The following article Watt-street and Its Historical Associations
by Wilfred J. Goold, published in 1932, mentions many of the land marks and old-time residents of Newcastle..............
Copy of a painting by Ferdinand Bauer
. Newcastle as it was in 1804. Historical Records NSW p.368
Watt-street is the historic street of the
City of Newcastle. and it teems with memories of bygone days. It has heard the
clank of chains as the convict gangs toiled
up its steep hill, and the rattle of the
drums as the military guard turned out
from the barracks. Sailors from all parts
of the globe have congregated here. Many
an old sea chanty has the old street heard,
and many a rough and tumble brawl has
it seen. Many notabilities in Australian
history, from Governor Lachlan Macquarie down, have climbed the steep rise
to old Government House, and enjoyed the
wonderful view that presents itself.
But the view, like the old street, has considerably changed with the passing years. When Lachlan Macquarie stood on top of the hilll he saw stretching out across the harbour, Pirate's Point
(now Stockton), covered as far as the
eye could see with a dense forest, with,
perhaps a thin column of smoke arising
here and there, denoting a black's camp.
At the entrance to the harbour towered
Nobbys, like some old feudal castle guarding the passage. It was then some 203
feet high, and separated from the main
land by a narrow neck of water, through
which some of the more venturesome of
the little vessels used to take a short cut
into the harbour. Looking down the hill
Macquarie could see his little convict
settlement, with its white-washed convict
huts, a few more substantially built official buildings, and the little stone wharf
where the Governor's ship was moored.
But what a different view is presented
today. We are overlooking a modern
city with its smoke and haze. Nobbys
is still there, but greatly diminished in
size and altered in appearance. Stockton faces us now with a network of streets
and modern residences - the North Shore
of Newcastle, and looming in the distance
are the great Steel Works, Government
The story of Watt-street is, to a great
extent, the history of Newcastle, for it
was the principal thoroughfare in the
township for many years, and therein were
situated the homes of the principal officials. Government offices, and, in later
years the leading hotels, theatres, and stores.
Convicts and Coal
Its origin was with the first convict
settlement, when Dr. Martin Mason
the first Commandant, set his convicts
to work securing coal from a small shaft
sunk near the site of the bowling club's
green "on the hill."
The coal was procured by the primitive
methods of a hand windlass, baskets, and
barrows, and stacked in heaps prior to
being carried down to the coal yards at
the foot of the hill, in readiness to be
placed aboard the Francis, and other little
vessels that used to make periodical visits
to the Coal River. It was the track
formed by these weary coal-carriers, conveying their heavy loads by basket, barrow, and convict cart, that eventually became the first street in Kingstown (the
original title of our city, bestowed by
Lieut. Menzies in honour of Governor
A few years later the Commandant's
residence, or Government House, was
erected near where the Lower Reserve is
to-day. It is depicted as a brick cottage of some four or five rooms, with a
large flagstaff nearby, from which the
Union Jack is bravely flying. The building was added to in later years, and was
the official residence of the Chief Officer
until burned down in 1823.
The grounds of the present Mental Hospital in 1804 contained a few small cottages, the residences of the Government
officials. This land was originally portion
of a grant to the Church of England, and
when the old parsonage was erected in
1820 the Rev. G. A. Middleton (the first
chaplain) had some of the land under
cultivation for his market garden. In
1840, the Ordinance Department of the
Imperial Government came to an arrangement with the Church authorities whereby
they secured the land for the purpose of
erecting new barracks for the military
detachment staitioned in Newcastle. These
were completed in 1840, and contained
some eight rooms, each 30 x 24, and four
rooms 18 x 10, besides warehouses, stores.
On October 25. 1849, a small detachment
from the 11th Regiment, under the command of Lieut. Parker, marched in and
occupied the building for the first time.
It is perhaps interesting to note that the
present cricket pitch in the hospital
grounds was the scene of some of the
early cricket matches played in the district. It was then known as the Barrack
Square. The expenditure of some £20,000
to erect these buildings seems to have been
a colossal waste of money, for a few years
after they were completed the military
garrison was withdrawn from Newcastle.
Tenders were called for the renting of the
barracks, but these proving unsatisfactoy
they were handled over to the New South
Wales Government, who utilised portion
of them as a barracks for a small number
of mounted police.
