Clarence Town

Clarence Town (and Seaham)
Small and pleasant town on the northern edge of the Hunter Valley District
Clarence Town is a small, pleasant, sprawling and tranquil township picturesquely situated by the banks of the Williams River, 204 km north of Sydney and 50 km north of Newcastle. When the river system was the main mode of transport within Australia, Clarence Town, being located at the Williams River's head of navigation, was a busy and important river port. Until the railway arrived it was effectively the gateway to northern New South Wales - a river trip from Newcastle taking about five hours.

The area around Clarence Town was once inhabited by the Gringgai clan of the Wanaruah people. The first Europeans to investigate the area were Lieutenant - Colonel Paterson (then Lieutenant Governor of NSW) and explorer Francis Barrellier who was in the area to conduct a survey of the harbour in Newcastle. They explored the Hunter River and its tributaries following what they took to be the Hunter to its navigable limit. Governor King named the river in (William) Paterson's honour. A cedargetters camp was later established here and a village was in existence by 1826.

Clarence Town was initially known as Erringhi. Presumably the Aboriginal name for the site, it is thought to mean 'place of wild ducks'. The settlement was situated at what is now the southern end of town by the Williams River where there was a wharf and where William Lowe and James Marshall established the Deptford Shipyards in 1830. Clarence Town's main claim to fame was that this was the spot where, in 1831, Australia's first ocean-going paddle steamer (called the William IV) was built and launched.

Marshall and Lowe produced many vessels over the years, mostly under 50 tons, reaching a commercial peak in the 1870s and closing in the 1890s. Some of the steamers used on the Sydney to Morpeth run were also built here.

The village was renamed in 1832 after the Duke of Clarence (who became King William IV in 1830). A prosperous town by mid-century it was much bigger than Dungog. Timber was loaded here for international destinations. By the 1880s dairying, grazing and fodder production had become the town's economic mainstays and they remain so to this day.

Following on from the general economic depression of the 1890s floods hit for four consecutive years and a fire destroyed much of the town. When the railway arrived in 1911 Clarence Town was bypassed and its importance as a centre of exchange vanished.

Things to see:

Shipbuilding Plaque
At the southern end of town a gravel road (signposted 'Boat Ramp') runs off Queen St to a small park with picnic facilities overlooking a green, tree-lined and beautiful section of the wide, deep and placid river. There is a plaque at the picnic spot which commemorates 'the 150th anniversary of the launching of the paddle-wheel steamer William IV from the Deptford Shipyards, Clarence Town, 500 metres downstream on the west bank of the Williams River on 14th November 1831.

William IV was the first ocean-going steamer built in Australia. She left Clarence Town under sail and her engines were fitted in Sydney. Built by William Lowe and James Marshall for Sydney merchant J.H. Grose, her length was 80 ft (24.4 m) and beam 15 ft (4.6 m). The plaque was unveiled by Mrs Jessie Wetzler, a great grand-daughter of William Lowe. A replica of the vessel plies Newcastle harbour on the third Sunday of each month.

Post Office
The town's substantial two-storey post office (c.1880) has a porch with cast-iron trim around the pillars and arched windows on the upper storey emphasised by semi-circular cement mouldings and distinct ledges.

Erringhi Hotel
Just beyond it, on the other side of the road, is the very attractive Erringhi Hotel (1913) which was erected on the site of the George and Dragon Inn from 1842. This two-storey symmetrical building has elaborate cast-iron lacework on the upstairs balcony fencing and the eaves of the posts, and carved timber bargeboards around the gables.

Hua Tsa
At the end of the road turn left into King St. At no. 132, to the right, unmistakably, is Hua-Tsa (1856), a beautiful building originally known as The Mill House and built on a land grant made out to Charles Windeyer in 1833. It is a long, single-storey house constructed of hand-made bricks with a very high hipped roof, encircling verandah, cedar joinery, and six-panelled doors with semi-circular fanlights, and shuttered, multi-paned sash windows.

Just a couple of doors along, and set back from the road, is Roseneath (1889) with a lovely verandah, shuttered windows and fine gardens.

At no. 40 Russell St is Hollydene (1888), another fine building with cast-iron lacework and an impressive garden.

