I. The Robinson’s of Great Shelford & Building the Great Northern – Hunter River Railway

Research Notes

The Robinson family travelled to Australia as Assisted Emigrants on the “Ellenborough” in 1854, from Corn, Kilkenny Ireland on the Ellenborough for Newcastle NSW  – with their native place given as Great Shelford Cambridge.  On the Passenger List for the Ellenborough, Joseph and sons  Frederick, James and George were all listed as carpenters. Presumably Joseph Robinson and his three eldest sons, like many passengers were destined to work on building the Great Northern – Hunter River Railway – see State Records on Hunter River Railway & NSW Government Railways 301. It has also been known as the Main North Railway Line. They appear to have lived around Honeysuckle Point, so-named because of the Coastal Banksia, or Honeysuckle, which prospered on the banks of Newcastle Harbour for many years, prompting the name Honeysuckle Point.

Joseph Robinson (1811- 1855)  and his wife Elizabeth Sternes/Stearns (1811 – 1864) of Great Shelford Cambridge England appeared  to have married in 1833, possibly  at Barnwell St Andrew in Cambridge, England (Pallots Marriage Index for England – 1780 – 1837). Their children  were : Frederick (1837 – 1901), James (1839 – 1903), George (1841 – 1868), Mary/Marianne  Waters (1842 – 1888), Matilda Dart (1846 – 1885) and Daniel (1850 – 1829).

More details at the Robinson Family Webpage

What must they have found out here in the Colony in 1854 ?

There is a tremendous collections of old Newcastle photographs on the Newcastle Herald Archives website – helping to imagine the times of our Robinson family in the middle 19th Century years.


19th Century view of Newcastle Harbour with Honeysuckle Station in the foreground in 1892 – source Newcastle Herald Archives

Sadly Joseph Robinson died early in 1855 at Honeysuckle Point / Hexham, barely three months after their November 1854 arrival and landing in the Colony. He was buried at Christchurch Church of England Cemetery in Newcastle, probably without a gravestone. The cemetery was largely destroyed in the early 1970’s and should there have been a gravestone, then it would have been recorded at that time. Noting that his wife Elizabeth’s gravestone and his Dart grandchildren’s were still legible at the time of the destruction of many of the graves.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And what of Joseph’s sons who would have worked on the Great Northern Hunter River Railway ?

James was married at Honeysuckle Point in 1861, and his sons Ernest, Herbert and Frederick were all born there between 1861 and 1869. Joseph remained at Honeysuckle Point until about 1873, becoming a publican some time after leaving the railway.

And Joseph’s other sons who had worked on the Railway ? By 1865, son George had married in Wee Waa  and later Frederic married in Ulladulla in 1873 – refer Robinson web page. Though it is uncertain  precisely how long these three of Joseph Robinson’s sons had remained working on the Hunter River Railway.

Their mother Elizabeth lived at Honeysuckle Point until her death 10 years later in 1864, and it likely that two of their siblings, Matilda (Dart) and Daniel remained in the Hunter area – while sister Mary (Waters),  like brother George, moved northwest. With so many years in constructing the Great Northern – Hunter River Railway,  it is no surprise that some of the Robinson family were still in the Newcastle – Maitland area for many years.

Building the Railway 


Honeysuckle Railway Station in 1892 – Source Newcastle Herald Archives

The Honeysuckle to Hexham section of the Railway was officially opened on March 30 1857 – refer Institution of Engineers Australia article and map from article below.


Building the Great Hunter – Hunter River Railway ? It had started out as a private affair in 1853 – conceived by James Mitchell. But by 1855, it had been transferred to the NSW Government creating the first public railway in the Hunter Valley.


This was the first locomotive to run on the Great Northern Railway in 1857 – though the photo is at Morpeth at a later date. Source Newcastle Herald.

