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JAMES LARMER - COLONIAL SURVEYOR

Some Aspects of His Life and Career

Another early surveyor with an important connection to the St Georges Basin area is James Larmer. As indicated in the Heritage section on the Wool Road, in 1840 James Larmer was responsible for surveying the line of this road from Nerriga to Jervis Bay (Vincentia). The portion of the road in this area runs from the Princes Highway just north of Bewong, past Basin View to St Georges Basin, and on to Vincentia. This page tells the story of Larmer's life in Australia. The intention is not to give long details of the surveying tasks that he undertook in his professional life (there are too many) but rather to provide some more personal information.

James Larmer came from England in 1829. He sailed on the Elizabeth, a brig (a two masted vessel) of 270 tons with a crew of 15, which left London on the 22nd of April, reached Hobart on the 29th September, and finally arrived in Sydney on the 10th of October (ref 1). Larmer was a cabin passenger (not steerage) and came out to a position (a draftsman) in the Surveyor General's department. Perhaps he had his passage paid? Major Thomas Mitchell was the Surveyor General by this time having succeeded Oxley on his death in May 1828. Ralph Darling was the Governor.

In a Letter/Report (ref 2) of July 28 1830 Larmer refers to an earlier letter he had received from the Secretary of State (dated 10th January 1829, and so prior to leaving England). This letter confirmed his appointment as a draftsman with an annual salary of £150, and an annual increment of £20 until £200 was attained. His appointment actually commenced on 25 April 1829. Furthermore, the letter indicated that he would be appointed Assistant Surveyor should he be found "eligible". In his July 1830 letter Larmer asks to be appointed Assistant Surveyor. However, it was 1 January 1835 before he officially obtained his promotion (ref 3). This probably wasn't a surprise because in a letter dated 30 December 1834 Mitchell addressed him as Assistant Surveyor. At no time was Larmer an conventional draftsman in the Department office, he was always a surveyor in the field.

Larmer came from a farming family near the market town of Reigate in Surrey, some 30 km south of central London. His Christian name was the same as that of his father suggesting that he was the eldest son. His mother's name was Frances. These details come from Larmer's death certificate (ref 4). Larmer died on 5th June 1886 aged 77 years. This suggests a date of birth in the first half of 1809 or the second half of 1808. So when he came out to Australia he was only 20 or 21. Before the year was out he was surveying the coast between Sydney and Botany, Botany Bay and Georges River, and the road from Coogee to Sydney. Presumably he had some training in England before being accepted by the Surveyor General's Department.

Between 1830 and the first quarter of 1835 James Larmer surveyed land grants, farms, allotments, reserves, roads, streets, coastlines, creeks, rivers, and ridges in what we know as greater Sydney, and in a wider area including Broke, Branxton in the Hunter, Brooklyn, Mangrove Creek, Broken Bay and Pittwater around the Hawkesbury River, and further afield, the Abercrombie, Campbell, Belubela, Bell, and Macquarie Rivers. Surveying was carried out by a team - the professional surveyor and a number of assigned convicts. For example, Larmer, in a report dated December 22 1836 provides details his (then) team of seven men. The details include their date of arrival in the Colony, their ship, and sentences. Larmer played a part, albeit a small one, in providing survey information for Mitchell's famous "map of the nineteen counties" which was published in 1834.

In 1835 came something a bit different. Major Thomas Mitchell, the Surveyor General, was commissioned by Governor Bourke, to lead an expedition to prove that the Darling River flowed into the Murray. This was the second of three expeditions led by Mitchell into the interior of Eastern Australia. Mitchell selected James Larmer to accompany him on this expedition but was not prepared to grant Larmer any professional credit with this selection. Mitchell writes (ref 5)

"Besides Mr. Richard Cunningham, who was attached to the expedition as botanist, Mr. Larmer, a very young assistant surveyor, was appointed to accompany me; the services of the other officers of the department being required for duties within the settled districts."

The name Cunningham may ring a bell with some people. Richard was the brother of Allan Cunningham, also a botanist, but usually better known as an explorer. Richard held the position of Colonial Botanist and Superintendent of the Sydney Botanic Gardens. Unfortunately he got separated from the main party, got lost, became crazed through lack of water, and was killed by Aborigines who thought he was possessed by devils. Mitchell spent over two weeks looking for Cunningham. Larmer was given a variety of surveying jobs on the expedition and played a significant role in the unsuccessful search for Richard Cunningham. In addition to Mitchell, Larmer and Cunningham there were twenty one convicts who provided support in a variety of forms - bullock-drivers and sailors, a carpenter, a medical attendant, a shepherd, a blacksmith, a cobbler, etc. Like Mitchell and Cunningham, James Larmer had his own servant (Thomas Reeves by name).

James Larmer's surveying reports are all addressed to the The Surveyor General but usually do not provide the personal name associated with the office. Perhaps this was because Mitchell spend a lot of time away from Sydney. For example, after his three expeditions Mitchell went back to England for about four years during which time he wrote a journal of these expeditions and amongst several awards managed to get himself knighted. He left early in 1837 and returned in Feb 1841. Mitchell also led an expedition in 1845 into central west Queensland and was in England (and Spain) for sixteen months after this.

