A Travelling Correspondent’s Trip to Hunter’s River in 1826
During the month of June in 1826 the Sydney Monitor printed three reports from an un-named correspondent’s trip to Hunter’s River. He makes some interesting remarks on the township of Newcastle as well as describing the scenery and life up the river as he perceived it at that time. What interests us in terms of Mayfield’s history is that he travelled up the south arm of the Hunter and notes the property of John Platt. He also describes the landowners living around him and probably dis-embarked at Platt’s wharf which was the later Shelley Beach. I have transcribed the three reports as well as including a presentment in August 1826 of the appointment of the Court of Quarter Sessions, of which Platt was one of the Jurors.
The Monitor, 9th June 1826
(A Correspondent writes us as follows:) – I promised to tell you what was stirring at Hunter’s River, the Court Settlement of New South Wales. The Cutter left Sydney Cove at 8 P.M. and arrived at Newcastle before eight the following morning. This is a pleasant packet, and the Captain was a very pleasant gentlemanly fellow. The cabin is well fitted up, and ornamented with muskets pistols and cutlasses, in case of pirates – there are also two cannon (I don’t know how many pounders) on deck. I should have slept soundly the whole way, but in the hold there were some bullocks and a fine pig; as the vessel rolled, the pig was annoyed by the bullock, which caused her to squeal and groan ever and anon, as I was dropping asleep; I don’t like dumb beasts to be hurt, and a pig more especially, it is such a voluptuous animal, so susceptible, and so good – to eat at Newcastle, of which I shall give you an account on my return.
An acquaintance engaged a boat to convey both of us and a trifle of luggage up the river – the first ten miles it may be termed an arm of the sea, having flat coasts fringed with mangrove; however, an agreeable contrast to this is presented at the 7th mile, where the neat residence of Mr Platt tops some rising ground, with a windmill contiguous – the land in front is cleared down to the river, and is sown with wheat which looks well. A man at the mill told me they grind at one shilling per bushel, and have as much as they can do. On the same of the river a little beyond, we just obtained a glimpse of Mr Sparke’s farm, which is cleared to a great extent, and a decent house built upon it, with a verandah and glazed sashes; – Mr S. and his family of sons came from Devonshire, and certainly seem to have not left their habits of industry behind. Their neighbour Mr Eales is also of the same stamp, and has made a pretty hole in the woods. It is particularly gratifying to hear these Settlers talk in high spirits of their crops, cattle and prospects – you would almost think they had found out (nearly!) the philosopher’s stone; and so they have, for Industry may assume the name of Midas in this country. We next saw the magisterial abode of Mr Close, which seems befitting a country gentleman – the grounds about it were well fenced and prosperous.
Night overtook us before we could reach the settlement at Wallis Plains – though it is only 20 miles from Newcastle overland, it is more than double that distance by water; you guess the river is circuitous – you are quite correct, and I shall therefore not take the tourist’s privilege of following it. We endevoured to row as far as we could while the tide was in our favour, the moon arose and shed a rich refulgence on the umbrageous scenery which adorns the course of this noble stream – it gave the shades of the forest a deeper gloom – revealed the tall gum trees more distinctly, and shone over the curling foliage of the underwood, which reached down to the water’s edge. Our oars made a monotonous sound, which left the mind to its resource; one of the best which struck us, was to moor the boat at Nelson’s Plains, and as the tide was spent, and the night chilly, we took refuge in the hut, and there regaled ourselves with a dish of tea and a nap. (To be continued.)
The Monitor, 23rd June 1826
Domestic Intelligence ( Continued from our Paper No. 4)
Our Hunter’s River Correspondent Thus Continues.
