Pen and Pencil Sketches on the Hunter.
BY OUR SPECIAL ARTIST.
In a recent issue we gave some account of Newcastle, together with a coloured bird’s-eye view of that place. The present article, from the pen of a chatty writer, is descriptive of the country beyond the City of Coal, will doubtless be read with interest.
BY the courtesy of Mr. Walsch, a trim little steamer was placed at our disposal for a day’s outing on the river, and, with himself as host (he having official duties requiring his attention at Raymond Terrace), we steamed away from Newcastle at 8 a.m. under a cloudless sky, the wind playing freshly in our faces. Leaving the Dyke behind, with its huge cranes, its noise, and its bustle, and multitudinous vessels of every description lying alongside its whole length, we pass the copper smelting works, – where large quantities of ore are being treated, which have been brought from the great copper-producing district of York’s Peninsula, in South Australia – and the stacks of innumerable remote collieries with their belching clouds of smoke commence to fade faintly and merge into the haze of the horizon, as we carefully pick our devious course between the outlying vessels which are moored in the stream.
‘ She walks the water like a thing of life,’
we follow a bend in the river and are alone on the broad reaches of the Hunter, with not a solitary craft in sight.
The banks at this point are very low-lying, and occasional glimpses are to be obtained of picturesque little farm dwellings, with paddocks neatly laid out, and brilliant tints of maize and banana plantations enlivening the otherwise dun-coloured landscape. We leave on our left what appears to be another river (see our double-page illustration) ; but this, we are informed, is only a backwater of the Hunter, and effects a junction again with the river at a point nearer Newcastle, thereby enclosing a long island.
For some distance the character of the scenery is very monotonous, though the soil becomes increasingly rich. During the course of the day we are triumphantly informed by several of the ‘oldest inhabitants’ that there are ‘ thirty feet of soil on their farms.’ Owing to the ambiguity of these statements, we express our sense of disappointment at the abnormally small proportions of the said farms, but feel reassured when our captain informs us that they refer to depth, and not superficial extent. In many places along the valley of the Hunter, we are informed, there is a depth of thirty feet of soil; but, after due consideration, we fail to see where the utility comes in, unless the farmers can commence to grow their crops downwards, and simultaneously, in successive layers.
But here is the long rambling township of Raymond Terrace, so we shut off steam and range alongside to enable our commander to disembark, and after laying in a few provisions, we again breast the stream and soon debouch into the mouth of the Williams River — a tributary of the Hunter. The settlers’ houses along the banks of this river are less scattered and the character of the country becomes less conventional. Blue ranges of hills lie in the background, and broken, undulating country in the middle distance, while the river winds placidly, with scarce a ripple between richly- coloured foreground banks.
We ascend as far as the brush and broom factory, and after inspecting the works of this important but embryo industry, again drop quietly down stream to Raymond Terrace, ship the captain, and steam into the mouth of the Paterson River. After a very short distance this becomes one long succession of delightful artistic surprises, and would make an admirable sketching ground for an artist of leisure. Quaint old houses and outlying barns stand silhouetted against a brilliant sky, whose sunset glories of purple and gold are mirrored in the stream, broken only by the occasional leap of a mullet or bream. An unwieldy-looking steam barge, laden with produce for Newcastle, turns a bend in the river, and slowly passes us, and after steaming under a bridge, with fresh beauties and mysterious distances still beckoning us onward, we reluctantly turn and drop down stream.
In due time we arrive at picturesque little Morpeth, which is the furthest township on the Hunter accessible by large boats. Morpeth is some thirty miles from Newcastle, and is situate in the County of Northumberland. It is a bright little place, its trade depending in a large measure upon its ‘crops,’ and within four miles of the township are several pits in active operation, which yield vast quantities of coal. The fertility of the river flats hereabouts is very great ; every kind of produce is successfully grown, including grapes of luscious appearance and fine flavour. Thousands of gallons of wine and some very excellent brandy are turned out every year in Morpeth.
