The Toll-bar cottage, photo John Merriman – flickr
On 1862, on the morning of a late September day, two riders cantered through the township of Mount Victoria on their way to attend an auction in Hartley. As they approached the descent at Victoria Pass four men burst from the bush, their faces hidden beneath rough crepe masks. It was George Sheppheard the bushrangers were after. Their informants had led them to believe he would be passing with a large sum of money collected at the toll bar he leased on the Western Road.
As it turned out it was not George Sheppheard they captured but his eighteen year old son who told them that his father was, in fact, absent from the district. With their purpose now somewhat confused, the bushrangers succumbed to a greater need than money, released their prisoners, and withdrew to the pubs of Little Hartley.
The toll bar cottage of George Sheppheard survives in Mount Victoria today. It is one of the few remaining links with that period before the railway when the road was the centre of all activity, legal and illegal, and life on the Mountains was often harsh and remote from the embellishments of civilization.
Officially known as the Broughton’s Waterhole Toll Bar, it was one of a number set up along the Western Road following a proclamation of Governor Fitzroy in November 1848. As the country opened up, tolls became increasingly important as a revenue source for the development and maintenance of the major road systems. Tolls levied varied with the category of traffic, while the cost of a lease depended upon the site and the volume of traffic anticipated. In 1849 the lease at Broughton’s Waterhole cost £360. By 1867 it had risen to £800.
The toll charges in 1836 included:
Sheep, pig or goat ¼ d – ½ d
Horned cattle 1 d
Horse 2 d
Cart and one horse 3 d
Carriage & pair 1/-
4 wheeled vehicle drawn by 4 horses 3/-
Double tolls on Sunday.
At that time a 2kg loaf of bread cost 10d, a cabbage cost 1d, eggs were 2/- a dozen and ten pounds weight (4.5 kg) of potatoes cost the same as the toll for a carriage and pair, see note on currency below.
George Sheppheard, it seems, held the lease at Broughton’s Waterhole from 1852 until about 1866, while his friend, Thomas Ellison, did the same at 17 Mile Hollow, Linden, for roughly the same period. Both also built inns on land adjacent to their toll bars and tapped extra income from the passing traffic. The toll bar at Linden is long gone, demolished to make way for the railway in 1867, while the quiet, withdrawn position of the Broughton’s Waterhole cottage today belies its active past. In those years when the gold fever drove thousands into the wilderness the small toll bar cottage played a central role in the bustling surge of life that moved along the Bathurst Road.
In 1862 Sheppeard built and became first licensee of the Toll-bar Inn, also known as the Old Welcome Inn, and had other business interests in the township including a general store, butchery and bakery. He was a farm labourer from Suffolk, born around 1811 and had arrived as a convict in the Colony of NSW in 1836, one of 399 convicts transported on the ship Moffatt; having been tried at Woodbridge Quarter Sessions and sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing ten pigs and attempting to sell them at the local market where they were recognised by the owner.
According to his convict records he was of ruddy complexion and a big man for the time being 5’10” in height and showing the scars on his face and knuckles that marked him as a man who could use his fists but been caught by a lucky left jab – he had a ‘missing front tooth right side of upper jaw, scar on right eyebrow and the left side of upper lip, sandy whiskers, two scars back of forefinger of right hand and one on back of forefingers of left hand.’
George worked out his sentence on the government farm at Parramatta, the first farm to produce sufficient food to feed the penal colony. It had been established beside the river in 1788, where the richer soils had produced enough grain, livestock and other crops to save the settlement from starvation. Following Governor Phillip’s establishment of the Governor’s Domain in 1790 the area contained agricultural land, stockyards, lumber yards, and most significantly, the governor’s residence and vice-regal offices.
In December 1841 George Sheppeard married Caroline Victoria Whittle, daughter of Thomas and Victoria Whittle, she had arrived by the ship Queen Victoria in July 1841, and was described as a ‘native of London, domestic servant – plain cook and housemaid, age 28, very good health, Catholic, can read, under care of Surgeon Supt.’ This was a time when young women, usually servants or farm workers, were being actively recruited with low priced ‘bounty’ tickets to immigrate to NSW in an effort to supply labour and respectable servants, and to balance the ‘unhealthy’ male-female ratio. By 1833 male convicts accounted for 80 per cent of the recorded east Australian population. Among convicts the ratio of men to women was 8 to 1.
