Showing posts with label Hamilton Municipal Council. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hamilton Municipal Council. Show all posts

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Making of Hamilton

There was not a decent street or footpath in Hamilton; they had creeks and watercourses in every direction.” [1]

“Truly, the place looked deserted and miserable, no one to be seen but poor old Murphy and his double team dragging a barrow load of coal through the yielding sands into which the wheels of his dray....were sinking almost to the axle.”[2]

These were just some of the challenges facing Hamilton’s first Municipal Council in 1872.

An election had been held on 9 February, 1872. From a field of 12 candidates, six Aldermen were elected. Readers who know the streets and landmarks of Hamilton will recognise these names:

Robert Cherry

George Donald

David Murray

Thomas Tudor

Thomas Swain

Edward Turnbull.

George Donald became the first Mayor of Hamilton.

George Donald, first Mayor of Hamilton Municipal Council, 1872-1876
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Communities like Hamilton sought incorporation and the right to levy rates on landholders. This had become possible under new NSW laws passed in 1858 and 1867.

Incorporation was the beginning of a civic pride movement that saw citizens look for ways and means of improving the environment and circumstances in which they lived.

Incorporation of the mining settlements as a municipality offered a way to collectively address the terrible state of roads and footpaths, provide sanitation, garbage disposal, drainage and a clean water supply. All the things we take for granted today.

There is more about the conditions in which miners lived in the post How Hamilton got its Name.

The six Aldermen were already making their mark as leaders in the community. They had been instrumental in achieving incorporation for what would now no longer be three mining settlements of Pit Town, Borehole and Happy Flat but the township of Hamilton.

A place to meet

The immediate tasks facing the first Council were fairly pedestrian. First, they needed a place to meet. The Hamilton Mechanics' Institute,
where elections and the first couple of meetings had been conducted, was in a poor state. David Murray offered temporary accommodation in his cottage at 70 James Street, for a rental of three shillings per week.

This was the first Hamilton Council Chambers.

The first Hamilton Council Chambers, 70 James Street, Hamilton,
home of David Murray (1834-1908)
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

The Aldermen needed someone to “do the work.” They decided a Council Clerk would be employed, at a salary of 40 pounds per annum. James Ray was selected, initially to work very part-time for 2 hours per week.

Funds and assets were an early consideration. A finance committee was set up; estimates of expenditure prepared, and a 100 pound overdraft obtained from the Bank of Australasia. Later, a Municipal grant of 1500 pounds ensured Council would be able to start work on its priorities. Arrangements were made to survey and value Council property.

Abundance of water

Local historian Peter Murray [3] has analysed early Council records. He has noticed what a huge problem the over abundance of water was for the Council – the most pressing problem was in Denison Street (then the main thoroughfare).

In an interesting example, Peter Murray describes how a candidate for the position of pupil-teacher at Hamilton School was ruled out because she lived at Lambton. The Schools’ Inspector considered the candidate would often be unable to reach the school because the area between Lambton and Hamilton would frequently be under water.

An early priority was the kerbing, guttering and metalling of the major streets in Hamilton. Of course there were complaints about the order of improvements, and who would benefit most, and quickly. Bridges over the watercourses, and the building of culverts and drains, were also challenges. The Styx Creek was a repeat offender.

In his blog Hamilton North, Mark McLean revives and continues Hamilton’s watery conversations. Mark chronicles the defiant, never to be defeated Styx Creek, even though it has been captured and confined in a concrete straitjacket.

Wattle blossoms form patterns on the surface of Styx Creek, along with clusters of discarded bottles (2013)
Photograph courtesy of Mark McLean

A start had to be made somewhere, and although the first Aldermen were inexperienced, they learned on the job. We have much to thank them for. In fact, there is a permanent thank you to them on the gates of Gregson Park.

Memorial gates at Gregson Park

Memorial Gates at the Tudor Street entrance to Gregson Park, Hamilton (2013)

The memorial gates were opened in November, 2012. One side lists the first 6 Aldermen; the other side lists the donors – Henry Latham, Edward Broom, .E. G. Yeomans, William Hutchison, David Smith, Andrew Adams, W.R. Alexander and the families of the first Aldermen.

The Donald family donated a stone drinking fountain in memory of Hamilton's first Mayor, George Donald.

Opening of the Donald Fountain, Gregson Park, Hamilton
29 January, 1908
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Elections were held regularly, and some of Hamilton’s prominent Mayors were:

George Donald                       First Mayor 1872-1876

David Murray                          Mayor 1876-1880

Francis W Reay                      Mayor 1887

William Rees Alexander         Mayor 1889-1900, 1911-1912, 1920

Gordon Richard Skelton         Mayor 1929-1930

Samuel Don                            Mayor 1885, 1886, 1901

Francis Reay was a medical herbalist who built the Hamilton Turkish Baths – read the story here.

