The following history of the ‘The Naming of our Town as “Muswellbrook”', was prepared by the late Mr Gordon J Benson. Mr Benson kindly gave his permission to Council to allow this information to be reproduced.
There has been much controversy over the years regarding the spelling of the name of our town and this is an attempt to clarify the story, which is very confusing at times.
In March 1821, Sarah and Elizabeth Jenkins, both living in England, were promised accompanying grants of 500 acres in the new colony of New South Wales. Elizabeth never left England and her grant was taken over by her sister, Suzanna. On arrival in Sydney, the sisters found that their grants had been pencilled in on a map of the unexplored Upper Hunter River area, approximately 3 miles from the site of the present town of Muswellbrook, at or near Black Hill. These blocks were called “Ettoc” and “Arlingham” and classed as being in the Parish of Muggleswick. The grants were eventually authorised at a later date by the Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, and payment to the quit rents were to begin on 1st January 1827. There is no record of the sisters ever grazing sheep or cattle on the grants, which in that year were quoted as being on the eastern side of those owned by Sir Francis Forbes.
Surveyor, Henry Dangar left the property of ‘Ravensworth’ in 1824 to begin his survey of the Upper Hunter and in search for new pasture lands. He passed over the hills to Black Hill, crossed a small stream and then over the hill above our present town to the area later on to become ‘St. Heliers’ and on to the Hunter River near present-day Aberdeen, where he camped for the night. On his field map he marked the vast plains (which he named Twickenham Meadows) and marked the site of a Village Reserve where the creek met the Hunter River. Dangar made no reference to any occupation of any land in the vicinity of the Jenkins’ grants or the reserve. It is assumed that at a later date, (on his second trip in October, 1824), he marked on his field map the name “Muscle Brook” because of the large number of mussel fish shells he found on the banks of the creek, these shells being heaped up along the banks by aborigines years before. The creek was continually referred to as Muscle Creek, the spelling often used by people who confused it with mussel shellfish, and muscle shellfish an alternate spelling at the time, especially by all the selectors and settlers who came to take up land from “Merton” to “St. Heliers” in the early years.
In November, 1830, when Surveyor George Boyle White came through the Upper Hunter he camped for a night at the foot of Forbes’ Hill on the Jenkins’ property, but found no fences, no habitation nor even a hostess on the farm along the banks of Muscle Creek – a farm that he said was “only formed in imagination”. The only farm nearby was that of “Skellator”, selected by the Chief Justice, Sir Francis Forbes. Nothing marked the Village Reserve, except for a few camp fires of travelling stockmen.
In 1832, when James Rowland, Postmaster of Sydney, published his “New South Wales Calendar and General Post Office Directory”, a description of the Great North Road refers to the farms of the Misses Jenkins, the estate of Chief Justice Forbes, the crossing at Muscle Brook and the Village Reserve, and the Muscle Brook entering the Hunter River a quarter mile to the left. (V.L. Cremer – The History of Muswellbrook Post Office). On 5th May, 1833, Surveyor R. Dixon was instructed to prepare a field plan for the Village Reserve set up at the junction of the Muscle Creek with the Hunter River. In September he forwarded his plan to the Surveyor-General in Sydney and included amongst his report was “Muscle Creek was dry except for three holes of water ….. The west side of the North Road should be laid out in allotments for sale, and on the east side such portions reserved for Government purposes as may appear necessary, the top and sides of the ranges are all good sound building land, and fit for building purposes if the town should be of any extent.” The town was gazetted as MUSCLEBROOK (one word) on the 23rd October, 1833, when Governor Sir Richard Bourke had the following notice inserted in the Government Gazette:
Colonial Secretary’s Office Sydney, October 21st 1833
TOWN OF MUSCLEBROOK
Allotments for sale
His Excellency the Governor directs it to be notified, that the plan for the Township of Musclebrook having been approved, copies of the same are deposited for the public inspection at the office of the Surveyor General in Sydney, and with the Clerk of the Bench of Magistrates at Merton.
Persons, therefore, desirous of purchasing Building Allotments, are requested to apply at the office of the Surveyor General, where every information will be afforded to enable them to make their application in the prescribed form, in order that, if approved, the Ground may be put to Sale according to the Regulations.
By His Excellency’s Command
Thus we were officially gazetted as MUSCLEBROOK, but from here on a tangled web is spun. Surveyor Dixon’s map or plan of the ‘Town of Musclebrook’ was forwarded to Surveyor B.G. White on the 11th November, 1833, with the request that he mark out the streets and sections together with the allotments for sale.
On 26th August, 1834, the first town blocks were offered for sale at Musclebrook. The first blocks sold were Allotment 1, Section 1 in Bridge Street, which was sold to George Forbes of ‘Edinglassie’ and Allotment 20, Section 1, which was sold to Samuel Wright of ‘Bengalla.’ The two blocks were respectively where the present Royal Hotel is situated and the block immediately behind it in Hunter Terrace.
