The Overseers, Chapter Two

  1. Home
  2. /
  3. Anecdotes
  4. /
  5. The Overseers, Chapter Two

Bong Bong Common [courtesy of Steven Hudson]
Before the first Europeans settled at Bong Bong, this land beside the Wingecarribee River was a very important place for the Aboriginal people who had occupied the area for many thousands of years. It was common for many different nations to pass through this country, including the Gundungurra and Dharwad people and these river flats provided a rich source of food – fish, frogs and waterbirds, with reptiles, bird eggs and other edible animals – in abundance. [Bong Bong Common History 2019 extract].

Chapter Two

You will find the Army careers of Thomas and William Wood in parallel lives .  And the first part of their life stories in Chapter One here.

The Promised Land

Sixty-six soldiers serving in the New South Wales Royal Veteran Companies took their army discharges with pensions during 1829. These comprised two sergeants, two corporals and 62 privates. Governor Ralph Darling made good his promise to provide land for these discharged veterans.

Under instructions from Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the Old Argyle Road, leading south from the Cumberland Plain, was commenced in 1819, providing access to the newly settled land south of Camden to Bong Bong, Sutton Forest and beyond. In November 1821 an order to lay out the official village of Bong Bong was signed. A small detachment of soldiers was at the settlement from the beginning, which could have been drawn from up to four British Army regiments in NSW at that time.

By 1829 this settlement included buildings to accommodate a gaol, barracks, the commandant’s residence, and a public house – the Argyle Inn – was opened in 1827 by William Bowman. A commissariat store was built between 1829 and 1831.

39th Regiment Troops at Bong Bong June 1829-December 1830

This sketch (left) was drawn from the memories of an elderly resident (Miss Sarah Loseby) for the 1947 Centenary of Bong Bong.  It includes landmarks that were added after 1829 and differs somewhat in scale and detail from other sketches drawn in the same era. It shows the approximate site of the military barracks. The veterans allotments granted in 1829 were to be situated between the Old Argyle Road and the curve of the River Wingecarribee.

The 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment detachment was in Bong Bong over the period of the veterans taking up their allotments in 1829 to 1830. The table (right) gives the names of the soldiers and period of service over this time. The soldiers and the convicts they were supervising were given the task of preparing the area in readiness for the discharged veterans arrival.

On 21st September 1829, eight allotments of 80 acres each were identified for possession in 1830 at Bong Bong, District of Camden, New South Wales. The first veterans to take up this land were Privates John Gillzan/Gilzan (Lot 1); Lynn Sheppard/Shepherd (Lot 2); Eneas/Enos McGarr (Lot 3); Samuel Holmes (Lot 4); William Wood (Lot 5); Thomas Wood (Lot 6); Christopher Rhall (Lot 7); Corporal William Chater (Lot 8). These men were discharged to pension on either 24th July or 24th August 1829. The Deeds of Grants took up to ten years to issue, during which time many of the blocks had been sold to other parties or inherited by the widow or children of the original grant holder [NSW Government Gazettes].

Grants of Land, NSW Government Gazettes 5 Sep 1838, p. 699 and 26 Jun 1839, p.723

The farming veterans generally appeared to be doing well in 1831, with some of them cropping up to ten acres of their allotments. However, John Gilzan was the first casualty – a former Artillery pensioner [WO23-31-135] who discharged from the army in NSW in 1829 but was not paid his pension of 9d. per diem in full until 22nd July 1841. He fell into debt and forfeited his allotment in November 1831.

William Chater, born in Market Harboro, Leicestershire was a former Sergeant in the 95th Rifles (later Rifle Brigade), and like Thomas Wood had received gunshot wounds at New Orleans in 1814 in an arm, wrist and hip [WO119-0055-22]. In April 1833 he sold his allotment Lot 8 ‘Orchardfield’ to William Bowman, publican of the Argyle Inn, and already an influential land owner in the Bong Bong district. Corporal Chater had been in Company No. 1 of the New South Wales Royal Veterans with Thomas and William Wood and John Gilzan.

Thomas Wood – something of a mystery

Thomas Wood was born in Birmingham in 1787/88. With a name such as his, it has been impossible to distinguish his birth/baptism or family in vital records. By the time Thomas was 13, Birmingham’s population was 74,000, the fourth largest city in England, nick-named the ‘workshop of the world’ and a leader in the industrial revolution and literary enlightenment.

