Saturday, August 23, 2014

The colony's first gardener

While the rain continues to tumble down outside and my garden drinks up the goodness sent down by Huey, I am happily sitting inside reading a book.

And so my blog awakes from yet another slumber, merely to tell you a bit about the man who was the colony's first gardener, Henry Dodd. The book I am reading is not about Henry, as little is known about him. He just features in the book for a page or two, but his story stuck in my gardener's mind.
As far as I can tell, this image from the NSW State Library
website page on Rose Hill, is of Rose Hill, where Henry Dodd
and his team of convicts created our first viable farmland,
starting in late 1788.
The book I am reading is a biography of Captain Arthur Phillip, the commander of the First Fleet which came to Sydney Cove in 1788, and the first Governor of New South Wales. Back in England, Phillip, who was a relatively well-off landowner, had come to know Henry as a very good farmhand on his estate, a practical man who had a way with plants and animals, and as it turned out later on, with people, too.

When Phillip set sail with the First Fleet to come to Australia, Henry came along as Phillip's personal servant. The First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove in January 1788, and by November that year Dodd was at Rose Hill, 12 miles upriver from Sydney Cove, with about 100 convicts, clearing land in this area of good, loamy soil, to start the colony's first productive farm.

As the book says, "This was the colony's turning point." A bit further on, it says "Dodd excelled himself, commanded the respect of everyone and laid the foundations for the colony's agricultural subsistence. Collins wrote that he acquired an ascendancy over the convicts, which he preserved without being hated by them'…"

Henry disappears from the book at this stage, so I went looking for more. At the Australian National Dictionary of Biography, there's a page devoted to Henry Dodd. In it I learned that poor old Henry didn't last much longer, passing away in 1791. 

Here's a quote from that entry.

" 'This man', wrote David Collins, 'joined to much agricultural knowledge a perfect idea of the labour to be required from … the convicts' and his figure was calculated to make the idle and the worthless shrink if he came near them'. Although the number of convicts at Rose Hill increased steadily during the year, the military guard was reduced in October. Dodd's 'influence' was such that 'military coercion was not so necessary as when the settlement was first established'.

That Dodd was no mean gardener was apparent to all who saw the plentiful and luxuriant produce, including a cabbage weighing twenty six pounds (11.8kg), which he sent to Government House in 1789, a few days before Christmas." 

And so here's to you, Henry Dodd. A little-known figure in Australian history perhaps, but I am sure he was a remarkable person and a very fine gardener indeed.

Finally, a couple of linkies for you. The book on Phillip is "Arthur Phillip, Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy", by Michael Pembroke. Here's a link to his website 

And while I read about Phillip and Henry, I couldn't help but think about the people whose land they were clearing, the Eora here on Cadigal land. I did a blog posting a while back called "Welcome to Country", and if you ever find the time, I hope you read it, too.

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