Old Great North Road

Convict site NSW (1828–35)

This site, near Wisemans Ferry, is a 7.5-kilometre portion of the 250-kilometre Great North Road constructed by male convicts. The road landscape incorporates a 2.5-kilometre section of Devine’s Hill and a 5-kilometre road called Finch’s Line (abandoned before completion) in a natural bushland setting undisturbed since the convict era. Old Great North Road is an example of the use of penal transportation for British empire building; to punish and deter criminals in Britain; and to rehabilitate criminals for integration into the distant penal colony. The site also illustrates the success of the New South Wales penal colony and is associated with the large-scale introduction of transportation by the major European powers in the modern era.

The Great North Road was part of a network of ‘Great Roads’ that was designed to mirror the Great Roads of England. The layout of the site reflects the operation of convict road gangs to punish reoffending convicts and revive the fear of transportation while at the same time expanding and linking settlements. Thousands of sandstone blocks of various sizes were quarried by hand from cliffs. They were then shaped, dressed and assembled to form massive retaining walls, spillways, gutters, culverts, buttresses and intricate drainage systems, most of which remain. Off-cuts and rubble were used to form the road itself. Along the road, quarry sites remain, showing triangular marks from hand-drilling, while individual sandstone blocks show pick marks. Remains and ruins of the convict-built Devine’s Hill stockade and a stone hut built beside the road are visible. These provided the temporary housing for convicts at night as the road progressed. A rock-cut drinking basin, Powder Cave, mile markers and an abandoned store of sandstone blocks also remain. There are numerous examples of convict graffiti, including a portrait, initials and various words cut into the rock surfaces. Today, Old Great North Road is a recreational and historic site within a national park.

 

Old Great North Road. The original cobblestone service has been covered to protect it. Closed to traffic, the section north of Wisemans Ferry is now a scenic walk. Photo Steve Wray © Department of Environment

Read more about the Old Great North Road and the other Australian Convict Sites inscribed on the World Heritage list.