History of Wyoming
Compiled by the Local Studies Librarian, Gosford City Library.
How Wyoming got its name
In 1824 Frederick Augustus Hely purchased 1340 acres of land, adjacent to Nararra (sic) Reserve. Hely called this land "Wyoming". This name is derived from a very popular early 19th century English poem, "Gertrude of Wyoming".
The 1809 poem, by Thomas Campbell, tells the story of American colonists in the Wyoming Valley (North-Eastern Pennsylvania). In 1778 the Tories and their Native American allies attacked colonists. At the time of the American War of Independence, a Tory was someone who supported the continuation of British rule over the American colonies.
The 841-line epic begins:
"On Susquehanna's side, fair Wyoming!
Although the wild-flower on thy ruin'd wall, and roofless homes, a sad remembrance bring,
Of what thy gentle people did befall;
Yet thou wert once the loveliest land of all
That see the Atlantic wave their morn restore.
Sweet land may I thy lost delights recall, and paint thy Gertrude in her bowers of yore,
Whose beauty was the love of Pennsylvania's shore!"
Frederick Hely's property north of Gosford may have reminded him of the descriptions of Wyoming in America provided in the poem. "Wyoming" is believed to be a Delaware Indian term for "wide, grassed valley".
The original inhabitants
The aboriginal inhabitants of the Wyoming area were the Guringai tribe. The "country" of the Guringai people stretched from the north side of Sydney Harbour to the bottom of Lake Macquarie, along the coast.
Frederick Augustus Hely
Frederick Augustus Hely was the Principal Superintendent of Convicts at the time that he purchased "Wyoming" in 1824. Hely was born at Belfast, County Ulster, Ireland in 1794.
Frederick arrived in Sydney with his family in 1823, on the ship "Isabella". A background as an army captain helped Hely to secure the position of Principal Superintendent of Convicts. He held this office until his untimely death on 8th September 1836 from apoplexy at age 42.
Hely was a very able and valued officer, who had aspired to retire to Gosford as local magistrate. He purchased adjoining grants on the west side of Narara Creek. At the time of his death, Hely's estate consisted of over 4,000 acres.
An 1832 request by Hely to Governor Bourke was rejected. In this request, Hely asked to become magistrate at Brisbane Water. Bourke required Hely's services in Sydney. Hely was forced to travel between his beloved "Wyoming" and his Sydney home, and his health suffered.
The earliest known description of "Wyoming" is that written by Mrs Felton Mathew during 1833-34. It describes the house and gardens existing prior to construction of the present "Wyoming Cottage":
"It was early when we reached Narara, and camped near Mr. Hely's estate of Wyoming; in the evening we walked up to the house, and in the garden, which has greatly improved since our last visit, more than a year ago; the fruit and other trees have grown wonderfully, and the whole is enlarged considerably, it contains a number of vines now bearing luxuriantly the finest fruit; a very extensive vineyard adjoining the garden is in progress, and will be thrown into it: there are not many flowers, but some few choice ones, I am to have seeds or cuttings of. The family never reside here, but there is a very neat little cottage very prettily situated near the garden; as well as a number of labourer's huts scattered about, each with a little garden attached, the whole scene has an appearance of comfort not always to be found on such estates in this country. The gardener sent us down a basket of the finest fruit I have seen in the colony, Peaches and Nectarines of the most delicious kinds."1
The obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald of 12th September, 1836 conveys something of the regard in which Frederick Hely was held:
"Mr Hely was a gentleman of correct deportment and of highly moral principles. In the discharge of his official duties he was influenced by none: and we have reason to believe that few gentlemen in the colony were more generally successful in acquiring the good opinion of the respectable classes in colonial society".
Hely's mausoleum lies beside the Pacific Highway at Wyoming, a stone's throw from the family home. The Government Reserve to the south of "Wyoming" was surveyed as "The town of Point Frederick" in 1839. Governor Gipps chose not to perpetuate Hely's memory, but named the township "Gosford". The suburb of Point Frederick remains today.
