A change of plans …

I remember hearing from other students from last year’s class speaking about how they chose their final project structure at the last minute, or changed their idea just in time to stress out completely. A common theme among them, though, was how proud they were of their final product.
As I heard these recounts, I thought (a little too smugly) that that was nice, but it didn’t apply to me and my organisational genius. I had picked out my organisation, I had organised a position and started volunteering every Friday at the library, and I was gathering research for a walking tour. I was set.
I didn’t account for the role that genuine interest plays in the history making process, or at least in the academic sphere. To be clear, I certainly did not dread my original project idea (which was to create an informative blog around the ‘Crime in Vaucluse’ walking tour that the Woollahra Library will give sometime in December), yet something was bugging me. I remember the multiple encouragements that Mike gave us that were along the lines of: make use of your skills, experiment with different modes of communication, and strangely enough… have fun with it! (I’m sorry, what?)
And for me personally, this is the act of writing. Without going into depths about my hopeful future in this practice, it is what I am drawn to again and again. I mentioned in my last blog about the difficulties I was facing in terms of imagining the human qualities and character behind Sir Henry Hayes (an Irish convict who set up Vaucluse House). I dove further into this interest, and narrowed my research to feature just Sir Henry. It seemed the more that I delved into his past, the more fascinated I was by the character he must have been. To lay out a few facts from the research I have gathered using the Woollahra Library Local History resources:
-Sir Henry Hayes was a Sheriff in Cork, who came from a wealthy manufacturing company. Around 1795, he became a widow with 7 children.
-Hayes abducted Mary Pike, a wealthy heiress. He showed little remorse of this act, and Mary Pike fled to England with her reputation in ruins.
-Hayes eventually turned himself in after two years on the run. Why did he do it? This question has been bugging me an insane amount!
– He paid for the best room money could by on board the Atlas, the convict ship heading for NSW.
– Immediately he showed a distaste for authority, becoming enemies with Governor King, and constantly being sent to other parts of the colony under suspicion of organising uprisings against English rule.
-He tried and failed (and tried again) to set up Australia’s first Freemason House and it is rumoured that he hosted the first legitimate Saint Patrick’s Day celebration at his home, Vaucluse House.
The list goes on, but most importantly I want to portray these facts (that are so often condensed to dates and places) to a wider audience that might be interested in this man through a different mode- that of narrative history.
I plan to create some diary entries with the first-person perspective of Sir Henry Hayes and post them to a blog site of my creation. Crucially, I will be basing all the facts upon historical evidence, and I will have links to the various primary or secondary sources that I have used to create the story. In this way, I plan to bring a different mode of interest to the biography of such an interesting character.
At the end of the day, I want people to possibly stumble across this account of Sir Henry and be intrigued enough to read on, to read the primary sources or visit the Vaucluse House. I have offered Woollahra Library the opportunity to draw attention to the project if they feel that it will increase interest in the historic site, and the historic man.
At the moment I am in the process of writing up the diary entries and putting them on the website. I have learnt so much during this process- from working out how to set out a website, to thinking about the best way to produce content in an original yet educational manner. I am swiftly realising that the balance between entertainment and historical education is a fine one, but I am enjoying having the freedom to choose how I want to present the story of this man.
I certainly didn’t take into account how long the research period would be. Thankfully the Woollahra Local History department had many wonderful, hard-cover books that gave me the majority of my information. This was good news too, as most of the scarce information on Sir Henry Hayes on the internet is either far too vague, or written by historically-minded writers who haven’t shown any evidence for their claims. Then came the time consuming task of writing these quotes up in a Word document, so that eventually I can paste quotes onto the site (with full referencing, obviously). This is all to ensure that I can say that a large portion of my work has been based on historical facts mentioned by previous publications.
Regardless of this work, it has been such an immersive and challenging experience that already is giving me a sense of pride in what has been made so far. I plan to continue this work after I hand in what I have written so far, because I am realising now that I will not be able to write all the diaries entries that sum up the long Convict-Career of Sir Henry Hayes. I suppose I fell into the trap of thinking I could do more than was realistic. Regardless, I still have a week(ish) until I have to hand in my project, so I hope to keep writing up until that point. I hope the end product reflects the time and effort I have put into it. All in all, I have learnt some genuine skills through this project, and it has been a rewarding task to try and create something that both meets the academic interests of my course, but also engages me as a writer and historian.

Crime History

For the past few weeks, I have been assisting the Local History department of the Woollahra Library in collating some research for an upcoming walking tour on crime in Vaucluse. Now I’m not sure Vaucluse is usually thought of as a hotspot for crime, with its sea views and the letterbox-numbers spelled out with words. But just like any area that has been around for a while, and that has had human beings living side by side, there have been some scuffles along the way.
In my research so far, I have started at the start. This, for the Vaucluse area, begins with Sir Henry Browne Hayes, a wealthy Irish convict who was sent over to NSW in 1802 for trying to forcibly marry a wealthy young woman to then claim control of her large inheritance. For some reason she wasn’t too keen on the idea and managed to escape and get the police on his case. After being on the run for two years, he eventually turned himself in and was shipped off to NSW. Hayes was a downright trouble maker. For one, he was an Irish Freemason and was intent on establishing Freemasonry upon his arrival in Sydney, contrary to the wishes of Governor King (who was already dealing with a few potential convict uprisings at the time). A bunch of convicts, banding together in a sort of secret cult? Not what you want. The story continues, and I have to find more information, but Hayes continued to aggravate the powers that were. This included being shipped off to Van Diemens land as a result of rebellious tendencies.
Interestingly though, he was one of a few convicts to be ‘well off’ and as such he suffered all the usual convict hardships: sailing around the bay in his boat, cultivating his garden, and building the beautiful sandstone cottage that he would name Vaucluse. Later the house was sold to W.C. Wentworth, a much more palatable character from what I’ve gathered, and has survived in good condition thanks to being State-Heritage listed.
I loved reading about this story but I can’t help thinking: would I enjoy this story if instead of a convict, this ‘Hayes’ was just another wealthy foreigner who wanted a sea view in Sydney’s East? What if he was a convict who got on just fine with local authority and just lived a quiet, law-abiding life? I think that history, or rather the passing of time, can cull large proportions of the human experience away from the story that I (or anyone) could construct around someone like Hayes. He is in danger of being summed up by a culmination of birth dates and death dates, of signed land agreements, of Gazette reports, and inevitably the ‘humanness’ leaches out of his story. I am not sure that this is unavoidable, but I find it interesting how easy it is to forget the emotional landscape that a person, much less someone deemed a ‘criminal’, can have in his/her life. It is hard to imagine, because obviously I was not there to experience it. And so my point about crime (if there is any), is that maybe part of the allure of crime history is its ability to make those darker parts of ourselves – those angry, rebellious, unfair, criminal parts of ourselves- more palatable as we look at them in the form of another, safely removed from us by time.
This is another reason why I respect the ideas of walking tours, because just like the one we undertook at the Parramatta Female Factory, the spoken word and the physicality of a tour can help to convey some of these stories with a more emotional touch, with more imagination coming into the history-making process.
For now, I continue gathering evidence of those sneaky members of Sydney’s dodgiest neighbourhood: Vaucluse.