Newcastle in 1874

Newcastle N.S.W. Drawn by A. C. Cooke in 1874, Engraver – Samuel Calvert Published in 1875 in Illustrated Sydney News (Courtesy Special Collections, Auchmuty Library University of Newcastle)
Newcastle N.S.W. Drawn by A. C. Cooke in 1874, Engraver – Samuel Calvert. Published in 1875 in Illustrated Australian News News (Courtesy Special Collections, Auchmuty Library University of Newcastle)

The engraving above of “Newcastle N.S.W. was published in the Supplement to “The lIlustrated Australian News for Home Readers” on the 3 November 1875. The “Key to the View of Newcastle” was published over a month later on the 29 December 1875.

"Key to the View of Newcastle"
“Key to the View of Newcastle” Illustrated Sydney News 8 April 1875, page 20.

It was also (apparently) published in The Illustrated Sydney News of the 8 April 1875. Unfortunately the microfilm, and subsequently the Trove versions of the Illustrated Sydney News omit the engraving. The only clue being the “Key to the View of Newcastle” that published on page 20, that was there to presumably explain the features in the engraving published in the supplement. The issue featured a lengthy article on Newcastle, with front cover illustrations. The text has been provided below. If anyone possesses a physical copy of this edition of the Illustrated Sydney News and Supplement we would love to hear from you.


Front Page from the Illstrated Sydney News 8 April 1875 featuring Newcastle.
(1875, April 8). Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier (NSW : 1872 – 1881), p. 1. Retrieved March 4, 2022, from
Page 2 "Newcastle" from the Illustrated Sydney News, 8th April 1875
(1875, April 8). Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier (NSW : 1872 – 1881), p. 2. Retrieved March 4, 2022, from

The engraving was digitised at 800 dpi on 3 March 2022 by Mr Oliver Salmon, Work Integrated Learning (WIL) GLAMx Lab placement from HUMA2000 Course in the Bachelor of Social Science. Click to view this spectacular work in high resolution.

We also thank Mr David Sciffer who has provided a remastered version of the engraving for us to share.

Newcastle N.S.W. Drawn by A. C. Cooke in 1874, Engraver – Samuel Calvert Published in 1875 in Illustrated Sydney News (Remastered by David Sciffer 2021)
Newcastle N.S.W. Drawn by A. C. Cooke in 1874, Engraver – Samuel Calvert Published in 1875 in Illustrated Sydney News (Remastered by David Sciffer 2021) – Click image for a larger version.


Wharves, Newcastle, circa 1870s
Wharves, Newcastle, circa 1870s (3) – No. 58610 (Photo Credit: Photograph by [Henry] Beaufoy Merlin Digitised by Anne Glennie from Glennie Family Albums) Click for larger view
If you wish to see what the coal staithes depicted in the engraving actually looked like in real life, have a look at the astounding photographs of them in the Glennie Family Album, kindly donated (digitally) by Anne Glennie.

Acknowledgment of Aboriginal Country

The Awabakal and Worimi peoples are the traditional custodians of the lands and islands surrounding the mouth of the Hunter River (Coquon) and present day Newcastle and Stockton.  This work respectfully honours the First Australian People, the Aboriginal People of this land.



Source: “NEWCASTLE.” Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier (NSW : 1872 – 1881) 8 April 1875: 2. Web. 3 Mar 2022 <>. (Ed – For ease of reading, we have introduced sub headings)

First Official European Visitor Lieutenant John Shortland

NEWCASTLE, the second town of importance in New South Wales, situated at the mouth of the Hunter River, was discovered by Lieut. John Shortland, of H.M.S. “Reliance,” in September, 1797, whose portrait we give in this number.

On the 16th September, 1797, when in pursuit of a boat called the “Cumberland,” stolen by some convicts, Lieutenant Shortland discovered the Hunter River ; he also found coal close to the water’s edge, specimens of which he brought back with him to Sydney.

Newcastle as a Convict Outpost in 1804

Nothing of importance followed on this discovery till April, 1804, when Newcastle was established as a penal settlement for the colony, for second and third offences committed by convicts sentenced at the Supreme Court, Sydney.

The convict establishment was first formed under the direction of a commandant – Chas. Throsby, Esq. In 1813, Lieut Shotlowe, of the 73rd Foot, was the commandant.

Buildings and Features of Early Settlement

A flagstaff and coal beacon were placed on the hill, where at present the residence of the Harbour Master stands.

