Travelling Through Time
by sea, road and rail
in Newcastle and the Hunter
©2018 Greg and Sylvia Ray
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic
or mechanical, and including photocopying, recording or by information storage and retrieval systems,
without the written permission of the copyright owner.
Printed by NCP Printing, Steel River, Newcastle
Published by Greg and Sylvia Ray
Concept and design by Greg and Sylvia Ray
Research and text by Greg Ray
Photo restoration by Sylvia Ray
This book is lovingly dedicated to our fathers,
Title page: Nobbys Headland behind the departing sailing ship Lawhill, after a visit in 1944 (see page 61)
Travelling Through Time
by sea, road and rail
in Newcastle and the Hunter
By Greg and Sylvia Ray
THIS, our tenth book – and the ninth in our series of volumes of collected photographs – is a miscellany
with an emphasis on transport. It’s about travelling, on sea and land, in Newcastle and the Hunter from the
days of sail to the 1970s.
Included between these covers are some favourite images fortuitously obtained, along with many more
from the original collection of material we acquired from the estate of the late Ken Magor in 2010.
Since our first book, Newcastle, The Missing Years, appeared, we have collected many more photographs
from many sources, always with the idea in mind of producing more books.
It’s often the case that a collection of hundreds of photos or negatives will contain one or two real gems,
and some of the images in this book are rarities of that kind, rescued from packages destined for the garbage,
or resurrected from musty old boxes of mementoes. Like the photo on page 27 of Newcastle Ocean Baths, a
standout among modest family snaps in a box of vintage negatives. And the pictures of Watt Street on pages
23 and 24-25, one of which was scanned from a magic lantern slide and the other saved from an ice cream
container full of negatives on the verge of being thrown in a rubbish bin.
Many people have helped us put together this collection. Barry Magor – Ken Magor’s son – has been
extremely helpful. Our dear friend Daphne Barney has been kind and generous in providing access to the
collection she amassed with her husband, the late Norm Barney.
Former photographers like Ron Bell, and our mentors Ron and Liz Morrison, have entrusted us with
important negatives and prints. Our friends from Maitland and District Historical Society, Keith Cockburn
and Peter Smith in particular, have surprised us more than once with wonderful material.
Book and memorabilia dealers Mark and Tony Burgess have supplied some rarities too, like the image
on page 26 of the effigy of the Kaiser in Newcastle East during World War I, a standout print from a small
collection otherwise undistinguished.
The rare image of Samuel Dark on page 27 was an exciting find, kindly loaned by Wilf and Judy Redden.
Other friends and helpers for this book include Anne Hudson – grand-daughter of the remarkable William
Fraser – and Roberta Johnson, Peggy Paton and Bill Pitt. Mr Pitt provided us with Harold Boultwood’s
negatives documenting the construction of Newcastle City Council’s “Roundhouse” administrative centre.
Also thanks to our friend John Tipper, who created
the Facebook group Rediscovered Newcastle
to assist us in discussing our books and also
discovering more about various photographs. This
has proved more successful than we had anticipated
and, as a consequence, we must also thank our
numerous friendly helpers in that group who have
solved many mysteries and corrected many errors
through their cleverness and patience. Leon Garde,
Robert Watson, Kevin Parsons, Margaret Bee, Ray
Cross, Steve Shotton, Ian Wright, John Clarke,
Ricky Walters and Steven Ward are just some of
those whose sleuthing and background knowledge
has saved me many hours of research.
Again, we thank Alan Neader at NCP Printing for
helping us have our books printed in Newcastle. It’s
our ambition to support local businesses and jobs as
much as we can, and NCP has helped us achieve this
goal by providing professional high-quality service
at a price that maintains the viability of our projects.
Two girls clowning in front of the Glebe bus, c1920
Newcastle was a last great refuge for sail
WHEN steamships were perfected, they inevitably put an end to the long era of sail as a means of trading
commodities across the globe. But sailing ships lingered for decades, and circumstances made Newcastle
one of the last of the great sailing ship ports. In the early years of the 20th century, the city often hosted as
many as 80 sailing ships at once, almost all of them taking coal to the west coast ports of the Americas.
Prevailing winds across the Pacific Ocean meant the sailing ships could catch the trades to Australia in
the tropical latitudes, then fly back east on the wings of the strong winds in the lower latitudes. This free
energy, coupled with the fact that the west coast American ports were hungry for coal to run their railroads
and mines, gave sailing ships one last profitable niche. Unfortunately, waiting times for cargoes at Newcastle
were very long, and that fact helped put more of a squeeze on the trade.
