Barrallier Plan 1801

Barrallier Plan 1801

Vice-Regal Visit to the City of Newcastle to Present the Barrallier Plan 1801
Friday 1 February, 2008

Coal Harbour and Rivers, On the Coast of New South Wales, surveyed by Ensign Barrallier 1801

Ensign Francis Louis Barrallier (1773-1853)
‘Coal Harbour and Rivers, On the Coast of New South Wales, surveyed by Ensign Barrallier, In His Majesty’s Armed Surveying Vessel, “Lady Nelson”, Lieut. James Grant, Commander, in June and July, 1801. By Order of Governor King’.

Copy of Original held in the National Archives United Kingdom CO 700/ New South Wales 16/1.

Successfully rediscovered in its complete form by the University of Newcastle’s Coal River Working Party and presented on the 1st February 2008 by Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO Governor of New South Wales to the Staff and Students of Wollotuka School of Aboriginal Studies, Stockton Historical Society, the Lord Mayor of Newcastle John Tate and Vice Chancellor of the University of Newcastle Professor Nicholas Saunders. A further copy was presented to Her Excellency on behalf of the University of Newcastle by Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Kevin McConkey.

Five framed copies were made with the support of the Hartley Bequest Program.


On Friday 1st February 2008 Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO Governor of New South Wales had the great pleasure and honour in restoring to Newcastle and the Hunter Region, the complete survey plan completed by surveyor Ensign Francis Louis Barrallier in June – July 1801. This important historical document, lost to the Australian nation in its complete form for the past 200 years, was located in the National Archives in London by the University’s Coal River Working Party in 2007. This achievement, along with the rediscovery of the convict coal mines, the first in the Southern Hemisphere, in 2005 was cause for great celebration.

The University of Newcastle formed the Coal River Working Party under the leadership of Dr Erik Eklund in February 2003 to bring scholarly expertise and community collaboration to enhancing and restoring Newcastle’s birthplace and bringing to light the Region’s significant contribution to the Australian story.

The Party aims to protect Newcastle’s culturally important landmarks in the Coal River Precinct that were only recently placed on the NSW Heritage Register. A National Heritage Nomination has also been prepared. The overall vision is to create an Interpretive Centre and Heritage Park to express Newcastle’s unique Aboriginal, convict and industrial heritage and a management plan for the entire site.

The Coal River Heritage Precinct is a distinctive area of public land at the mouth of the Hunter River encompassing Nobbys, Macquarie Pier, Convict Lumber Yard, and the original convict coal mine workings at Colliers Point and beneath Signal Hill (now Fort Scratchley). It is a significant historical place that gives a tangible expression to Newcastle’s Aboriginal & European Heritage.

In a letter from Governor King to Sir Joseph Banks in 1801 the Governor was proud to inform him that: “The first cargo of coals brought from the Coal River in a Government vessel I exchanged with the master of the Cornwallis,.. Profit for our coals at two pounds five shillings per chaldron (sic). I believe this is the first return ever made from New South Wales.” (Ref: 1801, April 28 – August 21. Governor King to Sir Joseph Banks (Banks Papers.), H.R.N.S.W., Vol.IV, p. 359.)

The first profit ever made in the fledgling colony of New South Wales, (2 pounds, 5 shillings) was made here at Coal River in 1801. Newcastle and the Hunter Region are arguably the birthplace of the Australian economy and have continued to underpin Australia’s prosperity from its inception to nationhood.

The Coal River Precinct, in Newcastle, NSW, includes outstanding heritage sites within a distinctive landscape. It is also a place of living history marking a series of important transitions in Australia’s journey to nationhood; from government industry to private enterprise, from convict to free labour, from punishment to profit, and from a natural to a human-fashioned landscape.

The story of the rediscovery of the complete Barrallier Survey 1801

In late July 2006 Doug Lithgow President of the Parks and Playgrounds Movement and a Freeman of the City of Newcastle visited the current Chair of the Coal River Working Party and University Archivist Mr Gionni Di Gravio with a mystery plan of Newcastle bearing the famous French surveyor Barrallier’s signature.

