The Port of Maitland was integral to the initial development of West Maitland as a town. But there has been uncertainty as to precisely where the Port was sited.
Was it on the old Horseshoe Bend meander where the river abutted High St, or on the 'Lorn reach' of the river on the northern side of the Horseshoe Bend peninsula? Or, given that there were wharves in both locations, could both be considered parts of the Port of Maitland?
The first wharf in the then Wallis Plains was constructed by William Powditch and Frederick Boucher in 1824. In 1825 they established Maitland's original store, next to the wharf and near today's road from High St down the former riverbank to Smyth Park.
Here, on the outer swing of the Horseshoe Bend meander (the undercut bluff), the water would have been relatively deep, suited to small craft plying the river above Morpeth where ocean-going steamships unloaded and loaded from the early 1830s.
Before long David Cohen & Co built another wharf near the Powditch-Boucher one, and other businesses later constructed wharves too. These wharves were privately owned, and locked off against pilfering of goods, though another was in government hands.
On the northern side of Horseshoe Bend, there was by 1840 a punt which provided access to the track north to Paterson. Immediately upstream there was a public wharf, and a map dating from about 1840 refers to a 'wharf allotment' there as 'Port Maitland'. This was on land owned by James King, who subdivided it for sale probably in hopes of developing a port facility there.
This reach was subject to erosion on the right (south) bank: a whole street (Mallon St, with an extension named Hunter Terrace) was washed away in stages in floods from 1857 to about 1870.
Houses and a wharf (perhaps the only one) disappeared, along with an island in the river, and Russell St was truncated by perhaps 100 metres. A large area of land was lost and the river was straightened somewhat.
It is probable that King's naming of an area as 'Port Maitland' was only that, a naming for the purpose of promoting the sale of the 'wharf allotment'. Some sites there were sold in 1840, but no real port developed. The punt was little patronised, because the river was easily crossed (and without charge) at the sandbar at The Falls upstream of the location of today's Belmore Bridge.
The wharf on the Lorn reach never stimulated the development of an adjacent commercial area.
'Port Maitland' was, in terms of infrastructural provision, a false start, a real estate advertisement only. The real Port of Maitland developed on the Horseshoe Bend meander next to High St.
Nevertheless there were port functions on the Lorn reach, as indeed there were all along the river.
At one stage, for example, there were seven such facilities (wharves and jetties) on the Maitland side of the river between Duckenfield and Alnwick in addition to a shipyard at Dockyard.
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