Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Sea Grave Yard - Newcastle Harbour

In the early days before the coming of steam boats, the picturesque coastline up from Sydney and welcome sight of Nobbys on a clear day were an event to be looked forward to by the crew of the little 'sixty milers'. However if the weather turned foul and a south easterly gale whipped up mountainous waves, it was a different story and the narrow passage became a nightmare. The channel was tortuous and shallow, and full of shoals. The deepest water that could be expected at low tide was 15 feet, and that was limited to a narrow, tricky channel. The dangers were well known from earliest exploration and settlement. [6]

In 1801 Lieutenant James Grant on a fact finding mission with Colonel William Paterson recorded the following description of Nobbys and the entrance to Hunter's River ......

'Sunday, 14 June, 1801. - At 6 a.m. bore up and made all possible sail, the Coal Island (an island in the entrance) N.N.W. 6 miles. At half-past 10, I went on shore with Dr. Harris, to examine the entrance, which we found very narrow.

On the left hand side going in was a reef of rocks from the island, with much heavy serf breaking on it; on the right was an extensive flat, with a tremendous roll of sand breakers over it. The channel in was troubled with much heavy swell, and did all but break, so that I hove the boats head round and pulled out again; sounded 5 fms. On considering the risk we run of bringing the vessel in without well ascertaining the channel, I pulled in, carrying from 5 to 4 and 3 1/2 fathoms close to the island. On our getting on shore we climbed up this steep island and hoisted a flagg as a signal this was the right place.' Ensign Barralier who accompanied the expedition to make a survey of the harbour wrote 'Such a fearful passage one has to clear to arrive in this fine harbour.

The roaring of the waves thrown one upon the other, breaking with a fearful noise on the steep rocks of the isle and furiously rolling on to the sands of the opposite shore, inspire with awe the most intrepid seaman

Despite these dangers trading vessels had been sailing up to the Coal River for cargoes since 1797 when Lieutenant John Shortland brought news of his discovery of the river. Timber, coal and other resources such as lime, and salt would keep the intrepid mariners returning again and again.

In 1830 the Sydney Gazette gave the following report of the wreck of the famous little packet the Lord Liverpool

We regret to announce the almost total wreck of the Lord Liverpool on the evening of Tuesday last. She left Sydney, for Newcastle on the preceding Saturday, having on board, Mr. and Mrs. Cobb, Mr. Hosking, Mr. Parker, Dr. Parmeter, and about forty assigned servants, and after a smart gusty passage of about seven hours, arrived off Nobby's Island, where she was obliged to cast anchor, owing to an adverse wind and a tremendous surf which rendered it impossible to make the harbour of Newcastle. The pilot, Mr. Hughes, came off immediately, and Captain Taggart lost no time in sending the passengers ashore, who were safely landed after undergoing a very severe ducking.

The prisoners were put ashore on Nobbys. The little vessel weathered the storm pretty well until Tuesday, when after making several ineffectual efforts to tack in, in the course of the day, she became entangled among the rocky shoals, about seven o'clock in the evening, and soon began to fill through two great fissures in her bottom. Her masts were cut away and all the usual methods resorted to in order to get her off, but without success; nor was the removal of the cargo, consisting principally of sugar and soft goods, effected before it had sustained considerable damage from the sea water. Every assistance was afforded by the authorities at the settlement; - the government boats, well manned, were ordered out, and several private boats, among others, one belonging to
Dr. Moran rendered every possible aid on the distressing occasion. A number of gentlemen, also, amongst whom were Mr. Commissioner Therry, Dr. Moran, Mr. Solicitor Williams etc encouraged the boats' crews by their own example, and liberally distributed grog and other refreshments to the men, to excite and reward their exertions.

Captain Taggart is almost inconsolable at the misfortune; and it is but justice to that very clever mariner, to state that no blame whatever is attributable to him. At the period of the latest accounts, the vessel was on her beam ends, and some hopes were entertained that the very great efforts which were then making, would succeed in getting her afloat again, and that the damage would not ultimately prove to be so great as to render her repair impracticable.

(*The Lord Liverpool was floated and in December it was reported that she was being taken to Sydney for repairs.)

The treacherous waters around Nobbys became known throughout the world and mariners sighting the infamous island in stormy weather often knew what they were up against. With luck they made it through the narrow passage, however over the years many mariners have been consigned to a 'watery grave' as their tiny vessels failed to traverse the fearful passage.

