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Wilberforce, NSW

Historic Macquarie Town on the fertile Hawkesbury River floodplain.

Of all the small towns along the Hawkesbury between Windsor and Wisemans Ferry, Wilberforce seems, to the hasty traveller, to be the least interesting. This is a false impression produced by the fact that the township has spread across the Hawkesbury flood plain and modern suburbia has conspired to hide some of the town's historic buildings. There are a number of genuinely interesting historic buildings and nearby is the remarkably rich Australiana Pioneer Village and historic Rose Cottage which dates from 1811.


Wilberforce is located 61 km north west of Sydney via the M2. It is only 6 km from Windsor on the northern side of the Hawkesbury River.


Origin of Name

In 1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie, having created the five Macquarie towns, explained "on the North or left Bank of the Hawkesbury, I have named Wilberforce – in honor of and out of respect to the good and virtuous Wm. Wilberforce Esqr. M.P. – a true Patriot and the real Friend of Mankind …"


Things to See and Do

Historic Wilberforce
Wilberforce has lost much of its historic charm due to the advances of modern suburban development however it is still possible to see the precise grid-system layout of the town and on the eastern side of the road as you enter town there are an interesting row of buildings including a cottage and the police station (1883). It is also a comment on the historic nature of the area that the road to Wilberforce from Windsor passes through rich alluvial riverflats and there are numerous opportunities to stop and purchase fresh fruit and vegetables from roadside stalls.

St John's Schoolhouse and Grave
Located on Church Road, which runs north of the road to Ebenezer, the Wilberforce Schoolhouse is one of only four schoolhouses still standing which were commissioned by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. It is located next to St John's Anglican Church. The schoolhouse, built in 1820, is a simple building of sun-dried bricks with a skillion added to the back to provide accommodation for the teacher and his family. It stands behind the church. There is also a very early grave dating from 8 October, 1804. It is the grave of John Howorth, an 11-year-old who died after being bitten by a snake.

St John's Anglican Church
Built in 1859 at a cost of around £1500 St John's Church (1859) is a typical small Edmund Blacket church. It is particularly distinctive because it has an unusual sundial on the north wall which was placed there to commemorate the parish clerk and local schoolmaster, John Wenban who died only seven months before the church was completed. Wenban's grave is located in the church cemetery which has graves dating back to 1816.

Rose Cottage
Built around 1810, Rose Cottage is reputedly the oldest timber building still standing in Australia. It was continually occupied by the Rose family (the original Thomas Rose was a free settler from Dorset) until 1961. It is recognised as a fine example of a two-roomed lathe and mud-plaster house from its period and is characterised by interesting displays of early furniture and some truly remarkable examples of primitive carpentry. Check out the front door! Contact the Thomas and Jane Rose Family Society on 4735 2553 or 9144 1773 or 0409 776 186 for opening times.

The Australiana Pioneer Village
Located at Rose Street and open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm every Sunday, the Australiana Pioneer Village was started as a commercial enterprise, failed, was closed for ten years and then was taken over by volunteers and opened again on Australia Day 2011. It is genuinely interesting combining a large number of historic buildings (which have been brought to the site) with demonstrations of traditional crafts and volunteers who dress up and recreate the various roles of people from the 19th century. The buildings include the pit sawn timber Mitchell Cottage (1890); Bank of Australasia (1920s); Riverstone Police Station (1888); Perry House (1856) from Richmond; some wagon sheds; Case Cottage (1896); Cartwright Cottage (1870); Atkins Blacksmith Shop (1862); stable of the Blackhorse Inn (1874); Bowd's Sulky Shed (1874); Aiken Hut (1875); St Phillips Church (c.1890); Kurrajong Railway Goods Station (1926); Shearing shed (1880s); Mangold Cottage (1886); Kenso Cottage (1890); Bee Hive Shop (1879); North Sackville Post Office (c. 1890); Riverstone General Store (1860); the Oxboro Inn; Marsden Public School (1889); Quilty stables; and Salters Barn (1850). For more information check out http://www.theapv.org.au.


Other Attractions in the Area

The Origins of the Five Macquarie Towns
In 1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie having taken a party and explored around the rich floodplains of the Hawkesbury River valley, decided to establish five towns. In his wonderfully named Journal of a Tour of Governor Macquarie’s first inspection of the Interior of the Colony commencing on Tuesday the 6th November, 1810, Macquarie wrote:

A large Party of Friends dined with us today, consisting in all of 21 Persons, including our own Family. — After Dinner I christened the new Townships, drinking a Bumper to the success of each. — I gave the name of Windsor to the Town intended to be erected in the District of the Green Hills, in continuation of the present Village, from the similarity of this situation to that of the same name in England; the Township in the Richmond District I have named Richmond, from its beautiful situation, and as corresponding with that of its District; the Township for the Evan or Nepean District I have named Castlereagh in honor of Lord Viscount Castlereagh; the Township of the Nelson District I have named Pitt-Town in honor of the immortal memory of the late great William Pitt, the Minister who originally planned this Colony; and the Township for the Phillip District; on the North or left Bank of the Hawkesbury, I have named Wilberforce – in honor of and out of respect to the good and virtuous Wm. Wilberforce Esqr. M.P. – a true Patriot and the real Friend of Mankind …

“Having sufficiently celebrated this auspicious Day of christening the five Towns and Townships, intended to be erected and established for the security and accommodation of the Settlers and others inhabiting the Cultivated Country, on the Banks of the Rivers Hawkesbury and Nepean; I recommended to the Gentlemen present to exert their influence with the Settlers in stimulating them to lose no time in removing their Habitations, Flocks & Herds to these Places of safety and security, and thereby fulfil my intentions and plans in establishing them.”