Other buildings, such as a gaol, barracks, store, officers’ quarters, and a hospital, were progressed with as rapidly as possible, while gangs of convicts were sent up the rivers Hunter, Paterson, and Williams, to cut cedar and other timber.

A breakwater was commenced between Nobby’s and the main-land, to give the worst characters employment.

A coal shaft was sunk on the present site of the market, and by these means over a thousand convicts were kept profitably employed.

Nobby’s Island was used as a place of punishment for refractory convict women, similar to Biloela, in Sydney.


In 1814 Lieutenant Thompson, of the 46th Foot, was commandant, succeeded by Captain Wallis, of the same regiment, who effected several improvements during his term of office, and erected several public buildings, amongst which may be mentioned that of Christ Church, which was completed in 1821.

In 1816, the Government colonial brig, “Elizabeth Henriette,” visited the port of Newcastle, and met with an accident at her moorings in the harbour. She was upset, and two persons were drowned.

In 1818 Governor Macquarie paid the settlement a visit in the same vessel, and inspected the public buildings and convict establishment.

Commissioner Bigge’s Report

In 1819 the first vessel built on the Hunter – the “Princess Charlotte” – was launched, and, in January, 1820, Commissioner Bigge, who was sent out specially by the Home Government to enquire into the working and expenditure of Governor Macquarie’s Government, paid the town a visit, and was much pleased and astonished at the discipline he found preserved under Major Morriset’s command.

John Bingle

In December, 1821, Mr. Bingle visited Newcastle, in H.M.S. Colonial sloop, “Sally,” while on a voyage to examine the coast survey between Sydney and Torres Straits. His reports of its capabilities were considered so favourable, that Mr. Oxley, the Surveyor-General, was sent to select and lay out the settlement.

The Hunter River District Open For Settlement

Shortly after this, in the following year, the Hunter River was thrown open to free settlers, and soon the banks of the Hunter, Paterson, and Williams, swarmed with free emigrants, and the hitherto very stringent severity practised in the convict establishment was considerably modified under Sir Thomas Brisbane’s Government.

Shipping and Trade

In 1823 Sir Thomas Brisbane paid Newcastle a visit, in H.M.S. “Satellite,” Captain Currie, the first man-of-war that had yet visited the place. The Hunter River District was meanwhile becoming populated with numerous respectable settlers from Great Britain, who were arriving in Sydney with their goods and chattels ; and, to provide for their wants, Mr. Bingle received permission from the Government to build a vessel adapted to the trade, which was called the “Eclipse,” and was used expressly for the conveyance of passengers and the trade of the port. The first two town allotments were granted to Mr. Bingle and his partner, Mr. Dillon, and surveyed by Mr. Henry Dangar.

In 1829 the “Eclipse” was run away with by a gang of convicts. The trade was carried on by the cutter “Lord Liverpool,” until 1833, when the steamers “Sophia Jane” and “Tamar,” from Tasmania, commenced a daily trade between Sydney, Newcastle, and Morpeth.

The Arrival of the Australian Agricultural Company

A company was formed, called the “Australian Company,” and they bought the “William IV.” which they added to the fleet, and carried on the trade till this company was merged into the A.S.N. Co., established in 1841.

In 1844 the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company was formed, and they brought into the trade three other boats, which divided the trade with the A. S. N. Company.

Newcastle Coal

The name of the town itself originated with the settlers, who thought it appropriate, on account of the coal deposits.

Up to the year 1827 the Government were the sole producers of coal, but in that year they handed over the whole of their vested interest to the A. A. Company, who at once commenced operations.

A pit was sunk on the hill, at the back of the present loading staiths. A temporary shipping place, where vessels could load by means of an inclined plane, was constructed, and a wooden bridge was built, to cross the road, a little to the eastward of the present one, which was built in 1862.

End of Monopoly and New Coal Producers

The English Government granted the Company a large area of land, and a monopoly on the production of coals, which was the cause of much complaint. The monopoly, however, was terminated in 1851 or 1852, by an action in the Supreme Court. The pit called the A pit was worked for many years, and others were sunk, in proportion to the increase of trade. No. 2 pit produces 600 tons of the best screened coal every working day.