He had uncovered the plan on a micro card in Sydney’s Mitchell Library (BT36 Image 0072) It was interesting because it appeared to be a hitherto unknown survey of the harbour at Newcastle, showing Coal Harbour, Collier Point (now Fort Scratchley), Coal Island (now Nobbys) with its original height marked at 203 feet and Pirate Point (now Stockton) in some detail. A vessel, presumably the Lady Nelson was shown docked next to Pirate Point at an area known as Fresh Water Bay.

Knowing that this find would be of great interest to the Stockton community Di Gravio contacted the Honorary Librarian of the Stockton Historical Society and generous benefactor to the Cultural Collections Mrs Vera Deacon with the news. Copies of the plan were sent to her, and Vera contacted him a few days later to say that she and her colleagues had felt very emotional at seeing the plan, and the illustration of the Lady Nelson next to Pirate Point/Stockton, and they felt they owed a debt of gratitude to the then 28 year old Barrallier who had ‘put them on the map’.

As a matter of coincidence Di Gravio had recently also asked the University’s Emeritus Professor Ken Dutton to translate a letter of Barrallier’s in the original French and published in the Historical Records of New South Wales for the Coal River Website. He had no idea how timely this had been. For when the translation arrived in early August 2006 it had inadvertently solved the mystery of the plan, as one that had been missing for at least 110 years from the editor of the historical records of New South Wales.

Barrallier in his letter of the 24 June 1801 to Governor King, says “I have the honour to send you via the schooner [a map of] the entrance to the river, and some of the adjacent parts, which I have drawn up since we arrived, with the relevant depths, rocks, sandbanks and its various coal mines that have been discovered to date.”

Reading on Barrallier provides a beautifully evocative image of the initial perilous encounter with Newcastle.

Here is the letter in full:

Ensign Barrallier to Governor King (King Papers.), 24 June 1801 in Historical Records of New South Wales. Vol. IV. Hunter and King. 1800, 1801, 1802. Edited by F.M. Bladen. Sydney: Charles Potter, 1896: 413 – 414.

Translated by Emeritus Professor Ken Dutton

Hunter’s River, 24 June 1801


I have the honour to send you via the schooner* [a map of] the entrance to the river, and some of the adjacent parts, which I have drawn up since we arrived, with the relevant depths, rocks, sandbanks and its various coal mines that have been discovered to date.† I am rapidly advancing toward the northern bank which you may imagine to end most probably at Port Stephen,‡ but I am held back at almost every moment by the great space that exists between the two shores and by the difficulty of finding points that are suitable for establishing clear bases for the triangles.

You can see from my map what a fearsome passage one has to traverse in order to reach this beautiful river. The roaring of the waves, crashing one upon the other and breaking with a terrible noise on the steep rocks of the island, and raging as they roll onto the sands of the opposite shore, would make the most intrepid sailor tremble. [If you had been here] you would have seen all the seamen, with terror showing on their faces but remaining firm at their posts, obeying with incredible dexterity their captain’s orders in order to extricate him from this almost impenetrable labyrinth. The doctor [Dr Harris] is a man who is truly necessary, for he is indefatigable in whatever he undertakes, and were it not for his great perseverance neither we nor the schooner would have entered the river that day. The Colonel [Lieutenant Colonel Paterson] has, he says, made many new discoveries of plants, and he proposes to explore the country for as far as he can safely go. It is most unfortunate for him that we are so badly provided with boats, seeing that as I have been obliged to use the two which belong to the ship he has no other choice than to use the one belonging to the doctor.

I am, Sir, with respect, Your Excellency’s most humble servant,


* The Francis.

† This plan is missing. (Bladen’s note)

‡ Presumably the Williams River.

Could this ‘missing plan’ have been the same one that Mr Lithgow had uncovered on the micro card? In order to be certain they would have to track down the original.

Once the possible origin of the plan had been ascertained Di Gravio wrote to the Mitchell Library for more detail relating to the image on the micro card. The librarians stated that they did not hold the original, but that it probably lay in the National Archives in London.