During those golden sunset years of sail, Nobbys was a landmark known to many thousands of deepwater
sailors to whom rounding that clumpy little headland was synonymous with reaching safety.
Many sailors wrote about their travels, and numerous books contain interesting references to Newcastle
during the years of the “west-coast coal trade”. One particularly good description is contained in the book
Gipsy of the Horn, by Rex Clements, who arrived in Newcastle in 1903 in the Arethusa:
The harbour was a wonderful sight by reason of the great number of deep-sea sailing-ships then in port.
There were no less than a hundred and sixteen of them when we arrived, not counting steamers or coasters,
and a grand show they made. Right away from Queen’s Wharf, just inside the Bluff, up past the Dyke they
lay in an unbroken line as far as Waratah, or “Siberia,” as it was called, from its remoteness to everywhere
else. In the Dyke, where we were lying, the ships lay three deep and there was a double row of them over on
the other side at Stockton. Masts and yards were packed as thick as bristles on a hedgehog. During the day
there was as much activity afloat as ashore, in consequence of the tremendous number of steam-launches,
ferry-steamers, chandlers’ boats and ships’ gigs dodging about among the shipping.
We only stayed at the Dyke a few days, then shifted down to Queen’s Wharf to discharge our cargo. Queen’s
Wharf was the best berth in port and only a couple of minutes’ walk from Hunter Street, Newcastle’s
We found Newcastle a very lively and pleasant little town, with so many ships in harbour the atmosphere of
the place was of the sea salty. There was one hotel, the Carrington, which was common property. It was the
best-known hostelry in town, chiefly in consequence of the popularity of a bar-maid there – Nell, by name –
who was often known to present half a sovereign to a hard-up customer.
Newcastle Harbour as it was in the early 1900s: “during the day there was as much activity afloat as ashore”.
The Cape Horn Breed, by William Jones, who arrived at Newcastle in 1906 in the ship British Isles,
contains some other descriptive passages:
More than 60 sailing ships were in the harbour when we arrived. The ships gave the impression of a forest
of masts and spars and rigging, in a confused tangle against the skyline, as they were moored three abreast
at all jetties on the Stockton side. Every crane berth at the Dyke was occupied, and loaded vessels were
moored two abreast to each of the three Farewell Buoys at the harbour mouth near the Nobbys.
The scene was one of intense activity, as ships were constantly being moved across the basin by paddlewheel
tugs, from waiting berths to the crane berths, and thence to the Farewell Buoys to be cleared
outwards. These operations were complicated by the fact that almost every sailing ship arrived at Newcastle
in ballast. Some coal had to be taken in under the cranes as stiffening before the ballast could be safely
discharged. The ship had then to be moved to a place appointed to discharge her ballast, at some point on
the foreshore, and had then to return to a waiting-berth, to await her turn again to go under the cranes for a
While they waited – sometimes for months – for their ships to load at the cranes, the sailors spent their
time and money in Newcastle:
On evenings when there was nothing else to do, dozens of apprentices in uniform, with their badge-caps
askew at jaunty angles, would parade up and down Hunter Street in Newcastle, past the famous Black
Diamond Hotel – the scene of many sailorman’s brawls – and back to the vicinity of Scotts, the busy drapers,
whose windows attracted the attention of the miners’ daughters, out taking the evening air, strolling arm in
arm in bevies of beauty and charm.
“Many friendships were made, some of them sentimental, but the young ladies of Newcastle were
experienced in temporary affairs of the heart, and, when writing notes to their new-found friends in ships,
sometimes ended with the sad but realistic words, “Yours to the Nobbys”, i.e., The lighthouse at the
Many a time, bevies of Newcastle girls have strolled out along the breakwater to the Nobbys, to wave
farewell to ships bearing temporary boyfriends away, never to return.
When it was time to load:
Long rakes of coal wagons, each containing ten tons, stood on the railway sidings with a shunting engine to
move them into position. The crane lifted a ten-ton box wagon off its bogie, and swung it over the rail of the
ship until it plumbed the open hatchway. There, the pin boss knocked out the staple and allowed the hinged
bottom of the wagon to fall open with a crash as the coal cascaded into the bowels of the ship.
Seamen had to stand by to warp the ship ahead or astern as the loading went on. The maze of rigging,
and the lengthy yards projecting high over the wharf, made it necessary for the crane to be very carefully
plumbed if its swinging jib, with its heavy load hanging from it, was not to foul the gear. So around and
around we trudged, first on one capstan then on another, to take up a little slack here, and another there,
under the second mate’s bellowed orders.
