The Longbottom Stockade was situated at the corner of Loftus Street (formerly Stockade Street) and Parramatta Road, in what was to become the Village of Longbottom (later Concord).
“Longbottom” is a traditional English place name which derives from the old word “bottom”, once used in the north of England to describe low-lying, swampy alluvial ground.
Part of the land on which it stood was granted to Lt. William Lawson (of Blue Mountains fame). Later the land was brought by D’Arcy Wentworth, who returned it to the government in 1814 in exchange for 486 hectares of grazing land at Bringelly.
Today this land is occupied by Concord Oval (now known as “Waratah Park”, the home ground of Rugby Union in Sydney), St. Luke’s and Cintra Parks.
Although there is nothing of Longbottom to be seen there now, the area still holds a lot of Concord and Sydney’s history.
Soon after the establishment of the Government Farm at Rose Hill, around the year 1792, this area was selected by Governor Phillip as a half-way station between Sydney and Parramatta to house convict road gangs.
At first a log stockade was erected, and there the prisoners were detained for a night on their 24-kilometer trek from Sydney to Parramatta, or vice-versa. As a rule, they were handcuffed together while on the road. However, the more desperate characters (bushrangers, etc.) also wore leg irons, so that their march was a slow one and the rest at Longbottom Stockade was, doubtless, a welcome one. It was strategically established adjoining what was simply called “The Path” (now Parramatta Road) and was chosen because of the availability of fresh water and its ‘halfway’ location.
In 1814 a stagecoach began running to Parramatta and during the 1820’s inns were built at staging posts where the coaches changed horses at 10 kilometre intervals along the road. The journey from Sydney took a good two hours and in bad weather coaches were often bogged or overturned on the muddy road. The most famous and long-lived coaching inn on Parramatta Road was the Bath Arms at the corner of Burwood Road.
In 1819 an agricultural establishment, similar to that at Grose Farm, was formd there. The Longbottom Government Farm eventually grew into a considerable establishment covering more than 700 acres of heavily timbered flat land, sloping down to the extensive mangrove swamps along the foreshores of Hen and Chicken Bay. Timber was cut and sawn on the spot and conveyed to Sydney in boats via the Parramatta River. As the land was gradually cleared of wood the cultivation was extended.
One hundred and ten convicts were working on the farm. They were housed in wooden barracks with shingle roofs, near the present pavilion in Concord Oval. The farm consisted of the barracks, the mess room and a house for the Overseer (also a convict).
In about 1838 part of the Longbottom Farm was sold off and the area reduced to about 280 hectares.
Convict road gangs were still housed in the original buildings and a small detachment of mounted police was stationed there to deal with local problems such as the apprehension of escaped prisoners and bushrangers. Part served the police as a centre for horse training and agistment.
Later a more substantial lock-up was erected. It consisted of three cottages, built on sandstone foundations, with brick walls eighteen inches thick.
The mounted police were located at what was called the Stockade, on what is now St. Luke’s Park (Concord). It was for many years known as the police paddocks.
There were two mounted police. They patrolled the Parramatta Road from Concord halfway to Parramatta and also halfway to Sydney at night. They wore swords which could be heard to clank against their stirrups. One of these troopers, Parker, was a very active man and good at throwing either man or stone.
At the entrance to the police paddocks stood what was called the round house, a very old and dilapidated structure, commonly reported to be haunted. It had iron-barred window openings. No doubt convict prisoners were lodged in the building.
About the centre of the paddocks ran a deep narrow stream, bordered on each side by tall swamp oaks (casuarina), which gave out a sighing sound when there was a breeze. Behind the paddocks towards the bay was a thick bush of casuarina, a haunt for butcher birds and curlews. The high tide, in those years, reached the Parramatta Road along the stream mentioned.
By 1840 the government was looking to sell or lease the area. But, in that year, it took on a new role as the detention centre for a group of French Canadian political exiles and so acquired a unique place in Australia’s history.
The rebellion of the French Canadians was the result of a complex web of political, social and economic grievances spanning more than a single generation.
Outright rebellion broke out in 1837 and culminated in a last desperate stand in 1838, where their efforts proved no match for the British forces. The captured rebels endured a series of trials. Twenty-nine men were executed. However, public opinion stopped any further executions and the prisoners were placed aboard the Buffalo, where they spent the next 5 months while the ship made its voyage to Australia.
In February 1840 ninety-one English-speaking rebels were disembarked at Hobart Town while fifty-eight French-speaking Canadians continued on board for a further 10 days till they reached Port Jackson.
The Governor, Sir George Gipps, was uncertain whether they should remain in New South Wales or be sent on to Norfolk Island.
However, as most of them were Catholics, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Australia, John Bede Polding, interceded with the government on their behalf and Gipps agreed to allow them to stay in Sydney and they were transferred to Longbottom.
Because of its relative isolation it seemed to be a suitable place in which to incarcerate the rebels and keep them out of the public eye during their enforced stay.
As a group they came from respectable backgrounds, none having had previous convictions, and were better educated and wealthier than other convicts. In age they ranged from a 20-year-old blacksmith to a 65-year-old doctor.
Although supposedly isolated from the everyday life of the community around them, the Canadian exiles did, in fact, become quite involved with the settlers of Concord.
In 1841 Governor Gipps received a petition asking that the exiles be granted tickets of leave. Gipps supported this request because their behaviour at Longbottom had been “exemplary”. At the beginning of 1842 many were assigned to “respectable people” in the community who fed, clothed and housed them in return for their labours. Shortly afterwards their tickets of leave were granted and they were now free to work for wages.
Between November 1843 and February 1844 free pardons were awarded to all the Canadian prisoners. Technically the men were free to return to Canada but their freedom had come at a bad time, when the colony was in the grips of a depression and work was hard to get. A group of thirty-eight, who had saved enough money for their passage, sailed from Sydney in July 1844. Private funds were provided to assist the others and eventually all but three returned to Canada. Two had died during their exile and one, Joseph Marceau, married an Australian woman and died at Dapto in 1883.
A ramshackle village had grown up around the stockade and formal plans for the Village of Longbottom were drawn up and, in 1843, after the Canadian exiles had moved out the lands were subdivided into building blocks and the Village of Longbottom was laid out in an area close to the Parramatta Road. The area included the site of St. Luke’s Park, Cintra Park and part of the Canada Bay reclamation area westward to Concord Road. It stretched north from Parramatta Road to just beyond Crane Street.
During its 50 years of existence the Stockade and the government-owned land around it served a variety of functions: overnight stopping point, local prison, police barracks, government farm and timber mill, agistment land for police horses and government oxen, and detention centre for the 58 French Canadian exiles.
In 1886 a large area of just over 66 acres (26 hectares) was dedicated as a recreation area, to be known as St. Luke’s Park. A large part was swampland, about 25 acres having been reclaimed by garbage deposits, and portions were laid out for sports of all description, such as cricket, football, vigoro, hockey and a trotting track. There were three turf and eight concrete wickets, a number of which were on the reclaimed ground.
Western Suburbs Rugby Union Football Club were lessees of the Concord Oval (St. Luke’s Park) from 1904, with the exception of a few years when war and other circumstances broke the continuity.