Kooragang Island

Display an image of Kooragang Island
Kooragang Island – Detail of a 1980-1983 Satellite Image of the Hunter Region (Special Collections M4831b)

Kooragang Island is the name, now given, to what was once a number of Islands that made up the Hunter River estuary. Ash Island was one of these Islands, there were many more.

Local Radio ABC 1233

Local ABC Radio 1233 asked what was the difference between Ash Island and Kooragang Island?

University Archivist & Chair Hunter Living Histories Gionni Di Gravio explained to ABC Newcastle’s Paul Turton the history of Kooragang Island and Ash Island.

First Mention of “Kooragang Island”

The first public mention of “Kooragang”, that we have been able to locate, appears in a letter to the editor of the Newcastle Morning Herald & Miner’s Advocate by Mr W. J. Goold published Monday 31 October 1927:



-The article on “Early Newcastle,” by Dr. H. Martin Doyle, M.L.C., in your Saturday’s issue, is most instructive, and I am sure that there are many of your readers, like myself, who are deeply interested in all matters concerning ‘Old Newcastle.’

Regarding the Newcastle Mechanics’ Institute mentioned by the doctor.

In an early Maitland press notice (June 19, 1847) it states : “The Newcastle Mechanics’ Institute. Rev. Wilton will deliver the opening address in the societies’ room, and will preside in the evening at half-past six o’clock.”

Again, we read that on July 24, 1847, a lecture was delivered at the Newcastle Mechanics’ Institute by the  Rev. Walland, late of Cambridge. “This gentleman subsequently opened a school, known as the Hunter River Academy, in Watt street.

In the following year (1848) the society evidently changed its name to the “Newcastle School of Arts,” or was this another society.

On June 23, 1848 Mr. Steel, sen., exhibited at the Newcastle School of Arts “five pieces of linen which had once formed part of the wrapping round an Egyptian-mummy, said to have been 2000 years old.”

About the same time a resident of Newcastle, writing in the “Maitland Mercury,” states, that,  “the school of arts in Newcastle is being every day of more importance from the number of members taken, and will ultimately be of benefit to the district at large.”

Again, on February 24, 1850, the following advertisement appears in the local press:-“School of Arts, Newcastle. The annual meeting of the above society, for the election of officers for the ensuing 12 months, will be held in the societies’ rooms on Wednesday,  March 20, 1850, at 7.30 p.m. William Charlton, secretary.

This William Charlton was also the secretary of the Loyal Union Lodge, I.O.O.F., No. 3371. Whether he was a relation to the Alexander Charlton mentioned on the tablet in 1835 I do not know.

The Rev. Wilton’s Farm, mentioned by Dr. Doyle, was situated in the centre of Moscheto Island and was called “Kooragang.”

Here the reverend gentleman had several acres under cultivation; growing oranges, bananas, grapes, and other fruit.

I trust that we shall be favoured with several other articles by the doctor on the early records of our city.


[Reference: EARLY NEWCASTLE. (1927, October 31). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134519937]

Mr Goold was responding to the following article, published in the Saturday edition. We include the full transcription for its historical value in the history of the Newcastle Mechanic’s Institute and identities of the time and the streets named after them.

Image of article Early Newcastle, published in 1927
“Early Newcastle” Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners Advocate. 29 October 1927 p.5


Some notes on the site of the first Reading Room and Mechanics’ Institute, established at Newcastle in 1835, with reference to the engraved copper plate and coins found under a foundation-stone at the north-east corner of Watt and King streets in 1927.


During the excavations for the foundation of Dalgety and Company’s building. at the north-east corner of Watt and King streets. Newcastle, the workmen came on a foundation-stone covering an engraved copper plate and several coins.

Only three of these coins were recovered – a Georgian copper penny, a Russian copper coin and a Queen Victoria penny.

There were, it was said, several other coins found, which the workmen secured as souvenirs.

The Engraved Copper Plate

The engraved plate is of copper, measuring nine inches long by eight inches broad. The engraving is in script, beautifully executed and reads as follows:

This Foundation Stone
of the Newcastle Mechanics’ Institute, etc.
Founded 2nd June, 1835,
the Officers of which were at the time
His Excellency Sir George Gipps, Knt., Patron.
The Revd. C. Pleydell Wilton, A.M., President.
George Brooks, Esquire, Vice-President.
Mr. Simon Kemp, Treasurer.
Mr. Alexander Flood, Secretary.
Messrs Alex’ r Brown, Jas Steele, Martin Richardson. Alex’r. Charlton, G. W. Jackson
Committee of Management.
Messrs. Alex’r. Brown, Hy Rees, and. Alex’r Charlton

Was laid 14th August. 1841,
Anno Quinto Victoriae Reginae

HY REES, Architect.

No written documents were found with the plate.

First Mention of Newcastle Mechanics’ Institute

The first reference to this institute I have been able to discover is in a manuscript in my possession, of the evidence given at the Newcastle Police Court by a Mr. Hayes, on June 16th, 1835. a fortnight after the institute was founded.