Many of the young ‘bounty’ girls who arrived in Sydney and Melbourne found themselves in a miserable situation, with little but prostitution and crime to sustain them. This was not to be Caroline’s fate, she arrived in July and was married to George within five months. Louisa Ann Meredith wrote of female convicts, ‘All are certain of marrying, if they please; proposals are plentiful’.
After receiving his freedom in 1843 George was eager to take advantage of the many opportunities for a man with an eye to the main chance and the fists to back it up. George also leased the toll-bar at South Bowenfels. This was situated at what was called McGrath’s Corner, near the junction of the main highway and the Lowther-Hampton-Oberon Road. This toll-bar was in existence from 1863 until 1872, when in response to falling income caused by the spread of the railways, many toll-bars were closed. John Delaney looked after this gate and in 1863 married George Sheppeard’s eldest daughter Sarah Jane.
George was a speculator and a lover of the turf, and at one time owned five race horses — Saunterer, Stella, Aristocrat, Partner and Doctor; the first named was a first-rater, and the mare Stella performed well in Sydney, while Aristocrat won a Sydney Cup.
In 1868 George was declared bankrupt and the Inn was put up for auction:
JAMES T. RYAN has received instructions from Mr. R. H. Sempill, the Official Assignee, to sell by auction, on Wednesday, 8th. day of January next, at noon, on the premises,— The ” Old Welcome Inn,” known as Shepherd’s Tollbar, situated on the Bathurst Road, near Mount Victoria, One tree Hill. The property consists of 40 acres, on which is erected some good substantial buildings. The present tenant pays £60 per year, the tenancy terminating 24th November, 1868.With the promises will be sold the right to receive over from the tenant a large quantity of household furniture contained in the tap-room, dining-room, 6 bed-rooms, kitchen, wash-house, &c., particularized in a catalogue to be seen at the Auction Room, which appears to contain every requisite for such an establishment.
On October 24, 1876 Sheppeard’s toll-bar was closed and the next year the Government abolished all road tolls throughout the State.
Sheppeard’s toll-bar is mentioned in the recollections of Thomas Sutton, a well-known business man in Lithgow, and as a youth had worked as a collector at various toll-bars, the first being at Newtown, Sydney, in 1856, when he was 14 years old. From Newtown he went to the toll bat at Wentworth Falls, known as Weatherboard at the time, and then to Randwick. The loneliness Randwick got to the young man and he returned to the Mountains by coach to work for Ryan and Dempsey, who had a store, butchery and bakery at the fettlers’ camp on the construction of the railway near Blackheath. After about 12 months there he got the job of collector at Sheppeard’s toll-bar, he wrote in his memoirs in 1914:
While looking after this bar, I was credited by the drivers as being the most attentive of all toll-keepers on the mountains. I would hear the coach coming over a bit of metalled road and would have my pants and slippers on, and out before they reached the gate.
In 1871 Thomas Sutton married Amelia a daughter of George Sheppeard, they had five sons and a daughter, their first son was named George.
Little is known about the building’s functional life after 1868. It lay largely forgotten as changes in the road route left it stranded awkwardly beyond the main traffic flow, the dignity of its rich history withdrawing into gradual dilapidation.
In early 1928 it was near derelict and the Shire Council had received complaints regarding the ‘ruinous and insanitary condition of ‘the old toll bar at Mount Victoria’. And later in the same year its ownership was included in a foreclosure and a letter from the solicitors H. F. McFie and Co., received by the Shire Council, stated that the liquidators had no objection to the demolition of the Toll Bar house by Council ‘so that the unsightly excrescence may be wiped out of sight, and you are authorised to acquire the site upon which it is built.’
The committee requested that Council procure for them the ‘Old Toll Bar’, and the land attached, at the lowest possible figure. Council was informed that ‘at a later period the committee intended to renovate the old historic structure and give the place the necessary supervision, so as to avoid nuisances from swagmen, and we consider this old landmark of great historical interest and well worthy of a visit from tourists’. The council report stated that the Trustees of the Mount Victoria Group reserves were joining up with the Urban Committee in the matter. It was decided to let the Urban Committee take possession, at the nominal rental of 1/- per annum.
