Sunday, 11 May 2014

Ulladulla and Milton: Colonial justice

Ulladulla - trawler in dry dock

Along the eastern coast of Australia are a series of protected bays.  In the early days of the colony of New South Wales, small government settlements were established at the bays. Isolated by high mountain escarpments to the West and deep gorges along the coast, these settlements became important hubs of economic activity, particularly farming and forestry ventures. The settlers were dependent on travel by sea.  Inland centers gradually forged bridle paths and bullock tracks to the coastal hubs - for mail, wool and, after the discovery of gold in the 1850s, mining.


The small protected harbor at Ulladulla was the location of early settlement – encompassing farmland, timber milling, fishing and ship building.  The government provided basic infrastructure to support these activities – including the regulation of the port, provision of a post office, licensing of hotels and trading posts.
Core to government administration, the colony established a Court of Petty Sessions for Ulladulla in the late 1850s with the appointment of two part time magistrates, David Warden and William Hood.  

In the early 1860s John Vallentine Wareham was appointed as Registrar of the Court – effectively the first full time legal administrator in the District (at that time the magistrates themselves were part time justices of the peace). 

Ulladulla Harbour - Looking towards new breakwater
Ulladulla - Rosellas

Plover - Ulladulla

On his death in May 1912, the Sydney Morning Herald published a short obituary of Registrar Wareham:
“Mr. John Valentine Wareham, who died at  Bona Vista, Waverley, last week, aged 80 years, was another of the old colonists who had exciting experiences in the goldfield days. With Mrs. Wareham, he came to Sydney in January, 1853, and qualified as a conveyancer. In 1853, with other young men, he walked to the Turon diggings, but the venture was not a success. On the return journey he tried to take a short cut over the ranges, but lost his way, and spent his first Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day in Australia in a vain endeavour to find a path that would lead him out of the rough mountainous country. It rained all the time. When found by a shepherd, Mr. Wareham was delirious, and was badly bitten by bulldog ants. In the early sixties he took up land in the Ulladulla district, and went through all the trials of floods and fires that  were the lot of the early settlers. One of Clark's gang of bushrangers, known as "Long Jim the Tailor," was for a time in Mr. Wareham's employ. As the district became more settled Mr. Wareham held various Government positions, including those of Crown lands agent. Registrar of the District Court, Clerk of Petty Sessions, and Coroner, and was always helpful to new arrivals seeking advice. He left a widow, two sons, resident in Botany Bay, one daughter, 15 grandchildren, and five, great grand children.”

Rocks off Warden Head - south of Ulladulla Bay

Rocks off Warden Head - south of Ulladulla Bay

As Registrar, Mr Wareham’s duties extended to recording private sales of land and other large quasi-public undertakings, arranging for the sale of public land, recording births and deaths, licensing a range of activities (including hotels and other professional callings), conducting coronial inquests into deaths, managing the jail, fires and shipwrecks, assisting disputants settle cases and, where not possible, trying to refine the questions in issue for decision by a panel of the justices.  When he was absent, his wife, Susanna Scott, discharged some of these functions in his name – including the management of the lock-up.

Initially, the court was located at the port of Ulladulla – operating as required from a room in Warden’s store.  In 1862 a separate court house and lock-up were built in the town.

 During that time, the port functioned by boats rowed out to incoming vessels from the beach.  In 1859 a wooden jetty was built.  In December 1865 a government subsidized stone pier (225 feet long and 24 feet wide) was constructed at a cost of 11,000 pounds – built on the line of a natural reef.    (ref- ‘Nulladolla’ Local History MUHS (1988)).

Port of Ulladulla

Old Stone Pier - Ulladulla

View from bay to Ulladulla breakwater

EDIT:  This port town is full of surprises.  I went there looking for material for an essay on colonial law and, peripherally, for a short story on one of the less well known Australian bushrangers.   I didnt expect to find anything on the later - I thought the town was unaware of the link.  But when I came home and examined the port photos I found an old boat named after this man.  Mind, not a name on any public record.  The boat had the name the bushranger gave himself a day before his supposed death.

Will be back to do some whale watching and to do another climb of the mountain, this winter.


In February 1860, John Booth sold the first 50 allotments of his private subdivision of a new, unnamed, town to the North West of Ulladulla inland from the coast, set in rolling hills.  Within a short period of time, the post, trading enterprises and court relocated to the new township – which was named ‘Milton’ by the postmaster.

Cattle Egret - Milton

Cattle Egret - Milton

A flood in that month may give some indication of the problems faced by the initial settlement on the coast.  Reports from the time talk of torrential rain and “ fearful sea running into Ulladulla” which swept away buildings, fences and bridges. 

Milton - Court House

Milton - Post Office
 At about this time, Registrar Wareham purchased his property of Danesbank on a commanding hill outside Milton. The property was a good source of stone – which eventually furnished his own homestead (a charming Victorian house of sandstone and cedar) and other public buildings.  Danesbank homestead was built by the master mason James Poole - the stone mason responsible for the Ulladulla stone pier.

There are a large number of records about Registrar Wareham's activities.  He registered all births and deaths in the district.  His efforts to assist litigants resolve issues brought him to the attention of higher courts - without criticism.

During the period he was caught in the cross hairs of religious and class controversy.  In her book about pioneers of the district, Joanne Erwin records that in 1870 the 'Walter Hood' sank in rough weather off the coast and fourteen men drowned.  The ship was carrying flooring for St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney - and this flooring is still washed ashore in heavy weather.  Wareham carried out the coronial inquest.  Erwin records an oral report that: "J.V. Wareham had wanted to bury Captain Latto in a separate grave as befitted his rank, but the surviving crew would not permit it, hinting that they blamed the captain for being drunk and causing the wreck and so had let him drown."

In 1873 a lighthouse was erected on the Ulladulla stone pier – but this was relocated to the headland in 1889.

Ulladulla Lighthouse
In 1876 tragedy stuck the Wareham family, with the loss of three children.  They left the district shortly afterwards.

What this is

This is a research stub concerning early colonial justice.  It will be added to from time to time. I intend to study colonial administrative justice in three regional areas - Ulladulla/Milton, Braidwood and Cooma.  I am preparing this as part of a broader study of colonial justice, and as part of research for a short story on the Long Tailor.

Peter Quinton
May 2014

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