The earliest official exploration of the Williams River we know of is that by the Lady Nelson sent by Governor King in 1801. The results of this was the exploration of the Hunter and Williams Rivers with another exploration the same year adding the Paterson.
This seemingly straight forward addition to knowledge of the districts near Newcastle is made less straight forward by a confusion of names. The accounts given by the various members of the Lady Nelson refer to the Cedar Arm, the Hunter, Paterson’s and the ‘new river’. A map draw up by one member also includes the Hunter and Paterson Rivers. However close reading of the accounts show that ‘Cedar Arm’ referred to what we now call the Hunter (as well as demonstrating that others had preceded the Lady Nelson). As well, ‘Hunter River’ actually referred to the Williams and ‘Paterson’s River’ to the Hunter, with the ‘new river’ referring to the Paterson.
At some point after 1802 the longer river took on the name Hunter River and the second branch or the ‘new river’ became the Paterson, while the first branch became the River William. When this name swopping occurred is unclear but the naming we know today seems set by the late 1820s.
Accounts of various participants:
“In exploration, both by sea and land, King was not idle. In March, 1801, he despatched Lieutenant James Grant, in H.M.S. Lady Nelson, to complete the exploration of Bass Strait; and in June of the same year he instructed him to make a thorough examination of Hunter River. On this expedition Grant was accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Paterson, Ensign Francis Barrallier, Surgeon John Hams, and Charles Grimes.”
“GOVERNOR KING TO LIEUTENANT JAMES GRANT. (King Papers.)
As the winter is now advancing, which renders it unsafe for the Lady Nelson being sent to renew the survey of Bass’s Straits and the south-west coast of this country until the spring, and as the surveying Hunter’s River, lying between this place and Port Stephens, is of the utmost consequence to be ascertained,—you are hereby required and directed to receive Lieut.-Col. Paterson and the persons on board, as per margin, bearing them on a supernumerary list for provisions, and proceed without loss of time to Hunter’s River, for which place you are provided with a pilot.”
“Friday, 19 June, 1801.—Wind W. We proceeded a considerable distance up an extensive arm, wherein there was deep water, but we found no passage for the vessel into it, as at the entrance there was barely water for the boat, with a rapid tide running.”
“Sunday, 28th June, 1801.—Wind, N.W. P.M.—moderate and cloudy- weather. At 4 p.m., the tide serving, we dropped up into the entrance of Paterson’s River, and at 6 came too in 3 fathoms water for the night.”
“Saturday, 18 July, 1801.—Wind S.W. P.M.—fresh gales and rain. At 5 p.m., the Colonel and Dr. Harris, with Mr. Barrallier, returned on board, Mr. Barrallier having surveyed up the arm until stopped by a cascade, which he could not pass. The Colonel had been up and met with another chain of mountains, one of which he named Mount King, and another Mount Grant.”
“This day [June 29] we got on about 16 miles, and rested the night on a rising ground which I called Greenhill. The soil is good but does not extend to any considerable distance. Here the water is fresh enough for use. The tide rises about four feet. Nearly half a mile above this the river, which your Excellency has done me the honor to name Paterson’s River, formerly called the Cedar Arm, falls into Hunter’s River.”
“… the cedar and curradjong are more plentiful up the new river than any other part.”
- Historical Records of NSW, Vol 4, Hunter and King, 1800, 1801, 1802, p.xxxiii↵
- Historical Records of NSW, Vol 4, Hunter and King, 1800, 1801, 1802, pp.390-391.↵
- Historical Records of NSW, Vol 4, Hunter and King, 1800, 1801, 1802, pp.405-406.↵
- Historical Records of NSW, Vol 4, Hunter and King, 1800, 1801, 1802, p.407.↵
- Historical Records of NSW, Vol 4, Hunter and King, 1800, 1801, 1802, p.408.↵
- Historical Records of NSW, Vol 4, Hunter and King, 1800, 1801, 1802, p.450.↵
- Historical Records of NSW, Vol 4, Hunter and King, 1800, 1801, 1802, p.635, Surveyor Grimes, Dec 1801.↵