European exploration and discovery of the Limestone Plains region (1820-1825) was very closely followed by appropriation and occupation of the best of the land for grazing. Through a mixture of land grants for services to the colony (Charles Sturt), compensatory grants for losses incurred (Campbell, Henry Hall), and 'squatting' followed later by purchase (James McCarthy, George T. Palmer), tens of thousands of acres became pastoral runs. Smaller acreages went to horses and cattle, and to fodder and food crops such as wheat, barley and oats.
George Palmer Snr became the first landowner in Ginninderra after his overseer Duncan McFarlane, with a couple of emancipists and a dozen or so convicts occupied land on 'Ginninderry Creek' in 1826. It was three years before Palmer formally applied for permission to bid for 10,000 acres 'at Ginginninderra'. Land Titles Office records show that grants were made amounting to 9,166 acres in three neighbouring parishes - Weetangera (Portions 4, 8, 9, 10 & 94) , Wallaroo (4 & 34) and Canberra (20, 21, 22, & 23) in 1831. 'Palmerville' settlement was to grow up on Portion 20, Parish of Canberra. Further grants in the district followed to others including Richard Popham (640 acres), John Langdon (1,280 acres, soon bought by Palmer) and Charles Sturt (5,000 acres - soon sold to Charles Campbell). Like Palmer, they did not live on their Ginninderra properties.
The 1828 census recorded 16 inhabitants at Palmer's Ginninderra holding - McFarlane, two emancipists, and 13 assigned servants. At least ten of them were shepherds. A letter of the following year reports a population of 61; 43 convicts and 18 free men. In 1841 the population had risen to 68, of whom 21 were females. McFarlane ran the estate for about ten years before moving to Yass with his wife Grace in 1827.
The extent of the estate - initially known as 'Palmerville', later as 'Ginninderra'- was eventually to double. In 1836 it was 10,500 acres and by 1841 it had grown to 11,729 acres. Shortly after he took over in 1858, William Davis Jnr purchased more land at Gungahleen, where he built a new homestead in 1862. In 1877 'Palmerville' was sold to Edward Crace, and in 1881, after he had purchased Henry Hall's 'Charnwood' (3551 acres) the estate, by then known as 'Ginninderra', was more than 20,000 acres. By 1913 Crace ran 19,424 sheep, and had 1500 acres under cultivation.
The name 'Palmerville' evokes the proto-village, occupying ten acres or so on the west bank of Ginninderra Creek a couple of kilometres south of the Yass-Queanbeyan road. It is here (until 1862 at least) that family members of the successive owners - Palmers, Davises, Craces - had a homestead - 'Ginninderra Cottage'. A convict barracks initially housed the assigned men, and four barns, two granaries, stables, three worksheds, a store and a woolshed were soon built. A cluster of cottages grew up, housing the gardener, superintendent, stores manager, and others, the last still occupied in 1959. After William Davis Jnr took over in 1858 there was also a well-maintained cricket field for the home matches of his famous Ginninderra cricket team.
Davis and his wife Susan owned and managed the estate for almost twenty years, and he became renowned for the excellence of the cricket team that he captained, the outstanding quality of the property - a 'showplace' - and his prominent role in civic affairs. Davis bred fine horses, grew new varieties of wheat, was a magistrate, a church warden at St John's, provided schooling for his workers children, enabled establishment of a store and post office at Ginninderra. There were many visitors to the estate, and they invariably made favourable comments. In 1863 visiting cricket umpire James Wood observed:
"Mr Davis's is the best ordered establishment that I have seen in the colony - neat, clean, not a rail out of place, everything seems to work by clockwork. It does the heart of a farming man good to see such a place, and the people on the estate seem to partake of the order around them, for a more respectable class of men and women I have never seen on any establishment" (Gillespie, 1992, p.25).
