Located 20 km from McGraths Hill and 85 km from the centre of Sydney, Wisemans Ferry is now little more than a small settlement, a few shops and, most importantly, a ferry across the Hawkesbury providing access to St Albans, the Hunter Valley and Gosford.
Wisemans Ferry is not so much a town as a fascinating relic on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. It is a bit of an obstacle course to reach the ferry. The traveller leaves Sydney, passes through the outer suburb of Dural, continues for a seemingly endless distance along a ridge until they drop down to the banks of the Hawkesbury River.
By 1794 settlers had moved into the area west of Wisemans Ferry and grain and other crops were being grown for the colony. These early farmers provided Sydney Town with almost half its food supply. The produce was delivered by boat down the Hawkesbury River - a situation which saw Wisemans Ferry rapidly develop as an important river port, out into the Pacific Ocean and around into Sydney Harbour. This was the beginning of a riverboat industry which continued throughout the nineteenth century.
It has been common to think that the early settlers who moved into this area were unchallenged by the local Aborigines. This was not true. In 1799 five settlers from the Hawkesbury River district - Simon Freebody, William Butler, Ed Powell, James Metcalfe and William Timms - were all brought to trial for the murder of two Aboriginal boys.
The trial was remarkably simple. In court Sarah Hodgkinson explained that about three weeks before the murders her husband had been killed by Aborigines. She told the court how her grief had turned to revenge and how she had asked the men to kill the boys. The five defendants were all found guilty. But instead of sentencing them, they were all set free and the case and the sentence were referred to His Majesty's Ministers in England.
Governor Hunter was not amused by the breach of protocol. He wrote to England protesting, 'Those men found guilty of murder are now at large and living upon these farms, as much at their ease as ever...' Three years later the men were pardoned. Such was the unfair treatment of the Aborigines in the Hawkesbury River area at this time.
The settlement was named after the convict Solomon Wiseman, a journeyman lighterman, who arrived in Sydney on 20 August 1806. In 1817 he was granted 200 acres on the banks of the Hawkesbury River where by 1821 he had established an inn called the 'Sign of the Packet'. In 1826 he built himself a handsome two-storey residence, Cobham Hall, which he later used as an hostelry calling it The Branch Inn.
During this time the main land route from Sydney to Newcastle was via Windsor, along to Wisemans Ferry and up the Putty Road to Singleton. In 1826 a new route via Castle Hill gained popularity and, as a result of this, Solomon Wiseman built a punt and was granted a seven year lease on the rights to transport goods and travellers across the Hawkesbury River. This is how this small village got its name.
Things to see
Wisemans Ferry Inn
Located on Old Northern Road this is the site (the building has been altered over time but much of the original still remains) where, in 1826 Solomon Wiseman built himself a handsome two-storey residence, Cobham Hall, which he later used as an hostelry calling it The Branch Inn.
The Great North Road
By 1825 Surveyor Heneage Finch had surveyed a route from Sydney to Newcastle through Castle Hill. It reached Wisemans Ferry by 1828 but difficulties occurred when it started across the river. Major Mitchell surveyed a new route west of the ferry crossing which was known as the Ten Mile Hollow. Work began in early 1829 and was completed six months later. Up to 520 convicts were employed to carve the road out of solid bedrock. In some places the steep stone retaining walls were up to 12 metres high and supported by massive buttresses. It is now part of the Great North Road and has been classified by the National Trust.
St Mary Magdalene's Church of England
Located on the road leading to Webbs Creek ferry this is not the original church which was built by Solomon Wiseman around 1840. In fact by the 1880s it had fallen into disrepair. A new church was built at that time using many of the original pieces of sandstone. It was constructed as a result of a public subscription. Some people insist that it is a Blacket church but this is unlikely.
Wisemans Ferry cemetery
Located 3 km along the Singleton Road this is one of the oldest cemeteries in the country. Certainly the presence of Peter Hibbs, who was born in 1757 and who travelled with to Australia with Captain Cook in 1770 and with Captain Phillip in 1788, makes it one of the country's most unusual and significant cemeteries.