In 1867, it was decided to establish a
female reformatory here and some 86
young women and girls were sent up from
Sydney and settled in the barracks under
the control of Captain and Mrs. Clarke.
The residents nearby were soon petitioning the Government to remove the reformatory for the inmates proved quite uncontrollable, and riots were of frequent
occurrence. The barracks were in 1871
converted into a mental hospital, as they
First Military Barracks
The first military barracks were situated
near the corner of Watt and Church
Streets. Portion of the old convict-built
barrack wall is still standing. In front
of this building in 1821 was erected the
first courthouse (or "Sessions House").
It was a large woodern structure, and was
used for courthouse, custom-house, and
post-office. The first sessions held in the
district took place in this old building.
The allotmtent of land this building occupied was eventually secured by the Presbyterian Church, and on April 21, 1847,
tenders were called by John Howden,
blacksmith, of Newcastle, for the erection
of a stone kirk. 46ft by 37ft, anti 21ft
high. The foundation stone was laid on
November 11, 1847, by Captain Ewan McPherson (the last Military Commandant in
Newcastle, and who was later killed in
the Maori War). The church was opened
for public worship in 1850, and on the completion of the courthouse at the corner
Hunter and Bolton Streets, the old wooden
building known as the Sessions House was
handed over to the Presbyterians as a
manse for the Rev. James Nimmo.
On the opposite corner of Watt and
Church Streets was the residence of Major
James Reid (late of the 56th Regiment).
It was built in 1824 and is still standing.
In the early days it was considered the
finest residence in the district. Major
Reid (or "Long Reid," as he was called)
was a prominent citizen of old Newcastle.
where he owned considerable property, and
also a large estate at Rosebrook, near
Just below Reid's home was the Commissariat Depot and residence of Major
William Russell (of the 20th Regiment).
This building was erected by Captain
Wallis in 1818, and some 10 years
later (March 8, 1828), it was opened as
a post-office, with Mr. D. F. Mackay as
the postmaster. Later still, the Newcastle City Council held its meetings in
this old building while the Council
Chambers were being built in front. Portion of the old building is still standing,
and it is probably the oldest building
in Newcastle. Rumour has it that some
of the beams used in its construction previously did duty as a gallows.
Almost adjoining were some of the
early schools - the Rev. Robert Welland's
Hunter River Academy (which was both
a boarding and day school), and Mr.
George Darby's Newcastle Academy. Mr.
Darby's advertisemnent stated that he
was "a retired officer, and formerly a
student at Sandhurst, and capable of
training youths for that examination."
Mr. Darby had previously been a surveyor for the A.A. Company, and Darby
street is named after him.
On the site of Dalgety's, at the corner
of King-street, was the first Newcastle
Mechanics' Institute. It was founded on
June 2, 1835, and at first used a sail
loft in King-street for a reading-room.
It made such progress that on May 14,
1841, the foundation-stone of the institute was laid by the President, Rev. C.
P. N. Wilton, M.A. (the Chaplain of
Christ Church). It was a two-story brick
and wood building, the ground floor being utilised for two or three small shops
and dwellings. and the institute occupying
the whole of the second floor. Dr. George
Brooks was the Vice-president, Mr. Alexander Flood Secretary, and Mr. Simon
Soon after the building was completed,
its name was changed to the School of
Arts, and it was in existence until the
exciting days of the discovery of gold,
when most of its members were heading
for the Ophir goldfields. It was compelled to close down.
The medical profession was always well
represented in Watt-street in the early
days. Dr. George
Brooks, one of the
early medical officers in the convict days,
resided here. Another famous medico,
Dr. Richard Ryther Bowker, had one of
the best houses in the street, and one
of his assistants (Dr. Cosby William Morgan) a
few years later took up his residence at
the corner of Watt and King Streets.
From the corner of King-street down
to the waterfront, there were several
famous old inns - McGreavy's, the Albion,
the Caledonia, the California, the Victoria, the Commercial, the Ship Inn, &c.
