Work in progress – a regional history

I am working on a project that at present might best be described as a history of the County of Argyle c.1820-c.1860. One of the original nineteen counties of New South Wales it covered an area from south of Camden to Goulburn and Lake Bathurst, east to the range and west to about Crookwell. The period chosen broadly covers the commencement of European settlement in the area to self government and the Robertson Land Act. I take the view that New South Wales ‘changed gear’ from around this time. I hope to achieve a ‘total’ history of the region including, inter alia, disruption and relations with the indigenous peoples, environmental impacts, agricultural and urban settlement and development, transport and commerce, civic institutions, etc.  And, of course, the people.  Their lives, education, religion etc.  It will not be a ‘triumph of the settlers’ and if an unintended bias becomes apparent to others it will likely be from below.

I am using the published version of the 1823-5 General Musters as a starting point to identify people. That should allow for two or three generations of experiences and changing conditions. The muster results in a database of 591 names including about half a dozen duplicates. Not all free settlers are included as many considered a muster inappropriate for there station in life, but they can be identified via their convict workers. It may also be that size of database is too small and if so then more names can be added from the larger and more comprehensive 1828 census.

The progress of settlement in the county was relatively slow during the 1820s and a number of convicts were moved on to other areas as events moved at a faster pace to the north and west of Sydney. If this results in a significantly reduced database then again it may make sense to add names from the 1828 census.

Another issue that may become relevant is the county of Argyle itself. The original boundaries have morphed over time and there is now no distinct Argyle region or community as for example exists in the lower or upper Hunter areas of NSW. During the period I am covering the whole area continued to be referred to as Argyle even though it was developing into the two ‘ends’ the area is today – the north around the Southern Highlands and the south around Goulburn (roughly). At this stage I am not too fussed if this works as a regional history as that will reveal itself as my work progresses. If it doesn’t work there will be other possibilities with the material. In this I have the luxuries of both time and the lack of any pressure to produce – a side ‘benefit’ of not being in the academy.

There are a number of local histories of various towns in the region, mostly by members of local history societies. Many are some decades old and a good number are notable for their complete lack of references. There are some settlers’ papers in the Mitchell Library and the National Library of Australia and there is a wealth of sources in the NSW State Archives and in local history society records. Family histories can also be a rich source as Tanya Evans has recently shown in her terrific history Fractured Families.

We’ll see how it goes.

Any comments or criticisms always gladly received.

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