The property was selected by Edward Gostwyck Cory around 1830. He and colleague William Dangar had earlier squatted on land along the Peel River near Tamworth, but found themselves ousted by aggressive land exchanges pursued by the fledgling Australian Agricultural Company.
Prospecting for new land, the pair climbed onto the New England tableland and pegged out sheep stations - Terrible Vale, Salisbury Plains, Palmerston - whose names continue.
Cory quickly sold Gostwyck, named after his grandfather, to William Dangar, who by the late 1840s owned 200,000 acres (81,000 ha) of New England grazing country. Gostwyck wasn't by then part of this empire: in 1834, William sold the property to his brother, Henry, assistant surveyor to explorer John Oxley.
The earliest picture of Gostwyck came from a government survey in 1848: 50,000 acres (20,200 ha) carrying 60 horses, 640 cattle and 20,000 sheep.
By the time "The Pastoral Review" visited in 1912-13, Gostwyck was about half its original size, but now shore more than 30,000 grown sheep.
This "beautifully wooled" flock had by then benefited from nearly 60 years of stud breeding.Henry Dangar founded the Gostwyck stud in 1854 with the importation of 28 rams from a Herr Gadegast in Saxony.
Initially there was pandemonium as buildings were ransacked to cries of "Death or Liberty". Two English convicts dragged the Hills District flogger, Robert Duggan from under his bed. The English convict George Harrington beat the flogger unconscious. A constable was saved from a musket ball in the face when the musket of John Brannon misfired. Another constable was saved in similar circumstances when Jonathon Place's musket also misfired.
Cunningham gathered the rebels and dressed them down for the lack of disciplined behaviour. The rebels then went from farm to farm on their way to Constitution Hill at Parramatta gathering firearms, supplies and drinking any liqour they found. The looting of farms gave the rebels over 180 swords, muskets and pistols. In 1804 this was close to one third of the colony's entire armoury.
The Rebel March To Constitution Hill
Within an hour of Cavenah firing his hut word had got to Parramatta of the rebellion and by 11.00 pm Governor King in Sydney was aware of the situation. The air in Parramatta and Sydney were soon full of drums and gun shots as the military and militia were called to duty. In Parramatta Samuel Marsden evacuated the town by boat with his and John MacArthur's family. Marsden was an obvious target as his tyranny and penchant for flogging had earnt the enmity of a good number of convicts.
In Sydney Major George Johnston rounded up a New South Wales Corps contingent of twenty-nine soldiers and forced marched them through the night to Parramatta. Governor King immediately set off for Parramatta where one of his first actions was to declare martial law. From the Sydney Gazette;
I do therefore proclaim the Districts of Parramatta, Castle Hill, Toongabbie, Prospect, Seven and Baulkham Hills, Hawkesbury and Nepean to be in a STATE of REBELLION; and to establish Martial Law throughout those Districts.
Cunningham's plan involved torching the MacArthur property of "Elizabeth Farm" in order to draw the Parramatta garrison out of the town. Once this was done the rebels in Parramatta would rise up and set fire to the town as a signal. The Castle Hill rebels would gather at Constitution Hill and then raid the barracks for more arms and ammunition. From there the rebels would march to Windsor and join up with the rebels in the Hawkesbury before marching on Sydney.
At dawn on the 5th of March rebels were still straggling in to Constitution Hill. Phillip Cunningham and William Johnston were busy drilling the rebels on the hill while they were waiting for the signal from the uprising rebels in Parramatta. The signal never came. Cunningham's messages to the Parramatta and Windsor rebels had never gotten through. Cunningham decided rather than to face the garrison head on, that the rebels would head down the Hawkesbury Road [the current Old Windsor Road and Windsor Road] to Windsor to meet up with the rebels from the Hawkesbury.
The Australian Battle of Vinegar Hill
Major Johnston's group of twenty nine New South Wales Corps soldiers and fifty members of the "Active Defence" militia  pursued the rebels through Toongabbie and Sugar Loaf Hill until the soldiers were only a few miles away from the rebels. Major Johnston sent Father Dixon to the rebels in an effort to have Dixon convince the rebels to surrender. Mainly Johnston wanted Father Dixon to slow the rebels down so his foot soldiers could make up the few miles difference.
When Father Dixon failed to halt the rebels, Major Johnston and Trooper Anlezark rode to the rebels to have them take the Governors offer of clemency. After Major Johnston challenged the rebel leaders to come forward, Phillip Cunningham and William Johnston separated from the two hundred and thirty three rebels and spoke with the Major. It was agreed that Major Johnston would bring back Father Dixon to talk with them again.
