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Lycett & Wallis – The Convict & The Commandant

Lycett & Wallis – The Convict & The Commandant

“I think the importance of artwork like Lycett’s in regards to a city like Newcastle is that you don’t have to go to Arnhem Land or the Kimberley to be in touch with Indigenous culture and important cultural sites. There are so many of these really significant sites right within this city.”

Professor John Maynard

At the beginning of the 19th Century in one of the World’s most vicious settlements, two fractured European men started an art revolution that resulted in the preservation of vast amounts of Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge. Before the existence of cameras, convict Joseph Lycett captured traditional Aboriginal life in Newcastle as it had existed for millennia, at the nexus point before most of their lifestyle would be lost forever.

Every Australian should know this story.

Produced by Stories Of Our Town, this brilliant short film clearly and coherently illustrates the cultural life of the Awabakal people living in the Newcastle region at the time of European settlement in the early 19th century.

The relationship between these two men over 200 years ago – Captain James Wallis and convict forger Joseph Lycett – has left us with a rich and important source of what life was really like for Aboriginal people at that time. We can clearly see in Joseph Lycett’s paintings the daily life of the Awabakal people – hunting, fishing, relaxing, a corroboree and even a burial ceremony.

Born in Staffordshire, England, Lycett became a botanical artist but was convicted of forgery and transported to Australia in 1815. When Sydney was suddenly flooded by expertly forged five-shilling notes. These notes were traced to Lycett and his possession of a small copper-plate press saw him again convicted of forgery and transported to Newcastle.

Captain James Wallis saw the opportunity to put Lycett’s considerable artistic skills to work in producing the plans for Newcastle’s original Christ Church constructed in 1818, and the production of drawings and paintings that appealed to Governor Lachlan Macquarie – who ultimately pardoned Lycett (although his life didn’t have a happy ending).

Watch: Lycett and Wallis – Unlikely Preservers of Aboriginal History.

The Wallis Album

The Wallis Album

In 2012, a previously unknown album of drawings from 1818, including landscapes and portraits of Aboriginal people from the Newcastle region, returned to Newcastle for a brief exhibition by the State Library of NSW. The ‘Wallis Album’ was compiled by Captain James Wallis, the Commandant of Newcastle from 1816 to 1818, in collaboration with one of the best know early colonial artists, the convicted forger Joseph Lycett.

View of Awabakal Aboriginal people c1818.

‘The Wallis Album really is, without a doubt, the most significant pictorial artefact to have been made in colonial NSW during the 1810s and is also the only known collection that relates so directly to Wallis’s time in NSW.’

Richard Neville – Mitchell Librarian, NSW State Library

What did Newcastle look like 194 years ago?

When Captain James Wallis was Commandant of Newcastle in the early 19th century, Nobbys/Whibayganba was still an island, farms and vegetable gardens existed where there are now high-rise buildings, there were dirt tracks instead of paved streets, and the first inhabitants the Awabakal proudly maintained their lands.

The album of these important and significant images of the early days of Newcastle’s history was discovered in the back of a cupboard in Canada in 2011 and was purchased by the NSW State Library for $1.8 million.

Originally transported for forgery, Joseph Lycett was sent to Newcastle in 1815 after re-offending in Sydney. Together, Wallis and Lycett were two principal documenters and promoters of the colony during the late Macquarie years. 

In New South Wales in 1819, Wallis published a set of engraved views showcasing New South Wales to the world. This book of illustrations was republished in London by Ackermann in 1821. A major achievement, the views were about the success of British enterprise in NSW, and not unnaturally focused on the achievements of Wallis. In both publications, Wallis firmly asserted his authorship via a legend beneath the images: ‘from an Original Drawing by Capt Wallis‘. Until the discovery of this album, the original drawings on which the engravings are based were thought to have been lost. Consquently, the artist of the drawings has always been contentious, as Lycett has a similar artistic style. 

Included in the Library’s Wallis album, however, are original drawings for five of these published views each bearing the inscription: ‘Drawn by a Convict‘. This clearly establishes Lycett, rather than Wallis, as the artist of the original drawings.

Wallis and Lycett’s association extended to other artistic enterprises, notably the Macquarie collector’s chests, two of the most beautiful pieces of early 19th century Australiana. Both are held in the collections of the State Library of New South Wales.

Carol Duncan interviews Dr Alex Byrne, the NSW State Librarian and Chief Executive, about the significance of this acquisition.