Historic buildings & sites on the Wyoming Estate:
Wyoming Cottage c.1842-43.
When Frederick Hely applied to Governor Bourke to be appointed magistrate of Brisbane Water in 1832, he believed that he would receive a positive reply. John Verge, a well-known colonial architect was commissioned to design a "large cottage" for the Hely family.
Frederick's request was not granted, and he was forced to build another home in Sydney. Hely died before his Sydney home "Engehurst" was completed or "Wyoming Cottage" was begun. Georgina, Frederick's widow, lived in "Wyoming Cottage". This was completed with over 60,000 bricks delivered between April & December 1842.
Architectural Historian James Broadbent states: "Wyoming near Gosford was possibly built in 1837 although designed in 1832. It is a five-bayed house with shuttered French doors glazed with margin bars, on either side of a panelled front door with sidelights. Originally the house must have been more refined than it appears today with its modern verandah. The main hipped front ended in wide eaves and from beneath these extended the original verandah. Verge's Wyoming was a verandahed cottage."2
A further description by Anne Bickford, and drawn from NSW Heritage Files adds: "The original section of the cottage is of brick finished with stucco. Timber extensions of about 1900 have pressed metal ceilings and the building has a side entrance with a barrel vaulted roof in corrugated iron. A stone entrance to the rear is of more recent date but the stone blocks of the extension are from demolished buildings on the Hely property."3
Wyoming Cottage has been home to descendants of the Hely family. Later it was the home of Hugh Campbell, and was operated as a private hospital by his descendants. It is now a private residence, and is on Gosford City Council's Heritage list.
Panorama of Hely family home, Wyoming House, ca. 1919
Hely's Grave, 1836
John Verge, architect was responsible for the design of this mausoleum. Hely's grave carries the inscription: "his loved remains lie in this spot by his own request".
Built of sandstone, the grave gradually fell into disrepair. A 1908 photograph shows the grave gradually succumbing to weeds, subsidence and lack of maintenance. At a later stage a descendant of Hely is believed to have commissioned stabilisation works.
Frederick Augustus Hely's grave
By the 1970s the grave was once again in a poor condition. The Gosford Heritage Association, and later Gosford City Council have restored the grave. The fencing and gates on the grave are recent additions, based on physical evidence of such features having been present on the grave at an earlier date. In erecting the fencing, Council kept in mind what was typical of similar graves of the 1830s period.
The Grange, 1836
This long, low sandstone building in Renwick Street once served as the stables for the Hely Estate. Hely's assigned convict servants, William and Abraham Sidebottom, were the stonemasons who constructed the stables. Their mark is inscribed on a stone set into the walls.
Assigned servants were important to landowners such as Frederick Hely in the early colony. A source of cheap and skilled labour, the assigned servants on the Wyoming Estate at the time of the 1837 General return of Convicts numbered at least 27 persons. The average age of assigned servants on the property was 31 years.
The "Old Guard House" or "Garden House"
A mystery building once stood in the vicinity of today's Glencoe Avenue. The narrow, squat, sandstone structure was locally known as the "Guard-house". Along with a large pine tree known as the "Whipping Tree", the local storytellers had convicts being regularly cruelly flogged and incarcerated in the "Guard House".
Various theories exist as to just what use the "Guard House" was originally intended, but it is unlikely to have ever been used to imprison convicts. More likely, it was intended as a "Garden House" for Georgina Hely.
Hely property garden house, known as "The Guard House". Wyoming, 1908.
Another theory was that the building was intended as a Chapel, at which the Hely family and estate workers could worship. The church-like windows and the look of the building when you imagine a steeple on it, makes this a distinct possibility. Unfortunately we will probably never know the original purpose of this building! it was demolished in 1918 by John W. Campbell.
Several other convict-built structures are believed to have vanished over time. In the 1960s a Real Estate developer boasted to the local newspaper that his workers had discovered and filled-in a convict-built well on the Sunrise Estate, opposite Alan Davidson Oval.