We know nothing of Thomas’s life before he enlisted in the army, and very little after his discharge. We cannot identify the date or place of his marriage to Sarah, whose maiden surname is unknown. We do not know whether the couple had children. No records of children have been found in Australia.

Seven months after Thomas returned to New South Wales from his army posting as a convict overseer at King George’s Sound, he discharged to pension from the army. On 21st September 1829, his name appears on the register for Deeds to Land Grants in Bong Bong. Thomas must have taken possession of Lot 6 by early 1830 as he had a convict named Joseph Saunders assigned to him. Saunders, a 29-year old butcher, had arrived on the convict transport America in August 1829; he had been sentenced to seven years penal servitude.

Mortgage by Demise, 20th December 1833 between Thomas Wood & William Bowman

Thomas was allocated a bark-clad hut – as were all the men who took up veterans lots in 1829/1830. Governor Darling hoped that the veterans would use a variety of skills to assist each other in establishing their farms. Each of the grantees was allowed free rations for 12 months, a set of tools for working the land and, for the married men, a milking cow. It would have been a busy time for Thomas, his wife Sarah and the convict Saunders – clearing the land, fencing, planting crops, and the building of permanent living quarters.

Thomas Wood mortgaged his property to William Bowman recorded on a Mortgage by Demise dated 20th December 1833. The sum paid was 27 pounds 15 shillings to be redeemed the following year. It is impossible to know what occurred on 20th December 1834. Did Thomas Wood and William Bowman have a frank discussion about the redemption of the mortgage principle becoming due? Was there perhaps another financial arrangement made between them? Whatever occurred, it did not ultimately satisfy William Bowman who appealed to the Court of Claims which was advertised as Case No. 954 in the NSW Government Gazette on 30th July 1841. The date of the court’s decision was 18th October 1841 where it was recognised that William Bowman was the grantee of 80 acres at Bong Bong, County Camden (No. 6 allotment) albeit Thomas Wood the original donee. A new Deed of Grant was dated 9th November 1841 and recorded in the Government Gazette in late November.

We can place Thomas Wood in Bong Bong from 1836 to 1838 from notices in the newspaper indicating that he was the pound-keeper during these years. He resigned in October 1838 and was replaced by William Jones. An extensive search has been made in the Government Gazettes for his appointment to that position without success.

Thomas may have left Bong Bong before or after the court decision against him in October 1841, the year of a NSW Census. The census records show two householders by the name of Thomas Wood, but neither fits our veteran’s profile. However, there is a possibility he moved onto William Wood’s Rifle Farm as it seems William and his family were not living there in June 1841 (see William’s story below). According to Thomas’s pension records his residence in 1845 was Illawarra which continued through to January 1854 where he is recorded in Sydney until 27th April 1855 which will have to suffice as the only official record of his death [WO22-273-138].

And what of Sarah Wood?

We had not seen Sarah’s name in print since the books written about her presence in King George Sound. Was she simply a ‘cypher’ referred to by historian Robert Stephens in writing about the settlement there, they [women] appear only as nameless cyphers, and are never mentioned by name, neither they nor their children, in any of the sources referred to herein [Stephens:38]. Let us explore the possibilities.

A record of burial found in the NSW Registrar’s records was at first inconclusive, her abode in 1848 was recorded as ‘Arthursleigh’ which was puzzling if she was with her husband prior to her death, since he is recorded as residing in Illawarra. Was this proof of ‘our’ Sarah’s death?

‘Arthursleigh’ was a 1000 acre farm on land situated at Big Hill, north of Marulan, granted to Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur in 1819. Hannibal Macarthur, initially in partnership with his brother Charles, increased the holding to 20,000 acres over the years before Hannibal succumbed to liquidation in 1848. Assigned convicts built much of the infrastructure on the farm which is still standing today.

In June 1841’s census, the householder of note at ‘Arthursleigh’ was Robert Shirriff, the district of Goulburn, County Argyle [Return No. 66, p.147]. Occupants on the property were 56 persons in total. Sarah’s profile would fit the census of females: six over 21 and under 45 years old; six married; 11 arrived free. Sarah could have worked as one of 36 unclassified occupations listed at ‘Arthursleigh’.

And just to confuse the issue, there was an early land grant at Sutton Forest to Arthur Hill in 1822 which he named ‘Arthursleigh’. However, Hill sold the land in 1825 to his neighbour, Joseph Underwood, and that property name was never adopted locally, even though the name appears on the parish map [Emery 2024].

