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  • Transport Part 2

    HUNTER TRANSPORT Part 2 - Consolidating the System

    Consolidation of the System

    The increase in efficiency of both mines and railways produced unprecedented demands for shipping activity. In addition to coal, general cargo and the timber trade were clamoring for shipping services. But shipping companies were being cautious, having learned from past mistakes.  By 1890 coastal shipping had reached a new scale. It eventually spawned a proliferation of crafts prepared to serve any customer. Enter the “Mosquito Fleet”.

    Maritime historian Ronald Parsons who compiled the Newcastle Ship Register recorded an average of thirteen of these crafts. This number excludes those that were registered in Sydney. To understand the true nature of this kind of maritime activity which Terry Callen calls “humdrum but dangerous shipping” one has to note that many of these vessels were smaller than some contestants in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Accordingly Callen has chronicled the flesh and blood exploits of these small coasters, which often carried no more than a crew of two. These small colliers were liable to be in serious trouble in case of bad weather, and many ships and lives were lost along the NSW coast.

    Toward the end of the century the shipping trade had become the domain of large shipping companies mainly organised on an inter-colonial basis.

    On January 1 1900 The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate carried shipping advertisements from the following companies:  Union Steamship Coy. Huddard, Parker A Company’s Line, Mc Ilwrigth, Mc Eachern & Co Ltd., Dalgety Co. Limited, Howard Smith Line, White Star Line, P & O Company of Royal Mail and German Norddeutcher Lloyd advertised return tickets to London and Europe @: Saloon, 55 – 110 pounds. The only advert from a mosquito boat, the Barque Grenada, was of a different nature probably reflecting the conditions of the time, it said: “ CAPTAIN PUTT will not be responsible for any debt or debts contracted by any of his crew whilst in this port without his written authority”. Hard times indeed.

    Preference for coal transport was now given to the larger ships, bulk loads being more economical, catering for both local and export delivery. Soon after the need for the Mosquito Fleet disappeared.


    Almost unnoticed road transport was gaining momentum. Its progress was less spectacular than that of rail or maritime modes, nonetheless its significance lay in the ability to reach areas that could not be served otherwise.

    Given the vastness of inland areas road transport was essentially needed.

    The first century of settlement brought a realistic understanding of the immense opportunities awaiting those who dared to tame the wilderness of the inland. The Hunter Region was slowly being settled, and the most adventurous settlers were already spilling west of the Dividing Range. But roads were yet to arrive.

    The principal roads were linking Maitland - Morpeth and the environs, the link to the south reaching Wollombi. Major problems were encountered when water had to be crossed, for bridges were inexistent, the road surfaces were plain dirt.

    Surfaces improved when the main street of West Maitland was sealed. The Singleton road was gravelled, and the Singleton to Muswellbrook road completed in the late 1870s. Then construction began of the Muswellbrook to Murrurundi Route. J Turner writes:  …” the southern ascent of the Warland Range (to the immediate north of Wingen) was widened to 21 feet and metalled to assist teams over that difficult climb.”  These improvements were Government projects but partly paid by ten toll bars on the road to the interior, and by tolls on the ferries at Singleton and Aberdeen.

    In 1857, 21 days were required to carry freight by road over the 119 miles between Newcastle and Murrurundi. By 1864 the trip took only 8 days, the cost per ton a mere 6 pounds 10 shillings.

    But bottlenecks at the watercourses continued. The old bridge over Wallis Creek between Maitland and Morpeth was replaced and the bridge over the Hunter River at Maitland was completed in 1869. Bridges were completed over Williams River at Clarence Town and the Paterson River at Paterson in 1880 and 1888 respectively. These bridges replaced slow river punts and opened faster roads.

    Better roads and improved technology were producing a more efficient transport system. New vehicles appeared and a change of traction animals also occurred.

    The dray had changed slowly, but the wagon that replaced it certainly sustained technical modifications until it produced a reliable and stable four-wheel truck.

