Founded by the Australian Agricultural Company
The picturesque village of Stroud, located in the Karuah Valley of NSW, Australia, owes its existence to the first major agricultural enterprise to be attempted in Australia - the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo).
Incorporated in London in 1824, the AACo represents the first major influx of private capital into Australia. The company was established by an Act of Parliament and Royal Charter. The proposed company was to have a nominal capital of £1,000.000 divided into 10,000 shares of £100 payable on call. For this a grant of 1,000,000 acres was anticipated. The Napoleonic wars had highlighted the need for Britain to control its own source of wool rather than depend on continental wool production. The prime purpose of the AACo was the production of fine wool for British mills. The original shareholders were members of Parliament, directors of the Bank of England and the East India Company, and everyone who was anyone in the fledgling colony of NSW.
Its capital entitled the AACo to 1,000,000 acres of land outside the established settled area of the colony, making AACo land virtually an independent colony within the colony of NSW. The company was overseen by a chief agent in Australia who was governed by a Court of Directors in England and a Colonial Committee in Australia.
First chief agent Robert Dawson
Robert Dawson was the AACo's first Australian chief agent (or company commissioner) and his main duties were to select suitable workers and stock to take to Australia. He left England in June 1825 with 27 indentured servants (contracted for 7 years), officers and mechanics and their wives and families. They sailed aboard 2 ships, the York and Brothers. Also aboard were 720 French and Anglo merino sheep, 8 horned cattle and 7 horses.
When the ships arrived in Sydney in November 1825, the location of the company’s grant was yet not determined. Dawson was entirely inexperienced in Australian conditions and the Colonial Committee recommended Port Stephens as a possible site. Dawson established the company’s main settlement in January 1826 at Carrington in Port Stephens. At this time the Port Stephens Estate covered almost 500 000 acres which extended to the Manning River at Taree.
Dawson explored the area north of Carrington and in November 1826 Dawson decided on a site for a northern inland town, chosing a valley where 2 water courses converged, (Karuah River and Mill Creek). He named the site Stroud as it reminded him of the Cotswold countryside in England, and most of the wool to be grown was intended for the mills in Stroud, Gloucestershire in England. He described the site as '...beautiful and picturesque, consisting of low undulating hills. I thought at the time I had never behold so sweet a spot.'
Booral, 8km south of Stroud, was chosen for farming, while sheep stations were created in the valleys which stretched northwards to Gloucester. Carrington remained the main site, with the company's No. 1 farm at Booral and No. 2 farm at Stroud. Apart from the indentured workers, the AACo. was also assigned convict labourers, by 1828 their number had reached 180.
The settlement did not prosper as hoped under Dawson’s superintendency and he was dismissed and replaced by James Ebsworth, who was to carry on until another commissioner was sent from England. At this time the country about Stroud and Telegherry was utilised for grazing sheep, with washing and shearing were carried out at Washpool on the Karuah River. Although Dawson may not have been considered the best manager, by December 1828, there were 17,459 sheep on the company estate between Port Stephens and Stroud.
A new company commissioner
Sir Edward Parry was appointed the new AACo Company Commissioner on 7 July 1829. Parry arrived in Sydney 23rd December and arrived on January 9th 1830 at Carrington, Port Stephens with his wife Lady Parry. Parry found the estate in much need of improvement. He began a period of activity in - building, clearing, and road construction. Parry realised that 2/3 of the estate land was unsuitable for sheep grazing. In August 1833 after extensive negotiation, Parry arranged to exchange 600 000 acres of land at Port Stephens for land in the Liverpool Ranges and Peel Valley (240 000 and 360 000 acres ). The company established its stations at Warrah and Goonoo Goonoo which yielded good returns for the company. Six thousand sheep were moved to the Peel grant. The company erected its first buildings (houses and stores for its employees and convicts) along a track that became known as Ebsworth Street. The house for the Peel Superintendent, Charles Hall was known as Calala, south west of modern day Tamworth.
Construction in the 1830s - 1840s
Many buildings were constructed or improved in Stroud during the 1830- 40’s, - slab school house (1831), the Store (1831), renovations to the superintendents house-Stroud House (1832) a cottage for superintendent of the flocks (1832), slaughterhouse (1832), Booral House (1831 completed in 1833), mill house (1833), St Johns Anglican church (1833), Mill (1834), the Woolshed at Telegherry (1835), the rectory(1836), Booral Wharf (1837) and “Quambi” school house. Most of the officers, mechanics- blacksmiths, wheelwrights, carpenters, joiners and convict labour force were based in Stroud by 1836. Stroud became the ACCo's main storage location.
Eight underground silos were constructed at Silo Hill in 1841 to provide pest-free storage for the AACo's grain. The first courthouse in Stroud was built in the 1840s. The courthouse was replaced in 1877. Court proceedings were held in this building until January 1977. The former courthouse is now a historical museum. Stroud also retains other convict-built buildings, now privately owned, including ‘Orchard Cottage’, 'Melrose', the Storekeepers Cottage and two Company cottages originally built for AACo employees.