Many of the surveying tasks undertaken by Larmer in the twenty plus years of his professional life after the 1835 expedition were in the County of St Vincent, but his field books show that he worked in most of the counties existing in the Colony at that time. The area he covered is most impressive. In March 1839 he surveyed Braidwood Village Reserve - the plan was amended by Mitchell after a petition from Thomas Wilson to have a recreation area in front of the court-house. This survey was the beginning of a long association with Braidwood. On 27 May 1840 (ref 6) James Larmer was instructed to survey a route from Nerriga to Jervis Bay. This he did in early June 1840 although did not write his report (ref 6) until the 3rd of August (follow this link to read a transcription of this report - which contains his estimate of the costs which would be involved). News of this survey reached the newspapers in Sydney and Goulburn before he wrote his report.

In the next four years the Colony of NSW was in recession, the budget of the Surveyor General's Department was reduced, and its surveyors, including Larmer, had their salaries reduced to one-third. By way of compensation, Larmer was allowed to undertake some private surveying. However, the situation probably caused Larmer to think of his future, and in 1843 he purchased a block of land in the main street of Braidwood and built the Royal Hotel (which is now the Museum and headquarters of the Braidwood and District Historical Society). This was in the nature of an investment; Larmer did not retire and become the licensee. From information held at NSW State Records one can establish that Larmer continued his profession as a surveyor with the Surveyor General's Department until 1859 (his Letters/Reports finish in September 1855, his Field Books finish in 1859).

headstone.jpg

The life of a field surveyor was a hard and difficult one in these times. In general, Larmer does not complain about the physical hardships associated with surveying. However, he does say (ref 7)

"I hope it will not be forgotten that my surveys by far exceed those of other surveyors and that my case does not apply to those whose duties do not oblige them to travel beyond the limits of a county."
He does, on occasion, comment on the lack of support and suitable equipment. Several times he asks for replacement boots and clothing for his team; even for paper so that he can write his reports to the Department. Larmer himself had to borrow a pair of boots at one stage. Larmer, and presumably other surveyors, had problems on occasion with the convicts in his team. He mentions (ref 8) one convict, John Leonard by name, who
"became so troublesome and useless to me and repeatedly annoyed me by complaining of the want of slop clothing that I was under the necessity of separating him from my party."
Slop clothing seems to have been the term used for clothing for wear in the bush. The convict was sent to Parramatta.

In 1861 at the age of 52 James Larmer married a widow named Martha Rachael Stoyles - 15 years younger than him (ref 9). Her husband had been the licensee of the Royal Hotel. In 1863 a daughter, Maritana, was born - JL was 54 by this time! (ref 10). A second daughter, Maude, was born in 1867 (ref 11).

As stated earlier James Larmer was 77 when he died. His grave can be found in the cemetery at Braidwood. In addition to his name the headstone commemorates his wife Martha who died on the 11th of November 1899 aged 75 (ref 12), and their daughter Maude who died on the 9th of December 1916 aged 49. The image here shows the Larmer headstone in Braidwood cemetery.

Bibliography

Andrews, A.E.J. Major Mitchell's Map 1834 (1992) Blubber Head Press, Hobart {ISBN 0 908528 23 X}
Ellis, N. (author/publisher) Braidwood, Dear Braidwood (1997) revised edition {ISBN 0 7316 5589 3}
Foster, W.C. Sir Thomas Livingston Mitchell and his world 1792-1855 (1985) The Institution of Surveyors NSW {ISBN 0 909 761 11 6}
Mitchell, T.L. Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia Vol 1 (1838) Boone, London
Snedden, R. (author/publisher) Sassafras the parish of sixty farms (1995) {ISBN 0 646 25982 2}

References

  1. State Records NSW: Colonial Secretary: Vessels Arrived - 1829
  2. State Records NSW: Surveyors Letters: James Larmer; [Reel 3073 letter 28 July 1830]
  3. Andrews, A.E.J., Major Mitchell's Map 1834, p27
  4. NSW BDM 1886/7636 (Larmer's death)
  5. Mitchell, T.L. Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia Vol 1
  6. State Records NSW: Surveyors Letters: James Larmer; [Reel 3073 letter of 3 August 1840]
  7. State Records NSW: Surveyors Letters: James Larmer; [Reel 3073 letter of 10 January 1842]
  8. State Records NSW: Surveyors Letters: James Larmer; [Reel 3073 letter of 29 October 1836]
  9. NSW BDM 1861/1501 (Larmer's marriage to Martha Rachael Stoyles)
  10. NSW BDM 1863/6052 (birth of daughter - Maritana)
  11. NSW BDM 1867/7427 (birth of daughter - Maude)
  12. NSW BDM 1899/122355 (death of Martha R. Larmer)

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