The historic town of Morpeth, 168 kilometres north of Sydney on the Hunter River, has been classified by the National Trust.
Prior to white settlement it is likely that the Gringgai clan of the Wanaruah Aborginal people occupied the area.
The first European to explore the region was Lt. Col. Paterson and his party who ventured up the Hunter River in 1801. Paterson dubbed the area of the future town 'Green Hills'.
In 1821 the first local land grant was made to Lt Edward Close. His Closebourne House (circa 1826) was sold to Bishop William Tyrrell, the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle in 1848. Closebourne House served as the Newcastle Anglican Diocese's administration centre until 1912. The building still exists today. Close's later, and less grand, Morpeth House mansion was finished in 1852 and is also still standing.
A river port was established between 1827 and 1830, with a proper wharf constructed in 1832. The subdivision of Close's land began in 1834 with the private town of Morpeth developing around this time. Between 1832 and 1890 the town served as the Hunter Valley's main port for trade and travel to Newcastle and Sydney, and from these centres into the Hunter.
Morpeth's first school was opened in 1836, the same year a wooden Catholic Church was erected. St Bedes Church replaced the original structure in 1870. The Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception was constructed in 1897.
The foundation stone for the original Anglican St James' Church was laid in 1837. The tower is now all that is left of the original church, which was extended to the design of well-known architect Edmund Blacket in 1862. As a result of a fire the nave was rebuilt in 1874. Noted colonial architect J. Horbury Hunt was hired to complete the new design. Edward Close is buried in the cemetery and the eastern wing of the Anglican church contains a memorial window in his honour.
A steam mill commenced operations in 1840, followed by a soapworks in 1844. By 1866 the town had ten hotels.
The growth of Newcastle, the rail bypass to Maitland in 1857, the silting up of the river and finally the commencement of a direct Sydney-Newcastle rail link in 1889 signalled the end of Morpeth's days as a major trading centre. Rail did arrive in Morpeth in 1864 but the line closed in 1953.
Many of Morpeth's buildings from the 1800s still exist. The sandstone and brick old Campbells Store (circa 1850) on Swan Street was once famed for its haberdashery. Another sandstone building is the old Taylor's Bonded Stores (1850), which was later the initial premises of the CBC Bank. The grand CBC Bank building was constructed in 1889 contains red cedar woodwork and Italian fireplaces amongst its features .
An 1862 Gothic Revival-style courthouse is now a history museum. The 1879 Police Station was designed by James Barnet.
|Morpeth Museum (courtesy Maitland Tourism)|
The J.G. White Joinery (now the Morpeth Trading Post) was in operation from 1838 to 1968 and is Australia's oldest remaining joinery works. The Kia-Ora Villa, constructed in 1879 for Mayor Hobden, was later purchased by the J.G White Joinery's Joe White.