The 1840’s was a period of severe economic hardship for the colony and the AACo, with droughts and rising costs. Part of the original charter of the AACo. was to encourage emigration to the colony. After much negotiation between the Directors, the Colonial Committee and NSW Governor, effective title deeds were available in 1847. In January 1849 the company issued a prospectus detailing the emigration certificates for the company’s Colonisation Scheme 1849-1850: Unimproved land at £ 1.0.0 per acre, cleared land, houses and farm buildings at 25 times the estimated yearly rent. Only 15 certificates were issued in London and a further 17 in NSW.
The prospectus of 1849 had interested very few English buyers, and the gold rush of 1851 halted local demand for land. In an attempt to attract interest town maps of Carrington, Stroud and Gloucester were produced. In 1851 Commissioner Blane had moved the Company’s headquarters officially from Carrington to Stroud, and he permanently resided at Booral House until his death in 1852. In 1853 in an attempt to attract attention to the estate.
Commissioner Brownrigg moved the Company’s annual stock sale from Maitland to Stroud, up to 250 people attended the sale. In 1854 the road from Port Stephens to the New England estate was improved, and a twice monthly steamer service from Booral to Sydney was begun and the Company’s store at Stroud became a retail outlet. Despite these efforts land sales were very low. During the period 1850 – 1856 only 24 farmers were found and were given prime alluvial land on the banks of the Karuah River. Another 19 bought allotments in the towns.
In 1856 Hodgson the new company commissioner took decisive action. In 1857 he leased the accountant’s residence, Booral House, as well as the Stroud mill and store. Land and buildings were advertised in the Maitland and Sydney papers. The commissioner made an application to the NSW government to proclaim Stroud a venue for the Court of Petty Sessions, a place where wine and spirits could be sold, where the Towns Police Act applied (proclaimed October 17 1853), thus making Stroud a “public “ town.
It was hoped that by making Stroud a public town settlers would be more inclined to move to Stroud rather than to other towns where purchasing crown land was easier than purchasing land from the AACo. In 1857 the whole of the Port Stephens flocks were advertised for sale. In 1858 all the AACo houses were advertised for sale. By 1864 nearly all the land in the vicinity of Stroud had been either leased or sold.
Coal deposits were discovered just north of Stroud in 1855. Four pits were established in 1858, although the quality was high the cost of extraction was prohibitive. Attempts to re-establish the mining venture in the 1872 also failed. However, today there is open-cut mining between Stroud and Gloucester .
Stroud has continued to prosper and remained a quiet country village in a predominately farming district. However, soon after the turn of the century two quite considerable sized towns grew in the district as a result of the increased demand for Australian hardwood timbers. In 1910 the AACo was selling the last of its Port Stephens estate lands. A 10 000 acre block was sold to Mr John Fenwick for £3483.
The Millars Timber & Trading Company purchased this land in early 1911 from Mr Fenwick. This land gave the Millars access to the immense reserves of good hardwood timber of the Purgatory Scrub of Winns Creek. The mill site was located 8km east of Stroud on the eastern bank of Alderley Creek. This was to be the site for the next 36 years for the village of Simsville and its Jarrah sawmill. During the first couple of years over 150 men were employed at the mill and in the bush. During its prime years the town had upwards of 500 people. Timber was transported from the mill by light rail (timber tramway) to town of The Branch which was a similar size to Simsville. River steamers berthed at The Branch and carried the timber to Port Stephens and beyond.
Today both these towns are merely names on a map, but for almost 40 years they played an important part in the growth and prosperity of the district.
Stroud is Australia’s oldest surviving “Company” town, at its centre it still has many significant historic buildings that were built by the AACo during their period of ownership. The buildings are a living, working memorial to the AACo and the free settlers and convicts who built Stroud in a time and place that was very alien and difficult. The AACo faced the same difficulties as the colony did, and like the colony it learnt to adapt to the new conditions in this new land.
The AACo adapted accordingly, and is the oldest continuously operating company in Australia. It is the custodian of over 7.2 million hectares on twenty or so cattle stations spread across Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Damaris Bairstow : A Million Pounds , A Million Acres: A Pioneer Settlement of the Australian Agricultural Company, 2003
P A Pemberton : Pure Merinos and Others: The Shipping Lists of the Australian Agricultural Company, 1986
Early Days of Port Stephens: Extracts from Sir Edward Parry’s Diary.
Dungog Chronicle, 2011
John Chadban: Stroud and the A.A.Co. 1996
Ian McNeil: Simmsville And The Jarrah Mill: A History of the Timber Industry at Simmsville, New South Wales. 1991
Jesse Gregson: Australian Agricultural Company 1824 to 1875, 1907 PDF courtesy Of Newcastle City Library.
Bishop Robert L Butterss: No Island is Stroud : A Study of Church and a Town 1826-1926
Coat of arms
The original AA Company seal was used in London from 1824. The hung sheep is the traditional symbol for wool derived from the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece and has been used in coats of arms of many towns connected with the wool industry. The oak and eucalyptus leaves depict the company's links with England and Australia while the crown indicates that the company was established by Royal Charter.