Ships And Shores And Trading Ports
On 9 September 1797 Lieutenant Shortland's landing party discovered coal lying on the Hunter riverbanks, so Newcastle's destiny as a coal port was assured when a penal settlement was established in 1804. Convicts worked the coal seams and loaded the ships in the primitive port.
Near the entrance, the small rocky island Nobbys was a shipping hazard, though daring captains took short cuts into the harbour between Nobbys and the mainland. In 1813 the Government began work on Macquarie Pier - to close the gap, protect the harbour and deepen the entrance channel. The breakwater was finally completed in 1846 and a lighthouse was erected on Nobbys in 1858.
Sixty kilometres up the river, Morpeth was the gateway to rich agricultural lands and in 1831 the first paddle-wheel steamer of 25 0 tons, Sophia Jane, began to trade between Sydney and the Hunter. In 1832 the locally-built William IV also began service, leaving Sydney at 7.30 in the evening and reaching Newcastle - a stopover - at 6 am the following morning.
The Australian Agricultural Company had gained an exclusive lease to coal mining in 1829, and dozens of small sailing vessels carried the black cargo away. Ships which regularly plied the 60 nautical miles between Sydney and Newcastle were to become known as the 'Sixty Milers' - an adventurous breed vulnerable to severe storms. Many foundered, some just disappeared.
From the beginning, coal loading facilities called the tune for the port. Early coal loading was simple, with coal brought in by drays, then stacked up in heaps on the rough stone wharf. From there it was barrowed directly to the ships and tipped straight into their holds. In 1831 the A.A Company built a loading chute well above high water mark and connected it to a shaft with an inclined frame so that skips of coal could be sent down to the waterfront. Then elevated staiths were built and ships loaded coal directly into their holds.