Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

The Wheatsheaf Inn


The Wheatsheaf Arms (also known as the Halfway House) was owned by the Sparke family in the 1830s.

The Inn stood on part of the Sparke estate and was near-by the Hexham Wharf which was quite active until by-passed by the rail line March 1857.[1]

William Sparke

On 10th July 1830, William Sparke was granted a licence for the Wheatsheaf Inn at a cost of £25; the Justices of the Peace who issued the licence were Samuel Wright, George Brooks and Jonathan Warner. It was stated on the licence that William Sparke had held a licence for two years previously, however it was Andrew Sparke (son of Edward Sparke) who held the licence in 1828 and 1829. [1]

Edward Sparke (uncle of William Sparke) was noted as the proprietor of the house (he owned the land and the premises), which was situated on the line of road between Newcastle and Maitland. There was no public house nearer than 7 miles. Sureties were given by William Sparke and John or William Smith both from Newcastle district [2]

George Wyndham on a trip from Ash Island and Newcastle to his estate at Dalwood stayed at Sparkes place in December 1830 remarking in his Diary that it was very pleasant. [3]

In the Christ Church Burial Records dated June 12 1832, there is an entry for William Sparke of Woodlands Farm, occupation Innkeeper, age 36. Minister Rev. Wilton. This was William Phillips Sparke (b. 1796), son of Andrew Sparke of Devon.

Mary Sparke

The licence for the Wheatsheaf Arms was issued to William Sparke (b. 1796) again in 1831. After Williams death, in June 1832 the licence for the Wheatsheaf Arms was issued to Mary Ann Sparke in 1832 and 1833.

John Nicholas

The licence for the Wheatsheaf was held by John Nicholas in 1834. He moved to the Black Swan at West Maitland in 1835.

William Sparke

In 1835 the licence for the Wheatsheaf Arms was issued to William Sparke (b. 1804), son of Edward Sparke. When the licence was issued to him in June 1836 the Inn was also known as the Halfway House, between Maitland and Newcastle.

The Wheat Sheaf Inn was popular with travellers for overnight stays and was patronized by many travellers, bishops and clergy amongst them for years to come. It was a recognized suitable place to transfer from the boat to land conveyances. Bishop Broughton, sometimes brought his own vehicle from Sydney to the Hexham landing'. The area about the Inn and wharf became widely known as 'Sparkies'. [4]

Henry Geering

Henry Geering was granted a licence for the Wheatsheaf Inn in 1838 with the location given on the licence as Newcastle district. [5]

Edward Greenland

In 1840 Edward Greenland was granted a publicans licence. Rose Smith who arrived on the Mary in 1835 and Catherine Johnstone who arrived on the Henry Wellesley in 1837 were both assigned servants to Edward Greenland at this Inn in 1838.

Edward Greenland moved to the Singleton district and was granted a licence for St. John Tavern in April 1841.

Charles Dee

Charles Dee who had previously held the licence for the Junction Inn at Raymond Terrace was granted a licence for the Wheatsheaf Arms in June 1841.

John Hannell

John Hannell became publican of the Wheatsheaf in 1842. John Hannell was a colourful character around the town of Newcastle. He was one of three colonial born sons of Elizabeth Hannell who had arrived as a convict on the Minstrel in 1812. All three Hannell brothers James, Jesse and John remained in the district for most of their lives, the eldest James Hannell becoming Mayor of Newcastle in 1859.

John Hannell was employed as Chief Constable at Newcastle in 1841 and resided in Pacific Street Newcastle. He was granted a publican's licence for the Wheatsheaf Arms in 1842. His brother Jesse Hannell then became Chief Constable.

The road from the Inn to Maitland was in poor state in 1843 and the Maitland Mercury reported the following accident: The dilapidated state of the bridges on the road between the Halfway House and Maitland has been frequently noticed. On Tuesday last Mr. (Jesse) Hannell our chief constable, met with a severe fall at the Four Mile Creek, the horse's foot having slipped through a hole in the bridge, which brought both the animal and his rider to the ground; we are happy to say, however that Mr. Hannell though much bruised, was able to continue his journey. [6]

The Wheatsheaf Arms was described as an imposing two story hotel that became the changing post for the Maitland to Newcastle coaches. John Hannell advertised a safe and commodious punt for horses, carriages and drays between his house The Halfway House, Hexham, and the opposite shore in 1847[7].

