On the 29th August 2012 I was invited to address the Splendour in the Park Public meeting at the Newcastle Town Hall. The meeting featured a number of distinguished speakers from the University of Newcastle chaired by University Foundation Dr Bernard Curran and including world renown architects, Professor Richard Leplastrier and Professor Peter Stutchbury, Cultural Heritage Researcher and Historian, Ann Hardy, and Dr John Lewer from the University School of Business and Law and the Friends of King Edward Park Inc. Together, we presented an overview of this vitally important public open space, the heritage, history, and essential need for public participation.
The title of my presentation was “The Origins of the King Edward Park Recreational Reserve”.
During the recent announcement of sackings at the local Newcastle Herald, we digitised a Supplement published in 1966 on the history of newspapers in Newcastle. In that publication was an interesting engraving (reproduced above) that described King Edward Park as being a place “where many a feud was settled”. There was no further text explaining that particular engraving, or its original source, so I was left with a mystery that needed further investigation.
It reminded me of an article I had scanned many years ago for the Virtual Sourcebook for Aboriginal Studies dating from 1897 and documenting a native duel between Aboriginal tribes in Newcastle at the present site of the Obelisk back in November 1801, in the early inception period of European settlement in Newcastle. The 1801 Survey Mission under the leadership of Lieutenant Grant and Lieutenant Colonel Paterson having visited in June-July 1801 with a Corporal Wixsted arriving to take command in late July. It is during this survey mission that the land later to be known as King Edward Park were identified and officially named. Paterson wrote to Governor King on 25/6/1801, stating:
“…the hills from this to the southward are covered with excellent grass, without any wood or shrubs, except in the vallys [sic] and there but little. As they have much the appearance of those hills you see sheep feeding on in England and I am certain would answer well for that purpose, I have named them the “Sheep Pasture Hills’.”
The “Sheep Pasture Hills” appear on Ensign Francis Barrallier’s June-July 1801 Survey Chart of the Coal Harbour and Rivers.
A NATIVE DUEL IN 1801 IN NEWCASTLE
From: Huntington, H. W. H. (Henry William Hemsworth)
“History of Newcastle and the Northern District Number XXXVII” from Newcastle Morning Herald. 14th December 1897.
Transcribed by Gionni Di Gravio
Duels in England and Australia were very numerous during the reign of George the Third, and a striking thing is that as society became more polished duels became more frequent. Among the principals of the fatal duels of George the Third’s reign were Charles James Fox, Sheridan, Pitt, Canning, Castlereagh, the Duke of York, the Duke of Richmond, and Lord Camelford. There were more numerous duels in Australia than in England, but of a less deadly character. Here is the account of a duel which attracted the attention of the first settlers at Newcastle in November 1801. We are told that on points of honour the Australia – and particularly the Newcastle – natives were exceedingly sensitive. On these occasions the hostile messages are sent and delivered by seconds, generally elderly females, who make their verbal communications with all the accustomed vituperation of daring challenge to the offended party. The challenge is accepted, and the weapons named – the cudgel, shield, or spear. The day appointed was such a day when the sun was one quarter high; the place, the top of Prospect, now Obelisk Hill. Messengers with the sacred message sticks were dispatched to gather in the distant tribes, and for a night or two the various hill tops would display signal fired, announcing the approach of the tribes to witness the affair of honour. On the occasion of the duel witnessed by the early Novocastrians the affair was one of a hostile character. The offending native, a stalwart man, first stooped and offered his head for his antagonist to strike with his nullah nulla or cudgel. As he was not killed by the first blow he rose from his bending posture, shook the streaming blood from his bushy hair, and then his opponent fairly and honourably bent forward his head, presenting it in return to receive his adversary’s blow. Thus the duel was reciprocally continued, until the assembled tribes and the combatants themselves shouted out some native words, signifying that everyone was satisfied. Upon inquiry among the chieftains, the officers of the settlement were informed that had one of the combatants struck his opponent on the temple (thus showing a murderous intent), or in any other way than on the fairly offered cranium of his antagonist, a shower of well directed spears would have ended the earthly career of the cowardly assailant who would dare to be guilty of such a breach of their laws of honour. It was also ascertained that it was the custom among many of the northern tribes that when the first blow killed the combatant and he was a young man in good condition the assembled chiefs would roast and eat the body of him who so nobly fell in the cause of honour. As a matter of fact, the cannibalistic custom fell into disuetude, as it tended to no good purpose, but to check the spirit of duelling, which the natives loved to practice. Alarming or picturesque as these savage customs appear, the numerous actors who used to make the Newcastle forests echo with their music, dances, and pastimes have mingled with the dust, and there remain but a few solitary beings, who stalk abroad very much unlike their heroic ancestors, but soon to become “as a tale that is told.”
