The Changing River

The land on which you are standing is the traditional home of the Boorooberongal clan of the Darug people.

The river connection to Sydney was vitally important to the people of the Hawkesbury. In early 1795, a wharf was established on the Hawkesbury River at the Green Hills (Windsor) settlement – initially provided for the landing and loading of supplies at the Government storehouse.

In his account of the NSW colony in 1795, David Collins, Lieutenant-Governor of NSW, wrote:

‘Early in February, the storehouse at the Hawkesbury being completed, the provisions which had been sent round in the schooner were landed and put under the care of Baker [the superintendent]…’

Little is known about the design and construction of the original wharf. From that time several wharves have been built, damaged by floods and repaired, refurbished or entirely rebuilt.

In 1810, Governor Lachlan Macquarie instructed that a public wharf be built adjacent to Thompson’s Square. By 1812, the wharf was considered inadequate and directions for its enlargement were given. Following the flood of July 1816, which reached 14.1m high and almost destroyed it Macquarie called on Architect, Francis Greenway, to draft a new and improved wharf design for Windsor. Work commenced in late 1816.

The design and construction details of Greenway’s wharf are not known; however, the outline of the wharf is shown in a series of 1830s-1840s survey plans of Windsor. For four decades there is no further mention of repairs or a new wharf at Windsor.

By the 1860s, the Greenway wharf was deteriorating badly. Accounts of accidents and near misses during unloading of goods and passenger transfers at the wharf were reported in Sydney newspapers. The need for the refurbishment or replacement of the wharf became urgent. A new wharf, designed by Edward Moriarty, Engineer-in-Chief for the Harbours and River Navigation Branch of the Department of Public Works, was completed in November 1862. The structure remained, often with makeshift repairs and maintenance, until the 1950s, when almost all visible traces of original fabric had disappeared.

During archaeological inspections in 2018, evidence of timbers from an old wharf or wharves was observed. Timber samples were taken of select features to determine the type and origin of timber species used in its construction. The evidence suggests that the remains were from 1862 rather than the earlier Greenway wharf, an unsurprising outcome given the ravages of floods in the intervening years.

Artefacts recovered from the excavations included a range of items that included trade tools associated with ship building and maintenance and domestic relics such as fishing hooks, pen knives, harmonicas, toys and spent ammunition.

The Changing Square

In 1822, as Macquarie’s term as Governor came to a close, he provided a list to Earl Bathurst, of buildings and works completed in the Hawkesbury. These included:

  • Church with spire and space for gallery.
  • Burial ground.
  • Barracks for 50 soldiers, with stockade.
  • Barracks for 100 convicts, with high brick wall.
  • Gaol.
  • House on left bank of South Creek, bought from A Thompson’s executors, and made into a hospital and grounds for 50 patients.
  • Government granary.
  • Three storey provision store and granary bought from A Thompson’s estate.
  • Old granary, new roof and repaired.
  • Wooden wharf for 100-ton boats, and a ferry punt.
  • Court House adjoining gaol.
  • New parsonage house and ground for garden.
  • Old Government cottage repaired and improved. Six acres of land enclosed, partly with a brick wall.
  • New coach house and stables.
  • Streets of Windsor repaired. New streets opened.

The evolution of Thompson Square’s configuration has been influenced by various thoroughfares cut into the site, leading to the river’s edge, first to the punt in 1814, and, in later years, to the bridge. Since its inception, the road has changed five times, effectively separating the square into two parts. The completion of the new bridge in 2020, and reunification of Thompson Square, represents the next step in the site’s story.