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Paterson River history

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Richard Clarke & Catherine Flannagan

[Bird Hill]

Richard Clarke arrived in New South Wales in 1811 as a convict aged 21. He had been tried in the City of Limerick, Ireland, in 1809 and given a life sentence for aiding and assisting a burglary committed by his brother John and another man (the two burglars were executed). In 1814 Richard was again in trouble with the law and was re-transported to Van Diemen's Land (later called Tasmania) where he met and married a convict woman, Catherine Flannagan/Prendergast in 1818.[1]

Richard received a conditional pardon in 1820 but in 1821 was sentenced to three years transportation by the Court in Hobart Town for receiving stolen mutton. He served his third sentence of transportation at the penal settlement of Newcastle in New South Wales, and his wife Catherine and their daughter Mary went with him. At Newcastle Richard was initially put to work as a lime burner and then in 1823 he served the final portion of his sentence on James Webber's estate at Paterson called Tocal.

Now a free man, Richard Clarke and his family remained in the Paterson area. From 1826 he was overseer for John Cory for eighteen months and by 1830 he was leasing part of Cory's Vacy estate. According to the 1828 Census, Clarke was living at Vaux Cottage at Patersons Plains with his wife Catherine and daughter Mary Ann. (Was Vaux Cottage on the Vacy Estate?)

In 1831 Richard Clarke was granted 120 acres of land at Paterson, bordering Edward Kealy's initial grant (see map below, and also the map—land grants around Vacy). Richard also purchased the 100 acre block that joined his grant on the eastern side. He named his property 'Bird Hill' and worked the land with the assistance of convicts assigned to him. Several convicts were assigned to him in 1832 and by 1837 there were five, so the former convict was now a convict master.[3] He made other land purchases up until 1852.

Richard Clarke's 'Bird Hill' land in Houghton parish

Old Parish map showing Richard Clarke's two blocks of land south of the Paterson River (portions 19 and 20) in Houghton Parish.

Richard Clarke was a staunch follower of the Catholic faith. In 1832 he became a member of the committee formed to collect subscriptions and contributions towards the building of a 'Catholic Chapel' at Maitland.[4] The efforts of this committee culminated in the laying of the foundation stone of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in East Maitland in August 1834.[5]

In 1837 Richard and Catherine Clarke married again, this time at Patersons Plains, possibly at their home at Bird Hill (they were first married in Van Diemen's Land in 1818). Presumably they married again because they wished to undertake a Catholic marriage ceremony.

In 1840 neighbours Richard Clarke and Edward Kealy donated three acres between them, along their dividing fence (see map below), for a church and burial ground in their local area at Paterson River. The Catholic Church at Summer Hill was built on this land in 1840, as a simple structure with wooden slab walls and a shingle roof. It survived into the 20th century when a new church was built alongside it and opened in 1913.

Richard Clarke probably died in Maitland in 1866 (further information is needed).[6]


1. full details for Richard Clarke, including primary sources, are provided in his datasheet (back online soon).

3. General Return of Convicts in New South Wales 1837. Sydney: Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record, 1987.

4. Sydney Herald, 19 November 1832 p1.

5. Brian Walsh and Cameron Archer, Maitland on the Hunter. Paterson: CB Alexander Foundation, 2nd edit. 2007.

6. NSW BDM's, 1866/4945.


Geoff Cannon, The First Title Holders of Land in the Counties of Camden, Cook, Hunter, Durham and Gloucester, 2004 (CD).

Kay Ingle, Sacred Heart Church and Cemetery Summer Hill, Paterson Valley. Paterson: Paterson Historical Society, 2001.

Brian Walsh, Voices from Tocal: Convict Life on a Rural Estate. Paterson: CB Alexander Foundation, 2008.

See also

An overview of settlement at Patersons Plains from 1822.

Map—land grants around Vacy.

Further research needed

If you are a descendant of Richard and Catherine Clarke or have information on the later stages of their lives or burial details, please contact me.