Down Memory Lane – Mackellys, Prince Street, Grafton

All over Australia, in country towns large and small, the ‘family businesses’ are slowly disappearing, leaving many wishing for ‘the good old days’.

Some business served their community over several generations spanning more than a century.

Much of their story can be found in country newspapers and, Grafton, in northern New South Wales is no different.

In 2020 the local newspaper ‘The Daily Examiner’ moved to ‘on-line’ much to the concern of the local population. It had served the community in the printed version since 1859. Firstly as a weekly, then bi-weekly and tri-weekly until 1915, when it became a daily.

Delving into the issues available at the National Library of Australia Historical Newspapers website we can go “down memory lane.”

Down Memory Lane :-

Mackelly’s -Drapers and Mercers, Prince Street Grafton

“People may wonder why Mr. Jack Kelly, popular principal of Mackelly’s continually emphasises his policy of ‘Quality and Low Prices’ The answer is simply this:- He buys quality goods on a large scale at very keen prices, thus permitting him to give the public the benefit of such keen buying, and that is why high quality goods ,are continually being sold at strictly competitive prices.

Many years ago Mr. Jack Kelly was a partner in the business trading the name McCarthy and Kelly in Ulmarra, which was, in those days, just a small and undistinguished store. The partners later turned their attentions to Grafton, and opened a store in Prince Street, opposite the present site of the Rural Bank and which operated as Mackellys, and this was the combined names of the principals. Following the decease of Mr. McCarthy, Jack Kelly assumed full control of the business,

View along Prince Street, showing parked cars – Grafton, NSW
 State Library of New South Wales.
At Work and Play – 06935
From <>

and a few years later erected his present modern and spacious premises in the main shopping block. There is also a branch of Mackelly’s in Maclean, which is under the capable control of Jack Kelly’s brother, Jim. The Grafton store is probably the most modern and up-to-date business house in town, and with its distinctive exterior, spacious show windows, and delightfully decorated interior provides every convenience for comfortable shopping.

Mr. Kelly claims that he carries one of the largest and most complete stocks of drapery in Grafton, and a visit to the store will reveal huge ranges of millinery, manchester, drapery, etc, in a wide ramification of styles, and all marked at prices to suit every pocket. At this establishment the modern woman will always find at her command those many little accessories that characterize her attire, while the showrooms display women’s dresses, coats, evening gowns and child’s wear to suit the most fastidious shopper. Men are not forgotten, for a large section is devoted to supplying of their every need shirts, overcoats, sports clothes, accessories, etc.

Mr. Kelly is a prominent participator in all public movements, and is a CRJC ( Clarence River Jockey Club) committeeman, a member of the Jacaranda Festival Committee, and an active member of the Golf Club. His personality and Honesty have won him widespread favor, and this is one reason why his establishment can boast so many satisfied clients. Quality goods, low prices, and courteous service have made Mackelly’s a popular trading centre.[1]”

Three years before:

“Another impressive addition to the rapidly growing list of modern stores in Prince Street, Grafton, is the new brick shop at Nos 45,47 and 49 in which the progressive firm of Mackelly’s opened for business on Tuesday morning, after vacating the old premises further along on the other side of the street.

The new general drapery and mercery store of Mackelly’s is one of which any firm might be proud, constructed on the most modern lines with a display front and interior appointments lighting and decorations suggestive of the most advanced business houses of the kind in the metropolis, while the greatly increased space available will be appreciated by salesmen and clients alike for its convenience in showing and serving.

“Mackelly’s” the name adopted by the firm, is derived from a compound of the names of the original proprietors, Messrs. McCarthy and Kelly, and has been retained for business purposes by the present prinicipal, Mr. J Kelly. The firm has made rapid strides since commencing in business at Ulmarra, about 20 years ago. So well had it progressed in the first five years or so that it was that it was decided to expand the activities of the firm and open at Grafton, and a little later at Maclean, and in the next 15 years the business steadily outgrew the premises, both at Maclean and Grafton, with the result that the Maclean premises had to be enlarged and remodeled, and a larger building had to be sought in Grafton, in Grafton, in order to cope with the expansion. The business in Ulmarra was disposed of, and the firm now confines its activities to Maclean and Grafton.

When it was found necessary to seek more commodious premises in Grafton the three stores in the heart of the business centre, formerly occupied by Blow’s, Mrs. Chambers’ ladies’ wear business and Smith’s music shop, were demolished and the whole property, which is owned by Mrs. J Miller, was remodeled by Mackelly’s into an up-to-date, two-storeyed brick building, the ground floor being for Mackelly’s shop and the upper storey for offices.

The architects, Messrs. Ashe and Gilbert and F C Hargrave, in conjunction, the builders, Messrs. White and Thompson, and the lighting electricians Messrs. McKenna and smith, have completed their work in a manner that is a credit, not only to themselves and the owner and lessees, but to the

business enterprise of Grafton, which is rapidly demonstrating its equality to the best business enterprise in any other part of the state.

In the old store activities, especially at sale time, were becoming congested to the point where it was difficult to meet the demands of customers quickly and efficiently, owing to the overcrowding of shelves and floor space. In the new store all this has been changed. The very latest system of open display a is now in use, owing to the convenience of the wide, roomy, airy, well-lighted interior, which is particularly noticeable in the department for haberdashery, fancy goods and associated lines.

The showroom is extremely modern and specious, and has an annexe containing fitting cubicles and a rest room with all appointments. The approach to the showroom is particularly attractive, the tones harmonising with those of the entrance and other departments, and the rich colour effects being accentuated by an arrangement of decorative canopies which soften the effect of space by day and are illuminated with soft-toned, many tinted lights at night.

The manchester and dress department has been greatly enlarged, and a very attractive type of display tables has been installed, very much enhancing the efficency of the service in this department.

In the men’s and boys’ section a great deal more displace space is available and the modern glass counters and showcases provide the maximum of convenience to shoppers, giving an unimpaired view at the articles for sale, together with ease of selection. To this section a new fitting room has been added.

Greater space and convenience also have been provided in the hosiery and gloves department, which is situated just inside the entrance on the left-hand side of the building.

The awninged store front is ultra-modern, finished in the new ‘colour-tex’ brick, with the newest style od ‘clear vision’ display windows, and the entrances are tiled in colours to tone with the whole decorative scheme.

Convenience of clients has been the principal feature in arranging the locality of the various departments.

At the left entry is the hosiery and dress section, inside the centre entrance, the toilet-ware and Manchester, and at the right entrance the men’s and boy’s department, while the commodious showroom may be approached with convenience from any entrance, and any department is easily visible from the showroom. The most modern idea of eliminating stairs has been adopted, so that all shopping may be done on one floor.

An inspection of the premises by the “Daily Examiner” representative yesterday revealed that the demands of modern retailing for ample space, simplicity of layout and bright interiors have been more than fulfilled in Mackelly’s new premises. ..

…..With Grafton business people continuing to build up the scale of these new premises, it will not be many years before the city will out-do many of the present shopping centres of the metropolis, in style, comfort and convenience, if not in size…[2]

[1]Article -Mackellys from Who’s Who on the Clarence?- Mackellys,Daily Examiner,8 September 1939,p9 c1, retrieved from Trove,National Library of Australia website,14 February 2021

From <>

[2] Extract from New Buildings in Prince Street,Daily Examiner (Grafton),17 March 1936, p4, retrieved from Trove, National Library of Australia, website 14 February 2021.From <

NSW Northern Rivers History: Early Timber-Getters

According to Google,  Sawyer is an occupational term referring to someone who saws wood, particularly using a pit saw either in a saw pit or with the log on trestles above ground or operates a sawmill.

In previous blogs we learned it was the treasured Red Cedar that brought the first sawyers to the Macleay, Clarence, Richmond, Tweed and Brunswick Rivers in Northern New South Wales. Who were these men?

Below is an alphabetical list of those men I found a mention of in the in the early records of the Northern Rivers.

Above: Downloaded from google images 28 September 2020

Thomas Ainsworth, was the son of Jonas and Susan Ainsworth. He married Helen Laverty in 1841. Children born to this couple included; James, 1 October 1843; Jane, 18 November 1845 and Susan Robins 10 December 1847. The Ainsworth family are reported to have come to the Richmond River, on the Matilda Ann in 1847.

John Avery, born 1802, High Wickham, Buckinghamshire, England, was the son of William and Frances Avery. Convicted and sentenced to seven years transportation he arrived Sydney per Asia , on 24 July 1822. He was free when he married Charlotte Davies on 24 May 1830, at Parramatta .  Children born to this couple included Charles, 18 July 1831; Mary Ann, 7 July 1832; Charlotte, 1833; Edward Joseph, 12 December 1835; and John, 12 January 1837. A son, Robert Henry, was born., on 28 July 1839, in Sydney and the family came to the Clarence River soon afterwards. Other children born on the Clarence River were- William, 14 October 1841; Eliza, 4 December 1843; Sarah , 1846 and George Henry , 23 November 1847. When daughter Matilda was born on 23 March 1850 the family were residing at Swan Creek, on the Clarence River.The family then moved to the Macleay River where they resided for a period of time before returning to the Clarence River. Another son, Richard was born in 1852. Charlotte Avery died 3 August 1874 and John Avery died 3 January 1880.

