Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Howe, John (1774–1852)

by Nancy Gray

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

John Howe (1774-1852), settler, was born probably at Redbourn, Hertfordshire, England, son of John How and his wife Mary, née Roberts. Soundly educated and, by his own statement, brought up to husbandry, he worked in a grocery business in London while waiting for a passage to New South Wales, where he proposed to become a teacher. With his wife Frances, née Ward, and daughter Mary he arrived in the Coromandel I in June 1802, and received a grant of 100 acres (40 ha) at Mulgrave Place on the Hawkesbury River. Frances died three months later and was buried at Parramatta. Howe married Jane, a daughter of James Raworth Kennedy, at St John's, Parramatta, on 13 May 1811.

Although retaining his grant until 1813 Howe showed little interest in farming. He succeeded Andrew Thompson as licensed auctioneer at Windsor in 1811 and by his successful management of the sales of Thompson's property earned the lasting favour of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. With James McGrath he contracted in 1813 to complete and repair the road from Sydney to Windsor and, for Thompson's executors, to build a toll-bridge, known for many years as Howe's Bridge, over South Creek at Windsor. In 1815 the partners enlarged the Windsor wharf and a year later began another for the government. As chief constable at Windsor from 1814 to 1821 and as coroner during the next seven years Howe's record was one of honest, reliable, if unspectacular, service.

Encouraged by Macquarie, Howe left Windsor on 24 October 1819 with a party of five white men and two Aboriginals, hoping to discover a trafficable route from the Hawkesbury to the Hunter River. Part of the route had been traversed in 1817 by William Parr and in 1818 by Benjamin Singleton, both of whom set out from the Hawkesbury. It was common knowledge that convicts escaping from the Coal River settlement (Newcastle) made their way overland to the Hawkesbury, but no through road had yet been established. Howe succeeded in reaching the Hunter near Doyle's Creek on 5 November 1819, discovering much fine grazing land, but returned dissatisfied with the route. A second expedition, with thirteen white men and two natives under Howe's command, left Windsor late in February 1820 and, following the expert advice of the native guides, Howe mapped a route which is now the Bulga Road. On 15 March he reached the Hunter River near the present site of Whittingham and followed its course as far as Maitland before returning to the Hawkesbury. Macquarie rewarded him with a licence to graze his flocks on the land he had discovered at St Patrick's Plains, and with a grant of 700 acres (283 ha) later named Redbourneberry which Howe selected near the present site of Singleton. An additional 500-acre (202 ha) grant was made in 1824. Howe left Windsor in 1839 and retired to a small farm, Raworth, near Morpeth, where he remained until his death on 19 December 1852. He was buried in St James's churchyard, Morpeth. His wife Jane died at Warkworth on 1 January 1859, aged 75, survived by seven of their nine children.

John Howe's name and that of his first wife, Frances Ward, are inscribed on a tablet, commemorating its founders, in the Presbyterian Church at Ebenezer. Howe's Park in Singleton, once part of the Redbourneberry estate, and Howe's Swamp, Howe's Mountain and Howe's Valley, along the Bulga Road, perpetuate the memory of this worthy man.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 3, 10
  • J. Steele, Early Days of Windsor (Syd, 1916)
  • B. D. Beveridge, ‘The Howe Family's Australian Associations’, Australian Genealogist, vol 5, part 1, Jan-Mar 1945, pp 5-7
  • H. A. MacLeod Morgan, ‘The Bulga or Coal River: Australia's First North Road, its History and its Pioneers’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 44, part 4, 1958, pp 185-221
  • John Howe journal and papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Nancy Gray, 'Howe, John (1774–1852)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/howe-john-2205/text2855, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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