From Nelson’s Plains, we proceeded early in the morning to Wallis’s Plains, and there breakfasted. The navigation of Hunter’s River may be said to terminate at this place, which provincially is called “the Settlement at the Banks.” It consists of a cluster of detached cottages, which may be designated a hamlet. You would suppose the inhabitants were only tenants at will, who did not care to build on other people’s ground. It’s a sorry sight to see bad buildings any where, and its very grating to an Englishman when he leaves the dusty streets to take a turn amongst the rural virtues of a village life, there to find nothing of the sort. At this distance from Sydney I indulged the hope of growing quite poetical, and seeing Pan and the sylvan deities, dryads and hamadryads – but there was no such thing – perhaps it is, that they are like the kangaroos, frightened at the approach of settlers or their manners. As this place is the centre of a populous neighbourhood, it is in contemplation to beautify it with a church, and let the good folks have some excuse for saying their prayers. They in general appear a very hardy race, for a great capacity for being industrious, cleanly, honest, and obliging – all special virtues in a peasantry. I put up at the Angel Inn, which has every accomodation for travellers; a quarter of a pipe of wine on draft, plenty to eat, and good beds. A young man (a native) told me he wished to rent it off the landlord, and had offered him 100l. per annum; but he asked 200l. per annum! – for an obscure pot-house; only think of that. Passons.
The next night I lodged at the Grange on my estate – this ediface I found more picturesque than agreeable: its shattered condition and numerous loop-holes, admitted the cold night-wind from every quarter; I was in the frigid zone. After enduring this till it was no longer tolerable, I rose before 3 o’clock, roused my servants, ordered a calaban to fetch in wood and water and make breakfast. This was done impromptu – a piece of beef was boiled, a cake baked, and tea made; but before they could be spread on the table, a gentle dozing seized me till day-light. I then shortly proceeded out to reconnoitre my possessions. Every thing was strange to me – a great dog which I had brought up from a whelp growled as I passed – my vineyard was trapled down, my garden destroyed – the fences, though not come to decay, were lamentably deficient; and in fine, I was constrained to believe that my servants had been slothful while I tarried to come unto them. However, during my stay they worked with zeal and alacrity. I felled trees to set up an example till my hands were sore – plucked cobs till I was tired – sowed wheat – and planted trees and tropical productions in the garden – I also visited some of the neighbouring gentry, and in a few days returned to Newcastle.
Hunter’s River, without any flourish, is a fine settlement: the whole country appeared as if it wanted mowing – large flocks and herds are fast accumulating, and many settlers are investing considerable property in building, fencing, and clearing. All are rising to that desirable condition of having bread enough and to spare. In a few years they will constitute a power squireality, truly, enviable, if they preserve the tree, guileless, open and generous character of an English country gentleman.
The Monitor, 30th June 1826
Our Travelling Correspondent continues to write:
Newcastle possesses the American characteristics of a town, to wit, a church, a tavern, and a blacksmith’s shop. It even exceeds in these particulars; but the number of houses unroofed and going to decay, betray the sad tokens of depopulation and poverty.
I have been among the ruins of ancient cities and paused, believing that I flet the phantoms of romance flitting around – but Newcastle conveys a sensation as much otherwise as is found in eating chalk and cheese. The situation is nevertheless charming, and it will one day become ensouled. It stands on the promontory of a sweeping hill, which overlooks a large extent of coast, and the Southern ocean; like Sydney, it is a wonderful place, you go up and down it and wonder – what next! – there may be people of sentiment in it for aught I know, but I was not lucky enough to meet them. Four Bacchanalians, coupled arm in arm following a flute- player, was the most classic exhibition that struck me; they appeared such a loving group, and reeled so naturally to the music.
From the extreme verge of the head-land, which as before stated, forms the scite of Newcastle; a pier or mole is built, extending towards the Island of Nobby, which is half a mile distant. To the South-east, a dangerous reef of rocks is visible at low water, over which there is a heavy swell in a gale of wind, this pier was therefore built as a break-water. It is 950 feet in lenght; 34 in breadth at the top, and 10 feet above high water mark. This spirited undertaking was commenced on the 16th August 1818, and in January 1821, it was 626 feet long, 21 deep; January 7th 1822, it was 845 feet long, 21 deep; and the 31st January 1923, it was abandoned, being then 30 feet deep, and having in it 25,473 cubic yards of materials. The sides are formed of huge blocks of argillacoius sand-stone, the top course of which, on the South side, and several on the North, are very much worn by the atmosphere. Where the sea dashes there is little or no decay, and the foundation blocks being now encrusted with marine lxuvioe will endure forever. In consequence of the exterior masonry not having been bonded by cross walls, a small breach has been effected in the centre of the South side, which, however, it would not be difficult to repair. The general depth of the channel between the pier and Nobby’s, is 11 feet at low water. Some practical gentlemen have informed me, that since the pier has been erected, the harbour is 10 or 11 feet deeper, that vessels can lay in it now when the weather is bad: that if the pier was finished, the harbour would be again deepened; and furthermore, that if 50 feet were shaven off the crown of Nobby’s, the entrance would be facilitated, and shipwrecks prevented. This island is about 200 yards long and 40 wide, with a perpendicular clift on the South side, 133 feet high; and it is this which takes the wind out of the sails of vessels as they are doubling it, during which they are liable to drift with the current on the North Shore, as two have done recently.