John Benson, arrived as a convict per Mary in 1833,and was assigned to Thomas McCaffrey at New Grove Farm on 27 February 1833. He married 6 November 1836, Margaret Walsh who was a free immigrant per James Pattison in 1836. This couple first went to the Bellinger River where Benson was a timber-getter for McCaffrey. Children born there were ; George, 1837; Edwin, 1838; John, 1841; William, 1843 and Elizabeth 1845. John Benson was granted a Ticket of Leave to stay in the Port Macquarie District in 1840, but was free by 1846 and moved to the Tweed River, where a boom was taking place in the timber trade. A son Thomas was born there in 1847 and a daughter Mary Ann in 1849. He is believed to have died on the Tweed River between 1852-55 and his widow remarried. 

August Theodore Berstrom, was possibly a mariner, residing on the Clarence River, when he was witness to the marriage of Isaac Carr on 5 January 1845, to Ann Osborne. He was. residing in Sydney when he married Hannah Doran on 13 July 1846.

Hilary Bishop  and his wife, Elizabeth were residing at Rose Hill on the Richmond River when their two sons were born. Saul Hilary on 30 December 1847 and Edward on 2 May 1849. Hilary was working as a sawyer.

Edward Boyd, born 1835, son of Thomas and Eleanor Boyd, and younger brother of John, and came with him to the Richmond River in 1849. He was on the Brunswick River for a short time.

John Boyd, born 1824, Cork Ireland, son of Thomas and Eleanor Boyd (nee Roche). The family arrived Sydney about 1826. Thomas Boyd was a soldier and was stationed at Windsor until his discharge from the army. He later had a timber merchant business in Sussex Street, Sydney, in which his sons were involved. In 1849, John and his younger brother went to the Richmond River to buy cedar. They were encourage by Steve King to move with him to the Brunswick, but the unsafe bar made the enterprise unprofitable and the following year the brothers moved onto the Tweed River.

William Bozie, was a sawyer at Gosford when his daughter Elizabeth was born on 3 May 1848. In 1849 he arrived on the Tweed River, with this wife and daughter. Other children were born to this couple who resided on the Tweed for several years.

Thomas Brandon and his wife, Mary, (nee Abbott), with their small son ,Thomas, arrived Sydney on 12 November 1840 on board the Argyleshire.  Thomas Brandon was a sawyer by trade and went to the Clarence River soon after their arrival. A son Joseph was born on 27 March 1842. A few months later the family moved to the Richmond River  where several other children were born.

John Burgess was at Moreton Bay when he took a party of cedar-getters to the Tweed River in mid 1844. On arrival at the river mouth his party was surrounded by a large number of aboriginals. The party was rescued by the arrival of a second party of Thomas McCaffrey’s sawyers from Sydney. His involvement in the Tweed cedar trade seems to have been short lived as by 1845 he had become the licencee of the Sawyers Arms Hotel, in Brisbane, and continued there for at least two years before moving to Gatton.

Isaac Carr, b 1811, Liverpool, a boatman, convicted of house robbery at Liverpool on 7 November 1831, and sentenced to seven years transportation.  He arrived by the Clyde on 27 August 1832. Free by 1839 he was a timber-getter on the Clarence River where he married a widow, Ann Osbourn on 5 January 1845. Carr’s Island in the Clarence River is named after him, as it is believed that he had his cedar camp there.

William Carr, was reported to have been working for Thomas Small on the Clarence River in 1840.

Thomas Chilcott was reported to have been a sailor in the Royal Navy, before arriving on the Richmond River in the late 1840’s with his wife Janita Holt. A daughter, Elizabeth Eyles, was born there on 4 May 1849. Chilcott’s Grass was named after this family. The family remained on the river for several years.

John (Jack) Collins, arrived in the colony some time before 1844 when he was a sawyers mate to Hugh Feeney, and went to cut cedar for Thomas Caffrey on the Tweed River. He was reported to have been killed by Aboriginals with Hugh Feeney on the upper Tweed in late 1846

George Cooper , born 28 August 1808, Chatham, Kent, England, son of George and Ann Cooper (nee Brand). Convicted of stealing, he was sentenced to seven years transportation. He arrived in Australia per Morley on 3 December 1829. Originally assigned as a sawyer to the Public Works Department, but was later worked for Mr Lowe at his boat building establishment. George Cooper and Jane Miller had four sons – William, born 1835; George John, born 1837; Benjamin, born 1839 and Matthew, born 1841.  George  and his family came to the Clarence River, in 1841, for William Phillips to cut timber for ship building. Soon afterwards they went with Steve King’s party to the Richmond River. A daughter Ann Jane was born on the Richmond River on 10 December 1845, followed by Susan Matilda in 1851.

Hugh Cosgrove ,is believed to have been born about 1800 and is reported to have arrive in 1818 as a convict on board the Martha.  In June 1841 he was cutting cedar on the Clarence River and had a young boy and two other single men with him. No further evidence can be found of him on the Clarence and is believed to have returned to Sydney. He is believed to have had a daughter Caroline with Caroline Haswell in 1849.

Robert Cox, arrived in Sydney on board Lang on 21 January 1829 with his wife Caroline and two young sons. On 21 January 1835 a son Charles Webb was born in Sydney. At his baptism on 20 February 1835 his father is described as a timber merchant. Cox is thought to have been on the Macleay River in 1840 where he took out a timber licence for the Port Macquarie District. He later moved to the Tweed River. He was in Brisbane  arranging employment with a Mr Liddiard, when he was murdered at Sutton’s Hotel at Kangaroo Point on 23 March 1848 by William Fyfe, the cook. Cox’s wife and family seem to have remained in Sussex Street, Sydney where Caroline died 16 November 1851.

Emanuel Davies, arrived in Sydney as a convict on board the Eliza on 18 November 1828. In 1841 he was employed as a sawyer when he married Mary Ann Campbell. A son , John, was born in 1841, and a daughter, Catherine Campbell, at Brisbane Water in 1843. Two sons, Emanuel, born 29 September 1845 and Thomas, born 16 August 1847 were baptised in Sydney, but are recorded as residing at the Richmond River. By 1849 the family had moved to Duck Creek on the Richmond River where a son, James, was born on 23 October 1849  and was later baptised by Rev Coles Child.

James Davis, was a cedar cutter on the Clarence River in June 1841. Had one single male as a mate. Nothing further is known except he and his mate came free.

Patrick Daly, is reported to have been working for Thomas Small on the Clarence River in 1840.

James Dormer, is reported to have been working for Thomas Small on the Clarence River in 1840.

John Earnshaw, was a cedar-cutter on the Clarence River in June 1841. His wife was with him.

Hugh Feeney/Pheeney, arrived in colony some time before 1840, when he took out a cedar licence for the Port Macquarie District. It is believed he was working for Thomas Caffrey and moved to the Moreton Bay area in the early 1840’s. Went to the Tweed River with Caffrey’s party in 1844 and set up camp at Teranora. He and his mate John Collins were reported to have been killed by the Aboriginals on the Upper Tweed in 1846.

Joseph Greenhalgh, arrived Sydney on 25 July 1827 per the Guilford. A native of Bolton , he was employed as a butcher’s boy when he was convicted at Liverpool on 23 October 1826 of house robbery , and was sentenced to seven years transportation. He married Caroline Panton in Sydney on 8 March 1841. The family arrived on the Richmond River in the mid 1840’s where Joseph worked as a sawyer. A daughter was born on 14 November 1846. Another daughter, Mary Ann was born there on 14 February 1847 and a son, Joseph on 21 November 1849. The family remained on the Richmond River where Joseph died in 1868. His wife Caroline was known as ‘Granny Greenhalgh’ and was a very shrewd cedar dealer in her own right.

Edward Harper, born 1826, the son of Gilbert Harper, who married 22 August 1825 at Radford, Nottingham, Maria Terry, the daughter of William Terry and Elizabeth Struth. Gilbert Harper, was a convict, sentenced to 14 years. transportation. He arrived  Sydney on 26 November 1831 on board the  Surry. His son,  (Edward) Richard Harper arrived free with his mother on the George Hibbert on 1 December 1834, to join the father in N.S.W. They went to Patrick Plains where the father, Gilbert was assigned to W G Cann.  Gilbert Harper was granted a Ticket of Leave on 2 September 1844 and the family moved to Moreton Bay. Soon afterwards Gilbert Harper was convicted of a crime and sent to Norfolk Island. Richard Harper now known as ‘Ned or Edward’ Harper, now a young man, went to the Tweed River in 1845, to earn money to support himself and his mother.. He lived there for many years employing and living with the local Aborigines before returning to Nerang.