In 1835 a further 33 blocks of land were sold and the township of Musclebrook was fairly established. In 1837 the first Musclebrook Post Office to serve the many residents of the town was set up in a store near the previous “Chronicle” office in Bridge Street (In 2004, this building is now the “Sams, St. Alban’s Ministry Centre”). The Post Office began operations on 1st September, 1837, the first Post Master was Richard Dangar and mails were dispatched twice weekly from his ‘office’. (In the next paragraph of The Official History of Muswellbrook Post Office) V.L. Cremer, N.S.W. Historical Officer of Australia Post, uses the spelling Muswellbrook but on page 4 he refers to it as Muswell Brook (two words) by 1856. In 1857 he refers to it as Muswellbrook (written as one word in the Gazette listing and used this spelling from then on).
In 1837 Edward Denny Day was appointed as the Police Magistrate at Musclebrook, Merton and Invermein, and a new Court House was built and established at Musclebrook because of its more central position than Merton. Day was instructed to establish a Police Force and Mounted Police Barracks, which were built in Market Street near the present Simpson Park area. It is to Magistrate Day that we accredit the change in the spelling of our town. A photostat copy of the C.P.S. Records held by the Upper Hunter Historical Society (and lost several years ago), shows that on the morning of 27th August, 1838, Edward Denny Day, (or his clerk), wrote Muscle Brook (two words) in a copy of official letters. Then letters written in the afternoon of the same day refers to the town as Muswell Brook (two words). Some local historians say that it was Sir Francis Forbes of ‘Skellater’, a very good close friend of Day, who influenced the Magistrate to change the spelling from Muscle Brook to Muswell Brook (perhaps during the midday lunch), because of the name of Muswell Hill in London, England, where his wife, Amelia, was born and went to school.
In the course of my recent research and numerous findings, I have endeavoured to verify the story of the 1838 spellings. The original story was reported to others and myself by the late Mr Allen Wood, noted local historian at Muswellbrook, so I attempted to research the life of Lady Amelia Forbes (born 1795) who was supposed to live in Muswell Hill on the outskirts of London near Highgate.
Francis Forbes was born in 1784, the son of Dr. Francis Forbes. He lived in St. George’s in Bermuda until at the age of 19, he went to London to prepare for the Law, admitted to Lincon’s Inn in 1806. He was appointed by Royal Warrant in 1810 to be Attorney-General and was called to the Bar in 1812. In 1813, he married Amelia Sophia Grant, the 18 year old daughter of Dr. Grant of Harley Street.
In 1816, Francis Forbes went to Newfoundland as Chief Justice and in 1823 he was appointed as Chief Justice of New South Wales. He arrived in the colony with his wife Amelia and two sons, Francis and David, in 1824. He received land grants near Muscle Brook at ‘Skellater’ (later called Skellatar) and named after his old ancestral site in Aberdeen, Scotland. Letters from the Bruce Castle Haringey Museum, the Greater London Record Office, and the Guildhall Reference of Aldermany London could not ascertain to me that Lady Forbes (nee Amelia Sophia Grant) lived in or went to school at Muswell Hill. A letter from the Greater London Reference Office states that a Ladies’ School was recorded at Highgate (founded in 1680) but no records are in existence and “it was quite probable that the school was a small, privately run establishment”.
The Bruce Castle Museum has sent to me a photocopy of the earliest map which they hold for Muswell Hill, dated 1864, showing that at the time only a few houses existed in this area. (Perhaps the Dr. Grant’s house was there.) St. James’s National School for Boys was founded in 1850 and would have been called Muswell Hill School. They regret to say that they were unable to find any details of a Muswell Hill in the 1800 to 1850 era.
A historian, Jack Whitehead of Parliament Hill, London, cannot trace anything on Muswell Hill between 1900 and 1810+. No registrations or census lists are available. Census returns were collected from 1801 but no names were collected until 1841. He states that “it may amuse us that Muswell Hill was called Muscle Hill in John Roques’s map 1762.” (Strange! Here is a complete turn about on names.) The true mystery on Muscle Brook and Muswell Brook may never be revealed.
A news item of 1839 says: “The name of this District was changed by the clerks in Government Offices in Muswell Brook and we would like to know upon what authority. The name of Muscle Brook was given to the district by the first settlers in consequence of their finding a number of shellfish resembling muscles in the creek.”
The Sydney Gazette of 8th July, 1840, shows the spelling of Muswellbrook (one word) being used by the pound-keeper in an advertisement on page 2, column 3, and dated as 1st July, 1840. Also on Page 1, column 6, in The Sydney Gazette of the same date, there is an advertisement for the sale of land at Muswell Brook (two words) written out by His Excellency’s Command, E. Deas Thompson. The spelling “Muswell” was thus in official use by 1840, and afterwards continued in general use by the public. A map in the possession of the W.E.A. of Newcastle shows the spelling of the town as Muscletown (one word) and is dated 1842.
