The Early Years: The First Liverpool Council

During the early days of European settlement, Liverpool was fertile ground ready for new growth. From the first European settlers at the turn of the 19th Century to the birth of Liverpool as a municipality, the forests and plains of the local area were full of personality and rich in opportunity. Let's look at the history, legislation, and individuals that helped define the Liverpool of today.

The information in this article is adapted from Leading Liverpool: Alderman and Councillors through the Years by Beverley Donald.

First Nations People of Liverpool

The traditional custodians of Liverpool are the Cabrogal Clan of the Darug Nation. Long before European settlement, the lands of Liverpool were also accessed by peoples of the Tharawal and Gandangara Nations. Traditional owners had been living, hunting, and fishing in the area when the first European settlers arrived in 1798. Setters started living on the banks of the Hawkesbury and Georges Rivers, and members of the Cabrogal Clan were gradually displaced with force.

Early European Settlement

Local government may have said to have begun in Liverpool on 7 November 1810, which was the date Governor Lachlan Macquarie declared the area "fit for the purpose of a town". Pockets of European people lived in the area for years, but the town did not grow from an existing settlement. Unlike most other cities at the time, Liverpool was specifically chosen by Assistant Surveyor James Meehan before settlers moved in. After the location was laid out, systems were put in place to support home building and maintain social order.

New residents also started building churches, military barracks, and a schoolhouse, with activity increasing when the road to Sydney was completed in 1814. Law and order were crucial during the early days, with the upper story of the schoolhouse serving as a courthouse and Thomas Moore appointed magistrate for the local area. He was tasked with developing the town over the next decade, with the Colonial Secretary asking him to encourage "sober industries tradesmen" to build homes and settle in the area.

To make the grade, new residents had to provide a satisfactory testimonial of honesty and sobriety from their previous location. Each suitable person was given an acre of land on a 21-year lease and a cow from the government herd. New settlers were allowed to graze their cattle on the town common, which was now joined by a hospital and gaol and several inns and stores. By 1828, the population of Liverpool town and district had grown to 949, and by 1841 it had risen to 2008 in the district and 690 in the town itself.

NSW Legislation and Municipalities

The New South Wales Legislative Council was formed in 1823, which laid the groundwork for local governments across the state. Several Acts were passed, many of which were influential in shaping Liverpool. The Impounding Act was the first, followed by the Dividing Fences Act of 1828 and the Cattle Slaughtering and Dog Nuisance Acts of 1830. Further Acts were listed and passed, dealing with everything from buildings and roads to water supply, markets, and police.

The New South Wales Constitution Act of 1842 set up the first official Legislative Council, which comprised 12 appointed and 24 elected members. This Act was also responsible for setting up district councils, with Liverpool proclaimed as one of 28 councils by Governor Gipps in 1843. The District Council of Liverpool was formalised a few years later in 1848 through a charter created by Governor Fitzroy. Along with other districts, Liverpool faced many difficulties during these early years, including the inability to raise rates among residents. Councillors and citizens were forced to sell their goods to help maintain police and pay debts.

Representative government finally came to New South Wales in 1855, which laid the groundwork for the incorporation of Liverpool. The Municipality Act was passed in 1858, and 13 areas were incorporated in 1859. Liverpool was not a priority, however, with the closest municipalities at the time being Redfern and Wollongong. Another eight areas were incorporated in 1860, along with 16 more between 1861 and 1867. All these municipalities were located in inner suburbs or country districts, with Liverpool continually missing out. While nearby Parramatta became a municipality in 1861, Liverpool had to wait until 1872.

New South Wales was expanding fast, with a new Municipalities Act passed in 1867. Liverpool was one of 40 new areas incorporated in the years following this Act. Local residents fought to be recognised, and while it meant paying rates, 148 people petitioned the move. During the early days, roughly £1,400 was collected in rates annually, which was enough to start kerbing, guttering, and bridge-building projects around the town. Despite this work, the area struggled with bad roads and unemployment for many years. Nevertheless, residents were already looking forward to a time when Liverpool would become a suburb of Sydney.

The First Liverpool Council

There were nine councillors in the first Liverpool Council: Richard Sadleir, Frank Paine, Thomas Wearne, George Whiteford, John Hatton, Peter Taylor, Gilbert McHugh, Robert Douglas Graham, and Thomas Marsden. Three Aldermen were elected each year, with many of these men re-elected on numerous occasions. While data on some individuals is scarce, some information does exist on the most influential Aldermen.

