Lake Macquarie History


Name Origin:

The name Toronto was chosen by the Excelsior Co., which owned land there, in honour of Edward Hanlan, world champion sculler who came from Toronto in Canada and who arrived in N.S.W. at the time of the subdivision. The name was not used publicly until the Newcastle Morning Herald of 18.6.1887.

The Aboriginal people called Toronto foreshore "Derah-bambah" meaning rising ground. Toronto was "Pondee" meaning overlooking view. Toronto West was "Toompoah" meaning place of clay.

First Nations History

During the earliest period of European settlement Aboriginal people were known to frequent the area and two of the local tribe are buried on the site of the post office.

When Threlkeld set up his mission in 1831, there were 160 aboriginal people in the vicinity but this number dwindled to 30 by 1839. Threlkeld's relations with the aboriginal people were good but the mission was a failure and did not make converts.

European History

Early Land Grants:

The Rev. Threlkeld received the right to possess 1280 acres in November 1829 (Awaba Parish). The area included the present day boundaries of Toronto. He commenced his mission to the Aboriginal people of the area there after moving from Belmont. In 1844 Ralph Mayer Robey purchased the grant from Threlkeld.

In 1851 Robey leased the property to a farmer named Richard Fennell who occupied it until about 1870. After Fennell the estate passed over to Messr's MacMahon and Whiting. In turn it was purchased in 1885 by the Excelsior Land Investment and Building Co. and Bank Ltd.

Early Subdivisions:

In 1885 the Excelsior Land, Investment and Building Co. and Bank Ltd acquired a portion of Threlkelds' original grant from McMahon and Whiting plus the 100 ft waterfront reserve from the Crown for 13,722 pounds and subdivided it in 1887. This subdivision coincided with the opening of the Great Northern Railway and became the basis of the future town of Toronto. By 1906 Toronto was still mainly limited to the triangle formed by Cary Street, the Boulevarde, and the railway line. D.P.2505 of 1891, encompassed Jarrett, Ambrose, Renwick, North, Day and Thome Streets as well as Excelsior Parade, Brighton Avenue and The Boulevarde.

Early European Settlers:

The first settler in the region was the Rev. Threlkeld who arrived to set up a mission in 1829. A Mr. Russell was a miner in 1848 and was killed that same year in a coal fall. Mr. Robey settled soon after he purchased land in the area in 1844 and remained until about 1850, while directing coal mining operations. In the years 1887-1892 the name of some early settlers were: W. Hook(e), postmaster; F.F. Mossman, assistant postmaster; N.T. Holdsworth, boat proprietor; H. Blair, boat builder; Q. Hendry, overseer; Patrick Goetly, butcher; Louis Deer, school teacher; and S. Shute, school teacher. Other family names from the same period (1890) include Hinton, Dale, Rayfield, Buckley and Horn.

Early Industries:

In the 1830's and 1840's the current centre of Toronto was the site of a prosperous farm with a variety of crops and many fruit trees including Mulberry.

In 1841 the Ebenezer Coal Works on the nearby peninsular began production which continued for many years. Both the farm and the coal works were started by the Reverend Threlkeld whose grant in the area was taken over by Mr. Robey in 1844. With the exception of some extended periods when it was closed the mine continued production until 1906 (see Coal Point).

There was certainly a dairy in existence by 1844. In 1886 a brickworks was established near the sports ground at Stony (Stoney) Creek, and in 1887 the Toronto Hotel was constructed from these local bricks. After the opening of the Tramway in 1891 the main industries were tourism and building.

Toronto Hotel:

The Toronto Hotel has been called the birthplace of Toronto and was opened in December 1887. It was built by Excelsior Land, Investment Building, and Banking Company, who promoted it "as a pleasant and commodious brick building, containing about thirty bedrooms, besides parlours, bar, dining and billiard room". It sits on one of the lake's most important historic sites - the site of the western mission and homestead of Rev.Lancelot Threkeld.

During the 1830's a dairy farm and an orchard surrounded the mission and there were Mulberry trees that had grown so large that the area became known as Mulberry Hill.

