Thursday, 30 May 2013

3 Louisa Anne Meredith --1839

Mrs Meredith was an articulate ‘Lady of Means’ who had married her cousin, Mr Charles Meredith, in England and then migrated to Australia. She was a ‘radical thinker’ who supported the Chartists and thus electoral reform in Britain, as well as an amateur naturalist and author of some note, who ultimately came to live in Tasmania. One of the first things she and her husband did upon arrival in New South Wales, was to set out on an excursion from their abode in Homebush to travel to Bathurst, by carriage.

Louisa Anne Meredith, just married and travelling through New South Wales. She wears the  fashions of the new Queen: Victoria. Hair now falls to the shoulders, and the part is symmetrically down the middle. Dresses were again spreading outwards

After crossing the Nepean in the usual way, by ferry, and noting the total absence of emus in ‘Emu Plains’, for already they had been made extinct there, her carriage rose up the new Mitchell’s Pass Road…

…we reached the foot of Lapstone Hill, the first ascent, up which an excellent road has been made, winding along the side of the mountain, with high overhanging rocks on the left hand and a deep wooded ravine on the right. The wild scenery and the zigzag road reminded me of some of the “passes of the Alps”, as drawn by Brockedon, save that our ravine had no foaming torrent roaring down it; and it was only by the most intent observation that I could detect something like moisture trickling over the rocks, where an opening in the trees left the far-down stony bed visible.

It was October, and as I have before remarked, the spring months are by far the greenest in this land of ever-browns; so that I saw the country under favourable circumstances, although the severe droughts of the two preceding years had destroyed the artificial crops, and even the native grasses, to a deplorable extent…I was quite delighted, and thought that if all our progress over the dreaded Blue Mountains were as pleasant and interesting as the commencement, the journey would be much less wearisome than I anticipated…[1]

So Louisa was impressed with her carriage-ride up Mitchell’s Pass. Her interest in botany was stimulated by the wildflowers around her, and she was particularly struck by the local “Waratah”, a floral emblem evident on the badge of our present-day Blaxland High School.

Meredith loved the Australian bush and its Flora and Fauna. She became expert at drawing and describing the Antipodes, and her books sold well in Britain. Her descriptions are sometimes mindful of Dickens, her contemporary.

Nevertheless Louisa Meredith’s account is not always so positive…

After driving some miles nearly all up-hill, we stayed to breakfast at a small way-side public house, where the slovenly slipshod women, dirty floors, and a powerful odour of stale tobacco-smoke, gave me no very favourable expectations of cleanliness or comfort. On the smoke-stained walls hung some very highly coloured and showily framed prints, representing young gentlemen with red cheeks and very blue coats trying to look very hard at young ladies in pink gowns with very large sleeves; and severally inscribed, “The Faithful Lovers;” “The Betrothed;” “The False One,” &tc; ingenious distinctions of character, which it would have been extremely difficult to discover from the portraits alone.[2]

Louisa is not terribly impressed. The central question, and it is timely to invite further (outside) knowledge and comment on this point, is whether or not the establishment to which she refers at this point is the ‘Pilgrim Inn’, or one of the lesser ‘Public Houses’ of dubious reputation referred to earlier by James Backhouse.

The mention of ‘some miles nearly all uphill’ suggests the ascent up Mitchell’s Pass and the distance between Lennox Bridge and the ‘Pilgrim’. After all, the road after ‘Pilgrim’ undulated somewhat despite the fact that it rose at the sites of Warrimoo and Springwood. She also refers to ‘slipshod women’ in the plural—it was not just one woman serving—suggesting that this “small wayside public house” was at least large enough to employ more than one person.

At this point it is worth examining the actual proprietorship of the ‘Pilgrim Inn’, and discovering more about its original owner, Barnett Levey, a Sydney-based entrepreneur and impresario who had an Inn built at this same strategic point on the Western Road between 1825 and 1827.