Wyoming during the period 1840-1880
By 1841, Hovenden Hely (son of Frederick and Georgina), was managing his late father's estate at Brisbane Water. After a period in the 1840s during which he was involved in one of Ludwig Leichhardt's expeditions, Hovenden returned in 1849 to administer "Wyoming" and act as magistrate on the bench at Brisbane Water.
During the 1850s Hovenden moved into politics. He represented the Hunter River District in the first Legislative Assembly in the years 1856 and 1857.
Hovenden married in England in the late 1850s, and later returned to Brisbane Water. Financial problems began to afflict Hovenden, and eventually he was dismissed from the Bench. In 1865 he was declared bankrupt. Hovenden died at Waverton, Sydney, in 1872. His mother, Georgina Hely died in Brisbane, in 1866.
Descriptions of Wyoming in this period appear to be scarce. Timber, in the form of logs, would be cut at Wyoming, or further north along the Narara Valley, and brought by Bullock Wagon to Narara Creek. There was at least one small sawmill operating in Wyoming in this period.
The Coming of the Railway: The 1880s
Real estate speculation was rife in the district during the 1880s. Across the Gosford District, large numbers of town and farm estates were promoted vigorously. The "Wyoming Estate" was no exception. The high level of interest in the District was driven largely by the construction of the railway line through Gosford.
The roads locally were terrible, either dustbowls in the dry or quagmires in the wet. Transport of timber by Bullock Wagon and produce by Dray was terribly slow. Railways provided faster transport for goods and people to major centres such as Newcastle and Sydney.
The real estate promoters began to get excited in 1880, when Parliament passed the 'Public Works Loans Act 1880', by which approval was granted to construct the 'Homebush to Waratah Railway' in four stages. The contract for the construction of the Gosford to Waratah section was awarded in August 1882 to Messrs Amos and Company.
Navvies lived in tent camps along the right of way the built. The main implements used to build the line were picks, shovels and horse-drawn tip drays.
The Railway opened from Newcastle to Gosford in 1887. A small station, the closest to "Wyoming", opened at Narara at this time, and consisted of a platform, and a loop goods siding. The duplication of the railway line from Gosford to Niagara Park opened in 1911.
On 21st September 1881, Hardie and Gorman held an auction of Wyoming Estate at their rooms in Pitt Street, Sydney. The advertisement published a few days before stated " This property is situated close to the proposed route of the Northern Railway, which will open up all the splendid country around Gosford." It was also anticipated that "Purchasers at Gosford may fairly anticipate the same rise in the value of the land on completion of the sanctioned railway to Newcastle, just as experience has proved in other similarly situated localities where improved communication has followed."
The subdivision map almost told the truth when it was said that Wyoming had "water and rail communication with Sydney". Narara Creek was shown with some small wharves in the vicinity of today's Wollong and Kirrawee Streets. An inscription on the map stated that the Creek was "navigable for vessels of 150 tons burthen", right up to the wharves.
This was probably correct in 1881, however when the railway causeway was built across Fagan Bay (the entrance to Narara Creek), masted vessels could not make their way into the creek. The exception to this was the small schooner "Venus", which ingeniously used a hinged mast to clear the railway bridge. Other small flat-bottomed scows were probably dragged up the Creek by a small steam launch.
The pre-causeway scene was well described in the Town and Country Journal on 23rd April 1881, (a few months prior to the auction of Wyoming):
"Here a wharf is built close to the crossing, and the stranger, riding from Gosford along this road, over several hills and valleys, is not a little surprised when he suddenly comes to a sharp turn, and sees a bowsprit of one of these vessels projecting across the road, the hull and masts hidden by the dense forest which lines the banks of the creek. To one unacquainted with the geography of Narara Creek, the sight of a vessel in such a position makes him fancy he is labouring under some ludicrous hallucination".4
Over many years Narara Creek became unsuitable for navigation, and gradually silted up.
Wyoming Estate was sold in 1887.