He charged 6d. for man and his horse to use this punt.

John Hannell often took part in regattas on Newcastle Harbour, sailing his craft from Hexham to the harbour. In April 1843 he triumphed over the other boats as the newspaper reported -

The prize of £10 was won with ease by Mr. J. Hannells boat, of the half way house. The question whether she is the best sailing boat cannot be solved by her triumph on this occasion, as the wind afforded very little aid to the boats; she, however, realised the anticipations of her owner, and with the emblems of victory left the harbour this morning for his residence.

The original Inn burned down in 1853 and a substantial new Inn was built to replace it c. 1856 and was re-named Riverview. This building was destroyed c. 1960.

Newcastle historian W. J. Goold described the Wheatsheaf Arms....On the other side of the river from Ash island were the estates of John Platt (whose residence was on top of Ironbark Hill), J. P. Webber, William Sparke (Browns-.Works at Hexham occupy the site of the old homestead), Captain Horsley, William Howard Greenaway etc. In the little village of Hexham there were two Inns, John Smiths 'Hexham Inn' and John Hannell's 'Wheat Sheaf Arms' - each had a racecourse adjoining the house, and races were held there on holidays for prizes presented by 'mine host.' On these race days there was great rivalry between the two proprietors to secure the patronage of the sporting fraternity that came from Newcastle and Maitland. [8]

In 1857 when floods hit the district many residents sought refuge in the upper floors of the Inn which soon filled with people. Requests were sent to Newcastle for a steamer to rescue them but no such vessel was available.

An account of a trip by steamer from Newcastle to the Williams River was published in the Newcastle Morning Herald in 1878 in which the two Hexham Inns were mentioned...... On the other side of the water again is Ash Island, on which the principal feature is she well kept farm of Mr. W. Milham. Passing quickly along on the left bank of the river still, are the coal shoots of the Messrs Brown, and the Duckenfield steamer was loading coal underneath them. Hexham township is soon visible from here, and also the old Hexham Hotel, and residence of Mr. John Hannell; whilst on the opposite bank is the Kennington estate, the property of Mr. William Bowden, who owns some 2000 acres of fine agricultural and grazing land. Nearly facing this estate, is what used to be a stirring spot. We can remember it some twenty years ago as a flourishing boiling down establishment, from which hundreds of tons of tallow were sent regularly to market.

John Hannell died in 1891.

Notes and Links

1). Hannell family vault at Hexham - Australian Cemeteries Index

2). In 1825 bushrangers known as Jacobs Irish Brigade were tracked to a hut on the Sparke estate by Sergeant Wilcox and privates Wright and John Coffee. Leader of the gang Patrick Riley was shot and killed by Private Coffee.

3) Fannin/Galbraith Family Tree by Lyn G. Fannin

4) The Sydney Gazette 26 February 1824

5) Maitland Mercury 7 March 1849


[1] Sparke, E.J., The Wheatsheaf Inn, email

[2] State Archives NSW; Series: 14401; Item: [4/61-62]; Reel: 5049 Description licence Year : 1830 Source Information New South Wales, Australia, Certificates for Publicans licences, 1830-1849

[3] Diary of George Wyndham

[4] Elkin, A.P., The diocese of Newcastle : a history of the diocese of Newcastle, N.S.W., Australia, 1955.

[5] State Archives NSW; Series: 14401; Item: [4/69]; Reel: 5054 Description licence Year : 1838 Source Information New South Wales, Australia, Certificates for Publicans licences, 1830-1849

[6] Maitland Mercury 4 March 1843

[7] Maitland Mercury 9 October 1847

[8] The Voice of the North - The Pioneers by W.J. Goold 11 January 1932