Barnett Levy--a man of many talents, but a man obsessed with the stage. He raised funds from a variety of sources, including the sale of the 'Pilgrim Inn', in order to finance his dramatic ambitions

Levey was ‘promised’ a land grant by Governor Brisbane at the junction of the three ascent roads in 1825. Being an adventurous entrepreneur he had an Inn built on the site behind ‘Quix’/’McDonalds’ shortly afterwards, before he had actually secured full title to the land (he did not receive full title till 1830).[3]

In the meantime he was setting up the ‘Royal Hotel’ in George St., Sydney, which brought him into conflict with the new Governor, Sir Ralph Darling. His reckless dealings in alcohol, his enthusiasm to entertain the public with dramatic shows, and his construction of a windmill in the middle of Sydney to challenge the monopoly of the government mill, ultimately meant that Barnett Levey incurred the full wrath of the NSW government, which shut most of his projects down so that he soon found himself utterly broke. [4]

Meanwhile, in 1827, Levey had built one of the most spectacular homes in the colony, ‘Waverley’, overlooking the beach at Bondi, but his by now onerous debts required him to divest his assets. Henceforth, the ownership of the ‘Pilgrim Inn’ became somewhat obscure because it was put up ‘For Sale’ by Levey in 1828, complete with orchard, garden and ‘an excellent house of 12 rooms’. [5]

Waverley House--Levey's proud display at Bondi. As soon as he had money, it was spent, and Waverley was a typical example. This photo was taken long after his death in 1900, but the Georgian mansion was demolished in 1904

Barnett Levey, among his many occupations, was a Real Estate agent who was always devising new schemes for the sale of land to accrue funds and thus pursue his real passion: the theatre (including his own solo performances on stage). So it was unclear at this stage whether the ‘Pilgrim Inn’ was actually ‘sold’ or simply ‘leased’ to one William Williams for 100 pounds a year. Williams later was said to have been gored by a bull and killed, which might give us reason to assume that management of the Inn became less than thorough… ‘slipshod’ perhaps.[6]

Business can’t have been brilliant in the ensuing years, because ‘ownership’ of the ‘Pilgrim Inn’ changed hands at least twice in the 1830’s: first to James Evans and then to Henry Mace, who bought the subdivided land, Inn and surrounding stables, garden etc for the quite princely sum of 500 pounds.[7] Mace must have been the owner when Louisa Meredith visited—if indeed it was the ‘Pilgrim’ to which she referred—and made her scathing observations.

The original Pilgrim Inn, built primarily of weatherboard, but with a stone-brick building to the left of the picture. Was this Inn the subject of Meredith's withering critique, or was it another, just down the road?

It must be reported, before going further, that the original ‘Pilgrim Inn’ was mentioned glowingly in the 1834 ‘NSW Calendar’, a traveller’s publication which informed people of the roads, sights, and accommodation of the whole colony. It presented the Pilgrim Inn as “…One of the cleanest and most convenient in the country.”[8]

To confuse matters further, Levey received a further Land Grant in 1835 from Governor Burke called the ‘Mt. Sion Estate’, which also went up for sale and which had a building erected upon it called the ‘Pilgrim Inn’. This ‘Inn” also changed hands, changed its name to the ‘Late Lord Byron’ in 1838, but lost its licence to operate in 1842. [9]

There is a clue here that the second ‘Inn’ was not operating successfully—it could feasibly have been ‘slipshod’ and ‘slovenly’. The name, ‘Late Lord Byron’ may well conform to the type of wall decorations mentioned by Louisa Meredith, but then the grimy ‘smoke stained walls’ suggest an age of more than a couple of years to her Inn.

Notwithstanding, grime and grubbiness were then, and still are, a matter of management—either Inn could have been subject to poor practice at the moment of arrival of Louisa Anne Meredith’s carriage one sunny morning in October, coming to a halt at the Front Entrance, with its occupants hungry for breakfast.

A  photograph of Louisa Anne Meredith in the mid 19th Century. She is posing with a book that may have been her own publication, and you will note the Victorian furniture in the background

The following contains a fascinating account of the culinary delights supplied by such wayside Inns of the early Victorian era, including an entirely feasible theory as to the origins of the authentically Australian word “damper”…