The town consists principally of two main streets, running parallel with the river. The public buildings include some fine Government schools, a court-house, a couple of banks, and several churches, etc. – the Episcopalian Church, by the way, being one of the prettiest in the colony. The School of Arts is a fine hall, with a well appointed reading-room, and a library containing about 1300 volumes.
The Newcastle Steam Shipping Co., and the Hunter River N.S.W. Co., have wharves here for loading and discharging their steamers free of wharfage dues. Both wharves communicate with the railway, and vessels up to 800 tons can navigate the river as far as Morpeth. The buildings are nearly all of stone, obtained from several quarries in the vicinity of the town. The place became a municipality in 1865. The population is about 1500.
Having visited the ‘lions’ of Morpeth, we make our way to the railway station, and are carried by a branch line to East Maitland, whose proximity, by the way, to the Hunter has been the cause of its suffering from the disastrous floods which have from time to time laid waste the town and district. East Maitland has twenty-seven miles of streets, and rateable property valued at £165,000. The principal public buildings are the court-house, the gaol — so substantially and strongly built as to defy the efforts to escape of even the redoubtable Jack Sheppard himself, were that worthy still in the land of the living and confined within its walls — the Mechanics’ Institute (with a library of over 2,000 volumes), banks, schools, churches, etc. Property in this township is rapidly rising in value, and many new buildings have recently been erected.
We ‘took it easy’ for a whole day at East Maitland, and enjoyed the luxury of doing nothing — bar sight-seeing-and then pushed on for West Maitland, which is connected with the other township by ‘bus and train. West Maitland is much larger and much the more populous of the two places. The principal thoroughfare is High-street, containing some remarkably fine shops and stores, etc. The magnificent premises of D. Cohen and Co., are probably as fine as any of the kind in Sydney.
On the front, at the intersection of the ground floor and first story, is a long row of equidistant carved heads, full of grotesqueness and weird beauty. As we pause to admire, struck by their peculiar similarity to the bulky head of a prominent politician, a street urchin ranges up, throws a back somersault, and hazards the remark : ‘Aint they funny, sir ? Them’s wot’s called “Satyrs!”‘
Pulbrook’s shop is another establishment that fairly took us by surprise. The show of coverings for the pedal extremities displayed in Mr. Pulbrook’s windows is quite equal to that shown by many a metropolitan manufacturer and importer of boots and shoes. Mr. Pulbrook also owns and ‘runs ‘ ‘The Great Boot Fairs’ at Newcastle and West Maitland. We give a view of his handsome premises in High-st., West Maitland. Summerfield, whose name is familiar in our mouths as household words, has a handsome branch tailoring establishment at West Maitland, and also one at Newcastle. Mr. F. Brewer does a thriving business as a timber merchant, and Dilley and Hogan are large manufacturers of tin and galvanized iron goods. They also have a branch at High-street, Greta.
Of large concerns at West Maitland the Northern Wool-scouring Company’s works are entitled to special mention. We paid them a visit, and were much interested in what we saw and heard. These mills are on the banks of the Hunter River, and are most complete in every respect, the plant and machinery being constructed on the latest principles. The site is admirably suited for the purpose, and the position cannot be surpassed by that of any similar establishment in the colony. There is an abundant supply of the softest water from the Hunter River, the purity of which may be estimated from the fact that at about three miles above the works the river is dammed, and the water stored to supply the whole of the Maitland and Newcastle districts for domestic purposes. There are ten tanks in operation, both the undershot and the overshot systems being worked, and the washing is done with the hand. This is more expensive than the machine washing process, but gives much better results to the growers and those who require to have their wool scoured, inasmuch as the washing is done more effectively and with no injury to the staple, while machines are likely to tear and break the wool. Upwards of 500 bales can be treated per week, and this will give a very fair idea of the extent of the works. About forty hands are constantly employed, and during the wool season this number is considerably exceeded. Space will not permit of a detailed description of the whole of the machinery, but we may mention that the company have in full work a burring machine recently imported from America. This, as its name implies, effectually eradicates all burrs and other extraneous matter from sheepskins, and its work is done in the most complete manner ; skins thickly matted with burr and seed are put through this machine and turned out clean and free, without doing the slightest injury to the wool; while its value is materially enhanced. This is a great acquisition to the company in their fellmongering department, enabling them to treat the very worst class of skins in a complete and satisfactory manner. There is also connected with these works a tannery on an extensive scale, where from 200 dozen pelts per week are converted into basils of a high class, for which there is a ready market. The basils from these mills are well known and appreciated by the saddlers of this district for the superiority of their manufacture and the substance of the skins. Since this business was commenced some three years ago, over 10,000 bales of wool have been treated, and the scoured wool commands the highest price, quoted for this article. The head office of the company is in Newcastle.