It took British Isles three days to load, and then the ship was moved to the Farewell Buoys to prepare for
its voyage to South America:
The boarding house masters in Watt Street got busy and provided us with a full crew at the Farewell Buoys
several days before our departure. In the hustle and bustle of getting ready for sea our only consolation was
when the captain returned from business trips ashore bringing letters from our girl-friends, ending “with
love and kisses, yours to the Nobbys”.
Many boarding house masters were in cahoots with “crimps” who – along with unscrupulous ships’
masters – preyed on sailors. Crimps lured sailors away from one ship, and were paid by the head to put them
Some captains made money on the arrangement by avoiding the need to pay off the sailors when they
eventually returned to their home ports. Even after paying crimps for new crews they could pocket a tidy
profit. The money they paid the crimps for their new crews was deducted from the pay of the sailors.
Sir James Bisset, in Sail Ho, a memoir of his early days at sea, described a visit to Newcastle in 1903 in
the ship County of Cardigan:
During our long stay in port, the crew and apprentices had leave to go ashore on Saturday afternoons
and evenings, with frugal cash allowances in pocket. We went by ferry to Newcastle and promenaded the
streets in company with hundreds of other apprentices, eyeing the girls, though usually with little success as
demand greatly exceeded supply. On week nights and Sundays we often spent hours in the Seamen’s Mission,
which was at Stockton, across the harbour from our berth, and attended concerts and dances and socials
organised by the kindly ladies of the Mission.
The crimping industry was well organised in Newcastle. Vessels lying at the Farewell Buoys, near Nobbys
Light, were usually short-handed until crimps brought out drink-drugged sailors from pubs on shore, who
were easily persuaded by the crimps, on the inducement of a few days’ spree, to desert their own ships and
leave it to the crimps to find them another ship.
Newcastle’s most famous crimp was Jack Sullivan, whose cunning at finding ways to extract the
lucrative “head money” from desperate skippers was legendary. Slipping “knockout drops” into the drinks
of victims was standard practice, and although experienced sailors were preferred, anybody would do. This
form of kidnapping was called “shanghaiing” and many men fell victim to it, waking up from a drugged
night’s sleep to find themselves far from land and forced to learn the hard way how to sail a ship.
Legend has it that Sullivan – described by those who knew him as a tough lump of a man who had fought
his way up from the gutter – once shanghaiied his
own brother, and even delivered a corpse aboard
a ship when time was running short and no living
victim could be found in a port stripped bare of
sailors by the demands of departing ships.
Another Novocastrian character whose name has
often been linked to crimping was Clarence “Black”
Harris (pictured at right), a Barbados-born West
Indian who came to Newcastle on a sailing ship in
1895 and lived most of the rest of his life in Bolton
Street. Harris always stoutly denied being a crimp
but many people chose to disbelieve him, and his
name was often used to frighten children with the
admonition: “If you keep playing up Black Harris
will take you!”
In 1906 the NSW Parliament was told that
Newcastle was “alive with pimps”, that seamen were “pounced upon by sharks”, that half of Newcastle’s
hotels were dens where seamen were made drunk, where licensees worked in collusion with ship’s masters
and most of the boarding houses had taken part at some time in crimping and shanghaiing. The city’s
defenders insisted this was “wild talk” and “exaggeration”. Many instances of crimping and shanghaiing at
Newcastle were documented over the years. Bisset wrote in his book how, when his ship was ready to sail,
“the Captain went ashore and engaged ten fo’c’sle hands, who came off in a crimp’s boat, looking decidedly
bleary after their Christmas festivities”.
In August 1889 boilermaker James Rae was approached in the street and offered 15 shillings to help
shift a ship from one part of the harbour to another. Rashly, he agreed, and was appalled to find that the
ship’s captain had no intention of letting him leave before the ship arrived at Hong Kong. He was forcibly
restrained when he tried to escape and even when his employer – who was crossing the harbour in a ferry
and saw Rae aboard the ship – raised the alarm there was nothing to be done. Rae’s case was raised in
Parliament, but crimping continued unabated for years. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that many city
officials turned a blind eye to the practice, and may have been rewarded for their lax attitudes.
The Cawarra: Newcastle’s worst maritime disaster
NEWCASTLE names three of the great storms since European settlement after the ships they destroyed or
drove ashore. The Pasher Bulker storm of 2007 is the most recent, and the Sygna storm of 1974 remains a
strong memory for those who experienced it.
But the storm that cost the most lives was the gale that claimed the steamer Cawarra on July 12, 1866.
Up and down the NSW coastline this tremendous gale caused havoc, taking the lives of 100 people and
wrecking 14 ships over the course of two days.
