Corner of George and Swan Streets


Corner of George and Swans Street 22.9cm x 35.6cm

Original Oil on Board by John Vander

Johns Inspiration: “Thirty-Five kilometres west of Newcastle, Morpeth is a unique example of an inland river port town. Morpeth was amongst the greatest of Australian river ports in its heyday more than 150 bullock teams worked the ports hauling wheat, wool, hides and timber to the ships that took it to Sydney or overseas for sale. After the shipping trade declined in the early 1900’s the village deteriorated but many of the buildings remained to fall into disrepair.  The bank closed, the 18 hotels, dwindled to just 2 that still trade today. Today the town is a well-preserved tourist town with the Commercial Hotel one of only 2 remaining in trade as a hotel.  The former courthouse last held court in 1949, often saw sailors, bullockies, and locals before the court for drunkenness.   My painting, corner George and Swan Street shows you Better Weller’s house.  Betty now in her 90’s has lived here all her life.  It is the type of cottage built in the Victorian times in Morpeth, a hallway down the middle rooms on either side of the house.  It helps you to imagine a time when Morpeth, thronged with people, horse and carts as well as bullock teams.”

Prior to the arrival of Europeans the Morpeth area was occupied by the Guringai Aboriginal peoples.  The first Europeans in the area were the party of Lieutenant Colonel Paterson who explored the Hunter River in 1801.The land was granted in 1821 to Lieutenant Edward Close, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, as a reward for service as Engineer of Public Works at Newcastle. Close built Closebourne House around 1826. The years from 1827-1830 saw a town, known at the time as Green Hills, develop as a river port.  In 1831 the first paddlesteamer (the Sophia Jane) reached the port. In 1832 the first proper wharf was erected and the town’s first two inns were licensed. Morpeth became the major port of the Hunter Valley between 1832 and 1890 with a regular steamer service operating to Maitland, up to Paterson and down to Newcastle.  A road to Maitland was built by convict labour in 1833.  Lieutenant Close subdivided the land and sold the first batch of allotments in 1834. A private town was established which took the name Morpeth.

In the 1840s Caleb Soul, of Soul-Pattison pharmaceuticals, manufactured talcum powder and William Arnott, later of Arnott’s biscuits, had a bakery in Swan Street. Closebourne House became the residence of the Bishops of Newcastle from 1848 to 1912.  The first national school opened in 1862.  In 1862 the population of the town reached 1,830.  An extension of the Great Northern Railway reached the outskirts of town in 1864.

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