This delay had given enough time for the New South Wales Corps soldiers and Militia to catch up to the rebels. When Major Johnston and Trooper Anlezark returned with Father Dixon they knew that their troops were not far behind and acted accordingly. Once again Phillip Cunningham and William Johnston walked out to meet them while the rebels formed ranks behind them. Lynette Ramsey Silver writes of the final confrontation between the rebel leaders and Major Johnston;
Finally, when the major asked them [the rebel leaders] what they really wanted, Cunningham replied 'Death or Liberty' adding (according to one account) the very practical request 'and a ship to take us home'.
With these words Major Johnston held a pistol to William Johnston's head and ordered him to move toward the soldiers and militia which had appeared over the rise. Anlezark did the same with Cunningham. Lynette Ramsey Silver writes of the start of the battle;
Major Johnston without any other preliminaries, ordered his men to charge and open fire. Over fifty armed civilians, a mounted trooper, and 29 military men (26 of whom were capable of firing 780 prepared rounds of ammunition in 10 to 15 minutes), were pitted against 233 rebels. The odds were technically with the rebels, but it was Enniscorthy's Vinegar Hill all over again. With machine like precision and the economy of movement that comes with practice and military training, the red-coated soldiers formed ranks and for 15 minutes carried out their duty precisely as ordered. Leaderless, caught completely unawares and totally unprepared, the rebels weakly returned the fire before fleeing in all directions.
The rebels were not as well armed nor as well trained as the New South Wales Corps soldiers. After the battle several prisoners were murdered by the soldiers and militia. Major Johnston rescued the lives of several rebels by threatening his troops with his pistol. In the distraction of all the firing William Johnston escaped his captor's attention and fled into the bush.
Cunningham was not so lucky and was struck by the sword of the burly Quartermaster Thomas Laycock. Cunningham fell to the ground unmoving. He was assumed dead and left behind as the soldiers rounded up the rebels. Amazingly Cunningham survived the blow and was picked up by soldiers the next day. In the official reports that followed the battle neither Major Johnston's actions or Laycock's were mentioned. During the short battle fifteen rebels had fallen.
The Aftermath; Hangings and Floggings
Governor Kings retribution for the rebellion was swift as he believed that the leaders had caused the others to follow. King believed that punishing the leaders heavily and quickly would pacify the convicts who had followed the rebel leaders. There were a considerable number of English convicts involved as well as free men like Charles Hill. King's decision meant that most of the rebels were let off. This was most likely a pragmatic decision as the captured rebels were still needed to work the Government Farm.
Phillip Cunningham was quickly hung from the staircase of the public store at Windsor on the 6th of March. The rest of the leaders were brought before a judicial panel. William Johnston who had surrendered to the authorities plead guilty. John Neale admitted he was in the rebel group. Jonathon Place denied all charges and the rest claimed they had been forced to participate in the rebellion. William Johnston and Samuel Humes as leaders in the rebellion were ordered hung in a public place and then for their bodies to be hung in chains. Lynette Ramsey Silver writes;
There are very old legends about the two 'hanging trees' at
Toongabbie. .. one on Toongabbie Hill and the other by Johnston's Bridge. It
is probable that the body of Samuel Humes was hanged on one of these two
trees. The Johnston's Bridge site is favoured, as it was by the main road to
the Hawkesbury and right in the centre of the Government Ground. ....
.... The body of Johnston was hanged in a small hollow on the road to Prospect where the road climbs from Parramatta and then descends, shortly after leaving the township.
There were nine executed including the three above. Charles Hill and Jonathon Place were hung at Parramatta, John Neale and George Harrington were hung at Castle Hill while John Brannan and Timothy Hogan were hung in Sydney. Many of the remaining leaders were flogged with either five hundred or two hundred lashes and then sent to the new colony at Coal River [Newcastle]. Father Dixon for his perceived part in the rebellion was made to put his hands on the raw and bloodied backs of the rebels flogged at Sydney as a grizzly reminder.
Gaoling and Exile
Finally the "United Irishman" Joseph Holt and "The Scottish Martyr" Maurice Margarot were arrested on suspicion of involvement. Holt had successfully skirted the issue of his involvement in each insurrection and rebellion to this point. He had managed to survive without being exiled to Norfolk Island but this time his luck was to run out. Holt was ultimately held partly culpable for the rebellion. It is still not known if he was involved in the rebellion, Silver wrote on Holt's involvement;
Holt was kept in gaol before being packed off to Norfolk Island on 19 April, on the instructions of the magistrates who decided that, although there was insufficient evidence to convict him of treason before a criminal court, 'the tranquility of the colony' required such a measure. On the balance of probabilities it seems that the slippery Joseph Holt had once again escaped the attentions of the executioner.