William Harris, was born in Birmingham, England c 1804. He was convicted of a crime at the Staffordshire Quarter Sessions on 20 October 1819 and sentenced to seven years transportation. He arrive per the Prince of Orange on the 12 February 1821. It is believed he was working as a cedar cutter on the Macleay River by 1836-7, possibly for Francis Girard. After the ‘riot’ at the Macleay River in late 1837, mentioned elsewhere in this book, and the fact that ships were having great difficulty in negotiating the bar on the Macleay, many of the cutters are believed to have been returned to Sydney. It was there William Harris, met the widow Rebecca Hooper. William Harris and Rebecca Hooper (nee Bloxham), were married on 7 August 1838 . Rebecca Bloxham was born c 1807 in Leycester, England. She was a housemaid when convicted of robbing a person and was sentenced to transportation for life in 1826. She arrived on board the Harmony on 27 September 1827. She married John Hooper who had arrived as a convict per the Hibernia in 1819. They had two daughters Amelia born 1831 and Sarah born 1836. John Hooper died and Rebecca married William Harris. After his marriage William brought his wife and step daughters to settle on the Clarence, where William was engaged in cedar cutting.  A daughter Jane, was born at the ‘Big River’ on 8 January 1839 and baptised in Sydney on 21 April. While in Sydney the family were involved in a court case. The family returned to the Clarence River and were noted in the census of June 1841.They later moved to the Richmond River in 1842. Other children born to this couple at the Richmond River were Eliza on 20 August 1842; Henry Samuel 17 December 1849 and Willam Halwood 11 April 1852.

William Hull or Hall was a convict, but was free by servitude and  residing on the Richmond River when he died on 11 July 1843 aged 29 years.

J Jackson, was a cedar cutter on the Clarence River in June 1841. Had one single male as a mate.

William Joseph Johnston,  married Mary Ann Foster in 1845. By 1848 they were residing on the Richmond River, where a son William was born on 30 July . William Joseph was working as a sawyer.

James Johnstone and his wife Ann, were at Duck Creek on the Richmond River when their son Richard was born on 14 May 1847. Another son, James was born on 10 January 1849. James was employed as a sawyer.

Richard (Dick) Keys, took out a timber licence for Port Macquarie District in 1840. In 1844 he was working in Moreton Bay for Thomas Caffrey, and took whale boat party to the Tweed River, with Paddy Smith.

Stephen King, arrived as a convict per John, in 1829. He was a native of Canterbury and  was convicted of shop breaking at Warwick on 14 July 1828 and sentenced to seven years transportation. He married Sarah Puttock, a free immigrant, who arrived on the Layton, in 1833. A daughter, Elizabeth Jane, was born in 1837. King, remained in the employ of Devlin, after he had completed his sentence. He came to the Clarence River with Small and Devlin’s party on the Susan in 1838. King brought his family to the Clarence River in the following year, and his son, James John, was born there on 14 January 1840. After the arrival of Commissioner Fry, on the Clarence River, King led a party of sawyers overland to the Richmond River in 1842. He later moved his family to the Richmond River. A son, Robert was born there, on 6 April 1843. Another son, Richard was born on 3 May 1844. King was also one of the first sawyers on the Brunswick River  in 1849.

Mathias Lewis, arrived Sydney on 15 December 1830 as a convict on board the Florentia. A native of London and a weaver by trade he was convicted of robbing the till at London on 29 May 1828 and sentenced to seven years transportation. He married Mary Tate on 29 March 1842, and worked in the Dapto area as a carpenter, before going to the Richmond River in the late 1840’s. A son Joseph was born on the Richmond on 23 June 1848. The family remained in the district for some years.

William Meadows, was a sawyer on the Macleay River in 1840, where he had taken out a timber licence. He is reported to have come to the Big River in 1838, and was responsible for sounding the bar at the mouth of the river so the ships could enter. There is no evidence to suggest that he stayed for any length of time.

Joseph Maguire, and his wife, Maria, (nee Johnson) had a daughter Margaret on 14 July 1842, perhaps on the Clarence River where Joseph was working as a sawyer. The family moved to the Richmond River where a son, Joseph was born on 29 September 1844. Both these children were baptised in Sydney on 8 March 1846. While in Sydney, Joseph and Maria were married on 10 March 1846. Three more sons were born to this couple, John in 1851; Henry in 1853 and Robert in 1854.

Francis Morris was on the Richmond River in the late 1840’s. He married Bridget O’Neill at Duck Creek on 20 February 1850.

Bryan O’Neill, also known as Neil, arrived as a convict on board the Minerva on 18 December 1819. He was a labourer and a native of Ballyneale, Ireland and was convicted at the Tipperary County Summer Assizes in 1818 and sentenced to transportation for seven years. He married Catherine Mann in Sydney in 1833. She was also a convict and arrived on the Fanny on 2 February 1833.  A daughter Margaret was born in 1833, followed by Bridget in 1835. The family came to the Clarence River with Small’s party in 1838. Catherine, was the first white woman to settle on the river. The following year a son, Timothy Burnett was born on the Clarence River. In 1842 the family moved to the Richmond River with Steve King’s party. ‘Old Bryan’ was a well-known figure on the Richmond River for his antics after a drinking session.

James Pierce, was reported to have been working for Thomas Small on the Clarence River in 1840.Commissioner Oakes confiscated his timber licence because his partner was a Moreton Bay runaway. He later moved to the Richmond River.

Isaac Roddam, came free as an able seaman on  the convict ship Marquis of Hastings, which arrived 12 October 1828. His wife, Esther Bowman, alias Susannah Scott/ Rennicks arrived as a convict on the Competitor  on 10 October 1828. She had four children with her, Ann, James, Isaac and Ellen. The children were placed in the Orphan Schools and Esther Bowman was assigned . Isaac went to work as a sawyer for Edward Hunt of  George Street, Sydney. Esther Bowman, alias Susannah Rennicks was living with her husband and was formally assigned to him in 1831.  A son, George was born 1829 and a daughter Susannah win 1833.  In 1841, the father, Isaac Sr,  and the son, Isaac Jr, were working as sawyers on the Clarence River. They returned to Sydney, where Isaac Jr married Ellen McGuire in 1845.

John Rolston, also known as ‘Red Jack’ arrived in Sydney as a convict on board the Asia on 24 July 1822. A native of Chelsford and rope maker by trade, he was convicted at the Middlesex Quarter Sessions on 4 January 1821 and sentenced to 7 years transportation. In 1840 he had a timber licence to cut cedar in the Port Macquarie District and is believed to have spent some time on the Macleay River, before coming to the Clarence in 1838. He later went to the Richmond River with Steve King’s party and resided there many years.

Ephram Shaw, was working as a sawyer on the Richmond River when he married Betsy Elizabeth Stephenson on 8 February 1849. They had a son , Charles who was born at Duck Creek on 2 December 1847, but died as a young man. The family stayed on the Richmond.

Joseph Shelley ,arrived as a convict on the Hebe on  31 December 1820. He was convicted on 27 March 1820 and was sentenced to 14 years transportation. He was employed by Thomas Small as a sawyer in 1841, but later moved to the Richmond River with Steve King’s party. He died on the Richmond River many years later.

Pearson Simpson, is reported to have been on the Richmond River as a sawyer, in the early 1840’s. He married Elizabeth Hudson in 1847. A son Pearson was born in 1848. Further children were born to this couple.

Sylvanus Skeen, although noted in Small’s notes as ‘Sylvester Keane’ this man is believed to be ‘Sylvanus Skeen’ a convict who arrived on the Recovery, on 18 December 1819. Little else is known except he was working for Thomas Small on the Clarence River as a sawyer in 1841, [[1]]and is believed to have moved to the Richmond River in 1842. He later married Elizabeth Ford, the widow of James Ford in 1850.

John Andrew Smith married Ann Arden. Their son Thomas was born on the Richmond River on 7 November 1844, where John Andrew was employed as a sawyer.

Patrick(Paddy) Smith, took out a timber licence for Port Macquarie District in 1840. Working in the Moreton Bay area for Thomas Caffrey, and took a party  of sawyers to Tweed in 1844. An overseer for Caffrey.

Richard (Dick) Smith, was working in Moreton Bay area for Thomas Caffrey and went with a party of sawyers to the Tweed River in 1844 with Paddy Smith.

John Stocker, also known as ‘Daddy Stocker’, was on the Clarence River with the timber getters in 1839 and went to the Richmond with Steve King’s party. He later returned to the Clarence River where he died in 1852.

Peter Whitaker, and Margaret Wall had a son Peter who was born 22 January 1840 and baptised 17 August 1840 at St Phillip’s , Sydney. Peter, the father was recorded as a sawyer of Sydney. A daughter, Susan, born on 10 December 1841, was baptised on the Richmond River in 1844. Peter was a sawyer on the river at the time.  A son, Charles, was born on the Richmond River on 4 April 1845, followed by another son, John, in 1848.

John Wilson, was on the Richmond River, when he married Amelia Hooper the daughter of John Hooper and Rebecca Bloxham, on  28 November 1845. A daughter, Eliza was born at Tunstall on 6 October 1847.

