The first land grants to free settlers in NSW were made in 1793 in response to Governor Philip’s request for the introduction of ‘practical farmers’ to the settlement. Part of these grants is located in the present Strathfield and Homebush areas. These settlers arrived on the ship Bellona in January, 1793 and were described in the Secretary of State’s Despatch of July 14th, 1792, as “Thomas Rose, aged 40, farmer from Blandford, his wife, Mrs. Jane Rose, and their children, Thomas, Mary, Joshua and Richard, also Elizabeth Fish, aged 18, related to the family.”
Other members of the group included “Edward Powell, aged 30, farmer and fisherman from Lancaster, Thomas Webb (and his wife) gardener, Joseph Webb, aged 18, nephew of Thomas Webb, Frederick Meredith, baker, and Walter Brodie, blacksmith”. Meredith, Thomas Webb and Powell had already visited Sydney as ordinary seamen.
An area ‘at the upper end of the harbour above the flats and to the South Side’ having been selected by the settlers, their different allotments were surveyed and marked out and early in the month they took possession of their land, giving the name “Liberty Plains” to the district in which their farms were situated.’
Powell and Thomas Webb first received 80 acres each, Meredith and J. Webb, 60 acres each and Rose and his family, 120 acres. All settlers had their passages paid and received on landing an assortment of tools and implements from public stores, 2 years provisions, 1 year of clothing, and the services of convicts assigned to them. Joseph Webb named his grant “Lutner Farm”, Rose “Hunter’s Hut”, Meredith “Charlotte Farm”, Thomas Webb “Webb’s Endeavour” and Powell “Dorset Green”.
The settlement at Liberty Plains for agricultural purposes was immediately followed by a progressive settlement of the surrounding area — it had been Grose’s wish to have a settlement midway between Sydney and Parramatta for the “convenience and safety of the traveling public”.
Hence, much of the land immediately to the North (Concord) and North West (Abbatoirs and its environs) was allotted to the non-commissioned officers and privates of the NSW. Corps (many of whom disposed of their 25 acre lots as soon as granted).
With the assistance of convict labour the ‘Liberty Plains’ settlers cleared and cultivated the land, but the productive capacity of the land becoming soon exhausted under cropping, continuous clearing of the land was found necessary and this costly process appeared to have reduced the farmers to a state of poverty. Such was their plight that a Committee of Enquiry under Samuel Marsden and Surgeon Arndell was set up to report and as a result it was decided to increase the holdings of the settlers in 1798 — hence an additional 70 acres was granted to Rose and his sons, and 60 acres fronting Parramatta Road and Homebush Bay to Meredith.
So unproductive was the land that most settlers, whilst retaining an interest in their farms, obtained employment elsewhere. e.g. Powell entered the Public Service as a constable at the Hawkesbury River. Mrs. Thomas Webb, whose husband had died in 1795, abandoned her right to her husband’s land and this, together with Powell’s grant ultimately became the property of Simeon Lord whose name appears on the official maps as grantee of the combined areas of 160 acres.
Meanwhile, Captain Thomas Rowley, having been granted an area of 260 acres in 1799, adjoining the other grants, increased his Liberty Plains property in 1803 by adding the grant of Joseph Webb and the end of Rose’s 120 acres. Following the first unsuccessful farming attempts, the area remained almost in a state of neglect until the return of Powell in 1807 to his original grants, which he again took up, in addition to the adjoining 80 acres formerly held by Thomas Webb.
Shortly afterwards, Powell was granted an additional 19 acres with frontage to the Parramatta Road on the North and (the now) Coventry Road on the West. Anticipating the patronage of the traveling public, Powell erected a building on the Parramatta Road which he called the “Halfway House” and having obtained a liquor licence, established a hotel and store. By his death in 1814, Powell had acquired 500 acres — that is all of the land granted to the free settlers on the left bank of Powell’s Creek. The entire property having been left to his son, Edward Powell, and daughter, Mary, it was first rented out and then purchased in 1823 by James Underwood (the original grantee’s son-in-law).