In many places you find some particular dish more generally in vogue than others, but in New South Wales one universal reply follows the query of ‘What can you give us to eat?’ and this is, ‘’Am an’ eggs, Sir;’ ‘mutton chops’ forming the usual accompaniment, if required. So ham and eggs we had, and mutton chops, too; but from their being fried all together in the same dark-complexioned fat, the taste of these viands was curiously similar, and both of impenetrable hardness. Unless great care is taken, meat spoils so soon in this climate, that the custom among most persons is to cook it almost as soon as it is killed, which of course precludes the possibility of it being tender. Tea, with black sugar, but no milk, and bread without butter, completed the repast, with the addition of “damper”, a composition respecting which there are divers opinions, some persons preferring it to bread, whilst I think it is the worst way of spoiling flour. The etymology is perhaps “Dampier”, this indigestible food (an excellent damper of a good appetite) being supposed by some persons to have been invented by the great circumnavigator, and the manufacture is this:--A stiff dough is made of flour, water and salt, and kneaded into a large flat cake, two or three inches thick, and from twelve to eighteen broad. The wood-ashes are then partly raked from the hot earth, and the cake being laid on it, is heaped over with the remaining hot ashes, and thus bakes. When cut into, it exceeds in closeness and hard heaviness the worst bread or pudding ever tasted, and the outside looks dirty, if it is not so: still, I have heard many persons, conversant with every comfort and luxury, praise the “damper”; so I can only consider my dislike a matter of taste. In “the bush”, where brewer’s yeast cannot be procured, and people are too idle or ignorant to manufacture a substitute for it (which is easily done), this indurated dough is the only kind of bread used, and those who eat it constantly must have an ostrich’s digestion to combat its injurious effects. [10]

Louisa, even older. She wears the veil and black brooched gown of the Queen herself. It was amazing how Victoria's tastes spread across the length and breadth of the Empire.

Again, Louisa might at first appear to be a fickle English ‘soft-hands’, but it is possible to detect a certain underlying delight in the rough adventure of her experience. Her critique continued into the Inn’s yard…

Adjoining this comfortless habitation (called an inn) was a small plot of potato-ground, but no attempt at neatness or improvement was visible; all was slovenly and neglected. The dirt and indescribable combination of ill smells within, was but a type of the state of things without. In the rear of the house one vast undistinguished rubbish-heap spread around, bounded only by some wretched dilapidated outhouses and stables, and reeking with foul exhalations, on which, and its more tangible delicacies, a large conversazione of pigs seemed to luxuriate most satisfactorily. Several children were lying or lounging about in close companionship with the pigs, equally dirty, but apparently less lively. Miserable creatures! whilst my companions enjoyed their cigars in the cobwebbed verandah, I crossed the road, and was at once in the wild bush, where I rambled for some time, interested by everything around me, though careful to keep tolerably near the house.[11]

Thus refreshed, Louisa Anne Meredith and her husband continued on their journey to Weatherboard, where they were beaten to the rooms of that Inn by another party. Forced to travel a further six miles in the dark, on to Pulpit Hill (just beyond present-day Katoomba), they made it to ‘Blind Paddy's’ Inn and there, spent the night.

Yet another example of Meredith's fine art. Her attention to detail and careful truthfulness are evident in her written descriptions, too.

Ultimately Barnett Levey’s frenetic efforts to provide dramatic cultural expression to the rudimentary colony proved a failure, and he slid into ever-more chaotic behaviour and drink, so much so that he died in 1837, at a mere 40 years of age. He left a widow and four children, and it is uncertain where and how their lives ensued, considering their breadwinner’s estate was bankrupt, and required sell-off by the Sherriff.

Mrs Barnett Levy--she was loyal to her husband throughout all his schemes, dreams and flops, but when he died in 1837 she and her four children were left destitute

The original ‘Pilgrim Inn’ survived for many years as an Inn but the wooden part was burned to the ground in the 1968 fires. Two stone walls remain behind the ‘Quix/McDonald’s’ complex in contemporary Blaxland.

The second ‘Pilgrim Inn’ morphed into Blaxland’s (‘Wascoe’s’) first General Store and Post Office, but was demolished in 1913 to make way for the new railroad and station.

Louisa Meredith’s husband’s property investments in New South Wales went bust as a result of the droughts and bank collapses of the 1830’s. Consequently the couple moved to Tasmania where Louisa built a reputation as a colorful travel and botanical raconteur who had books published back in Britain. She died in 1895 at 83 years of age.


[1] MACKANESS, G., Fourteen Journeys Over The Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Review Publications, Dubbo, 1978, p.48
[2] Ibid., p48
[3], The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 01 Mar 1930, p.13

[5] Trove, op.cit.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] MACKANESS, G., op cit. p50
[11] Ibid., pp50-51

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