John Wood,was working as a sawyer on the Richmond River when he married 19 September 1848, in Sydney by licence, Martha Ford. She was the daughter of James Ford and had arrived in Sydney in 1844 as a free immigrant on board  the Briton. A son, William was born on the Richmond River on 16 July 1849. The family remained on the Richmond River and several more children were born there.

Thomas Wood, and his wife Jane (nee Purcell) were residing on the Richmond River by 1846, when a daughter, Sarah was born on 3 December. Another daughter, Jane was born on 15 June 1848. Thomas was working as a sawyer.

William Woodward, and Rebecca Gore had a daughter, Sarah who was born on 30 March 1843 and baptised on the Richmond River. By 1846 when son Thomas was baptised the family had returned to Sydney.

John (Jack) Wright, was working in Moreton Bay for Thomas Caffrey and took a whale boat party to Tweed in 1844 with Paddy Smith.

There is sure to have been more, but I just didn’t find them in the records.

Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001,Grafton,published by author.

An index and full references can be found in the publication.

NSW Northern Rivers History: Cedar Getters on the Tweed & Brunswick Rivers

Cedar-getters on the Tweed River

                Although a timber exploratory voyage had been made to the Tweed River by William Scott in the Letitia in 1840, it was not until 1844 a party of sawyers arrived on the Tweed.

Tweed Valley

                William Scott was a cousin of Charles Steele, a cedar dealer and squatter on the Macleay River, who applied for a licence to cut cedar in the Moreton Bay district in 1840. It would appear Thomas Caffrey had business links with Charles Steele and was his agent on the Macleay, and  Clarence Rivers and later at Moreton Bay. Caffrey would buy the cedar from the sawyers , delivered to the ships, mostly owned by Steele and then transport the logs to the Sydney market.

                Although Caffrey was still shipping cedar out of Moreton Bay in 1844,  the easily accessible cedar at there had begun to run out, and  he decided to turn his attention to the untouched forests on the Tweed River. Accordingly he had a suitable whale or long boat made at Nerang Creek by a boat builder, James Beattie. On completion of the boat he sent a party to the Tweed River, which included Paddy Smith, Richard Keys, Jack Wright and three others.. When John Burgess of Moreton Bay heard that Caffrey had sent a party to the Tweed, he set out with his own small party of sawyers. However on arrival at the mouth of the Tweed River the Burgess party was surrounded by a large number of Aboriginals. Fortunately at that time a second party of Caffrey’s men arrived by ship, from Sydney, in time to rescue Burgess’ men. Most of the men had worked for Caffrey cutting cedar on the Manning and Macleay Rivers. This group included Hugh Feeney, John Collins, John Macomb, Robert Cox and others.

                In 1844 when Paddy Smith and his party arrived on the Tweed they set up camp on the Teranora Broadwater where cedars grew close to the water’s edge of the small creeks. The logs could be simple rafted to the main camp to be squared for shipping. This area was away from the main currents of the river and the ground immediately near the foreshore was above flood reach and there was a safe deep anchorage for the loading of cedar onto the ships. The Tweed River was more thickly covered by thick brush , than the Clarence and Richmond Rivers which didn’t allow the easy use of bullocks and there were little in the way of grasslands for near-by forage. The most essential equipment was the long or whale boat for the carrying of equipment and provisions. It was used as the means of transport when the men had to move up river, once the more accessible area around the camp had been exhausted.

                By the following year, the men had to move further up the river and creeks to gain the cedar. They came more frequently in contact with the Aboriginals. In the main it was a peaceful coexistence for the first year or so, although there were incidents, which began to sour the relationships It would appear that the more influential head men of the Tul-gi-gin Tribe wished to acquire the prized equipment of the sawyers such as axes, iron mallets and most importantly the whale boats. Stores such as flour, and the bags it came in, as well as ‘clothing’ in all manner was becoming a status symbol within the tribes.

                Many sawyers took stealing as a huge affront and thought the Aboriginals should be punished the same way as any  sawyer caught stealing from another sawyer, would be punished. Some sawyers employed Aboriginals to help haul their logs into the creeks to float them down to a main camp or to manhandle the squared log to a better site for collection. Payment was made with ’gifts’ of whatever the sawyer could spare in the way of clothes, stores and equipment. Some sawyers, believed that this arrangement could lead to problems over the value of payment when stores were low, and wouldn’t employ the Aboriginals. Some Aboriginals took this as a slur against them and plotted mischief. Other Aboriginals believed they could help themselves to the sawyers possessions under-cover of darkness or when the sawyers were away from camp. One sawyer, by the name of Jack Marcomb, a mate of Hugh Feeney and Jack Collin’s party took exception to the theft of goods and took matters into his own hands, and set out to find, and deal with the culprits. He later fell out with Feeney and Collins, as they felt he had taken matters too far, and ill-treated the Aboriginals, without due cause. Marcomb is thought to have then left the Tweed.

                In early 1845 Caffrey, is thought to have possibly made a trip to the Tweed, to see the progress and then made arrangements for the squared logs to be taken off.

                The Tweed bar like the river bars of the Macleay, Clarence and Richmond, was difficult, so all care had to be taken when bringing in the ships to be loaded.

                In 1845 Edward (Ned) Harper arrived at the Tweed from Nerang Creek to enter into the cedar- getting game. He was a loner and was one of the sawyers who employed aboriginal to find the cedar trees, carry water to his camp as well a other jobs he could not do on his own. In fact,  he later lived with some of the tribe and learned many facets of their culture. Many years later as an elderly man he was interviewed by a journalist from the Courier Mail. This interview is probably the most complete record we have of events on the Tweed in the early days of cedar- getting.

                In  1846 Hugh Feeney and his mate Jack Collins were killed by Aboriginals, although they had always been kind and friendly towards them. Ned Harper although not present at the time, heard the story from Aboriginals, who were involved. At the above mentioned interview records what he knew about the matter.[[1]]

This is what was reported in the Moreton Bay Courier, “Intelligence reached the settlement yesterday that Hugh Pheeny and a man named Collins, who were employed by Mr John Burgess in sawing timber on the Tweed, had been treacherously murdered by the natives about a month ago, for the sake of their rations. It appears that they were attacked while at work in the creek which connects the north and south arms of the river. The bodies were discovered by Thomas Gorsill, who immediately gave information to Mr Dollman, Mr Burgess’ superintendent. Mr Dollman and some of the sawyers subsequently went to the spot, and buried them. This dreadful transaction had created much confusion on the river. The blacks in this locality have been long known as the most ferocious wretches in the district, and it is deeply to be regretted that there is no means of bringing them to justice. The unfortunate men who have become their victims, were well known to many in Brisbane, as hard working peaceable individuals.[[1]]

                Although there were never the numbers involved in the cedar getting on the Tweed River as on the Richmond,  most of the men there were single. In 1846, John Benson, a sawyer from the Bellinger brought his wife and family to the Tweed and in 1849, William Bozier arrived there with his wife and daughter. John Boyd after deciding the Brunswick River presented too many dangers decided to establish himself on the Tweed.

Cedar-Getters on the Brunswick River

                Cedar cutters had been taking cedar from the Clarence River from 1838, the Richmond River from 1842 and the Tweed River from 1844, but it wasn’t until 1849 that cedar was shipped from the Brunswick River. Although it was known from 1840 that there was cedar on the Brunswick River the experience of Surveyor James Warner’s party showed the river bar, like all the north coast rivers, was shallow and very treacherous and so there appeared to be no reason to move to the Brunswick River.

Brunswick River

                However by 1849, the boom on the Richmond River was beginning to wane, and the river was being settled by an increasing number of people not interested in cedar, and with the arrival of government officials, the free unrestricted days were coming to an end.

                Steve King who had moved from the Clarence to the Richmond some seven years before, moved on again with other Cedar-getters to the Brunswick River, early in 1849. Young adventurers from Sydney such as John and Edward Boyd also moved onto the Brunswick.

                In early 1849, a series of gales swept the coast and several small craft were lost. Toward the end of March , the Louisa while sailing along the coast was hit by one of these gales and was swept ashore a few miles north of Cape Byron above the Brunswick River. No lives were lost but she became a complete wreck.

                By April sufficient timber had been felled on the Brunswick to ship to Sydney and the small schooner the  Midas under Captain Benaud was charted and left Sydney, with sundries on 21 April. The weather being fair, she sailed north and negotiated the bar safely. While she was in the river loading another gale swept the coast with terrible consequences. The schooner, Swift was washed ashore near the Louisa with the loss of several lives. The story of this wreck is told elsewhere, as is the story of other wrecks on the Tweed and Richmond,  which happened in this same gale.

                The Midas returned to Sydney on 21 May 1849 with cedar and the news of the terrible tragedy of the Swift. In August and September the Ops, under Captain Watts made two voyages, but when the Clara was stranded on the bar in early 1850, it would appear that the Brunswick camp was abandoned as the river bar was proving to be a major obstacle. Many sawyers, such as King returned to the Richmond, while others such as John Boyd went onto the Tweed River in 1849.


Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author.

An index and full references can be found in the publication.

