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Newcastle in 1828

There were less than fifty houses in Newcastle in 1828, mostly cottages and houses built by convicts and trades people. Other buildings included government buildings such as the Commissariat, gaol and hospital - and there were several inns.

By 1828 it has been estimated that there were about 400 people living permanently in the town, however the population varied because of vessels making frequent trips up the coast, bringing with them supplies and passengers. The cutters Lord Liverpool and Governor Arthur and the schooner Darling all made such trips from Sydney. The Governor Arthur left Sydney every Wednesday for Newcastle and returned on Saturday.


To cater for these travellers, several licensed houses were in operation in the town providing various levels of comfort for those wishing to stop over in Newcastle before heading further up the Valley. (In April 1827, four houses had received a license for selling liquor and by the time of the Census in November 1828, there were Seven Publicans listed.) Although one visitor lamented the lack of comfort at the Inns, some establishments at least seem to have been well kept, if not substantial.

With increased traffic to and from Sydney calls were made for the introduction of steam vessels, but this wouldn't eventuate for another three years.


Meanwhile the little schooners and cutters continued to make the sixty mile trip to Sydney or up the coast to Port Stephens. The passage was treacherous in bad weather and in June 1828 the sloop Dove was lost off Port Stephens after experiencing strong winds at Newcastle. Seven people lost their lives in this disaster.

The famous Lord Liverpool also ran into difficulties in these June squalls, and if not for the skill of Captain Livingstone, the cutter would have been lost. Long time pilot William Eckford attempted to come to the aid of the Lord Liverpool in his leaky old pilot's boat, ('a cockle shell' that should have been replaced eight months previously) but almost drowned in the process.


By August Arnold Fisk had been appointed landing waiter and pilot. In 1829 his large family were left destitute when he died suddenly. An appeal was made and despite the difficult financial times, hundreds of people from all over the colony contributed donations including livestock, to assist the family.


The Fisk children probably attended the school run in the vestry of Christ Church in 1828. A new school room was soon to be built, however in this year all the students were apparently accommodated in the vestry. Alexander McCauley is entered as school teacher in the 1828 Census (taken in November) however John Gabbage was appointed school teacher in July of that year.


When whooping cough hit the region early in January 1829, a number of these children may have been affected. Whooping cough had been introduced from the convict ship Morley in March 1828 and spread throughout the colony causing many deaths. In August 1828 Governor Darling's infant son Edward Darling was one of the victims.

Dr. George Brooks was resident in Newcastle and employed in the capacity of assistant surgeon since 1822. Henry Canny was employed as Overseer of the Hospital. Dr. Brooks was probably kept busy tending to the many convicts at the Hospital. In 1827, the hospital was considered to be in a state of great dilapidation, so perhaps the shingles, oak and iron bark, lime and cedar, bricks and hardwood that Duncan Forbes Mackay was to purchase in 1828 were to be used to repair the hospital.  There was no coroner resident in the township. Settler William Dun was retained for that purpose for the district and although he was granted a town allotment, he resided a considerable distance away at his estate at Paterson. When he was absent from the district or busy elsewhere, message was sent to Sydney for a coroner to travel up the coast to perform inquests.


The spire of Christ Church had been hit by lightning in 1821. Two men were killed in the strike and the church was much damaged. It seems little repair work was carried out and by 1825 the church had fallen into such a state of disrepair that divine service for the prisoners was held in the barracks instead of the church. The grounds had become a thoroughfare because of the lack of a fence and pigs were rooting amongst the graves. However in 1827 a fence was erected around the grounds and the church was repaired and by 1828 Rev. Wilkinson could once again hold services there.


