Why did Maitland prosper and rise to prominence in the middle of the 19th Century; what did Maitland have that other settlements in the colony did not?
There's no single answer to the first question but there is a finite answer to the second. While other regions also had fine, well watered agricultural land, Maitland had more - it possessed a deep water river port, the rise of which coincided with the arrival of reliable steam sea transport to the principal market at Sydney.
On May 13th, 1831 the Sophia Jane arrived from England. She was a flush-decked, schooner-rigged paddleship, 126 feet long, 20 feet wide and of 256 tons. Equipped with 50 horsepower engines and with sails as a source of auxilliary power, with a draught of 6 feet, she could make eight miles an hour in smooth water.
She had 16 berths in the men's first saloon cabin, 11 in the ladies', and could take 20 steerage passengers. The Sophia Jane plied between Sydney and Green Hills (Morpeth).
She was joined in this service a few months later by the William IV, also a schooner-rigged paddle-boat built of Australian 'flooded gum'.
She was launched on October 22, 1831, at Clarence Town on the Williams River above Raymond Terrace. This vessel was 80 feet long, 20 feet wide, and had a draught of of six feet and a speed of about seven miles an hour.
The William IV, which made its first trip to Newcastle in February 1832, was advertised to leave Sydney every Monday evening at saeven, and to receive and discharge goods at Mr Walker's store on Mr Close's land, Green Hills. The fare to the latter place was 25/- cabin, 15/- steerage, and to Newcastle 20/- cabin and 12/6 steerage.
The William IV also transported goods and people up the second branch (Paterson River). Thus Mrs Broughton, wife of the Bishop of Australia, and her two daughters, returning from a visit to Gresford early in 1840, caught the William IV at Paterson.
Whilst these two steamers were the first, they were only the forerunners of a constant coming and going of boats between Sydney and Green Hills. Of course these vessels were small compared with those of later decades but they were witness to the activity and productivity of the Hunter River Valley.
Green Hills or Morpeth with its four wharves, 18 or so inns was the head of navigation, the port for the inland and was for decades of far greater importance than Newcastle.
- This information is taken principally from AP Elkin's 'The Diocese of Newcastle' (1955)