In 1850 a new Court House was commenced and completed in 1851. In the records of the local CPS Office the original Register of Births, commencing in 1856, shows in handwriting the name Muscle Brook (two words). In March, 1857, the spelling is shown as Muswell Brook (two words), while in December, 1857, the spelling Muswellbrook (one word) is used and this is the spelling from then onwards. This seems to be the first official use of the modern day spelling but why the change was made in December, 1857, is not indicated. According to The Official History of Muswellbrook Post Office by V.L. Cremer, a contract was let to Alexander Munro- “….by four horse coach from and to Singleton, Muswell Brook and Scone…”. The following year, 1857, the Merton to Muswellbrook service is mentioned and Muswellbrook mentioned as one word in the Gazette listing. This spelling of Muswellbrook by the C.P.S. Registrar and the Gazette seems to confirm, at least amongst locals, that the spelling in use from 1857 onwards seems to be as Muswellbrook. However, to confuse the issue, when the Great Northern Railway line reached our town from Singleton, the official opening ceremony was performed by the Governor of NSW, the Earl of Belmore, on 1st September, 1869, and the name on the platform was the Official Government spelling of Musclebrook (one word).
This remained the spelling of the station until 1st September, 1890, when the Railway Department officially changed the name on the platform to Muswellbrook because this was the spelling in common use. Now to cloud the issue further, on Wednesday, 13th April, 1870, the Municipal District of Musclebrook (one word) had been set up by the Government on the former Village Reserve and the township of Musclebrook. (Government Gazette No.83). The first mayor of the new Musclebrook Municipal Council was William Bowman of “Balmoral”, who held office from June, 1870, until February, 1873. The handwritten minute book of Council Meetings held since 1870 uses the official spelling Musclebrook in all its notes in Volumes 1 and 2. In Volume 3 (August, 1879 to October, 1886) the title page at the front contains the spelling Muswellbrook (this may have been added later as it is in slightly different handwriting) although the minute book from August, 1879 until October, 1884, uses the official spelling, Musclebrook, in all its records. On 8th October, the scribe reporting the minutes uses the spelling Musswellbrook (a common misspelling) and on the 5th November, 1884, the same scribe uses the spelling as Muswellbrook and continues that spelling throughout the volume. Perhaps the spelling on the title page was added at a later date? Volumes of the minutes since November, 1884, all use the Muswellbrook spelling. A search of the Valuation and Rates book used from 1870 until 1885 shows that the spelling used by Council is clearly printed on the top with the official Musclebrook but the volume beginning in 1886 uses the heading Muswellbrook printed across the top of the pages, and this spelling is used from here on.
In January 1889 the Lands Department, which had used the official spelling Musclebrook since the town’s inception in 1883, wrote to the Postmaster-General requesting that the Postal Department, which had been using the spelling Muswellbrook revert back to the original spelling of the town. The Post Office officials replied that they would not alter the name of the office from Muswellbrook, as the name had been in use for many years and did not wish to change. The name and spelling has been used ever since.
On the 14th June 1906, the Wybong Shire was established to control the affairs of outlying centres around Muswellbrook. After meeting in the Court House and electing Edward Bowman as the first President of the Shire, the name Wybong was dropped in 1907 and the new name Muswellbrook Shire Council adopted. Meetings of this Shire were held in the Masonic Hall, Bridge Street, until 1923, when the new Shire building was erected in Hunter Terrace. A decision to move the Shire Headquarters to Denman was made on the 19th May 1967. Mr. F.L. O’Keefe, MLA and Member for the Upper Hunter, officially opened the new Council Chambers for the renamed Denman Shire Council, which continued to manage the affairs of the Shire until 1979. In the meantime, the Musclebrook Municipal Council, which had been using the unofficial title of Muswellbrook Municipal Council, on the 16th September 1948, asked the Department of Local Government to proclaim the name of the town as Muswellbrook to replace the official name of Musclebrook, used since 1833 by the Department. This request was granted by proclamation on 25th February 1949 and the name of our town was officially gazetted as Muswellbrook. (Government Gazette No 27)
On 30th June 1979 the Muswellbrook Municipal Council ceased to exist on its amalgamation with the Denman Shire Council, the whole area became known as the Muswellbrook Shire Council on 1st July 1979. Alderman J.H. Jobling, who was Mayor of the Municipal Council at the time became the first President of the new Council, the Muswellbrook Shire Council.
1. Articles by Mr W. Allan Wood, “Dawn in the Valley".
2. Notes from Muswellbrook and Upper Hunter Historical Society.
3. Muswellbrook Shire Council; Old Records.
4. Notes from the Department of Lands, Sydney.
5. The Official History of Muswellbrook Post Office.
6. Muswellbrook C.P.S. Office.
7. Various London Museums and Archives.
8. My own personal papers over the years.
Mr Gordon J Benson