The other big industrial concerns of West Maitland include a tobacco factory, three boot factories, a brewery, etc. The public buildings are really creditable to the place. The court-house (formerly known as Northumberland Hotel) is three-storied and pf striking appearance ; the hospital, at Campbell’s Hill, is one of the best insti tutions of the kind in the colony; the School of Arts contains a library of 6,500 volumes ; the Benevolent Asylum is worth a visit if time will allow; and, besides all . these places, there are the Victoria Theatre, the skating rinks, halls, bands, etc. The Commercial Banking Company’s premises, erected at a cost of £20,000, is a noble building. The places of worship include three Episcopalian, one Wesleyan, one Congregational, one Presbyterian, and one Roman Catholic Church, besides which there is a Jewish Synagogue, a Convent of Dominican Nuns, and numerous schools.
The town is lighted with gas, and High street is like a fair on Saturday night. We enjoyed a stroll amongst the well-lighted shops after dinner, and could almost fancy ourselves at home again.
There are between forty and fifty hotels in West Maitland, which, by the way, is a great wine-producing place, although but comparatively little of the said wine is consumed locally. It is a singular thing that with such excellent ‘tipple’ to be had for almost nothing, colonials still prefer the strong ales and fiery spirits so popular in the old country.
To those who prefer a boarding-house at which to ‘put up’ when on their travels, we can strongly recommend Mr. H. Try’s Centennial House, a really nice place, where visitors will be made thoroughly comfortable. Of the hotels, for comfort combined with charges which must be considered moderate, we know of no better house than the Belmore, in High-street, near the bridge. Mr. C. E. Nicholson is an excellent host and a thorough good fellow, and the Belmore, although standing on the outskirts of the town, is becoming decidedly popular with both residents and visitors. Mr. Nicholson was formerly Crown Lands Agent at Coonabarabran, holding that position for some years. So highly esteemed and respected was he by the people of the before-mentioned town, that when he came away he became the recipient of a handsome souvenir.
Amongst other interesting subjects, our artist has given a sketch of a remarkable tree which we met with on our way to the wool-scuuring works. This tree is a strong proof of the fertility of the soil! It is very lofty, of great girth, and grows right through the verandah of the house in front of which it stands. How it got into such a position – whether the verandah was erected to accommodate the tree, or the tree was grown to accommodate the verandah – we don’t know; but there it is. We were told that it was a Queensland bread-fruit tree ; but, being unfamiliar with that description of tree, cannot vouch for the truth of the statement.
The Victoria Bridge – a fine structure of wood, which spans Wallis’ Creek — is always pointed out to the visitor as something worthy of his inspection. Alongside this bridge floodgates have been erected to prevent the submersion of the low-lying lands during heavy freshets in the river. These gates cost about £20,000 to erect, but have already saved more than five times their value.
In our double page illustration, by the way, our artist has depicted the recent floods in the township, which did great damage, both to the road and the embankment. Some idea of that damage maybe gathered on reference to the sketches.
We spent a couple of days with both pleasure and profit at West Maitland, and it was with some regret that, our holiday over, we bade our jolly host good-bye, and turned our faces homewards.
Illustrations digitised by Gionni Di Gravio in 2010 from the Microfilm.
Transcriptions courtesy of Trove 2019.