The Maitland 200 Years events are about the city’s diverse, long-term and rich history.
But the catalyst for the initiative was an interest in early European migration to what was then known as Wallis Plains in the early 1800’s – 1818 being the year a group of 12 Europeans were allowed to settle on farm land in the area.
But who were those 12 European people and what impact did they have on the Wonnarua people who were living here?
Well not a huge impact, according to Mindaribba Local Aboriginal Land Council CEO Tara Dever and Maitland and District Historical Society secretary Kevin Short.
They both agreed that it was as more Europeans came to the area afterwards that the lives of Aboriginals were more greatly infringed upon.
As for who they were, the 12 were convicts and free people who were provided lands along the river in a trial project to see if criminals could better themselves.
Each occupied flats about 20 to 30 acres in size.
Some of the names are recognisable in Maitland’s current landscape.
Perhaps the most well-known was Mary Hunt, also known as Molly Morgan. She was the only woman in the group.
Molly had been sentenced to death for stealing yarn which was commuted to transportation. But she managed to escape back to her native England before being shipped off once again after her second husband’s house burnt down.
She was given land in Sydney then transferred to Newcastle’s penal colony, where she was deemed of good enough character to be given land in Wallis Plains.
Molly established farms, set up a grog shop and Maitland’s first hotel, married for a third time to a man 30 years her junior, gave money to a church school, turned her home into a hospital and worked to save the lives of prisoners facing execution.
The other convicts were Richard Martin, George Mitchell, Patrick Reilly, John Allen, Thomas Boardman, John Cahill, William Jones, William O’Donnell and Patrick Maloney while the non-prisoners were John Eckford and John Smith.
Cynthia Hunter’s book ‘Bound for Wallis Plains-Maitland’s Convict Settlers’ details the lives, crimes and relationships of the group.
In it, she describes the various roles they took up in Wallis Plains.
Boardman was given the role of reading prayers each Sunday for the convict service, John Eckford won several tenders to supply wheat and maize to the government while Riley was appointed chief constable at Wallis Plains.
- The Maitland 200 community day is on this Sunday.