The slide above shows a segment from a panorama of Newcastle from 1821 painted by artist Edward Charles Close. It shows a representation of an Aboriginal corroboree taking place at the site of the brick windmill (now Obelisk), again providing a contemporary visual evidence of Aboriginal connection with the site for rituals and ceremonies.
To adequately position us locally with the historical events, this view (click the painting for a larger image) of early Newcastle displays the George Street, later Watt street vista, painted around 1816 by the convict Joseph Lycett. The wharf at the right hand side of the painting correlates today at the site of the roundabout opposite the Newcastle Train Station, upon which now resides on reclaimed land. The line up the hill to the Government House, which now lies under Watt Street roadway in the vicinity of Fletcher Park. Beyond that is the site of King Edward Park, South Newcastle Cliff (Yirannali) and Shepherd’s Hill (Khanterin).
The image above is an overlay of a section of John Armstrong’s 1830 map of Newcastle with Google Earth, providing and overhead view of the same scene depicted in the painting some years later. Again click the image for a greater detail. Various features identified in the 1830 map are pin pointed in the modern overlay.
The next part of our tale revolves around the eye witness account of Newcastle’s John Bingle (1796-1822). He was a sailor, merchant and landholder, who first visited Newcastle back in December 1821, met the then Commandant of the Penal Settlement, Major James Thomas Morisset (1780-1852), and taken on tour around the site of the town, and surrounding areas behind the Government House now King Edward Park and Bogey Hole. He later formed a company Bingle & Co. that established the first regular trading service between Sydney and Newcastle in 1822 in the sloop Sally. In 1824 he married and moved to a property in Scone called Puen Buen (which according to the researches of the late Canon Carlos Stretch is an Aboriginal word meaning “small stones.”) In 1837 he temporally returned to England before returning to Australia in 1842 and commencing a business in Newcastle in 1851. He was the Chair of the first Newcastle Chamber of Commerce established in May 1856, and the first message sent by telegraph on the line from Sydney to Newcastle, on 11 January 1860 was sent from his office. An interesting and dynamic man, who when he died in 1882 was lamented as Newcastle’s oldest inhabitant. He published his memoirs in 1873, The Past and Present Records of Newcastle, New South Wales, and it is from this work that the true origins of the Newcastle Recreational Reserve now known as King Edward Park and Bogey Hole are detailed. He is a primary source, a first hand account to information that, in the case of Morisset’s creation of the would never have been formally set in the public records.