In the vicinity of the pier, are the Salt Works of Mr Blaxland. The sea water is pumped out of troughs, boiled in hollow vats, chrystallized and purified with boiled butter and bullocks’ blood. Coals are purchased of Government at 5s. per ton, and about 20 tons are consumed per week in making 2 tons of salt. The salt is a fine white crystal, sells for 9 or 10s. per cwt. and is in so much demand as to preclude the virtues it might derive additionally from age. The enterprising proprietor, it is said, intends building a mansion contiguous, for his residence; and then no doubt, will enlarge his manufactory perfect the process, and thus achieve a constant tribute from old Neptune, enriching both himself and the revenue of his adopted country.
People here are so beset with opportunities of acquiring wealth, that another source, little inferior to a gold mine, has been strangely overlooked, and our kinsfolk on the other side of the globe, are coming with the charitable design of instructing us in this particular. There are immense beds of carbon in the stratat of Newcastle, and though analytically, it is not so pure as the diamond, the scientific chemists of England neverthless do conceive, that is subjected to a powerful retort, it may be found intrinsically as valuable. We shall thus learn something when they come, and that ignorance, engendered by long rustication in the forest be removed – happily. Of this mineral, 4,000 tons are raised annually, but in a few years it is speculated, the ratio will be 50,000.
The Monitor, 25th August 1826
NEWCASTLE QUARTER SESSIONS
The Grand Jurors of our Sovereign Lord the King now assembled in the town of Newcastle, the 15th day of August, in the year of Our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and twenty six, present to the Court of Quarter Sessions, that they have visited the Gaol of Newcastle, which, on attentive examination, they found clean, and in good order; the provisions good, sufficient, and wholesome; the Gaol itself sufficiently spacious for the accomodation of the district.
The Grand Jurors cannot avoid remarking the bad state of the public Wells in the town, one only, out of two, being imperfectly covered.
The Grand Jurors present the dilapidated state of the Wharf at Newcastle.
The Grand Jurors have felt it their duty to visit the Church-yard, which, for want of a fence, has been made a thoroughfare; the pigs being permitted to root the graves,; they have also examined the ruinous state of the Church, and find the walls in a dilapidated state, the same not having been originally built perpendicular.
The Grand Jurors embrance this (their first) opportunity of observing, there is but one place of Public Worship in this large and increasing district.
The Grand Jurors present the absolute necessity of the immediate erection of a Bridge over the creek, at Wallis’ plains, for the preservation of the lives and the property of His Majesty’s subjects; the creek only being forable after a long drought. Rain, or a fresh in the river, renders it not only dangerous, but almost impossible to cross, without the assistance of a boat, which is not at command.
The Grand Jurors beg to call the attention of Government to the state of the Roads, and respectfully recommend, that a person be nominated to survey and mark out the continuation of a line of Road from the town of Newcastle through the several districts, His Majesty’s subjects suffering much inconvenience from the present tracks being obstructed by fences of the landed proprietors; as also that a Punt be placed in a central situation to forward the communication.
The Grand Jurors present the very great evil arising from the total want of Lock-up-houses, for the reception of male and female prisoners, at Paterson’s and Patrick’s Plains.
The Grand Jurors cannot close, without assuring the Court, that they only bring to their notice a few of the most important and absolute wants of this extensive and populous district.
JAMES REID, FOREMAN.
EDWARD S. CORY