Heritage in Morpeth
Morpeth has a rich heritage and was instrumental in the development of the Hunter Valley. Morpeth is National Trust – classified and is a living museum with beautifully preserved buildings.
Known also by its Aboriginal name ‘Illalaung’, Morpeth formed one third of a land grant made to Lieutenant Edward Charles Close by Governor Brisbane in 1821. Influenced by its desirable location on the Hunter River and the realisation of the area’s immense potential, Morpeth evolved into a frontier town and busy river port.
Morpeth’s role as one of the most important river ports in New South Wales began in the 1820s and under the instruction of the Colonial Secretary, 1833 saw the development of the public wharf. Queens Wharf as it was named was to become a heavily frequented river port by settlers, merchants, mariners, timber getters and farmers. During its time as a major industrial and agricultural hub, Morpeth helped to lay the foundation for the development of the entire Hunter Valley. Whilst no longer famous for its primary industry, the Morpeth of today continues to thrive with many visitors exploring the township each year.
Explore the heritage
Morpeth Court House was completed in October 1862, housing the local Court of Petty Sessions. Originally it was used as a post office and telegraph office as well.
It was built on land donated by Lieutenant E C Close and was designed by architect Mortimer Lewis Jnr., the Government’s Clerk of Works in the Hunter Region.
The Court Room still displays the coat of arms above the original judge’s canopy and is the only non-working Court House to do so.
Morpeth residents petitioned for a clock which was added later.
Since closing as a Court House, the building has been constantly used for a variety of purposes including Baby Health Centre, Library, Red Cross Recruitment office and is currently Morpeth Museum. The Museum occupies the whole building with the main Court Room and parts of the east and west wings available for inspection. The Museum has recently undergone major restoration.
Local campaigning for a bridge began as early as 1870. However, tenders were not successful until it was petitioned for in the Government Gazette on the 17 August 1896 for 8200 pounds.
Work on the bridge began in November 1896 and the bridge was constructed over three years. The Minister for Work, Mr J.H. Young officially opened the bridge on 15 June, 1898 and it was christened by Mayoress Mrs R Sim. The bridge was designed by Percy Allan and Samuel McGill built the bridge for 8855 pounds.
It is an Allan type overhead braced timber truss road bridge. It has three main truss spans, each 33.6m (110ft) long, and 16 timber girder approach spans on the northern side, each 10.7m (35ft) long. The overhead bracing places a height restriction on vehicles using the bridge of 4.5m. The two inner supports of the truss spans are pairs of iron cylinders filled with concrete. Timber trestles support the approach spans. There are two traffic lanes on the bridge with a minimum carriageway width of 5.5m.
The bridge is highly valued by the local community and is important to the history of Morpeth and the expansion of the road network throughout NSW in the late 19th century.
Morpeth Bridge is one of 15 historic bridges constructed before 1905 in the Hunter region today. It is the oldest surviving example of an overhead braced Allan truss road bridge in service, and is one of three surviving overhead braced timber truss road bridges in NSW.
Information supplied by Transport Road and Maritime Services, Heritage and Conservation Register, 2011
Morpeth Heritage Walk
The Morpeth Heritage Walk takes participants on a journey to 25 significant sites in the town, and tells the story of Morpeth through the eyes of key characters and through the streets and buildings that echo Morpeth’s past.
The town was planned on private land at the time when river trade was essential to supplying Sydney and the newly settled region of the Hunter with produce.
You can grab your copy from the Maitland Visitor Information Centre or download the brochure here.
The tour is also available on the ‘Maitland Walks’ App, which can be downloaded on both the App Store and Google Play
The Morpeth Heritage Walk is an initiative of Maitland City Council.
Council would like to acknowledge the assistance of Maitland Repertory Theatre members Terry Allen, Dimity Eveleens and Guilherme Noronha who supplied voiceovers for the audio tour.