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Coal River

The next tract of unappropriated country which I shall describe, is the district of the Coal River. The town of Newcastle is situated at the mouth of this river, and is about sixty miles to the northward of Port Jackson. Its population


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by the last census forwarded to this country, was five hundred and fifty souls. These, with the exception of a few free settlers, established on the upper banks of this river, amounting with their families perhaps to thirty souls, and about fifty troops, are all incorrigible offenders, who have been convicted either before a bench of magistrates, or the Court of Criminal Judicature, and afterwards re-transported to this place, where they are worked in chains from sunrise to sunset, and profitably employed in burning lime and procuring coals and timber, as well for carrying on the public works at Port Jackson, as for the private purposes of individuals, who pay the government stipulated prices for these different articles. This settlement was, in fact, established with the two-fold view of supplying the public works with these necessary articles, and providing a separate place of punishment for all who might be convicted of crimes in the colonial courts.

The coal mines here are considerably elevated above the level of the sea, and are of the richest description. The veins are visible on the abrupt face of the cliff, which borders the harbour, and are worked by adits or openings, which serve both to carry off the water and to wheel away the coals. The quantity procured in this easy manner is very great, and might be increased to


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any extent. So much more coals indeed are thus obtained than are required for the purposes of the government, that they are glad to dispose of them to all persons who are willing to purchase, requiring in return a duty of two shillings and six pence per ton, for such as are intended for home consumption, and five shillings for such as are for exportation.

The lime procured at this settlement is made from oyster shells, which are found in prodigious abundance. These shells lie close to the banks of the river, in beds of amazing size and depth. How they came there has long been a matter of surprise and speculation to the colonists. Some are of opinion that they have been gradually deposited by the natives in those periodical feasts of shell fish, for the celebration of which they still assemble at stated seasons in large bodies: others have contended, and I think with more probability, that they were originally large natural beds of oysters, and that the river has on some occasion or other, either changed its course or contracted its limits, and thus deserted them.

These beds are generally five or six feet above high-water mark. The process of making lime from them is extremely simple and expeditious. They are first dug up and sifted, and then piled


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over large heaps of dry wood, which are set fire to, and speedily convert the superincumbent mass into excellent lime. When thus made it is shipped for Sydney, and sold at one shilling per bushel.

The timber procured on the banks of this river is chiefly cedar and rose wood. The cedar, however, is becoming scarce in consequence of the immense quantities that have been already cut down, and cannot be any longer obtained without going at least a hundred and fifty miles up the river. At this distance, however, it is still to be had in considerable abundance, and is easily floated down to the town in rafts. The government dispose of this wood in the same manner as the coals, at the price of £3 for each thousand square feet, intended for home consumption, and £6 for the same quantity if exported.

This settlement is placed under the direction of a commandant, who is selected out of the officers of the regiment stationed in the colony, and is allowed, as has been noticed, about fifty fire-locks to maintain his authority. He is always appointed to the magistracy previously to his obtaining this command, and is entrusted with the entire controul of the prisoners, whom


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he punishes or rewards as their conduct may appear to him to merit.

The harbour at the mouth of this river is tolerably secure and spacious, and contains sufficient depth of water for vessels of three hundred tons burden. The river itself, however, is only navigable for small craft of thirty or forty tons burden, and this only for about fifty miles above the town. Just beyond this distance there are numerous flats and shallows, which only admit of the passage of boats over them. This river has three branches; they are called the upper, the lower, and the middle branch: the two former are navigable for boats for about a hundred and twenty miles, the latter for upwards of two hundred miles. The banks of all these branches are liable to inundations equally terrific with those at the Hawkesbury, and from the same causes; because they are receptacles for the rain that is collected by the Blue Mountains, which form the western boundary of this district, and divide it as well as the districts of Port Jackson, from the great western wilderness. The low lands within the reach of these inundations is if possible of still greater exuberancy than the banks of the Hawkesbury and Nepean, and of four times the extent. The high-land, or to give it the


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colonial appellation, the forest land, is very thinly studded with timber, and equal for all the purposes of agriculture and grazing to the best districts of Port Jackson. The climate too is equally salubrious, and on the upper banks of the middle branch, it is generally believed, that the summer heats are sufficient for the production of cotton; the cultivation of which would become an inexhaustible source of wealth to the growers, and would afford a valuable article of export to the colony.

In fact, under every point of view this district contains the strongest inducements to colonization. It possesses a navigable river, by which its produce may be conveyed to market at a trifling expence, and the inhabitants of its most remote parts may receive such articles of foreign or domestic growth and manufacture as they may need, at a moderate advance: it surpasses Port Jackson in the general fertility of its soil, and at least rivals it in the salubrity of its climate: it contains in the greatest abundance coal, lime, and many varieties of valuable timber which are not found elsewhere, and promise to become articles of considerable export: it has already established in an eligible position, a small nucleus of settlers to which others may adhere, and thus both communicate and receive the advantages of society and protection;


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and it has a town which affords a considerable market for agricultural produce, and of which the commanding localities must rapidly increase the extent and population.

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