The census of 1901 listed 12 families living in and around Wyoming. Names found at that time included Pateman, Sotzenbach, Doak, Battista, Olsen and Harris. One lady listed, Charlotte Ashby of Wyoming Bush, was a descendant of the Walkeloa Clan of the Wannugine Nation of the Guringai tribe. She was also the daughter of James Webb, first white settler of Brisbane Water. The Guringai tribe lived in the area before the coming of white settlers.
Mary Anne "Granny" Pateman was very highly regarded as a midwife. She attended births throughout the district, and she was driven around in a horse and buggy after age forced her off her horse. Mary Anne Pateman was the eldest daughter of another district midwife, Catherine Medhurst. Catherine, at her death in August 1894, was mentioned in newspaper articles as "The Oldest Sydney Native". Born on New Years Day 1799 in Backrows, Dawes Point, Sydney, Mrs Medhurst lived in the Gosford District and Wyoming for 60 years, and had 11 children.
Catherine and John Medhurst
In March 1913, a steam boiler explosion caused great destruction at Charles Tilbury Parson's sawmill, which was located near the corner of Cary Street and Henry Parry Drive. In the explosion Samuel Pateman and Ernest Higgs, both aged 20 years, died.
Aftermath of Parson's Sawmill explosion, 1913.
World War I left its mark on Wyoming, with the reported deaths of three enlistees. Irvine Fleming (Flem) Campbell was killed in action at Gallipoli in June 1915. Henry Albert Campbell died of wounds in Belgium in November 1917. Frank Goldsmith was killed in action in October 1917.
The Campbell family owned the former Hely Homestead during this period. Hugh Campbell was a former policeman turned storekeeper and publican who owned the Royal Hotel in Mann Street Gosford in the early 1880s. He died in 1915.
William F. Appleton, of Wyoming Street appears to have owned the first telephone in Wyoming in 1922. His phone number was 87. By 1930, the Gosford network had a grand total of six telephone subscribers in Wyoming.
The subscribers were: J.F. Dodd #87 (he owned Mr Appleton's former property); R.M. Dodington #76; A.E. Goodwin #126; T.S. McDonald, Dairyman, #102; W.H. Murray of "Hartlepool", #195; and finally A.E. Wimble of Jarrett Street, #201.
Mrs Nancy Gillies Brown (nee Haynes) was born at "Lynhales" citrus orchard in 1927. Her father, Jesse Haynes came to the valley in 1920. He purchased around 32 hectares on which he planted 4 different varieties of oranges, grapefruit, lemons and mandarins. Jesse also grew stone fruit such as peaches and plums, and a few apple and pear trees. Other crops were grown for domestic use, and a few larger ones were grown for sale at market at Gosford every Thursday. These included peas, potatoes, beans and watermelons.
Draft horses were used to pull a variety of farm vehicles and implements. Ploughs broke the earth. Pesticides were sprayed from carts equipped with spray equipment. Ripe fruit was picked and collected in tip drays. Poultry were kept as a means to fertilise the citrus trees and raise extra money. "There was very little capital from citrus" recalls Nancy.
Families recalled by Nancy Brown (nee Haynes) included the Neils' (who owned "The Grange"), Murrays' (on the corner of Renwick and Day Streets), Walshes', McSweeney, Morgan, Smalls', Whites', Griggs', McDonalds' and Sonters. "The Sonters had an apple orchard and they were the most beautiful eating apples, called "Sonter's brilliance". Mr Sonter used to sell his produce every day at Gosford. Every day he would make the journey by horse and cart.
Children had a great life in the Wyoming Valley. Cricket was a popular pastime. Picnics were common. Family sing-songs around the piano were popular. Many Wyoming children attended Narara Public School and later Gosford High School.
The valley "was a tranquil green haven", Nancy recalls. "Of late afternoon and early morning, spirals of wood smoke could be seen slowly coming from chimneys of the homes, tucked away amidst the orange trees".