“Elisha Hayes, poundkeeper, charged S. S . … came by the ‘Camden’ for life in 1832, assigned to the A.A. Company. with being on his premises after hours. Mr. Hayes said, “I found prisoner in my garden at eleven o’clock in the evening with his hat and shoes off. I ordered him to accompany me to the watchhouse. As we passed the room that we are fitting up for a library, he went into the room, and put on his hat and shoes. We got as far as the well that belongs to Mr. Smith, and he ran away.”

Smith’s well was on the south side of King-street, between Watt and Pacific streets. I remember it when I lived at the Newcastle Hospital as medical superintendent in 1891.

Description of Watt-Street and Newcastle’s Population

The abovementioned room, on the level of the street was no doubt a temporary structure, fitted up as a library and reading room on the site afterwards occupied by the permanent building. Watt-street at that time was the main street of the town. It was usually referred to as “The Street.” The population was mainly comprised of convicts working at the extension of Macquarie’s Pier (now the breakwater between Fort Scratchley and Nobbys), others assigned as servants to the A.A. Company, and other employers, ticket-of-leave men, prisoners free by servitude, soldiers of the English regiments, officials, and a few free men and women; and numbered a little over one thousand.

The 1841 Building

Amongst my manuscript records I have an indirect description of the building erected in 1841.

Describing the early Catholic places of worship, the writer states that:

“the first Catholic chaplain in Newcastle was Father C. V. Dowling, an Irish Dominican priest, whose previous labours were at Bordeaux in France. In 1838 the Irish Catholic soldiers of the English regiments stationed at Newcastle subscribed a day’s pay each to provide seating accommodation in Croasdill’s ‘Long Room’ (right opposite the present Commonwealth Bank), a sail loft built of brick, in which holy mass was celebrated. It was situated near the harbour, on the east side of Newcomen street, over three or four dwelllng-houses on the north boundary of the water reserve, from which access was by a flight of wooden steps. A similar room and building with stairs was erected on the east side of Watt-street, and north side of King-street, and used as a reading room and library.”

The Mechanics’ Institute was probably housed in the upper storey, and the ground floor used as dwelling-houses, and it was probably designed by the same architect who built Croasdill’s Long Room. The institute had a short life. The discovery of gold and the rush to the goldfields in California and elsewhere greatly depleted the population of Newcastle.

John Askew’s Description of Newcastle

An Englishman, John Askew, visited Australia in 1852, and lived for some months in Newcastle. He published the account of his wanderings at Cockermouth England, in 1857, and gave a detailed description of Newcastle. he wrote:-

“The celebrated Dr. Bowker has one of the best houses in the principal street. In the main street above Dr. Bowker’s the words ‘Mechanics’ Institute’ was painted at the end of a shoemaker’s shop, but the words were all that remained of the institute. There were no books. It no longer existed in anything but a name.”

The present school of arts, the literary successor of the “Mechanics’ Institute,” was a new foundation, many years afterwards.

The Names Inscribed on the Copper Plate

The names inscribed on the copper plate were mainly those of officials.

Sir George Gipps

Sir George Gipps succeeded Sir Richard Bourke as Governor in 1838. and retired in 1846. He is remembered by giving his name to Gippsland in Victoria.

The Reverend Charles Pleydell Neale Wilton

The Reverend Charles Pleydell Neale Wilton, Master of Arts, was Senior Chaplain and the parson of Christ Church, now the Cathedral, in Church-street. He was a geologist, and wrote fairish poetry.He had a farm out of the town, and had many convicts assigned to him as servants.He was a strict disciplinarian, and a great believer in flogging, and frequently had his own servants and other assigned persons up before the magistrate for disobedience, neglect of work, and not going to church, and had them scourged, He was the parson of Christ Church from 1832 to 1859. Wilton-street, Merewether, was named after him.

George Brooks

George Brooks was Colonial Surgeon and Justice of the Peace, in Newcastle, for many years, in charge of the convicts and the hospital. He came out as surgeon of the Coromandel transport in 1804, left the ship and entered the Government service. He died in Newcastle. and was buried in the Christ Church cemetery, where his tombstone is to be seen.

Simon Kemp

Simon Kemp was brought out by the A.A. Company to Port Stephens as carpenter. After leaving the company he came to Newcastle, and had public houses in Watt and Hunter streets. Kemp became possessed of city property, and in 1863 he built the first big building in hunter-street. known as Kemp’s Building. on the façade of which was cut “S.K.. 1863.” This building was recently pulled down, and in its place the A.M.P. Offices were erected. His daughter married Edward Parnell. and was the mother of the late Walter Parnell.

Alexander Flood

Alexander Flood was a storekeeper.

Alexander Brown

Alexander Brown – not to be confounded with Alexander Brown one of the founders of J. and A. Brown-was a mining engineer, in charge of the A.A. Company’s mines. He succeeded Mr.Henderson, the first A.A. Company mining engineer, in September. 1836. and was In the company’s employ for 20 years. He gave his name to Brown-street.

James Steel

James Steel was underground manager when the A.A. Company worked the pits off church-street: Steel-street took its name from him.

