Heritage and conservation register

Item

Name of Item Cable Ferry Crossing, Wisemans Ferry
Item Number 4300311
Type of Item Built
Item Sub-Type NSW Cable Ferries
Roadloc  
Address **** Old Northern Road Wisemans Ferry 2775
Local Government Area **** 
Owner Roads and Maritime Services
Current Use Vehicular Ferry
Former Use Vehicular Ferry

 

Statement of significance

Statement of significance The Wisemans Ferry punt service on the Hawkesbury River has a high level of historic, associative and aesthetic significance and rarity value at a State level, especially when considered as one of a group of ten extant vehicular cable ferries operating in NSW. The Wisemans Ferry punt service is a rare surviving example of one of the earliest and most prevalent forms of river crossing instituted in NSW after European settlement. Vehicular ferries were widely used due to the extensive river system throughout the state, and were typically instituted at tidal crossings that were either too turbulent or too wide to accommodate the construction of bridges. As bridge technology developed and the State economy grew, the vast majority of the ferry services in NSW have since been replaced with bridges. The physical fabric of the Wisemans Ferry service, including the approach roads and ramps on either side of the river, the stretch of waterway between the approaches, apparatus associated with ferry operations (such as the boom gates), and the ferry vessels themselves, have the capacity to represent the important characteristics of the large number of ferry crossings in NSW.

Only ten Roads and Maritime Services controlled vehicular ferry services are still in operation in the state. The Wisemans Ferry service also has local historic, associative and aesthetic significance. The crossing has remained in-situ and in use since 1829, making it the oldest ferry crossing in NSW (and possibly Australia) still in operation. The ferry service has historical associations with local resident and emancipist entrepreneur Solomon Wiseman, who established the first ferry service across the Hawkesbury River in 1827, moving it to its present location two years later. The ferry crossing also has associations with Surveyor General Sir Thomas Mitchell, who oversaw the relocation of the northern ascent of the Great North Road to its present alignment, which saw the relocation of the ferry to its present location by 1829. The Wisemans Ferry crossing has been a landmark feature of this part of the Hawkesbury River for nearly 200 years. As such it is part of the river landscape, a picturesque and quaint component of the transport infrastructure that has made Wisemans Ferry a unique place for most of European settlement in Australia.

Date Significance Updated ****

 

Description

Designer Department of Public Works, NSW, with later upgrades to ramps and ferries by DMR/Roads and Maritime Services
Builder ****
Construction years 1829 - 1926
Physical description The Wisemans Ferry crossing is serviced by a main and a relief ferry. Deck facilities include the following:

*Control cabin with engine and ramp controls, safety equipment etc.

*Road deck marked for three lanes of traffic. There are hand operated swing gates at each end of the deck.

*Pedestrian passenger waiting room opposite the control cabin. Routes on and off the ferry for pedestrians are marked on the deck. The waiting room has containers with life vests.

*Davit supported fibreglass dinghy

*Anchors for emergency deployment.

In operation the ferrymaster uses the engine and brake to align the ferry as it approaches the ramp, and adjust the ramps to suit the traffic load being carried. On grounding, the flaps slide up the ramp till the inertia of the ferry is lost. The ferrymaster then actuates a fairly new set of three hydraulically operated cable grippers which lock onto both the upstream and downstream cable, eliminating the traditional system of connecting a safety chain from the ferry to shore. The deckhand opens the swing gates and uses a remote control to raise a boom on the ferry approaches. Vehicles then exit the ferry to be replaced by vehicles travelling the opposite direction. The docking procedure is reversed for departure. The ferry approaches form an essential part of the ferry infrastructure. On the south side of the Hawkesbury River the road approach is parallel to the river, allowing one queue to service both main and relief ferries. The ramp is concreted, with insert steel rails. Facilities on the shore include a modern boom gate and the ferry cables are fixed to timber pile terminal posts. At the southern approach to the ferry a new interpretive sculpture is being erected as part of signage for the Great Northern Road. On the northern side the facilities are similar, although there is a pair of boom gates instead of one, and there are toilet facilities adjacent to the ramp.