The late Dr. Mitchell owned a considerable portion of the adjoining property, and discovered the richness of its coal deposits, and that they could be worked at a trifling cost, without sinking. Messrs. Donaldson and Brown rented a portion of Dr. Mitchell’s estate, for the purpose of supplying coal to the shipping in the harbour, and sold their interest to the Coal and Copper Company, which commenced operations in 1853.

By mismanagement their funds were soon exhausted, and the Company wound up, the plant falling hack into Dr. Mitchell’s hands, in 1862. The Scottish Australian Company was then formed, and has been successful. Other companies were formed since, in Sydney, which have all succeeded, more or less.


The following returns show the enormous progress made during the last quarter of a century.

In 1849 the total Coal raised was … Tons. 48,500 Value. £14,000
1857, ditto ditto ditto…            Tons. 210,400 Value. £148,200
1872, ditto ditto ditto…            Tons. 858,716 Value. £340,973
1873, ditto ditto ditto…            Tons. 1,014,233 Value. £581,801


The Principal Streets of Newcastle

The principal street in Newcastle is Hunter-street, parallel to which are King-street and Church-Street, crossed at right angles by Pacific-street, Watt street, Newcombe-street, and other small streets, of no importance. Most of the principal buildings in the town are situated in Hunter-street, which forms the leading business thoroughfare. Cross streets lead down to the wharves and shipping.

The Public Buildings of Newcastle

Amongst the leading public buildings may be mentioned the new Post Office, at the corner of Hunter-street, opened in June, 1873, by Mr. G. A. Lloyd. The old Post Office has been formed into a Mansion House for the Municipal Council.

The Churches of Newcastle

One of the oldest buildings in Newcastle is Christ Church, founded in 1816, by Captain James Wallis, of the 46th Foot, and opened for Divine Service in 1821. The Rev. G. A. Middleton was the first Government chaplain. The church was originally built with a spire, which was pulled down in 1868. Christ Church was, for many years, the only parish church in Newcastle, till 1860, when, on the completion of St. John’s, the parish was equally divided.

St. John’s Church and Parsonage were built with part of a gift from some of the Directors of the A. A. Company. A large sum, £7935, forwarded to the Bishop of Newcastle, to build two churches and parsonages on the Company’s former estate at Newcastle and Peel River.

The parish of St. James, Wickham, is of later formation—it was built and opened in May, 1872.

St. Andrew’s, Scotch Church, occupies the former site of the first barracks. It was commenced in 1850, and opened in 1853.

The Romish Church held their services for many years in a room in Newcomen-street. A temporary modern chapel was erected in Church-street, where service was performed until the completion of the present brick building.

The Wesleyan Chapel was built in 1863 ; the Primitive Methodist Chapel, in 1855 ; the Baptist Chapel was erected in 1865, and the Free Presbyterian Church, in Hunter-street, was completed in 1863.

Other Important Buildings

The Exchange and Reading Room, which was built in May, 1856, was unfortunately destroyed by fire, in 1859, and the want of a similar institution is seriously felt.

The old Hospital was one of the first built public edifices in the town—it was pulled down in 1864, and gave place to the present structure, which was opened to the public in 1865.

The School of Arts was erected in 1870, but never completed till it was destroyed by fire, in 1872. Since that a new building has been erected, and vigorous efforts are being made to ensure its success.

The Court House

The Court House stands at the corner of Hunter and Bolton-streets. The first Court House was a wooden building, completed in 1821. It was subdivided into Government Offices—Post Office, Customs Department, Petty Sessions, &c, &c. In 1853 it was granted by the Government as a manse and school for the Scotch Church Minister. The present Court House was built in 1839 : it is capable of holding Criminal Sessions, and is in many respects, a far superior Court House to most of those in the Colony, used for holding Petty Sessions.

The Markets

The new Market House was completed in October, 1871, in the Mayoralty of William Sparke, Esq. The building cost some £5000, the proceeds from funds realised by the leasing of the Market Reserve. The architect was Mr. Mansfield, of Sydney.

City of Newcastle Incorporated

In 1859 the City was first incorporated, and a Municipality established, and recently the Borough has been subdivided into four wards—the City, Honeysuckle, Macquarie, and Belmore. A great deal of money has passed through the hands of the civic authorities, which has evidently failed in accomplishing the purpose for which it was intended. Newcastle is lamentably deficient in public buildings, and a stranger would naturally ask the question where so much money has been sunk, certainly not in improvements.