The Cawarra was a fine paddle-steamer, and had been in the colony only about two years when disaster
struck as it made its way from Sydney to Queensland with passengers and cargo aboard. It seems the ship
had passed Newcastle when the already bad weather worsened and Captain Henry Chatfield decided to turn
and head back to the port. Although Captain Chatfield was an experienced steamship skipper, he was new
to the Cawarra. Evidence was later given that the ship was overloaded, which would have made it harder to
handle in one of the worst gales ever recorded on the coast.
The Cawarra got around Nobbys but the heavy seas pushed the ship towards the dreaded Oyster Bank –
where Stockton Breakwater now helps protect the harbour entrance. The effort to get past the danger point
failed, and Captain Chatfield tried to head back out past Nobbys to the open sea. The ship was struck by
huge waves, however, which put out the boiler fire and filled the forward cabin, sealing the Cawarra’s fate.
Confusion in the port meant the lifeboat didn’t reach the stricken ship. Only one man, Frederick Valentine
Hedges, was rescued. An inquiry into the disaster later criticised the management of the city’s lifeboat.
A large portion of Newcastle’s citizens had crowded all available vantage points to watch the ship’s
struggle for survival.
The storm that claimed the Cawarra raged through the following day, capsizing the ketch Arthur near
Nobbys and drowning its crew, and driving the schooner Lismore ashore on Stockton Beach. More lives
were lost in the barque William Watson, which also failed to clear the Oyster Bank as it tried to run into port.
Bodies from the Cawarra washed ashore on Stockton Beach in the days that followed. They were gathered
up and a mass funeral was held at Christ Church on July 15. It was the city’s biggest funeral up to that time.
Shops closed and business was suspended as drays brought the bodies to their graves.
The wreck broke in two and became a hazard to future shipping. Ultimately it joined the numerous
other wrecks that form the foundation of Stockton Breakwater – where a simple plaque monument today
commemorates the disaster, which remains the worst in Newcastle’s long maritime history.
This remarkable photograph (above) of Newcastle in 1862, taken from the Stockton side of the harbour,
shows the city as it would have appeared at the time of the Cawarra gale in 1866. The 60 victims of
Newcastle’s worst maritime disaster were buried in the graveyard of Christ Church Cathedral – the
white church just to the left of centre in the photograph. The gravestones were among many that were
removed by Newcastle City Council in the 1960s. The engraving below is an artist’s impression of the
sinking as published in The Illustrated Sydney News of August 16, 1866. The man clinging to wreckage
at bottom left is presumably the disaster’s sole survivor, Frederick Valentine Hedges, 31.
Sailing ships tied up three-abreast at Newcastle,
waiting their turns at the coal cranes in the early 1900s.
The Italian ship Antares at Newcastle. Antares was lost in 1914 on a voyage from Marseilles to Melbourne.
The German four-masted barque Carl, moored in a busy Newcastle Harbour in the early 20th century.
Sailing ship Australia tied up at Stockton. The more distant ship appears to have suffered damage to its mast.
Built in 1890 as the Bankburn, the Holthe was Danish-owned at the time of this photograph in Newcastle.
The Yallaroi was built in Scotland in 1889 for the Australian wool trade. She caught fire in Genoa in 1921.
The Invergarry was built in Scotland in 1891, and lasted until 1924 when she was dismasted and broken up.
Lovely photo by Sam Hood of the French steel barque Ville de Havre near Nobbys. She was built in 1899
and made a number of eventful voyages to the Pacific before being torpedoed by a German U-boat off Ushant
in 1916. Behind the ship the pilot vessel can be seen, and the taut line from the bow suggests she is being
towed to sea. Zaara Street power station is visible in the right background. Since the power station was built
in 1914, this photo may have been one of the last taken of this lovely ship before its wartime destruction.
The American wooden schooner Minnie A. Caine, on American Independence Day, 1913. The ship was
launched in Seattle in 1900 and carried lumber across the Pacific from the United States to Australia, often
visiting Newcastle to load a return cargo of coal. By the 1920s these routes were no longer profitable for sailing
ships and the vessel was laid up. It lingered until 1939 when it went ashore and was wrecked in the USA.
This photo, titled “Ready for Sea”, shows two ships
moored side by side in Newcastle Harbour. The ship at
right is the Steinbek – previously known as Durbridge.
When sailing ships tied up at the crane berths, above, their crews had to work hard to move the ships back and
forth under the cranes, all the while avoiding damage from the swinging arms. The coal had to be “trimmed”
in the holds to avoid the risk of the cargo shifting to one side and putting the ship in danger. The coal
could also sometimes overheat during voyages, starting fires and causing explosions that could prove fatal.
A classic view of some of the coal-loading shutes that once carried coal onto ships on the city’s foreshore.