First Fleeter Eleanor McCabe’s gravesite at Camellia
One of the oldest known European graves in Australia is to be ‘protected’ while the Parramatta Light Rail is being constructed says the NSW Government.
During the first few months of 2020, the rail line that connected Clyde with Carlingford was removed to allow for the construction of a tram service that will travel from Carlingford to Clyde, Parramatta and Westmead. The Parramatta Light Rail is expected to be opened by 2023.
Located just metres from the construction site is the grave of former convict site of Eleanor McCabe and her infant child — a sign says the baby’s name was Ian Magee. Eleanor was sent to Australia from Gravesend on the Lady Penrhyn in the First Fleet — during the journey she was transferred to the Prince of Wales ship which arrived at Port Botany on Sunday 20th January 1788.
In 1788 Eleanor McCabe married fellow-First Fleet convict Christopher Magee and lived on a property that was granted to him on the 30th March 1791. Also known as Charles Williams and Elinor Magee, they were early settlers in the Camellia region.
On the 18th January 1793, Eleanor, her infant and another woman drowned after the boat they were travelling in from Sydney over-turned on the Parramatta River, not far from her family’s cottage.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Tuesday 10th June 1924 that the Parramatta Historical Society had created a brass tablet that would be affixed to the “ancient” grave. The team at the Granville Council were charged with placing the plaque on the grave — it is still there till this day.
“In this grave lie the remains of Elinor Magee and her infant child, who were drowned in the Parramatta River, January, 1793. The grave is one of the oldest in this continent.”
A memorial plaque was placed at the bottom of the grave by the Fellowship of First Fleeters on 28th February 1982.
The NSW Government’s Office of Environment and Heritage has a ‘historically significant’ heritage listing for the gravesite on their website — Stating the address for the burial site as 1 Grand Avenue Rosehill.
“The grave of Elinor Magee and her infant son are of historical significance for Parramatta as a rare surviving early European grave site, one of the oldest in NSW” — Statement by the NSW Government on the 5th March 2002.
“A modern headstone marks the site of the grave of Elinor Magee and her infant child who were drowned in the nearby Parramatta River in 1793. Grave is marked by a painted concrete headstone with plaque enclosed by painted concrete edging.”
The grave is located almost 200 metres north of where the old Camellia train station was located — about 150 metres south of the Parramatta River — and along the eastern side of where the new Parramatta Light Rail line will be built. Based on what I observed after Easter 2020, there doesn’t appear to be any public access to the site — but, let’s hope that will change when the Parramatta Light Rail construction has concluded.
The gravesite itself is located in a small triangle portion of land that is bordered by an industrial site and the Parramatta Light Rail construction. There are several large trees located to the east and south of the grave.
NSW Transport, through its Parramatta Light Rail Facebook page, has acknowledged that the grave site and says they will ‘protect’ it in a post that they uploaded on 31st October 2019. The Facebook post was titled “Preserving Local History” and read, “Elinor Magee and her infant son drowned in the Parramatta River in 1793, and their isolated grave is located on Grand Avenue in Rosehill. Little is known about their tragic story, but what is known indicates the hard life early settlers had in Australia. We are taking measures to protect this historic 200-year-old site, one of the oldest surviving European graves in NSW, when Parramatta Light Rail construction begins nearby, including barriers and signage. Our first priority is always to conserve any remains where they are found.”
Google review of Eleanor McCabe grave site by Brenden Wood
★★★★★ "This is one of the oldest known European graves in Australia. Located just metres from the construction site of…
At the time of inspecting this grave, the Camellia railway station was being demolished.