Sunday, September 19, 2021


Constitution Hill


Constitution Hill is a suburb of Sydney located on a hill 28 kilometres (17 mi) west of the Sydney central business district in the local government area of the City of Parramatta.

I confess that I had never heard of it until now, but I have also found out that the area was originally a locality within the suburb of Wentworthville. Constitution Hill was promoted from a locality to a suburb by the Geographical Names Board of New South Wales on 19 January 2007.

Name origin:

I have been unable to locate any information on why this suburb has been so named, although it is true that it is elevated, overlooking the city of Parramatta from above with views of the inner Sydney city skyline.

By the way:

There is a Constitution Hill in England, being a road in the City of Westminster in London connecting the western end of The Mall (just in front of Buckingham Palace) with Hyde Park Corner. The origin of the Brit Constitution Hill is uncertain, with one theory being that King Charles II had a habit of taking "constitutional" walks there. Indeed there is an account that Charles' brother, James, Duke of York was returning from a hunt on Hounslow Heath and stopped his coach along Constitution Hill to avoid hitting the king walking across the road. Upon wondering if Charles put himself in danger by walking out in front of a vehicle, the King replied, "No danger whatever, James, for I am sure that no man in England would take my life to make you king." Ouch, burned!

A second by the way in respect of London’s Constitution Hill: Large concrete lamp posts were installed in Constitution Hill in the 1960s. Thanks to the swift intervention of Oz comedian and enthusiastic environmentalist Spike Milligan they were removed within days and the old gas lamps are still there.

Constitution Hill, London


At the 2016 census, there were 3,966 residents in Constitution Hill. 61.0% of residents were born in Australia.

Constitution Hill was one of the places that was involved in the Castle Hill convict rebellion.

The Castle Hill Rebellion of 1804 was Australia’s first uprising. A group of Irish convicts tried to overthrow British rule in New South Wales, and return to Ireland to keep fighting for an Irish republic. The convict rebels were defeated and at least 39 convicts were killed. Despite this, it helped to inspire the Eureka Stockade, another famous Australian uprising that happened 50 years later.

Many convicts in the Castle Hill area had been involved in the 1798 rebellions in Ireland and, from late 1799, were transported as exiles-without-trial to the colony of New South Wales. Phillip Cunningham, a veteran of the 1798 rebellion, and William Johnston, another Irish convict at Castle Hill, planned an uprising in which over 685 Castle Hill convicts intended to join with nearly 1,100 convicts from the Hawkesbury River area, rally at Constitution Hill, and march on Parramatta and then Sydney (Port Jackson) itself. Their goal was to establish Irish rule in the colony and obtain ships for those that wanted to return to Ireland to help revive the failed Irish Rebellion of 1803.

The distraction they had made at Castle Hill, a fire, was supposed to stretch out the government forces by allocating some men to go to Castle Hill. The convicts would then attack Parramatta, the head of the colony at that time, and take over control.

The government officials had suspicion that the convicts were planning an attack on Parramatta and kept most of their forces at Parramatta. Thinking that the convicts were at Toongabbie, they set out west, only to be informed that they were at Constitution Hill. When the government forces arrived at the summit of Constitution Hill they realised that the men had not made it that far yet and were further west at Rouse Hill.

The rebellion culminated in a battle fought between convicts and the colonial forces of Australia, on 5 March 1804 at Rouse Hill. The mostly Irish rebels, having gathered reinforcements, were hunted by the colonial forces until they were caught on a hillock nicknamed Vinegar Hill on 5 March 1804.

While negotiating under truce, two leaders of the uprising were captured. Cunningham was cut down with a cutlass blow. Given the order to engage, more than fifteen minutes of musket fire was directed at the rebel lines, following which the militia, the NSW Corps, charged. The now-leaderless rebels tried to fire back, but then broke and dispersed.

According to official reports, at least fifteen rebels fell during the battle. Major Johnston, in charge of the NSW Corps, prevented further bloodshed by threatening his troops with his pistol to temper their enthusiasm. Several convicts were captured and an unknown number killed in the ensuing pursuit of the rebels, which continued until late in the night, with newly arrived soldiers from Sydney joining in the search. It was reported that gun shots could be heard up to a fortnight later, such was the settling of old scores. On Wednesday, 7 March, Governor King announced that those who surrendered before 10 March would receive leniency and, following that, large parties who lost their way in the night turned themselves in under the amnesty, or made their way back to Castle Hill, where a large party of about 70, led by Samuel Humes, were captured by a detachment of the Loyal Parramatta Association.