Customs Terms

Bond Store - a secure warehouse under control of Customs. Used for storing goods for which excise not yet collected

Customs Collector - the head of a colonial Customs department. Until 1850s reported directly to British Customs Board

Customs Agent - an individual licensed by the Customs Dept., to do business at the Custom House on behalf of merchants or others

Excise - a Tax levied on articles of local production, such as tobacco or spirits

Free Port - a port open to direct trade from overseas and to foreign shipping rather than just colonial trade

A Free Warehousing - a Free Warehousing port would have licensed bond stores in which goods could be warehoused temporarily without paying duties

Gauger - a Gauger was an officer who calculated the quantity of spirits, tobacco or other goods upon which Customs duties were to be paid

Jerquer - a Jerquer was an officer who checked a ship's papers to ensure that all cargo had been entered and described

Land Surveyor - a landing surveyor was an officer who was in charge of the landing waiters

Landing Waiter - a Landing waiter was an officer who worked on the wharf checking goods landed against those listed in the ship's manifest

The Queen's Bond - the Queen's bond was the Customs warehouse in which seized goods were stored

The Sub-Collector - the sub-collector was in charge of an outport and answerable to the collector

Outport - an outport was a subsidiary port such as Newcastle before it became a free port in 1846

Tariff - a Tariff is a list of commodities and the duties payable on them

Tide Surveyor - a Tide Surveyor was an officer who was in charge of the tide waiters and was largely responsible for guarding against smuggling

Tide Waiter - a Tide waiter was an officer who awaited the tide on which sailing ships might arrive or depart

Vessel At Newcastle

Vessels at Newcastle in the first thirty years of settlement (Date is the earliest reference found - some vessels traded for several years):

1801 Anna Josepha owned by Lord and Meehan; crew of 28. 170 tons. Took 100 tons of coal and 4000 feet of timber from Newcastle to Sydney in October 1801

1801 Lady Nelson. Lieutenant James Grant directed by Gov. King to take the Lady Nelson to H.R. in June 1801

1801 Norfolk. Govt. owned. Seized by escaping convicts at Hawkesbury and lost at Pirate Point, Newcastle.

1803 Edwin - Took a sample of coal from a new mine at Newcastle to Sydney. Owned by J. Palmer. 16 tons. 3 crew. Wrecked in 1816. Captain and crew walked 100 miles to Newcastle

1803 James - Owned by T. Raby and in 1804, the frame of a house.

1803 Nautilis - Master James Black. 18 crew. To Newcastle in August (in ballast). In August 1816 the Master, Edward Edwards implicated in escape of prisoners from Newcastle and in November 1816 went ashore at Newcastle.

1803 Raven - Owned by T. Raby. Sailing to Hunter River in May

1804 Governor King - Owned by Kable and Underwood. Coal and 64 logs of cedar to Sydney in February. Wrecked at Hunter River in 1806

1804 Lady Nelson. Taking Lieutenant Menzies, James Mileham, Ferdinand Bauer etc. to the new settlement at 'Coal River'

1805 Contest - Owned by Kable and Co. 45 tons. 6 crew

1805 - 1814?. Endeavour Brig Owned by Kable and Co. 31 tons; 6 crew

1805 Francis - Report by Charles Throsby of the loss of the Francis off Coal Island in March

1805 Governor Hunter -Owned by Isaac Nichols. 33 tons, 6 crew. Arrived in Sydney from Newcastle with 20,000 lbs of salt in September

1805 Marcia - Owned by Kable and Co; 26 tons; 5 crew

1805 Surprise - Owned by Kable and co. Lost in a heavy gale north of Coal Island 1805 Venus - Brought samples of wheat from Newcastle to Sydney. Owned by J. MacArthur

1806 Hope - Cedar and coals

1806 Hunter - Cedar and coals

1806 Resource. In pursuit of escaped convicts near Newcastle. In 1814 lost shortly after leaving Newcastle. Owned by Messrs Redmond and Cullen.

1806 Richmond. Owned by Morley and Watkins. 18 tons. 3 crew.

1806 William and Mary. Owned by William Miller. 12 tons; 3 crew. 1808 Dundee. Captain Cummings. Wrecked at Hunter River

1808 Halcyon - Thomas Shirley convict at Newcastle drowned in trying to rescue the Halcyon in strong winds.

1809 Estramina - Driven by strong winds to Port Stephens when taking Lieut. Lawson to his command at Newcastle in February. Joseph Ross appointed master in September 1814. Reported wrecked at Newcastle in January 1816

1810 Sally. Master James Brown. Taking supplies to Newcastle settlement in January. Wrecked after springing a leak near Reid's Mistake in 1812.

1810 Speedwell. - Master William Johnston taking supplies to Newcastle in January 1810. In 1814 seized by convicts. Master William Patten in 1814.

1811 Eliza - Owner Joseph Underwood. Wrecked at Port Stephens in July

1811 Northumberland. Owner Mr. Blaxcell. Missing for 5 weeks since sailing to the Hunter.

1811 Perseverance. Master Robert Murray. Ran aground at Newcastle

1812 Boyd - Lost on a beach between Hunter River and Port Stephens known as the sandhills. Full freight of wheat.

1812 Mary - Owned and built by John Redmond, Chief constable at Sydney. Loading coal for the Indian market in 1812

1816 Elizabeth Henrietta - Launch of the Elizabeth Henrietta, govt. vessel 150 tons in June. Master John Ross. Mrs Ross and crew member drowned at Hunter River in August when vessel upset her moorings. Wrecked at Newcastle 1825.