SCHEDULE OF SIGNIFICANT FORMS AND FABRIC

Eastern Approach Ramp:

Maps were not produced to indicate the initial crossing point for Solomon Wiseman's ferry service in the Stage 1 Conservation Plan for the Great North Road, prepared for the Convict Trail Project in 1998. However, a Roads and Maritime Services publication Explore the Convict Trail: The Great North Road, 2002 which is based on the Conservation Plan indicates the location of the former crossing approximately 2 kilometres south of the existing. There is now no material evidence of this crossing which is understandable in that in the earliest period of the ferry's operation dedicated ramps were absent and the river bank was reshaped as required to accommodate the movement of stock, people and vehicles boarding and alighting the vessel.

Over time the increasing traffic necessitated the provision of a substantial ramp and timber planking came to be used for this purpose though problems were experienced when the riverbanks were subjected to scouring.

With the new punt installed and in use from April, 1930 the immediate approaches on either side of the River were further upgraded with sandstone pavers supported in place by timber surrounding strips by the Baulkham Hills Shire Council on behalf of the Board (DMR, 1948:43). The timber planks were used to provide better traction than was provided by the sandstone pavers alone and also to provide a formwork that kept the pavers in place while under load or in flood. These would have been replaced on several occasions since the ramp's construction as the constant action of wetting and drying would accelerate their deterioration. The grade of the ramps is around 1 in 7 and has been designed to suit the shape of the hull and toe flaps of the ferry vessel (DMR, 1948:47).

The existing concrete ramps were poured in situ in 1978 to a height just above the pavers which were encased by the slab. Steel railing reinforcement was inserted to increase their load bearing capacity. These slabs have been subject to patch repairs as required. Due to the high degree of original fabric considered to be present the eastern approach ramp is here assessed as being of HIGH significance.

Western Approach Ramp:

The development of the western approach ramp has followed a largely similar history to the eastern ramp. As such it is of a standardized concrete construction with raised steel rails which overlays the earlier sandstone pavers. In 1978 as the rails embedded in the concrete of the approaches had worn to the level of the concrete making the removal of the ferry from the ramp quite difficult. A series of 38mm x 12mm flat bars were welded to the tops of the rails for the full length raising the unit above the concrete. In 1997 the flat bars on both approaches were replaced as the existing ones were badly worn and missing in places. Due to the high degree of original fabric considered to be present the western approach ramp is here assessed as being of HIGH significance.

Cable Anchors:

Cable anchors consist of driven timber piles and tend to deteriorate as a result of the damp conditions and termite activity and need to be replaced periodically. The process of replacing these consists of cutting them off down to ground level and driving a new pile in place immediately adjacent to it. Old disused piles are left buried as the process of extracting them is complicated by the fact that they are typically rotten throughout and cannot be effectively retrieved. Over time, therefore, the available space for new cable anchors becomes limited and they needs must be shifted to a new location and the cable length correspondingly lengthened or shortened as required. While round poles are currently squared posts have been used in the past for this purpose. As a key element of the crossing's significance the cable anchors are here assessed as being of HIGH significance.

Signage:

Signage and barrier gates were first installed in 1930 by Baulkham Hills Shire Council, though no trace of these original features now remains. There are several signs in place on each of the approaches that draw attention to the safe loading and unloading procedures for vehicular traffic on the ferry vessel though none of these are earlier than 1990. The signage is here assessed as being of NO significance.

Boom Gates:

Timber boom gates were first installed in 1930 at the same time that sandstone pavers were built onto the approach ramps. Though these were rebuilt periodically the low arrangement consisting of two booms shown in would appear to conform to the original design.

The existing hydraulically operated boom gates with aluminium arms and steel pedestals were installed on the approaches in 1996. An interesting recent innovation is the installation and use of remote control boom gates on each of the approaches of the Wisemans Ferry crossing. The existing boom gates are here assessed as being of NO significance.