DOWNLOAD John Bingle’s Past and Present Records of Newcastle, New South Wales (1873) [16.5MB PDF] or here The Past and Present Records of Newcastle, New South Wales Digitised by Newcastle Region Public Library
Bingle visited Newcastle in December 1821, and was taken on a tour by Major Morisset. He says:
The Commandant’s Residence named the Government House, was situated in the line of Watt-Street, about one hundred yards from the corner of the Barrack wall in Church Street. This building was a convenient and pretty cottage, but was unfortunately destroyed by fire some time after Major Morriset left to join his Regiment. At the back of it, over a hill, the Major had made a pretty (p.12) walk called the Horseshoe, the only outlet even to the present day, in the shape of a pleasant stroll, and as the rocks washed by the sea he had a bath excavated for his own use, which remains in its primitive state – called Morriset’s Bath. – Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle NSW, pp. 11-12
This is the evidence that Morisset was the creator of the Horseshoe walk and “Morriset’s Bath” later known as the Bogey Bole. The image above is a sketch by artist Conrad Martens drawn on 13th May 1841, and it is the earliest sketch we have of the Morrisets Bath. Trying to find any trace of its construction in official records has not been fruitful, as it would have not been justified, and seen an an inappropriate use of funds. Morisset did not mention its construction to Commissioner Bigge, that he had used convict labour to cut out a bath for himself, or create a pleasure walk, for his own private use. However, he obviously felt comfortable showing the settlement off to a person such as Bingle, who was a visiting sea captain and businessman, and at the time on route to Moreton Bay. He wasn’t hanging around. Bingle describes the settlement under Morisset’s rule:
In the month of December, 1821, I first visited Newcastle in command of H. M. C. Sloop Sally, on a voyage to examine and finish the coast survey between Sydney and Torres Straits, especially Moreton Bay; and my report of its capabilities being considered favourable, Mr. Oxley, the Surveyor Guneral, was sent to select and establish the settlement. Although upward of 50 years have elapsed since, there is not effaced from my memory the impression then made. I had never visited a Convict settlement, or seen arbitrary power carried to such an extent. Perhaps it was necessary for the safety of the settlement that such severe discipline and punishments should be adopted, but to a stranger’s eye it seemed very un-English. Walking out with the Commandant to see the beauties of the harbour, the splendid ocean view, and above all the magnificent and unrivalled prospect from the church close, and to give me an idea of the awe in which he was held, I found no convict passed us walking; all drew up, head uncovered, long before we reached them, and every coal cart drew up and stopped. – Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle NSW, p. 7
We now fast forward to May of 1856, Bingle has established the first Chamber of Commerce in Newcastle, and has been elected its Chair.
As its first order of business the Chamber lobbied the Government to grant the Horseshoe, coastline and Obelisk area that Bingle had visited all those years ago to the citizens of Newcastle. They also asked for two blocks of land in Watt Street to establish am Exchange and Reading Room.
The Government were induced by the Chamber to grant the citizens in perpetuity (35) thirty five acres of land as a recreation ground in the most delightful and picturesque part of Newcastle from the top of Watt Street round the Horse Shoe, to the Obelisk. – Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle NSW, p. 21
But, unfortunately disaster struck:
The great advantage which the city then derived in the possession of the Chamber of Commerce, was I regret to say, of short duration for the building in which the meetings were held, and in which the official documents and papers were kept, was totally destroyed by fire in 1859, and all records lost (except those in old newspapers) and no Chamber of Commerce established since to take its place. – Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle NSW, p. 22
But fortunately details of the proposals were recorded on an official Government Chart dated July 1860, copies made and distributed to citizens in the Town:
The Exchange and Reading Room, with offices and shipping books similar to Lloyd’s of London, was established at the same time as the Chamber of Commerce, May 1856, and destroyed in 1859 as I have just stated. …Soon after the formation of the Exchange, and when in working order, they applied to the Government to allot then a piece of land for the erection of a suitable building, which was given at the same time the post-office site was selected, and the adjoining allotment to it was given as the site of an exchange, and was marked so on an official Government chart, issues from the Surveyor General’s office, Sydney and dated July 1860. – Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle NSW, p. 23
I checked the date across our Flickr site, the actual plan was one digitised in July 2011 amongst 2.5 kms of plans digitised in the University ‘s Collections and uploaded here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uon/6070840885/
M4721 Map of the City of Newcastle, County of Northumberland, NSW, July, 1860.
The fire had destroyed the official records held in the Newcastle Business Chamber buildings in Watt Street, but luckily the newspapers of the day, including the Newcastle Telegraph (Newcastle’s first newspaper established by George Maxted in 1855) and the Newcastle Chronicle had placed important correspondence on the public record:
It was most unfortunate when the building was destroyed by tire that all the papers and documents were burnt, those especially beating on this subject among the number ; but most fortunately the doings of the Chamber were reported in the Telegraph, the local paper of that day; and also three of the letters published in the Chronicle by one of the Aldermen will speak for themselves.