Electricity did not come to Wyoming until the late 1930s. A "Gloria" petrol pressure lamp was used in the Dining Room. Other rooms relied on kerosene lamps and candlepower. Windows and doors were never locked when you went out. Few cars were seen. Most transport was by pony, or sulky and "Shanks' pony" (walking). Ruth Joyce (nee Haynes) recalls the small black bus run by the Compton family between Gosford and Ourimbah.
In the 1930s Renwick, Day and Government roads were all dirt. The Pacific Highway was redirected through Wyoming in this period.
The Depression saw many men passing through the area "humping bluey" while looking for employment.
World War II saw many local men join the forces. One Wyoming resident, Ronald Haynes, lost his life during the Fall of Singapore on 8th February 1942, on the day that 23,000 Japanese soldiers attacked.
Aerial photograph of Wyoming, circa 1958
Wyoming Progress Association was very active during the 1950s. Local issues tackled by the Association included the poor state of local roads, kerbing and guttering, provision of playgrounds, and the lack of a public telephone at Wyoming. The telephone request was refused by the PMG because there was a public phone at Gosford, only 1 and a half miles distant.
Alan Davidson Park
One of the major needs recognised for the Wyoming area was a sports and recreation area. In 1958 Gosford Shire Council commenced negotiations with S.J. Mounser of Renwick Street to acquire land for this purpose. A local committee was appointed to oversee development of the recreation area.
By Xmas 1958 Bulldozing began on the former Mounser farm. In January 1959 a working bee of Gosford District Cricket Association members, supported by local firms, transported a large amount of Wamberal Soil to the sportsground. Playground equipment was installed, and the Narara Cricket Club constructed a shed with a council grant of Fifty Pounds.
In the late 1960s major redevelopment of the "Alan Davidson Park" took place, comprising a main sports oval (cricket & football); a secondary sports oval; a football and hockey field, amenities and car parking.
Alan Davidson, for whom the Park is named, is a famous Australian Test Cricketer. Growing up at Lisarow and Niagara Park, Alan was a Bank Clerk in Gosford when in 1948 he was invited to play cricket in Sydney. He went on to a very successful test career. In 44 Tests from 1953-1962 he took 186 wickets and made 1,358 runs.
Australian Reptile Park
Around 1950, Eric Worrell opened the Ocean Beach Aquarium at Umina. Snakes were a big attraction there, and in 1950 Worrell received a request to produce snake-venoms for the Commonwealth Serum laboratories in Melbourne.
The Umina site proved to be too small to cope with demand. In 1958, a much larger site was developed on former farmland beside the Pacific Highway at Wyoming. The Australian Reptile Park continued to develop its venom production for use in antivenenes. Later, the Park began milking other venomous animals, including the funnel-web spider.
Between the 1960s and 1990s the Park grew to be arguably the most famous Central Coast tourist attraction. At its height, the Wyoming site boasted numerous reptile displays, native animals, picnic areas, walks, a steam ride-on railway, souvenir shop and restaurant.
In the mid-1990s, a decision was made to relocate the Australian Reptile Park to Somersby. Crocodiles, turtles lizards and snakes were carefully transported from Wyoming to Somersby.
"Dino" the Diplodocus (later known as "Ploddy")
A life-size Diplodocus (now known as "Ploddy) was constructed in early 1963. "Dino", built of concrete and steel, is probably the oldest "big thing" beside a road anywhere in Australia. By comparison, The "Big Banana" at Coffs Harbour was not opened until December 1964. "Dino's" name apparently derives from "Dino", the pet dinosaur in the 1960s cartoon series "The Flintstones".
Albert Sullivan, metalworker of Erina, who donated and built the framework of the Australian Reptile Park's mascot Dino (later known as Ploddy) circa February-March 1963
When the Australian Reptile Park relocated to Somersby in 1996, "Dino" became the star of a parade through the streets of Gosford. At the time of the move to Somersby, "Dino" acquired the new name through wide publicity as "Ploddy". Craned onto the back of a truck (without its feet, which reportedly caused distress to Wyoming schoolchildren!), the 30-tonne dinosaur very slowly made the journey up Kariong Hill to his new home. "Ploddy" is seen daily by thousands of F3 Freeway users, and is heritage-listed.
