of the present Toronto Hotel. This home had been erected in 1830 and the Threlkeld family had moved to Sydney c1840. After the closure of the mission the property had been tenanted but was now vacant and advertised for lease. The property still retained a dairy and orchard, the latter containing huge mulberry trees which later gave rise to the name "Mount Mulberry". Richard Fennell leased the property in 1851 and the family lived there until sometime after 1870. In time Richard supposedly found a new, additional role as the Lake Macquarie correspondent for the Newcastle newspapers.

Richard still had cattle but many suffered from "pleuro" so his losses were high. Sometime after 1862 he took up an area of land at Fennell Bay and Fassifern on Conditional Purchase for grazing but experienced stock losses due to poor land. Eventually Richard did not comply with the conditions of the Conditional Purchase so this lapsed. However, the family were fortunate to save 40 acres on the Lake waterfront and an adjoining 50 acres to the north of this land, bounded by Macquarie and Main Roads. The Fennell homestead "Belle Vue" was erected on the waterfront land but was later demolished for the building of the first Fennell Bay bridge. However, descendants say a second "Belle Vue" home was built nearby. The 40 acre waterfront land was later subdivided and it is said that there were Fennell family graves on this land, including those of Richard and Louisa.


Children of Richard and Louisa:

Name When Born Who Married
Hannah Matilda 12.5.1842 Edward Hely
Richard Jnr. 3.4.1844 Selina Frederica Munday – (later to farm at Rathmines)
Ruhamah Ann 28.1.1846 William Stevenson
William 31.1.1848 Annie Mary Johannah Chapman
Walter Beadon 10.1.1850 Minnie Ethel Reay
James George 6.10.1856 Agnes Donaldson (cattle and butchery at Fennell Bay)

The first four children of Richard and Louisa were born in the Gundaroo area and the latter two, Walter and James were born at Ebenezer, Lake Macquarie. In the early years the children were home educated due to the isolation.

Although he had farmed at a number of locations around the Lake, his efforts were never really successful as the land was marginal - crops failed to thrive and cattle could not be fattened. He kept his head above water, however, and managed to raise a healthy and happy family and care for them comfortably until his death in 1885.

Richard died 4th July 1885, aged 72, and is said to have been buried on the Fennell property, Belle Vue at Fennell Bay.