Carol Duncan interviews Aunty Nola Hawken, descendant of ‘Queen’ Margaret and Ned of Swansea; and the then-Director of the Newcastle Art Gallery, Ron Ramsey.

“When you see photos, and you know your own family, you think, “Do they look like our family?”

Aunty Nola Hawken

Learn more about the Wallis Album at the State Library of NSW.

Palo Alto – Hamilton

Palo Alto – Hamilton


Hamilton’s Palo Alto is a piece of Art Deco bliss built for Mr William Herbert of Silsoe Street, Hamilton, in 1935. On the market for the first time since 1961, the building is a pure Art Deco time capsule.

This 1935 description of the Herbert’s new home paints quite a picture of luxury and the use of advanced finishes often used in theatres. Unsurprising given William Herbert’s many years of operating theatres in Australia. Having emigrated from the US, Herbert’s first theatres travelled Australia showing silent movies until he settled in Newcastle in 1907.

William Herbert died in Newcastle in 1947 at the age of 80. 

Article | Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Saturday 9 March 1935.


Many Unique Features


The new residence just completed at a cost of £2800 for Mr. W. Herbert, an interior illustration of which appears on this page, is situated on a corner position in the Garden Suburb, with a frontage of 130ft. to Kemp-street and 90ft. to Silsoe-street, Hamilton. During the erection period this building attracted numerous visitors, whose interest was centred on some of its novel features, showing that it has been the designer’s desire to originate rather than imitate.

An interior view of the lounge room at the newly-erected residence of Mr. W. Herbert, at Hamilton. The doors open on to the vestibule. The fixture shown on the wall is the modern, type of electric light fitting used In the home. Image: Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate, 9 March 1935.


The exterior of the building presents a restful yet commanding appearance, with spacious entrance loggia and front verandah enclosed by massive stone piers and stone balustrading. These form a pleasing contrast to the chocolate coloured bricks as a background, and the dark tiled roof, with large overhanging eaves and nicely proportioned roof lines. A special feature is the introduction of Gosford white stone, which was brought from the quarries in large slabs and worked up into building blocks on the site. The entrance loggia, 14ft. by 11ft., and the front verandah, 19ft. by lift., are built entirely in rustic stonework, set with inverted black joints. The foundation around the building and the bay window bases are also built of stone. The stone fence built out to both frontages is a striking example of stonework treatment, and, with the distinctive iron gates, enhances the quality of the home.

The layout of the house is unique with straightforward and convenient access to any room, yet lending itself to good separation of the different functions of the house. Sleeping quarters are completely isolated from the living portion a pair of glass swing doors, hung midway down the hall.


On entering the vestibule from the tiled loggia, one is struck by the soft textured walls, which are decorated on acoustic boarding in an ashbar pattern suggestive of a stonework interior. The 5ft. wide hall is of similar treatment to the vestibule, with built-in cloak cupboards on either side, equipped with hat racks, and enclosed with maple sliding doors. From the vestibule a pair of sliding glass doors of a distinctive futuristic design open into the lounge room. This room is 18ft. by 16ft., with a large bay window, stucco dome ceiling, white stone fireplace, and built-in bookcase; the soft textured walls are set in panels, of a tiled pattern celotex framed in maple mouldings.

The dining room, 19ft. by 15ft., is connected to the lounge room by a pair of large sliding glass doors, which, when open, together with the double verandah doors, will form a large area for entertainment purposes. This room, finished in an ivory tint, forms a pleasing background to the Tudor arch fireplace, with stepped mantel shelves diminishing to built-in maple china cabinets on each side.

The four large bedrooms and the bathroom are grouped in the western portion of the house, each being equipped with spacious built-in wardrobes fitted with bevelled plate glass mirrors. In the lobby central to this group of rooms a large double built-in linen press is erected, with suitcase cupboards overhead, and with medicine and electric cleaner cabinets. The decorating scheme of this portion of the house shows artistic forethought and originality, being a departure from any standard practice. The walls, which are stepped, in keeping with the modern desire for horizontal lines, are brought down in soft delicate tints of greens, blues, and creams, with gold lines cut in on the steppings, the colour, of course, being varied in each room in accordance with its location. The doors, windows, architraves, and skirtings are flat finished in delicate two-tone greens or blues, with the mouldings brought out in gold.

The bathroom, situated centrally in the bedroom group, is modern and spacious in design. Special attention has been paid to the window scheme in order to provide correct lighting and ventilation. A double light bay window has been introduced, throwing natural light on each side of the person in front of the built-in shaving cabinet mirror. The built-in Roman type bath is set back in a tiled alcove on a raised black tiled platform, the ceiling of which encloses the shower in a chrome-plated panel. Hot water is supplied to bath shower, bath and basin, from an automatic electric beater installed above the ceiling. The walls are oyster coloured mottled tile, treated with black and orange tiles, and finished above in ivory tints to the domed ceiling. The floor is finished in terrazo, with margins and centre set out on brass inlay.


The sunroom, with its large window seat, is situated on the north-eastern corner of the house, and the walls are finished in celotex. The kitchen, 13ft. by 11ft., situated at a central point of the house, is planned on modern and practical lines. The Monel metal sink, with double drainers, is situated centrally in front of the broad triple box frame window.

‘There is a liberal supply of built-in cabinets and drawers. The cabinets are finished in pale green enamel, with black facings, to the same tone as the wall tiles. There is a modern electric stove, double electric refrigerator; automatic electric sink heater, and electric iron cabinet. The laundry, situated near the rear porch, is equipped with porcelain enamel pedestal type washtubs, and electric copper.

The lighting scheme throughout is modern, planned for correct and harmonious lighting to each individual room. A number of the fittings were specially made for this installation. A number of the rooms are equipped with flush type built-in ceiling boxes of novel design, with the addition of modern wall brackets, and a pair of special two-tone built-in flush type arch clarks illuminate the vestibule and hall, in addition to a pair of distinctive wall brackets. 

A number of flush fittings are concealed in the overhung eaves operated by two-way switches for illuminating the exterior of the building, in addition to the lantern type verandah lamps.

A large brick, tiled roof double garage, with double six-leaf sliding doors, and roofed pagoda front, erected on massive stone piers, is a fitting adjunct to the main building, with concrete drive approach, trellises, and lawns.

The principal contractor for the building was Mr L. W. Sowerby.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Saturday 9 March 1935.

2021 photos | Walkom Real Estate


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Newcastle East Public School

Newcastle East Public School

Photo: Carol Duncan

Newcastle East Public School is the oldest continually operating school in Austalia having started in 1816. The school’s first master was a convict on a conditional pardon, Henry Wrensford, and was originally located in a slab hut at the bottom of the hill where Bolton Street is now.

Nearly 200 years later, John Beach is the current principal of the school, “The location is superb, the community is very supportive and the composition of our school population is very diverse.”

John has a couple of very big responsibilities with the school, first and foremost is the education and wellbeing of the students at the school, but also in the heritage and history of the school and its beautiful 1878 building.

“The heritage is a very big part of what we do at our school, it is certainly something we teach our students so they know the history of the school, they know the details of the first head master at the school, they could tell you what a classroom was like 200 years ago and it’s a really big part of the social legacy that we pass on to our children to know about the development of public education in Australia.”

What would the early days of the school have been like?

“The classes were much bigger in those days and resources were limited. Typical lessons consisted of pages from the King James bible being written out onto the blackboard and the students copying those slavishly onto slates, which would take most of the day, then at the end of the day the head master would have a look at them and give them a tick or a cross or whatever and then they’d rub it all out and do another page the next day. So they were very literate in the bible but a bit light on in mathematics and history. But yes, our kids have a very accurate idea of what school was like in those days and the disciplinary techniques that were used.”

School and community awareness of the importance of the school and its building plays a big part in preserving the building for the future. As John Beach says, a lot of the school maintenance is the school’s direct responsibility.

Photograph of Newcastle from the Obelisk site including Newcastle East Public School and the Leading Light (or Beacon) Tower. Photo: University of Newcastle Cultural Collections: Bert Lovett Collection

“For a heritage building with this sort of local significance, it’s important that we maintain the building to the highest standard we can but it can be a struggle at times. It’s often difficult to get different tradespeople to do jobs around the school and it can be quite expensive. The funding for schools is done on a purely per-capita basis so a new school with 300 students gets the same funding as a very old school with the same number of students. It’s quite a challenging and time-consuming part of my job to maintain the school and keep it in as close-to-pristine state as we can.”

Lithograph of Newcastle in 1889 by A. Scott Broad. Image: Newcastle City Library: A. Scott Broad

John Carr is a heritage architect, formerly with the NSW Government Architect, and was instrumental in adaptively reusing the school complex in the 1980s.

“The interesting part of the job was taking something that had been neglected and butchered over the years and bringing back into its original livery. When we came here it was just an empty building used for artists and rehearsing plays and things like that. So we drew up plans to turn it back into a school and then the documentation began.”

“We had to do a lot of research on things like paintwork. The paintwork was in such poor condition that the building really had to be stripped properly. At that time sandblasting was the common way of removing paint but it would destroy the masonry underneath so then we looked at using new, experimental alkaline paint stripping methods,” said John.

“It was an adventure in discovery. One of those was the reconstruction of verandahs because we only had one small porch left on the building that had any detail at all and it didn’t have any of the detail of the column capitals. We did manage to find, through the Newcastle High School Old Boys and Old Girls Club, some very early photographs of classes that happened to be taken right beside the verandahs of the building.”

John Carr says there are a few changes that have been made from that original building to the building we see today.

“The windows were originally very narrow and some of them did survive, but when the school was changed to the junior boys’ high school a lot of them were smashed out and replaced with rather large and rather ugly glass windows placed back in which in some cases let a bit too much light in. Good for a school lab but not for a classroom. So we reconstructed the windows with bricks we obtained from the St Clair homestead up the Hunter Valley which was being demolished at the time for the construction of a new dam. Those bricks matched our building perfectly.”

“The roof was originally slate but that was replaced with an old asbestos cement roof. We took that off and replaced it with pre-coloured fibrous cement shingles which give the representation of slate but don’t come with the high cost of slate.”

“The whole site was covered in tar so we stripped that off and landscaped the site.”

“We did find one of the original roof ventilators was left up in the roof space during one of the alterations to the roof so we were able to use that as a template to redo all the ventilators to match it.”

John says they were fortunate to have the original blueprints of the 1878 building, “It gave us confirmation that what we were doing was the right thing. In some instances, we couldn’t reconstruct what was there because it was totally gone so what we did was replace the missing areas, for example, the castellated entry, with a verandah that matched the one that originally went around the building.”

“We found a couple of windowsills that had been demolished and just thrown under the building so sometimes finding builder’s debris that they’ve just left behind was a bit of an advantage.”

A Russian Visit

A Russian Visit

Newcastle may once have been concerned that the Russians were coming … but this news article from 1888 details the visit of HIRMS Rynda – a Russian warship that came in to the port of Newcastle to take on coal.

This article from The Newcastle Morning Herald & Miner’s Advocate (Extract – 1888).

HIRMS Rynda (Russia) visiting Newcastle in 1888

More than usual excitement was manifested in Newcastle yesterday afternoon, about 4.30 o’clock, when the signal of a man-of-war was run up at Fortification Hill, and people wondered what armed vessel the stranger could possibly be, as she hailed from the northward, and many were of opinion that she was an addition to the Australian squadron.

The German ensign was hoisted at the Signal hill, the officials evidently being under the impression that this was her nationality, but as she entered the port, about half-past five, it was seen that the stranger was a Russian man-of-war, and her name turned out to be the Rynda. The stranger signalled for a pilot, and Pilot Melville proceeded off to her, and piloted her safely to No. 5 horseshoe buoy, where she was moored.

HIRM Ship Rynda is a steam corvette, carrying twenty-three guns, ten large forty-pounders and thirteen of small calibre, and has come on here for the purpose of replenishing her bunkers, which are rather empty, although a quantity of coal was taken in at Port Moresby (New Guinea), where the vessel called. The Rynda is the first Russian warship that has ever visited Newcastle.

The Rynda is certainly not a very formidable looking vessel externally; in fact she has more the appearance of a pleasure yacht; still, for all that, she is said to be a first-class weapon of war, and one that would prove a formidable rival in the event of her services being called into requisition, as the best of material has been used in her construction, whilst she has been built on the most improved principles, as far as purposes of defence are concerned.

Dr Morgan, health-officer, proceeded onboard, and after inspecting the stranger, granted her pratique, as there was no sickness onboard. Captain H. Newton, Harbourmaster, visited the Rynda in his Government steam launch, and waited upon Captain Avellan, proffering him his services and officially welcoming him to the port. The ship Lancaster Castle, which is lying in the Horseshoe, saluted the stranger by dipping her flag, and the compliment was immediately responded to.

