Friday, February 17, 2012

First Fleet Memorial Gardens - Wallabadah NSW

A Memorial Park for the First Fleet

Sign for the Memorial Garden from the northern approach on the New England Highway.

This blog could well be named 'Travels of a Genealogist', since many of my blogs involve 'finds'  such as diaries, photographs and family heirlooms which I collect whilst travelling, mainly around Australia as well as overseas. On a return trip from Rockhampton to Sydney, a few years ago, I happened upon a wonderful Memorial Garden dedicated to the First Fleet. The Garden sits impressively in a park on the banks of the Quirindi Creek, in a small town called Wallabadah, approximately 60 km south of Tamworth and 359 km north of Sydney in New South Wales. Wallabadah is situated on the New England Highway and lies on the eastern rim of the Liverpool Plains. On the occasion when I discovered the Memorial Garden, I had only a short time to spend there, but I knew that I needed to return. Back in Sydney, I discussed the memorial with a friend of mine who had ancestors on the First, Second and Third Fleet. We both wondered why a memorial to the First Fleet would be situated so far from its landing place in Sydney. 

On a recent journey from Tamworth to Sydney, I made certain that the First Fleet Memorial Garden was on my list of places to visit and finally the question of why a First Fleet Memorial is situated in Wallabadah, has been answered for me by the sign pictured below.

On this, my second visit to the pretty little town of Wallabadah, I was thrilled to discover that the Memorial Garden now has a memorial added, for the Second Fleet as well as the First. The concept for, and construction of a Memorial to the First Fleet were the result of the determination of a Sydney born man named Ray Collins. Ray grew up knowing nothing of his convict origins and, in fact, only discovered, as an adult, that his ancestor's name had been changed from Cross to Collins to obscure the family's convict ancestry. Ray subsequently discovered that he had convict ancestors who had arrived in Australia with the First and the Second Fleet.

Building a Memorial as a tribute to the first European settlers who arrived in Port Jackson, and upon who's toil and hardship, our country was founded, became a passion for Ray Collins. He spent several years researching the First Fleet, gathering names and details of every person  who sailed on the 11 ships which journeyed from England to the colony of Australia, arriving at Port Jackson on January 26 th 1788. The following ships made up the First Fleet of convict ships to arrive in Australia - HMS Sirius, HMS Supply, The Alexander, The Borrowdale, The Charlotte, The Fishburn, The Friendship, The Golden Grove, The Lady Penrhyn, The Prince of Wales and The Scarborough.

The Ships of the First Fleet anchored in Port Jackson

A stonemason by trade, Ray travelled throughout the country with his work, and everywhere he went he approached local councils with his idea of building a memorial to the First Fleet. After several years of consultation with  councils, the Liverpool Plains Shire Council approved Ray's concept and offered to sponsor the materials and equipment for Ray Collins to build the Memorial Garden. The First Fleet Memorial Garden transformed a hardly used caravan park into a colourful and informative historical monument and was officially opened on January 26, 2005. Ray Collins lovingly chiselled each and every name on each sandstone tablet which line the pathways winding between the 11 circular gardens, each representing one of the 11 ships of the First Fleet. Within each garden is a stone tablet bearing the name and a picture of the ship. 

Stone tablet in the centre of the first of 11 First Fleet gardens

The stone tablet for the 'Sirius" with my friend's ancestor Owen Cavenaugh's name  on it.

In 2009 the memorial to the Second Fleet was opened in the Garden at Wallabadah. The Second Fleet Garden is designed with two gardens surrounded by stone tablets which are arranged by ship.  Placed alongside the path throughout this section of the garden, are attractive, educational and informative signs.

The stone tablet bearing the name of the infamous Lady Juliana better known as the Floating Brothel

A stone tablet bearing names from the Lady Juliana, including that of my friend's ancestor Margaret Dowling.

One of the interpretive signs in the Second fleet section of the gardens.

A visit to the First Fleet Memorial Garden is well worthwhile, but  enough time needs to be allowed to read the many interpretive boards which provide a wealth of intriguing information. The main Information Panel in the southern end of the Garden displays lists of supplies carried on ships, what goods people took with them, (including a surgeon named George Worgen who even took a piano on board with him on the ship Sirius) in addition to fascinating anecdotes about each voyage- facts about the journeys, the perils faced, interaction with the native peoples of Australia when they arrived and much more. Even if you do not have ancestors who journeyed to the new Colony on these convict fleets, this information provides an enormous amount of insight into voyages in general to Australia in the late 1700's and is a significantly educational tribute to Australia's convict past. 

The First Feet Memorial Garden deservedly won a Cultural Award in 2009 for the Liverpool Plains Shire Council, in the Cultural Infrastructure section Division 1.

The Memorial Garden and Main Information Panel seen from the Entrance to the Garden.

The cobblestone path which winds its way through the 11 gardens and ships of the First Fleet.

The Flag Pole and Fully Rigged Picnic Area in the Memorial Garden.

As I walked through the Memorial Garden, I couldn't help but be impressed by the loving effort that Ray Collins had put into this tribute, not only to his own convict ancestors, but to remember all of those who journeyed to Australia on the first voyages. I decided, as my own tribute, to photograph every single tablet in the garden. The look on my husband's face when I announced my intention to do this was priceless! (there are a lot of names!) I cannot display all of these photographs here, however, if you or anyone you know have First or Second Fleet ancestors I will be pleased to pass on the photographs of the names of the ship on which they arrived as well as the tablet bearing their names. 

Standing in front of the First Fleet Information Panel on the southern side of the Garden

A Close Up View of the main Information Panel

George Bouchier Worgan, Surgeon, 'Sirius' "Took a piano with him".

The First Fleet Memorial Garden is open seven days a week and a gold  coin donation helps to maintain this beautiful and historically important tribute which Ray Collins single handedly erected.

Ray Collins' ancestor, John CROSS, was born in 1757 in Wiltshire, England, At the age of 29 years he was charged with stealing sheep and sentenced to 7 years transportation. John Cross arrived in Port Jackson in 1788 on board the ship The Alexander. John married Mary Davidson (or Davison) who was transported on the Lady Juliana and the couple had 9 children. John Cross died in 1824 and was buried at Windsor. His son, David was a Stonemason, who built the Victoria Inn which still stands at Wiseman's Ferry. 

Further information about the First Fleet Memorial Garden can be found at: 


  1. a beautifully organised reflection and visual account of someones passioned efforts... well done for continuing the story... I am a First Fleet descendant as well.

  2. Hi Sharn. Thank you for your blog. I believe that my great great grandfather, James Bagley, came out on the Sirius. I think he was a corporal or something. Do you have some photos with his name on it? Regards Brian Bagley.

    1. Hi Brian, I have the photos of all the names from the first and second fleet people from the Memorial Park on a USB. I'll look through it and find the one with your ancestor on it. I can post a blog with the photo in it or if you give me your email address I will send it to you. Regards, Sharn

  3. Hi Sharn, Thank you for replying. It will be fine if you post a blog with the photo. Thanks for the trouble. Regards Brian.

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  8. Greetings Sharn, I've recently visited the memorial which includes tributes to my wife's two First Fleet ancestors, Mary (Davis) Bishop and her husband Thomas. Tempted as I was, I didn't binge on photos of the whole presentation, but find since our return, and inquiry from a fellow researcher as to whether Sarah Dixon is listed on the Charlotte. Perhaps you can answer this ? Cheers, Jon.

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