The History of Stockton
Known by the traditional owners, the Worimi, as "Burrinbingon", Stockton was a place with ample fresh water and abundant food resources, including oysters and pippies along the sandy spit, good fishing in the waters of the river and the ocean and abundant wildlife in the adjacent forested areas.
The recorded European settlement at Newcastle and Stockton dates back to 1797. When a Government boat, "Cumberland" was seized by convicts at Pittwater in Broken Bay, Governor Hunter sent Lieutenant John Shortland in the "HMS Reliance", accompanied by another vessel, to search for them. On Saturday 16th September 1797, Shortland records that due to bad weather, he entered a river south of Port Stephens (which he named the Coal River), to shelter behind an island lying offshore (Nobbys). Shortland records that he found a quantity of good quality coal laying near the water's edge and convenient for ship loading. He also recorded three landing sites on the northern peninsula (now Stockton).
The advice of easy coal soon attracted the early traders of Sydney Cove, Simeon Lord, James Underwood, P.F. Palmer and others. Lord's small ship the "Anna Josepha" was reported as carrying the first commercial load of coal removed from Newcastle. Between 1798 and 1800, Lord, Palmer and others sent their ships to obtain further cargoes of coal. The tonnage of these small commercial freighters was minute by present standards, up to 25 tons. Coal was collected by hand in bags and baskets to be carried to the ships.
These traders soon found the cedar trees, and timber was added to the ship's loads with the first reported cedar shipped to Sydney aboard Simeon Lord's "Anna Josepha" in 1801. Hugh Meehan, the captain of the "Anna Josepha", in early 1800 constructed a sawmill at an anchorage near Pirate Point, (later Stockton), on the north side of the river. Stockton was in effect the first Newcastle suburb. Later Meehan transferred this sawmill to a southern harbourside position roughly where Newcastle Post Office now stands.
The first penal colony was established at Newcastle on the southern shore but by the 1830s Stockton was also permanently settled with a small sawmill and a flourishing lime burning industry, utilising the vast reserves of oyster shells on the beach. These originated from the oyster banks as the entrance shoals were then known. The development of Stockton progressed with the construction of salt works and the establishment of a tweed mill by Dr James Scott in 1835. Weavers were brought from England to work in the mill which at its peak employed three hundred workers. Unfortunately the mill burned down in 1851. Boat building also became a key industry in Stockton.
As part of the improvements to the Hunter River, the Nobbys light was commissioned in 1858 and was the third lighthouse to be constructed in NSW.
The Stockton Rocket brigade were active in the early 1860s. This group of men were dedicated to the rescue of seafarers stranded by the numerous ships wrecked on attempting to enter the treacherous Hunter River entrance. This dedicated band became the forerunners to the present Stockton Surf Life Saving Club.
The Stockton Council was first formed in 1889 to serve the growing residential community on the north side of the river.
Stockton received a further setback with a tragic accident in the Stockton Colliery in 1896 resulting in a loss of life both amongst the miners and the rescue party. This is remembered through the construction of the memorial gates to Lynne Oval on Mitchell Street to the south of the Ocean View. Further plaques inside the gates were erected to mark the centenary of the tragedy and record the names of those involved.
Stockton was isolated from Newcastle itself by the Hunter River and so developed as a dormitory suburb serving initially the local coal mine and industries, then the shipbuilders and finally the BHP. Access from Newcastle to Stockton was limited to boats with a ferry service from Stockton to Newcastle commencing in 1845. It continued to service the major employers along the river, until the construction of the Stockton Bridge which opened in 1971.
The Stockton Surf Life Saving Club is the second oldest in the Hunter region, formed 5 days after the Newcastle SLSC on 15th January 1908. They celebrated their centenary in February 2008 when the club hosted the Australian Surf Rowers League Open, with competing teams from all around Australia.
Stockton was always close to the war effort with a large military base and firing range at Fort Wallace and the nearby Williamtown airforce base. Such were concerns that concrete tank traps were installed along the foreshore over the length of Stockton Bite to prevent an enemy invasion. The desolate beach and sandhills were regularly patrolled during the war. On 8 June 1942, a Japanese submarine under the command of Captain Kanji Matsumura, travelled across Stockton Bight and positioned itself about 9 kms north east of Newcastle. Their orders were to shell the Newcastle shipyards at Carrington. It is possible that it may have also targeted the BHP Works at Kooragang Island, Fort Scratchley and a large coal ship, the "Iron Knight", which was moored at the steelworks docks. The Japanese gun crew fired 34 shells at Newcastle. After 13 minutes of firing, the guns at Fort Scratchley returned fire with 4 rounds. The Japanese shelling ceased and the submarine escaped having caused minimal damage and no casualties.
The opening of the BHP provided a stimulus to Stockton, replacing the dwindling employment from the colliery and other industries. Ironically, its closure in the late 1990s also provided a further stimulus to Stockton's development reducing pollution and opening the way for Stockton to develop as a clean and popular beach locale servicing the lower Hunter Valley.
Since the 2000 Stockton has reinvented itself, initially as a secret hideaway for holiday makers from the Lower Hunter Valley and more recently, with new beachfront homes appearing along the coast and river frontage, as a popular and desirable place to live and a holiday destination for visitors from Sydney and inland areas.