Local Treasures: Plan of Morpeth 22nd June 1849

Morpeth, June 22nd 1849. (Elkin Papers, A6022(iv) University of Newcastle's Cultural Collections)

Morpeth, June 22nd 1849. (Elkin Papers, A6022(iv) University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections)

Day Shift – 19/11/2013 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, University of Newcastle (Australia)

Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist of the University of Newcastle discusses a mysterious rare plan of the Township of Morpeth drawn on June 22nd 1849 held in the papers of the late Emeritus Professor A.P. Elkin C.M.G., M.A., Ph.D., D.Litt. We know next to nothing about its author or the circumstances regarding it creation.

Broadcast Notes:

Within the papers of the late Emeritus Professor A.P. Elkin lies an early plan of the township of Morpeth. It is clearly dated 22nd June 1849, but bears no markings of authorship. The plan measures approx. 36cm x 27.5cm, marked in pencil and ink, with a light watercolour wash.  The construction materials of the extant buildings are identified as Red for brick, Yellow for stone, and Green for wood. At the bottom right hand side is an embossed seal “DE LA RUE & Co BRISTOL BOARD” which indicates that the paper stock came from London based stationer founded by Thomas De La Rue, which appears to have been advertised as available in Australia (according to TROVE) since at least 1846. There is no indication of an author.

Stamp located on bottom right hand side of Morpeth Plan.

Stamp located on bottom right hand side of Morpeth Plan.

The overlay below provides a rough idea of the boundaries of the plan. It is very difficult to line up the line of the river against where is runs today. We can see the original course of the river has changed, and sections are now with dried up billabongs and hardly discernible today.

Morpeth 1849 superimposed on Google Earth 2013 Landscape (Thanks Russell Rigby)

Morpeth 1849 superimposed on Google Earth 2013 Landscape (Thanks Russell Rigby)

In his book Morpeth and I (1937, facs. reprint 1979), A.P. Elkin quotes from the surveyor W.H. Wells, who published a description of Morpeth in A Geographical Dictionary or Gazetteer of the Australian Colonies on the 1 January 1848. Wells says:

Morpeth. A town in N.S.W., in the county of Northumberland, and parish of Maitland, originally called the Green hills: it is situated at the head of the navigable part of the Hunter River, 20 miles by water from Newcastle; it at present contains about 635 inhabitants, viz. : 334 males and 301 females, an Episcopalian church and parsonage, a Wesleyan chapel, a ladies’ school, and two day schools; fine inns, one steam flour mill, a soap and candle manufactory, five large stores, some excellent shops, 37 stone and brick buildings, and about 117 wooden buildings; steamers constantly ply between this place and Sydney; coal promises to be abundant at a very short distance from this river. The land is the property of E.C. Close, Esq. , who has from time to time disposed of portions of it on building leases. The extensive wharf of the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company is here, and throughout the greater part of the year there is a daily communication to and from the metropolis by the steam vessels of the Company; a considerable number of sailing vessels also trade between this place and Sydney. There is a pretty church erected dedicated to St James. A coal mine is in actual operation under the direction of Mr Close, jun. , also the extensive steam flour mill of Mr John Portus. About two acres on the bank of the river are used as a Government wharf; an officer of the Custom house from Newcastle is stationed here.

Wells mentions the type of buildings in some detail, which leads us to conjecture whether he either had some knowledge relating to the plan following the publishing of the article.

The township of Morpeth is inextricably linked with its original colonial settler, Edward Charles Close, who was born in Bengal, India, in 1790. He arrived in the area, then known as “Green Hills” in 1821, and was set to work as Engineer Of Public Works  at Newcastle, constructing a fort with seven guns on the site of present day Fort Scratchley, (recorded by Henry Dangar in his 1822 survey as “Fort Thomson”).  He also constructed a pagoda house for the signalman, upon which was erected a signal fire, which consumed around a ton of coal per night. (Ref: NMH 30 Dec 1927 p.4) This was the precursor to the Nobbys Lighthouse.

The land that he settled on was called “Illulaung” (also spelt “Illulung”, “Illalung”) and was an Aboriginal name denoting the whole area south of the river including the East Maitland hills (Elkin, Morpeth and I, 44). Close built his house Closebourne, which he later sold to Bishop Tyrrell in 1848. He then built another house very close by, which he called “Morpeth House”.

The first mention of the name “Morpeth” in both the New South Wales Government Gazette, and the Sydney Herald that we managed to check appears in 1833 . The “Morpeth” that appears in use in the 1820s actually denotes the site of the proposed township of Maitland, or Wallis Plains.

Thanks to Andy Carr, Librarian for Professional Researchers, Access and Information at the State Library of NSW, who drew our attention to an 1834 survey of Morpeth located online here: http://library.sl.nsw.gov.au/record=b1512633

The actual plan is here: http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/album/ItemViewer.aspx?itemid=975159&suppress=N&imgindex=1

Town of Morpeth formerly called Illulaung, 1834 (Courtesy of the State Library of NSW)

Town of Morpeth formerly called Illulaung, 1834 (Courtesy of the State Library of NSW)

Town of Morpeth formerly called Illulaung (1834) Overlay 2013 (Thanks Russell Rigby)

Town of Morpeth formerly called Illulaung (1834) Overlay 2013 (Thanks Russell Rigby)

The State Library of NSW also hold two further digitised plans of relevance. The first is a drawing (supposedly) drawn by Edward Charles Close circa 1840 showing  the property as well as the landholdings in the Morpeth district. Permanent Link to the record is here: http://library.sl.nsw.gov.au/record=b2952674~S2 The digital image is here: http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/album/albumView.aspx?itemID=865428&ACMSID=0

Edward Charles Close (?) Drawing circa 1840 showing  the property as well as the landholdings in the Morpeth district (Courtesy State Library of NSW)

Edward Charles Close (?) Drawing circa 1840 showing the property as well as the landholdings in the Morpeth district (Courtesy State Library of NSW)

The other is a “Plan of fourteen building allotments in the Town of Morpeth, Hunter’s River: for sale on the 19th January 1841 by Hunter’s River Auction Company” Permanent link to the record is here: http://library.sl.nsw.gov.au/record=b2432011~S2

The digital image is here: http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/album/albumView.aspx?itemID=861826&acmsid=0

Plan of fourteen building allotments in the Town of Morpeth, Hunter's River: 19th January 1841(Courtesy of the State Library of NSW)

Plan of fourteen building allotments in the Town of Morpeth, Hunter’s River: 19th January 1841(Courtesy of the State Library of NSW)

We don’t know who drafted our plan, but it may have had something to do with the clergyman who administered St James Church.  The plan is located with a number of Diocesan documents that had been presumably provided to Elkin for his work on the Diocescan history. The man in charge of the parish was the Reverend Josiah Rodwell, who was made Minister of Butterwick, Seaham and Morpeth on the 16th December 1848, and was raised to the priesthood on June 3 1849. (Elkin, Morpeth and I, 99), and served from 1848-1851. The date of the plan as June 22nd 1849 might be significant as a preliminary work towards a census of the parish.

For a view of Morpeth in 1865 from the Illustrated Sydney News see the article on the University’s Coal River Working Party site here: http://coalriver.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/the-town-of-morpeth-in-1865/

Gionni Di Gravio
Archivist, UoN

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