The Newcastle metropolitan area is the second most populated area in the Australian state of New South Wales and includes most of the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie local government areas. It is the hub of the Greater Newcastle area which includes most parts of the local government areas of City of Newcastle, City of Lake Macquarie, City of Cessnock, City of Maitland and Port Stephens Council.
NNE of Sydney, at the mouth of the Hunter River, it is the predominant city within the Hunter Region. Famous for its coal, Newcastle is the largest coal exporting harbour in the world, exporting over 97 Mt of coal in 2009–10 with plans to expand annual capacity to 180 Mt by 2013. Beyond the city, the Hunter Region possesses large coal deposits. Geologically, the area is located in the central-eastern part of the Sydney basin.
Founding and settlement by Europeans
In September 1797 Lieutenant John Shortland became the first European to explore the area. His discovery of the area was largely accidental; as he had been sent in search of a number of convicts who had seized HMS Cumberland as she was sailing from Sydney Cove.
While returning, Lt. Shortland entered what he later described as "a very fine river", which he named after New South Wales' Governor, John Hunter. He returned with reports of the deep-water port and the area's abundant coal. Over the next two years, coal mined from the area was the New South Wales colony's first export.
Newcastle gained a reputation as a "hellhole" as it was a place where the most dangerous convicts were sent to dig in the coal mines as harsh punishment for their crimes.
By the start of the 19th century the mouth of the Hunter River was being visited by diverse groups of men, including coal diggers, timber-cutters, and more escaped convicts. Philip Gidley King, the Governor of New South Wales from 1800, decided on a more positive approach to exploit the now obvious natural resources of the Hunter Valley.
In 1801, a convict camp called King's Town (named after Governor King) was established to mine coal and cut timber. In the same year, the first shipment of coal was dispatched to Sydney. This settlement closed less than a year later.
A settlement was again attempted in 1804, as a place of secondary punishment for unruly convicts. The settlement was named Coal River, also Kingstown and then renamed Newcastle, after England's famous coal port. The name first appeared by the commission issued by Governor King on 15 March 1804 to Lieutenant Charles Menzies of the marine detachment on HMS Calcutta, then at Port Jackson, appointing him superintendent of the new settlement.
The new settlement, comprising convicts and a military guard, arrived at the Hunter River on 27 March 1804 in three ships: , the Resource and the James. The convicts were rebels from the 1804 Castle Hill convict rebellion.
The link with Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, its namesake and also whence many of the 19th century coal miners came, is still obvious in some of the place-names – such as Jesmond, Hexham, Wickham, Wallsend and Gateshead. Morpeth, New South Wales is a similar distance north of Newcastle as Morpeth, Northumberland is north of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Under Captain James Wallis, commandant from 1815 to 1818, the convicts' conditions improved, and a building boom began. Captain Wallis laid out the streets of the town, built the first church of the site of the present Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, erected the old gaol on the seashore, and began work on the breakwater which now joins Nobbys Head to the mainland. The quality of these first buildings was poor, and only (a much reinforced) breakwater survives. During this period, in 1816, the oldest public school in Australia was built in East Newcastle.
Newcastle remained a penal settlement until 1822, when the settlement was opened up to farming. As a penal colony, the military rule was harsh, especially at Limeburners' Bay, on the inner side of Stockton peninsula. There, convicts were sent to burn oyster shells for making lime.
After removal of the last convicts in 1823, the town was freed from the infamous influence of the penal law. It began to acquire the aspect of a typical Australian pioneer settlement, and a steady flow of free settlers poured into the hinterland.
The formation during the nineteenth century of the Newcastle and Hunter River Steamship Company saw the establishment of regular steamship services from Morpeth and Newcastle with Sydney. The company had a fleet of freighters as well as several fast passenger vessels, including the PS Newcastle and the PS Namoi. The Namoi had first-class cabins with the latest facilities.
Because of the coal supply, small ships plied between Newcastle and Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide, carrying coal to gas works and bunkers for shipping, and railways. These were commonly known as "sixty-milers", referring to the nautical journey between Newcastle and Sydney. These ships continued in service until recent times.
World War II
During the Second World War, Newcastle was an important industrial centre for the Australian war effort. Consequently, it was considered to be a potential Japanese target during the Second World War.
In the early hours of 8 June 1942, the Japanese submarine I-21 briefly shelled Newcastle. Among the areas hit within the city were dockyards, the steel works, Parnell Place in the city's now affluent East End, the breakwall and Art Deco ocean baths. There were no casualties in the attack and damage was minimal.