And there was some construction taking place beyond the 1857 official opening – extensions eastward to Newcastle and westward to Maitland (from 1855)  were completed in 1858 – see Maitland to Morpeth section. Also there may have been some railway construction occurring in Jump Up Creek near Singleton – apparently the Maitland to Singleton railway route had been undertaken in 1856 – Railway Navvies were at Lochinvar in 1859/1860 – and this section was opened in 1860. It reached Singleton in 1863 – with The Singleton Railway Gallop song. Muswellbrook  was reached in 1869, and Scone in 1871 – Scone to West Tamworth in 1878 including Werris Creek and Tamworth in 1878, Armidale in 1883, Glen Innes in 1884, and finally reached the Queensland border at Wallangarra in the Granite Belt  1888. It travelled the spine of the Great Dividing Range – see a list of stations along the line, both open and closed.

“It wasn’t long before public rail was used to transport coal, with the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Company being the first to use it in 1861” – Reference Coal and Community.The rail corridor from Maitland to Honeysuckle  “was, and still is, part of a vital transportation system for the coal industry. Today, the railway branch lines are essential for delivering coal to the shipping wharves.” – Reference Coal and Community.

However since 1993 the Great Northern – Hunter River Rail only operates to Armidale, and the line northwards is the subject of a community campaign “Save the Great Northern Railway”. Traffic on the Great Northern Railway was impacted by the opening of the North Coast Railway in 1930, though there was a temporary uplift for troop movements during WW2 years, as there were fears about coastal attacks. The line on the Queensland side to Wallangarra survived for longer – Queensland Rail freight services ceased in 2007. Though periodically Southern Downs Steam Railway steam trains still run from Warwick to Wallanagarra – a Railway Museum also now operates in the old buildings.

A First Class (originally Third Class) Railway Carriage of the Great Northern Railway, built by Joseph Wright, has been preserved at the NSW Powerhouse Museum – refer Museum Webpage for an interesting history of the Carriage and also on Joseph Wright, its manufacturer.

The Honeysuckle Railway Workshops had a long history also “The Honeysuckle Point Railway Workshops were established on this site in 1856 to service the independent Northern N.S.W. Railway System originating from Newcastle. The buildings remaining are rare examples of the design principles used for late 19th century industrial buildings and the 16 ton rope-driven crane in this building, Built by Craven Brothers of Manchester (restored in 1996) represents the culmination of 19th century materials handling technology. Dedicated by the Institution of Engineers, Australia and Honeysuckle Development Corporation 1996″ Reference Geocaching.

Navvies working on the Railway

Why the emigrants ? In the middle of a gold rush the Hunter River Rail company was trying to build a railway from Newcastle to East Maitland but their navvies kept leaving for the goldfields. So they recruited navvies from England, purchased 300 ton of railway iron and a locomotive engine and put the lot on board the Anglia.” Source Rootsweb

The Ellenborough was one of about 6 shiploads bringing in a total of about  500 immigrant British Navvies to Newcastle to work on the Great Northern – Hunter River Railway – due to the shortage of labour generated by the Gold Rush Days – stories. Though after the Gold Rush ended, the government restricted immigration of British Navies. Other ship bringing in Navvies in 1854 – 1855 included Blackfriar,  Lord George Bentinck,  Libertas and Anglia –  and it seems that not all was smooth sailing for the immigrants when they arrived in Newcastle… the Robinson’s on the Ellenborough seems to have been fortunate compared to others.

Blackfriar – The Maitland Mercury, 14/3/1855 records that there were 137 adults and 47
children aboard, also. “They have had a very fine weather passage, and the emigrants are remarkably healthy, and are for the Hunter’s River Railway Company.”  1, 2, 3, 4, 56

Anglia was also “transporting nearly 300 tons of railway iron on board, also a locomotive engine” – 1,  2,  3, 4, 5, 6. 7, 8,  9, 10, 11, 12, 13, – was caught up in the takeover of the railway by the NSW Government – which meant they were stuck at sea for days … ” THE IMMIGRANTS PER ANGLIA -Up to Saturday last, the barque Anglia had been lying at Newcastle for eleven days, and no instructions had been sent to either the captain or agents as to the course they were to pursue. The immigrants are railway labourers. They were sent out to the railway company, but asthe company no longer exists, of course they fall upon the Government. In a few days the ship will lie upon demurrage, and the expenses be increased. There is neglect somewhere. Is red-tapism to blame, or the Emigration Board” 

Lord George Bentinck1,

Libertas – “The ship Libertas had been chartered for the conveyance of labourers and railway materials to Newcastle, for the Hunter River Railway Company, and was to sail on the 1st March” .. “The navvies who arrived by the Libertas left here this day for Hexham in the steam tug Sophia, which was literally crowded, and the luggage and tools, stowed on board the schooner William Barry Brown and the lighter Arthur, were despatched at the same time, the Sophia taking them in tow.” However the Navvies who had arrived aboard the Libertas later became quite irate  about the very low contracted pay rates and the situation ended up in the Courts under the Masters and Servants Act – there is a sense that they had been taken advantage of – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13,

The life of the Navvies and their families wasn’t necessarily easy – see University of Newcastle 1981 article.

From Trove

“Hunter River Railway Company.-The labourers who arrived in the Ellenborough for this Company were all landed at Newcastle last week, and yesterday morning commenced work. The first turf was turned by the Chairman of the Company, but there was no ceremony beyond three cheers from those present. We understand that the engineers are confident that if the Company can procure sufficient funds, the line may be completed to East Maitland in two years.”

From Trove – 1854

“Immigration to New South Wales. Tuesday last was an auspicious day for New South Wales, and deserves to be chronicled amongst the eventful days of the year 1854, as having ushered to our shores a larger amount of emigrants than ever before reached us in one day. On Tuesday the ships Stamboul and Patrician entered the harbour of Port Jackson, and the Ellenborough arrived at Newcastle, having on board upwards of a thousand emigrants. These welcome additions to our population are of a respectable class, a large number of whom came out under the   Assisted Emigrant Act, and have already spread themselves over the colony seeking the homes of their friends. Others of them arrived as Government emigrants, the greatest portion of whom are already engaged in service in and around Sydney. A considerable number too, mostly females, we believe, intend proceeding up the Hunter, where no doubt they will be greeted with a hearty welcome. To all we wish every success in the new home of their adoption.—Empire, November 2.”

From Trove – 1854

“The arrival of the Ellenborough some few weeks back, with upwards of 100 navvies, and a large extent of the plant and rails for that great work, has: placed matters in connection with it in a very promising position. Already the line has been cleared nearly as far as Hexham, and there are several miles ready to RECEIVE THE RAILS.”

From Trove – 1854

“The next important work, to which we beg to draw the attention of our English readers is the Hunter River Railway, an enterprise which will greatly enhance the prosperity of the Northern districts. In this instance, Mr. Randie, the contractor, is assisted by Mr. Wright, who although he may not be so experienced in matters of this kind, is nevertheless a gentleman of acknowledged competency. The work was commenced about seven weeks ago, immediately after the arrival of the first draft of navvies and machinery in the Ellenborough. The men went to work with great cheerfulness, evidently determined to carry out their contracts with fidelity, and the consequence- is that five miles of the line have been formed, and the remainder is in a very forward state. There are only two heavy cuttings on the line, and these are progressing rapidly ; in fact it is confidently believed that a railway from Newcastle to Hexham will be in operation within the next nine months. The whole line projected will, when completed extend from Newcastle to Maitland, a distance of about twenty miles. The present contract, however, is only for the completion of the line from Newcastle to Hexham, and, as we stated before, five miles have been already formed capable of at once receiving the rails: The Company by whom the enterprise is carried o receives a similar assistance from the Government to that enjoyed by the Sydney Railway Company.”

The Journey on the Ellenborough to Australia

Sailing on the Ellenborough to Newcastle in the Colony : July – November 1854

Many of the Assisted Immigrants who arrived on the “Ellenborough “in November 1854 were destined to be employed on the construction of the Railway in the Hunter Valley. Others were agricultural labourers. The “Lyons Family History Web Site has a good compilation of information on the Ellenborough.

“From the London Times of July 14, 1854: via Lynne Radford on Rootsweb ….

