Lake Macquarie History

John Frederick Mann - explorer & surveyor, 1819 - 1907

Early settler of Rathmines, Lake Macquarie

Research by Dulcie Hartley

John Frederick Mann arrived in the Colony from London on 6 March 1842, aboard the ship Palestine. Born in London on 16 December 1819, John's father was Cornelius Mann, Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers, and his mother was Sarah nee Fyers. It was a military family, and both great-grandfathers had been generals. Mann Snr had been stationed in Gibraltar where young John was educated. John Frederick Mann entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in August 1834. After 4 years there, he left military service to become involved in the Trigonometrical Survey of Britain.

photo: jf mann's land grant

While living in Sydney, J F Mann purchased 50 acres of land at Rathmines for £45 in1845, being Portion 49, Parish of Awaba, County of Northumberland. It was advertised on 27 May 1845 and selected by Mann. This land was incorrectly described in the Register of Grants No 80 p.52, as adjoining the N/E corner of Cory's land (560 acres at Wangi Wangi purchased in 1830), at a salt water creek and bounded by Lake Macquarie. Mann's 50 acres, bounded in the west by a salt water inlet, on the east by Lake Macquarie, adjoined Lot 8 of 47 acres and Lot 9 of 54 acres owned by E W Hely who is said to have named the area 'Rathmines', after property in Ireland. The present shopping centre and adjacent parkland is situated on land once owned by JF Mann.

Soon after arriving in Sydney, Mann was at Gosford on survey work when he first met up with Ludwig Leichhardt. Mann was interested in the Australian Aborigines and wrote of those at Gosford, stating that at this time there were about 60-80, the remnant of a very physically powerful and intelligent tribe. Their territory was bounded on the south by the Hawkesbury River, and on the north by the Newcastle tribe 'Moolabinda', their enemy. On the west their territory joined the friendly Wollombi tribe. Being a surveyor, it may well be that JF Mann purchased his land at Rathmines not intending to personally occupy it, but to have tenants. It is unknown whether he actually lived there, but when later it was sold the phrase 'all houses on land' was included.

In October of 1846 Mann joined Leichhardt on an expedition proposing to leave Brisbane and journey across the continent to the west coast, and then south to the Swan River. JF Mann was second-in-command. The expedition left on 30 September 1846, but was aborted owing to continual wet weather which caused an outbreak of fever and ague (malarial fever). Many years later JF Mann wrote an account of this expedition 'Eight Months with Dr Leichhardt in the Years 1846-47', published 1888 in Sydney by Turner & Henderson. With his surveying skills and military experience, Mann was critical of Leichhardt's lack of equipment and poor organisation. Leichhardt had decided to take mules as pack animals instead of bullocks, and these caused problems. The animals came from stocks of the Australian Agricultural Company at Stroud, together with horses.

photo: jf mann's leichhardt sketch

Leichhardt, Hovenden Hely and Daniel Bunce joined the party, together with James Perry, Messrs Boecking and Meyer. Leichhardt had been given 10 head of cattle by the government from the Brisbane herd. JF Mann collected the cattle and heavy luggage and joined Leichhardt on the Darling Downs at 'Cowrie' where an addition to the stock was made by a number of goats. Mr Meyer left the party there and Mr Turnbull from Gloucester replaced him. 'Brown', an aboriginal man from Newcastle, also accompanied the party.

The men suffered great privations and Mann was critical of Leichhardt because of this in his book, written years later. Apparently Leichhardt had written a report of the trip in which he attached some blame to Mann for the failure of the expedition. Mann drew a sketch of Leichhardt, presumably while on the expedition, and this rather unsympathetic drawing is used as the frontispiece in his work.

JF Mann was appointed a licensed surveyor on 20 March1848, and was employed in the Surveyor-General's Department. On 16 April 1857 Mann married Camilla Victoria, daughter of Surveyor-General, Sir Thomas Mitchell. Apparently requiring ready cash in view of his marriage, JF Mann sold his Rathmines land, Portion 49, of 50 acres, very cheaply for £25 to Edward Hely, who owned adjoining lands.

The marriage to Camilla was to be of short duration as she died in 1863. There were four children of the union, Livingstone Frederick, Bentley Camilla Mitchell, Gother Victor Fyers and Mary Emily Blunt Alicia. Livingstone Mann joined the Survey-General's Dept., Bentley died in infancy and was buried beside her mother on 21 December 1863. Gother Mann was, for some years, director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

photo: john frederick mann

In 1863 Mann was licensed as a Surveyor under the 1862 Real Property Act. In the early 1870s he was in charge of the Mudgee district. In 1874 he was transferred to Corowa, but by 1879 he was still working as a licensed surveyor, but no longer in government employ.

FJ Mann had a great interest in Australian history and the Aborigines, and corresponded on these subjects with the press. In later years, while in retirement, he resided at `Carthona' at Neutral Bay, and it was there that he died on 7 September 1907.

At the Rathmines property, orchards and vines were the chief crops in the latter years of the nineteenth century. In 1921 remains of vines were growing on the present shopping centre area, the old Mann property. Remnants of orchards could still be found in 1926 when old fig and mulberry trees could be observed.


Hartley, Dulcie 2001, John Frederick Mann - explorer & surveyor 1819 - 1907 : early settler of Rathmines, Lake Macquarie, Fennell Bay, NSW

Nairn, Bede & Serle, Geoffrey & Ward, Russel 1974, Australian dictionary of biography. Volume 5, 1851-1890 : K-Q, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic

Swancott, Charles 1953, The Brisbane Water story : part 1, C. Swancott, [Woy Woy, N.S.W.], p42

Foster, William C & Institution of Surveyors, Australia. New South Wales Division 1985, Sir Thomas Livingston Mitchell and his world, 1792-1855 : surveyor general of New South Wales 1828-1855, Institution of Surveyors, N.S.W. Incorporated, Sydney

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