1846: St Patrick’s land grant

Grant of St Patrick’s site, dated 31 March 1846
Grant of St Patrick’s site, dated 31 March 1846. Photo: Hamilton Lund
By Vivienne Keely CHF

The grant for St Patrick’s Parramatta, Lot 1, was made in 1846. Why did it take such a long time when land had been allocated to the Catholic Church in the early 1820s?

The main reason was that the whole system of grants and leases was not well regulated.

Some people held land by means of ‘permissive occupancy’. Getting some order into the recording of grants and leases was one of the priorities of Governor Macquarie.

A major intervention came in May 1823 when Macquarie announced, by proclamation, that those who held land in towns could obtain a lease for 21 years.

Land holders or occupiers who could afford to pay 21 years 'quit rent' or had spent more than £1,000 on improving their land, that is building something on it, were entitled to a grant. The leases expired in the 1840s.

In the meantime, successive surveyors were busy measuring lots to ensure that the leases and grants were the same in area as that recorded in the surveyors’ books from many years earlier.

Brownrigg surveyed Parramatta and submitted his survey in 1845. When St Patrick’s land was granted the following year, James Pye was the largest individual land owner on the site and held most of the site the Diocese is set to purchase, the area bordered by Victoria Road, then Pennant Street, and the present O’Connell Street.

The Cathedral and old King’s School land were part of one site granted to Governor Bligh and called Mount Bethem in honour of Bligh’s wife, Elizabeth, whose maiden name was Betham.

James Pye was a local lad, born in Toongabbie in 1801. He followed his father into fruit growing, grew oranges in Seven Hills, gradually adding to holdings by acquiring orchards in the Field of Mars, North Rocks, and Seven Hills and came to be recognised as an expert orchardist.

An early convert to climate change, in evidence to a government committee inquiring into disease in fruit trees, Pye held vehemently that the outbreak of disease was due to a change in climate.

In the elections in 1856, Pye was elected to the Legislative Assembly but was defeated two years later by George Oakes. Pye alleged election fraud claiming that voters had been intimidated and that £100 had been paid to the credit of the Speaker of the House. The subsequent inquiry found against Pye but averred that his appeal was not vexatious.

Turning his attention to municipal government, Pye served as alderman at Parramatta from 1862-1884, with a term as Mayor of Parramatta in 1866-67. He did much to promote education and to secure a water supply for Parramatta.

Just after Christmas 1884, he died as the result of an accident – an out-of-control horse and cart knocked him from his horse. He was buried in St John’s cemetery.

Sources: Online Australian Dictionary of Biography, Parliament of NSW website, St Patrick’s Cathedral Revised CMP, 2001