Colonial Roads


Roads in the early days of Sydney

Grose reported to Dundas on 31st August, 1794, (H.R.A. series 1- vol.1-p.483) :

I have caused a very good road to be made from Sydney to the banks of the Hawkesbury, by the which we discovered the distance from this place by land is much less than we expected. An officer who is by no means considered as being particularly active undertook for a trifling wager to walk there from Sydney in nine hours, and with great ease to himself performed a journey in eight hours and two minutes which formerly required an exertion of some days to accomplish.
This road was basically on the same route followed by Old Windsor Road and Old Hawkesbury Road.

Governor Hunter, because of the deteriorating condition of the roads, issued a Government and General Order on 11th January, 1797, stating :

The necessity of having the roads between the different settlements in this colony made easy and convenient for travelling being obvious to every inhabitant, the Governor has considered it necessary to issue the following Order for having them put in good and perfect condition as early as possible: - All officers who have farms are to furnish two men for three days in the week, to be employed on the above service; and all superintendents, storekeepers, and persons of that description, one man. Every settler is either to furnish a man or to contribute his own labor (sic) for the same time. The particular days of labor will be settled by the Justices of the Peace and surveyor, and are to be continued until the whole work is complete. There being at this time a scarcity of tools in the public stores, it is expected that the persons above-mentioned do furnish such implements as may be necessary for employing the people they send, spades excepted, a few of which Government will endeavour to provide.

The Surveyor-General will have directions to measure out the road, which is to be twenty feet wide...

The Parramatta, Prospect Hill, Field of Mars, Ponds, Northern Boundaries, and the Hawkesbury are to attend to the road from Duck River to the Hawkesbury. The people from the latter place are to begin their repairs from their own neighbourhood, and to continue them for two-thirds of the way to Parramatta, and they will be directed in their work by Mr. Grimes, who will also direct those who are to be employ'd from the Parramatta side of the Duck River until they meet those from the Hawkesbury. (H.R.N.S.W. vol.3, p. 188)


Early road making methods. Photo: Dept. of Main Roads, NSW.

Governor King reported on 28th May, 1802:

The Sydney Gazette of 2nd April, 1803, reported "On Sunday morning last T. Biggers rode to town from Hawkesbury, a distance of more than forty miles, within the space of three hours, having left the latter place at 7 o'clock, and rather before 10 arrived safe in Pitt Row."

On 3rd July, 1803, the Sydney Gazette stated:

"We understand His Excellency during his late visit to the Out Settlements, has given directions for making a more convenient Road to Hawkesbury to Parramatta, by which the mischief occasioned to Horses and Carriages from the necessity of crossing the Seven Hills will be totally removed.

(South) Creek Bridge received material damage from some of the late lightening, which falling upon one of the ends shivered one of the planks, and the whole fabric was instantaneously immersed. The circumstance was immediately made known to Mr. Thompson, by whose prompt attention, and the exertions of a sufficient number of hands, the bridge was raised by day light the morning following, and substantially replaced." (Sydney Gazette, 8th December, 1805)

Macquarie introduced a system of tollways as a means of upgrading the road network. He listed in his 1822 report to Earl Bathurst a number of Turnpike roads (H.R.A. series 1, vol. 10, pp. 696-7), stating of these "On all the roads specified to be Turnpike Ones good brick Toll-houses (for the Toll-keepers) and strong Turnpike Gates have been erected". He also indicated that a number of substandard roads were being converted into Turnpike roads:



A Turnpike well made road from the Town of Sydney to the Town of Parramatta.

15 miles.


A Turnpike road from Parramatta to the Town of Windsor.

20 miles.


A Turnpike well made road from Parramatta to "Emu Ford" on the Right Bank of the River Nepean called the "Great Western road".

20 miles.


A Carriage Road (but not yet a Turnpike one) from Parramatta to the Town of Richmond, branching off at Prospect from the Great Western Road.

15 miles.


A Carriage Cross Road from the Richmond Road through Toongabbee and Seven Hills to the Windsor Road.

5 miles


A Turnpike well made road from Sydney to the Town of Liverpool.

20 miles.


A Turnpike well made Cross road to connect the Parramatta with the Liverpool road.

5 miles.


A Good Carriage well finished road (but not made a Turnpike one) from the town of Liverpool through Airds to the Cataract River in the District of Appin.

25 miles.


A Carriage road (but not yet made Turnpike) from the Town of Liverpool to the Ford on the River Nepean leading to the "Cow Pastures".

17 miles.


A Carriage road (but not yet Turnpike) from the Town of Liverpool to "Bringelly" on the Right Bank of the Nepean River.

15 miles.


A Carriage Cross road (not yet Turnpike) to connect the Appin and "Cow Pastures" Road.

3 miles.


A Carriage road (but not yet made a Turnpike one) from "Emu Plains" on the left Bank of the River Nepean across the blue Mountains to the Town of "Bathurst".

101 miles.


A Well finished Carriage and Gun Road from the Town of Sydney to the Light House and Signal Post on the South Head of Port Jackson.

7 miles.


A Well made Carriage and Gun road from the Town of Sydney to the nearest part of "Botany Bay".

8 miles.

Total amount of number of Miles of Public Carriage Roads Constructed...............................................................................<

276 miles.


Governor Macquarie had informed Viscount Castlereagh on 30th April, 1810, that the road between Sydney and the Hawkesbury was "scarcely passable", and that he had resolved to construct a Turnpike Road, with a Toll to be collected. Correspondence on this matter is reproduced below.


As the result of injuries and traffic delays caused by accidents on the Colony's roads, Macquarie found it necessary, in 1820, to introduce a Government and General Order regulating that vehicles be driven on the left side of the road. This was published in the Sydney Gazette of 26th August, 1820:


Government House, Sydney.
15th August, 1820.


Much Inconvenience and Delay, accompanied by Danger of personal Injury, arising to Persons travelling on the Highways, either on Foot or on Horseback, or with Cars, Carts, Drays, Waggons, Timber and other Carriages, owing to Horsemen and the Drivers of the said Carriages of every Description, either intentionally driving, or suffering their Cattle to cross the Road, instead of keeping them steadily on their proper Side, the GOVERNOR is pleased to order and direct, that all Persons driving Cars, Carts, Drays, Waggons, Timber and other Carriages, shall observe the same Regulations as directed in England, by keeping and driving their Carriages, of whatever description, on their own left Side, commonly called the near Side of the Road, on Pain of being fined by a Bench of Magistrates, any Sum not exceeding Ten Shillings for every such offence; one-half whereof is to go to the Person or Persons proving the Fact; and the other moiety in Aid of the Police Fund. The Constables and all other Peace Officers are hereby called on and directed to be vigilant in enforcing this Order, without Distinction of Persons, as they will answer to the Contrary at their Peril.

By His Excellency's Command.
J. T. Campbell, Secretary.

(Note: A car was defined in the Nineteenth Century as "a small vehicle moved on wheels, usually drawn by one horse".)









Corduroy, laid over swampy ground or water,  courses. Photo: Dept. of Main Roads, NSW.