McGreavy's Inn was on the site of
the late Dr. John Harris' surgery, and
was established in the twenties, and kept
for many years by James and Margaret
(Peggy) McGreavy. It was a noted
sailor's port of call, and many a merry
night was held there in the days of the
It was a daughter of the McGreavy's
who married John Nixon Brunker, and
went to reside in a little cottage near
the present site of Howard Smith's shipping offices. Here on April 27, 1832, a
son was born to the young couple. He
was destined to become a Minister of
the Crown, and one of the leading statesmen of the colony (the Hon. James
On the opposite side of the street to
McGreavy's was Morris Magney's Inn,
licensed on March 15, 1851, at a time
when the colony had the gold fever,
and many of the settlers were leaving
Newcastle for San Francisco. Hence the
name given to the new house "California."
This title a few years later was changed
to the Albion, and under this name it
was known for many years.
Just below the Albion and on the
same side of the street was the Caledonia (now the Orient). This was one
of the old inns of Newcastle, having
been built by Major Reid in 1824, and
opened by John Huxham. He was followed by Peter Campbell, Alexander
Flood, and many other well-known identities of early Newcastle
Both the California and the Caledonia
were coaching inns in the 'fifties. The
mail coaches for Maitland used to leave
from them daily. One coach left the
California at 7 a.m., arriving at Gorrick's
Fitzroy Hotel in Maitland, at 10 a.m., three hours before the
departure of the up-country mail. An
opposition coach used to leave the Caledonia at 3 p.m. for Yeoman's Northumberland Hotel in West Maitland.
The Victoria Inn was kept by James
Croft in the early 'forties. It was here
that in 1847 a grand ball was given in
honour of the visit to Newcastle of the
Governor of the Colony (Sir Charles
Fitzroy). It was the headquarters of the
first Oddfellows' Lodge founded in Newcastle in 1842, the Loyal Union Lodge, No.
3371, I.O.O.F.M.U. James Farquaharson
followed Croft as the licensee of this old
inn, and during his regime it became
well-known as Farquaharson's Inn. In
its later days it did duty for some years
as a boarding-house.
The Commercial Inn was situated on
the corner of Watt-street and Maitland
road (now Hunter-street). It was taken
over in 1851 by Joseph Croft, and three
years later he erected the first theatre
in Newcastle, adjoining the hotel. It was
originally named the Princess Theatre,
and was opened in 1851. Prior to that
date all entertainments, etc., had been
held in the old Courthouse, or in the
Stockade. It was constantly in use by
visiting theatrical companies until 1859,
when it was destroyed by fire. The Theatre Royal was then established on the
opposite side of Watt-street, in premises
previously occupied by Broughton and
Downey as ship chandlers and store
keepers. Many of the theatrical stars of
bygone days have appeared on the stage
of these old theatres - J. L. Hall, J. P.
West, W. Andrews, J. L. Byers, Charles
Matthews, C. H. Burford, James Carden, Edmund Holloway, W. G. Carey,
Julia Merton, Alice Dunning Lingard,
Maggie Oliver, Rosa Cooper, Madam Duray, Professor Bushell, Professor Anderson, and many others.
On the opposite corner of Hunter-street
stood the old post-office: and on the site
of the Bank of New South Wales was
the residence of Captain John Bingle, the
father of commerce in Newcastle. It was
a cottage standing well back from the
road with two large date palms growing
in front. Here the captain who was the
first President of the Chamber of Commerce died in 1882 at the great age of 86.
The original Ship Inn was situated on
practically the same site as the present
Great Northern Hotel, and was the first
hotel opened in Newcastle. This was in
1823, when James McClymont, a young
Scotchman, began business here. On his
death in 1820, the licence was transferred
to James Hillier, who was followed by
At the foot of Watt-street, was "the
wharf," where the small vessels plying to
Newcastle used to load and discharge
their cargoes. At first it was a stone
structure erected by
Lieut. Menzies in
1804, 180 feet long and 13 feet wide. It
was superseded in 1828 by a wooden
wharf or pier, erected by Alexander
Busby. This did duty until the 'fifties,
when the land was reclaimed.
In the early days of the settlement
the old street was named High-street,
but more frequently known as Main
street. In 1823 it was given the title of
Watt-street. This was at a time when
the British community were all excited
over the wonderful inventions made in
the use of steam. Thus we have those
pioneer engineers, James Watt, Matthew
Boulton, Thomas Newcomen, and Robert
Stephenson all honoured by having their
names attached to streets, in the little settlement far away in Australia.
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate
30 Jan 1932, Newcastle of the Past