NSW Northern Rivers History: The Cedar Cutters- On the Richmond River

Cedar-getters on the Richmond River

Under the leadership of Steve King, several sawyers including Joe Maguire, Daddy Stocker, Joe Shelley, and others, undertook to take a whaleboat overland by bullock team to the Richmond River in search of more cedar stands. They finally reached the banks of the Richmond near where Codrington stands and launched the whaleboat for an exploratory journey along the river. Delighted to find so much good cedar they soon returned to the Clarence to take their families and provisions by the Sally to the Richmond River.[[1]]  .These sawyers and families were quickly followed by others, not only from the Clarence but also from the Macleay, Nambucca, and Bellinger Rivers.

..Eight pairs of sawyers, with their large families, late in the employ of Mr. Small of the Nambucca, have determined to open the Richmond River, 140 miles to the northward of the Macleay, for the purpose of thereon cutting the finest specimens of cedar, hitherto produced in the colony. They have already proceeded in the Northumberland. Two or three vessels from Sydney have also proceeded thither.



The first cedar camp on the Richmond River was set up on the river bank opposite Pelican Creek where Jimmy Pearce, Tommy  Chilcott, Cooper and others started work on a patch of cedar on the north arm of the river, this site was later known as the ’Old Camp’. At the height of the drought in 1843, the camp had to be shifted as the river became salty and the sawyers and their families were forced to move further up the river for freshwater. Having found a well-grassed plain where Aboriginals were camped they gave the place the aboriginal name ‘Gunurimbi’. Several other sawyer camps were made along the network of creeks that flowed into the Richmond River system. Some of the places along these creeks were named after the cedar getters and their families who lived there such as Steve King’s Plain and Chilcotts Grass.

It is difficult to judge the size of the cedar getters’ community along the river but the amount of cedar shipped out of the Richmond River from 1843 was proof of their industry and by 1845 it has been estimated that the 62500 feet of cedar shipped that year represented a large percentage of cedar cut in the colony.

Although the Richmond River was part of the district under the jurisdiction of Commissioner Oakes he didn’t visit the area. His successor, Commissioner appointed in 1841 did not make a full tour of his territory until April 1844. Between the 1st and 7th of that month, he visited some of the sawyers camps on the lower Richmond River but there is no mention of travelling up the network of creeks to check on other cedar camps.

The cedar trade on the Richmond River continued to develop throughout the 1840s as new camps were formed at Teven Creek, Duck Creek, Immigrant Creek, Bald Hill, and Cooper’s Creek. In the early days in some areas cedar could be felled directly into the creeks or pulled by bullocks to the water’s edge and floated down in rafts to the ships, to be sold. However, as it became necessary to move further up the mountains in the pursuit of the cedar a different method was needed. It was customary to brand the logs and stack them close to the banks of some streams high in the hills. A string of chains known as ‘stops’ was then strung across the mouths of the larger creeks. Then the men would return home to await the rains and the flood or ‘fresh’ in the creeks. The rising water would float and sweep the logs downstream and up against the chain ‘stops’ When the water had subsided the sawyers met at the ‘stops’ to sort their branded logs. Rafts were then made up and floated downriver to the waiting ships or cedar agents depots, to be sold.

We know that many of the cedar getters would have been single men but there is plenty of evidence that there were family men too, who had their wives and children with them. The Rev John McConnel the Church of England clergyman stationed at the Settlement on the Clarence River, visited the sawyers camps on the Richmond River in April and May 1844 when he baptised the children of, Thomas and Mary Brandon; William and Rebecca Woodward; Peter and Margaret Whittaker and Stephen and Sarah King.

The Rev McConnel again visited some of the cedar getters on the Richmond in the winter of 1846 when he baptised the daughter of George and Jane Cooper, and in March the following year when he baptised the children of Peter and Margaret Whittacker; John and Ann Smith; Joseph and Caroline Greenhalgh and William and Rebecca Harrison.  Due to ill health McConnel was forced to resign his appointment in 1848 and died later in the year.

Late in 1849 the Rev Coles Child was appointed to the Clarence River District by the Church of England Bishop and undertook his duties with great gusto.  He visited the Richmond River in November and December 1849 where he undertook marriages and baptised many children. These included the children of sawyers.- John and Amelia Wilson; Mathias and Mary Lewis; John and Martha Wood; Thomas and Janetta Chilcott; Ephraim and Betsy Shaw; Emanuel and Mary Ann Davis; James and Ann Johnstone and Hillary and Elizabeth Bishop.

It should be mentioned that although there were cedar-getting families of the Roman Catholic persuasion on the Richmond River in the 1840s, they did not use the services of the Rev Coles Child to have their children baptised, as some Catholic families resident on the Clarence River did. They waited several years before a visiting priest from the Moreton Bay district visited the Richmond River, to have their children baptised or they made a voyage to Sydney.

The cedar getters on the Richmond River and their families were a law unto themselves with no interference from any government officials seeking licenses or attempting to confiscate their hard-won timber. Although there must have been many drunken brawls and fights, nothing of a too serious a nature happen until 1848 when a charge of murder was brought against a cedar getter named Francis Gilloghly. He was believed to have murdered his partner, Ike, on the river in June 1848. After some inquiry by the Grafton Bench Gilloghly was sent to Sydney to await trial.  However there was insufficient evidence, and he was discharged without trial in November 1848.

The timber trade continued to develop on the Richmond River, after 1850.


Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author.

An index and full references can be found in the publication.



Clarence River History: The Cedar Cutters- On the Clarence River

In a former blog, I wrote about the Cedar Cutters on the Macleay River and how the law had caught up with them and effectively stopped them cutting cedar on the banks of that river. They then moved northward onto the banks of the Clarence River.

Cedar-getters on the Clarence River

                Girard had sent the Taree back to the Macleay for cedar, but with his activities curtailed there, he sent the Eliza to Newcastle for coal, from where she returned on 18 April 1838.


                By this time Thomas Small and Henry Gillett had already sailed their new vessel named Susan north to the Big River on a trial. The story was related by Gillett and Small many years later. When Susan approached the river mouth for the first time, they found that the bar was too rough to attempt a crossing. Having waited for a couple of days and finding conditions not improving they made a run to Moreton Bay for water. On the return voyage, they found they still could not enter because of the treacherous sandbar at the mouth. The Susan then returned to Sydney to collect a whale or longboat so that soundings could be taken of the bar, and also to collect further provisions.

                On the 1 May, the Susan having being registered and restocked headed for the Big River again. This time it was noted in the Sydney newspapers-

                ” The schooner, Susan, went out on Saturday, on a trip northwards whither she proceeds with a party of men (sawyers) for the purpose of cutting cedar from the banks of a river near Morton Bay, being the first vessel which has gone to that place.

                John Kellick immediately sent his small cutter, Elizabeth, after Susan and reported having met her waiting to cross the bar. The captain of the Elizabeth is believed to have been Daniel Keele.

                 Having sent out the whaleboat to sound the bar both ships passed over safely. Both ships slowly proceeded up the river. On reaching an island about sixty miles from the mouth of the river, the Elizabeth put down the anchor and named the adjacent island, ‘Elizabeth Island’ after the ship.  Consequently,  Captain Boyle of the Susan set down anchor near another island further up the river and named this island ‘Susan Island’ in honour of his ship.

                Elizabeth being smaller, and of shallow draft, explored further up the river, but the captain made a mistake when the river forked and travelled up what is now known as Orara thinking it was the main river, but it ended in swampy shallows. This branch of the river was known, as Dan Keele’s Mistake or The Mistake for quite a while locally, before it was officially named ‘Orara’. The Elizabeth having returned to the river junction, proceed up the main river as far it was navigable, and Kellick’s men set up a camp there.

                Small being satisfied with the river’s potential, returned to a section of the river closer to its mouth, but where it forked. The mouth of this river had black rocks exposed at low tide and was given the name of Rocky Mouth. It was near there Small made his sawyers camp.

                Meanwhile in Sydney, on the 9 May, Girard petitioned the government concerning the cedar from the Macleay which had been confiscated some months before. A few days later, on 11 May 1838 the Taree arrived with cedar from the Macleay.

                Girard immediately sent the Taree after the Susan, to the Big River.  The captain is believed to have been Daniel Whiteman, and Girard’s overseer, Robert Maddox was also on board. The Taree called at the Macleay River to collect Girard’s sawyers and by the time she arrived at the Big River bar, Susan and Elizabeth. had already entered the river. The Taree with the assistance of a sawyer named William Meadows, who took soundings of the bar, was able to enter the river safely. Robert Maddox proceeded to draw a map of his observations as the ship slowly sailed up the river. On this map the Maddox’s noted boats at anchorage in the deepwater opposite Rocky Mouth,  waiting to load cedar. One at least was the Susan and news of her exploration up the river and that of the Elizabeth was likely exchanged by the captains. The Taree continued her exploration of the river and Maddox noted the two islands already named, Elizabeth and Susan. Proceeding further up the river, a river was noted to join the main river, which was named Whiteman Creek for the captain. The Taree moved up as far as the head of navigation and set down sawyers near where Kellick’s men had already set up a camp.