In mid-century Palmerville was one of only four such habitations in the district, (along with 'Charnwood', 'Glenwood' and Campbells 'Belconon'), so it is not surprising perhaps that so many former employees, including many former convicts, were later to make a mark in the district on their own account. Edward Smith, who introduced horse ploughing to 'Ginninderra', became a top horse breeder and farming innovator; Edmund Ward, gardener, went on to farm and run a nursery business up the road at 'Nine Elms'; George Harcourt, bookkeeper, became a successful local farmer and store keeper; Richard and Samuel Shumack, shepherds, defied Davis's scepticism and made a success of farming as free selectors at Weetangera; John Coppin likewise - a shepherd for Davis, he became an independent landowner in 1878; convicts John Crinigan and John Butler (Snr) earned their freedom and eventually built homes on their small farms on the upper reaches of Ginninderra Creek. James Sunday worked for was head gardener at Ginninderra and later rented a farm from him near Gungahlin homestead and eventually purchased a farm at Bedellick where the family lived for many years. It is also well-known that the aboriginal cricketers Jimmy and Johnny Taylor, and Bobby Hamilton flourished at the Ginninderra estate.
Despite thirty years or more of steady decline after the Davis' departure in 1877, the extent of the settlement at Palmerville was still in evidence in August 1914 when a detailed Federal government survey was undertaken. Freddie Johnston's survey notes identify the following structures (in his words):
Old stone cottage
Old stone house
Old stone house
Small iron shed
Windmill and well
Old slab and iron [hut]
Gal iron Forage (?)
Main brick house
[?] wood and iron
Two small huts (?)
Remains old hut
He also records quite elaborate fencing and hedging throughout the settlement and identifies gardens, areas of cultivation, and the course of 'Ginninderry Creek', with 'permanent water' marked at one point. A cricket oval and extensive plantings of exotic trees such as English Elm, Lombardy Poplar, English Oak and Hawthorn - still evident today - would have given shade, and character. This would have been a lively place at any time, and especially busy when the pastoral and farming cycles demanded - lambing, shearing, harvesting, stacking, etc. Initially it would have been a true oasis of 'civilisation' in a very thinly peopled landscape.
This 'head station' - an antipodean echo of the medieval manor, reinforced by reference to William Davis as the 'Squire of Ginninderra' - was premised entirely on the extensive lands of the estate. It was on these 'runs' - subject to the vagaries of weather, fire and pests - that serious profits could be made. Because these lands mostly remained unfenced until the second half of the nineteenth century, successful sheep grazing required constant shepherding:
"A typical squatter's sheep run would have one or more outstations each with a a hut and hutkeeper, two flocks of sheep, each with its own shepherd, and two sets of yards or folds made of moveable hurdles. Each morning shepherds counted their flocks out of the folds and took them out to pasture, and watched over them during the day while the sheep fed. Each evening the sheep were walked back to the station where they were counted back into the folds and spent the might protected against dingoes by the hut-keeper". (Pickard, 2007,143)
On the Palmerville estate crude shepherds' huts were scattered around the periphery of the estate - Emu Bank, Crow Bone, the Goat Hut (near Coppins Crossing), Edge's Station, and the Ginninderra Falls for example - where rations would be delivered to them from time to time. In 1860 John Coppin and his wife Catherine shared the three-roomed Goat Station hut with John ('Paddy') Cunningham, Coppin and Cunningham each shepherding a flock. As hut-keeper, Catherine supplemented John's wage of 12/- a week by catering for travellers on their way to the Kiandra goldfields.
Shumack asserts that while the first wire fence in the district dates from 1825, he himself was still splitting timber posts and rails on a large scale in the 1870's (Shumack, 1967). Across NSW the adoption of wire fencing was accelerated by the 1850's gold rushes which pushed up wage rates by draining the estates of labour and created a huge new demand for meat. Strychnine poisoning of dingoes and improved land administration also helped (Pickard, 2007, 159). Major landholders in the Ginninderra district like Campbell and Crace began large scale fencing in the 1880's, creating extensive conflict with the free selectors whose assumed rights of way were thereby blocked.
While the Palmerville / Ginninderra settlement faded from prominence after the Davises left and the Craces governed their enlarged estate from the comfort of Gungahleen homestead, its store and post office had already become the embryo for the village of Ginninderra which was to spread gradually up the Yass road.
Some reflections on the Ginninderra Estate, Sydney Mail 1920.
In the Federal Capital Territory – A relict of the past on the Gungahleen Estate Ginninderra in the Federal Territory still stands the old homestead and cells which were utilized in the early days for confining and punishing convicts brought in from neighbouring hills. The walls are three feet thick and in spite of their age (seventy years) are in a wonderful state of preservation. The windows of the cell have edge projections on the outside, with iron gratings 8in by 4in. Large iron rings are let into the wall and tell their own gruesome story. The estate was a grant to the late Mr Palmer and afterwards passed into the hands of Mr W Davis from whom it was purchased by the late Mr EK Crace, whose family were in possession when the property was resumed by the Federal Government.
