Before the erection of windmills in the new colony, grain was ground by hand mills. The first windmill in Sydney Town was built by the military on a site that later became the location of the Sydney observatory. Although flour continued to be imported on supply ships, as the colony began to produce its own grain it was important to establish efficient milling facilities.
This need was clearly communicated to the Admiralty back in England. When Governor John Hunter arrived in the colony in 1795, he brought the working parts of the windmill with him along with a millwright to operate it. The mill began functioning in 1797 but was never successful, ceasing operations three years later. Two further government-owned mills were subsequently built in the same area, which became known as Windmill Hill (later Observatory Hill).
Another, privately owned, mill was soon built to the east of the settlement, in the area now occupied by the Botanic Gardens. The mill referred to as Boston’s Mill was, in fact, owned by the Commissary, John Palmer. Palmer had been appointed as Commissary in 1790 and, as such, he was responsible for the distribution of stores, including most of the food, in the new colony.
In 1793 Palmer was granted 100 acres of land at the head of Garden Island Cove. He developed a detailed knowledge of local conditions and was a successful and innovative farmer. Early records note that Palmer had spent a considerable sum on his mill and its associated bakehouse and residence. It was located on a ridge between Sydney Cove and Farm Cove. In 1801, meal from Palmer’s mill was used in a trial to determine how much wheat bakers could demand for a 2lb loaf. Palmer later built a larger mill on his land.
Palmer became one of the most successful early farmers. He bought farms on the Hawkesbury and by 1802 had the largest stocks of wheat and maize in the colony.