Ultimately we discovered an original All Saints Church, Sutton Forest register entry for Sarah Wood’s death on 12th and burial on 14th February 1848, Rev. William Stone officiating (matching the NSW Registrar’s record). But what does this mean? How long was Sarah living at ‘Arthursleigh’ and when did she leave Bong Bong? And which of the two ‘Arthursleigh’ properties was it! Was she living in Berrima with William and Ann Wood at any point? Were Thomas and Sarah living apart and if so, from what date? Or maybe this is not ‘our’ Sarah Wood at all. We will never know and Sarah will remain a cypher in history.

William Wood – a successful settler

William Wood was born at Woodhouse, Leeds on 21st October 1790, one of seven children to Thomas Wood, a shoemaker, and Mary Kitson. William’s baptism was recorded in St Peter’s Parish Church, Leeds (now Leeds Minster). When William was 11 years old, the population of Leeds was 53,000, England’s sixth largest city. Leeds at this time was primarily a mill town, processing wool and flax. During the industrial revolution it developed major export markets aided by its canal system’s access to ports east and west of its central location in England.

Deed of Grant for Bong Bong land by Sir George Gipps 1839
Governors Ralph Darling and George Gipps

William Wood, discharged from the army with a pension of 6d. per day, made application for his promised land. He named his veterans’ allotment (Lot 5) at Bong Bong, ‘Rifle Farm’. He seemed to be recalling his time in the Rifle Brigade with pride and affection, despite his war injuries.  He presumably took up the challenge of clearing and cropping as soon as his application for the promised grant from Governor Darling was approved (see above image for dates of promise and possession). However, it would be a further ten years before the Deed of Grant was finally approved on 18th October 1839 by Governor George Gipps. [rh5]


One can only speculate how the soldier would be suited to farming in Australia. However, one thing was for sure, William Wood and his family needed to survive while waiting for an income from the growth of crops and management of animals. William Wood’s trade had followed that of his father Thomas as a shoemaker [WO97-1090-071]; it was a useful skill to have throughout his entire life.

Qualification for William Woods, eligible juror in Bong Bong, District of Berrima 5th April 1847


William’s occupation was described as a shoemaker on his army records, on his children’s baptism records in England and again in New South Wales. It was not until 1842 he was described in the baptism records as a farmer. On the Berrima list of eligible jurors at Bong Bong in 1847, William’s qualification was established by an annual income of £30. William, it has been suggested, was employed as a mail carrier between Sydney and Berrima [Bow:4]. I have not been able to verify this despite searches of newspapers and government gazettes. [rh6].

The Wood Children born in Woodhouse and Bong Bong

George Wood is the only child who did not survive into adulthood having died at three and a half months old. George undoubtedly died in Bong Bong in December 1832, but his death was recorded by Rev. Thomas Hassall while at the chapel he built in Cobbity, in the Parish of Narellan. Hassall was affectionately known as ‘Tom the Galloper’ because of the large area he travelled on horseback. Hassall was also remembered for preaching his quarterly sermons at Bong Bong in the Commissariat Store [Howard:5]. [rh7].

Genes Reunited

On 1st December 1838 James Payler of Woodhouse, Leeds received a letter from William and his wife Ann Payler (James’s sister). It is evidently the first time that Ann’s family in England had heard from the Bong Bong settlers since they left Woodhouse in 1825. Between 1838 and 1882, 21 letters were written from the Payler family in England to William and Ann, and after their deaths, to Elizabeth Griffiths nee Wood, William and Ann’s married daughter. These letters of news from England to the ‘colonies’ survived and were scrupulously edited by J M Bow entitled ‘As Cold Water to a Thirsty Soul’ and published for the Wood family of Bong Bong in 1987.

William and Ann Payler, book cover of ‘As Cold Water to a Thirsty Soul’ a collection of letters


In Chapter One of our story about the Overseers at King George Sound, WA, we indicated that William Wood and the other soldiers of the NSW Royal Veterans Company No. 1 travelled to Australia on the ship John Barry accompanied by the unnamed 21 wives and 31 children [ISTG:Vol.6]. The ship left Portsmouth, England in March 1826 and arrived in Sydney, NSW in July that year. We have found in the Bow Collection of Letters an ‘eye witness’ account of the family leaving Leeds. Writing in a letter to his niece, Elizabeth Griffiths nee Wood, James Payler reminisces, I look back 38 years ago when I took my farewell of her [Ann Wood nee Payler] on the stage Coach in Briggate with her Husband and two children James and Mary who was then a chubby girl. I saw my Dr [dear] sister for the last time a smart Healthy young woman start for a foreign Land full of hope to get riches and comforts such as she had been deprived of in her native Land wether her hopes have been realized you will now [sic] the best… [Bow:29].

