History of Singleton
BENJAMIN SINGLETON'S SINGLETON
As the area we now know as Singleton prepares to mark 200 years since European exploration, two names are synonymous with prosperity and opportunity that have come to become hallmarks of our region.
There’s no evidence that John Howe named St Patricks Plains in honour of the primary patron saint of Ireland, but history has recorded it was indeed Howe and his party that opened the route between Windsor and the Hunter and sowed the seeds for European settlement.
The richness of the luxuriant plains of the middle reaches of the Hunter River have sustained Aboriginal societies for thousands of years, with evidence of artefacts at ancient camp sites along creeks.
So too the promise of rich land fit for cultivation, along with an overland route between Wallis Plains and Windsor, captured the imagination of Governor Macquarie and a number of exploration parties that set out to cut through the precipitous rocky mountains.
And so it was that Howe, after an attempt the previous year, set out from Windsor on 5 March 1820 at the helm of an unusually large party comprising George Loder junior, Daniel Philips, Jeremiah Butler, Samuel Marshall, Nicholas Connely, Frederick Rhodes, James House, Robert Bridle, Andrew Loder, Thomas Dargin junior, Philip Thorley, two Aboriginal trackers Myles and Mullaboy, and the man who would eventually give his name to the settlement, Benjamin Singleton.
While hard evidence does not exist, history has written that Howe and his party traversed Bulga and crossed to the lower part of Wollombi Brook to come upon the Hunter River at Whittingham on 15 March 1820, bestowing the name “St Patrick’s Plains” in honour of the forthcoming St Patrick’s Day two days’ hence.
What does survive is Howe’s report back to Governor Macquarie, written from Wallis Plains (modern day Maitland) some days later on 21 March 1820. Howe wrote that he “embraced the earliest opportunity to inform Your Excellency that I reached the river on Wednesday last, the 15th instant”, and, on the party’s way down the river, “we came thro as fine a country as imagination can form”.
Howe may lay claim to leading the successful expedition, but it was Benjamin Singleton, the son of a convict, who is credited as establishing the township. By 1824, Benjamin and his wife Mary were well established on his grant of 240 acres at a natural ford over the Hunter River. There they built an inn and a mill on the banks of the river described as “very steep, and certainly not as wide as they are now”, according to Allen Wood’s Dawn in the Valley.
Benjamin added to his own land grant by acquiring an adjoining 100 acres, and thereafter in the Sydney Gazette on 2 January 1836, an advertisement appeared for 103 quarter acre allotments offered for sale in what would be known as Singleton (A Private Town).
However, depression struck the colony in the 1840s and Benjamin became bankrupt in 1842. He died in Singleton on 3 May 1853 and was buried at Whittingham Cemetery. The Maitland Mercury described him as “a man of frugal and temperate habits whose only fault was that he was a greater friend to everyone than himself”.
To experience Benjamin Singleton’s Singleton, start in Pearce’s Park, beside the Dunolly Bridge, where the Barley Mow, or later the Plough Inn looked onto Campbell Street and about where the mill wheel cut into the river. Then head down John Street, which may or may not have been named for Benjamin’s son, the first European baby to be born in the area.
Turn left at Bourke Street and head to Burdekin Park, which Benjamin Singleton donated to the town for a market square and where he erected, at his own expense, a court house and jail which stood in front of the current Singleton Museum.