Letter addressed to the Newcastle Chronicle, published 15th March, 1865.
THE RECREATION RESERVE.
SIR,—In compliance with your request, I herewith enclose you the three documents which I wish should be read by the Town Clerk, at the meeting of the Municipal Council last Monday night. I stated that on their being read I should move that they be received and referred to the Reserve Committee. Objections were made on their being read, and the Mayor having ruled that they should not be, I consequently failed in making them the property of the Council which I was very anxious to do, believing them to be important documents, and that on public grounds they should be in the hands of the Municipality. The first letter proves the origin and objects of the grant, and the reply to the second proves who were intended as Trustees, viz., the Municipal Council. You are at liberty to make what use of them you think proper, and then return them to me. I have kept them for six years. Twice have I offered them to the Newcastle Municipal Council, the third time I hope they will receive them – the plot thickens.—Yours, &c.,
Newcastle, March 14th 1865.
Colonial Secretary’s Office,
Sydney, 10th September, 1856.
GENTLEMEN,- His Excellency, the Governor General, has laid before the Executive Council your memorial, praying that the remaining unaltered portion of the “Newcastle City Extension Reserve” may be granted, and placed in trust for the inhabitants of Newcastle, to be appropriated for “the purpose of recreation, and forming a reservoir. 2. His Excellency in Council has under the report on the subject received from the Surveyor-General, approved of the land in question, containing about thirty-five acres, being permanently dedicated to the public purposes named m the memorial, of which that officer has been apprised. I have the honor to be, gentlemen, your most obedient servant.
To J. Wright, Esq., and other gentlemen signing the Memorial, Newcastle.
Newcastle. 29th September, 1856.
SIR, – On behalf of the Memorialists, I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 10th instant, announcing compliance by his Excellency the Governor General in Council, with the prayer of a memorial addressed to him from here, for a grant of the unalienate portion of the Newcastle City Extension Reserve, for the public purposes therein mentioned. I am requested by the memorialists to express the grateful sense they entertain of the enlightened liberality of his Excellency the Governor General and Council, which has induced this important public boon, which it is the earnest wish of the inhabitants of Newcastle, that they may be enabled to soon adapt to the important objects, for which it has been so liberally granted; and in requesting your conveyance of these feelings of the memorialists to his Excellency. I am desired to state their impression of the courteous manner in which, you have been pleased to express to them his Excellency’s determination. As his Excellency’s intention probably contemplates the nomination from here of a number of gentlemen interested in the advancement of this city, and consequently in the promotion of the objects of the trust, to be appointed trustees in the deed, I am requested to name the undermentioned, who would act in that capacity. The object in naming this number is to secure a more extended interest and efficient action in carrying out the purposes of the grant. — I have tho honor to be Sir, your most obedient servant,
(Signed) SAMUEL WRIGHT
Memo of names submitted, Messrs. .John Bingle, B. Hudson, George Tully, Benjamin Hislop, Simon Kemp, P. C. Boswell, Thomas Adam, and S. L. Wright.
To the Honorable the Colonial Secretary, Sydney,
Colonial Secretary’s Office
Sydney, 21st October, 1856.
SIR,– With reference to your letter of the 20th ultimo, in which you submit the names of certain gentlemen proposed as trustees to receive a grant of the land, recently appropriated as an extension reserve for the recreation and amusement of the inhabitants of the city of Newcastle. I am directed to inform you, that, in contemplation of the establishment of municipalities it is considered proper to defer, for the present, the issue of a deed in this case. I am directed to add that the papers on this subject have now been transmitted to the Secretary for Lands and Public Works, to whose department the business belongs, and that any further communication which may be necessary, will be made to you from tho office of that Minister. — I have the honor to be Sir, your must obedient servant.
SAMUEL WRIGHT, Esq., Newcastle,
This correspondence does not directly apply to the Exchange Grant, but to that of the Recreation ground. They were both made at the same time, and both dealt with in like manner— further, these letters prove that the city was indebted to the Committee’s exertions for the Recreation land, and it is fortunate that official letters have been preserved in private hands.
