On 18th May 1970, the then Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, unveiled a monument in Cabarita Park. That monument commemorated the little known transportation of convicted French ‘revolutionaries’ from Quebec to Sydney. A similar fate had been handed out the English ‘revolutionaries’ but instead of landing in Sydney, they were transported to Hobart Town. These men collectively became known as the Canadian Exiles. The monument can no longer to be found in Cabarita Park. In 1980, Concord Council finished the reclamation of Bayview Park in the Canada Bay area of Hen and Chicken Bay and in 1983 the monument was moved there. It now stands on the almost identical spot where the exiles landed en route from their transports and ships’ boats to the Longbottom Stockade.
So who were these revolutionaries and why were they sent to this part of Sydney?
In 1837, the Canadian Provinces of Ontario and Quebec sought constitutional reform and rebelled. The rebellion was quickly and mercilessly put down. Sir George Arthur, a former Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, led the British troops. The penal settlement of Port Arthur, Tasmania’s notorious convict prison, was named after him.
The British took many prisoners of which 29 were executed and 149 sentenced to transportation for life to Australia. Those of British descent were sent to Van Diemen’s Land and the French-Canadians were sent to Sydney. In September 1839, they left Canada and 58 arrived in Sydney on 25th February 1840. One of those prisoners was Leon Ducharme who described the arrival in Sydney.
... Looking down from the deck we saw miserable wretches harnessed to carts, engaged in dragging blocks of stone for Public Buildings; others were breaking stones; the sight of this brought to us many sad thoughts, for we believed that within a few days we too would be employed in exactly the same way.
Being French, members of this group were Roman Catholics so on their arrival, John Bede Polding, the Roman Catholic Bishop, interceded on their behalf with Governor Gipps. Instead of being assigned to public works, the Governor agreed that they would be sent to the almost abandoned Longbottom Farm. They would work and be supervised but they would not be treated as common criminals.
Longbottom is a northern English word that means swampy or boggy ground. At the head of Hen and Chicken Bay was a small freshwater stream and the whole area was swampy marshland. The creek drained to the north from a peneplain of shales and clays that overlaid the sandstone. The result was a large, shallow bay with muddy margins in which the Grey Mangrove grew. Not far from the swampy head of the bay was situated the Longbottom Stockade which was established because it was midway on the road between Sydney and Parramatta and so served as an overnight stopping point for the journey. The stockade housed convicts who were employed either on building the Parramatta Road or cutting and milling timber.
The original Longbottom area consisted of wooded land where Concord Oval, St Luke’s Park and Cintra Park are now found. The stockade buildings were located near where the present western grandstand at Concord Oval (Waratah Stadium) is now located.
In 1791, a rough bush track from Sydney to Parramatta was cut out of the bush. This became known as The Path. In 1793, Lt Governor Grose sent convicts from Parramatta to establish a timber yard at Longbottom. They built nine huts and cleared 24ha of timber. Eight hectares of land were eventually sown with corn. The Longbottom area covered 379ha with the stockade occupying its south-western corner. In 1794, convicts widened the Parramatta Road to 5.5m but the surface remained unmade.
By 1819, the Longbottom Farm was established. Commissioner Bigge noted:
… Longbottom on the Parramatta Road, and ten miles from Sydney … comprises nearly 700 acres of land ... It contains some valuable timber, which is cut and sawn on the spot, and conveyed to Sydney in boats by the Parramatta River, on the southern shore of which part of the farm … is situated. Charcoal for forges and foundries is likewise prepared here, and as the land is gradually cleared of wood, the cultivation is extended under the direction of an overseer.
By 1820, there were 110 convicts at Longbottom although it appears they were poorly supervised. This number decreased to 38 in 1825 and to six by 1828. By this time, the buildings were in a state of disrepair and the stockade was mainly used by road gangs working on Parramatta Road. By 1838, part of the area was sold and the area under government control was reduced to 280ha. Most of this land was used for the agistment of police horses. In 1840, Longbottom took on its new role as a detention centre for the French-Canadian political exiles.
On 11 March, the prisoners were taken up the Parramatta River to the head of Hen and Chicken Bay. One of the convicts, Francois Xavier Prieur described their arrival.
