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Paterson River history

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The Mormons in the Paterson area 1850s

The first two Mormon missionaries arrived in Australia in the early 1840s from Britain but it was probably not until after the arrival of missionaries from America in 1851 that the Mormon presence began to be felt in the Hunter Valley. Their aim was not only to seek converts but to 'gather newly-converted Saints to Zion'.[1] Zion was the Mormon term for Salt Lake City in Utah, USA, and converts were expected to migrate to the physical and religious safety of this rapidly growing Mormon community.

Branches of the Mormon Church were formed in the lower Hunter Valley during 1853 at Williams River, Clarence Town and Newcastle.

Between 1853 and 1859 a total of 450 Mormons, representing 62 per cent of Australian converts, made the journey to America. Many were from the lower Hunter Valley, particularly from the Paterson and Williams River areas. The effect of this exodus on the district requires further investigation. When combined with the concurrent exodus to the gold rushes, the impact may be significant.

The 450 converts left Australia on eight ships, with the emigrants organised into 'companies' and escorted on each ship by a 'president' and two counsellors. In 1854 the second of the eight ships, the Julia Ann, departed from Morpeth, the deep-water port of the lower Hunter Valley only a few kilometres from Paterson. On board were Thomas and Charlotte Hawker and their four children, as well as Charlotte's parents.

At first glance Thomas was an unlikely convert. He had arrived in New South Wales in 1836 as a convict, aged 19, with a life sentence for highway robbery. He was assigned to serve his time on the Tocal estate at Paterson, and remained there as an employee after receiving his ticket-of-leave and marrying in 1844.[2] Next year his first child was born at Tocal. It was almost certainly through his bride, Charlotte Stapley, that Thomas became a convert.

Mormon advert in Sydney newspaper 1853

Above: Charles Stapley selling religious books.

Stapley's farm for sale

Above: selling up to go to Zion.

Charlotte's parents, Charles Stapley and Sarah (nee Bryant), had a farm at Williams River and were converted to Mormonism. According to a descendant, they were then instrumental in forming the Williams River Branch of the Mormons. Charles was soon appointed as a Church Elder. To encourage 'gathering' to Utah the Mormon Church organised financial assistance for emigrants and raised funds by selling religious books. One place you could buy Mormon books in 1853 was from Chas Stapley at Williams River (see newspaper advertisment at right).[3]

In early 1854, prior to emigrating to America, the Stapleys sold their livestock, farm equipment and household furniture as shown in the advertisement at right—tangible evidence that preparations were underway for the journey to Zion.[4]

Thomas and Charlotte Hawker made it to America with their children, but unlike Charlotte's parents, did not make it to Zion. They stayed on the west coast, close to where they landed, and settled in San Bernadino, California, where they raised nine children. Thomas died in San Bernadino in 1905 and Charlotte in 1913.

Some of the Hunter Valley 'saints' who did gather in Utah found that Zion failed to hold a lasting attraction. Susannah Bucknell and her two sons 'gathered' but returned to Australia where Susannah discovered that her husband, who had remained behind, had re-married and started a second family. One of Susannah's sons, Arthur, donated an acre of land for the erection of a Union Church at Big Creek (Hilldale) north of Paterson in 1899. The Union Church was shared by the Church of England, Presbyterian and Baptist faiths.[5]


1. Newton, Majorie, "The Gathering of the Australian Saints", as cited in References below.

2. Walsh, Brian, Voices from Tocal, as cited in References below.

3. Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 1853 p1.

4. Maitland Mercury, 1 February 1854 p1.

5. Ingle, Kay, Big Creek the Allyn to Hilldale, as cited in References below.


Newton, Majorie. Seduced Away: Early Mormon Documents in Australia.

Newton, Majorie. "The Gathering of the Australian Saints", in The Push: A Journal of Early Australia Social History, no. 27, 1989, pp.1-16.

Ingle, Kay, Big Creek the Allyn to Hilldale. Hilldale, published by the author, 1988.

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