On the 27 October 2006 an email was sent to the staff of the Research and Editorial Services Department there who had previously been so helpful back in 2004 locating another long lost plan of Australia’s first convict coal mine made by Menzies in 1804.

On the 8 November 2006 a reply was received from Ms Rose Mitchell, the Map Archivist, who had located the original at CO 700/ New South Wales 16 Item 1.

A digital copy of the plan was formally requested so that is could be restored to the historical records of the Hunter Region. The digital image arrived on the 15 March 2007.

The digital image had a further surprise in store. The plan was in fact part of Barrallier’s widely known survey of the Hunter Region prepared in 1801. For some reason, perhaps when it was photographed, it had become separated from the original. This led the then editor of the Historical Records of New South Wales, F.M. Bladen, to believe it had been ‘lost’.

The fully restored plan contained the survey of the region, along with a another closer survey of the harbour showing the places that the Lady Nelson had anchored to ascertain the correct entrance to the dangerous harbour. Other features include soundings of the depths, and red asterisks marking the locations of the coal mines that had been initiated there by John Platt.

Background on Barrallier and the creation of the Survey plan.

Francis Louis Barrallier (1773-1853), the surveyor aboard the Lady Nelson was also an engineer and explorer and the son of a French naval surveyor, who after the capture of Toulon in 1793 was employed by the British. Barrallier came under the patronage of Charles Greville (1749-1809), relative of the Duke of Portland, who in April 1799 sought for him the post of deputy surveyor general of New South Wales. This appointment was not to be.

However in June 1801 Governor King sent Barrallier to join Colonel Paterson and Lieutenant Grant to survey and examine Hunter’s River. The reason being was that as early as 1796 fishermen were collecting coal pieces in the Hunter’s River area and a number of enterprising individuals began selling it in Sydney. The interest generated within government circles in Sydney inspired Governor King to send an exploration party to the Hunter in June 1801 led by Lieutenant Grant and Lieutenant-Colonel Paterson to report on “where the most eligible place would be to form a settlement, both with respect to procuring coals and for agricultural purposes”.

It is during the initial visit in June – July 1801 that Barrallier undertook the first detailed survey of Newcastle and the Hunter Region. It remains an important document as it is a snapshot of the landscape and river course as it was at the point of white arrival. It therefore records the Aboriginal landscape as it once was.

We have a marvellous record of this survey mission through the reports of those who took part. These were originally collated in the Historical Records of New South Wales. They have now been digitised and transcribed and along with hundreds of other accounts and documents that have been made publicly available on the Coal River Website and overlayed on Google Earth.

To navigate their way into the Coal Harbour Lieutenant Grant records on the 14 June 1801 that they had to scale Nobbys (the Coal Island) in order to see how best to negotiate the oyster bank and treacherous entrance:

“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 ½ fathoms close to the island. On our getting on shore we climbed up this steep island and hoisted a flag as a signal this was the right place. It was then the first of the ebb and calm; therefore hastened on board and towed the brig in.”

Paterson records that on June 15 1801 “Early in the morning warped the vessel into a safe birth, round what is called Pirate Point, where there is [a] small bay and fresh water, which I named Freshwater Bay.”

It was on this day that they put the colliers to work on the coals located at Colliers’ Point and are marked as red asterisks on the plan. Colonel Paterson records that the soundings were taken on June 19 1801 by Grant, Barrallier and Harris while Colonel Paterson examined the strata of coal.

The survey of the Hunter River region was begun around the 29 June 1801 where Colonel Paterson took the launch and separated from the Lady Nelson. The survey continued through July 1801.

Given the importance of symbolically restoring this important document back into the public domain The Coal River Working Party on 2 May 2007 approached Dr Marie Ramsland on behalf of the Kelver Hartley Bequest committee to sponsor the framing of the Barrallier works for the distribution to the wider community.

It is with great pleasure that the University of Newcastle restore this important historical document to the people of Newcastle and the Hunter Region.

One thought on “Barrallier Plan 1801

  1. Pingback: Barrallier Plan 1801 Handover and Launch of Regional History Fund « Coal River Working Party

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