Newcastle (map) is the sixth largest city in Australia and the second largest in the state of New South Wales. Situated 160 km north of Sydney, on the mouth of the Hunter River, it is the predominant city within the Hunter Valley region.

The area was traditionally occupied by the Awabakal and Worimi people. The first European to explore the area was Lieutenant John Shortland in 1797. His discovery of the area was largely accidental; Shortland had been sent in search of a number of convicts who had seized the Cumberland as she was sailing from Sydney Cove. While returning he entered what he later described as 'a very fine river' which he named after New South Wales' Governor, John Hunter. Shortland also returned with reports of the deep-water port and abundant coal in the area. Over the next two years, coal mined from the area was the New South Wales colony's first export.

By the early 1800s cedar joined coal as a major export as it was urgently needed as building timber for the infant Sydney colony. Philip Gidley King, the then Governor of New South Wales, decided to establish a small post at the river mouth headed by Corporal Wixtead. Wixtead was soon replaced by Surgeon Martin Mason but Mason's rule ended in a mutiny; King subsequently closed the settlement early in 1802.

In 1804 a second attempt to settle was made. Named Coal River it became a place of secondary punishment for unruly convicts. Lieutenant Charles Menzies of the Royal Marines, was appointed superintendent. The new settlement comprising convicts and a military guard, arrived at the Hunter River 27 March 27, 1804 in three ships, the Lady Nelson, the Resource and the James. The convicts were rebels from the 1804 Castle Hill convict rebellion, also known as the second Battle of Vinegar Hill. Newcastle remained a penal settlement for nearly 20 years. The military rule was harsh, often barbarous, and there was possibly no more notorious place of punishment in the whole of Australia than Limeburners' Bay, on the inner side of Stockton peninsular, where incorrigibles were sent to burn oyster shells for making lime.

Under Captain James Wallis, commandant from 1815 to 1818, the convicts' conditions improved, and a building boom began. Captain Wallis laid out the streets of the town, built the first church of the site of the present Anglican Cathedral, erected the old gaol on the seashore, and began work on the breakwater which now joins Nobby's to the mainland. The quality of these buildings was poor and only (a much reinforced) breakwater survives. For these works, and for his humane rule in the convict colony, Captain Wallis earned the personal commendation of Governor Macquarie. It was Governor Macquarie's opinion though that the prison colony was too close to Sydney and that prsion labour was insufficient to market the local resources. Thus in 1823, military rule in Newcastle ended. The number of prisoners was reduced to 100 (most of these were employed on the building of the breakwater) and the remaining 900 were sent to Port Macquarie. Freed for the first time from the infamous influence of the penal law, the town began to acquire the aspect of a typical Australian pioneer settlement, and a steady flow of free settlers poured into the hinterland.

Between 1826 and 1836 the convict-built Great North Road established the overland link with Sydney. Coal mining began in earnest in the 1830s, with collieries working close to the city itself and others within a ten-mile radius. Most of Newcastle's principal coal mines (Stockton, Tighes Hill, Carrington, the AA Co., the Newcastle Coal Mining company's big collieries at Merewether and the Glebe, Wallsend, and the Waratah collieries), had all closed by the early 1960s, being steadily replaced over the previous four decades by the larger coal mining activities further inland at places such as Kurri Kurri and Cessnock.

Around 1850 a major copper smelting works was established at Burwood, near Merewether (now a suburb), an engraving of which appeared in the Illustrated London News on 11 February 1854. The English and Australian Copper Company built another substantial works at Broadmeadow circa 1890; and in that decade a zinc smelter was built inland, by Cockle Creek.

What was said to be the largest factory of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere was constructed in 1885, on a 22 acre site between the suburbs of Tighes Hill and Port Waratah, by Mr Charles Upfold (1834-1919) from London. His Sydney Soap and Candle Company replaced a smaller factory in Wickham. Their soap products won 17 medals at International Exhibitions, and at the Sydney International Exhibition they won a bronze medal, the only first prize awarded for soap and candles. Following The Great War the company was sold to Messrs Lever & Kitchen (today Lever Bros); the factory closed in the mid 1930s.


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