Wyoming changes during the 1960s-1990s
In the early 1960s, subdivision of orchards close to the Pacific Highway gathered pace. One such subdivision was the "Sunland Estate", which was formerly the orchard of Len Sonter. This Estate was opposite the Alan Davidson Park, off Renwick Street. Local businessman George Joyce had purchased the land to breed and run cattle, and build a "ranch-style" home. The land was sold in turn to developer C.H. Degotardi. This company subdivided the land into 182 building lots and constructed new roads. A company spokesman stated "This is one of the few remaining areas within travelling distance of Sydney where excellent home sites can still be purchased for as little as 350 pounds per block".
Pockets of the old citrus orchards were still worked in Wyoming up until the 1970s. "Warrawilla" was a farm run by John (Jack) Moore, in Maiden's Brush Road. The property grew Navel and Valencia Oranges, Grapefruit and Lemons. As subdivision of Wyoming proceeded in the 1960s, pressure to sell the remaining orchard land grew. In the 1970s Landcom purchased the Moore property for a new housing development.
Recent times at Wyoming
For a long time, Wyoming residents had to venture into Gosford for their shopping. In 1972, Wyoming Village Shopping Centre, a complex of 30 shops opened. Costing $1 million dollars, the development boasted air-conditioning, a supermarket, specialty shops, C.B.A. Bank, and later, a T.A.B. This initial complex was extensively remodelled in recent times.
A small village shopping centre opened in Maiden's Brush Road in 1982, and was designed to cater for rapidly growing Landcom residential development (400 blocks had just been released in the immediate vicinity), and Adelene Retirement Village. Adelene Retirement Village opened in May 1979. Henry Kendall Retirement Village opened in 1985.
In the 2001 Census, Wyoming's population was given by the ABS as 9,031 persons.
1. Mathews, Sarah Louise (Mrs Felton). Journal excerpt in Havard, Olive. Mrs Felton Mathew's Journal. J.R.A.H.S, Vol.24, pages 184-185.
2. Broadbent, James. The Australian colonial house. 1997.p316.
3. NSW Heritage Office files, cited in: Bickford, Anne. Statement of Heritage Impact for Wyoming Cottage and grounds, Wyoming near Gosford, NSW. August 2000. p3.
4. Christie, W.B. "A trip to Gosford along the proposed Coast railway" in Town & Country Journal, 23rd April 1881, pg. 799.
1. Brown, Nancy. Gillies. Wyoming Valley as I Remember. Unpublished typescript. 2002. (Copy in Wyoming - History vertical file)
2. Campbell, Thomas. Gertrude of Wyoming [poem], 1809.
3. Central Coast Family History Society Inc. Index to the 1901 Census of New South Wales: Gosford Area. East Gosford., The Society, c.2000.
4. Dargan, James. The family of Mann. Lane Cove., Lane Cove Library, 1997. pp. 11-23.
5. Gosford City Library Local Studies Collection. Hely family file (LSVF Hely)
6. Gosford City Library Local Studies Collection. Vertical file: Historic Buildings - Wyoming Cottage, Wyoming. (LSVF Hist)
7.Gosford City Library Local Studies Collection. Vertical file: Historic Buildings - The Grange, Wyoming. (LSVF Hist)
8. Gosford City Library Local Studies Collection. Vertical file: Wyoming - History (LSVF Wyom)
9. Gosford City Library Local Studies Collection. Vertical file: Wyoming Shopping Centre (LSVF Wyom)
10. Joyce, Ruth Lee. The Wyoming Valley - memories. Unpublished typescript, circa 2002. (Copy in Wyoming - History file)
11. Newcastle telephone Directories: Gosford exchange. Various years.
(Held on microfiche at Gosford Library)
12. Wyoming Progress Association. Correspondence. Held in Gosford City Library Local Studies Collection Stack.