Newcastle’s Banks

Newcastle is well supplied with Banks – no less than five representatives of Sydney monetary institutions. The Bank of New South Wales was established in 1853, in Watt-street, and, shortly afterwards, the Bank of Australasia opened a branch in Brown-street, and commenced business in 1859. Then followed the Australian Joint Stock Bank, which opened in 1866, in Hunter-street ; and, in the year 1870, a branch of the Commercial Bank was established, in Watt-street. Recently, a branch of the London Chartered Bank, in Hunter-street, has been added to the list, and, besides these institutions, which all seem to be doing a very flourishing business, there is the Government Savings Bank, and a branch of the Sydney Savings Bank. The buildings of all the institutions are certainly a credit to the city.

The Lunatic Asylum

The Lunatic Asylum, for imbeciles and idiots, was built on a portion of the land belonging to Christ Church Parsonage, which was bought by the English Ordnance Department, for £800. Military barracks were first erected on the land in 1840, and, on the removal of the troops, the barracks became useless, and were handed over to the colony on the establishment of Responsible Government, in 1856. They were then occupied by the Police Force till the year 1867, when they, were converted into a Reformatory of Females. This scheme was found not to answer, and the girls were removed to Sydney, and the building became a lunatic asylum. It will accommodate about 140 males and 60 females. The grounds are permitted to be used as public recreation grounds, and are very prettily laid out.


The scholastic institutions in Newcastle are hardly proportionate to the size of the place. The first effort to establish a Grammar School in the City was made in 1853 ; the vestry-room of Christ Church was used for the purpose, and there was but a small attendance. In 1855 the Bishop applied for, and obtained, a grant of land for a Grammar School, which he selected opposite Christ Church, and, in 1859, the house was built, and the Rev. E. K. Yeatman appointed head-master. He soon threw up the appointment, and the school remained empty till the arrival, in 1865, of the Rev. H. S. Millard. The Public School was built in 1862, and has now 431 names on the roll. Besides these, there are two Church of England Denominational Schools attached to Christ Church and St. John’s, and two Roman Catholic institutions. There is also a Newcastle South Public School, where the number enrolled is 357.


The railway was first commenced in 1854, by a batch of navvies employed by the Hunter River Railway Company. After proceeding a few miles beyond the city, they sold their plant and interest to the Government, who carried the work on, re-naming the line the Great Northern Railway. The first portion was opened on the 30th March, 1857, by Sir William Denison. It has gradually extended to Murrurundi, a distance of 120 miles from Newcastle, and will no doubt, at some future time, form the main trunk line, which will connect New South Wales with Queensland. The line pays well, and the traffic is considerable.

The Patent Slip, Stockton

The Patent Slip, Stockton, was laid down in 1859, by Mr. Scott. Subsequently the slip was relaid, and is now capable of taking up vessels of upwards of 1200 tons. The present proprietor, Mr. Macquarie, has erected a pair of shears capable of lifting thirty tons. Newcastle was first connected by telegraph communication in 1860, but it was not till the following year that the present facilities were afforded.

Newcastle Newspapers

The Press is represented by two papers—the Pilot and Chronicle. A newspaper called the Telegraph was started in 1855, by Mr. Maxted, which has since become defunct.


Two life-boats are kept constantly in readiness, near Nobby’s Head. The first one used was built in Newcastle in 1847, but, having been injured in going to a wreck, was sold, and converted into a sailing vessel. Steam dredges are kept constantly at work in the harbour and river, to prevent the accumulation of banks in the stream. A bell buoy is moored at the end of the reef, to the eastward of Nobby’s, to warn steamers in foggy weather. The want of a steam-tug was for many years felt, and the “Lowestoft” commenced work in 1855, but was unfortunately wrecked in 1864. Other boats replaced her loss, and at present four boats are realising a very good income for their owners.

Newcastle Defense Installations

Newcastle is the head quarters of the Northern Battalion. There is an Artillery Brigade, which was first established in 1855. The Northern Battalion of Volunteer Rifles was first established in the same year ; at present there are four companies in Newcastle ; a Naval Brigade Company was also established in 1865. They form a very able body of men, and have an excellent band.

Fire Brigade

The City of Newcastle Volunteer Fire Company has been established eighteen years, and consists of twenty-four members and a foreman ; they have two engines. There is also another brigade, called the Macquarie Ward Brigade. On occasions of fires, however, the engines, though energetically worked, have proved of little use, owing to the very insufficient water supply, and the deficient appliances for extinguishing a fire.