And so the five towns, now on the outskirts of Greater Sydney, were created by the orders of the governor. A good, old fashioned government edict.



* The area had been occupied by the Dharug Aboriginal people for an estimated 40,000 years before Europeans arrived.

* In 1789 Governor Arthur Phillip explored the area. Phillip described the rich countryside 'as fine as any I ever saw'. The richness of the farmlands and lush green hills caused Phillip to name the area Green Hills.

* Wilberforce was first settled by Europeans in 1794 and quickly became the granary for the colony. The early farmers provided Sydney Town with almost half its food supply. The produce was delivered by boat down the Hawkesbury River, out into the Pacific Ocean and around into Sydney Harbour. This was the beginning of a riverboat industry which continued throughout the nineteenth century.

* In 1799 five settlers from the Hawkesbury River district - Simon Freebody, William Butler, Ed Powell, James Metcalfe and William Timms - were all brought to trial for the murder of two Aboriginal boys.

* In 1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie named the settlement to honour the great British philanthropist William Wilberforce.

* In 1835 the famous bushranger, Frederick Ward, known as Captain Thunderbolt, was born in the town.


Visitor Information

Hawkesbury Visitor Information Centre, Hawkesbury Valley Way, Clarendon, tel: (02) 4560 4620 or 1300 362 874. It is open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 9.00 am - 4.00 pm Saturday and Sunday.


Useful Websites

The Hawkesbury City Council's website - http://www.hawkesburytourism.com.au - has lots of useful information about the district.

Got something to add?

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12 suggestions
  • Do you have any information about the emancipated resident Mathias Lock who was given land at Wilberforce for farming in 1811 and 1822 ? He died on 12 April 1836 aged 73 at Windsor Farm. I am a direct descendant of his and would appreciate knowing if anything remains from his time there or from his family. Thank you.

    Toni-Maree Jones
    • Hi Toni, I don’t believe anything remains from the Lock Farm. He does have a street named after him and is buried there along with quite a few relatives. I am also a direct descendant (maiden name Graham) and have managed to find quite a nice backstory about him should you ever wish to read, please feel free to reply. Funnily enough, I too was raised in Wilberforce not knowing my family’s history at the time.

  • Hi, Is there a list of names of the first farming families in the Hawkesberry? I have been told that my descendants were free settlers who were one of 14 families sent there to farm the land to provide food for the settlement at Sydney Cove.
    Apparently we were a very large family (7) males. Almost all of the males died in the first flood experienced in the region. The remaining family moved to Camden I think. Not sure what the family name was. I think Sim, but not sure.
    I would appreciate any information you can provide to help me find out how we contributed to the growth of the region.

    I am sure the local historical society at Richmond and Windsor would have that kind of information.
    Bruce Elder

    Jan Masters
    • Hi Jen Masters, it’s Simpson, Alexander (my great, great grandfather) – if you Google his name you will find quite a bit of information on him in the Hawkesbury area 🙂

      Michelle Boutros
  • My ancestors Isaac Gorrick & Ann Bradwell lived in this town. They had a hotel called “Settler’s Inn”. What is on this site now?

    Susan Henderson
    • Hello Susan Henderson, I’ve only just discovered this ancestry. My grandmother was Jessie Brown and her great grandparents were Isetta Lisson and Joseph Brown. Isetta was Isaac’s half sister, from what I can see. It’s all so interesting. Just wanted to say hello.

      Deb Czislowski
  • I would love any information on the family of Joshua Vickery Dunston and his wife Candelia Mary Dunston…my grandfather was one of their sons…his name was Kenneth Cecil.. his sister Vera married Vic Case…another local..

    Dianne Baker
  • I would love to know if you hold any information on the Willoughby family? My great grandfather, Thomas Albert Willoughby was born in Wilberforce in 1856, his parents were John and Charlotte Willoughby.

    Thanks in advance

    Julie Willoughby
  • Simon Clarkson Freebody is my direct descendant

    Peter Roy Freebody
  • John Howarth is not buried below his gravestone. He was buried by his parents on the banks of the Hawkesbury, a location later owned by the Hall family, and the stone, fashioned by his father was moved to its present location at the direction of my father, Doug Bowd, about 1958. (Had it not been moved it was destined to disappear, as floods had eroded the bank very close to it).

    Alan Bowd