Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Voyage to Newcastle and Maitland - 1826

In 1826 a correspondent to the Monitor who possessed land in the vicinity of Wallis Plains (Maitland), made a voyage from Sydney to Newcastle. In a series of letters to the Monitor in June 1826 he described the trip up the Hunter River where he observed the salt works and Macquarie pier at Newcastle.........

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 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 bullocks, 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.

John Laurio Platt

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.

Edward Sparke

On the same side of the river a little beyond, we just obtained a glimpse of Mr. Sparks'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 not to have let their abilities of industry behind.

John Eales

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.

Edward Close

We next saw the magisterial abode of Mr. Close, which seems befitting a country gentleman--the grounds about it are well fenced and look prosperous. Night overtook us before we could reach the settlement at Wallis Plain---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 endeavoured 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 own resources; 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 9th June 1826 (Continued from our Paper No.. 4.)


Wallis Plains

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 a 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, with 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 accommodation 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 of the landlord, and had offered him £100 per annum; but he asked £200 per annum ! for an obscure pot-house; only think of that. - Passons

Grange Estate

The next night I lodged at the Grange on my estate this edifice 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 the 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. Everything was strange to me - a great dog which I had brought up from a whelp growled as I passed - my vineyard was trampled down, my garden destroyed--the fences, though not gone to decay, were lamentably deficient; and at first 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 them 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 into that desirable condition of having bread enough and to spare. In a few years they will constitute a powerful squireality, truly enviable, if they preserve the free; guileless, open, and generous character of an English country gentleman
- The Monitor 23 June 1826



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 felt or beheld 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.

Macquarie Pier

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 length; 34 in breadth at the top, and 10 feet above high-water mark. This spirited undertaking was commenced on the 16th of 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, 1823, 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 argillaceous 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 exuviae will endure for ever. 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 cliff on the Southside, 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.

Gregory Blaxland's Salt Works

In the vicinity of the pier, are the Salt Works of Mr. Blaxland. The sea water is pumped out of troughs, boiled in shallow vats, crystallized and purified with 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 kins-folk 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 strata of Newcastle, and though analytically, it is not so pure as the diamond, the scientific chemists of England nevertheless do conceive, that if 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 30th June 1826


[1]. The Monitor 10 January 1834