This month marks 200 years since the arrival of the first ordained Anglican minister to the Hunter Valley.
In July 1821 George Middleton and John de Marquet Blaxland, with convict servants and 174 head of Middleton's cattle, "discovered" a new route from Sydney to Newcastle by following an Aboriginal trading path known as the Boree Track.
It took them into the Wollombi Valley where they turned east towards Newcastle.
They marked the track so well that absconding convicts followed it, and it quickly became known as "the Parson's Road".
The Parson was the Reverend George Augustus Middleton.
Born in London in 1791, he was ordained as a priest for the colonies in 1819 and arrived in Sydney in 1820.
He worked as Assistant Chaplain at Parramatta, standing in for the Reverend Samuel Marsden.
In 1821 he was appointed to the convict settlement at Newcastle.
This is why Middleton and Blaxland drove the cattle overland from Sydney - they were headed for the Paterson River where Middleton had selected 400 acres of glebe land where the southern portion of Tocal College now stands.
The glebe was given to support him in his new role as chaplain to the penal settlement at Newcastle.
In October 1821, Middleton travelled upriver from Newcastle to perform Divine Service for the settlers at Paterson River.
Prior to his arrival there was no formal provision for the spiritual needs of the gangs of convict timber cutters, who had been operating since 1804, or their guards or the settlers on small blocks dotted along the river at Paterson's Plains from 1812.
Rev. Middleton resigned his position in 1827 to avoid a transfer to Port Macquarie.
He surrendered his glebe and moved to his own land grant, "Glenrose", which comprised 2000 acres of high country west of "Tocal", at the headwaters of Webbers Creek.
From "Glenrose", he continued his Christian ministry on an unofficial, unpaid basis.
In 1831 drought forced Middleton to move to Sydney but his wife and family remained, in a rented house on 20 acres on Phoenix Park, directly across the river from Hinton.
Middleton had the outstanding ability to understand Aboriginal culture and lifestyle. He accepted Aboriginal people as people and enjoyed many outings with them around Newcastle.
He joined them in hunting, fishing and feasting on oysters, and at times camped overnight among them.
In contrast, Middleton was intolerant of officials and officialdom.
He fell out with the Commandant at Newcastle, Major James Morisset, and the first Archdeacon of the Australian Church, Thomas Hobbes Scott, to whom
Middleton was answerable for his ministry.
The Evangelical branch of the church also accused Middleton of being devoid of spirituality and depth in his ministry and teaching.
His Paterson River flock knew better.
Middleton related to his people as a husband, parent, farmer, bushman and someone who had experienced the same grief, struggles and failures that they endured.
Even though unlicensed from 1827, Middleton's unofficial Christian ministry never faltered and, finally, he was allowed back into the Anglican fold.
In 1837 he returned from Sydney permanently and was licensed to serve in the parishes of Butterwick and Seaham, in today's Woodville district.
He died in 1848 and is buried in Morpeth Cemetery.
Maitland & District Historical Society