Making Sense of the Census

The 1841 Census of New South Wales was taken on 6th June. It recorded 249 people living in the township of Berrima: 169 males and 80 females. At least 75 of these were temporary residents – those recorded as being in the gaol, courthouse, police lock-up and barracks. Access to the 1841 Abstract showed two householders named William Wood. One (Return No. 2) was at Argyle Street, Berrima, a stone or brick dwelling occupied by 12 persons. The other (Return No. 67) was at Veterans Flats, Bong Bong (presumably meaning one of 80 acres of land granted to eight veterans) which included Rifle Farm, William Wood’s land. According to the census this dwelling was occupied by two single men; one arrived free, the other a ticket of leave man.

The Surveyor General Inn built by James Harper in 1834, opened in 1835 on Argyle Street,

Argyle Street
Chris Thompson who worked on a statistical analysis of the census, has written a compelling theory of William Wood and the occupants of the Argyle Street dwelling. He suggests that William and his family – wife Ann, his five children, including Mary Ann plus her husband Charles Webb, were occupying the Surveyor General Inn, one of only two stone dwellings on the street. This left four occupants unaccounted for. Of course this should not imply that there were twelve rooms in the Inn. And to accurately profile these inhabitants and their details, we have to forgive inaccuracies of census-taking all over the world in any era.

This leaves us to wonder if William (and possibly his family) were working at the Inn, or merely boarding there for some reason unknown to us – renovations to the Rifle Farm accommodation, perhaps. William may have been acting licensee, sufficient reason to be considered the householder [rh10].

Veterans Flats, Bong Bong
William Wood, householder of a dwelling on an acreage at Veterans Flats. That is what is recorded on the census. If this was Rifle Farm (Lot 5), then the occupant may have given William’s name, as owner, to the census-collector. Could it have actually been Thomas Wood, William’s old comrade in arms, along with a ticket of leave man? Thomas was struggling at this time as his land, adjacent to William’s, was about to be the subject of the court action that gave William Bowman title to Lot 6 Veterans’ Flats. Thomas appears nowhere as a householder in the census. Or maybe William Wood was at the farm on the day of the census and was counted twice; it would not be the first time in the history of census collection.

When I’m Sixty Four

William Wood died on 25th March 1854 in his 64th year [rh8 & rh9] and was buried in Christ Church cemetery, Bong Bong on 28th March. The burial register entry is confusing as his details have been duplicated, recorded by two different clergymen – Rev William Stone, Rector of Bong Bong (entry 48) and Rev James Hassall (entry 50), Rector of Berrima (left).

The family raised a headstone in the Bong Bong church cemetery which can be found on the Find A Grave website (see acknowledgements below). Ann Wood nee Payler who died on 10th July 1864 aged 63 was also buried in the Bong Bong cemetery, her name appearing on the same headstone as William (right).


Red Herrings and Mis-directions

rh5 A land grant application attributed to William Wood NSWRVC in Liverpool, NSW is not correct. The Liverpool grant was made to William Wood Royal Staff Corps. A case of mistaken identity.

rh6 Employment attributed to William Wood NSWRVC as an overseer working with a convict gang on the construction of a new road is not likely. Private William Wood Royal Staff Corps was detached during his Army service in that role [WO12-11084-362]; a case of mistaken identity.

rh7 There is no evidence that William and Ann Wood had nine children, as some sources suggest. If two children not mentioned in the table above existed, there is no record of their baptisms or burials in Australian records. The longest ‘gap’ between children is understandable – the couple was travelling and/or apart for much of the time between 1825 and 1829.

rh8 William Wood’s headstone indicates a birth year of 1788, when he almost certainly was born on 21st October 1790 [St Peter’s, Leeds p.107].

rh9 A Coroner’s Inquest was recorded in Berrima for a William Wood on 22nd March 1854 [No. 7974]. Is this yet another clerical error or a case of mistaken identity? No newspaper account of this Berrima Coroner’s Inquest has been found.

rh10 Ann Richards, mentioned as licensee in the Berrima census analysis, was not the licensee of the Surveyor General Inn during 1841 – it was either Ralph Hush or William Taylor [Roberts 2023]; neither gentleman was living in Berrima at the time of the census.