Australian Emigration.–Southampton, Thursday, July 13.–The splendid East India ship Ellenborough, Captain Thornbill, left the docks this afternoon, and will sail on Friday (this day) for Port Newcastle, New South Wales, taking out about 370 souls, equal to 330 statute adult emigrants, which have been shipped from the Government emigration depot in the Southampton Docks. The Ellenborough has also a full general cargo for the Australian markets, and a portion of her emigrant passengers comprises 50 labourers, who are to be engaged upon the construction of the Hunter River Railway. The Ellenborough is a noble-looking frigate-built ship of 1,200 tons, and has attracted considerable attention while lying alongside the wharf in the inner dock. The Anglo-Saxon, Captain J. Chapman, a fine clipper  ship of 763 tons register, belonging to Mr. Peter Tindall, jun., sailed on Tuesday, for Sydney, with 336, equal to 285 statute adults, Government emigrants, on board, under charge of Surgeon Grover. This ship has been fitted up on a new plan suggested by Mr. Smith, R.N., the emigration officer at this port, which for ingenuity and simplicity surpasses any kind of fittings for berthing emigrants that has yet been seen, and also affords much better ventilation and accommodation to the passengers. With the exception of a few from the Channel Islands, all the emigrants by the Anglo-Saxon are English. Mr. C.A. Wood, one of Her Majesty’s Emigration Commissioners, paid a visit to the Ellenborough, Anglo Saxon, and Emigrant, before their departure. All these three ships have been despatched by Messrs. Dawson and Arroid.

The  Emigration Commissioners have chartered the ship Agra to leave Southampton about the 18th of August, for Geelong.”

From Trove

“NEWCASTLE.—Arrival. — October 31. Ellenborough, ship, 1084 tons, Captain Thornhill, from Southampton July 14. Passengers—Mr. James H. Atkinson, Dr.Stolworthy, Surgeon Superintendent, and 399 immi- grants. The Ellenborough has had rather a long pa sage of 107 days from Southampton, which has been occasioned by her being very deep, having encountered most dreadful weather, and losing a number of her spars on the passage. She brings 399 immigrants,principally English, and all in good health, 100 of whom are for the Railway Company, the remainder are chiefly agricultural labourers. There have been 7 deaths and 2 births on board during the voyage. We believe the immigrants speak in high terms of the kindness and attention shown them by Dr. Stolworthy. The cargo of the Ellenborough consists principally of iron for the Railway Company. The following vessels have been spoken during the voyage, viz. :—The Lord Raglan, and Alice Maud, off the Cape of Good Hope, from London, bound to Adelaide, and the Glenbervie, from London, bound to Hobart Town.”

From Trove

“Immigrants per Ship ” Ellenborough NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN, that there, are now on board the above vessel a number of IMMIGRANTS, under the Assisted Immigrants’ Act, open for engagement, and that they will be prepared to take service on Wednesday next and following days, between the hours of Ten a.m. and Four p m. Newcastle, Nov. 4th, 1854. 5246”

From Trove

Address presented to David Stolworthy, Esq , F.R.C.S, London, Surgeon-Superintendent of the ship Ellenborough. Mr. David Stolworthy

“SIR-We, the immigrants under your care,

return you our heartfelt thanks for the kind attention, the untired exertions, and unde- niable skill you possess, your system of regu- larity, your watchful eye for morality, kindness to all, no matter what country or creed-we candidly believe you have done your duty, honourably and skilfully, as Surgeon and Superintendent. We likewise feel satis- fied that no professional man could do more for our health, comfort, discipline, and morality. We have seen what you have gone through, lateand early, always kind, willing, and watchful of us, though far from our father land. No language can express the feelings we entertain towards you ; we are convinced were it not for your skill and attention half of us would not have survived to reach our destination ; for the poor infants that died yon did your utmost to recover, though we consider it was ou of your power, being in a delicate state of health pre- vious to our departure. The vessel being so heavily laden, and so deep, causing her to pitch and roll most fearfully, her ports and scut- tles constantly leaking, creating so much damps, and owing to their being fre- quently under water, from this cause you were scarcely ever enabled the whole voyage to open them to produce proper ventilation. That all your time was occupied for the relief and comfort of adults and children. Your kind- ness, generosity, and humanity has gained the esteem of those who address you, wishing you a long and happy life in this world and ever- lasting happiness hereafter.

