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Virtual Coquun-Hunter River Project Guide:  1770 - 1800

The Virtual Coquun-Hunter River Project is a collaborative endeavour begun in December 2000 which aims to create a digital repository of early accounts and descriptions of the Hunter Region.

Virtual Coquun-Hunter River Project

Chronological list of descriptive accounts of the Coquun - Hunter River Region: 1770 - 1800

1770 Captain James Cook

On May 10th 1770 Captain James Cook recorded his observations as he passed by the then un-named outcrop of rock known as Nobbys. Please read the account below as digitised images from his work entitled Captain Cook's voyages round the world ; the first performed in the years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771 ; the second in 1772, 1773, 1774, 1775 ; the third and last in 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780 ;for making discoveries in the northern and southern hemispheres, by order of his present Majesty. Containing a relation of all the interesting transactions which occurred in the course of the voyages. Including Captain Furneaux's journal of his proceedings during the separation of the ships. With a narrative of Commodore Phipps's voyage to the North Pole. And an abridgement of Foster's introduction to his history of northern discoveries on the progress of navigation. To which is added, Governor Phillip's voyage to Botany-Bay [sic] ; with an account of the establishment of the colonies of Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, &c. &c Published Newcastle : Printed by M. Brown …, 1790. From RB/COLLECTION AUROUSS 990 COOK-2 1790 V.1 pp 437-439.

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1790 Five Escaped Convicts

"Why the Hunter was not discovered earlier is amazing as there was an amount of traffic between Sydney and Port Stephens. As early as 1790 five escaped convicts, stole a boat from South Head Signal Station after escaping there from Parramatta in a punt. They were successful in reaching Port Stephens, where, upon putting in, their boat foundered and they were forced to live with the aborigines. According to the diary of Secretary of the Colony, Mr Collins, they were recaptured when Captain W.R. Broughton, of H.M.S. "Providence", put into Port Stephens because of bad weather on the 23rd August, 1795.

Port Stephens was visited officially in 1795 when a party, under the direction of Lieut. Col. Paterson, reached there on 21st February. This party was to spend a week exploring the area, during which time the Deputy Surveyor General, Charles Grimes, was to survey the port and to write that he could see no reason why anyone should visit there again.

The escapees who were then living at Port Stephens, missed recapture on this occasion as they were inland at the time."

Transcribed from: Deamer, Ross M Houses erected on original land grants in the Lower Hunter, Paterson and Williams River Valleys between 1800-1850 [manuscript] / Ross M. Deamer. University of Newcastle 1971. Location Auchmuty - THESIS 309 [pp.2-3]


1791 James Martin

In 1791 a group of nine convicts and two small children escaped from the settlement at Sydney Cove. They successfully managed to avoid capture in a leaky boat before arriving in Timor, where they were arrested and re-imprisoned. Of the three accounts of the voyage known to exist, only one has ever come to light. It was the account attributed to James Martin, entitled 'Memorandoms'. The writer(s) records the journey of the escapees up the coast to Swansea and later to what is possibly either Newcastle or (more likely) Port Stephens.

"I remained on the Island from January, 1788 unto March 1791. On the 28 day of March made my escape in Compy with 7 men more and me with one woman and two childn - in an open six oar boat having of provision on Bd one hundred wt of flower and one hundd wt of rice 14lb of pork and about eight galons of water - having a Copass Quardrant and Chart. After two days sail reach a little creek about 2 degrees to the northward of Port Jackson there found a quantity of fine burng coal. There remaind nights and one day and found a varse quantty of cabage tree which we cut down and procured the cabage. Then the natives came down to which we gave some cloathes and other articles and they went away very much satisfied. The apperanance of the land appears more better here than at Sidney Cove. Here we got avarse quantity of fish which of a great refreshment to us. After our stay of 2 nights and one day we proceeded our voyage to they northward, after 2 days sail we made a very fine harbour seeming to run up the country for many miles and quite commodious for the anchorage of shipping. Here we found aplenty of fresh water. Hawld our boat ashore to repair her bottom being very leaky the better to pay her bottom with some beeswax and rosin which we had a small quantity thereof - But on they same night was drove of by the natives - which meant to destroy us. We launched our boat and road off in the strame quite out of reach of them - that being Sunday. Monday we were of in ye stream we rowed lower down thinging to land some miles below. On Monday morng we attempted to land when we found a place convenient for to repair our boat we accordg we put some of our things - part being ashore. There came the natives in vase numbers with speers and sheilds etc. We formed in parts, one party of us made towards them the better by signes to posify them but they not taking the least notice. Accordingly we fired a musket thinking to afright them but they took not the least notice thereof. On perceving them rush more foreward we were forsed to take to our boat and to get out of their reach as fast as we could - and what to do we could not tell. But on consulting with wach other it was detirmined for to rowed up the harbour 9 or 10 miles till we made a little white Sandy Isld in the middle of the harbour - which landd upon and hawld up our boat and repair her bottom with what little materials we had. Whilst our stay of 2 days we had no interupon from the natives. Then we rowed of to the main[land] where we took in fresh water and a few cabage trees - and then put out to sea. The atives here is quiet naked of a copper colour-shock hair - have the cannoos made of bark. Then we proceedd the Northard, having a leadg breez from the S:W. But that night the wind changed and drove us quite out of sight of land - which we hawld our wind having a set of sails in the boat."

