Located 170 km north of Sydney on the New England Highway is the town of Maitland. The Wonnarua people are the First Peoples and Traditional Custodians of the lands and waters of the area, and the traditional name is Bo’un, or place of the Bittern. It began as two towns, West Maitland and East Maitland, situated on floodplains next to the Hunter River. Flooding has been a major issue across the decades, with 15 major flood events since European settlement causing extensive damage and loss of life.
There are many historic points of interest in the area, including civic and commercial buildings. The Bank of Australasia, shown above, opened in 1870 and was the third bank to open in Maitland. It symbolises the importance of the town in the late nineteenth century, and is one of the few colonial examples of Byzantine architecture. The design included ventilation to cope with the warmer climate, and was ornamental with a landmark status.
From 1886 onwards, the Maitland Benevolent Society building offered refuge and shelter for Maitland’s poor. The first benevolent asylum in Maitland was established by social reformer Caroline Chisholm in East Maitland in 1831 to protect immigrant girls and families. The asylum’s managers created the Maitland Benevolent Society in 1840, providing housing and medical care to ‘the helpless, the outcast and the wretched’. The former Benevolent Society building is still run by the Society and is now the Benhome Aged Care Facility.
Located on Campbell’s Hill is the former Monte Pio Orphanage and Girls’ Home. This complex of buildings was repurposed into a hotel complex in the 1980s after over a hundred years of serving as a school, orphanage and girls’ home.
Another landmark historic building is the Maitland Court House. Designed by Colonial Architect Walter Liberty Vernon, it was completed in 1897. It replaced an earlier courthouse built in 1858, and was used as a court house and police station until 1986. It reflects the regional importance of Maitland and the Hunter Valley region.
In the spirit of law and order, above is a dusky photo of Maitland Gaol. The gaol was officially opened in 1848 and was modelled to a large extent on London’s Pentonville Prison. It was positioned on a hill as a visible deterrent to would-be lawbreakers by the Colonial Surveyor-General, Thomas Mitchell. It remained in continuous use until 1998. There is a general history of Maitland Gaol available on its website. The Gaol is now a museum and popular tourist attraction.
When was the last time you had a meander around Maitland?
Photo: Maitland sunrise over the Hunter River