Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Norah Head History

Early Days

By the late 1820's settlers were occupying land in the Lake Macquarie and Central Coast area of NSW. The first land grants were to William Cape at Wyong and Percy Simpson at Cooranbong in 1825.

Map of Cabbage Tree Bay and Bungaree Norah - from Map of the Colony of NSW by Robert Dixon - National Library Australia
In 1826 Principal Superintendent of Convicts Frederick Augustus Hely received a land grant in the district as did Jeremiah Warlters. John Slade purchased land at Tuggerah Lakes in 1828 and Robert Henderson owned land at Bungaree Norah (Norah Head). The Central Coast land remained un-surveyed until this time due to the lack of surveyors in the colony however with so much land being granted it was necessary to take accurate measurements so the government would have a clear idea of the portions of land available for future applicants. [4]


James Ralfe who arrived as a free passenger on the Hercules in 1825, was the first sent to survey the land. He began with areas around Lake Macquarie in 1829. He set out on a second survey in January 1830 to complete the Lake Macquarie survey and to commence on the Tuggerah Lakes area. On this trip he first landed at Terrigal on the 12th January. On the following day he set sail and landed 20 miles north at 'Bundary Norah' (Norah Head) where some in the group visited the nearby dairy managed by Mr. Henderson to obtain flour and beef for the crew. They left 'Bundary Norah' at daybreak the next day.

James Ralfe had conducted his surveys via the waterways however the next survey by Felton Matthew was done overland. On 21st October 1830 Felton Matthew left his survey site at Broken Bay and 'removed up the water' to commence surveying the creeks of the area. On 25th October he left the Brisbane Water and walked to Norah Harbour (Cabbage Tree Bay) where he sailed to Sydney. He commenced surveying again in December where he once again sailed to Norah Harbour before proceeding overland to Henderson's dairy where he checked rations and procured harnesses before setting out to survey the Tuggerah Creek.

Timber Industry

In the early days of the century the prized red cedar trees were felled in the Hunter River region however by the 1830's these stands were dwindling. The government, possibly concerned about reckless logging by all and sundry prohibited the unlawful acquisition of the cedar. A limited number of settlers were issued with licenses and were able to cut specified amounts.

Tree Felling 1913Tree Felling 1913

In the 1830's when vast quantities of cedar were discovered in the mountain ranges to the west of Tuggerah and Lake Macquarie, settlers were quick to exploit the forests once again. Although a number of licenses were granted in the area, it was found to be an easy task to ship the timber to Sydney because of the number of traversable waterways. Unauthorized 'cedar gangs' in the Tuggerah area, after bringing the logs downstream from the ranges, would float the logs across the Tuggerah Lakes to the area later known as Canton Beach from where they would be taken the short distance overland to Cabbage Tree Harbour (Norah Head). There was also a dray track from Wyong that passed through the scrub around Tuggerah Lakes to farms near Budgewoi and Norah Head.

This track to Cabbage Tree Harbour may have been used by the cedar gangs to haul the logs using bullocks. From here it was an easy task to ship the logs to Sydney. In 1833 several thousand feet of timber were seized at 'Bungaree Norah' for being illegally cut.


Some of these men in the 'cedar gangs' were untrustworthy characters and settlers blamed them for theft and disruption in their areas. A convict constable, Robert Chitty was posted at Cabbage Tree Harbour to keep an eye on the activities of unauthorized timber getters however by 1834 he had been summoned to Brisbane Waters. Chitty later became a member of the notorious Jewboy Gang and in December 1840 the gang returned to Chitty's old district. Magistrate Henry Donnison wrote to the authorities of the activities of the gang -

The people of that place told Mr Moore that they had been attacked by a party who cut them off from three of their horses, but the men escaped. Yesterday morning early the Bushrangers left Cabbage Tree and proceeded to Wyong where I understand they got horses and robbed the place and some drays that were stopping there, after which they went in the direction of Newport which some other drays had gone - My principal object in writing is to acquaint you that the fellows stated that when they got horses they would proceed to Liverpool plains, which is very likely and with a good lookout on the Hunter they may perhaps be intercepted. They are wary; when at Cabbage Tree they made 2 candles which were burnt in the hut during the night, each man had his station at a tree outside, with a double-barrelled gun, so that had an attacking party gone directly to the hut they would have been picked off. Of the horses taken at Wyong I feel sure, from knowing the stock, that 2 are grey.
Robert Chitty, formerly scourger in this District, is one of the party, and knows this part of the country well. (4)

The First Jetty

Settlers of the area were also tempted to exploit the valuable timber. In the 1830's George Bloodsworth a cattle farmer of Dooralong built a jetty and wharf at Cabbage Tree Harbour to transport cedar obtained without a license, to Sydney in his boat the 'Alice'. Other settlers also used this wharf.

Edward Hammond Hargraves acquired land that had been granted to Robert Henderson in the 1850's. Here he built a house in 1853, taking more than three years to complete it. The ceiling was of hand carved solid cedar from the Yarramalong Valley. The roof was of shingles. Edward Hargraves often entertained distinguished guests at his home, transporting them by boat to Cabbage tree Harbour. He employed maids, governesses and tutors as well as gardeners groom and stockmen. The property provided much of the supplies needed such as beef, chickens, dairy, fruit and vegetables as well as fish from the nearby ocean. Goods such as flour, sugar and salt were usually brought from Sydney to Cabbage Tree Harbour.


With the increase in trade of cedar as well as the coal from Newcastle and supplies to local settlers, many ships were sailing up and down the coast between Sydney and Newcastle. It was inevitable that some would fall foul of the sometimes treacherous conditions. Dangerous reefs dotted the areas and squalls and storms were not infrequent. In 1849 Lieutenant Yule of the schooner Bramble made the following report to Captain Owen Stanley of a shoal he had found that was not recorded on the coastal charts:

'The outer extremity of the shoal is on a line with Bird Island and Bungarynora Point. At intervals between the breaking of the rollers I succeeded in getting soundings 3 fathoms, rocky bottom. I observed continuous breakers from the outer extremity of the shoal to Point Tuggerah, in a north-west direction sufficient to upset or swamp a small coaster. The shoal may be avoided by keeping outside the line I have mentioned, namely, Bird Island on with Bungarynora Point. I beg to add that I observed heavy breakers extending a considerable distance from Point Bungarynora, which should warn the smaller vessels to keep well outside that point.

Early shipwrecks in the area include the Ceres, a paddle steamer built in Clarencetown in 1836 that sank after hitting a rock (Bulls Head) near Norah Head on 29 August 1836; The Anne Maria a schooner carrying cedar sank off 'Bungarees Noragh' on 21st July 1857 with loss of one life; The Suffolk, a brig wrecked when chains parted during a gale on 4th September 1859 four miles south of Norah Head; The Tim Wiffler capsized in 1871 during a squall off Birdie Island with loss of three lives; the Esperanza in 1868 sank after being caught in a gale with a loss of 10 lives; and the Janet Dixon a schooner carrying coal sank near Cabbage Tree Harbour in 1871 in the area later known as Jenny Dixon beach.

Wreck of the collier Paterson at Norah Head 1915Wreck of the collier Paterson at Norah Head in 1951

Fishing Industry

Added to the frequent trading ships up and down the coast were the Italian fishermen and their families who settled at Norah Head towards the end of the century. The Rossetti and Russo families were among those who sent their catches of fish and lobster to the Sydney market.

The Lighthouse

The hazardous waters continued to take ships and lives and in the early 1900's it was decided to build a lighthouse at Norah Head. It was completed in 1903 and is in the Barnet style complete with a bluestone balcony and large black and white floor tiles.
Norah Head LighthouseThe bases are concrete and the towers are of preformed blocks cemented in place before concrete rendering. The concrete blocks are made from local sand. As Bloodworth's jetty at Cabbage Tree Harbour had long ago disintegrated, a new jetty was built to transport building material for the lighthouse. The construction was not without problems however and at one stage the day labour was sacked due to lack of progress.

The first lighthouse keeper, N. H. Williams enjoyed the benefits of the brand new living quarters constructed adjacent to the lighthouse and was required, along with his assistants, to keep the light operating and the maintenance and cleaning and polishing of the light up-to-date.

Mrs. Williams - Lady of the LighthouseMrs. Williams - Lady of the Lighthouse

For the first sixty years the light source was kerosene. In 1961 electricity was connected and later a 1000w tungsten-halogen lamp was installed. There have been many lighthouse keepers over the years however in 1983 plans were made to automate the lighthouse and a lighthouse keeper as such was no longer required, however a caretaker remained on the premises.

Fishing at Cabbage Tree Bay, Norah Head c. 1935Fishing at Cabbage Tree Bay, Norah Head c. 1935

Norah Head Rockpool with the Rifle Club building behindNorah Head Rockpool c. 1949

Map of the Rockpool Location and Cabbage Tree Bay

The land just behind the Rockpool where the Rifle Club house stood was once owned by Edward Hammond Hargraves and before that by Robert Henderson. Map showing location of Cabbage Tree Bay, Bald Street and Hargraves land above the present day rockpool

Norah Head 1878 Map Lands Department NSW

Notes and Links

1). CHINESE NEW YEAR - Thomas Fennell Esq., R.N., writes: A number of Chinese have recently located themselves on the coast, catching, curing and exporting fish. A good many of these celestials have settled on the banks of Lake Macquarie, and also on Tuggerah Beach Lake, the latter a beautiful sheet of water teeming with all kinds of fish, many of which are entirely unknown in Sydney. The largest and most lucrative trade is carried on upon the estate of E.H. Hargrave, Esq., J.P., of Bungari's Nore. For some days towards the close of January the Chinese at this settlement were very busy with some important business of their own. They erected a large tent and surrounded it with green bowers. On Friday, the 2nd instant, however, a deputation of the Celestials waited on the good people of Mr. Hargrave's station, and informed them that next day was the beginning of their new year, and invited their Anglo Saxon fellow settlers, of both sexes to join them in a friendly celebration of their festival. The invitation was accepted; and on entering the enclosure all were surprised at the magnitude and excellence of the preparations. A large bush table was covered with a cloth as white as snow. The collection of edibles was such as would have satisfied the veriest epicure. Geese, ducks, sucking pigs, pork, ham, tongue, a splendid sirloin of beef with a plum pudding to match. Plenty of good ale and porter was also provided. For dessert there were not only all the fruits in season, but a number of excellent Chinese confections. The Chinese waited on their guests most attentively and all was harmony. After the removal of the cloth wines and other liquors were placed on the table and the health of Her Majesty the Queen was drunk three times three, a royal salute being fired by the Chinese with their largest sized crackers. The guests returned to their homes highly delighted with their afternoon's treat. - Evening News 13 February 1909.

2). E. H. Hargraves was for many years credited with discovering gold in Australia however there has always been controversy regarding this claim. Gold had been sighted prior to Hargraves claim, however the Government, fearful of the consequences on business and the pastoral industry if workers left for the goldfields, kept the discoveries quiet. Hargraves had prospected for gold in California and thought that similar terrain in Australia would also yield gold. He organised the first prospecting trip to discover gold in NSW. Accompanying him were John Hardman Lister and James Tom. Hargraves explained to these men how to make the cradle he had seen on the Californian goldfields and then left for Sydney. Later in the year Lister and Tom moved to a different site, later to become the site of the town Ophir and there they uncovered payable gold. They sent news of their find to Hargraves who announced the discovery. Hargraves was eventually awarded a sum of 10,000 pounds by the Government for his discovery and was appointed Crown Land Commissioner. Two official enquiries into Hargraves' claim were made. The first upheld his claim; the second held just before his death dismissed his claim and awarded 1000 pounds each to Lister and Tom. Hargraves died 29th October 1899 in Sydney.

By Angas, George French, 1822-1886 ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons...Edward H. Hargraves. c. 1850

3). California - We have been favoured with the sight of a letter from Mr. E. H. Hargraves to W. Bucknell, Esq., of New Town, Sydney, dated San Francisco, 5th March 1850. Mr. Hargraves states that he had been up the river San Joaquin to the gold diggings, intending to return to San Francisco in a month, but the winter came on, and as travelling was then out of the question, he remained, and only got back in February. During this time, he says, 'I dug about 200 pounds worth of gold, but it cost me three fourths to exist - I will not say live, as my dog at home would starve on such fare'.

Mr. Hargraves mentions that he had since entered on a commercial speculation, trading up the river to the diggings, but purposed returning to Sydney by Christmas Day next, and adds, 'I should be very sorry to be here another winter; it is long and dreary. It may be said to commence 1st October, and ends they say on the 21st March, but up to this date it is extremely cold, and the mountains near San Francisco covered with snow. The transitions from heat to cold are astonishing, and would, and in fact do, kill thousands. I have never been better during my whole life, but my case is a great exception - so much so that it is often remarked'.

Mr. Hargraves apologises for his handwriting thus 'I fear you cannot make out this scrawl; my hands during the heavy snows used to crack like roast pork, and now are a stiff as mill posts' And he adds, regarding his experience of winter gold digging, 'Suffice to say that it is hard work, accompanied with may privations, although I never complained, even in performing the most unpleasant duty of getting up at night to beat the snow off the hut, to prevent its breaking down'. As regards the prospects for parties emigrating to California, Mr. Hargraves strongly urges that no families or females should go, the hardships and privations being certain, and the prospect of comfort and almost of existence being very doubtful. he says, 'Clerks, doctors, priests, parsons, lawyers etc have been working in the streets in San Francisco this winter, as I was credibly informed on my arrival here the other day' and again: ' I am not at all disappointed or surprised at anything I have seen; about one in ten thousand make fortune
s at gold digging. I had a piece of gold in my hand weighing 23lbs. some ounces, taken out near me by a Chilano'

4). Other colonial surveyors mentioned on the Free Settler or Felon site include:

John Armstrong
Francis Barralier
Henry Dangar
Heneage Finch
Charles Grimes
William Harper
Mortimer Lewis
Felton Matthew
Thomas Livingstone Mitchell
John Oxley
Robert Hoddle
George Boyle White
Robert Dixon

5). List of articles about Norah Head at Australia Trove

6). Gravel was winched from Pebbly beach at Norah Head. Below is the remains of one of the winches

Remains of gravel winch on the beach at Norah Head

7). Indigenous tribe Brisbane Water

8). Mrs. Williams - The Lady of the Lighthouse

10). Reminiscences of Norah Head 1930s


[1] E. Stinson, A Pictorial history of the Wyong Shire

[2] K. Clouten, Reid's Mistake

[3] Shipwreck database 41/CSIL 40/12674
[4] Map of the colony of New South Wales : exhibiting the situation and extent of the appropriated lands by Robert Dixon. National Library of Australia.