Excavation of the site took place between October 2015 and March 2016 as part of the 3 Parramatta Square Development for Parramatta City Council. Casey & Lowe undertook the excavation of historic-period archaeology while Comber Consultants tested for Aboriginal remains.
The site was located in savanna grassland where eucalypts and sclerophyll shrubs were uncommon and casuarinas or she-oaks and ferns lined the local creekline running through the western edge of the site. The presence of fossil pollens of hornwort and fungal spores is likely to reflect Indigenous burning practices.
The creekline crossed through the site with higher ground to the southeast, meaning all rain water flowed to the lower ground of the site.
The Burramatta clan of the Darug lived at Parramatta before the British came in 1788. The Burramatta spoke an inland dialect of the Darug language. Parramatta is part of their traditional hunting and fishing grounds. Ducks, mullet, crayfish, shellfish and turtles lived in the freshwater streams feeding into the Parramatta River.
Shellfish remains found in Aboriginal middens include: rock and mud oysters, cockles, mud whelks, winkles and horn shells. Aboriginal people travelled in canoes made from bark of the bangalay tree (E bitryoides). The men used spears and the women shell hooks to catch food from the river.
Within the roadway at the western side of the site was a c.1840 section of the Town Drain built by convicts. There are earlier sections to the north which date to the 1820s. The drain passed through central Parramatta allowing water from the once flood-prone land of Parramatta Square to flow into the Parramatta River.
HOUSE 4 (C.1819-C.1883)
3 Parramatta Square includes lots 28 and 30. On 30 June 1823 John Thorn, the Chief Constable of Parramatta, received a lease on Lot 30, and possibly lived here with his wife Jane Matilda and their six children.
When John Thorn died in August 1838 he and his family were living at another property in George Street, Parramatta. The house on Lot 30 was probably occupied by tenants. Later owners of this site were George Jenkins Cavill (1845-1860), then John and Harriet Holland (1864-1898) who left the property to their children.
The remains of the c.1819 house were interesting – it was a timber house, possibly of slab construction with a stone fireplace and a small brick well. The surviving timbers from house were red gum (Eucalyptus parramattensis), red ironbark (Eucalyptus crebra) and grey ironbark (Eucalyptus siderophloia). The house was later extended with further rooms to the east and by 1858 had a considerable garden and outbuildings (see 1858 plan).
JOHN AND HARRIET HOLLAND HOUSE
John Holland was convicted for highway robbery in July 1839 and arrived in NSW on 14 July 1840. He received a sentence of 15 years. Harriet had arrived free and married John Holland when she was about 20 years old in 1849. John Holland had a publican’s licence by 1854 for the Star Inn, Church Street. He and Harriet lived above the Star Inn, probably with other family members.
Harriet Holland was widowed in 1874. She was operating the Star Inn in Church Street between 1874 and the 1880s and then moved to Macquarie Street, in the villa called Cranbrook, on the western side of the site. Harriet died in her new Macquarie Street villa on 1 May 1898, aged 68, and was buried with John, her son John Henry Holland (5 months old when he died in 1867) and her parents in St John’s Cemetery.
To create Cranbrook the original cottage on Lot 30 was demolished in c.1883. On the eastern side of the same allotment two semi-detached villas were also built (1895 map). These were all demolished in the 1960s for the modern Post Office building.
Harriet built her villa and two terrace houses to provide rental income, which when added to the profits from the Star Inn, created considerable revenue for her and her family. She had transcended her early life and became the successful matriarch of a family. She did not leave all the land to her son (John Alexander 1870-1939) but shared it with her two daughters, Harriet (1869-1955) and Edith Emma (1873-1932).
The focus of the archaeological work is on the excavation and recording of the site so we have a detailed understanding of what was discovered and its significance.
We found considerable evidence for the houses that Harriet built and which her daughters and son inherited. When the original c.1819 house was demolished in c.1883 the whole area was backfilled to raise it 0.5m to 1m above the flood zone. The new houses had deep footings made of well-made bricks with heart-shaped frogs. The variety of coloured tiles from the fireplaces indicate the expense to which Harriet went building her villa, Cranbrook.
Study of the artefacts lost below the floorboards and discarded in the yards of the houses will help reveal more about Harriet’s family and other residents of the site about whom we have little historical information.