Sixty kilometres up the river, Morpeth was the gateway to rich agricultural lands and in 1831 the first paddle-wheel steamer of 25 0 tons, Sophia Jane, began to trade between Sydney and the Hunter. In 1832 the locally-built William IV also began service, leaving Sydney at 7.30 in the evening and reaching Newcastle - a stopover - at 6 am the following morning.

The Australian Agricultural Company had gained an exclusive lease to coal mining in 1829, and dozens of small sailing vessels carried the black cargo away. Ships which regularly plied the 60 nautical miles between Sydney and Newcastle were to become known as the 'Sixty Milers' - an adventurous breed vulnerable to severe storms. Many foundered, some just disappeared.[1]

The formation during the nineteenth century of the Newcastle and Hunter River Steamship Company[2] saw the establishment of regular steamship services from Morpeth and Newcastle with Sydney. The company had a fleet of freighters as well as several fast passenger vessels, including the PS Newcastle and the PS Namoi. The Namoi had first-class cabins with the latest facilities. Passengers on overnight passage to Sydney traveled on the ‘Sixty Milers’, and arrived fresh for the new day, and was preferable to the long and arduous railway journey.

PADDLE-WHEEL STEAMER SOPHIA JANE

A wooden vessel built in Rotherhithe, UK, in 1826, the Sophia Jane provided the first steam coastal service in Australia. The Sophia Jane arrived in Sydney in May 1831 after a twelve month journey from the UK, and on 13 June, 1831 Sophia Jane left Sydney arriving at Newcastle the following day. She continued on the coastal trade run between Sydney, Newcastle and Morpeth for 14 years before being broken up.

Come in to the Museum and see a large scale model of the Sophia Jane, and find out more about her adventures.

[1] "Ships And Shores And Trading Ports". NSW Maritime.                                                                                                                                           [2] An Early Link with the New South Wales Railways Wylie, R.F. Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, October 1954 pp126-128