Courthouse and Police Station
Designed by James Barnet the Courthouse was built in 1868-69 and is now a local history museum, open weekends and public holidays from 10.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m., contact (02) 4996 4267. It is a small timber building and, though modestly conceived, is unlike most contemporary courthouses. The roof is very steeply pitched with consequently distinct gables. The verandah roof is hipped and supported by timber columns. Next door is a pink police station with brown quoins also dating back to the 19th century and still used for its original purpose.

The Bridge Reserve
At the northern end of Grey St turn right into Duke St and follow the road as it winds to the left, past the lovely reserve on the riverbank and over the Brig O Johnson Bridge. There are picnic facilities, toilets, a childrens' play area, a boat ramp, a camping area and a caravan park where you will find Just Canoes which has kayaks and canoes for hire, tel: (02) 4996 4200.

The Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary
6 km out of town in Glen William, is The Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary, founded in 1990 to care for abandoned and mistreated donkeys. The Sanctuary is opened by appointment only. Contact information is; The Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary, C/O Jo-Anne Kokas, c/o Post Office, Clarence Town NSW 2321, Tel: (02) 4996 5596, Facsimile: (02) 4996 5545.Website:

Scenic Drive via Glen Martin
Just beyond the donkey sanctuary Glen Martin Rd heads off to the left. This is an alternative scenic drive to Dungog. The locality of Glen William is about 6 km along this road. After an additional 3.5 km (watch for the massive hill adjacent the road and the deer farm on the right) turn right into Pine Brush Rd then, after another 6.4 km, turn right again into Alison Rd which will take you the 8 or 9 km to Dungog.

The road to Wallarobba runs to the left (west) off Clarence Town Rd. It leads through a verdant and scenic valley to Wallarobba. When you come to the Paterson-Dungog Rd turn left. 500 m will bring you to Camelot Lavender Farm. It has lavender products and cottage garden plants for sale as well as craft items and Devonshire teas. There is also an animal friendship farm including llamas. They are open from 10 00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday or other times for groups, contact (02) 4995 6166.

Turn around heading north-east along the road to Dungog, over the railway crossing and Wallarobba Creek Bridge. The railway line to the right and the spectacle of the hills in the distance accompany you until you rejoin Clarence Town Rd. A right turn will take you back to Clarence Town and a left to Dungog.

Head west along Queen St and this road will become Seaham Rd which will take you the 13 km to Seaham. The pink-coloured church which is visible on a hill to the right just as you leave Clarence Town is St Patrick's. The drive to Seaham is very green and pleasant. On your left as you enter Seaham is Seaham Weir which is a large and beautiful body which is a popular fishing spot well-stocked with bass and mullet from November to February.

Turn left at the Raymond Terrace sign along East Seaham Rd then right at the Warren St intersection. To the left is the small but attractive St Andrew's Anglican Church (1860), a quaint little building made of rubble stone. It stands adjacent Seaham Swamp Nature Reserve.You will usually see the impressive spectacle of many dozens of herons perched in the tea-trees.

Other Activities
Erringhi Gallery and Studio at 74 Durham St, Clarence Town, is open from 10 to 5 weekends and public holidays, contact (02) 4996 4000. Clarence Town Country Treks can be contacted on (02) 4996 4480. Hunter Valley Day Tours offer a range of guided 4WD tours of the Hunter Valley complete with commentary. They pick up clients from anywhere. Bookings are necessary, contact (02) 4938 5031. Hunter Action Tours offer outdoor camping and walking tours, contact (02) 4976 1416 or (019) 459 473. Horizon Safaris conduct 4WD tours from Newcastle north through Stockton Beach up to Port Stephens or through the vineyards of Port Stephens and the Lower Hunter, as well as a tour through the heritage of Morpeth, contact (018) 681 600. Australian Scenic Tours can be contacted on (02) 4929 4333. The Wine and Cheese Tasting Tour will pick you up from any location as far north as Singleton, contact (02) 4938 5031 while Hunter Vineyard Tours can be contacted on (02) 4991 1659. Walking tours of the Hunter are conducted by Federation Track Walkers, contact (02) 9484 9701.

Cedar Grange Bed & Breakfast
8 Riverview Close
Clarence Town NSW 2321
Telephone: (02) 4996 4141

Erringhi Hotel
21 Grey St
Clarence Town NSW 2321
Telephone: (02) 4996 4101
Rating: *