    In Bullock Teams: the Building of a Nation -  Olaf Ruhen states: …” on any good road, too, the wagon’s greater efficiency made it replace the dray. Not only did it carry a greater load, it carried it more easily, and loading did not require to be balanced since it was distributed over four wheels….”. But whilst drays could also be hauled by horses, wagons owing to the increased load (up to six tons) were left undisputed to the bullock teams. As the wagon evolved wagons ruled the roads. The wagon of 1915 had 6 wheels and could carry 15 tons, in fact it was more a question of how much the road could take and teams could pull than what the wagon could carry.

    The use of such massive wagons was probably restricted to transporting wool bales to the Great Northern Railway stations west of the Dividing Range, as it was unlikely that such loads were needed in the Valley where railway services were frequent; they were a general feature of the outback. But they could have been used occasionally to move timber from the great forests to the north and south of the Valley.

    The Carriers

    In the late part of the 19th Century carriers exploited the flexibility of horses for general use in the towns of the colony of NSW. They were the preferred traction power of a widespread occupation, the carters. The importance of the profession is revealed by Bailliere’s Post Office Directory for 1867, in Morpeth it listed 400 businesses, farms and factories, among them were 17 carters and carriers: “…Edward Bragg, Michael Breeny, Anthony Bull, James Dwyer, James Ferguson Garretty, Cornelius Hall, Matthew Laidlow, James Marshall, Michael Mc Carrol, Arthur Mc Donald, Hugh Mc Laughlan, Richard Robinson, Joseph Sanderson, Robert Saunders, Thomas Spinks and Joseph Triklebank.

    This number of carriers reflects how the services of a railway line and a river port could influence the importance of a small town like Morpeth. Ten years later 41 carriers were listed in the town of West Maitland, and East Maitland had 29. However, until the end of the century the carrying trade was dominated by small business, often on a scale of one man-one vehicle basis.

    It is to be noted that Newcastle Council had issued licences to other 25 carriers who were: Wm Alderson, P Burke, J Copland, F Giles, J Howell, J Livermore, P Myers, J Rodgers, E Spence, J Wiggins, WS Bacon, W Bradley, - Doherty, J Hendry, L Innes, J Lynch, J Pit, J Ryan, R Ward, Mary Ball, J Cavanagh, - Fenwick, W Herman, G King, H Moate, - Porter, J Snipe, W Watson. They served 15 suburban areas.

    Bacon, a former shipping captain became a prosperous businessman, shipping agent and general carrier owing his success to previous maritime experience.

    To be noted in the interest of Hunter Valley transport history is a butcher business owned by Walter Edwin Bramble, born in England in 1857. He became enormously successful and his butchery was one of the largest in the Valley. J Turner writes that in 1888 the editor of Aldine History of New South Wales reported “Mr Bramble owns the premises, which are thoroughly complete and in every way suitable for carrying on the business. He has the largest sausage -machine in the colony driven by steam, also chaff cutting and corn cracking machines….”.    It may be significant, also, that neither Bacon nor Bramble belonged to the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce at that time, and, both men abstained from drinking alcoholic beverages. Brambles are recorded as a large carrying contractor employing 14 men and 35 horses.

    The Industry

    When gold was discovered in the Upper Hunter, around Moonan Brook and at Copeland, in the vicinity of the Barrington Ranges, the carters had to cope with increased demand for their services. This remote area of the Hunter was not served by either the rail or ship. From 1877 to 1885 the Copeland district had 5 mines and, at times employed 3000 people.

    The development of road transport as an organised industry began in earnest when various carriers undertook to supply the mining towns and take away the produce of the mines. The latter activity, when gold bullion was being carried, involved police escort. Prominent in serving the needs of the area, was the most famous coaching company in Australia, Cobb & Co.

    The establishment of a smelter at Cockle Creek, to the south of Newcastle, was to further stimulate the transport industry. It allowed George Hawkins to start a carrying business that was to develop into one of the largest in the Valley. Whilst significant, the operations of Sulphide Corporation were not the principal reason for the development of large-scale transport in Newcastle. If smelting was to be the future industry of the city, it wasn’t silver-lead and zinc, but iron.

    Ten years were to pass before the arrival of the Broken Hill Pty Co., but the Port Waratah Works were to influence the transport industry more than any other in the history of the city.

    << Part 1 - Hunter Transport - Part 3 >>

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