Transcribed from pages 2-3 of: James Martin (fl.1786 - 1792) Memorandoms: Escape from Botany Bay, 1791 : being 'Memorandoms' / by James Martin ; introduction and notes by Victor Crittenden (Canberra : Mulini Press, c1991 ) Location: AUCH - RB/COLL 994.401092 MART-1 MEMO


1797 Lieutenant John Shortland, R.N.

Lieutenant John Shortland of the H.M.S. Reliance officially discovered the River on the 10th September 1797 while on route to Port Stephens. The letter to his father reporting the discovery is recorded in Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol.3 pp 481 - 182:

"J. Shortland, Jun., To J.Shortland, Sen.
HMS Reliance, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson,

10th September, 1798.

My Dear Father, About a twelvemonth since I went on an expedition in the Governor's whaleboat as far as Port Stephens, which lies 100 miles to the northward of this place. In my passage down I discovered a very fine coal river, which I named after Governor Hunter. The enclosed I send you, being an eye-sketch which I took the little time I was there. Vessels from 60 to 250 tons may load there with great ease, and completely landlocked. I dare say, in a little time, this river will be a great acquisition to this settlement. The short time I remained at this river we had rain, which prevented my doing so much as I otherwise should.

J.Shortland"

"An Eye Sketch of Hunter's River."

Shortland Eye Sketch from Navy Archives in Taunton

An eye sketch of Hunter's River. Two photographic copies of a plan dated 1797.
Signed L.S. [initials presumed to be those of Lieutenant John Shortland].

A copy is held in the University Archives at Shelf Location A6472 (iii)

Original is held in the Hydrographic Department.
Ministry of Defence, Taunton, Somerset, United Kingdon: C642/1


Please click here for The State Library of New South Wales: Papers of Sir Joseph Banks site who have scanned the following letter and map relating to Shortland's discovery:

Extract of a Letter from Lieut. John Shortland of H.M.S. Reliance, to his Father…, 10 September 1798 (Series 23.38)


Transcribed Excerpt from Historical Records of New South Wales Vol.3 p.347:

Excerpt (p.347) from Governor Hunter's Letter to the Duke of Portland, 10th January 1798 published in Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol.3 pp 343 - 350:

"A small river has been lately discovered by a boat I had occasion to send northward in pursuit of the deserters: it is about sixty-five miles from this part: on its south shore and near the water a considerable quantity of coal was discovered, and specimens were brought hither. As soon as the public service will admit of my absence from hence, I propose to go thither in a boat and examine this discovery myself, after which your Grace shall be more particularly informed."

Transcribed Excerpt from Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol.3 p727:

Discovery of Hunter River

When the last accounts left New South Wales, the Governor was going to send Lieut. John Shortland (first lieutenant of his Majesty's ship Reliance) in the Colonial schooner, to survey the coast. Some months previous Lieutenant Shortland discovered a very fine river, which it is thought will prove of great advantage to the colony, as, from the survey he then had an opportunity of taking, he thinks vessels from 60 to 250 tons may load there, and be completely landlocked. The river lays N.N.E. about 63 or 65 miles from Port Jackson.

[Reprinted from the True Briton of 25th October, 1799. The river was named Hunter River, in honour of Governor Hunter, by Lieutenant Shortland, its discoverer. The native name of the river was "Coquon." Shortland discovered the river in September, 1797, when in quest of convicts who had seized the Cumberland - the Government boat for trading to the Hawkesbury. - Ante, pp. 347, 481. As early as June, 1796, a party of fishermen reported the discovery of gold in the vicinity of Port Stephens. - Collins, vol. i, p.484; vol. ii, p. 48.

In the Christian Observer, July, 1802, appeared the following paragraph:- "Governor King had formed a small settlement at Hunter River for the purpose of working the coal, which is of the same nature with that of Newcastle."]

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