With regards to the creation of the Horse Shoe walk, there is an argument that what became our pathways and roads, were originally the tracks of the Aboriginal people, who had walked the land for thousands of years. Such themes will be further investigated by my fellow presenters Professors Richard Leplastrier and Peter Stutchbury. The engraving above entitled “Near Newcastle on the Hunter, New South Wales” is from an original work by John Skinner Prout (1805-1876) and engraved by S. Bradshaw. It was reproduced facing page 126 in Volume 2 of Australia by Edwin Carton Booth, F R. C. I. Illustrated with Drawings by Skinner Prout, N. Chevalier, &c. &c. London: Virtue and Company Limited, (1873-1876). It shows Aboriginal people at Shepherds Hill around 1841 at what is a path or track in the scrub. Morisset may have created this path from what may have already been an Aboriginal track.
There also exists a possible Aboriginal name for South “Shepherds Hill” as Khanterin. We are not sure that it is an Aboriginal word, but have found it used in two sources to date.
Bingle and the Memorialists had attempted to secure the Recreation Ground, but the decision had to been deferred to the newly established Newcastle Municipal Council. What we have established through Bingle’s testimony, is that we can thank the first Newcastle Business Chamber for the initial vision in securing the Recreation Reserve for the Newcastle community. We know that the Crown eventually did dedicate 40 acres for recreation purposes gazetted on the 16th July 1863. Further work needs to be undertaken to see what happened from there.
Bingle constantly refers to the bickerings and arguments that accompany anything undertaken in Newcastle. His book records some important words of advice for our Community.
The reminiscences of old times, are most refreshing, for there was an amount of genial and kindly feeling existing at that time, which does not, I regret to say, influence our citizens now to work the one with the other.
It is truly grievous the want of unanimity, ill-feeling, and bickerings displayed at our public meetings. Even when we are personally concerned. But call a meeting for any local display, or especially for a patriotic purpose. Then I am proud of my fellow townsmen, who can, when the matter is properly brought before them, throw off all bickerings and strife and join heart, hand, and purse, for the advancement of either object.
At times like these the good qualities of our townspeople are brought out without a dissenting voice.
– Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle NSW, pp. 45-46
To his fellow business leaders:
After the fire the subscribers were disheartened, and no attempt has since been made to replace it. However, it is never too late to mend, so it is to be hoped that our influential commercial men may throw all jealousies aside and bestir themselves in carrying out the views and intentions of their former benefactors. – Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle NSW, p. 26
John Bingle to future Newcastle:
I venture to prophesy that Newcastle will take the lead of all the colonies; and if the consumption and increased demand for coal to the eastward of the Cape of Good Hope continues as at present, Newcastle must become one of the greatest cities in the Southern Hemisphere, in wealth and prosperity. All machinery is set in motion by coal, and it must be had at any price; for without it, all commercial and postal contracts would be broken; and all industries be at a standstill, especially steamers.- Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle NSW, p. 39
It requires us as citizens to bury all paltry jealousies and unite for the advancement of our city, and as its progress is developed, our interests, which are identical, will also go onward, and the years in store for us will cause greater moral and commercial successes to be achieved than have been chronicled in either the Past or Present Records of Newcastle. – Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle NSW, p. 47
These words are as timely today, as they were in 1873. Bingle saw that our fractured and bickering community was at its best at times of patriotism. It is interesting that the King Edward Park reserve later becomes a focal point for marches and commemorations after the war years prior to the formation of Civic Park. The Wattle Day League in celebration of Arbor Day would have commemorative tree plantings, and processions would wend their way from the Post Office up Watt Street to King Edward Park. Bingle may have foreseen King Edward Park as a place where petty feuds and squabbles among his fellow citizens could be resolved, just as they had been for thousands of years prior among the Aboriginal people. The place is obviously a special place, a lucky place, that he and his fellow colleagues fought to protect and retain for community ownership. It needs to be kept aside as our original business Chamber pioneers wished it to be, a Recreation Ground for the people of Newcastle.
Gionni Di Gravio
University Archivist and Chair – Coal River Working Party
University of Newcastle (Australia)