Physical Condition
and/or
Archaeological Potential
The infrastructure is in good condition.
Modifications and dates The hydraulic cable clamp system was reported as being fairly new. The ferry/ramp system is likely to have seen the following range of changes: *Slipping every 3 years or so for antifouling and inspection (and repair as necessary) of the hull; *Refits to wheelhouse, passenger cabin and most above deck hardware; *Replacement engines at perhaps 15 year intervals; *Modification to the end flap support system by making the main flap and secondary flap hydraulically liftable; *Fitting of davit and lifeboat, spare anchors and other safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, personal flotation devices and the like; *Upgrades to hydraulic, electrical, control and communications systems; *Onshore, changes have included upgrading of ramps from stone with timber rubbing strips to concrete with steel rails; *Upgrades to boom gates to reduce noise and allow remote actuation; *Replacement of upstream and downstream cables when wear or corrosion is apparent *Maintenance to cable anchor posts; *Signage etc.
Date condition updated 03 November 2009

 

History

Historical notes 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.

 

Listings

Heritage Listing Reference Number Gazette Number Gazette Page
Regional Environmental Plan  Cable Ferry, Wisemans Ferry  119  9006 
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register       

 

Assessment of Significance

Historical Significance The vehicular ferry service across the Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry has historic significance at a State level. The Wisemans Ferry punt service has remained in-situ and in use since 1829, making it the oldest ferry service in NSW (and possibly Australia) still in operation. The ferry was on the direct route of the Great North Road to Newcastle for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. This was a road of major importance during this period, and the Wisemans Ferry crossing was an important link in it, facilitating the economic development of the colony (and later the State), as well as being an important migration route.
Historical Association Wisemans Ferry vehicular ferries and approaches have associations with local resident and emancipist entrepreneur Solomon Wiseman, who established the first ferry service across the Hawkesbury River in 1827, moving it to its present location two years later. The ferry crossing also has associations with Surveyor General Sir Thomas Mitchell, who oversaw the relocation of the northern ascent of the Great North Road to its present alignment, which saw the relocation ferry to its present position by 1829.
Aesthetic/Technical Significance The Wisemans Ferry vehicular ferry service has been a landmark feature of this part of the Hawkesbury River for nearly 200 years. As such it is part of the river landscape, a picturesque and quaint component of the transport infrastructure that has made Wisemans Ferry a unique place since European settlement in Australia. Whilst the current approaches and ferry(ies) have some modern equipment and deck hardware, their general appearance and mode of operation is little changed from early ferries, and still evokes the era when this was the main route north from Sydney, with the associated adventure of many ferry crossings to be undertaken. The ferries are also seen by the many river users as part of the heritage of the area, adding an interest to the river. Earlier ramp materials are likely buried under the present concrete ramp. The cables are replaced frequently, but are connected to old timber anchor piles.
Social Significance As a by-product of their own inefficiency as vehicle carriers ferries have special community recognition. At most times it is necessary to wait, or in peak times, to queue to cross. This process involves considerable social interaction between passengers and the ferry operator. Crossing a body of water by boat attracts interest and ferries become local social landmarks where people congregate just to watch the activities.
Research Significance Wisemans Ferry crossing is a typical Hawkesbury ferry crossing, the evolution of which reflects the demographic and economic growth of Sydney industry, as well as the changes in water transport technology.
Rarity The Wisemans Ferry service has rarity value as one of a group of ten extant vehicular cable ferries operating in NSW, under Roads and Maritime Services control. One of these ferries operates on the Parramatta River (Mortlake-Putney), while five are located on the Hawkesbury River (including the Sackville Ferry). Of the remaining four ferries, two are located in northern NSW on the Clarence River (Ulmarra and Bluff Point) and two across the Murray River on the Victorian Border (Speewa and Wymah). The tangible remnants of the Wisemans Ferry service including the approach roads and ramps on either side of the river, the stretch of waterway between the approaches, associated infrastructure to do with ferry operations, such as the boom gates, and the ferries themselves also have rarity value for this reason.
Representativenes The physical fabric at both of the crossings at Wisemans Ferry is able to demonstrate the key characteristics of the many vehicular ferry services in NSW that have been decommissioned, as well as the small group of ten that are still in use.
Integrity/Intactness ****
Assessed Significance State

 

References

 