We likewise return our sincere thanks to Captain Thornhill and officers of the ship Ellenborough for their attention and skill as seamen. The captain evidently a man of supe- rior talent, cool, calm, but determined, at his post at all times and at all hours, particularly in the hour of peril, and there until it ceased, he has braved the storm and gained the port successfully. His generosity to the passengers, his love for the little children, and his jocularity, made us forget the hardships we underwent, and cheered us up for the prospects that lay before us, which entitles him to our sincere good wishes for his future prospects and welfare. Thanks to the officers for their exertion and skill ; they never were backward in their duty ; they are truly deserving of every praise ; each in their different positions kind in their manner, gentle in their disposition, and inoffensive to all. Were it not for the over exertions of the captain, officers,and crew, owing to her dead cargo and the heavy sea she encountered, she could not have lived were it not that she was a vessel of the first-class, we believe as good as ever left the East India Docks.

Sir, we wish you would intimate to the commissioners the state we have been in, so many lives at stake and a long voyage before us-it may be a preventative to the like occurrence again-at the same time thanking them for sending us in such a good vessel, with a first rate surgeon, first-class captain and officers. I remain, sir, respectfully on behalf of passen- gers on board the ship Ellenborough, your obedient servant,

JAMES MCDERMOTT. Newcastle, Oct. 31, 1854. 5200”

See also – Final Report on the Select Committee on Immigration  – 25.11.1854 (Trove)


Joseph Robinson was buried in 1855, like his wife Elizabeth in 1864, at Christchurch C of E (later Cathedral) burial ground in Newcastle in 1864. Joseph’s grave was unmarked but Elizabeth’s grave was intact in the 1970’s when the cemetery was bulldozed and only a select number of graves retained. She lies in Plot 215  with three of her Dart grandchildren  with daughter Matilda Darts’s in-laws in Plot 214 – see also inscriptions.

Frederic Robinson (1837 – 1901) ended up down the NSW Far South Coast at  Ulladulla in 1873 where he married and his three children were born at Batemans Bay and Ulladulla, before his wife’s death in 1878. At some point he returned to the Newcastle area, where he died in 1901.

James Robinson  (1839 – 1903) – he appears to have stayed around the Newcastle area becoming a Publican.  He had been a Publican of the Union Inn at Honeysuckle Point Newcastle from about 1871  to 1873. It seems he acquired the Union Inn License after the 1869 death of previous Licensee  David Ross, father in law of Australian Prime Minister Edmund Barton. From there James became Publican at the Tarragon Hotel in Sydney (1873 – ), and Publican at Tattersall’s Hotel Hillgove by 1897. He had also taken up a selection at Tyringham., then died at Tyringham / Blakes River in the Grafton area in 1903 of natural causes according to the inquest. He was buried at Port Stephens.

George Robinson (1841 – 1868) – he seems to have become a labourer up in the Moree area. Tragically he died at Bundiwitherdi near Moree in the Warialda District in 1868 not too many years after leaving Newcastle – from injuries received when he came off a horse. This was only months after his wife Jane Waters was killed in a sulky accident on the Great Cattle Drive at Bangeet (Sheep) Station near Terry Hi Hi and Warialda on the Gwydir River. Their deaths left two young children,  George Jnr and Joseph, who were separated and raised by different branches of the family – by Blanche in-laws of George’s brother James at Anna Bay near Port Stephens and by his sister Mary (Waters) around Collarenebri, respectively.

Back to 2017 -2018 – 130 Years of the South Coast Railway and My Own Railway History Journey


About Kerrie Anne Christian

Interests - Travel, Photography, Developing Websites, Social Media, Writing, Local History, Researcher, Genealogy
This entry was posted in Hunter Valley, Railways and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s