Richard Sadleir - Liverpool's First Mayor

Born in Cork in 1794, Richard Sadleir spent his early years in Ireland during the Irish Rebellion. These years were very formative, with his childhood marked by nearby battles and burials and multiple accidents from misadventure. The Battle of Trafalgar influenced young Richard to join the navy, and a few years later, he travelled to the UK, Canada, and America. He studied surgery, discovered the Bible, and became a preacher known by some as "mad Sadleir ".

After returning to Ireland, Richard helped local families migrate to America but decided to book passage to Australia. After arriving, he spent six months exploring the country and living with several First Nations groups. Once he settled down, Richard was appointed catechist for the Upper Hunter, where he held services on stations and preached to chain gangs. Richard was an early champion for justice for First Nations people, speaking of protection and remuneration. In addition, Richard suggested educating First Nations children and wrote the book Aborigines of Australia in 1883.

After suffering an injury, Richard became the catechist at the Male Orphan School and St Luke's Church of England in Liverpool. He held the latter role from 1829 to 1851, taking a wife and having five children while he became increasingly interested in local affairs. He was invited to stand for the state seat of Vincent (Braidwood) in 1856 but failed by six votes. He stood again after moving, this time for the Legislative Assembly for the seat of Lower Hunter. He remained in this position until 1864, returning to Liverpool when it became a municipality and becoming the first mayor in 1872.

Liverpool's First Aldermen

Along with Richard Sadleir, eight Councillors made up the inaugural Liverpool Council. Information on six individuals is included, with little known about Robert Douglas Graham or Thomas Marsden.

Frank Paine

Frank Paine travelled to Liverpool in 1866 after spending his early life in Sussex, England. Frank quickly became a successful businessman, with his commercial endeavors augmented by public life. He served on the first Liverpool Council from 1872 to 1876 and was re-elected in 1878. Unfortunately, Frank suffered a nasty accident involving a bull later that year and went on to work as a butcher on Macquarie Street.

Thomas Wearne

Born in Australia in 1835, Thomas Wearne was an ironmonger who gained several government contracts in NSW. Thomas was an Alderman on the first Liverpool Municipal Council, having been elected by popular vote before returning in 1873. He moved back to Glebe in the 1880s, where he was a member of the Glebe Borough Council before being forced into bankruptcy after a dispute with government officials.

George Whiteford

George Whiteford was Liverpool's postmaster during the early days of 1868. In fact, the local post office moved to his store on Macquarie Street. George was an alderman on the first Liverpool Council and remained there until 1874. After running the biggest store in town and providing many years of public service, he died in Liverpool in 1876.

John Hatton

John Hatton was born in 1842 and married Jane Scrivener in 1874. John was a trustee of the General Cemetery in Liverpool and served on the first Liverpool Council. While he was not re-elected for a second year, he did return in 1878 before resigning the year after.

Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor was a watchmaker and early public figure in the Liverpool area. He was one of the organisers of the petition that called for the incorporation of Liverpool as a municipality, which made him a natural fit for the first council. Peter served for a single year before dying at the young age of 48.

Gilbert McHugh

Gilbert McHugh was born in Castlederg, Ireland. He was a business owner in Liverpool for 35 years and the oldest member of the inaugural council. Gilbert remained a council member until he died in 1878 and was "much respected by all for his honest and straightforward conduct ".

Early Councils

During the early years, councils had the power to borrow and levy rates for purposes, including lighting and building projects. The Municipal Lighting Act of 1873 concerned the maintenance and construction of works related to lighting. A second Act was created in 1884 to construct gas works related to street lighting and domestic use. Liverpool's first gas works was created in Speed Street in 1890, with the first streetlamp a cause for community celebration.

An Act in 1888 allowed council to borrow money for building projects. However, Liverpool Town Hall had already been built by 1881, with the entertainment section at the rear recognised as a "place of vaudeville, drama, comedy and cultural shows ". Council offices were located at the front of the building, including the mayor's room and council chambers. The town hall hosted numerous meetings and special events during the early days, as Councillors organised projects, allocated funds, and laid the groundwork for the Liverpool of today.