After the rebellion Governor King had nine convicts hanged without trial. It is estimated that 39 convicts died in, or as a result of, the uprising, although accurate numbers may never be known.

Seven convicts were sentenced to between 200 and 500 lashes and, with another 23 rebels, were then banished to the Coal River (Newcastle) chain gang.

While the Castle Hill rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful, it did serve as inspiration for another famous uprising. Identifying with the ideals of liberty, justice and freedom espoused by the Irish rebels both in Australia and in Ireland, the participants in the Eureka Stockade in 1854 used the secret password ‘Vinegar Hill’.


Castle Hill Convict Rebellion, 1804, by an unknown artist

Major George Johnston and one of the rebel leaders during the Castle Hill rebellion (detail from the first artwork).

Quartermaster Laycock slicing Phillip Cunningham with a sword during the convict rebellion at Castle Hill.

Lt. Col. George Johnston, 1810

Bonus item:

A contemporary account:
“At half past eleven o’clock on Sunday night, March, 1804, an, express was received by His Excellency, from Captain ABBOTT, Commanding Officer at Parramatta, with the intelligence that the Prisoners at Public Labour at Castle Hill, and the Settlers’ men, were in a state of Insurrection, and had committed many daring outrages.”

In these words the Sydney Gazette of March n, 1804, opened its account of the stirring events known as the Battle of Vinegar Hill. It was the most powerful of the convict rebellions. Its leaders were mainly Irish and their followers numbered several hundreds.

On the 4th of March, 1804, when returning home through Parramatta, I saw several men standing about in little gangs, and, recollecting what had been told me, I suspected something was going on, but said nothing. I met Timothy Holster, taskmaster of the Government men. He and I seldom met but we drank together, and on this occasion we called for a decanter of rum. He was an Englishman, and when we were drinking he said to me, “Mr. Holt, take my advice, and do not be out late tonight, as I should be sorry to hear of anything against you.”

I asked what he meant, and he told me that the Irishmen were to break out that night, and that the Government were in possession of their plans. I immediately proceeded to Mr. Cox with my wife and child, and told him what I had heard. He asked me my opinion of the business. I answered that I knew nothing more than what I had heard and told him; but that I should be ready to defend his house and keep off any assailants. He gave Sergeant King, who was his clerk, orders to prepare some cartridges, and we were all upon the alert. … In the morning Mr. Cox rode over to inquire the cause of the proceedings of the night. He returned, and gave the following account: About 900 men had assembled on Castle Hill, and chosen one Cunningham, as their leader. Captain George Johnston went towards them and demanded what they wanted. They replied, “Death or liberty.” A soldier named Laycock, who stood six feet six inches, a quartermaster in the corps, came up, and with one blow killed Cunningham on the spot. On this the whole mob took to their heels, and many were shot.

Ten of the leaders were hung, and three more hung the same evening at Parramatta. A party of 40 soldiers and some of the loyal settlers arrested some of the unfortunate wretches who tried to escape by flight, and brought them back before a court-martial.

It was arranged that lots should be drawn from a hat, and that every third man whose name was drawn should be hanged. The arrival of the Governor put an end to this extraordinary proceedings.


A further bonus item:

Life in Sydney back then, with a reference to Constitution Hill . . .

Letter from an old settler, Joseph Smith:
MacDonald’s River, County of Hunter, 3rd Oct. 1845

I arrived in the colony fifty-five years since; it was Governor Phillip’s time, and I was fourteen years old; there were only eight houses in the colony then. I was seven years in bondage, then started working for a living wherever I could get it. There was plenty of hardship then: I have often taken grass, pounded it and made soup from a native dog. I would eat anything then. For seventeen-weeks I only had 5 ounces of flour a day. We never got a full ration except when the ship was in harbour. The motto was ‘Kill them, or work them, their provision will be in store.’ Many a time I have been yoked like a bullock with 20 or 30 others to drag along timber. About 800 died in six weeks at a place called Toongabbie, or Constitution Hill.

I knew a man so weak, he was thrown into the grave, when he said, ‘Don’t cover me up, I’m not dead; for God’s sake don’t cover me up!’ The overseer answered, ‘Damn your eyes, you’ll die tonight, and we shall have the trouble to come back again.’ The man recovered, his name is James Glasshouse, and he is now alive at Richmond.

S. Sidney. The Three Colonies of Australia. Published London, 1853. 


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