Alexander Charlton

Alexander Charlton was an overman in the employ of the A.A. Company. He was in after years an expert in mining affairs. He gave his name to Charlton street, and was, I am told, a near relative of the honourable Matthew Charlton: M.H.R., Leader of the Federal labour Party.

Martin Richardson

Martin Richardson was a carpenter. His daughter married a man named Blackiston, and in the end of the last century lived in a house now occupied by the Union steamship Company, between the theatre and the old Albion public house, which was recently pulled down to make way for Dalgety and Company’s building.

G. W. Jackson

Of G. W. Jackson I have not been able to find any record

Henry Rees

Henry Rees, architect, was probably an employee of the A.A. Company. It is most unlikely that a private architect could make a living in the Newcastle of 1841, for as late as 1852 Askew – wrote: “The greatest part of the inhabitants of Newcastle, and some of the principal tradesmen were convicts or ticket-of leave men.” Such a population would scarcely be able to support an architect. It in interesting to note that the majority of the officials of this “Mechanics Institute” was composed of Government or A.A. Company employee., indicating that the townspeople, were not the initiator, of the institute.

[Reference: (By DR. H. MARTIN DOYLE, M.L.C.) (1927, October 29). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134510640]

When Did “Kooragang Island” Become Official?

Image from the NSW Government Gazette of the name "Kooragang Island"
Geographical Names Act, 1966. Adopting of the Name “Kooragang Island”, 26 January 1968

On the 26 January 1968, “Kooragang Island” was officially adopted as the official name, superseding all the previous names of the Islands.

(3211) Department of Lands, Sydney, 26th January, 1968.
IN accordance with the provisions of the Geographical Names Act, 1966, the Geographical Names Board of New South Wales has this day discontinued the recorded names Ash Island, Moscheto Island, Dempsey Island, Walsh Island, Spectacle Islands, Table Island, Pig Island, and Goat Island, which islands have been reclaimed and amalgamated to form one island, and named such island “Kooragang Island”.
Also, the Board simultaneously assigned the name “Walsh Point” to the locality comprising the southern extremity of the proposed Kooragang Island. GNB 299.
L. C. JOACHIM, Secretary, Geographical Names Board.
Reference: GEOGRAPHICAL NAMES ACT, 1966 (1968, January 26). Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 2001), p. 373. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219986865


Early Names of the Islands

Early European (with some Aboriginal) recorded names of the Islands of the Hunter River estuary:

1797 – Lieutenant John Shortland

  • Hacking Island (a.k.a Nobbys Island, Whibayganba)
  • Mangrove Island

1801 – Francis Barrallier

  • Coal Island (a.k.a Nobbys Island, Hacking island, Whibayganba)
  • Chapman Island (a.k.a. Carrington)
  • Centre Island
  • Oyster Island
  • Dempster Island
  • Ash Isle
  • McKellar Island
  • Needle Island
  • Greville Island
  • Middle Island

1828 – Dangar/Cross

  • Nobby Island
  • Corrumbah (Carrington, a.k.a. Chapman Island, Onebygamba, Bullock island)

1828 – Sir Thomas Mitchell

  • Whibayganba (Nobbys)

1844 – White’s Plan

  • Nobby Island
  • Bullock Island
  • Spectacle Island
  • Survey Island
  • Snapper Island
  • Wallis Island
  • Moscheto Island
  • Dempsey Island
  • Spit Island
  • Hexham Island

1858 – Plews


1871 – J.T Gowland

  • Dunn’s Island
  • Wallis Island
  • Smith’s Island
  • Sandy island
  • Mangrove Island.
  • Ash Island
  • Upper Moscheto
  • Moscheto Island
  • Dempsey Island
  • Spit Island
  • Spectacle Islands
  • Bullock Island

1880-1895 Knaggs Maps

  • Nobby Head
  • Bullock Island (Carrington, a.k.a. Corrumbah, Chapman Island, Onebygamba, Bullock island)

Gionni Di Gravio, OAM
University Archivist & Chair, Hunter Living Histories.

5 thoughts on “Kooragang Island

  1. According to the Geographical Names Board entry, Kooragang is from the Awabakal and Kattang languages and means ‘Aborigines there’ or ‘camp ‘

  2. Thanks Mark. I wish there was a source for the meaning in the GNB Listing. I might write to Wilton’s biography, and see if he recorded anything about the name. His 1846 testimony does include Aboriginal names.

  3. I only discovered the ‘Hunter Living Histories’ website today. I was interested in Kooragang Island as my father used to take me there to go fishing. I was interested to see in the islands of Newcastle you had listed Carrington under its former names of Onebygamba, Chapman Island and Bullock Island. You also put down that in 1828 Dangar/Cross had the name ‘Corrumbah’. Are you able to provide any more details about where that name originated from.

    1. Not at present. Clues may lie in a close examination of Henry Danger’s Field Books. Sir Thomas Mitchell instructed all his surveyors to record Aboriginal place names where possible. Perhaps Dangar may have recorded who the source of the name “Corrumbah” may have been, but at his stage all we have is its presence on the Danger/Cross map. There are a number of other Aboriginal place names that look and sound authentic, but work is yet to be done as to who the source of the name was. Hope this helps, Regards, Gionni

Leave a Reply