While they were here, the governor and his party went up the river, and ascended Richmond-hill, on the summit of which a large smoke was made at noon, at which time a similar smoke was made on Prospect-hill, that was very distinctly seen, and its bearings taken, to ascertain the relative situation of the two hills. This bearing, which was S 35 degrees 00 minutes E by compass, gave, with the latitude observed on each, the distance between the two hills about eighteen miles in a direct line.
By this bearing, should there be occasion hereafter, a road through the woods, from the head of the Hawkesbury, might be cut in the shortest and most direct way to Parramatta.
At the head of this river, and upon the banks of that named the Nepean, there was known to be a tract of excellent land, as rich as any on the banks of the Hawkesbury which was then under cultivation, and where, at some future period, a settlement might be advantageously established.
The governor, on his return from this excursion, had the mortification of seeing a stack, containing about eight hundred bushels of wheat, burnt to the ground. This happened at Toongabbie, near which place the country was every where in flames, and where, unfortunately, much wheat belonging to government was stacked. The fire broke out about eight o’clock in the evening; the wind was high, the night extremely dark, and the flames had mounted to the very tops of the lofty woods which surrounded a field called the ninety acres, in which were several stacks of wheat. The appearance was alarming, and the noise occasioned by the high wind, and the crackling of the flames among the trees, contributed to render the scene truly awful.
It became necessary to make every effort to save this field and its contents. The gaol-gang, who worked in irons, were called out, and told, that if the wheat was saved by their exertion, their chains should be knocked off. By providing every man with a large bush, to beat off the fire as it approached the grain over the stubble, keeping up this attention during the night, and the wind becoming moderate towards morning, the fire was fortunately kept off, and the promise to the gaol-gang was not forfeited.*
[* In the month of December 1792, two days after the wheat had been reaped and got off the ground at Toongabbie, the whole of the stubble was burnt, the country being then, as at this time, every where on fire. See Vol I. Ch. XIX, viz: ’At Parramatta and Toongabbie also the heat was extreme; the country there too was every where in flames. Mr. Arndell was a great sufferer by it. The fire had spread to his farm; but by the efforts of his own people and the neighbouring settlers it was got under, and its progress supposed to be effectually checked, when an unlucky spark from a tree, which had been on fire to the topmost branch, flying upon the thatch of the hut where his people lived, it blazed out; the hut with all the out-buildings, and thirty bushels of wheat just got into a stack, were in a few minutes destroyed. The erecting of the hut and out-houses had cost L15 a short time before.’]