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Memento : Issue 26
THIS YEAR WE CELEBRATE the 200th anniversary of our earliest document. It is a Deed of Title, one of the few records that we have on vellum, signed on 1 May 1804 by Governor Philip Gidley King, the third Governor of the Colony of New South Wales. The deed allows ‘the allotment of ground now in the occupation of Matthew Kearns situate[d] in Pitts Row [now Pitt Street] in the township of Sydney’ to be transferred to him for 14 years at a cost of 10 shillings. According to Michael Flynn, in his book The Second Fleet (1993), Matthew Kearns was an Irish convict who came to Sydney on the Neptune in 1790, having been convicted in London of stealing earthenware dishes from his employer. He was aged about 27 at the time of his arrival. Eventually freed, by 1800 he had begun to establish for himself a reputation as something of an entrepreneur. Apart from becoming a landowner and a grazier, with several properties in Sydney and at Windsor, one of his early business enterprises was a butcher shop at Pitts Row in partnership with Thomas Whittle of the NSW Corps. (It was Whittle who later led the troops in the arrest of Governor Bligh in 1808.) In January 1810, the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence (held by State Records NSW) shows that a Matthew Kearns opened one of the first inns in New South Wales, and in February that year was granted a government licence to sell liquor. In January 1813 Matthew Kearns was brought before the court charged with stealing cattle from the government herd. Before that case could be heard, he was tried and found guilty of arranging for the murder of a witness. Along with his brother, a son and two others, he was sentenced to death. On 24 March 1813, Matthew Kearns was hanged. It was the end of a colourful colonial career. So, why do we hold this document bearing his name? The parcel of land to which Matthew Kearns gained title in 1804 later became the site of the ‘Pitt Street Extension’ of the Sydney General Post Office built between 1880 and 1887. At Federation, the document, together with the control of all post offices, passed to the Commonwealth Government and thus it eventually made its way into the National Archives as our oldest document. Hand-coloured drawing of Pitt Street extension by architect James Barnet, 1881. NAA: SP1136,PMG41313,no.7B, set no. 2 Our oldest document, a deed of title dated 1804. NAA: SP1307(bundle4) Our oldest document turns 200! May 2004 MEMENTO 7