                 Meanwhile, Susan had returned to Sydney with her first load of cedar which was reported thus:

                ” The schooner, Susan, lately built by Mr. Small, at Kissing Point, returned from a trip to the Big River on Monday last, with a cargo of cedar, The Susan is spoken of as being a good vessel and a fast sailor, her measurements is about 50 tons burthen.”

                There was a further report on the Big River in the newspaper:-

                Considerable interest is at the present moment felt by owners of the coasting craft, as to the intelligence received from the Big River, where the schooner Susan procured her cargo. This river is about 400 miles to the northward of Sydney Heads. Its navigation is spoken of as being safe for vessels of from 80 to 100 tons for 70 miles from its mouth, and the banks on either side are thickly covered with the finest cedar. Other accounts differ in some degree from the above, and state that the entrance to the river is impeded by a sand bar, with about 15 feet of water on it, after passing which a second bar or spit obstructs the passage, more dangerous than the former, on account of there being but 10 feet of water on it, and the bottom of rock. After passing this danger, the water up the river runs about 15 feet deep. Messrs Girard and Hayes have a party of sawyers engaged about 100 miles up the Big River…”

                Girard anxiously awaiting the return of the Taree, then sent his ship the Eliza under Captain James Butcher , to the Big River in early August 1838.

                Having loaded cedar at the Clarence River, the Taree ran aground, when attempting to cross the river bar in early October 1838. Unfortunately she became a total wreck, although there was no loss of life.

                Captain James Butcher was the master of the Abercrombie which arrived in Sydney from Plymouth on 1 September 1837. Mrs. Butcher was also onboard and a few days later, on 6 September, gave birth to a son, whom they named ‘James’ and was baptised 8 October 1837. The Abercrombie then made a voyage to Mauritius, via South Australia, leaving Sydney on 27 October. She returned on 3 July 1838, with sugar and other sundries,  having left Mauritius on 13 April. The ship is believed to have been sold in early July and on 16 July she left for Hobart, under her new master, Captain Crew. It would appear than Captain Butcher then went to work for Francis Girard. His first job was to take the Eliza to the Big River.

                Butcher also made a map of the Clarence River noting important features on it including several cedar camps, namely- ‘Kellick, Sorrell, Girard and Cheafy ‘A report of his observations concerning the river.  was published in the Sydney Monitor:-

                “We have been favoured by Captain Butcher late of the Abercrombie, with some account of the capabilities of the Big River, from which he has recently returned, having explored it to a distance of 120 miles from the sea. Captain Butcher describes the river as navigable for vessels drawing nine feet water as far as Susan Island, which is situated about 80 miles from the entrance. The banks of the river are thickly covered with timber, fit for building vessels of any description. At a place called Pine Reach, about five miles above Susan’s  Island, Capt. B. saw a great abundance of pine trees, greatly resembling the English pine, and well adapted for making spars or for similar purposes. Some of the trees Captain B. saw, could not have been less than seven feet in diameter. The land on the banks of the river is generally of the finest description, and behind, are extensive flats of fertile land, luxuriantly covered with grass, and fit for immediate operation of the plough. Above Susan’s island, the river is not navigable, in consequence of the interception of several falls, or rather bars, which obstruct the passage. The water is salt for some distance beyond Susan’s Island, excepting in the rainy season. The banks of the river are generally pretty steep, the adjoining flats consequently, do not seem to be subject to floods. About 38 miles from the entrance the river divides itself into two branches, the lesser one of which runs in an E.N.E. direction, and again unites itself to the mainstream after making a detour of about 18 miles. The island thus formed; is of considerable extent, and the soil rich and fertile in the extreme. Beyond Susan’s Island, the river is only navigable for boats. Had time allowed, Captain Butcher intended to have followed the channel to its source, which he imagines must be some 30 or 40 miles inland. As it was he was compelled to return without having completed his purpose.

                Considering the immense advantages that must accrue from the discovery so near us of extensive tracts of fertile land, adjoining a navigable stream, it certainly seems somewhat surprising that the Big River, and other smaller streams to the northward of Port Macquarie, are known to us only through the medium of drunken sawyers. We do not think the time or the labour of an intelligent surveyor, with one of the Revenue Cutters placed at his disposal for a couple of months, would be altogether lost, in exploring the various navigable streams to their source.

                Although there is no mention in the newspapers, there is no doubt that the Eliza brought cedar from the Clarence River, as well as the news and crew from the wrecked Taree.  Maddox would have made his report to Girard, and handed over his map. This map and that of Captain Butcher’s was later sent to the Surveyor General’s office, whether by Girard or another it is not known. Captain Butcher made no further voyages to the Clarence River, but he made several voyages to Tasmania as the master of Girard’s ships. He later became a pilot at Port Jackson, a post he held for two years before ill health caused his dismissal.

                Maddox remained in Sydney and James Williams became Girard’s overseer on the Clarence River. He first set up on the South Arm of the river not far from where Small’s moved to. This was known as William’s Flat and later Tyndale. William’s later moved to an area above Susan Island, which became known as Waterview.

                Meanwhile, Girard had purchased the Martha, a  brig, 122 tons,   from Messrs McGaa and Co for £1,400 and had her refitted for the cedar trade. On December 2, she left Sydney for the Macleay .

                Throughout 1839, cedar was regularly shipped from the Clarence River for Girard, Kellick, Caffrey, and Small as well as independent voyages by enterprising ship captains in the Martha, Eliza, Edward, Curlew, Currency Lass, Sir David Ogilby, Sally, Betsy, Susan, and the Elizabeth.

                The sawyers were a law unto themselves and although a few had brought their families to the Clarence with them, most of the sawyers were single. Many had been convicts who had served their time, but there were also runaways from Moreton Bay who were working as ‘mates’ to sawyers.

                Little was mentioned of the sawyers on the visit of Captain Perry nor the other passengers of the King William in May 1839. However, when the surveyors, William C B Wilson, and Christopher Moore Wilson arrived in April 1840, they immediately wrote to the Colonial Secretary complaining of the behaviour of the sawyers and the ship’s crews.

                It was not until later in 1840 that Commissioner Oakes was to finally arrive on the Clarence River. From the 20 August to the 27 August, Oakes wrote – ‘These seven days have been employed in searching for, seizing and branding cedar cut by unlicensed sawyers ‘ and the following week,’” Having had information that some runaways from Moreton Bay were at work in the scrubs adjacent to Dr. Dobie’s and Mr. Grose’s stations I proceeded with my party in search of these-visiting the different intervening stations ‘

5 September 1840 Not having completed the measurement of cedar seized, moved my tents and party a distance of about 35 miles up the river in order to be more convenient to sawyers scrubs. After completing this tour of runs, Oakes then proceeded to check all licenses to cut timber and promptly confiscated considerable quantities including that cut by William Phillips shipbuilding yard. Oakes left one of his Border Policemen, Dominic Gannon in charge of the confiscated cedar and headed back to the Macleay River.

                Soon after the departure of Oakes, the irate cedar-cutters led by Girard’s overseer, James Williams, seized from Trooper Dominic Gannon the confiscated timber and shipped it to Sydney in the John and the Scotia. Oakes was soon dispatched back to the Clarence on the reports of the stolen timber and other problems in the area reaching Sydney

                On 10 September 1840, Thomas Small wrote to the Colonial Secretary advising the sawyers he had working for him, namely, Sylvester Kean, Joseph Shelley, Stephen King, Patrick Daly, John Avery, James Dorman, James Pierce, and William Carr.

                The following June Oakes was required to visit all camps and enterprises on the Clarence River to collect information for each householder’s census returns. Several sawyer camps are named and we know others were working as employees of settlers such as Thomas Small and are included in their returns.

                When Commissioner Oakes made a permanent headquarters on the Clarence River in 1841 and continued to prosecute the sawyers and confiscate their cedar, several decided to move onto the Richmond River to the north.


Extract from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author.

Index and full references can be found in the publication.


Clarence River History: The Cedar Cutters-Introduction

Cedar was first cut in New South Wales on the Hawkesbury in 1790 and it appears soon after the Hunter River was discovered, cedar was also cut from its banks. When the settlement was formed at Newcastle convicts were employed in cutting cedar for the government.

                 Cedar getting in the Illawarra District was established as soon as the first settlers arrived there and the trade was sufficiently developed by 1819 for the Government to regulate it. A General Order was published on 14 August 1819 which stated that several persons, both free and convict, had been for some time illegally residing in the district and ” there cutting sawing and selling large quantities of cedar and other timber, the property of the Crown”. In 1820 it became necessary to apply for permission to cut a specific quantity of timber and to state the number of men to be employed.

                Between 1820 and 1826 the industry developed considerably and a Government Order was issued recalling all permits granted to individuals to cut cedar on ‘unlocated land’. Those desiring to carry on the trade were to apply to the Colonial Secretary for the necessary authority. A duty of one half-penny per superficial foot was also imposed.

                When the settlement was established at Port Macquarie in 1821, the cedar on the banks of the Hastings River was soon exploited.

