Lake Macquarie History

Early Belmont

Edited by Mr Perc Haslam

These notes were taken by Mrs. Audrey Lodge and Mrs. Merle Newton, over a period of four years from a series of lectures given to the Lake Macquarie Historical Society, by Dr. John Turner and Mr P.A. Haslam M.A. Both these gentlemen were from the History Department of Newcastle University.

Settlers

Belmont's history began, when the Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld of the (London Missionary Society) was granted the use of 10.000 acres of land to establish his Aboriginal Mission. This was in 1825. The Mission struggled along for about three years. Funds were curtailed, so he moved his family to Toronto. His farm was where the Toronto Hotel now stands. In 1850 a large number of Chinese lived in Belmont-Pelican area to fish the lake. Gold had brought the Chinese to Australia, but when it ran out, they had to look elsewhere for income. One group had a large market garden; the other a fishing and canning business. Both of these business ventures did very well. The name Belmont, came from Mr Williamson's Hotel. The land was purchased in 1861. The Hotel was built in 1863.

As well as being a business man, Mr Williamson was very practical. On his property were the first post-office, store, farm, a provisional school. The room used for school, during the week became the church on Sunday, Tourist accommodation was also available, and a public wharf. His property was the business centre and gathering place for the village. Mr Williamson came from the Shetland Isles. He remained an active participant in Belmont's growth until his death.

Mr George Lloyd, a land developer, had taken over a large portion of the old mission land. This area became known as the "Lewers Estate". Mr Lloyd married one of Threlkeld's daughters. The ketch, "The Turtle", now makes its appearance in Belmont. On board are Thomas Boyd and Captain Taff. Both these men are seafarers but decide to try their hands at farming. Captain Taff's land was at Point Woolstonecroft. The captain and Mr Boyd married sisters. Their name was Freeman, possibly from a Freeman's Waterhole family.

Capt. Taff owned the first butcher shop opened in Swansea. He also had business interests in transport in the district.

Mr Maurice Marks selected land on the old mission site. His farm was where the High School now stands. After a time, Mr Marks persuaded his three brothers, to join him. Their names were Charles, Henry and John.

Mrs Mary Marks, was quite a woman. Besides having and rearing her 13 children, she helped out on the farm, baked her own bread, did all of the family’s sewing, plus taking in outside sewing from the Chinese market gardeners. She thought nothing of walking down to the water's edge with the baby on her hip and the other small children and jumping into the boat, rowing about a mile to give Mr Marks, his lunch. Maurice Marks enhanced his finances with fishing. Mr Charles Marks took up farming on 88 acres at Belmont.

Mr Henry Marks, also a farmer, introduced a coach service between Newcastle and Belmont House (Williamson's Hotel) in 1869 - the single fare was three and sixpence for the 16 mile journey. This enterprise failed due to the bad roads. Marks Point was named in 1826 after the Marks family. Henry had a wonderful crop of oranges and pineapples at Marks Point in 1876. Just before harvesting fruit fly wiped out the lot.

Mathew Cobbin selected his land from the mission site. He supplemented his farm income with a carrying business. He had 12 children to support.

By 1884, all worthwhile farming land was taken up and absorbed into 10 estates. These were:

  • Marks
  • Cobbins
  • Williamsons
  • Andersons
  • Lloyds
  • Cloutens
  • Halls
  • Flemings
  • Hudsons
  • Barlows

Boat Builders

Mr Boyd built a ketch, name her "Progress", she was a 30 ton vessel. This was the start of a fleet of similar craft which he built. These small boats were in big demand as they could cross the bar at the heads with reasonable safety. Cargoes carried were cedar, coal, shingles, fire-wood, shells. The "Edith May" and the "Frolic" were the names of three of his boats. Weather permitting, this fleet had ample work backwards and forwards to Sydney. Boyd's shipping depot was at Swansea Heads. Thomas Boyd was the first Pilot to be appointed when Swansea Pilot Station was opened. He also continued with his boat-building business. Mr Boyd was building trawlers, small fishing craft, when World War II broke out. He made landing barges for the army. After the war Mr Boyd returned to the building of fishing and pleasure craft. He died in 1951.

Another boat builder of note was Mr Humphries of 18ft. skiff fame. In 1930, he was designing and building light and stable surf rescue boats. His boats won many titles. In 1945 they were in world wide use. In 1957, his boats won more races than any other designers. Then 16ft Skiffs came on the scene. Mr Humpries was the grandson of Thomas Boyd. The boat building yards were at Black Ned's Bay, because of the plentiful supply of trees in that area.

