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Book 7 2002 Heneage Finch of Laguna

Was Heneage Finch the grandson of the Earl of Winchilsea? No, but there were three earls in his 'eccentric' family and many knights and barons. This book researches an extraordinary family and one misused and miserably treated Oxford graduate.

1. Heneage Finch

Many have heard of the Convict Trail Project* and the trials and tribulations that early settlers and convicts endured in the construction of the Great North Road.

A key player was an enigmatic surveyor called Heneage Finch (HF). NSW records state Finch was a grandson of the Earl of Winchilsea who was personally recommended for service in the Survey Department by Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. WS Parkes in his book on Cessnock proposes that Finch was 23 in 1825 when he was instructed to find a line of road for wheeled traffic to connect Hunter’s River with Sydney. In the Survey Office Finch reported to Surveyor-General John Oxley.

2. The Finch Family and Winchilsea or Winchelsea

Some historical errors continue to be regenerated. Firstly the ancient name for the English sea side town of Winchelsea was actually Winchilsea.

Sir Thomas Heneage was a long time retainer of Queen Elizabeth. His daughter Elizabeth married Sir Moyle Finch of Eastwell Manor in Kent at 16. Thomas Heneage left his daughter his vast estate of Copped Hall in Essex, which she sold with its extensive lands to the King in return for a peerage for her husband. Sadly widowed, Elizabeth became the first Viscountess Maidstone then Countess Winchilsea. Her heirs in the male line would be Earls of Winchilsea and her second son Theo was the second ‘Winchilsea’ in 1633.

Elizabeth’s third son, the first to combine the names Heneage and Finch, was Speaker of the House of Commons. Some editors correct the spelling when the connection of HF to the Earl of Winchilsea is discussed because the rustic medieval town associated with Rye in the importation of wine from France legally or by smuggling, is still Winchelsea.

3. Surveyor Finch, Education and Family Connections

Heneage Finch was one of two Assistants to the Surveyor-General ‘whose education and rank in life will not only add to the respectability of the department but tend to place it upon a (better) footing’. He surveyed land near the Williams, Paterson and Hunter Rivers and the Wollombi Brook. He had completed ‘a very high degree in Mathematics’ from Christ Church College, Oxford, in 1815 at the age of 22. Lord Bathurst wrote to Governor Brisbane ‘for some time he studied under an eminent surveyor who gave the most satisfactory assurances of his competency to the business in all its branches’.  

The records correctly advise that Heneage Finch was the second son of Vice Admiral Hon William Clement Finch MP, born in 1753 and died in 1794. But Admiral Finch was the second son of the 3rd Earl of Aylesford.

The family boasted the three earldoms of Winchilsea, Nottingham and Aylesford.
4. The Commemoration of the Life of Heneage Finch

In St Luke’s Church, Liverpool, is a tablet commemorating the death of Heneage Finch of Hoxton Park in this parish … 
He died on 19th  September 1850 in the 57th year of his age. Finch was therefore born in 1793 and was 32 in 1825.

HF and his wife Eliza left Gravesend on 2 October 1924 on the Grenada and they arrived in Sydney on 23 January 1824. Finch started in the Survey Office on 2 February 1825. He had an elder brother William, named for Father, older sister, Mary and younger sister Charlotte Louisa. HF was named after Heneage Finch, the 3rd Earl of Aylesford.

This is a very well connected family. So why did HF come to New South Wales? The answer probably lies in two important influences.

From the time of the Countess, the family was noted for its consistent prominence in English Royal Circles and political affairs. They knew everybody. But the eldest son inherited title, land, manors, and money. With a pedigree going back to Sir Thomas Heneage and Lady Winchilsea, the wealthiest woman in England after her husband died, sons and grandsons made their way in a strongly competitive world. Many became Members of Parliament. The historical line is embroidered with titles and honours.  Westminster School and Christ Church College, Oxford, are constant influences; and the favourite name of Heneage Finch reoccurs everywhere.

But it is often the Second Son that establishes his own line of fame.

