A Vice Regal Visit

By dougk, 4 July, 2024
Governor Macquarie

Visits to Port Stephens by NSW Governors are not particularly common though we did have one last week from Governor Margaret Beazley. But who was the first Governor to visit this area?

Lachlan Macquarie took up the Governorship of NSW on New Year's Day 1810. He had a lot of things to sort out in the Colony – particularly thanks to the chaos following the Rum Rebellion of 1808. So it was not until November 1811 that he found time to set off on a voyage to inspect some of the outer reaches of his vice-regal domain.

Macquarie's first destination on this trip was meant to be Van Diemen’s Land but very poor weather conditions encountered on the way forced the Lady Nelson brig to seek shelter in Jervis Bay. 

Macquarie described Jervis Bay as a “safe and extensive harbour” that would one day “become of importance to the Colony”. He was so impressed that he thought it worth spending two days surveying it before resuming his trip south. 

Once he had concluded his visit to Van Diemen’s Land, Macquarie sailed for Port Stephens. He wanted to assess its suitability as a site for a future settlement north of Newcastle. 

So what did he think? Was Port Stephens as good as Jervis Bay? 

(The following quote comes from the report of his trip in the Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser of January 11th 1812.)

The harbour he found to be very good, although a bar runs across the entrance to it. But this bar has at all times four and a half fathoms of water upon it so that a vessel of any size may enter the port with security, assured of a safe anchorage, well sheltered from all winds.

Port Stephens is formed from two capacious basins; the inner basin is however unsafe, from numerous shoals, for any vessel to enter.

From the head of this basin the Governor proceeded five miles up a large river [i.e. the Karuah River], in the north-west corner of this basin where he landed and from the summit of a hill [Little Mountain perhaps] obtained a view of the interior for a considerable distance.

[He] was disappointed in finding, that neither here nor on the other shore of the bay any inducement offered for a more minute survey being made of it, the ground appearing throughout of an unproductive and barren nature.

Perhaps if Macquarie had been obliged to stay longer he would have grown to like Port Stephens more.

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