In May 1825 Frederick Boucher and Capt William Powditch opened a store in Newcastle and soon after an agency at Wallis Plains (West Maitland). They became Maitland's first Merchants.
To attract business they began a service on Boucher's boat the 'Comet' which linked Newcastle with Wallis Plains, terminating at a wharf in the river channel at the eastern end of today's High Street. They ferried passengers and goods of all kinds.
When explorer Peter Cunningham passed through Maitland in 1825-26, he described Powditch and Boucher's store, 'where a good supply of all sorts of merchandise is kept and of a collection of houses at Wallis Plains'. Cunningham further commented that 'although Newcastle was a convict settlement with a useful harbour and many public buildings, it was separated from the best farmlands of the interior by the extensive Hexham swamps which made land transport even less efficient than it would have been'.
Boucher was born at Vauxhall, London in 1801 and came to NSW in 1823. He was granted 800 acres on Wollombi Brook which he later transferred to John Blaxland. Boucher left Newcastle in June 1826 and the following year the partnership with Powditch was dissolved when he was accused of forgery. Boucher returned to England in 1834 and was appointed provisional secretary of the London branch of the new 'Bank of Australasia' but was soon dismissed for 'dubious practices'. In short, he was a confidence trickster.
His business partner, Capt William Powditch was born in Tynemouth, Northumberland in 1795 and commanded the Royal George which brought Governor Thomas Brisbane to Sydney in 1821.
After the dissolution of his business partnership with Boucher, Powditch became a trader in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. He moved to Auckland in 1845 and in the first election of Auckland Provincial Council in 1853, he was elected, becoming Speaker in 1857, a position he held for 12 years.
Boucher and Powditch were certainly strange bedfellows.
There are innumerable reasons why Maitland's commercial beginnings should have been away from the floodplain and the ravages of the river. To understand why it developed where it did, one needs to be aware that up until 1893, Wallis Creek joined the river approximately where the road to the Smyth Athletic Field leaves High Street.
Wallis Creek was then and remains very steep sided; an impediment to the passage of bullock drays. Wallis Creek also provided an important ingredient essential to settlement and the weary traveller - fresh water!
Although photographed almost a century later during the flood of 1913, the adjacent photo clearly shows the former alignment of the river and its proximity to High Street.
Businesses were denied direct access to their wharves at 'Port Maitland' because the river had dramatically changed course and cut off the meander on which the port was situated. The port function was destroyed, and thus the attractiveness of the site for businesses disappeared.
In following years the commercial hub gravitated west along High St, seeking the relative safety from floods that the slightly higher ground west of today's Cathedral St offered.