Lands Dept map of Narrowgut .It shows charles Johnson's farm allotment Morpeth listed as Chas Johnson

Lands Dept. map of Narrowgut .It shows Charles Johnson's farm allotment Morpeth listed as Chas Johnson

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Photo & information courtesy of Mark Pillidge : : markpillidge@fox.com : : 20/2/2000

 
This Drawing is pre 1891 and shows the following areas in acres
1....15.20
2....7.7
2a. 2.28 (T___L)
3... 21.56 (J. McFayden)
4... 13.55
5... 12.15 (Charles Johnson)
Total Acreage = 72.41
Ruth Elizabeth Pillidge (nee) Burton b.1931 now owns & operates Narrowgut. Today's farm is made up
from the above farms No.1, No. 2, No. 2a, No. 3, No.4 and the majority if not all of No.5, the original Charles Johnson b.1799 d.1875 farm. A 1926 Country of Durham, Parish of Middlehope map of the region indicates the area of Narrowgut at 250 acres, reaching the northern outskirts of Morpeth.
From the larger version of the above pre 1891 map, this area was divided up into about 20 individual farms
of a similar size as the above five. Although farms of this size appear small by comparison today, it must be remembered that in the 19th & early 20th century cultivation of the land was by human hand with the assistance for the privileged few, from draught animals such as horses & bullocks. The farmer's ploughs working the ground at Narrowgut were up until the 1940's still being drawn by draught horses. The mechanisation of farming as seen over the past 50 years was prior to this, non-existent.
It would seem that Isaac Richard Pillidge #2 b.1837 d.1921 managed to acquire over his years
at least all of these five (5) farms and possibly even more. Upon his death in 1921 his farm was broken up. His son Charles Robert Pillidge b.1884 d.1943 , acquired on the 21 August 1921, the area that would have been made up of farms No. 2, 2a & 3 an area of 33.4 acres. On the 3 January 1922, Oswald James Bell, acquired the area that would have been made up of farms No. 1, 4 & 5 an area of 35.3 acres, totally 68.7 acres. (approx. 26 hectares)., Charles Robert Pillidge's farm was handed onto his eldest son, Charles . Patrick Pillidge b.1907 d.1987,and in turn to his eldest son Desmond . Charles Pillidge (b.1930...) & Ruth Elizabeth Pillidge (nee)Burton. (b.1931...) on 30 August 1982. Oswald James Bell' s farm was handed onto his son Lindsay Oswald Bell on the 27 October 1939. After the death of Lindsay Oswald Bell in 1964, Ruth Elizabeth Pillidge (nee)Burton and her husband Desmond . Charles Pillidge purchased this farm on 23.12.1964 from Leila Bell, Lindsay 's widow.
Up until 1949 the Hunter River around Narrowgut was between 50-75 metres in width, about that of the
Hunter at the Morpeth bridge. As a result of the 1949 flood the Hunter River cut a new path near the boundaries of farms 5 & 6 of the map above. This isolated Narrowgut by land from Morpeth forming an Oxbow lake or Billabong. Since that time the old Hunter River bed has slowly filled in so that today the widest part is no more than 25 metres wide when filled with water from floods or rain run off. The maps drawn up in the 19 th and early 20 th centuries did not benefit from the accuracy of aerial photography. Consequently the actual shape and size of Narrowgut is slightly different, particularly at the southern end from that shown in the older maps. These changes may also be attributed to the changing course of the Hunter River.
The most southern section (about 5 acres) of Charles Johnson's original farm may possibly be part of the
farm currently owned by the Unicomb family of Largs. This particular farm is about 15-20 acres and ends at the Hunter River where it cut its new course in 1949.
The bends and twists of the river as shown in the 1926 Country of Durham, Parish of Middlehope map (See
Narrowgut ) have all but gone. The river has straightened itself out due to numerous floods often caused by the silting up of the river brought about by the extensive agriculture & mining throughout the Hunter Valley over the past 150 years. In the pioneering days of 'Charles Johnson and Isaac Richard Pillidge #2, large paddle steamers and ships of all types constantly carried produce and goods from as far up river as Singleton. Today's visitor to Morpeth would find it difficult to imagine that it was in the early part of the 19th century a major shipping port and a far more prosperous one than Newcastle, with major docks, warehouses and train terminal connecting to Maitland.
Man made efforts in the form of levee banks constructed to change the course of the river's flow in
times of flood have in the past 75 years added to the river's flow being altered. This has been designed to reduce the occurrence of major destructive floods such as those in 1949 & 1955 that inundated large areas of the Hunter Valley, including the city of Maitland.
Prior to 1949, the Hunter River at the most northerly point of Narrowgut, flowed about 250 metres from the
Paterson River (See Narrowgut page). It was often thought that the two would one day due to a flood join together at this point as well as at Hinton about 3 klms down stream from Morpeth. This would have formed a large island.
The Hunter and the Paterson rivers have two separate water catchment areas. The Hunter's is the upper
Hunter Valley (as far as Murrurundi) & the Cessnock area whilst the Paterson is the Barrington Tops, Dungog area. A flood can originate from one river but not necessarily both simultaneously, it depends on where the rain falls. Because of this, the levee bank system in the area over the past 50 years has been designed so that at the point where the two rivers are closest, it was decided that it would be better to flood a smaller area of land more, rather than a larger area some of the time.
The system of levee banks surrounding Narrowgut are about .5 metre lower at the Hunter and Paterson
River ends than the levee banks on the Largs & Phoenix Park sides. If one river has a great enough rise it will flood through Narrowgut into the other river and therefore take pressure off the first rivers levee bank system to reduce the possibility of them being breached and flooding a much larger region. Consequently Narrowgut receives a much higher frequency of flooding than the surrounding area, up to 3 floods in 5 years. This is the reason why the Pillidge's did not live at Narrowgut after the 1955 flood. In 1986 Ruth & Desmond Pillidge had several large earthen mounds built and Narrowgut was again inhabited from 1987.
Up until the early 1970's the main crops that had been grown throughout the 20th
century were potatoes along with smaller quantities of pumpkin and melon varieties. In 1973 ,due to the continuous flooding that destroyed successive years crops, Des & Ruth Pillidge began planting fresh green asparagus, with an initial 10 acres followed by another 40 acres in the following years. The asparagus plant is one, which once established has more water-resistant qualities than crops previously grown in the area. Fresh green asparagus at that time was a relatively rare and exotic vegetable in Australia and particularly difficult to initially grow. The plant itself, for sustained commercial purposes cannot be harvested for it's first 3 years and was at that time mainly produced by large companies such as Edgells at their Cowra NSW farms in the white form and canned.
In addition to asparagus an orchard of 500 persimmon trees were planted in the early 1980's.
Narrowgut continued to successfully produce and supply fresh green asparagus commercially to the local but predominately Sydney and some international markets up until the mid 1990' s. After that time the combination of many growers entering and over supplying the market and the fact that to produce asparagus in the green form is particularly labour intensive with an ever decreasing number of people prepared to perform that type of work, made it no longer economically viable.Since then much of Narrowgut has been planted with lucene to produce hay for the local fodder market.
 
 
e- mail address
bmchapman@iprimus.com.au
Copyright B & M Chapman (QLD) Australia
Last revised: April 25, 2000.