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Paterson River history

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James Phillips & Lydia Ballard

[Bona Vista]

Captain James Phillips was one of many immigrants who took up land in the lower Hunter from 1822 following the decision to close the convict penal station at Newcastle and open the Hunter Valley for settlement (see overview of settlement from 1822).

James Phillips was born in England about 1783 and married Lydia Ballard who was born about 1791. Their first child Henry was born in 1809 and their second child Jane in 1811. In 1811 James joined the Commissariat in the British Army and over the next few years served behind the lines during the Napoleonic wars in Spain, Portugal and France. Lydia accompanied him, and their third child William was born in Portugal in 1813.

James served in the Netherlands in 1815 and there is a family belief that James and Lydia attended the famous ball held by the Duchess of Richmond at Brussels in June 1815 on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. James then served in France until discharged in 1817, and later that year their fourth child was born, probably in England.

James and Lydia Phillips arrived in New South Wales on the Mary Ann on 20 May 1822 with their five children, the youngest of whom had been born during the voyage. By 30 May James had been granted 2,000 acres provided he support 20 convicts off the government stores (his grant was later surveyed as 2,090 acres).

map of James Phillips' grant, 'Bona Vista'

James Phillips' land grant, 'Bona Vista'.

the second and current Bona Vista homestead

At right: The second Bona Vista homestead, built in 1876 and now part of Tocal College.

James Phillips named his land 'Bona Vista' (presumably because of his time in Spain) and it was located on the Paterson River immediately to the north of James Webber's Tocal. James Phillips occupied his grant towards the end of July 1822 when he travelled from Sydney to Newcastle with seven assigned convicts aboard the government brig Elizabeth Henrietta.[1]

James and Lydia built their home at Bona Vista and it is believed to have been on or near the site of the current Bona Vista homestead built in 1876. By 1828 James was cultivating 180 of the 300 acres he had cleared and was running 200 cattle and 1,000 sheep with the aid of 14 convicts assigned to him.

In 1835 James Phillips commissioned John Verge to draw up plans for a public house (hotel) at Paterson, probably sensing a business opportunity. In 1833 the township of Paterson had been gazetted right alongside Bona Vista and by 1835 a courthouse and government lockup had been built in the new town. The government administration of the district now moved from Old Banks to Paterson, and commerce and thirsty patrons no doubt followed.

The Paterson Hotel, also known as the Paterson Arms Hotel

The Paterson Hotel built by James Phillips (Paterson Historical Society Collection).

Phillips therefore built the Paterson Hotel, also known as the Paterson Arms Hotel, on land bounded by Victoria, Sloan, Main and High streets. It was an elegant two-storey brick building with five bedrooms upstairs, accessed by a winding stone staircase and leading onto a balcony of iron palisading.[2]

Battling a mortgage and facing tough times, James Phillips subdivided 100 allotments from the north east portion of Bona Vista and put them up for auction. These allotments adjoined the new township and today form the southern part of Paterson village. (The portion of the village which is on Bona Vista land is clearly shown towards the bottom of the map 'land grants from 1822').

About this time Phillips also sold the Paterson Hotel to Felix Wilson who by then owned the nearby Tocal estate, having purchased it from James Webber in 1834. The hotel remained in the Wilson family until sold to William Keppie in 1893. It was renamed Brooklyn House and used as a residence and boarding house by the Keppie family for several years.

On 31 March 1851 James Phillips died at Bona Vista at the age of 74 and was buried in the churchyard of St Paul's at Paterson.[3] His wife Lydia died at Bona Vista in 1864 aged 73. James and Lydia's daughter Isabella married a medical practitioner David Sloan in 1840, and James Phillips named Sloan Street in his Paterson subdivision after his son-in-law.

The youngest daughter, Lydia, married medical practitioner Richard Bowker in 1858. Richard purchased the Bona Vista homestead from the Phillips estate and thus retained it in the family up to the turn of the century. Bowker was a well known and respected medical man in Newcastle, a prominent and wealthy citizen who became a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly for two separate terms and was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1887 and served until his death in 1903.

Bona Vista was sold to Moses Smith after Richard Bowker died, and Smith's descendants sold it to the NSW Government in 1974 to become part of the CB Alexander Agricultural College, now the CB Alexander Campus of Tocal College. See also Tocal.


1. CS 4/3506 p.90 [reel 6009], SRNSW.

2. Archer, Cameron. The Settlement of the Paterson District. Paterson, 1986 p.14.

3. Clements, Pauline. Burials in St. Paul's Church Cemetery Paterson New South Wales: Part one, from 1839 to 1900. Paterson, 1996 pp.19-20.


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

Mitchell, Cecily. Hunter's River. Newcastle, 1973.

Threlfo, Shirley. James Phillips and Bona Vista, Paterson River. Paterson: Paterson Historical Society, 1999.

External links

Index to the NSW Colonial Secretary's papers. There are several papers listed for James Phillips.

See also

An overview of settlement at Patersons Plains from 1822.