Heneage, the Speaker of the House of Commons died in 1631. His son was Baron Finch and then First Earl of Nottingham. In 1682 Daniel became Second Earl of Nottingham and in 1727 Seventh Earl of Winchilsea when that family line died out. His twin brother Heneage, saw Daniel with two titles and a glittering career in the Commons and then the House of Lords. He matched his brother in all personal achievement through School and University and into politics. He married the daughter of Sir John Banks of Aylesford in Kent and became the First Earl of Aylesford. For a time the brothers were a uniquely positioned influential combination, one in the Commons, his brother in the Lords

Tragedy struck the Finch family several times in succession. William Clement Finch had taken a seat in Parliament as one of two members representing Surrey which he held from 1790 to 1794. He died after a long illness on 30 September 1794.

Mrs Finch (nee Brouncker) was left with a large estate at Albury Park, useful family connections and three small children and a baby girl. The house at Albury was said to be left to elder brother William. Heneage would have been a year old. But it is reported that in his will Admiral Finch had an agreement with Samuel Thornton, Governor of the Bank of England that the house would be sold to him. The house did not transfer until six years later in 1800. Perhaps the Governor had been prevailed upon by Mrs Finch to defer the sale of the house for a while until she could sort things outHeneage was now seven, but old enough to know the Albury estate well, including its 12 acres of vineyard and long canal, later partly recreated in Laguna in the Wollombi Valley.

In 1800 the family moved. In 1803 Mrs Finch decided to remarry William Strode who lived in Hertfordshire at Northaw. It is most likely the three youngest went down to the Friars at Aylesford to live with Grandmother, the Countess. But she died in 1805.

Grandfather Brouncker was a wealthy resident of St Kitts in the West Indies. Uncle Edward, the General, presumably Finch’s guardian, would live on until 1843.  Possibly the following conversation might have taken place:

- After you have your degree at Oxford you can visit your grandfather in the West Indies. But you are going to have to do something to support yourself. You are good at Mathematics and you could be a surveyor and make a new life in New South Wales. I will arrange an interview with Lord Bathurst for you. And so the die was cast.

5. A Colonial career that did not live up to expectations

Finch and his colleague Rodd were by salary the next in line to the Surveyor-General, Mr Oxley. Rodd was upset by the horrific conditions in the Colony, the brutal convict chain gangs and the floggings. There was now a maximum of 50 lashes but the overseer could impose a second punishment immediately after the first, so 100 lashes wasstill current. 

Rodd witnessed such a punishment in the Department Yard with an audience who surrounded the participants being covered in small pieces of flesh and blood. Rodd was taken away sobbing and lost his interest in a life in New South Wales.

Finch missed his first chance of promotion to Deputy Surveyor-General when Major Thomas Mitchell was selected in January 1827 in preference to Governor Darling’s brother-in-law William Dumaresq. And it was clearly stated in London that Major Mitchell would succeed Oxley.

Shortly after Major Mitchell replaced the sick John Oxley, first in an acting capacity, then when Oxley died. Mitchell appointed Finch as temporary Acting Deputy in May 1828 while he went out to see the country. 

Darling intervened in the matter, deposed Finch and proposed Robert Hoddle. Downing Street then appointed Captain Perry as permanent Deputy Surveyor-General. 

There would be no promotion for Mr Finch. Robert Hoddle some years later transferred to the new state of Victoria. (Hoddle Street)

6. The Deviousness of the Civil Service & Mitchell’s Avoidance of Responsibility

The scandalous manipulation of job classifications of the four senior surveyors and the proposed claw back of salaries allegedly overpaid by the Auditor-General to placate a venomous Governor Darling is a chilling example for those who have served in the Public Service.

And Mr Finch was the granite natured Mitchell’s whipping boy for the fiasco which resulted from Mitchell’s irresponsible and disastrous summer rush to the bush immediately Governor Darling was recalled. (There is another side to this story too)

The inadequacy and callousness of subsequent authorities, and Mr Finch’s eventual death on the horns of a bull, witness an incredible life and an epic portrayal of conditions and cruelty in the emerging Colony. The stern lot of a colonial surveyor was unbearable enough without the sinister degradation of a proud professional man.

I hope, retrospectively, for some Justice for Mr Finch. 

His memorial in St Luke’s Church, Hoxton Park reads ‘Ardensis Major Par Secundis’ - it is always harder for the Second Son, and a fitting tribute for the extensive Finch Family.

*     Convict Trail Project

NB Publications which include reference to or are about Heneage Finch

Mines Wines and People - A History of Greater Cessnock


Sir Thomas Livingston Mitchell by William C Foster


The Search for the Real Heneage Finch


Exploring the Great North Road – Forum Papers


Heneage Finch of Laguna