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Paterson River history

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Overview of Paterson history from 1822

The penal settlement at Newcastle severely restricted the use of the Paterson area by Europeans. From 1804 convicts could be sent to Newcastle if they re-offended in the Colony, and until 1822 Newcastle was a closed port. Ships required permission to enter the harbour and widespread settlement was banned to deprive convicts of food, shelter and support in the countryside if they ran away from Newcastle.

It was difficult for convicts to escape from Newcastle because the local Aborigines were encouraged to track and capture runaways, and there was no known overland route back to Sydney. While absconders had nowhere to go, the Newcastle penal settlement was reasonably secure, but that security did not last.

In 1819 John Howe discovered an overland route from Windsor to the present-day site of Singleton. The next year he made the trip again and followed the Hunter River to Wallis Plains (Maitland). In 1821 John Blaxland found another overland route from Sydney to Newcastle via Wollombi.[1] Blaxland marked the track well and many convicts escaped along it. Newcastle was no longer secure, so the penal settlement was moved to Port Macquarie and the lower Hunter Valley opened for wide-scale settlement.

One convict for every 100 acres granted

The Hunter Valley was opened for settlement at the same time the decision was taken to allocate most convicts to settlers. This followed a Commission of Inquiry during the last years of Lachlan Macquarie's governorship which found that most convicts in New South Wales were working for the government at a substantial cost to the public purse. When Governor Brisbane took office at the end of 1821 he required settlers to support one convict off the government stores for every 100 acres of land granted.[2]

Brisbane also allowed settlers to purchase livestock from the government herds at a nominal price, and so these regulations were described by some as "one cow for every 100 acres and one convict for every cow". Due to Brisbane's policy, the Hunter Valley was opened up and worked with labour supplied almost entirely by convicts in the 1820s and 1830s.

Tocal's stone barn built in 1830

The magnificent stone barn built by James Webber and his convicts in 1830, still standing at Tocal.

In early 1822 the first large-scale grants to settlers in the Paterson area were made to William Dun and James Webber. They were among the first in the Colony to experience Governor Brisbane's policy regarding convicts and they were compelled to advise him how many convicts they would support before Brisbane would grant them land.

Dun and Webber were the first of a wave of immigrant settlers attracted to the fertile alluvial soils and prime river frontages of the Paterson area, with easy access to colonial markets via the nearby deep-water port of Morpeth from which vessles regularly voyaged to Sydney.

A town was soon needed

The trickle of settlers to the Paterson area in 1822 soon became a flood and within a few years most of the prime river frontages had been granted. With the influx of people to the district, the need for a township and public wharf became obvious. In 1833 the plan for the township of Paterson was approved and blocks of land put up for sale.


1. Macqueen, A. Somewhat Perilous: The Journeys of Singleton, Parr, Howe, Myles and Blaxland in the Northern Blue Mountains. Wentworth Falls, published by the author, 2004.

2. Primary sources regarding the Commission of Inquiry and change of convict assignment policy are cited on pages 70-74 of: Walsh, Brian. "Heartbreak and Hope, Deference and Defiance on the Yimmang: Tocal's Convicts 1822-1840". PhD thesis, University of Newcastle, 2007 (on-line).


Archer, Cameron. The Settlement of the Paterson District. Paterson: Paterson Historical Society, 1986.

Perry, TM. Australia's First Frontier: The Spread of Settlement in New South Wales 1788-1829. Kingsgrove, Melbourne University Press, 1963.

Walsh, Brian. Voices from Tocal: Convict Life on a Rural Estate. Paterson, CB Alexander Foundation, 2008.

Wood, WA. Dawn in the Valley: The Story of Settlement in the Hunter River Valley to 1833. Sydney, Wentworth Books, 1972.

See also