Solomon Wiseman and the history of Wisemans Ferry

An interesting character from my family tree is a man named Solomon Wiseman, an English convict who made a very successful life for himself here in New South Wales.

Solomon was born on the 16th April 1777 in Cobham, Kent. Wiseman was a merchant who also worked for the British Government carrying spies across the English Channel to France. In 1805 he was  convicted at the Old Bailey of stealing 704 lbs of brazil wood. He was sentenced to death but had his sentence commuted to transportation for life to Australia.

Along with his wife Jane (nee Middleton, whom he married in 1799) and their two children William (1801-1831) and Richard (1806-1856), Solomon arrived in Sydney aboard the Alexander on the 20th August 1806.

Solomon was fortunate to be granted conditional liberty, which essentially meant that he was free to serve out his sentence under the supervision of his wife. In 1810 he was granted a Ticket of Leave and in 1812 he was given an Absolute Pardon. He then started an extremely successful business empire as a merchant which included shipping coal from Newcastle, wheat from the Hawkesbury region and timber from the Shoalhaven region. In 1811 he had launched his sloop the Hawkesbury Packet which he used to bring cedar from Port Stephens.

In 1817 he was granted 100 acres on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in Lower Portland Head, which became known as Wisemans Ferry. In 1823 he was granted a further 200 acres here. On this land he built an inn known as the Sign of the Packet in 1821 and in 1826 he built an elaborate family home known as Cobham Hall (now the Wisemans Inn Hotel).

The following is taken from the monument to Solomon at Wisemans Ferry (courtesy of Hawkesbury on the Net)…

In the early 1820’s Wiseman shrewdly discovered the government’s intentions to build the colony’s first road between Sydney and the Hunter Valley near his land grant. Wiseman took it upon himself to convince the authorities that a route through his land was the best. With success for Wiseman the road building commenced in 1826 with two road gangs being located on either side of the Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry . In 1827 Solomon Wiseman received the lucrative contract to supply all provisions to these gangs, and later that year the licence to operate a ferry to transport people and stock across the river. The original ferry crossing was 2km downstream from its present crossing, but was moved in 1829 when the Devine’s Hill ascent was chosen as the new route for the Great North Road. The current ferry crossing is the oldest in Australia’s history.

Solomon and Jane had four more children after their arrival in Australia – John (1809-1855), Thomas (1811-1855), Mary (1813-1872) and Sarah (1816-1902).

Jane died at the age of 51 on the 20th July 1821 at Portland Head after a long illness.

Solomon married Sophia Warner (nee Williams) on the 1st November 1826 at Wilberforce. Sophia was the widow of one of his employees. They stayed married until his death on the 28th November 1838. He was buried at his property with first wife Jane and later reinterred at the Church  of St Mary Magdalene. Sadly, his vault was broken into and his coffin vandalised. What was left of Solomon was then buried at the cemetery at Wisemans Ferry. Sophia returned to England in 1841 and died in London in 1870.

Portrait of Solomon Wiseman

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Filed under Australian history, Convicts, Pioneers

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