Samdon Street in Hamilton is named for Sam Don. A sculpture of his head can still be seen above the entrance of the former fire station in James Street – that story is here.

The Hamilton clock tower was named the W R Alexander Clock Tower, in honour of Mr Alexander's services as Alderman.

Bigger and better

As the population of Hamilton grew, so did its administration.

In December 1873 E C Merewether, Superintendent of the AA Company, wrote to Council dedicating land at the corner of Beaumont and James Street for a new Council Chambers.

When the first Council Chambers was built several years later, in 1880, Councillors and the administration were able to move out of their leased premises. Following the Murray cottage, Mrs Hinkle’s rooms in Beaumont Street had been rented for 4 shillings per week.

1880 Council Chambers building
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, held in the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Just 12 years later, in 1892, a second Municipal Chambers was built to replace the first.

Hamilton Municipal Chambers (n.d.)
Note the established tree, gas lamp, and wooden shed housing fire brigade equipment on the left
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, held in the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Over time, the population of Hamilton grew from around 4,000 in 1891 to 14,000 in 1920. By 1919, more aldermen were needed to represent the diverse community - the original 6 Aldermen increased to 9, and later, to 12 – and yet another building was required to accommodate staff who took on diverse roles. Despite its impressive exterior, the old Chambers was considered insanitary and inadequate. [4] Four shops added in 1920 provided a revenue stream for the Council.

Hamilton Municipal Building and Clock Tower in Beaumont Street, 
12 February 1936
Photograph courtesy of Greg and Sylvia Ray

The Council would not go on to bigger and better things. Success and growth meant others were eyeing off Hamilton’s prosperity. Change was ahead.

From the 1890s, several state and civic leaders had championed expanding the boundaries and influence of the Newcastle Council. Finally, in 1938 these efforts were successful and the City of Greater Newcastle came into being. The Greater Newcastle Act of 1937 saw the City swallow up  11 surrounding suburban municipalities - including Hamilton.

The history of how local government came to Newcastle is explained simply by University of Newcastle Archivist Gionni di Gravio – read more here.

The final meeting of the Hamilton Municipal Council was held on 31 March, 1938.

The fine building owned by the Hamilton Council and appropriate to its role, would now be rented out, along with its ground floor shops. The Council had begun as a tenant, and now, stripped of its role, would be simply a landlord.

Another shock to come

Beaumont Street, Hamilton was the epicentre of the 1989 earthquake that struck Newcastle.

Shops on Beaumont Street damaged by the 1989 earthquake 
Photograph Courtesy of Newcastle Region Library - Earthquake Database

The fine clock tower which had become a Hamilton landmark cracked.

Hamilton Municipal Building - crack in clock tower
Photograph by Gordon Finn, courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

The Municipal building was substantially rebuilt. Local historian Mrs Mavis Ebbott recalls that when the clock tower was replaced, something was different. It was not as high as it was before.

Perhaps the earthquake was a wake-up call not just for Newcastle City Councillors, but also for Hamilton business people.

Soon steps were being taken to rebalance the control exercised by the City Council. Vigorous commercial centres like Hamilton wanted to have more say over their own destiny, and the City was prepared to loosen the reins a little.

Under Newcastle’s Mainstreet Program, Newcastle City Council began collecting a special levy from businesses in a small number of commercial centres including Hamilton. The funds could be pooled for projects such as street beautification and community events, and were administered by a locally based Committee of Council.

Partnership Now

In 2011, the partnership was taken to another level. Independent Business Improvement Associations (BIA), governed by a Constitution, were established. Council continues to collect the special benefit rate on Hamilton’s behalf. Suburbs like Hamilton, Mayfield and Wallsend can now initiate and administer a budget for projects that strengthen their commercial centres as well as the community.

Each year a business plan is presented by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce to Newcastle Council for its approval. This provides a series of initiatives on which the two organisations can work together.

The first Aldermen of the Hamilton Municipal Council had an intense local focus. They wanted to make Hamilton a better place for its residents - to live, work and shop.

Clock Tower Markets are held every Saturday and enliven Beaumont Street (2013)

Today, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce retains this local focus – and expands it. Embracing residents and thousands of visitors alike, the Chamber knows that both are the life blood of Hamilton’s commercial, eating and entertainment centre, and its community.

Unattributed photographs by Ruth Cotton.


[1] Newcastle Sun, 9/12/1921
[2] Newcastle Chronicle 10/3/1872.
[3] Murray, P: From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848-1921. Self-published 2006. p. 68
[4] Murray, P: From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848-1921. Self-published 2006. p. 118