This chapter has once again been written with the research assistance of Reg and Norma Binding of Melbourne. My awkward questions to them about anomalies in the records have always been followed up by further research, well thought-out explanations, and alternative scenarios – all based on impeccable logic. I would have given up long ago on this project had it not been for their tenacity. The Bindings have also added value to the Find A Grave website pages for the Wood/Payler family after their in-depth genealogical research over several generations.

Linda Emery, Archivist at the Berrima District Historical & Family History Society Inc. has been an invaluable resource to the Bindings and myself in providing documents and local history solutions for us.

Sources and Bibliography

Bong Bong Obelisk unveiled in 1947

Books, Journals & Websites
A History of the Berrima district, 1798-1973, James Jervis, 1978.
Arthursleigh: A History of the property 1819-1979, Chrissy Fletcher, 2004.
As Cold Water to a Thirsty Soul, a collection of letters 1838-1882, ed. J M Bow, 1987.
Bong Bong Common History, Bong Bong Common Management Committee 2019.
Find A Grave website for New South Wales, Australia.
In my name: a genealogical history of William Wood from Waterloo to Rifle Farm and beyond, compiled by J M Bow, 1999.
List of towns and cities in England by historical population, Wikipedia.
Promises of Land from the Crown: Some Questions of Equity in Colonial Australia, Enid Campbell, University of Tasmania, Vol 13 No 1 1994.
Royal Veteran Companies and Royal Staff Corps, Christine Wright, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society Vol. 95 Part 2., 2009.
Study of the 1841 Census of Berrima by Chris Thompson, 2016.
The Story of Bong Bong’s First 100 Years 1798-1898 (aka Loseby Letter 4th July 1845), by Rev S A Howard, 1946, National Library of Australia.
Time Gents website, Mick Roberts December 2023.
Veterans at Bong Bong, Linda Emery, ‘Wartime’, Issue 43, August 2008, Australian War Memorial.
Wikipedia and Wikipedia Commons for illustrations.

Berrima District, New South Wales 1841 Census, Museums of History NSW – State Archives Collection.
Bong Bong, Plan of Eight Veterans Lots c. 1830, Robert Hoddle, State Library, NSW Mitchell Map Collection.
Colonial Secretary’s Letters, Item 2/7957, Reel 1176, State Records Authority NSW.
Goulburn District, New South Wales 1841 Census, Museums of History NSW – State Archives Collection.
Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild (ISTG) Website Vol. 6, transcribed and contributed by Mike Boyd.
Index to Deeds to Land Grants 1826-1856, Archive Reel: 2561; Series: 1217; State Records Authority NSW.
Index to Eligible Jurors, Berrima 1847, Archives Authority of NSW.
Possessory Lien—the First European Settlement, King George’s Sound, New Holland (1826-1831), Early Days, vol. 6, part 6: 23-59, Robert Stephens.
Registers of Coroners’ Inquests and Magisterial Inquiries, 1834–1942 (microfilm, NRS 343, rolls 2921–2925, 2225, 2763–2769). State Records Authority.
Sydney Diocesan Archives, Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney. Sydney, New South Wales.
War Office Muster Rolls and Pay Lists NSW Royal Veterans Companies WO12-11230-91 to 97; War Office Muster Rolls and Pay Lists WO12-5265-62 to 266, 39th Regiment of Foot;
War Office Muster Rolls and Pay Lists WO12-11084-362, Royal Staff Corps. National Archives, Kew.
War Office Royal Hospital Chelsea misc. records WO22 and WO23, National Archives, Kew.

Bong Bong Church

Newspapers & Gazettes
NSW Government Gazette 5 September 1838, Issue 354, p. 699 – Thomas Wood, Land.
NSW Government Gazette 31 October 1838, Issue 368, p. 925 – Thomas Wood, Poundkeeper.
NSW Government Gazette 26 June 1839, Issue 428, Supplement, p.723 – William Wood, Land.
NSW Government Gazette 30 July 1841, Issue 61, p. 1029 – Court of Claims No. 954.
NSW Government Gazette 30 Nov 1841, Issue 98, p.1649 – William Bowman Grantee of Deed of Grant.



© Diane Oldman 2024