Hugh Gilmour arrived in Australia on the Agenoria in 1849. He died at Newcastle on the 18 October 1913. His reminiscences were published in the Newcastle Morning Herald in 1909........
'Mr. Hugh Gilmour of Pacific-street, has many interesting reminicences to tell of the early days of the place. Being for the most part of his life connected with the Harbours and Rivers Department, he has seen the harbour grow to its present dimensions, and it pains him to read of the Government being condemned by the chamber of commerce and other public bodies for not improving the harbour.
Fifty years ago he says the vessels visiting Newcastle were mostly of 500 or 600 tons register, although occasionally there were a few with a carrying capacity up to 1000 tons. Most of then drew 21ft of water, but not more than 22ft. There were no tugboats. and the vessels when loaded had to drop out on the tide unless there was a fair wind. If the weather was at all dirty no attempt was made to go to sea. The two pilots were W. Antney and W. R. Beachey.
The arrival of the American fleet of colliers early in the fifties caused quite a stire in the port, and the vessels took away a large quantity of coal. The loading facilities were of a primitive character, and the fleet received their cargoes in the horseshoe from lighters. Most of the loading was done at the A.A. Company's shoots, and the depth of water was nothing like what it is today. After leaving the shoots the vessels proceeded down the coal channel as far as Watt Street, before attempting to go into the horseshoe or the north harbour. The depth of water in this chanel was only 13ft 6 in. Vessels which loaded in the north harbour were not allowed to go beyond 17ft 6in, and they were compelled to finish in the horseshoe, obtaining their supplies from lighters.
Watt Street Newcastle
Referring to the appearance of the place generally, Mr. Gilmour considers that the growth had been very rapid. Watt Street was the principal business centre, and it also boasted of the first theatre. Mr. Gilmour saw many favourite actors and acresses in the building, including Mr. J.L. Byers, Miss Maggie Oliver, and numerous others. Croft's theatre, on the site of the A.J.S. Bank was built later on, and was a popular place of amusement. He saw many successful amateur performances given there, including 'Othello' in which Messrs C.H.Hannell, A.A.P. Tighe, and
H. Rouse and other well known townsmen took part.
In 1852 the site of the Great Northern Hotel was occupied by a Mr. Hyndes, who had his horses stabled there. In 1857 Messrs. Wise and Smith had a provision store on the same site, and the Steam Packet Hotel built by Mr. Cooke was at the rear, nearer Pacific Street than Watt Street. Mr. H. Williams was the licensee.
Higher up Watt Street was the California Hotel, kept by Mr. Magney, who afterwards took over the Market Wharf Inn, at the foot of Market street. There was an amusement hall attached to the hotel. Originally the place was occupied by Messrs. James Fraser and Peter Sunderland, ships' carpenters. The building did not boast of a roof at this time, but when Captain Weatherill took it over as a ship chandler's store he roofed it.
There was only one house between Watt Street and the forts, and it stood in Pacific street. The building was erected from Sydney ballast by Mr. Cann the father of ex-Alderman Cann, the latter being born there. The land was purchased from Major Charles Bolton. At the intersection of Pacific and Scott streets there was a mound of sand 30ft high.
Mr. Gilmour recollects the first municipal election. There was a fair amount of excitement, and the chances of the different candidates were freely discussed for days before the election. The interest however, paled into insignificance when compared with the Parliamentary elections, which were conducted by open voting. The first Parliamentary representative in Mr. Gilmour's time was Mr. Edward Flood, who was a very popular man. The election of Mr. James Hannell as the first Mayor was also well received by the ratepayers. Mr. Hannell was a fair and just man, and he always took an active part in promoting the best interests of the town. The first meeting of the council was held in the courthouse.
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners'; Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) Mon 7 Jun 1909 Page 11