The Aboriginal People of the Upper Hunter

Prior to 1788, the continent was home to a diverse range of over 300 differing language or tribal groups. The Aboriginal people living in the Hunter Valley were rich in culture and respected the environment with a sacred attachment to the land. By the close of the nineteenth century, traditional Aboriginal society had virtually disappeared in the Upper Hunter Valley. 1

European colonisation saw the emergence of small town and villages, places like Singleton, Carrowbrook, Ravensworth, Muswellbrook, Scone, Aberdeen, Murrurundi, Quirindi, Denman, Jerry’s Plains, Broke and Wollombi servicing pastoral industries which became the dominant form of social life. Throughout this period, Aboriginal people experienced great suffering as colonists invaded their lands and waterways destroying traditional Aboriginal society deteriorating into warfare. 2

Not all colonists were violent in resolving differences with Aboriginal people; some preferred a more conciliatory approach for resolving differences. At Merton on the land grant of Captain William Ogilvie, now Denman, the nature of relations extended to friendship. 3

Merton, the First European Settlement on the Denman Area

The first European settlement in the Denman district was Merton, located east of the present Denman Township on the opposite side of the river. Merton was the name given by William Ogilvie to his original land grant of 2,000 acres received in 1825 on his arrival in New South Wales from England. Merton was named after the family home in Surrey, England.
Due to its isolation, Merton grew to be self-sufficient and with William Ogilvie becoming a Magistrate in 1825, it became the centre of justice of the district. By 1837, the headquarters for Police moved to Muswellbrook though in 1841 Merton still had a Police force of eight and a population of 137.


On the 21st October 1853, a site for a Village named Denman, near Merton, in the parish of Denman was gazetted. 4 It was named after the first Baron Denman, Thomas Denman the Lord Chief Justice of England, who was born in 1779 and died in 1854. He was the Lord Chief Justice of England from 1832 to 1850. 5, 6, 7

Most people moved from Merton to be closer to the river and eventually crossed the Hunter River to where Denman is found today. Little remains of Merton, and Denman Township grew as a service centre for a thriving dairy industry and later hay production.

Fire and Floods

In 1928, much of Ogilvie Street in Denman Township was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt and today resembles much the same as before the fire. The town also experienced severe flooding throughout its history until a levee was built in 1988.

Denman Industry

A concrete sleeper plant, which provided sleepers to the State Rail Authority, operated in Denman in the 1980's. In recent years adjacent coal mining, vineyards and tourism have overshadowed the dairy and hay industries.

Tourist Drives

The town is a central point for trips to local vineyards and to take in the magnificent scenery of the Hunter, Goulburn and Widden Valleys surrounding the Wollemi and Goulburn River National Parks.

The friendliness of the local people is well known and pride in this rural community is reflected in the first class amenities, strength of volunteer systems, and attendances at community functions.

Today, Denman is considered one of the most picturesque towns in the Muswellbrook Shire and Upper Hunter Valley.

The above article was reproduced from a tourist brochure produced by Denman and District Development Association Inc. (circa mid 1980's). In 2012, this information was further edited referencing:

  • Appleton, R., & Appleton, B. (1992). The Cambridge Dictionary of Australian Places. Melbourne.
  • Barry, R. (2002 - 2006). Denman and District History Book 1825 - 2006 . Denman, NSW: Barry, Ray.>
  • Blyton, G., Heitmeyer, D., & Maynard, J. (2004). Wannin Thanbarran: A History of Aboriginal and European Contact in Muswellbrook and the Upper Hunter Valley. Muswellbrook: Muswellbrook Shire Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee.
  • New South Wales Government. (1853, October 21). Government Gazette No. 113.
  • Oxford University Press. (2004). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press.

Specific References

1. (Blyton, Heitmeyer, & Maynard, 2004, p. 12)

2. (Blyton, Heitmeyer, & Maynard, 2004, p. 9)

3. (Blyton, Heitmeyer, & Maynard, 2004, p. 22 & 29)

4. (New South Wales Government, 1853)

5. (Appleton & Appleton, 1992)

6. (Barry, 2002 - 2006)

7. (Oxford University Press, 2004)

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