Margarot also joined Holt in exile at Norfolk Island. Other suspected seditionists in the Sydney colony that were not openly involved in the rebellion were also sent to Norfolk Island without proof of their involvement.
Reasons For Convict Rebellion
Unlike the Eureka Stockade which achieved a Chartist agenda, or the "Blood on the Wattle" stand-off in 1932 against increasing Federal oversight, there was no claim made by the rebels of 1804 to a higher order of liberty. The words, "Death or Liberty" popularised by the firebrand orator, Patrick Henry in 1775 were heard several times during the rebellion. But the rebels made no greater claim to liberty.
There was undoubted tyranny in the New South Wales colony. There was also discrimination from the Georgian view of the criminal underclass and Irish underclass. This was especially true in the manner in which the New South Wales Governors dealt with the Irish leaders. Robert Hughes writes on the view of the Irish by the New South Wales authorities;
The Irish, on arriving in Australia, were treated as a special class. As bearers of Jacobin contagion, as ideologically and physically dangerous traitors, they were oppressed with special vigilance and unusually hard punishments. They formed Australia's first white minority. From the outset, the Irish in Australia saw themselves as a doubly colonized people.
At the Magistrate level, Samuel Marsden's zeal for the lash was often used with little respect for English common law. The New South Wales Corps practiced a brand of cronyism. Monopolising the rum trade and consolidating a great deal of land and stock wealth with their officers. Robert Hughes writes on the New South Wales Corps attitude to convicts;
Their [New South Wales Corps] junta mentality fostered two assumptions. The first was that none of them ... believed that naval governors were ever on their side. The second was that the convicts were there to be used, not reformed. Both caused a rapid hardening of attitudes against convicts, the lumpenproletariat of New South Wales. The New South Wales Corps stiffly resisted any effort to criticize, or even inspect, its treatment of convicts.
While the New South Wales Corps, Marsden and the Governor were targets of the rebellion they weren't the ultimate focus of the rebellion. This lack of focus makes the rebellion appear as a knee-jerk reaction to the convicts being exiled half a planet away from their home and under the tough and rough conditions of the penal colony. A situation where their incorrigibleness was uniformly assumed and their lack of dignity guaranteed by their treatment.
Many of the convicts wanted a ship home, away from this harsh, hot, alien land with its odd plants and animals. Away from their convict life and the immediate Colonial authorities. The Irish in particular attempted many escapes with the hope of catching or stealing a ship to the green and cold Ireland. Lynette Ramsey Silver concludes that a ship home was the main focus of the rebellion.
Carol Carruthers, Curator of the Hawkesbury Museum has an alternative view. The Irish leaders did not see English authority as legitimate in Ireland and were not prepared to recognize its legitimacy in Australia either. To the Irish Defenders and the United Irishmen, all English authority was illegitimate, unjust and their natural state was to resist it. The actions of the Irish political prisoners between 1800 and 1804 are consistent with this world view.
Ongoing Debate Over The Location Of Vinegar Hill
Vinegar Hill was not a formal location in 1804. The battle between the rebels and the soldiers became commonly known as the "Battle of Vinegar Hill" after the Irish battle in 1798. Common usage of the name Vinegar Hill began to appear in the 1810's and 1830's in the Rouse Hill area. But there is no formal Vinegar Hill on a map.
The road the rebels and soldiers travelled in 1804 was the Hawkesbury Road. This is the modern day four lane highway from Seven Hills roundabout, down Old Windsor Road and along Windsor Road. There have been competing thoughts for the location of Vinegar Hill. Originally it was thought to be Rouse Hill but Australian Historian George Mackanass challenged this in the 1950's. Marking the location of Vinegar Hill as the crossroads between Windsor Road and Schofields Road. In the 1980's several other local historians came to the same conclusion as did the NSW Commissioner for the Department of Planning and the Environment in 1982.
Lynette Ramsay Silver points to the letter of Major Johnston which talks of his troops turning at the 'Government Stock Fence' to the second hill from Half Way Pond. By her reckoning the Government Stock Fence is where Old Windsor Road and Windsor Road meet today and Old Ponds Creek is known today as Second Ponds Creek. To Silver the location of the battle is approximately at the crossroads of Schofields Road and Windsor Road. Silver writes;
The area occupied by Castlebrook Lawn Cemetery satisfies the criteria in every respect.In 1988 a sculpture commemorating the battle was dedicated at Castlebrook Lawn Cemetery by former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam