Few Australian towns can trace their European contacts back to 1801 as Raymond Terrace, on the Hunter River in New South Wales can. The convict settlement of Sydney for the first 22 years was governed by British naval officers, whose inclinations were to travel by sea rather than land. Along the rugged NSW east coast this was the best means of transport, which could also penetrate inland via suitable rivers. In 1797 Lieutenant Shortland found coal at the mouth of the river 60 miles north of Sydney. In 1801 Lt.Colonel Paterson took the survey vessel “Lady Nelson” to investigate and report on this coal outcrop and other natural resources.
Paterson travelled upstream largely by rowing boat, past miles of mangroves until rising land was visible close to the north, just before a junction of two rivers, one from the north, and one coming in from the west. They camped overnight on the riverbank. A memorial in Riverside Park Raymond Terrace commemorates that 1801 visit. In 1812, 1818 & 1821 Governor Macquarie took parties to the Hunter, and used the name ‘Raymond Terrace’ for a location on the river banks where they made camp for a night in 1818. They then proceeded up the Hunter and Paterson Rivers, visiting en-route some farms Macquarie had permitted settlers to occupy. On his return trip he explored up the Williams River for some distance.
Land grants east and west of these rivers were made available in the 1820s. One of these was to James King, who established a vineyard and one of the first potteries in NSW on his property “Irrawang”. With the advent of paddle wheel steamships able to reach upstream to Morpeth in the 1830s, Raymond Terrace became a growing port of call, so a village developed and was recognised in 1837, with warehouses and shops on the eastern bank of the river. Police were stationed here by the 1840s. The 1841 census showed the village contained 47 houses, with 364 people, including 105 convicts. A small Court House and Anglican Chapel were built. The Junction Inn was rebuilt in stone near the river. Now much enlarged and with the second oldest Liquor Licence in NSW, it has a wonderful river and floodplain outlook which attracts many patrons.
In the 1830s Richard Windeyer, a lawyer & free settler, started the fine ‘Tomago House’, now a National Trust property. His uncle Archibald built ‘Kinross’, closer to the township. Dr Cadell, the town’s first medico, erected a lovely stone cottage facing the river in 1842. The Lt.Governor Kenneth Snograss settled on his Williams River property at Eagleton, where the McPherson family also developed a large shipbuilding operation from 1850 to the 1880s.
Good sandstone was quarried close to the town, and was used in the 1860s for Anglican & Catholic churches, some houses and stores. A tannery and a steam saw mill were built, and most houses and businesses used the plentiful timber resources, including locally milled red cedar. Boat & shipbuilding, farming and dairying became important industries. The business centre developed in King Street, adjacent to the river, where many of the old two storey timber shops & residences still stand. A butter factory was established in 1902, which prospered, and later led to the large OAK factory being established at Hexham. Boats continued to collect the milk cans from the small riverside farm wharves, until the Williams & Hunter rivers were bridged in 1964, then road tankers took over and a picturesque part of the dairy river activity and historic links with the town disappeared.
The Masonite Factory opened in 1939 and employed 150 people. Courtaulds Factory began making yarns for motor tyres here in the 1950s, built 150 houses and brought out British families to live at “Pommy Hill” and help staff the factory. The French owned Tomago Aluminium Smelter started up in 1983. the RAAF Base (1942) and more recently the Newcastle Airport at Williamtown have contributed greatly to the town’s development.
Raymond Terrace is now the Administrative Centre for the popular, extensive, and varied tourist region of Port Stephens. Over 15,000 people enjoy excellent educational, shopping, sporting, recreational and residential facilities here. The town is conveniently located, at north-south and east-west crossroads, only 20 minutes to Maitland, 30 minutes to Newcastle, 40 minutes to Nelson Bay, 50 minutes to the famous Pokolbin Vineyards, and two hours by road to Sydney.