                By about 1828, the industry had moved north to the Manning River when settlement commenced on that river. From the Manning, the sawyers moved northwards to the Macleay or New River as it was known, in the 1830s. As the Macleay River was outside the ‘settled’ area very few of the sawyers were licensed and because of the demand for timber, the stakes were high. There was much thieving and re-branding of timber. They were a law unto themselves

                The Sydney Gazette of, 11 February 1836 referred to the Government Order which restricted the cutting of cedar on the North Coast and stated that the value of the land on the Macleay River in consequence of the indiscriminate removal of timber was undergoing rapid depreciation. The newspaper recommended that authority be given to the Superintendent at Port Macquarie to eject persons who had been ordered to cease cutting cedar on Crown Land.

                In the Government Gazette of, 2 April 1836, a notice appeared which informed interested parties that a licence permitting them to cut cedar for one year would be issued by the Collector of Internal Revenue on making application and paying the fee of one guinea. The extent and boundaries to be worked had to be described in the application.

                 There were three kinds of people engaged in the cedar trade. The first group was of generally merchants and traders who resided in Sydney and employed sawyers to cut for them. They had teams to shift the timber to the nearest port, and large boats to transport it to Sydney. When their own sawyers could not supply sufficient timber to meet the demand, they purchased from the second group. The second group consisted of men who were sawyers by trade, and who cut for sale to the group already mentioned, or to anyone else who would purchase from them. These men lived in the midst of the cedar grounds, sometimes with their families. A third group consisted of those employed in the cartage of the timber but were not otherwise interested in the timber trade. Ship’s captains often fell into this group.

Macleay River Today

Macleay River Today. Image from Google Images

Cedar-getters on the Macleay River

                In 1837 the government-appointed Commissioners to overseer the districts outside the nineteen counties on ‘Crown’ lands. Commissioner Oakes was appointed to the Port Macquarie district and the Macleay River was included in his area of jurisdiction. One of the duties of the Commissioner was to check that all sawyers were licensed to cut timber on Crown Land. Some sawyers on the Macleay were licensed but many were not.

                One of the leading timber merchants in Sydney was Francis Girard who by the mid-1830s had several sawyers working for him on the  Macleay River. He also owned several ships to carry the timber to Sydney. There was little change,  until the Government Order of 1836 which in fact restricted the cutting of timber on the Macleay.

                In 1836, Girard employed Robert Henry Maddox, as a clerk at his Steam Engine & Sawmill establishment at Darling Harbour.

                In early 1837, Maddox was sent as an overseer to Girard cedar depot on Macleay. However Maddox took ill and had to return to Sydney, so Girard’s brother in law, Patrick Hayes, was sent up to the Macleay River to appoint Whitebread as overseer.

The Macleay River bar presented major problems for getting the timber to Sydney-

                ” The Macleay River has been almost closed up by a furious drifting sand. There are only three feet of water on the bar, and the Eliza built for Mr. Girard and a number of other vessels are quite landlocked.”

                ” The Macleay River- News has reached Sydney by the steamer William the Fourth that this very important harbour for our small craft is completely locked at the present time we hear there about 10 vessels in it, and on account of so little water on the bar, they are unable to come out.

                Activities on the Macleay remained unnoticed until early October 1837 when one of Girard’s ships, the Taree arrived from the river. News of a riot there was published in the newspapers

                ” News of the Day… Four men, named Alexander Collins, Henry Byrne, James Searle, and James Millie, were charged before the Police on Friday last, with stealing a large quantity of cedar, under the following circumstances;- It appeared from the evidence of Mr. Girard, and his Superintendent, Mr. Hayes, that Mr. Girard. has property at the Macleay River, and is an extensive dealer in cedar. A person named Maddox was sent there as overseer, to protect the property. Maddox, however, became ill, and Mr. Hayes was sent down to supersede him; shortly after the arrival of that gentleman at the Macleay, he purchased for Mr. Girard about two hundred thousand feet of cedar from Messrs Rudder, Sullivan, Thompson, and others there; the chief quantity was purchased from Rudder. The cedar was brought to the beach and measured by Hayes, and a great portion of it branded by him for Mr. Girard. On the 17th of last month, Collins who is the captain of the Jane and Emma, cutter; Searle, who has lately become free, but formerly held a Ticket-of-Leave, and resided at the Macleay, and dealt in cedar; Millie, a seaman, and another person came to Mr. Hayes, and asked him if he had any freight for Sydney; Hayes offered him some at six shillings per hundred. They refused that, and said they would rather go back in ballast; but before they went away, they remarked they would have freight somehow or other. The next day Monday, Hayes accompanied by a Mr. Whitebread, was about to pull off to the vessel, to offer them an advanced freight, when he observed a number of boats pulling for the shore. From the number of persons in the boats, Hayes apprehended they were coming to steal cedar; he therefore returned and went for a loaded fowling-piece; by this time the boats had reached the shore, and twenty-five persons left them and came up to Hayes; several of them armed with muskets, and Hayes, on that account, fearing that bloodshed might ensue, threw away his piece. The party then went to where the cedar lay, the whole of the prisoners being in the assemblage. Searle said, pointing to the logs, this is mine, and this- in fact, it is all mine; they then fastened to the cedar, and returned to the boats, and towed away about a hundred and forty thousand feet to the vessels. The next day they returned and carried away about sixty thousand feet. Two vessels, belonging to Mr. Girard, were lying at the time within the bar, and Hayes proceeded on board one of them, the Taree, with a view of getting the Captain to put to sea and acquaint Mr. Girard and the Police  Authorities, of the transaction. The Captain, however, refused to do so for fear of injuring the vessel by trying to go over the bar. Hayes then went on board the other vessel, the Eliza, the captain of which immediately attempted to put out, but the vessel grounded on the bar, as did the vessels that had the stolen cedar on board, the Jane and Emma and the Speculator. The Taree afterward got over, and Mr. Hayes came in her to Sydney and took out warrants against the four prisoners, who were taken, Collins on board his vessel, which was found to contain cedar, which Hayes identified. Three other vessels afterward came into the harbour, one of them the Speculator was also found to contain some of the property.

                For the defence, it was contended on the part of Searle, that he had been possessed of some cedar at the Macleay, which had been stolen in his absence by Maddox, Mr. Girard’s foreman; he therefore returned and proceeded to claim his own property. The main ground of defence for the other prisoners, rested on this point, that none of the parties who had sold the cedar were possessed of land on which the cedar grew; and that, as the property in question had been cut from Government land, one person had as much right to it as another. It appeared, however, that Mr. Rudder, from whom Hayes purchased the greater portion of the cedar, had obtained a licence some time back from the Governor. It seems Rudder applied to the Government for leave to cut cedar, and the question was referred to a Committee to report upon; in the meantime, he was allowed to fell cedar on his understanding to take out a proper licence at whatever rate the Committee should decide upon. The Committee never came to any decision on the point, and Rudder continued to fell timber. They were all committed to take their trial but admitted to bail each of them in £80, and two securities in £40 each. Mr. David Chambers appeared for Mr. Girard and Messrs Ryan, Brenan, and Thurlow for the Prisoners.

                In anticipation of the arrival of more of his ships loaded with cedar, Girard placed the following advertisement


By A Pollack

On Saturday, the 14th of October, at Eleven o’clock precisely, at Mr. F Girard’s, Darling Harbour.

Two Hundred Thousand feet of Cedar, in logs and Boards, divided in lots  to suitable purchasers. Terms made known at time of sale.

                The Eliza arrived Sydney on 13 October 1837 from Macleay River and was duly reported.

                ” The schooner, Eliza, the property of Mr. Girard has returned in safety from the Macleay River, with a fine cargo of cedar from the owner’s establishment. She was detained some time in consequence of grounding on the bar at the Macleay River while endeavouring to make her passage out, and in consequence, sustained some trifling damages to her rudder.

                However, by this time the law had intervened, and the following report appeared in the press:-   ” Sergeant Hoyle, the other day, received a search warrant to proceed to a wharf adjoining to that of the Commercial, to search for some of the cedar mentioned in one of our late papers, as being forcibly taken from the superintendent of Mr. Girard at the Macleay.  Hoyle accompanied by a gentleman of the firm of Mr. Girard and a party of constables went to the place in question, and discovered a large quantity of cedar, lying on the wharf; several of the logs were identified as the property of Mr Girard, and the police were about to remove them, when Mr. Sawyer the owner of the cutter which brought up the property, and Millie, the captain ( one of the party lately committed for forcibly taking it away) interfered and prevented the Police from removing it. A re-enforcement of constables was sent for, and the cedar taken to the wharf of Mr. Girard and Sawyer and Millie to the watch house. Mr. Brenan appeared the next day for the prisoners, who were discharged, on its being proved that they only objected to the removal of the cedar, on the ground that it was disputed property, and Sawyer had a claim to it, to the amount of sixty or seventy pounds, for freight.