Port Infrastructure

The wharves, of course, form a leading feature of Newcastle. In early days, the only jetty in the harbour was situated at the foot of Watt-street. The street was lengthened by throwing ballast into the river, and the wooden jetty was extended, to allow small vessels to load and unload. There was little improvement in wharf accommodation till the railway was commenced in 1855. In 1858, it became necessary to reclaim the land for the Railway terminus, and to lay down sidings for the shipment of coal. Sand was rolled down the space over which the tide flowed, up to the upper line of Scott street, and was filled up to the Market Wharf. The front was piled and planked, and thus the long line of wharf now in use was reclaimed from the harbour. Steam cranes were erected, rails laid down, and ships were enabled to lie alongside, in water from 13 to 20 feet deep. Staiths have been erected, at a considerable outlay, to the west of the wharf, but there is not such a depth of water there as at the cranes. Between the cranes and the staiths lies the boat harbour, at the northern end of Market-street. It has lately been enlarged and improved, and now has a frontage of 510 feet, of which 250 feet is reserved for the use of settlers landing produce, &c. ; 160 feet for watermen’s boats, and 100 feet for slips and sheds for boats belonging to the Government departments. The harbour accommodation is certainly inadequate for the shipping which comes to Newcastle.

The Breakwater

Besides the breakwater, built at the south entrance of the harbour, it was considered absolutely necessary to build a northern pier, or breakwater. The work was commenced in 1862 : the stone ballast was landed from ships at a wharf close at hand, and conveyed to the site of the pier by a line of railway. After the lapse of a few years, and the expenditure of a large amount of money, the work was abandoned, on account of the formation of banks in some parts of the harbour. It would have been far more conducive to the safety of vessels entering the harbour had the southern breakwater been extended from the eastward of Nobby’s to the extremity of the reef to Big Ben, as, in heavy southerly weather, vessels would have been much better protected, and would have sooner gained smooth water.

Important Surveys

Several surveys have been made of the harbour ; one of the first was made by Mr. J. Bingle, in 1822. In 1840 Mr. Surveyor G. B. White surveyed the harbour and the river, as far as it was navigable. In 1851 a survey was made by Captain Stokes, R. N. ; in 1861, by Captain Allan ; and, in 1866, the most complete survey was made by Commander Sidney, R. N.


The following statistics, obtained from “Knagg’s Newcastle Almanac,” will give the most convincing proof of the extraordinary commercial progress which has been made by Newcastle.

Coal Exports

Statement of the coal exports from Newcastle, during the year 1873 :—

Coastwise: Tons – 219,972.
Intercolonial and Foreign: Tons – 650,899.
Total: Tons – 870,871

Coal exports, from January 1st to 30th September, 1874 :—

Coastwise: Tons – 204,180
Intercolonial and Foreign: Tons – 547,702
Total: Tons – 751,882

In 1854, twenty years ago, the exports were :—
Coastwise: Tons – 49,880
Intercolonial and Foreign: Tons – 44,751
Total: Tons – 94,631

There has, therefore, been an increase, in twenty years, of an export of 776,240 tons of coal.


Statement of the number and tonnage of vessels entered inwards and cleared outwards, at the Port of Newcastle, during the year 1874 :—

Inwards:No. 2,999 Tons. 972,562
Outwards: No. 4,047 Tons. 899,126
Tonnage Dues: £2,195 10 6
Pilotage:  £8,662 15 4
Harbour and Light Rates: £4,147 15 4


For the year 1873 the amount of revenue collected was as follows :—
£ s.d.

Ad valorem … … £341 1s. 0d.
Spirit Duty … … £33,517 15s. 6d.
Harbour and Light Rates £4,147 15s. 4d.
Tonnage Dues … … £2,195 10s. 6d.
Pilotage … … … £7,318 19s. 4d.
Harbour Removal Dues £1,343 15s. 0d.
Totals: £48,864 16s. 8d.

As against £31,175 6s. 9d., in the year 1868, being an increase of £17,689 9s. lld. in five years.

The value of imports received during the year 1873, was £310,101 11s. lld., and the value of exports was £591,032 6s. 6d.


Such is a brief sketch of the history of Newcastle : its natural resources of mineral wealth, together with the energetic spirit displayed in the development of these resources by the early settlers, have succeeded in raising the town to the position it occupies—that of second in importance in the colony of New South Wales.

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

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