The New South Wales Veteran Corp was stationed in Newcastle. The garrison commander Captain Robinson had arrived in the colony in September 1826 on board the Orpheus In April 1828 Lieutenant Sweeney's youngest son Edmund was said to have died from the effects of living in an unhealthy cottage in a swamp near Newcastle.(*probably Cottage Creek vicinity) Lieutenant Sweeney's wife had also become ill. The residence of Lieut. Sweeney and his family became controversial during a court case involving Sweeney’s commander Captain Robinson and Postmaster and Superintendent of Public Works Duncan Forbes Mackay. The two had met on the voyage to Australia, both on board the Orpheus in 1826 and were on friendly terms until bitterness developed over living quarters. Duncan Forbes Mackay was accused of occupying the best situation in the settlement to the detriment of others. This dispute led eventually to Robinson's court martial and dismissal from the service after being charged with libel by Governor Darling whom he had accused of neglect of duties.


Whatever the living quarters of Lieutenant Sweeney, they could have been no worse than the Convict barracks that had been used until the end of 1827. They were in appalling condition allowing the rain to pour in and probably bitter winds as well. Convicts were compelled to sleep on the floor although at least some blankets had arrived the year before, many of the convicts would have endured these conditions until the new barracks were set up under the superintendence of D.F Mackay. He converted the building next to the lumber yard which had been used as a carpenter's and wheelwright' shop. The upper room was fitted for a sleeping apartment and the lower as a mess. Although they were still not provided with beds or hammocks at least the quarters were dry. The townspeople were probably pleased as the gates of the lumber yard opened directly on to the beach so that the barracks were entirely separated from the town.[3] All but fifty or so better behaved convicts who were permitted to live out, were accommodated in these new barracks. This would have been close to 100 men! These convicts worked in very difficult conditions in the coal mine, quarry or lumber yard. Other convicts at the settlement were incarcerated in the gaol.


In 1828 the gaoler at Newcastle Gaol was 38 year old James Crofts, a Ticket of Leave holder who arrived on the Lady Castlereagh in 1818. He remained resident in Newcastle for many years. His wife Mary aged 29 also assisted at the gaol. Thomas Donnellan and Patrick Simpson who both arrived on the Ann & Amelia in 1825 were employed as water carriers, perhaps not an easy task as the town water supplies were situated quite a distance from the gaol. William Halfpenny who also arrived on the Ann & Amelia was employed as a cook and James Hennessey as a watchman. John Hooper and Phillip Joseph were both employed as turnkeys. A serious attempt at a mass break out was made by the prisoners in October. They managed to excavate a passage under ground, leading beyond the outer wall of the gaol and must have been close to escape when their plan was uncovered.

No doubt they were punished for all their trouble by scourger Robert Young. Forty nine year old Young, a former soldier of the 73rd regiment arrived on the Hindostan in 1809. He was sent to Newcastle as a prisoner in 1814 and by 1818 had been appointed constable. Later, in 1831, Young and turnkey John Hooper spent 10 months in prison after being found guilty of the manslaughter of a prisoner John Mason who had been strangled with a rope after being tied to a pole in the gaol.


Even if the prisoners had managed to escape from the gaol, escape from the settlement was not easy and they would have been pursued by soldiers and the constables of the town. George Muir was chief constable and there were four ordinary constables under him - James Wilkins, Thomas Davids, John Butler Hewson and John Mayo. They had recently apprehended escapees from the settlement who had become lost in the bush. The police were often paid reward money for capturing the runaway convicts and were sometimes assisted by natives from the local tribes who were rewarded with tobacco or perhaps clothing. Select here find find other police constables in Newcastle.


The year ended on an enthusiastic note when merchant Frederick Boucher announced that he was commencing a bank to be known as the Bank of Newcastle. He would issue notes payable on demand and make arrangements to enable holders to get the Notes cashed in all parts of this district, and likewise at Sydney.

Bank of Newcastle 1828


[1]. J.D. Lang, An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, including a Visit to the Gold Regions, and a Description of the Mines; with an Estimate of the Probable Results of the Great Discovery, 3rd edn, London, 1852, vol. 1, pp.221 - 4

[2]. The Australian 14 March 1828

[3]. Sydney Gazette 28 September 1827