… It was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon when we came alongside the jetty at Longbottom. Then we were conducted, under a military escort, about a mile away from the river’s bank. Our luggage, loaded on carts, drawn by oxen, accompanied us on the journey. We were so weak, so worn out, and so shaky on our legs that this short mile walk, taken at a slow pace, made us so tired that it gave us all pains in our limbs …
Of the 58 Canadians escorted to Longbottom, none had a previous conviction. Several of them were related. Generally, the groups consisted of rural artisans or farmers. Their ages ranged from a 20-year-old blacksmith to a 65-year-old doctor.
While the Canadians were ‘imprisoned’ at Longbottom, they were not subjected to the harsh treatment handed out to most other convicts because of the poor health of the camp Superintendent, Henry Clifford Baddeley. He was an alcoholic with terminal venereal disease.
As a consequence of Baddeley’s poor physical condition and the lenient attitude adopted by the Governor, the prisoners enjoyed more freedom than most convicts. The Canadians used this freedom to make goods and collect oysters from Hen and Chicken Bay. These items they traded. They also had the services of a priest, Fr John Brady, who frequently said Mass for them. Fr Brady was the secretary to their champion, Bishop Bede Polding. Here is a letter that Fr Brady sent to a Sydney Catholic paper about the Canadians whom he described as political prisoners.
I have just this minute returned from Long-Bottom (sic) where I spent two days with the political prisoners from Canada. His Grace the Bishop has also visited them. He has given them his blessing, and has encouraged then to endure patiently their exile, and all the misfortunes which are inseparable from it.
When I consider the courage of these prisoners, and their spirit of resignation, I cannot conceive how men so gentle, so modest and so good, whose conduct arouses the admiration of all those who are witnesses of it, can have deserved so terrible a punishment.
They have had the misfortune to see themselves snatched from the arms of their wives and children; they have seen their homes and their possessions given over to pillage and to destruction by fire and after months of anguish, fear and shattered hopes, spent in the depths of prison cells, they received the terrible sentence which is to separate them from all they held dear in the world, so as to cast them into banishment in a far distant soil, where they are suffering through being deprived of the most necessary things.
The food that they receive is so bad that the white Irish slave, accustomed to living on potatoes and salt could scarcely put up with it. In spite of this, the settlement at Long-Bottom (sic) costs the Government nearly a thousand pounds sterling per annum, an expense that could be saved by granting these men permission to seek employment in the colony, or at the least, by assigning them to good masters.
If you think these remarks have any importance, will you be good enough to insert them in your useful and excellent newspaper; by so doing you will oblige.
Your obedient servant,
Much of the information we have on the Canadian Convicts and the conditions under which they lived comes from the diaries of one of them, Lepaillier, who was placed in charge of the sentry box near the Parramatta Road. This position gave him an opportunity to observe everyday life in the area. He noted that most of the local residents were coarse and brutal and drunkenness and prostitution were common. He also noted that escaped convicts were a problem for travellers using the Parramatta Road.
He clearly differentiated between the convicts who were common criminals and his compatriots.
About one year after the Canadians had arrived at Longbottom, they partitioned Governor Gipps to grant them a ticket-of-leave and the Governor supported their request.
By 1842, many were assigned to respectable citizens who fed, clothed and accommodated them in return for their labour. Not long after this, ticketsof- leave were granted to all of them which meant that they could work for wages but were not permitted to leave the Colony or travel without notifying the authorities. Finally, between November 1843 and February 1844, free pardons were awarded to all. However, the Colony was undergoing a depression and only 38 of them sailed out of Sydney on the Achilles on 10th July 1844. Of the 20 who were left, private funds helped them eventually to return to Canada with the exception of two who died and one, Joseph Marceau who married a Dapto woman and settled on the South Coast. Marceau died at Dapto in 1883 but his name is commemorated with a street named after him at Concord near Canada Bay.
So the Canadian exiles offer an explanation for some of the names held by smaller bays within Hen and Chicken Bay. The three most prominent are Canada Bay, Exile Bay and France Bay.
*Gregory Blaxell is an historian and author. He has been boating offshore and in the harbour for more than 25 years. His latest book is The River: Sydney Cove to Parramatta.