The Hunter River Valley was the largest of the lowland plains on the New South Wales coast. It was the first area outside the Cumberland Plains to be permanently occupied by white settlers, however these first settlers were small farmers, allowed the indulgence by Governor Macquarie. After the Governor's first visit to Newcastle in January 1812, well behaved convicts John Reynolds, Benjamin Davis, George Pell and Richard Binder and son of convict storekeeper John Tucker (John junior) were permitted to take up land on Patterson's Plains.
In 1817 and 1818 more settlers were allowed farms as well, including John Tucker senior who had retired from his government position at Newcastle; John Powell, John Swan, William Evans, Robert Whitmore, Thomas Addison, Anthony Dwyer and John Reeves. The conditions under which the farms were held were mentioned in an order published in March 1818 warning the farmers that: they were not to regard the land so given them their own property, the right being exclusively vested in the Governor and that they were only allowed to cultivate and to reside on their Farms so granted during their good conduct and the pleasure of His Excellency the Governor.
Governor Macquarie described the country in his Journal on 30th July 1818 :- Thursday 30th. July. Got up at Day-break and Breakfasted immediately so as to prosecute our Journey up the River. At 10 a.m. we arrived in the Gig at Point Reception, and at the confluence of the 2d. and 3d. Branches of the River. -- We proceeded up this Branch to the Farms some time since permitted by me to be occupied by 6 well behaved Convicts and two Free men. Arrived at the first Farm (young Tucker's) at 1/2 past 11 o'clock, distant about 9 miles from Point Reception, where we landed and walked about for some little time examining the improvements and nature of the Soil, which last is most excellent. We then proceeded to view the rest of the Farms on both sides of this beautiful River -- finding the soil of all of them very good -- and much more ground cleared and cultivated than I had any idea of. -- After we had explored most of the Farms, we quitted the Boat entirely and walked across the Country to the 3d. Branch -- leaving orders with the Gig to meet us next day at Reception Point on our way back. -- The Country between the two Rivers thro' which we travelled was principally fine open Forest Land, very fit for grazing but not for cultivation but we also passed through some very close thick Brush Country and indifferent land. '
Because of the Newcastle Penal settlement there was a deliberate refusal to allow any large scale settlement of the Hunter Valley. Other than the indulgences to the small farmers mentioned above, the granting of acreages in the Hunter Valley was delayed until after the penal settlement closed and convicts were transferred to Port Macquarie. Consequently the majority of the valley's settlers were new immigrants whose enterprise, together with the natural resources of the valley produced a rapid development of both agriculture and stock raising.
After Commissioner Bigge recommended closure of Newcastle penal settlement and relinquishment of the land of the Hunter Valley for free settlement these new settlers began pouring into the area. The river banks of the lower Hunter and their surrounds had been denuded of timber in the preceding years and the land was now seen as a resource for wealth and revenue via agriculture. The new settlers included merchants and military men, agriculturalists, doctors and sea captains. They sailed sixty miles up the coast from Sydney in little colonial vessels and disembarked at the stone wharf at Newcastle. They then transferred to smaller vessels to make the voyage up the river.
Many came with wealth and privilege and under the new laws in NSW had great potential to extend this wealth. They were granted land according to their resources and allocated a convict for every 100 acres able to be effectively developed. Some were also allocated allotments in the township of Newcastle. Many of these early settlers were still on their land when Robert Dixon surveyed the district in 1832. Dixon returned to England in 1836 and while there published a map dated 1837.
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