In May 1930 the Toll-bar was again under threat as shown by a letter to the SMH from the RAHS stating that the Main Roads Board planned to demolish the cottage for road widening, ‘the matter was receiving attention’, they were told. In 1935 legislation was passed for its resumption and the Toll-Bar cottage passed into local government hands. In 1939 renovations were carried out by the Shire Council at a cost of £180 funded by a State Government grant. Efforts were made by the Blue Mountains Historical Society to discover the date of building, without success. The renovations disclosed the date 1849 in a keystone over the door. The Shire president (Cr. Mathews) informed council that already there was a tenant wishing to rent the property, as a tea room and gift store, with the intention of selling curios, booklets and other historical articles.
In 1950 a commemorative tablet was unveiled at a ceremony by the Mayor of the Blue Mountains City Council, Ald. Galway, attended by Mr. E. Sheppeard, descendant of George Sheppeard. In unveiling the tablet, Mr. E. J. McKenzie, hon. research secretary, Lithgow District Historical Society, said the ceremony was significant because of at least three things: Firstly, the tablet would inform the public, on the authority of the Blue Mountains Historical Society, that the quaint old building, which had stood on the roadside for more than 100 years, was built in 1849 to serve as a cottage for the toll-bar keeper at what was then, known as Broughton’s Waterhole.
Second in significance was the fact that, with them that afternoon, was a descendant of George Sheppeard who so continuously leased the toll-bar that it became known as “Sheppeard’s Toll-bar.” The ceremony was also significant, Mr. McKenzie went on to say, because it was another instance of what historical societies were doing in the country. Instead of writing letters to the press bewailing the demolition or neglect of our historical relics, people who were conscious of our Australian tradition found it better to band together and by joint effort do the necessary things themselves.
In 1969 the Toll-bar became a National Trust property and stories continued to circulate in the township of it being haunted by the ghost of a woman.
Despite some abortive attempts at further renovation, it was not until local architect Peter Buckwell took out a lease in the 1980s that renewed life and character were breathed back into the ageing stone cottage. Appropriately restored, it functioned as his firm’s business office until around 1990 and is currently vacant.
Today the locality of Broughton’s Waterhole has passed from living memory but George Sheppeard’s toll-bar cottage still stands among the road works and holiday traffic and thundering trucks just off the busy highway in Mount Victoria. It is one of the few remaining links with that period before the railway when the road was the centre of all activity, legal and illegal, and life on the Mountains was often harsh and remote from the embellishments of civilization.
Note on pre-decimal currency: ‘d’ was the abbreviation for a penny, a quarter of a penny (¼d) was called a farthing, a half penny (½d) was called a ha’penny. There were 12 pence (12d) to a shilling (1/-) and 20 shillings (20/-) to the pound (£1/0/0). The ‘d’ coming from the Latin word denarii (sing. denarius, a common coin in Roman Britain). At the time of decimalisation in 1966 £1 became $2. However the value of £1 in the mid-19th century may be multiplied by 120 to compare to the present, see- http://www.thomblake.com.au/secondary/hisdata/calculate.php
Broughton’s Waterhole Toll Bar Cottage, in Historic Blue Mountains, John Low 1987
State Heritage Listing – http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=1170293
TOLL BARS (1933, October 26). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 3 (“Back=to=Parramatta” Week Supplement to The Cumberland Argus). Retrieved March 14, 2017, from g –
TOLL BAR HISTORY (1950, December 29). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), p. 4 (CITY EDITION). Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219753237
Toll Bars. (1913, May 14). The Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), p. 2. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article111214859
“OLD TOLL-BAR HOUSE” The Katoomba Daily (NSW : 1920 – 1939) 25 June 1938: 3. Web. 3 Apr 2017 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article190115283
“OLD TOLL BAR” The Blue Mountain Echo (NSW : 1909 – 1928) 17 February 1928: 5. Web. 3 Apr 2017 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article108955898 Tablet Unveiled At Mt. Victoria Toll Bar Home (1950, December 19). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219751802
JAMES T. RYAN has received instructions from Mr. R. H. Sempill, the Official Assignee, to sell by auction, on (1868, December 18). New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW : 1832 – 1900), p. 4561. Retrieved April 3, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article225581659
Read the original turnpike roads proclamation in its original Georgian English and even do some Trove text correcting – “Proclamation By His Excellency LACHLAN MACQUARIE, Esquire, Captain General, Governor and Commander in Chief in and over His Majesty’s Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies, &c. &c. &c.” (1811, March 30). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), p. 2.
John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian