An Interesting Relic

Newcastle – An Interesting Relic (From Thursday’s Chronicle)

“NEWCASTLE. (From Thursday’s Chronicle)

AN INTERESTING RELIC. – On Friday morning last, as the workmen were employed in pulling down the walls of the Bank of New South Wales, in Watt Street, they found embedded between the plastering and the wall, a kind of small leaden case, containing a piece of white paper, about the size of a half-sheet of post or letter paper, in an excellent state of preservation, and which document, from what has been written upon it, had been evidently deposited there by the man who plastered the building. The writing is very inferior, and the orthography is execrable – the commonest words being mis-spelt. The following is a correct transcription of the paper:

Newcastle, July 10th, 1838. – This is to inform those that find this, that this house was plastered by Thomas Simpson, from Leith in Scotland. This is awful time with battle between the free and convicts. The latter is losing the power; they are going down like chaff before the free men, and it is right they should, for when I came here in 1831 there were little else but convicts. Remember me when this (apparently a Masonic emblem) you see – THOMAS SIMPSON. This property belongs to A.W. Scott, Esq., from Dundee in Scotland. My native town is Arbroath, eighteen miles from Dundee. T.S. – I came here with Rev. Dr Lang, 15th October, 1831, per brig Stirling Castle, with wife and two daughters, at my expense, £75. – THOMAS SIMPSON.

The document is in the possession of the manager of the Bank of New South Wales, Mr. Cotton, who has kindly permitted us to copy it.”

This interesting undated newspaper article was found whilst accessioning the papers of the late Ross Deamer into the University’s archives. It in turn was copied from a file held in the Mitchell Library under the title of ‘J. Dickson Journal and Notes 1838-1877’ (M.L. MSS 1972).

I tried to locate the original Newcastle Chronicle story in Trove, but couldn’t locate it. A copy of this story was relayed in the Queanbeyan Age under their Colonial Extracts as ‘A Curious Discovery’ on Thursday 3rd November 1870. The article is interesting in its alternate text of ‘P.S.’ instead of ‘T.S.’ and ‘£15’ instead of ‘£75’.

Thanks to Jen Willets who located the story in the Maitland Mercury Saturday 22 October 1870 p.3 The original story was therefore possibly published in the Newcastle Chronicle on the previous Thursday 20th October 1870, reporting the discovery made on Friday 14th October 1870.

Thanks to Ann Hardy who has tracked down the original Newcastle Chronicle article published on the 20 October 1870:

It would be interesting to find what became of Thomas Simpson’s leaden case and note. Jen Willets has provided some details relating to the Manager of the Bank of New South Wales in the comments below. From the Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday 16th January 1906:

Mr. Henry Bayes Cotton, who died at his residence, Hunter’s Hill, yesterday, at the age of 86, was one of the oldest colonists of New South Wales. He arrived In Sydney, in 1830, and joined the Bank of New South Wales. He was manager of the bank at Geelong when the Ballarat gold fields were at their zenith, and was afterwards manager of the branch at Newcastle for 25 years, in the latter city Mr. Cotton commanded the respect and esteem of all classes. He took an active part in many public matters, especially in the establishment of the School of Arts in that city, and he lent valuable assistance during many years in making it a successful institution. He was a member of the Church of England, and took a keen Interest in everything connected with its welfare, being an energetic and zealous worker as lay reader and  member of the Synod. Retiring from the service of the bank about 15 years ago, Mr. Cotton took up his residence at Hunter’s Hill. He has left three sons.

At his retirement on the 23 February 1888 Mr. Henry Bayes Cotton suggested that he was Newcastle’s first banker taking charge of the Bank of New South Wales in 1863-1864, followed by the Bank of Australasia, serving 25 years as bank manager. (see:

The “relic” may or may not have survived. Some possible scenarios are that:

  1. It is still in existence in the family records and papers of the late Mr Henry Bayes Cotton, and his descendants
  2. It lies within the archives of the former Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) in Mars Road, Lanes Cove, Sydney
  3. It was possibly donated as a “curiosity” to a collection to a School of Arts, or Institute of some kind at the time in Newcastle, probably the Newcastle School of Arts which we understand Mr Cotton helped establish.
  4. Lost

If anyone does know what became of Mr Cotton’s personal papers or knows what became of Thomas Simpson’s 1838 note we would like to know.

Gionni Di Gravio

11 thoughts on “An Interesting Relic

  1. The same article was also in the Maitland Mercury on 22 October 1870.
    The Manager of the Bank of New South Wales recorded in the Newcastle Directory 1880/81 was Henry Bayes Cotton. He lived in Newcastle for 25 years and retired to Sydney in 1888. In his retirement he lived at Figtree, Hunter’s Hill area. He died in January 1906 aged 86.

    1. Jen:

      this comment has nothing to do with the current subject. I recently found your site and want to both congratulate you and thank you for a truly incredible and useful site. It is terrific, and has allowed me to fill in some holes on long deceased relatives. I’m writing another historical novel about my extended family and between your site and Trove have dug out some tidbits that I wouldn’t have found elsewhere. Your site is fabulous. (Although the link to Convict Ship Conditions is curently not working (Sep 25 US) .). Thanks again
      Warren Dent

    2. Hi Jen,
      The Newcastle Family History Society is beginning a second publication to follow on from their ‘Early Newcastle: The Fettered & The Free’. This publication will be specifically looking at the female convicts who came to Newcastle. We have found some wonderful information on your website and would like to make contact with you (we would also like to ensure that we properly acknowledge your contribution to our work). I wonder if you would be kind enough to reply to my email. I am co-ordinating the NFHS research for this publication.
      Kind regards,
      Mel Woodford

    3. Hi Jen. This is not related to this thread. Couldn’t find contact details for you elsewhere.
      RE: I have found the exact location of the Maitland Wine Vault. Thought you might like to update the entry for John Mayo on your website. I have also started a new Facebook page you would be interested in that reveals new facts about Morpeth. Search for the ‘Morpeth History Sleuth’.


      Troy Murphie

    4. Hi Jen!
      I’ve been trying to find a way of contacting you. There does not seem to a “contact” link on your website.
      Anyway, on your website you have a page dedicated to William Bell Carlyle, who I am doing some research on. That newspaper article you posted concerning Granny Sutton…what was its source and date?
      Please send reply to me, Terry Domico at
      Looking forward to your correspondence.

    5. Hi Jen, I acknowledge this is an odd way to get in contact with you but i have been searching for help about some info posted on your website I have been in contact with almost every museum and historical society in NSW /VIC and QLD but can not find any reference to the “Log Book of the Fever Ship Minerva 1838” other that on your site. The author of the log write about the death of my relative Donald Mc Phail and I’m hoping you can help me source where the original log book is kept or if you have a digital copy of the dairy.

      I am happy to provide my contact details if needed but happy for you to reply to this comment as well

  2. Thanks Jen. If your date is correct, then that alters the original find date to the Friday before the 22nd October 1870.

    1. Hi Gionni and Jen, I p/c the article about a year ago from the Newcastle Herald & Miners’ Advocate, I scribbled the date down as 20.10.1870, but I may be wrong! I also wrote the following about it:
      “There were many social problems in the township of Newcastle in the 1830s and the second wave of convicts to Newcaslte (to complete Macquarie pier) may have contributed to growing tensions between these two groups. Simpson’s note describes the feeling in the town in 1838 and depicts the dire situation of the convicts at a time when there was a rapid increase of free settlers to Newcastle. Within a decade there had been a rapid transition from what had been a convict settlement to a enterprising sea port. Perhaps the free settlers thought the convicts were taking their jobs or maybe it was the large concentration of convicts the settlers found confronting. The sudden influx of convicts may have unsettled the new arrivals who were expected to live and work nearby one another.
      The description of going down like ‘chaff’ is an interesting expression and perhaps the author is implying that the convicts were physically assaulted by the free settlers, or neglected by authorities. They may have suffered health problems, becoming sick and unable to work! Either way it does not appear that the free settlers thought much of the convicts in Newcastle in the 1830s.

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