2003 Conference – Development of Evan

The Makings of a City History Conference: Bicentenary of European Settlement, Penrith 29 March 2003

The rise and fall of Evan

Presented by Lorraine Stacker, Information Librarian Penrith City Library

My talk today begins with a quote from English writer W. Somerset Maugham in his novel, The Razor’s Edge. Maugham takes a sociological look at what makes a community and the collective traits of people:

For men and women are not only themselves, they are also the region in which they were born, the city apartment or the farm in which they learnt to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives’ tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read, and the God they believed in. It is all these things that have made them what they are

— W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge.

My talk today is an overview of the Evan district, where it was, how it came into being and when it fell from use. Our knowledge of its place in the history and development of the City of Penrith is important for us to understand the people who lived there and how the district changed.


From the first decision to form a settlement along the Nepean River, the area was deliberately set apart, by name and the nature of its settlement. Although the first land grants were virtually an extension of the Hawkesbury settlement, those who settled along the Nepean, became a different community, they were from the Evan district. The farmers and workers grouped together and had a name for their district, even though of a government making. But, the local people also had their way of describing their own sense of place, by names like Birds Eye Corner and Yellow Mundy Lagoon.

In June 1788, on the anniversary of King George’s birthday, the County of Cumberland was proclaimed. In July, ships sailed for England with Governor Arthur Phillip’s correspondence to Lord Evan Nepean. Phillip informed Nepean that he had fixed the boundaries of the County of Cumberland being: By the Carmarthen and Lansdowne Hills to the west, and north to Broken Bay, and to the south by Botany Bay. We recognise these unchanged boundaries today as the Blue Mountains, Broken Bay (where the Nepean-Hawkesbury River system enters the sea) and to the south, Botany Bay. Even though the colonists had not explored to the foothills of the Blue Mountains, they were clearly visible as a boundary to their settlement. Unknown to Phillip and his fellow colonists, was the existence of the Nepean-Hawkesbury River, which almost encompassed the County. The map drawn by William Dawes in 1791 was published in Captain John Hunter’s Historical Journal, in 1793.

The map published in Watkin Tench’s Journal in 1793 is based on Dawes 1791 map. Both are fascinating maps showing the early explorations of western Sydney, especially the Hawkesbury and Nepean districts. These explorations by small parties led by men like Tench & Dawes, were in search of good farming land that could be utilised to support the colony. Their disappointment is evidenced by the remarks especially on Tench’s map – Bad country, very bad country, tolerably good, and at Castlereagh – Sandy, the opposite bank the same. Further north uncultivable. To the Blue Mountains, they saw ‘the most dreary barren appearance…ridge beyond ridge of mountains…without a single visible interval of plain or cultivable land’. However, Dawes’ map is a little more positive.

The Evan district came into existence with the first land grants along the eastern side of the Nepean River. The government quite deliberately set this development apart from the Hawkesbury. Its boundary was later defined as: bounded on the south by the Bringelly district, on the east by South Creek, north to Richmond Road and west to the junction of the Grose River with the Nepean-Hawkesbury River and on the west by the Nepean River. The map ‘A new plan of the Settlements in NSW’ was drawn by Surveyor General of NSW, Charles Grimes. On this map George Caley’s botanical pointers indicate plant species across the Cumberland Plain. Evan is marked with a ‘W’. The surrounding districts of Melville and Bathurst (marked E) to the east of Evan and Bringelly to the south are not named. The district of Bringelly is not clearly defined at all on this map. It is probably quite early, around 1803 although it was published in 1810. Grimes drew up a series of maps of the settlement of NSW from 1803 with additions to 1806. Grimes next version is more detailed with coloured areas defining districts. This map, with the same name as the previous map does not have Caley’s markers. Again, Melville, Bringelly and Bathurst are still not defined.

The map drawn by Grimes (found in HRNSW) was published around 1806. It shows the Evan district more settled and the Bringelly district more defined. Evan’s southern boundary line runs from South Creek to the Nepean River, south of Jamison’s grants. Mulgoa is part of Bringelly. The Evan district is named on this map as Nepean. In the muster for 1806, settlers were not described as living in the Evan district, but the Nepean. The other districts were Sydney, Parramatta, Hawkesbury and Newcastle.

Grimes map

This map also shows a road to Windsor and a track from Prospect south to the Cowpastures, but no road westward, even though there were small farms laid out along South Creek and the eastern bank of the Nepean. The Evan district had a lifeline to the Hawkesbury district, not due east as later was the case.

The Evan settlement was carefully planned by Governor King with suitable settlers selected, a formula was devised to determine the amounts of land given, and a survey was carried out. Grants were made in three series. In the official records the first grants in the District of Evan were given to Charles Palmer, James Badgery and John Howell or Hull on 31 May 1803. The first grants were made between May and August 1803, and the second, in 1804. The 1803 grants ranged from 70 to 200 acres. There was some confusion in the land grant registers regarding the districts of Mulgrave Place and Evan, but the surveys were clear in their description of where they were located.

In these early years, confusion also occurred between whether the area was the Nepean or Evan district. The grants along the second line of farms from the river (Upper Castlereagh), given on 11 August 1804 to men like James McCarthy Christopher Frederick and John Lees, were noted as ‘in the District of Mulgrave Place’. In the 1804 grants, substantial land was also granted to influential men, like Captain Daniel Woodriff and public servant, William Neate Chapman. Most of the 1803 & 1804 grants were to discharged soldiers, although some of these were previously emancipated convicts. Of the 21 grantees who were discharged soldiers 18 were discharged on the same day, 10 April 1803. In 1802, the NSW Corps were advised that it would be reduced in numbers. Provision was made for many of these men to settle in the colony.

On 30 November 1810 Macquarie and his party toured Castlereagh. He noted in his journal that they passed

through a long extensive chain of farms along the Nepean … being the front line of farms on this river. These farms are all good farms, good soil, and well cultivated, but they are liable to be flooded…

Macquarie inspected the land, which he intended to be laid out for a township. He was well pleased with his choice of land being three miles from the river and on high ground. It was adjacent to the second and third line of farms from the river. Castlereagh, the first official town planned in the Evan district, was one of the five towns planned by Macquarie. He hoped that his planned towns would encourage and enliven a sense of community and security in the respective districts. On 6 December at a party at Green Hills (Windsor) Macquarie christened his new towns. He recorded in his journal, ‘The township for the Evan or Nepean District I have named Castlereagh in honour of Lord Viscount Castlereagh’. It was ratified in a General and Government Order on 15 December 1810. In 1811, James Meehan surveyed the area for streets and a town square along the well-known English model. Castlereagh was similar in plan to both Richmond and Wilberforce; a long rectangular plan, with allotments from one to two acres. Each settler was allocated a block in the town where they were to build a house to the required specifications. Castlereagh village was secure from floods, proven by the March 1811 flood, but it had no water supply, and the settlers just did not create what Macquarie had envisaged.

Macquarie again visited the district in October 1815, after his party visited the Cow Pastures. They had made a round trip north through Mulgoa to Castlereagh. Macquarie noted in his journal

I was truly concerned to observe that the settlers have not made the smallest improvement on their farms since I first visited them in November 1810 … No fences or enclosures or gardens made, and no new houses built or old ones repaired, and the settlers themselves living in the same poverty and sloth as they did then. This is a melancholy and mortifying reflection…

Macquarie hoped that Castlereagh would develop as the town centre for the Evan district. But, circumstances changed that with the choice of crossing of the Blue Mountains and the use of Emu Plains. Blaxland Lawson and Wentworth crossed the river at Emu Ford, a reasonably safe place to cross the river. George Evans and William Cox followed and irrevocably fixed the future growth and focus of the Evan district from Castlereagh to the new Western Road.

A map, published in 1820 shows the Western Road cutting through the middle of the Evan district, well away from the Castlereagh township.

Cox constructed a road from Emu Ford back to Parramatta after building his epic road over the Mountains in 1814-15. Cox began construction of the road from Emu Ford in July 1815, a distance of 21 miles, ‘at a mighty expence [sic] to government’, as Macquarie’s Secretary, John Campbell, commented in 1818.

The binding and dynamic role of the Great Western Road grew stronger as the decades rolled on. It not only formed the main access to the lands of the interior, but also became the focus of the development in the western part of the County of Cumberland, and the reason for the establishment and continuing growth of Penrith itself. It became the lifeline along which the early towns and villages were established and sustained. It provided the essential link between the city and, its hinterland. In 1815, after Cox had completed the Great Western Road over the Blue Mountains, Macquarie directed him to build a military depot and guard house on high ground, on Chapman’s grant. It was built near the new road to Parramatta, set well back from the river. Cox was paid £200 for ‘erecting a Depot for Provisions, Guard House, erecting necessary Enclosures for cattle and Garden Ground, Frame for a Well … on the new Western Road near Emu Ford’. This was the first government structure in the district on the eastern side of the river.In 1816, Cox mentioned in his correspondence with the government, the lockup at ‘Penryn’, among a list of expenses for work undertaken, including carriage costs on behalf of the government. In 1819, Macquarie appointed magistrates to the Bench at Penrith, which coincided with the establishment of the Emu Plains convict farm .

outline map 1817

The first reference to the placename ‘Penrith’ in the Sydney Gazette appeared on 6 December 1821 with the appointment of the lockup keeper to the new gaol and courthouse. Penrith was not a planned town of Macquarie’s, like Castlereagh, Richmond or Windsor. No surveyor came to the area to draw up a town out of the wilderness, like Meehan did in 1811 at Castlereagh. Even its name is a mystery and was, it appears, not planned, like many other decisions made by Macquarie. At one time the district of Evan had two courthouses, Castlereagh and Penrith. By establishing the military depot and courthouse on the Western Road at Penrith, the government changed their focal axis to east/west. The small settlers’ axis of north/south with Windsor was forever weakened.

In 1821, John Oxley, Surveyor-General published in the Sydney Gazette a description of the districts in the County of Cumberland and Northumberland. The District of Evan was described as ‘Bounded on the south side by the Bringelly District; on the east side by the South Creek to the Richmond Road, thence by that Road by the Chain of Ponds at Larra’s Farm, and by the Richmond Common Line to Matthew’s Farm, opposite the Grose River; and on the west side by the Nepean River’. In 1825 Governor Darling was ordered to reorganise the settled districts of the colony into Counties, Hundreds and parishes. A Hundred was thought to have been an area of about 100 families. A parish is approximately 25 square miles. This spelt the end of the districts and Evan.

In 1829, the government published a general overview of the colony, from the 1828 Census. Under the County of Cumberland, the districts were listed like Windsor Town and district, Bringelly & Cooke, and Penrith (not Evan). The village was emerging as an important centre, hosting the courthouse, lockup, inns and stores. Interestingly, for the purposes of the census, those living in the district were listed at Evan, not Penrith. There were 1328 males and 368 females in the district. It must also be noted that the Emu Plains convict farm returns were completed, but lost and never recorded in the Census.

The map, published in 1828, shows the parishes and the road, but not the towns of Penrith or Castlereagh. In 1835 the NSW Government Gazette published the proclamation of the colony into Counties, Hundreds and Parishes. The boundaries of the County of Cumberland were fixed and the Hundreds and Parishes defined. Maps were drawn up to coincide with the 1835 Government Gazette proclamation. The Hundred of Evan was divided into the parishes of Melville, Claremont and Mulgoa. While the Hundred of Richmond was divided into the parishes of Ham Common, Castlereagh, Londonderry and Rooty Hill.

A map was published in 1837 with the districts gone, replaced by placenames like, Penrith and Castlereagh. On this map settlement patterns are indicated with the names of the major landholders, and along the Nepean at Castlereagh the settlement is annotated with ‘small settlers’. In 1843, Governor Gipps appointed the First District Council for the Penrith area. In 1867, boroughs and municipal districts were established. In 1860, 167 citizens of the Penrith area presented a petition asking for incorporation as a Municipality. However, a counter petition slowed Penrith’s progress to incorporation, which eventually occurred on 12 May 1871.

One hundred years later, the County of Cumberland in 1948, saw one of the largest reorganisations of government in NSW history. The Evan district was long gone. The boundary lines of each council essentially follow the lines of the old districts like Evan. Our city boundaries have virtually not changed since the formation of the District of Evan. It remains with us, although not in name but in its lifelines and natural borders.


In conclusion there are some truths in history, which at times are hard to swollow. Some of us carry these hard truths for decades, denying their existence. Governments make decisions, which advance some to the detriment of others and in doing so change the natural history of an area. Sometimes government decisions are ignored and the people resist the change. The people of Castlereagh did not take to the planned township, so it returned to the bush, while a small military depot attracted business opportunities and therefore grew into a private town. The District of Evan, I suppose did not fall, but just gave way to its future. Its place in history is secure. A study of those who lived there and the district in which they lived, as Maugham reflected ‘made them what they are’. I hope I have given you an insight into the district and its birth and death, and marriage with history.


The Makings of a City History Conference: Bicentenary of European settlement, Penrith 29 March 2003