Nestled along the willow-tree lined banks of the Paterson River, the picturesque hamlet of Paterson was once one of the Hunter Valley's busiest river ports. During the early nineteenth century rich cargoes of cedar and agricultural produce were transported downstream by barge from Paterson to larger population centres such as Newcastle, and further afield to Sydney and beyond. Over the ensuing years and well into the twentieth century, it became a bustling service centre for settlers from the surrounding valleys, and substantial homes, churches and businesses were established – many which are still standing today.
The beautiful Paterson Court House Museum
These days, although Paterson is just twenty-six kilometres from the bustling regional centre of Maitland and fifty-five kilometres from Newcastle, it feels like it's a world away – a sleepy nineteenth century village that time has forgotten. The historic buildings that are still standing provide visitors with an intriguing insight into the town's early colonial days. Those who want to delve a little deeper will possibly also enjoy spending a few hours exploring the Paterson Courthouse Museum, situated on a small hill overlooking the village and river.
The view from the museum over the Paterson River is beautiful
Built in 1857, with further modifications made between 1861 and 1863, the building that now houses the museum once served as the local courthouse, and replaced an earlier wooden structure that had served the same purpose. Designed by the colonial architect Alexander Dawson, and built in an Italianate style, it's comprised of a courtroom, magistrate's room, constable's room and two cells, with barracks for mounted police officers located upstairs. Although the old court house closed in 1967, in 1974 it reopened as a museum, preserving and exhibiting objects of historic significance to Paterson village and its surrounding area.
The museum is beautifully presented, with a variety of exhibitions covering various themes and historic periods. Although it doesn't appear to be particularly large from the outside, I was surprised at its size once I entered, and by how many displays it contained. The original courtroom is still intact, complete with its original cedar courtroom fittings and furniture. There are also several displays detailing some of the more notorious cases that were heard in the courthouse. These include the trials of Mary Anne Ward (the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt's partner), the Tocal headless murder and the Chick Baby murder.
Other notable displays are an impressive collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artefacts, an exhibition relating to the famous boxer Les Darcy (who grew up in nearby Maitland) and information about the poet Dorothea MacKellar (author of the iconic poem, 'My Country'), who also lived nearby during her youth. Several of the rooms located at the rear of the building have also been decorated with period furniture, fittings and miscellaneous memorabilia.
Situated less than an hour's drive from Newcastle in one of the Hunter Valley's most picturesque locales, Paterson has long been a popular destination for day-trippers, and for those who have an interest in local history, a visit to the Paterson Court House Museum is a must. The Paterson Historic Society is now based in the building, and knowledgeable local volunteers are more than happy to answer any enquiries that you may have. There is also a comprehensive selection of reading materials available (as well as some lovely souvenirs) for purchase, should you like to learn more.
Paterson Courthouse Museum is located at 29 King Street in Paterson. It's open most Sundays, from 11am until 3pm, although it's sometimes closed around the Christmas and New Year period. To find out more, visit the Paterson
Historical Society website
or email firstname.lastname@example.org.