The Rynda is almost a brand-new vessel, only having seen two years service. She was built in St. Petersburg, in 1885, and has a net register of 1,800 tons and a gross measurement of 3,000 tons. Her dimensions are: Length 365 ft; beam 42 ft; and depth 18½ feet. The engines are of the most modern construction, of 3,000 horsepower, and are capable of maintaining a speed of 16 knots per hour on a moderate consumption of coal.

The Rynda is barque rigged, and is said to be able to sail 14 knots per hour under canvas. Her guns are of Obonhoff cast-steel. The Rynda has an elliptical stem and straight stern.

Her full complement of officers and men numbers 350, the former as follows:- Commander Berkmann, Lieutenants A. Ebeling, C. Niloff, Count N. Tolstoy, J. Lang, Prince M. Pontiatine; Sub- Lieutenants G, Falk, Count M. Apraxine, P. Tirtoff, V. Thatelaine, J. Kolnstrom, Prince S. Shihmatoff, A. Astasheff; navigating Lieutenants B. Jakubovsking, V. Grogorieff; chief engineer, J. Boleslavskin; lieutenant, A. Fedoraff, L. Strathonovich, J. Ossossoff; physician, P Bourtzoff; and clergyman, P. Agathangel.

The arrival of the Rynda can certainly be considered otherwise than an important event, from the fact of there being onboard the cousin of the Czar of Russia, the Grand Duke Alexander Michaelovich, son of Princess Olga, who holds the position of Lieutenant. His Imperial Highness is a wellbuilt young fellow, twenty-two years of age, exceedingly good-looking and of dark complexion. He stands about five feet ten inches in height. The Grand Duke speaks English sufficiently well to converse in that language, and is of a most unassuming and quiet demeanour.

There are also, as mentioned previously, several Russian Princes and Counts, acting in the capacity of officers. The Rynda is fitted up in splendid style, and her saloon is an elaborate apartment, under the poop. The officers and crew are comfortably quartered in various portions of the vessel, and the most rigid discipline is observed.

There is a brass band, consisting of twenty performers, and shortly after the vessel moored they struck up several favourite Russian selections, which were listened to with rapt attention by hundreds of persons on shore, great precision being observable. Simultaneously with the band striking up, a band onboard a small steamer, which had been up the river on an excursion, passed under the stern of the Rynda playing the ‘National Anthem’, which was succeeded by ‘Rule Britannia’, and ‘Auld Lang Syne’, and those onboard the warship listened to the music with great interest.

The Rynda is from Vladivostock, via Yokohama, Japan, Hongkong, Manila, the Dutch Island of Amboine, and New Guinea. She left Vladivostok three months and a half since, and is on a pleasure visit more than anything else. At Port Moresby, she remained four days, and the officers and crew had a chance of going on shore, where they inspected the place with a great amount of interest, and saw large numbers of New Guinea natives, who were very quiet and did not seem to think much of Rynda’s arrival there, probably because so many men-of-war have visited New Guinea.

The Rynda left Port Moresby eleven days ago, and had a fine weather passage throughout; in fact, nearly the whole voyage since leaving Vladivostock has been characterised by fine weather, the vessel making use of both steam and sail. The Commissioner of New Guinea, Mr. Rowley, treated those onboard the Rynda with the utmost courtesy.

The Rynda will take in about 300 tons of coal here, which will be shipped onboard from lighters, and she will probably remain here until Monday or Tuesday next, when she will leave for Sydney, where she is to remain some time, proceeding thence to Melbourne, and then back to Vladivostock, probably via New Zealand.

His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke will most likely be the guest of Lord Carrington during the Rynda’s stay in Sydney waters. He is now on his first voyage in the Rynda, but has seen service in several other Russian men-of-war. Every morning it is the custom of the band to play the Russian National Anthem, whilst at evening during prayers, the band discourses the March of the Emperor Nicholas I.

The Rynda is provided with two steam launches and ten ordinary boats. She is fitted up throughout with the electric light, and there are 150 burners for this purpose, whilst oil is also used.

In consequence of the uncertain state of the diplomatic relations existing between the various European Powers at the present time, and the many statements that war is imminent, many timid people ran away with the idea that the Rynda had come here with some wicked design to blow us all up, but their fears were soon allayed in this respect.

Large numbers of craft put off yesterday evening to take stock of the stranger. The Rynda is not on a very heavy draught, only drawing 18½ ft aft, and 15 ft forward, so that she was able to cross the bar in perfect safety.

The Newcastle Morning Herald & Miner’s Advocate (Extract – 1888)