Byng, NSW

Small rural town once known as 'Cornish Village' where William Tom, the first person to discover payable gold in Australia, is buried.

Today Byng is nothing more than an old Wesleyan (now Uniting) Church and a graveyard at the end of a dirt road in the middle of some particularly beautiful, rolling countryside south of Orange. There is one main reason to visit - apart from the obvious beauty of the district and the attractiveness of the sandstone church - and that is the grave of William Tom, the rarely acknowledged, but true, first person to discover payable gold in Australia. He, not the clever and self-publicising Edward Hargraves, was the man who started one of the greatest and most lucrative goldrushes in human history.


Byng is located 246 km north-west of Sydney, 25 km south-east of Orange (18 km from the highway on dirt road) and 44 km west of Bathurst.


Origin of Name

Byng was originally named 'Cornish Settlement' because of the large number of Cornish immigrants who settled the area. The town name was changed to Byng. It was named after Admiral John Byng who was shot by firing squad in 1757 and, although he became a popular hero maltreated by the authorities, his name became a byword for cowardice (at least in the eyes of the establishment) because he failed to hold Minorca against an attack by the French at the beginning of the Seven Years' War. No one knows why the town was named after Admiral Byng.


Things to See and Do

Wesleyan Methodist Church
The town's beautiful Wesleyan church dates back to 1873 and is still used today for weddings and other events. It does not hold regular services and all enquiries should be directed to the Uniting Church, Anson Street, Orange, tel: (02) 6362 5788. The church replaced a small rubble building which was constructed in 1842 at Bethel Rock and used by the local Cornish residents. Many of the stones from the original church were used in the construction of the 1873 church which, when it was completed, had a congregation of around 30 people. It was restored as part of a Bicentennial grant in 1988.

The cemetery is located opposite the church and contains the grave (near the road) of Parson William Tom, a Cornish man who was responsible for the first payable gold discovery in Australia. In April, 1851 Tom spotted a 14 gram nugget near the intersection of the Summer Hill Creek and Lewis Ponds Creek. He, his brother James, and John Lister turned their attention to the adjacent creek bed, turning up 113 grams over the next three days, including a 55 gram nugget. They immediately informed Edward Hargraves who took the credit for the find which initiated the first Australian goldrush at Ophir. Such is the unfairness of history.

Now a private home and not open to the public, Springfield is a symbol of the Cornish occupation of the area. It was completed in 1854 and was the home of William Tom, a parson in the Wesleyan church and a land owner. It is a two-storey Georgian mansion with thick stone walls, a full length front veranda and an awning supported by white pillars. The house is positioned on a hill overlooking Sheep Station Creek and surrounded by mature gardens planted with European trees and shrubs. A distinctive Cornish touch are the three circular stones set in the front veranda which are inscribed "Caed mile failte" - Celtic for "One Hundred Thousand Welcomes".


Other Attractions in the Area

The Strange Story of Admiral John Byng
In 1998 the Orange  and District Historical Society published a newsletter devoted to Byng in which they told the rather remarkable story of Admiral John Byng (1704-1757). An equally impressive account was recorded in History Today in 2007: "A quiet, shy man, the unfortunate John Byng was no coward – he faced his death with cool courage – but he seems to have been too cautious, passive and defeatist for command in the British navy. He went to sea at thirteen and rose up the ladder to captain at twenty-three and rear admiral at forty.

"Aged fifty in 1756 when the Seven Years’ War broke out, Byng, now a full admiral, sailed with ten ships of the line to Gibraltar. His orders were to prevent the French in Toulon from capturing the British stronghold of Fort St Philip on the island of Minorca, and to this end he was to carry a detachment of 700 men from the Gibraltar garrison to Port Mahon.

"When Byng reached Gibraltar, however, he discovered that the French had already landed a sizeable force on Minorca and were besieging the fort. He and his council of war decided against landing more troops and he wrote to the Admiralty to explain that carrying out his orders would not stop the French and would be a needless waste of manpower.

"The letter, which arrived at the end of May, aroused consternation and fury in London. George II said flatly: ‘This man will not fight!’ Then came news of an inconclusive encounter in June between the British fleet under Byng and the French, from which the French had sailed away scot free, and late in June Fort St Philip surrendered. Byng was summoned home and put under arrest on arrival. Mobs went about chanting ‘Swing, swing Admiral Byng’ and the court martial, which convened at the end of December, was reported in detail in all the newspapers. Byng was charged with ‘failing to do his utmost’. He defended himself, but the court found against him and with the utmost reluctance sentenced him to death.

"The government ignored the court’s unanimous recommendation to mercy and George II declined to use his prerogative to spare Byng. In a howling gale in Portsmouth harbour that March day a heavy coffin was hoisted on board the Monarch at 7am. It was already inscribed, ‘The Hon. John Byng, Esqr. Died March 14th 1757.’ The admiral himself followed and by 11am boats were bringing officers from every warship in the harbour and numerous other vessels were heaving up and down filled with eager spectators.

"At noon Byng came out on deck in a light grey coat, white breeches and a big white wig. He had been persuaded with difficulty to be blindfolded, on the grounds that it would not be fair to the firing party to have to see his face. He was escorted out onto the quarter deck, ‘with a stately pace and a composed countenance’ according to the Evening Post, to see nine marines in their scarlet uniforms lined up in three rows. The rear row were in reserve. In front of him was a cushion and a heap of sawdust, sodden from the rain.

"He knelt on the cushion, tied the blindfold round his head and held up a neatly folded white handkerchief in his right hand. After a few agonizing moments he dropped the handkerchief, the six marines fired and the admiral fell gently on his side. He was fifty-two.

"The rights and wrongs of the matter have been disputed ever since, but Byng was not a political victim and Voltaire’s comment that he was shot ‘to encourage the others’ probably hit the nail on the head.

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* Before European settlement the area around Byng was inhabited by the Wiradjuri people.

* In 1830 William Tom chose 640 acres in the district and called his property Springfield. The area's Celtic associations are also apparent in the three welcome stones on the porch of 'Springfield' homestead. Custom dictated that the host would stand on the top step, the guest on the bottom, and they would greet each other in the middle.

* In the 1830s, following the lead of William Tom, other Cornishmen moved into the area - families with surnames like Lane, Grenfell, Pearse, Thomas, Oates and Paull settled in the district.

* Bookanan, probably the oldest homestead in the area, was built in 1840 by John Glasson, a descendant of George Hawke.

* Byng was initially known as 'Cornish Settlement' due to the preponderance of Cornish settlers in the earliest days of the settlement.

* In 1841 George Hawke introduced cherries, plums and apples to the area. These fruit trees at the 'Pendarves' estate became the genesis of Orange's fruit industry.

* In 1842 the first Wesleyan Church was built in Byng. It was the first non-conformist church west of the Blue Mountains.

* In 1852 the Government Surveyor submitted a report for the establishment of a reserve in the Parish of Byng.

* In 1854 the village reserve was established and the first allotments were surveyed.

* By 1856 the village is established as a few scattered houses in the valley.

* In 1873 the Wesleyan Church is completed.

* In 1885 the village was officially proclaimed between Lewis Ponds Creek and Sheep Station Creek.


Visitor Information

Orange Visitors Centre, Civic Square, Byng St, Orange, tel: (02) 6361 5226.


Useful Websites

There is a useful site with a number of photographs. Check out The Cornish roots in the region are celebrated at

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