'Old Banks' is the name of a site on the western bank of the Paterson River that was the hub of early European activities and settlement in the district. It appears near the bottom of the map of Paterson Plains c1830, and is indicated on Dangar's 1828 map by the symbol of a tent with a flag on top.
In 1804 a permanent penal settlement was established at Newcastle for convicts who had re-offended in the colony. Soon after its establishment, gangs of convict timber-cutters began operating on the second branch of Hunter's River, this branch later known as the Paterson River. The rich natural resources of the area ensured a continuous European presence, and a permanent timber-cutters' camp was established at Old Banks. From this base convict gangs cut a steady supply of cedar and other valuable timbers from the Paterson River rainforest to meets the needs of the colony. According to Commissioner Bigge:
'The logs of wood are then made into rafts and floated down the river by the tide, huts being made upon them for the protection of the gangs upon their voyage, which lasts sometimes eight days, but is always uncertain, on account of the depth of water and current of the river. The parties are sometimes absent for a month or more upon these expeditions, and carry provisions with them for that period; and a steel mill for grinding their corn'.
In 1820 a military barracks was erected at Old Banks and staffed by a constable and four soldiers. The aim was to maintain order and protect the settlement from Aborigines, the settlement at that time consisting only of convict cedar-cutting gangs and a few small-scale settlers.
At the end of 1821 the area was opened up for large-scale settlement, and in the next few years many rural estates were established and worked with convict labour. The influx of convicts to the area brought the need for a courthouse and lockup. A wooden building at Old Banks doubled as a courthouse and lockup until it was accidentally burnt down in 1826. A new wooden lockup at Old Banks was completed by November 1827 but within five years it was dilapidated and too small for its current workload. This building also served as a rather unsatisfactory place of worship on Sundays according to the following report:
'[It] is a small room used during the week as a criminal Court House, and is separated only by wooden bars from the lock-up house of this district, the prisoners in which are perfectly visible to the congregation. Under these circumstances where is a very general and not altogether unreasonable objection to attend public workship.'
Above: Detail of Old Banks in about 1830. See full map.
James Webber was appointed as the first magistrate to the district in 1825, and a scourger (flogger) was also appointed that year. Old Banks therefore became the centre for local convict 'justice'. At Old Banks prisoners were held in the lockup until brought before the Patersons Plains Bench. Those sentenced to flogging were then handed over to the scourger.
In addition, Old Banks was the site of one or two government cottages, and a government pound where stray livestock were held (see c1830 map for details - the older, east-bank government cottage is shown on the 1821 map). A punt operated at Old Banks, thereby providing people with a means to cross the river. Old Banks connected with roads to the east, north and south.
Old Banks' role as the district hub of government administration and transport continued until the new township of Paterson, a few kilometres upstream, was gazetted in 1833. A new courthouse/lockup built in Paterson was in use by April 1835 and the pound was transferred from Old Banks to Paterson in 1841 (see press clipping at right).
Notes and references
1. 'Old Banks' may have also referred to the general locality on both sides of the river, see: Ingle, Kay. John Powell Orange Grove: The First Small Paterson Land Grant March 5 1821. Paterson: Paterson Historical Society, 2007, 83.
2. Walsh, Brian. European Settlement at Paterson River 1812 to 1822. Paterson: Paterson Historical Society, 2012.
3. Bigge, John Thomas. Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry into the State of the Colony of New South Wales. London: 1822, 115.
4. Turner, JW, ed. Newcastle as a Convict Settlement: The Evidence before J.T. Bigge in 1819-1821. Newcastle, NSW: Newcastle Public Library, 1973, 75, 223.
5. Walsh, Brian. Voices from Tocal: Convict Life on a Rural Estate. Paterson: CB Alexander Foundation, 2008, 96.
6. A report among the Church and School Corporation letters dated 1831, cited in: Hunter, Cynthia. "Government Cottages at Hunter's River". Journal of Hunter Valley History 2, no.1 (1986); 146.
7. Until recently it was thought there was only one government cottage, located on the west bank just south of the current stock reserve. There seems to have been an older government cottage, however, on the east bank, see: Doran, Luke. A Historical Investigation into the Colonial Surveys at Old Banks, Paterson River. Major Project, Bachelor of Surveying, University of Newcastle (unpublished), 2007.
8. SH 15 September 1841 p.2.
An overview of settlement at Patersons Plains up to the end of 1821.
Further research needed
One local researcher claims there was a military station on the east bank at Old Banks from about 1812. This requires substantiation from primary records.