The Newcastle Morning Herald published the Reminiscences of Colin Christie in 1909 -
'Mr. Colin Christie, who was elected to the council in 1866, and was Mayor of the city in 1890, is the oldest municipal representative now living.
Mr. Christie remembers well the appearance of the city in the fifties. At the time of the incorporation of the city no street had been formed, and Watt street was the first to be made. In 1859 it was only a rough track running from the wharf up the sandhill, to where the council chamber is now. Hunter-street was in the same condition as Watt-street.
When Mr. Christie came to Newcastle, there were but few buildings of importance. The post-office was conducted in the Stockade where the Custom House now stands. It was a dilapidated old building, and the drifting sand accumulated against the walls until the weight overwhelmed them. There was a large building at the corner of Watt and Church streets built in 1844, and used for a time as the courthouse, and afterwards occupied as a manse.
There was no business section of the city, as the term is now understood. The houses in Watt-street stood back from the street, each having a small garden in front, as though it were never anticipated that any business would be done in Newcastle.
In 1859, there were only two shops in Newcastle worthy of the name. One was an ironmonger's shop and barber's shop, under the one roof kept by one Joe Spraggs, a very independent gentleman who did business in his own way, knowing well that his customers were at his mercy. The building was in Hunter street where the Westminster Hotel now stands. The other shop was McCormack's drapery establishment, on the site of Dr. Eames' surgery, in Bolton street. Mrs. Langham had a small shop where Mr. David Miller's store is now, and there were a few other places which sold small articles.
The hotels were the Ship Inn on the corner of Hunter and Bolton streets, westward from the post office; the Wool Packet where the Commercial Bank of Sydney stands; and Rouse's Hotel, near Perkin-street. The latter was the principal hotel, and when Governor Denison came to Newcastle in 1853 he stayed there. He made a special visit, coming up from Sydney in a Government steamboat, and all the residents turned out to see him land. Even then the crowd was not a large one, for Newcastle's free population at that time was small.
Amongst those who welcomed the Governor was Canon Wilton and mention of his name recalled the sad events of the canon's life subsequent to that time, and his death in 1859. He had a son, a bright lad, who while playing cricket, was struck heavily on the nose. The doctors could not stop the haemorrhage, and the lad bled to death. Bishop Tyrrell had arranged to come down from Morpeth to preach the funeral sermon, but the steamer in which he was travelling went aground on one of the mud flats, and could not get off for some hours. The bishop was thus prevented from keeping his appointment, there was no other clergyman in the place, and the poor father, broken-hearted at the loss of his boy, went into the pulpit, in the endeavour to preach the funeral sermon. Over come by sorrow, he fainted, and had to be carried into the vestry. He never re covered from the shock of the boy's death, and died shortly afterwards. The house in which he lived at the corner of Watt and Church streets, was taken by a Mr. Savigny, who conducted a school there for some time.
Another school was kept by Mr. Alexander Flood in the building on the corner of Bolton and Church streets, which is now used as a public school.
A few years before the city was incorporated its business thoroughfares comprised Watt-street, and Hunter street as far as the Market-square. Beyond that, the only place of business was Rouse's Hotel. The first attempt to extend the city beyond Market-square was made in 1857 by Mr. Harry Rouse, who built a terrace of small weatherboard places, with shop-window fronts, on the land from Wolfe-street down to where Messrs. Fairless Brothers' book store is. The terrace was called Sardine Box Row, and Mr. Christie has a keen recollection of the appearance of the places, both within and without, for it was in one of them that he started business.
This effort in building seems to have exhausted the resources of the town for the time being, for nothing more was done in that respect for a year or two; and Mr. Christie says that while a tenant of the row, he many times looked at Hunter-street, and could not see a single individual. The main part of the town did not extend beyond Perkin street at that time; but there were a few dilapidated miners' huts near Laman-street, and that part was known as Black Town.
Honeysuckle Point was then plainly discernible, the bend in the creek there making a point; but alterations since then have changed the appearance of the place.
Croft's Great Fire
About the time of the incorporation occurred what was long known as Croft's great fire, in which the theatre, a neat structure on the corner where the Joint Stock Bank now stands, was burnt down.
When Watt street was made, it was formed in such a manner that it had to be unmade almost immediately. Mr. McKay was the city surveyor, and he was a firm believer in roads with a big crown. But in making Watt-street, the crown was formed so high that it was known as the dromedary's hump, and traffic could be carried on along it only in the centre. Although the town was built on a sand hill, the sand in Watt and Hunter streets did not drift as it did up at the Sandhills or out along Lake-road. However, the bullock-teams cut up Hunter street very badly. Coming into town they kept to the left, according to the rule of the road, and also because they were anxious to have a drink at the Ship Inn. Going out, they kept along the southern side of the street, and the centre of the road was not used by them. The consequence was that, near the junction of -Hunter-street with Bolton-street, trenches were cut on either side of the main thoroughfare, and a large mound, overgrown by grass, formed in the centre.
After the formation of Watt-street, Hunter street was made for a short distance; and then the work of street-making had to stand until the council had further funds. At this time, the first conveyance for passengers was run along Hunter street, the fare from Watt Street to Cottage Bridge being sixpence. It was called 'The Spec,' and was run by one Jack Nagle. It was a long time before Scott and Bolton-streets, or any of the hill streets were formed, the revenue of the council being too small to carry out much work.
In its early years the council did not escape litigation, brought about by its own neglect. In the forming of Wolfe street, a retaining wall was made, but the council failed to put up a fence to prevent persons falling over. In 1868 a man going up at night somewhat the worse for liquor fell over and was killed. Mr. Christie was then in the council and he moved that the widow be granted £100 compensation, in full satisfaction of any claim she might have on the council. The other members of the council rejected the motion, and laughed at what he said about the council's liability; one of them, indeed, was insulting. But after events proved that they would have been wise to have followed Mr. Christie's advice. The widow brought action in the Maitland Circuit Court, and was awarded £100 damages. The council appealed to the Full Court, but the verdict of the law court was upheld. A second appeal on other grounds had the same result; and Mr. Christie estimates that the case cost the council at least' £1000.
The growth of the city after incorporation was, for a number of years, slow. The coal trade is the best guide to Newcastle's growth, for everything depended upon that trade. Mr. Christie can well remember the time when the residents looked hopefully forward to being in the proud position of exporting one million tons per annum.
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) Mon 7 Jun 1909 Page 11