City hails bicentenary of Macquarie Pier's first stone

05 Aug 2018

Newcastle City Council today marked 200 years since Macquarie Pier's construction began with a foundation stone laid by Governor Macquarie himself.

The engraved stone marked the beginning of the boldest harbour project of the convict era, and although past efforts to unearth it have failed, it's believed to lay deep beneath Foreshore Park's amphitheatre near Nobbys Surf Club.

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes led a short commemoration and led three cheers in reprise of the labourer convicts' gesture on 5 August 1818, when they did the same at 4pm after enjoying a bonus ration of rum.

A three-gun salute from Fort Scratchley capped off the ceremony.

"Macquarie Pier was built to connect Coal Island or Nobbys Head with the mainland to create a safer passage for ships entering the Hunter River," the Lord Mayor said.

"It's a great honour to reflect on that foresight and ambition and pay homage to those who laboured for decades to complete such a significant project for our City.

"The Macquarie Pier, or breakwater, assured stronger coal profits for the British Empire before eventually facilitating an annual export trade in excess of 150 million tonnes a year as a major economic contributor for not only Newcastle but the entire state and nation."

"The monumental construction project, which took a staggering 28 years to complete, shaped the landscape of the city's colonial history and heritage, transforming shoals into what we now know as the iconic Nobbys Beach."

Years later, heavy seas breached the breakwater before huge sandstone blocks hauled from a Waratah quarry reinforced it and the work was finally completed in 1872. In 1957 the harbour side of the breakwater was cement rendered except for a small stairway near Nobbys.

“Today, the City of Newcastle is proud mark this important moment in our history, exactly 200 years to the minute since the laying of the Macquarie Pier Foundation Stone at 4pm on August 5, 1818.”

Following is an extract from Governor Macquarie's diary entry during his visit to the "town of Newcastle" for Wednesday 5 August 1818:

"At 4. P.M. accompanied by Capt. Wallis, Revd. Mr. Cowper, Major Antill, Lt. Macquarie, Ensn. Roberts and Mr. Meehan, I went to the Shore of the Channel dividing Coal Island from the South-Head, for the purpose of laying the Foundation and first Stone of the Causway [sic] or Pier to be constructed across from the Main to the Island," reads the Governor's log of 5 August 1818.

"And the Stone being cut and ready, with an inscription, it was laid accordingly with all due Form in presence of the Artificers & Labourers to be employed in the construction of it; and Capt. Wallis having proposed that it should bear my name it was accordingly called after me "Macquarie Pier" – which the present year 1818 – was cut and inscribed on the Foundation Stone.

"After the Foundation Stone had been laid, the Artificers and Labourers were served with an allowance of Spirits to drink success to the Undertaking – which they did with 3 hearty cheers."

Images above:

1. Newcastle Councillors give three cheers for the 200th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone for Macquarie Pier, just as the convict labourers did at 4pm on 5 August 1818, after enjoying a bonus ration of rum. Left to right, Cr Matthew Byrne, Cr Emma White,
Cr Peta Winney-Baartz, Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, Cr Carol Duncan and Cr John Church.

2. Plaque in the pathway near Foreshore Park commemorating the laying of the foundation stone of Macquarie Pier by Governor Macquarie himself on 5 August 1818.