||The Wisemans Ferry crossing is situated on the lower reaches of the Hawkesbury River. There are two vehicular cable ferries that service this crossing, which link either side of Wisemans Ferry Road between the town of Wisemans Ferry to the south and the Dharug and Yengo National Parks to the north. The Wisemans Ferry crossing is one of five vehicular ferry services on the Hawkesbury River, the other four of which are located at Sackville, Lower Portland, Webbs Creek and Berowra Waters.
The local aboriginal people who inhabited the Hawkesbury River district, including Sackville, belonged to the Dharug language group (the Dharug occupied the Cumberland Plains between Botany Bay and the foot of the Blue Mountains, while the Guringai or Eora occupied the coastal areas). Deerubin was the name given to the Hawkesbury River by the local Dharug and Guringai people.
The Hawkesbury River was first traversed and surveyed by Europeans in 1789. Governor Arthur Phillip led two exploration parties along the river in this year in the search for suitable agricultural land to feed the nascent colony. The river was named for Charles Jenkinson, the first Earl of Liverpool and the first Baron Hawkesbury. Although Phillip recognised the potential of the rich alluvial soil along the riverbanks for farming, he was reluctant to encourage settlement to the area because of its distance from Sydney Cove, and also because it was prone to flooding. Parramatta was instead chosen as the colony's first farming district.
Despite Governor Phillip's reluctance to establish settlements along the Hawkesbury River, the district was turned to farming in 1794 when Lieutenant-Governor Major Francis Grose issued the first grants in the area. The agricultural land of the Hawkesbury was attractive for settlement and opened up for farming at this time because the arable land at Parramatta was under strain. Wheat was the primary crop grown in the district, although corn (maize) and barley were also harvested. By 1796, more than 1000 acres of land in the Hawkesbury were in cultivation.
Prior to the 1800s, early settlers to the Wisemans Ferry district had lived on the land without title. It was not until 1810 that Wisemans Ferry was first officially settled by Europeans, at which time Giles William Moore was granted ninety acres of land at the mouth of Webbs Creek. In the following ten years, a number of other land grants were formalised along the lower Hawkesbury River (Powell & Banks, 1990, p 100). James Meehan surveyed the lower Hawkesbury River for settlement in 1818, which led to further occupation of the area after this time.
Wisemans Ferry was named for an early settler in the district, the emancipist entrepreneur Soloman Wiseman. Wiseman was an ex-convict and had been transported to Australia aboard the Alexander in 1806; he travelled with his wife and young son (a second son was born en route) (Purtell, 1995, pp 114-115).
By 1811, Wiseman was involved in the coastal shipping trade from Sydney to the Hunter and Shoalhaven. He settled in the Lower Hawkesbury district in 1817 with his family, when he received a grant of 100 acres at the junction of the Hawkesbury and Macdonald Rivers. Wiseman was granted a publican's license to operate an inn known as the Sign of the Packet in 1821 (Purtell, 1995, pp 114-115). Wiseman acquired substantial amounts of land along the river frontage over the 1820s, becoming the owner of 1100 acres in the vicinity of the Lower Hawkesbury by 1828 (Powell and Banks 1990, p 101). He lived with his family at his gracious home, known as Cobham Hall (now Wisemans Ferry Inn) until his death in 1838.
The Great North Road was surveyed and constructed between 1825 and 1834, and ran from Windsor Road in Baulkham Hills to Wisemans Ferry, then to Maitland and Singleton. The road reached the small settlement of Wisemans Ferry the late 1820s. The numerous convicts building the road lived at the fledgling township during the construction period; they were accommodated in makeshift tents and victualled by Soloman Wiseman. The Great North Road, passing through Wisemans Ferry, was the main route north to Newcastle until the middle of the twentieth century.
Soloman Wiseman obtained a license to operate a ferry across the Hawkesbury River in 1827. This was one of the earliest vehicular ferry services across the river (Purtell, 1995, pp 114-115). The ferry crossing at this time was located 'two kilometres downstream to meet the original surveyed line of the Great North Road' (Dharug and Lower Hawkesbury Historical Society, 1988, p 15). The crossing was moved to its present location in 1829 when northern ascent of the Great North Road was repositioned and reconstructed (the northern ascent as surveyed by Surveyor Finch in 1825 was considered too steep) (Dharug and Lower Hawkesbury Historical Society, 1988, p 15). In 1832, the Wisemans ferry service was purchased by the Crown for an amount of 267 pounds as a consequence of changes in the alignment of the northbound road (Purtell, 1995, pp 114-115). Thereafter, the service was contracted out (a practice that continues today).
The river was the primary mode of transport from Sydney to the settlement at Windsor (known as Green Hills until 1810) for much of the nineteenth century. The erection of a railway bridge at the site of Peats Ferry (Brooklyn) in 1888 as part of the Great North Railway to Newcastle, meant that the ferry crossing at this point was abolished, diverting passing traffic back to the Wisemans Ferry route (however, many north-bound travellers preferred to catch trains rather than to travel by road after this time).
In 1930, the Department of Main Roads (DMR) proposed to replace a number of the ferry crossings on the Hawkesbury River (on the routes of the Great Northern and North Coast Highways, between Sydney and the Queensland border) with bridges (including Wisemans Ferry). At this time, a ferry service was instituted between Kangaroo Point and Mooney Mooney (also known as the Peats Ferry crossing), as part of a new, more direct route north to Newcastle. However, it was not until 1944, when a road bridge was constructed to connect Kangaroo Point and Mooney Mooney, that vehicular traffic along the Great North Road through Wisemans Ferry was reduced. Thereafter, the crossing at Wisemans Ferry was no longer on the main route north to Newcastle.
Wisemans Ferry was operated by hand winch up until 1927. Two years previously, the State Government had announced funding of 1000 pounds for the installation of a motor engine to power the ferry (Purtell, 1995, pp 114-115). The hand winched ferry was replaced by a 'new power punt' in 1930, and was paid for by the DMR, who also paid for and oversaw construction of new road approaches at the crossing. The cost of the new punt was 1458 pounds and the construction work for the approaches and a cable cost 236 pounds (Purtell, 1995, pp 114-115). Wisemans Ferry was 'jointly owned by Baulkham Hills, Hornsby, Erina and Colo Shire and operated by Colo for four councils' in the 1930s (Purtell, 1995, pp 114-115). By 1948, Wisemans Ferry punt was diesel-driven, able to carry up to six cars across the river. It carried an average of 334 vehicles per week, on 328 trips (Main Roads, December 1948, p 45).
Similarly to most vehicular ferries currently operating in NSW, both punts on the Wisemans Ferry route are powered by diesel engines and are driven by two sets of cables lying on the bottom of the river. One of these cables pulls the ferry, while the other cable guides the ferry across the river (OHM Consultants, 1998, p 7). These cables are stayed by posts at either side of the river and are replaced every 12-15 months.