The homestead and orchard were demolished to make way for the new hotel which was built from bricks made locally from clay found in the western Toronto area. The hotel included a tennis court and putting green. A plumber and a bricklayer came from Sydney to work on the hotel and other buildings.

During these years the Toronto Hotel and it's facilities were promoted as the 'Riviera of Australia' and it was where many newly married couples spent their honeymoon. In 1955, a ballroom was added on the western side and a swimming pool on the eastern side.

The hotel was ear-marked for demolition in the late 60's but is now listed on the Register of the National Estate. In 1975 the hotel underwent extensive re-modelling, the swimming pool was filled in as it had not been used for over 5 years. The 32 bedrooms on the first floor were re-modelled into a modern dining room and managers living quarters.

Early Transport:

Until August 1891 the nearest major transport was via rail from the station now known as Fassifem. In 1891 a tram service was started between Fassifern and Toronto.


The Toronto-Fassifern steam tramway service was opened and operated by the Excelsior Co. from August 1891 until March 1899, and for the following ten years was leased to the Toronto Hotel and Tramway Co.

In 1910 after the Company had some difficulty in maintaining the service, the N.S.W. Government Railways took over, upgraded it and operated it until it's closure in 1990. A bus service now runs from Fassifern to Toronto. Following the discontinuation of service, a cycleway - the Toronto Greenway - was constructed along the line.

The railway station was built in 1891, and is now a Heritage Centre and home of Lake Macquarie & District Historical Society Inc.

First Post Office:

First established on 1 October 1889, with W. Hooke in charge. In 1891 F.F. Mossman became assistant. The office operated from the Toronto Hotel until 1894.

First School:

Public School opened June 1890 with an enrolment of 21 pupils, which increased to 32 by the end of the year. Mr. S. Shute was first teacher. Toronto Evening School operated only in 1902. Biraban Public School opened in January 1956. It was called Toronto West until January 1978. Toronto High School was opened in January 1962.


A School of Arts Committee was established in 1893, its first president being H. Moore; Vice-President 0. Hendry; Secretary L. Deer; Treasurer W. Hooke; Messrs R.A. Campbell, A. Stephen and C. Unthank were also on the committee.


The first hotel was completed in 1887 and a School of Arts built in 1893. The hotel was sold by the Excelsior Co. in 1899 and after passing through several hands was bought by Walter Donnelly in the early years of this century. The first reticulated water arrived in 1919. The first electric street lights were installed in 1923, the power being supplied by Caledonian Collieries Ltd from their West Wallsend Colliery. The first church (Anglican) was built about 1900.

Water Supply:





1911 - 153 homes and 629 persons. 1921 - 280 homes and 1291 persons. 1933 - 345 homes and 1274 persons. 1947 -528 homes and 1962 persons. 1954-639 homes and 2252 persons. 1961 - 2353 homes and 8515 persons.


Clack, E. W & Lake Macquarie and District Historical Society 1990, Early history of Toronto, 3rd ed. 1990, Lake Macquarie & District Historical Society, [Toronto, N.S.W.]

Threlkeld, L. E. (Lancelot Edward) & Gunson, Walter Neil 1974, Australian reminiscences and papers of L. E. Threlkeld : missionary to the Aborigines, 1824-1859, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra

Lake Macquarie and District Historical Society 1979, Toronto, Lake Macquarie, N.S.W. : the pictorial story, Lake Macquarie & District Historical Society, Toronto, N.S.W

1924. Toronto tourist guide : souvenir issue to commemorate the centenary carnival, 1924, s.n.], [Newcastle].

Tonks, Ed 2016, Smelters' haven to artist's rest : the hotels of Lake Macquarie, New Lambton, N.S.W. Newy Printing Company and Ed Tonks

Streets in Toronto

Acknowledgement of Country

We remember and respect the Ancestors who cared for and nurtured this Country. It is in their footsteps that we travel these lands and waters. Lake Macquarie City Council acknowledges the Awabakal people and Elders past, present and future.

Council acknowledges traditional custodians throughout Australia. We commit to listening deeply to and collaborating with First Peoples in our work.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website and Council's cultural collections may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.

This website may contain place names, opinions and terms that reflect authors' views or those of the period in which the item was written or recorded. These may not be considered appropriate today.

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