Type Author Year Title
Written  Purtell, Jean  1982  Hawkesbury River: Boats and People 
Written  Purtell, Jean  1995  The Mosquito Fleet: Hawkesbury River Trade and Traders 1794-1994 [Deerubbin Press] 
Written  Dharug and Lower Hawkesbury Historical Society  1988  Ferry, The Branch, The Creek: Aspects of Hawkesbury History 
Written  Powell, Jocelyn and Lorraine Banks  1990  Hawkesbury River History: Governor Phillip, Exploration and Early Settlement [Dharug and Lower Hawkesbury Historical Society] 
Written  Ian Berger, Roads and Maritime Services   2006  Proposed replacement of Roads and Maritime Services Vehicular Ferry no.8 
Written  Department of Main Roads  1948  'Main Road Ferries - Their operation and maintenance' in Main Roads, December 1948, Vol XIV, No 2, pp 43-47 
Written  Andrews, Graeme  1994  Ferries of Sydney 
Written  Lavelle, S. and Karskens, G  1998  Stage 1 Conservation Plan for the Great North Road 
Written  OHM Consultants  1998  Roads and Maritime Services Oral History Programme: NSW Vehicular Ferries: Summary Report 
Written  Andrews, Graeme  1982  A Pictorial History of Ferries: Sydney and surrounding waterways 

 

Study details

Title Year Author Inspected by Guidelines used
Oral History - Vehicular Ferries  1998  NSW Roads and Maritime Services     No 
Study of Heritage Significance of a Group of Roads and Maritime Services Controlled Bridges & Ferries  2004  HAAH - Sue Rosen and Associates    Yes 

 

Custom fields

Roads and Maritime Services Region Sydney
Bridge Number 454
CARMS File Number ****
Property Number Ferry Crossing
Conservation Management Plan ****

 

Images

Oblique view of downstream face
Oblique view of downstream face

Northern shore, with main ramp in centre, relief ferry ramp on left; toilet block on right
Northern shore, with main ramp in centre, relief ferry ramp on left; toilet block on right

Cable wheel and plaque in Wisemans Ferry town centre. Plaque reads: Soloman Wiseman 1777-1838 Pioneer inn-keeper, ferry master. Unveiled by W.P. McNamara OAM 18th September 1988
Cable wheel and plaque in Wisemans Ferry town centre. Plaque reads: Soloman Wiseman 1777-1838 Pioneer inn-keeper, ferry master. Unveiled by W.P. McNamara OAM 18th September 1988

Side plating on ferry with riveted splice. Old pitting corrosion is visible on right.
Side plating on ferry with riveted splice. Old pitting corrosion is visible on right.

View of southern approach to ferry, with main ferry boom partly raised. Relief ferry access is to the left.
View of southern approach to ferry, with main ferry boom partly raised. Relief ferry access is to the left.

Remotely operated hydraulic boom gate on southern approach. Cable anchors are on right.
Remotely operated hydraulic boom gate on southern approach. Cable anchors are on right.

Plaque describing Great North Road in Wisemans Ferry townshipkeeper, ferry master. Unveiled by W.P. McNamara OAM 18th September 1988
Plaque describing Great North Road in Wisemans Ferry townshipkeeper, ferry master. Unveiled by W.P. McNamara OAM 18th September 1988

Southern ramp viewed from ferry showing cable anchor posts. View also shows Samson posts on ferry
Southern ramp viewed from ferry showing cable anchor posts. View also shows Samson posts on ferry

Ferry approaching southern ramp. Note skid rails cast into ramp and safety chain on right (no longer used)
Ferry approaching southern ramp. Note skid rails cast into ramp and safety chain on right (no longer used)

One of three hydraulic safety gripper clamps on main cables
One of three hydraulic safety gripper clamps on main cables

Cable wheel and plaque in Wisemans Ferry town centre. Plaque reads: Soloman Wiseman 1777-1838 Pioneer inn-keeper, ferry master. Unveiled by W.P. McNamara OAM 18th September 1988
Cable wheel and plaque in Wisemans Ferry town centre. Plaque reads: Soloman Wiseman 1777-1838 Pioneer inn-keeper, ferry master. Unveiled by W.P. McNamara OAM 18th September 1988

Northern ramp with boom gate in down position
Northern ramp with boom gate in down position

Oblique view of upstream face of ferry
Oblique view of upstream face of ferry