                On Thursday Mr. Kerr the barrister, attended by Mr. Thurlow, applied to the Magistrates on the Bench at the Police Office, on the above subject. Mr. K wished the Bench to order the removal of the cedar from the yard of Mr. Girard, into the custody of the Police, on the ground that it was not reasonable to leave it in the charge of one of the parties claiming it, who might sell it before the case would come on, and use the proceeds for his own benefit. The Magistrates stated an order had been made on the subject which they could not receive, the property was quite safe and a constable placed over it.

                Girard having little cedar to sell was forced to place the following ad:-


The Sale of cedar advertised by A Pollack, for tomorrow, at Mr. Girard’s Wharf, has been unavoidably postponed for a few days.

                At the Sydney Quarter Sessions in early January, Alexander Collins, James Searle, and James Millie were indicted with others unknown, for assaulting Patrick Hayes, at the Macleay River, on 18th September 1837. They were sentenced to short terms in gaol.

Macleay River

Headwaters of the Macleay. Image from Google Images

Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001,Grafton,published by author.

An index and full references can be found in the publication.

Clarence River History: Sea and Land Exploration- Allan Cunningham & Henry Rous

Allan Cunningham               

In 1825, Governor Darling, a military man, commended for distinguished service in Mauritius where he had been acting Governor found his new appointment in the Colony of New South Wales, far more complicated than his previous appointment. He was soon in disfavour with the Colonial Office in London especially when the financial crash of 1825 reduced the price of colonial exports and caused a severe depression in New South Wales.  The price of wool was to drop from 3s 6d in 1825, to a little more than 1s a pound by 1828, and the flow of capital from England, which had made expansion into wool possible, dried up, and many of the large sheep graziers became insolvent. At the same time a severe drought had hit the colony in late 1826 when crops and pastures were ruined and sheep died by the hundreds. Governor Darling then turned to explorers Captain Sturt and Allan Cunningham to look for new country and rivers to the tablelands north and northwest of the Great Dividing Range.


From Google Images retrieved 20 April 2020

In April 1827, Allan Cunningham, a botanist and explorer was dispatched by Governor Darling to again explore the interior including some of those areas seen by Oxley nearly ten years before. His party was guided up the Liverpool Ranges by Peter MacIntyre, in whose honour Cunningham named the MacIntyre River.. After  fording the Severn  he noted open forest with good grass . By the 8 July he had rejoined his tracks at what is now Warialda and returned along the same track to his point of origin at Segenhoe, on the Hunter River.

In the Sydney Gazette of 29 August 1827, mention is made of the discovery of a wreck on the beach some fifty miles below Trial Bay by four runaways from Moreton Bay who had obviously had travelled overland. Again they evidently crossed the Tweed, Richmond and Clarence Rivers as they travelled south. Soon afterwards in September 1827, the colonial sloop, Aligator, under Captain Barcus, was sent to investigate a report of another wreck said to have been sighted on the beach between Cape Byron and the Solitary Islands. The captain’s report of this voyage, including the examination of  the mouths of several rivers, appeared in the Sydney Gazette of 22 August 1829. This record is not sufficiently clear to enable us to determine whether the Clarence and Richmond Rivers were visited, but it is highly unlikely.

Henry Rous

On 17 February 1827,  H M Frigate Rainbow of 530 tons, 28 guns and a crew of 160 and 13 officers arrived in Port Jackson after a two months voyage from Tincomalee ( British Naval Base in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka). She was under the command of Captain Henry John Rous, the second son of the Earl of Stradbroke. After a term in India the Rainbow was posted to the Australian ‘station’ to relieve the HM Fly at the end of 1826. The Fly left Sydney on 26 February for Madras via Hobart Town.

After three weeks in the colony the Rainbow under Rous departed to take the Rev Samuel Marsden to visit the missionaries in New Zealand, returning some weeks later. On the 13 June, Archdeacon Thomas Scott proceeded on an official inspection of the convict settlements at Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Moreton Bay. Governor Darling was to accompany the party northwards and named Stradbroke Island in Moreton Bay and Dunwich after Captain Rous’ father, Earl of Stradbroke and Viscount Dunwich.

Henry John Rous

From Google Images retrieved 20 April 2020

The rich, dark green shores with mountains in the distance must have given encouragement to Governor Darling after Cunningham’s observations of the country that lay inland of these coastal regions. Perhaps he believed it was time for an extensive and closer look at the country along the shoreline.

Soon after its return to Sydney the Rainbow left for the East India station on 29 July 1827 and over the next several months visited many eastern ports on a tour of duty which included Malacca, Calcutta and Madras. She returned to Sydney on 1 May 1828. For the following two months the Rainbow was laid up in dry dock while extensive repairs were made to her copper sheathing.

Meanwhile Allan Cunningham had returned to Sydney from his inland exploration. He made his report to Governor Darling, after whom he named the extensive ‘Downs’ he had discovered in the north. Cunningham was anxious to explore this region from the eastern side, that is from Moreton Bay, and made preparations to proceed in the Government barque, the Lucy Ann to Moreton Bay.

On 14 August the Rainbow left Sydney again under the command of Rous. The ship’s Master was William Johns. As the Rainbow sailed north, close to land, little of interest happened on the voyage until the fifth day when the Rainbow passed the Solitary Islands, Rous noted’ an opening in the land’. This was examined by the master, William Johns, in a boat. It proved to be an entrance to a small river, which we now know to be the Sandon River.

At daylight the following day’ the mouth of a large river’ was sited ‘apparently running in a N.N.W direction’ The pinnace was ‘ sent to sound for an entrance’ but without success ‘from the surf breaking on the bar’.

On the sixth day still standing in shore the Rainbow anchored at Byron Bay.

Next morning she moved on and in the afternoon ‘she arrived at the entrance of a large river, falling into the sea south of Point Danger’. The following morning a party left to explore the river and stayed ashore nearly two days. The master, William Johns was busy sounding the bay and the crew found a spring north of the point, where the Rainbow was anchored and filled the water casks with fresh water. Rous must have been much encouraged with what he found, and determined to make a detailed report to the Governor and so made an extensive search of the lower reaches of the river. During the four days the Rainbow was anchored the master, Johns reported that nine runaways from Moreton Bay had given themselves up and were taken on board in a most desperate state. Completely unaware that this river had already been discovered by Oxley in 1823, and named the “Tweed”, Rous named the river the “Clarence”, after the Duke of Clarence, the then Lord High Admiral of the Navy. This was to cause much confusion in later years. He was disappointed that the inner bay was filled with sand banks at low tide was ,thus ‘making passage up stream to the coastal plains very difficult’.

On 26 August, the Rainbowweighted anchor and made sail running along the shore’ on a southerly course. The weather was ‘fine with fresh breezes’ and in “the afternoon the Rainbow anchored in eight fathoms of water at the mouth of a river six league south of ‘Cape Byron’ at Latitude  28° 53′ S and Longitude 153°E.” He named the river the ‘Richmond’,  after Charles, Duke of Richmond of the Lennox family. The headland north of the entrance was given the name “Lennox Heads”. Men in the ship’s ‘gigs’, or small boats, immediately started to sound the bar, returning late in the evening as a storm approached. The Rainbow was forced to ride out the storm which blew during the night, but by morning it had cleared, and Rous and party set out early to examine the river. They crossed the bar’ where the surf breaks between two sandbars’ and found themselves in a wide bay two miles in extent. Detailing men to chart the waters of the north creek, Rous party moved upstream along the main river. Some three miles beyond the Broadwater they met a swamp area and turned back but Rous noted that the river ‘had not shoaled its depth and the width was half a mile’ which would indicate a large river. However in his report he noted ’not a hill could be discovered of any size’ the abundance of timber and the presence of aboriginal huts. He indicated that the country to the northward, appeared to have suffered as much from drought as the southern districts of the colony.

After completing the examination of the Richmond River the Rainbow returned to anchor under Cape Byron and the master, William Johns, was instructed to chart the bay for a safe anchorage necessary if ships’ awaiting to cross the Richmond River bar in rough weather’. Johns noted on his map all the safe anchor ages for vessels of all sizes as well as landing places were indicated. Before the ship left for its voyage south, the ships company  small arms and twenty two guns were fired. The Rainbow then returned to Sydney where Rous reported his findings to Governor Darling.


Meanwhile Allan Cunningham with Captain Logan, Commandant of Moreton Bay, had set out from Moreton Bay to explore the land he had sighted the year before on his inland exploration of the Darling Downs. The party moved inland and on the 3 August, climbed Mount Lindsay and overlooked the valleys and mountain ranges to the south and east. Cunningham’s sketch map shows Wilson’s Peake east of Mt Lindsay but no other features of this northern district of New South Wales. were noted. So in 1828, still very little was known of the area, inland.     .

Although Captain Henry Rous made voyages north in 1827 and 1828 and discovered the ‘Richmond’, which he named, and rediscovered  Oxley’s ‘Tweed River,’ which he named the ‘Clarence’, there still had been no discovery of the ‘Big River’, we now know as the Clarence River.


Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001,Grafton,published by author.
An index and full references can be found in the publication.


Clarence River History: Land Exploration- