Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Rev. John Dunmore Lang

Notes of a Trip to Hunter River in 1862

Rev. John Dunmore Lang

Rev. Dr. John Dunmore Lang was the first ordained Presbyterian minister who settled in New South Wales.

He was born at Greenock in August 1799. His father, William Lang occupied and farmed a small estate in Ayrshire; his mother, Mary Dunmore was the daughter of a landed proprietor in the town of Largs. Dr. Lang received his early education in the parish school, and from that he passed, at the age of twelve years, into the University of Glasgow, where for eight years he studied for the ministry. Having obtained his M.A. degree, he was in 1820 licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Irvine. His brother George Lang had already emigrated to New South Wales in 1821 (per Brixton), and the representations made by George, as to the great want of religious ordinances for the Presbyterian population, determined Dr. Lang to choose New South Wales as his field of labour. [1]

Rev. Lang traveled extensively throughout his lifetime. He made several other voyages, including to Scotland, America and other locations. On his first voyage to Australia in 1823, he came on the Andromeda landing in Van Diemen's Land.

He was deeply committed to his religious beliefs. His religious convictions influenced his approach to social issues and his advocacy for moral and ethical principles in public life, however his strong opinions and confrontational style led to conflicts with various individuals and groups throughout his life. This was evident on this first voyage on the Andromeda after interactions with the Master of the ship, Captain Muddle led to heated exchanges. The circumstances were revealed in correspondence later published in the Sydney Gazette. Rev. Lang had objected when Captain Muddle had threatened to flog some of his passengers. Captain Muddle's declared that his conduct was by 'a moment of irritation occasioned by the mutinous conduct of one of my crew, and the impudent (to use John Dunmore Lang's favourite expression) behaviour of several of my passengers.' In a final aggravation to Rev. Lang, Captain Muddle finished his correspondence with the words I cannot close this without strongly recommending to Rev. Lang's most serious attention, the 9th verse of the 5th chap, of St. Matthew : Blessed are the peace-makers ; for they shall be called the children of God

Pastors and Priests in the Hunter ValleyRev. Lang was known throughout the colony. He gave innumerable lectures in Sydney or during his frequent colonial jaunts in the bush. He was a prodigious writer. In 1862, he kept a diary of his journey to Newcastle and the Hunter Valley including interesting observations of mining settlements and townships. Other than his scathing remarks about Governor Darling, the detrimental influence of the unions and his loathing of the mosquitoes at Waratah, his diary entries are mostly positive; there seem to have been no conflicts with the people he met along the way unlike some other episodes in his life.

Following are excerpts from his diary -

February 17

Left Sydney for Newcastle by the Illalong steamer at 11 p.m., and reached Newcastle after a rather rough passage, at 6 a.m. on the 18th. The corporation of Newcastle, which, it seems, has just elected James Hannell, Esq., M.P., as their mayor, for the fourth time, deserves the highest credit for the great improvements it has effected upon the town. The difficulties in their way at the outset of their career were formidable in a very high degree ; but they have nobly overcome them, with remarkable economy, I believe, and with great satisfaction to the community.


February 18th.

Proceeded by train, at half-past six a.m., to the Waratah Station, about four miles from Newcastle on the way to Maitland. Waratah Train Station
The day was the hottest during the present season, the thermometer being at 107 degrees in the shade. From the station-house at Waratah, to the Newcastle, and Maitland road, the present bush-road to the village of Waratah crosses a swamp which, although dry at present, is a perfect "Slough of Despair" in wet weather. It is anything but creditable to the Government to allow a route on which there is now a considerable amount of passenger traffic, as one of the feeders of the Great Northern Railway to remain so long in such a state. A comparative small expenditure would be sufficient for the construction of a good road across the swamp.

The village of Waratah (or Charlestown, as it is called in the colonial Doomsday Book) is about a mile from the station-house, and is the centre of a considerable and rapidly increasing population. The non-vested National School, which has been established in Waratah through the zealous exertions of the
Rev. William Chaucer, who was the first to interest himself in the locality, contains from 70 to 80 pupils ; the teacher being a Mr. Magnay, formerly a subaltern officer to General Lord Gough's army in India. There is a cottage for the teacher attached to the school, and at the time of my visit the pupils were making collections in pence and half-pence for the purchase of a clock, which was to cost fifteen shillings; the watchmaker, Mr. Charles White Williams, of Newcastle, having agreed to take ten shillings less for than the regular price, in consideration of the purpose which it which it intends, to serve. I confess I should have liked to have seen Mr. Magnay in a better situation, to emolument, but he seemed contented and happy.

There was a weekly religious service in the school in the evening, which I was asked to conduct, and did so accordingly. There being some German families in the district, Mr. Chaucer suggested to me to say something to them, at the close of the English service, in their own tongue. I accordingly red to them a beautiful hymn from the noble collection in the German service book, extending from the Reformation down to the present time, with which those present were much pleased

If the poet Dante had lived in New South Wales, I think he would have laid the scene of his Purgatorio at Waratah; for it is certainly the most horrific place for mosquitoes I have ever visited. A countryman of mine, when commiserated by a sympathising friend, when on his way to the gallows, observed that 'he would have thought nothing of it, if he had only been used to it'. How people can get used to such a plague, I do not know. The very horses, I observed for the first time at Waratah, delight in the smoke of a bush fire, and gladly avail themselves of this protection from their tiny tormentors.

West Maitland

February 19th and 20th -

Proceeded by train to West Maitland, where I was hospitably entertained by Mr. Joseph Eckford, M.P. for the Wollombi, at Eckford's Hotel
(The White Swan at Campbell's Hill, West Maitland). Delivered a lecture, agreeably to previous announcement in the School of Arts, to a numerous and respectable audience, on Thursday evening. There was a terrific storm of thunder and lightning that evening in Sydney; but we had only the tail of it in Maitland - distant thunder, much lightning, and a moderate fall of rain.


February 21st -

Delivered a lecture in the evening in the Baptist chapel at Hinton, which was kindly lent for the purpose, on the impolicy of a State provision for the support of religion. Although the night was very dark, the attendance was good for the place.

There is a National school at Hinton, taught by
Mr. George Sanders, an able and accomplished teacher; but, as there is another National school about a mile distant the number of pupils , about sixty is considerably smaller than it would otherwise be. Besides the two National schools, there is also an Episcopalian and a Roman Catholic school, "to teach the young ideas how to shoot" * at Hinton; and such is the case also at Singleton.

Rev Lang was decades ahead of the times when he turned his mind to permanent water supply:

In all parts of the Hunter's River District, the country is looking beautiful at present. The grass, after the late rains, is everywhere most luxuriant and the cattle and horses are all in excellent condition. What a paradise of a country this would be as far as climate and productions are concerned if we had only a regular supply of rain! I have been able to observe, how ever on my present visit to this district, that there is an evident and increasing tendency in the community to provide an artificial supply of water for domestic purpose, as well as for cattle. The rain water, collected from the roofs of houses and preserved in tanks is of excellent quality and an abundant supply can easily be provided in this way in any locality at comparatively little expense.

In other countries of a similar climate as in the Holy Land from time immemorial much of the entire supply of water for all domestic purposes is obtained from this source; by throwing embankments across ravines, and gullies in various localities, an artificial supply could be provided for cattle if not for irrigation


In an observance that is still true today Rev. Lang proclaimed: Bad government is a perfect curse to a country for all future generations

I never pass along the heights of Morpeth, from the Hinton ferry to East Maitland, without feeling indignant in the highest degree, at the folly, the stupidity and the madness of the late Sir Ralph Darling in not availing himself, as he could so easily have done at the time of the splendid site for a city which these heights present, and in allowing the town of West Maitland to be built as it is in a mere swamp, to be destroyed perhaps in some future inundation.

There is not a finer or healthier site for a city in New South Wales than Morpeth presents - close as it its to the head of the navigation, far above all floods and with miles of rich, alluvial flooded land in almost all directions, for kitchen gardens, grass paddocks and fields, for the growth of grain and all the other products of husbandry


Saturday, February 22nd -

Took the train to Hexham on my way to Minmi, a recently established coal field about six miles distant, the property of those two very meritorious and enterprising colonists, Messrs. James and Alexander Brown. The Messrs. Brown have constructed a railway of six miles in length to bring down their coals from the mines at Minmi to the river, where they are at once transferred from the wagons at the wharf into the holds of the vessels that carry the valuable mineral to its destination. The railway diverges, at the terminus, into two iron roads, to which the Messrs. Brown are now adding a third so as to enable them to load three different vessels at once. And they also employ at their own charges a tug steamer to bring up these vessels from Newcastle and to take them down again cost free, so that the Minmi coals are sold at precisely the same cost to the shipper as if they had been procured at Newcastle. The traffic on the Government line of railway does not exceed about 50 tons per day; but the Messrs Brown send down to their wharf daily about a hundred tons, and sometimes a hundred and fifty. In short an extensive and most valuable coal trade, has been created in this locality by these enterprising and spirited proprietors.


I mounted the tender, beside the engine driver on its return to Minmi with the coal wagons, and reached the coal mines in good time. The road is a narrow embankment, carried through a swamp for miles of the way; the water from the late rains being pretty deep on either side of the route. Minmi is a wonderful place considering its very recent commencement as a coal field; and its present advanced condition does the greatest credit to the worthy proprietors. The machinery for carrying on all the departments of labour connected with coal mining on an extensive scale is of the first character, embodying all the latest improvements in the different departments of labour, and costing.

The seam of coal in working at Minmi is five feet ten inches thick, and it consequently allows the miners to stand erect - a prodigious advantage. At the Bore Hole or Pit Town, on the A. A. Company's property, nearer Newcastle, the seam a very superior one of the kind from the quality of the coal, is only three feet thick and the miners has consequently to lie on his side when he works and not unfrequently in water.
C918-0170 Illustration, Convict miner

The Minmi miner is, therefore, able to turn out twice the quantity of coal as compared with the miner at Pit Town, and with much less inconvenience to himself, in the same time. But there is, unfortunately, one of those pernicious Trades' Unions at Minmi; and by the laws of these modern Medes and Persians no miner is allowed to turn out more than eleven shillings and fourpence worth of coal in a day. How easily might they not, by raising a little extra quantity occasionally make provision for the erection and maintenance both of a mechanics institution and a place of worship as well as for the support of a minister!

The number of actual miners at Minmi is as yet not more than one hundred and sixty; but then a large portion of them are married men, and have rising and interesting families; and the neat cottages and gardens provided for them by the Messrs. Brown on exceedingly easy terms, are quite a contrast to the provision made for the mining population in this respect in certain other localities. But although the actual miners are not more than I have stated, there are various other branches of business carried on in the place, such as those of carpenters, blacksmiths, engineers, engine driver, onlookers, labourers, storekeepers, hotel keepers, etc. There are already two respectable two story brick hotels in Minmi and the place is rapidly assuming the fair proportions of a regular town; the population including some small farmers in the immediate neighbourhood being not less than a thousand altogether.

I delivered a lecture at Minmi, the place of meeting being the National school, a commodious and highly creditable brick building, which was quite filled on the occasion; the lecture being both preceded and closed with pieces of music selected for the occasion and performed by the choir; for the colliers, it would appear are quite a musical race. The school had been established through the joint exertions of the Rev. Mr. Chaucer, who visits Minmi regularly and Mr. Charlton the practical superintendent of the mines. Mr. Chaucer has rendered the same important service to several other localities on the Lower Hunter, besides those of Waratah and Minmi.

Found a young Scotch collier at Minmi, who had been studying Latin in his by-hours. Got him to light us to Mr. Brown's cottage (where I was to pass the night) with a collier's lamp, to give him a few words of encouragement by the way. These are the men who will make a country and not your ill-favoured, lean cattle who come merely because they can get no place at home.

February 23rd, Sabbath

Preached in the National school at Minmi to a congregation of upwards of a hundred persons. The miners have most respectable appearance on Sabbath. Rode after service at Minmi thirteen miles under a burning sun to Newcastle to officiate again in the Court-house there at half past three.


Rode out after service to Pit Town or the Bore Hole about two and a half miles from Newcastle, and preached a third time in the Presbyterian Church there at seven o'clock to a good congregation. The character of that congregation however, has undergone a very considerable change since I preached at the opening of the church at Pit Town about two years ago; the miserable strike among the colliers having intervened and changed everything - not for the better I fear. Several respectable families connected with the mines had gone down in the world through the strike; others had removed to Minmi.


Rode on to Waratah and the mosquitoes for the night; arriving, tired enough, between ten and eleven o'clock


February 24th -

Delivered a lecture, similar in its general character to those I had given at Hinton and Minmi, in the Court-house, Newcastle


February 25th -

Went to Maitland by train and delivered a lecture in the evening to a very numerous audience in the School of Arts


February 26th -

Went to Singleton by coach, and delivered a lecture to a numerous audience for the place, in the court-house in the evening

February 27th -

The Great Northern Railway, which extends at present only to Lochinvar, about seven miles from Maitland, is expected to be opened to Black Creek next month and to Singleton about the close of the year. This will prove of unspeakable benefit to the district as well as to the inhabitants generally of the more distant interior. Delivered a lecture in the National School in the evening the subject being the war in America. I was very cordially received. I wish, however, it had either been better reported, or not at all.

February 28th -

Visited the Hospital and Benevolent Asylum along with Mr. James Moore, an old fellow passenger of mine twenty-five years ago. It is a highly suitable building in every way well adapted for its object and does great credit to the place. Took the coach to Lochinvar, the train from thence to Newcastle and the evening steamer to Sydney, arriving after an unusually rough passage for this season of the year at two o'clock in the morning of the 2nd March.


[1] Centenary of the History of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales

[2] Notes of a Trip to Hunter's River (1862, March 8). Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1875), p. 5

* Quote from "Spring" by James Thomson

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