The land forming the estate of 22,000 acres is the finest and oldest settled part of the Territory and as the aboriginal name ' Ginninderra' implies was a meeting place for the Queanbeyan, Yass, Monaro and Braidwood blacks. Numerous aboriginal burial grounds exist around the neighbourhood and their primitive war weapons are frequently dug up showing that pitched battles were periodically fought in this centre.
The trees on the old homestead are particularly fine. The original owners were lovers of trees. One gigantic elm towers aloft over 60 feet high with a girth of 15 feet. A huge cedar exceeded 100 feet but succumbed to the 1902 drought. A hawthorn avenue 20 feet high and over a quarter of a mile long forms one of the approaches to the old homestead.
The Ginninderra Creek in which Mr Crace was drowned meanders past the building, along the banks of the stream are weeping willows and basket willows in profusion forming beautiful cool enchanting spots of picturesque beauty. The land surrounding this old romantic place is leased on short dated terms to large stock owners for pastoral purposes, but will soon be made available to returned soldiers . [GWT- Sydney Mail 18.2.1920]
Convicts at Palmerville 1828
[from Gillespie (1992) p.8; Meyers(2010) gives some biographical details. p.71 ff]
1788 John Palmer, First Fleet, arrives in colony.
1825 Land granted to George Thomas Palmer, senior.
1826 Stock Run established at Limestone Plains, County of Murray.
1828 Under supervision of Duncan MacFarlane.
1829–31 Community established; substantial buildings erected and land cleared.
1844 School established at Ginninderry
1845 George Thomas Palmer junior and family in residence.
1849 William Davis, junior to manage on return from overlanding excursion.
1850 Susan Adriana Palmer marries (11 April 1850) William Davis.
1854 George Thomas Palmer, senior dies at Bath, England.
1858 William Davis junior, manager (Ginninderra Estate inherited by his wife, Susan).
1859 Cricket match held between Queanbeyan and Goulburn Clubs at Goulburn.
1861 Passing of Sir John Robertson's Land Act (Crown Lands Occupation/Alienation Acts).
1862 William Davis Jnr selects land, builds new house at Gungahleen. Creates Ginninderra Estate.
1877 Henry Palmer (nephew) killed; Davises move to their farm near Goulburn, NSW.
1880 E. K. Crace purchases outright Gungahlin and Ginninderra Estates, also Charnwood.
1892 E. K. Crace and coachman drown in flooded Ginninderra Creek.
1899 Death of George Thomas Palmer junior, 14 February 1899
1905 Everard Crace establishes the Farmers Union
1910 Death of William Davis junior, 13 July 1910
1916 Properties resumed
1927 Crace family still in residence; Henry Curran and family living in 'old convict barracks'.
1927–58 Property leased, until controlled by Commonwealth and experimental farm plots established by CSIRO.
1980s Archaeological surveys of site conducted.
Today Palmerviille declared an historic site 2010; Palmerville Heritage Park created.
Click on the caption (⧉) to view photo details and attribution.
- ACT Heritage Council, 2005. Entry to the ACT Heritage Register. Palmerville. Block 1555, District of Belconnen
- Gillespie, L. L., Ginninderra. Forerunner to Canberra, Campbell, 1992
- Goldsmith, J. and Australia. 1983. Giralang District Park conservation plan : a study of the heritage aspects of the historic settlement on the banks of the Ginninderra Creek in North Canberra which was originally known as Palmerville for the National Capital Development Commission. NCDC, Canberra
- Meyers D. (ed. K. Frawley). 2010. Lairds, Lags and Larrikins: An Early History of the Limestone Plains. Sefton Publications: Pearce
Further information about Palmerville can be found at Canberra Tracks
- Pickard, J. The transition from shepherding to fencing in colonial Australia, Rural History (2007) 18. 2 143-162
- Shumack, S., An autobiography or Tales and Legends of Canberra pioneers, ANU Press, Canberra, 1967
- The rambling Wombat, blog. 15 January 2019 Palmerville Heritage Park