A look into a curiously named area of early New South Wales and some of the people that forged its future…
The Field of Mars survives today via the Parish of the Field of Mars, The Field of Mars Cemetery, Mars Creek and the Field of Mars Reserve, a nature reserve on the shores of Buffalo Creek. Of these only the Reserve and the Cemetery are within the bounds of the original Field of Mars, with the Parish only covers the area just west of the original Field of Mars next to Parramatta. In the early days of the Colony of New South Wales, the Field of Mars supplied the colony with much needed food and fresh water sources, allowing for the further development and expansion of Sydney and its suburbs in the future, and lives on as a functioning suburb in Marsfield.
Field of Mars, Early Governors and Settlers
In 1796 nine marines from His Majesty’s Royal Navy were given grants of land on the north shore of Sydney Harbour, halfway between the main settlement at the Rocks and Parramatta. The area was referred to as the "Field of Mars", after the Roman god of war, supposedly to reflect the martial background of the first settlers. As roads and streets were gradually built, this theme stuck as several major roads were given names of conflicts or battles the British military had participated in. Examples of this are Agincourt and Waterloo roads.
Governors and the Field of Mars
Governors had a significant part to play in the formation of the Field of Mars, firstly by the granting of land to military officers and then to convicts who had served their sentences, displayed good behaviour and had necessary skills.Governors in Sydney's early history had great influence over the Field of Mars, as it was a key grazing area for livestock and farmland for crops and was key to the Colony becoming self-sustaining.
Arthur Philip (26 Jan, 1788 to 10 Dec, 1792) had the area surveyed for viability and granted land allotments to the nine Marines who were the first settlers of the Field of Mars and is said to be the one who named it. Over time, more settlers were granted land, including both ex-marines and ex-convicts who had been granted freedom. With the Field of Mars growing in population and importance, The Field of Mars Common was set up by Governor King, who sought to ensure that this area of the colony remained peaceful and productive.
William Bligh (13 Aug, 1806 to 26 Jan, 1808) claimed several land grants in the Field of Mars, in order to attempt to erode the power base of John Macarthur, an influential officer of the New South Wales Corps and settler. Macarthur had grown rich and influential, due to his manufacture and distribution of key goods, including rum. The Field of Mars at this time had a seedy reputation and was known as a place full of squatters and unsavoury illegal practices. Public drunkenness thanks to the widely available and cheap rum had become quite a problem.
Lachlan Macquarie (1 Jan, 1810 to 1 Dec, 1821) saw the Field of Mars as a place of enormous opportunity that needed infrastructure to thrive. Macquarie expelled the New South Wales Corps, replacing them with his own troops and worked to solve the issues that were rife within the colony and the Field of Mars in particular. Macquarie's detailed surveying and planning helped the Field of Mars to become a more settled area and ensured its transition from farmland and bush to what it has become today, a thriving and rich residential area with urbanised centres, parks and gardens.
Early Settlers in the Field of Mars
John Macarthur- One of the most famous and influential settlers in the history of the Field of Mars. While he is remembered for being a wool magnate, he made a large amount of money through the manufacture and sale of rum and was a key player in the Rum Rebellion (26 January 1808 – 1 January 1810). He held great political and economic influence both in the colony and in London. While he was summoned to London to account for his actions, he was able to use his influence to tie up judicial proceedings and returned to Australia once charges were dropped in 1817 under the provisor that he should "in no way associate in public affairs".
Maria Ann Smith (Granny Smith)- Arrived in New South Wales in 1838 and with her husband, were able to gain employment on orchards owned by a settler near Kissing Point, at the edge of the Field of Mars Common. The legend claims she found a seedling growing by a creek on her property, possibly the remains of some Tasmanian grown French crab-apples. The seedling was cultivated, and her descendants bought lands for orchards, with Maria Ann being remembered as Granny Smith and the apples taking the same name. Eastwood still holds the Granny Smith Festival each year. The Granny Smith apple over the course of the twentieth century was to become a major Australian export.
James Squire- A First Fleet convict, James Squire was granted land at Kissing Point and was the first person to cultivate hops effectively in the new colony. His brewery and taphouse, The Malting Shovel, became a popular stopover between Sydney and Paramatta. As a freed or emancipated convict, he became a voice for the emancipist class, who were a growing part of the population. James Squires' name lives on, appropriately as one of Australia's most popular brands of craft beer (4-5 million litres are produced each year), with the Malt Shovel Brewery established in Camperdown in 1988 taking its name from James Squire's original Malting Shovel brewery and taphouse.
The Field of Mars: A Present Past?
The name Field of Mars is today preserved in the naming of the suburb of Marsfield and some of the names of the earliest inhabitants are those that we are familiar with today and can be found in supermarkets and bottle-shops. Whilst the names of the streets in Marsfield allude to battles and victories of the British. The past quite simply seeps into the present awaiting explanation that can reveal Australia's rich history.
With thanks to the Ryde District Historical Society, who were able to provide a wealth of information and confirm several facts according to their records. They gave us an insight into the rewards and challenges of researching and preserving the history of the Field of Mars.
Dictionaryofsydney.org. 2021. King, Philip Gidley 1758-1808, in The Dictionary of Sydney. [online] Available at: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/person/king_philip_gidley_1758_1808 [Accessed 14 April 2021].
HistoryMatrix. 2021. Bligh – HistoryMatrix. [online] Available at: https://historymatrix.wordpress.com/tag/bligh/ [Accessed 14 April 2021].
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Parliament.nsw.gov.au. 2021. 1810 to 1821 - Governor Lachlan Macquarie. [online] Available at: https://<www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/about/Pages/1810-to-1821-Governor-Lachlan-Macquarie.aspx [Accessed 14 April 2021].
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Dl.nfsa.gov.au. 2021. Bligh, Macarthur and The Rum Rebellion - Australian History, Colonisation. [online] Available at: https://dl.nfsa.gov.au/module/1621/; [Accessed 19 April 2021].
Adb.anu.edu.au. 2021. Biography - Arthur Phillip - Australian Dictionary of Biography. [online] Available at: https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/phillip-arthur-2549 [Accessed 14 April 2021].
Dictionaryofsydney.org. 2021. Marsfield, in The Dictionary of Sydney. [online] Available at: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/marsfield [Accessed 2 April 2021].
Sanderson, C., 2018. The Suburb of Marsfield: A brief history in words and images. 1st ed. Ryde: Ryde District Historical Society, pp.3-4,8.
Shaw, K., 2002. Historic Ryde. 1st ed. Ryde: Ryde District Historical Society, pp.114-115.