Brothers, Bill and Phillip Forbes, were the next participants, in the boat building boom that Belmont experienced in the 1800's. The Forbes brothers built larger vessels, around the 100 ton mark, to carry coal from Swansea to Sydney. At this time the Government had many proposals put before it to blast an opening through the Bar to allow larger vessels into the Lake to load coal. These proposals came from parties with commercial interest in coal and shipping. These plans came to nothing, fortunately for the later generations of Lake Macquarie. We would not have had our beautiful lake, as we know it to-day; it would have been another Newcastle Harbour.

Mr William Woodward, set up his boat-building business. He was able to boast that his establishment had a steam-powered saw. Imagine the time and labour saver that machine would have been, at a time when everything had to be done by hand. This boat yard built a large barge, to be used to cross Swansea Heads. They also built a 250 ton boat, named the "Belmore" which unfortunately was wrecked on her maiden voyage when she hit the Manning River Bar.

The small ketches carrying lake gravel to Sydney, are said to have taken 25.000 stags horns and elks horns from the coastal bush, for sale.

Fishing

In 1850, the Chinese had a flourishing fishing business in Belmont. The Chinese fished the channel. Two groups worked the fishing business. The fish were sold in Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne and China. Also exported to China were shark fins and abalone. They handled 50 tons of fish a year. Their community comprised small cottages and sheds. The sheds were for cleaning, curing and packing the fish. Methods used to cure were salting, bring, and the sun. The Chinese also ran a prosperous market garden. By 1870, only 20 Chinese were left. In 1860, all fishermen were licensed, eighty men were involved in trawling.

The Parker Brothers, started fishing in 1870 and their families have continually fished the Lake ever since. Mr "Darkey" Johnson was another early fisherman. He was the uncle of Perc Haslam.

Hotels

Belmont was quite popular with Sydney shooting parties. The lagoon and swamp, gave them excellent sport, accommodation was at Anderson' s and Williamson's Hotels.

The Gunya Hotel is built on the old. mission site.

Thomas Williamson was granted a colonial vine licence in December 1876. Temperance organizations were strong in Belmont a hundred years ago. One such lodge was called "Lily of the Lake".

Another hotel, called "Bellview", was built by Mr Anderson. He also had other business interests. He entered the stage-coach business thinking this would help to bring tourist trade to his hotel. An advertisement in a Newcastle paper in 1830 read: "Anderson's Hotel keeper of Belmont. A fantastic Watering Hole. Beautiful ocean views, change of air. Coach three times a week, fare five shillings, roads not so good" (that was an understatement). Like Mr Williamson, Mr Anderson also came from the Shetland Isles.

School

In the early days Swansea South was known as Gulgabba. In 1877, residents, petitioned that the area be known as Swansea. This was possibly due to the number of Welsh people residing in the area. The first school was built at Gulgabba in 1870. The teacher's name was Mr Bligh.

Aboriginal people

Queen Margaret's two children attended this school. Her son's name was Buckan. (he was a good horse rider, hence the name). Buckan died as a result of an accident. Helen, her daughter, grew up and married, contact was lost with her. Cricket and shooting, were the most popular sporting activities.Queen Margaret's sister Li lived alone at Swansea Heads. Old Ned died in the 1870's.

Railway

The railway line went to Redhead in 1894. It was extended to Belmont in 1916. It is said that 9,000 people came to Belmont on Boxing Day in 1916, by train. A wonderful day was had by all.

Pulbah Island

Pulbah Island was decided on for the site of an unusual business venture. In 1920, two men decided it was an ideal spot for a rabbit farm - it failed.

Collieries

Belmont Colliery began as Belmont No 1 Colliery before the turn of century. Coal out-cropped to the surface almost at the Lake's edge. Fassifern seam meant good steaming coal. This colliery was also known as "Golden Egg". There was a fire in 1948 and a channel was dug from the lake to allow water to enter the workings.

Belmont No 2 Colliery was established behind the garbage tip. In 1964 came the Beltop mine end of Hill Street. This holed into No 2 pit, and in this way the workings became extended.

Belmont No 3 pit, known as "Shaggy" was developed on the Great Northern Seam, near Valentine – thus Belmont North began. The name changed to Northern No 2. When it was acquired by Millers in 1964, name changed back to Belmont.