1816 Elizabeth and Mary- Owned by Mr. Underwood. Reported to have gone on shore at Newcastle

1816 Kangaroo. Joseph Ross acting as pilot for the Kangaroo in and out of Newcastle harbour

1816. Recovery. Master Peter Hibbs. Wrecked at Port Stephens in July. Passengers walked to Newcastle

1816 Windsor. Owned by Henry Major. Wrecked at the Long Reef after departing Newcastle for Sydney

1816 Nautilis. Ran aground at Newcastle. Said to be blocking the clearing channel

1817 Endeavour. New schooner owned by John Black. Lost in a gale at Newcastle in December

1820 Princess Charlotte. Took Commissioner Bigge to Newcastle in February. George Williams First mate.

1821 Newcastle - Built at Hunter River in 6 months. 3 1/2 ton schooner. Owned by Mr. Street in 1826.

1821 Snapper. - In June made the shortest trip to date between Sydney and Newcastle - 38 hrs.

1822 Magnet - Wrecked at Newcastle. Owned by Thomas Wilson

1823 Calder. Wrecked at Newcastle. Captain William Worth. Owned by Peter Dillon.

1823 Eclipse - Regular cutter. Sydney to Newcastle every week. Seized by escaping convicts 1825

1823 Mars. Sloop built at Newcastle 30 tons. Wrecked at Port Stephens 1826

1824 Fame - Brig. Thomas Young master. Trader between Sydney and Newcastle

1824 Lord Liverpool. Alexander Livingstone master. Coppered, copper fastened cutter established as a regular packet for passengers and goods between Sydney and Newcastle. In 1827 took the first load of coal from Lake Macquarie to Sydney.

1824 Sally. Taking prisoner to Newcastle in December.

1825 Nereid. Captain Forbes. Wrecked 10 miles north of Newcastle

1825 Sophia - Owned by Edward Cory commencing trade between Sydney and Newcastle in December.

1826 Balberook - Sloop belonging to A.A. Company. Wrecked off Port Stephens. Select here for an account of the wreck

1826 Charlotte - 10 tons.. Took 10 days from Sydney to Newcastle. Wrecked on the beach five miles from Newcastle in September 1827

1826 Currency Lass - Cutter built for T.W.M. Winder at Captain Livingston's farm. 100 tons. Launched October 400 people attended. Captain Taggart

1826 Elizabeth - Purchased by John Smith of Newcastle. Trader between Newcastle and Sydney

1826 Gurnett - 15 tons. Seized by escaping convicts. Belonging to Mr. Street of Sydney

1826 St. Michael - Arrived in Newcastle having lost her sails in a storm. Purchased by the owners of the Lord Liverpool.

1827 Amelia - Seized at Newcastle for having arrived with a cargo of liquor without permission

1827 Australia - Owned by A. A. Company. Taking 2 steam engines to Port Stephens

1827 Australian Lad - Cutter. Trader between Newcastle and Sydney. Totally lost and crew perished October.

1827. Lambton - 82 tons. Cutter owned by the A.A. Company. Captain Corlette. Based at Port Stephens.

1828 Darling - Colonial Schooner. Passengers and goods from Sydney to Newcastle. January

1828 Dove - Lost in a storm to the north of Port Stephens. 7 lives lost. June

1828 Governor Arthur - Trading between Sydney and Newcastle March

1829 Samuel - 50 tons. Taking coals to Sydney in September

1830 Admiral Gifford - 43 tons. Taking coals to Sydney. Captain Taggart

1830 Amity - Taking three pairs of sawyers to Newcastle to commence a cedar ground

1830 Carabeen - Bound for Newcastle with sundries in January

1830 Cumberland - Largest vessel to enter the harbour. Piloted by Captain Livingstone

1830 Fairy - 28 tons. Taking coas from Newcastle to Sydney in September

1830 Glatton - 13 tons. Taking coals from Newcastle to Sydney

1830 Hope - 24 tons, Captain Brown. Coal

1830 Jessie - Crew man lost overboard in March. Driven onto rocks near Hog Island in 1831 and cargo of corn lost

1830 Madeira. To Newcastle with sundries in January

1830 Maid of the Mill. 14 tons. Captain Mosman. To Newcastle September. In Feb 1831 crew thrown into the surf near Nobbys after the vessel capsized.

1830 Nereus. Barque. To Sydney from Newcastle after losing her anchor in Newcastle Harbour. October

1830 Pandora. Trading craft between Sydney Newcastle and Paterson. Master David Brown.

1831. Frederick - Wrecked on her passage to Newcastle in June.

Notes and Links

1). Loss of the Balberook - The present state of Australia: A Description of the Country, Its Advantages ..By Robert Dawson

2). Loss of the Cawarra in 1866 from Papers Past


1. Customs Terms - Day, David., Smugglers and Sailors: The Customs History of Australia 1788 - 1901., Commonwealth of Australia, 1992

2. Historical Records of Australia

3. Historical Records of New South Wales.

4. The Sydney Gazette

5. The Australian

6. The Daily Telegraph