Port Macquarie is celebrating the bicentenary of European settlement in 2021. The Port News is publishing a series of articles leading up to the event.
The first convicts to arrive in Port Macquarie in 1821 had to work fast to establish roughly-constructed buildings to accommodate themselves and their overseers.
European settlement was first built around Horton Street fronting the river, with the main settlement to be established further east.
Port Macquarie Historical Society members Tony Dawson and Clive Smith have written several books and authoritative papers on these early days of settlement.
According to Mr Smith, the historical society's own building on Clarence Street remains the oldest surviving commercial building in Port Macquarie.
"It was built as a store in 1835," he said.
"However, there are just a few remains of buildings from that early settlement time remaining.
"I was raised in Port Macquarie and can remember seeing what would have been the brick foundations of the old military barracks building during my early schooling at the Port Macquarie Public School.
"Foundations of the overseers cottage under the Glasshouse have been preserved while St Thomas' Church and what is now the chapel - formerly used as the surgeon's dispensary still remain.
"The historic Wesleyan Church, which fronts Horton Street, was started in the 1840s but has been remodelled several times over the years.
"The Presbyterian Church is the third church to be built on that site. The first church was built in 1840, then later demolished because it was considered too big for the needs of the congregation.
"Eventually the replacement was to be demolished in order to build a larger church, presumably when the congregation grew larger."
Mr Dawson said the convicts barracks were demolished around 1890 with the bricks used to build the council chambers further down on Clarence Street.
Government House was also demolished along with several other buildings on that site, he said.
There are also several well-known wells in the area while a stream that provided fresh water to convicts remains in place under Clarence Street and the El Paso.
"The stream is still running," Mr Dawson said.
"Culturally, Port Macquarie struggled for a number of years to maintain a School of Arts.
"Attempts were made in 1840 and again in the 1850s and 1860s before a viable School of Arts was formed in 1882 and which endured until the 1950s.
"People of the age realised the opportunity of having a school of arts for those of better education to share their views," he said.
Farming remained a high priority for many residents of Port Macquarie in the mid to late 1800s.
Agricultural pursuits included grape growing with as many as 30 to 40 vineyards in and around Port Macquarie.
Mr Smith says Clifton was renowned for its quite large vineyard at the time.
"Archibald Innes had also planted his own vineyard but his son, Gustavus, was a teetotaller and had them (the vines) pulled out.
"Dairying and the associated butter factory also sprung up while over the years bananas and pineapples were also prime crops.
"The museum has several photos clearly showing a fenced off picnic area (the current Town Square) which featured a gate way and turnstile.
"These were put in place to stop the cows from getting into the area.
"Residents had cows in their backyards right up to the 1950s. The cows were often let out to roam and graze around town at their leisure."
Port Macquarie residential expansion was slow to take off with some development in the Westport area reported around the 1860s
Residential growth in the Eastport region was essentially confined to the area north of Hill Street.
When the Flynns established Roto (House) in the 1890s, they owned most of the land through to what is now Flynns Beach, Mr Smith said.
"Even by 1940, Port Macquarie's population was still only a couple of thousand people which was about the same as reported in 1825.
"Port Macquarie probably started to really expand in a residential sense after the Second World War.
"The Glebe was subdivided on behalf of the church - it was the area of land from Kooloonbung Creek, taking in Gray, Chapman and Morrish streets and up to Grant Street.
"It was a parcel of land of some 40 acres that had been granted to the church."
The first major post-war subdivision was Macquarie Heights (Grandview Parade, Kalinda Drive and Regent Street). The Clifton area, which was originally called Riverview Estate, was subdivided in the 1960s, while the Riviera Beach Estate (Lighthouse Beach) was also established around the same time.
Mr Smith and Mr Dawson say they are in some ways extremely disappointed that Port Macquarie has lost so much of its heritage.
"Unfortunately we tried to bury our convict past," Mr Smith said.
"There were still several convict built huts on Hay Street and a couple of houses on Short Street right up until the 1950s and 1960s.
"But these were all demolished for various reasons."
Mr Dawson says many of these buildings may have been in extremely poor condition, which ultimately led to their demolition.
Mr Smith and Mr Dawson have written several books and published papers on Port Macquarie's convict past.
Mr Dawson's topics have included Kooloonbung Creek, the Curious Case of Thomas Dick and a history of the School of Arts.
He has also written several papers for various organisations relating to Port Macquarie's history.
Mr Smith's most recent book is Port Macquarie's Last Convicts, which tells the story of the closing down of the settlement in 1846.
He also co-authored - with Trysha Hanly - transcriptions of baptisms, marriages and burials for the early years of St Thomas' Church.
His next projects include publishing excerpts from the diaries of Annabella Boswell, particularly from 1848 and 1853/4 and co-producing an authoritative list of all convicts brought to Port Macquarie.
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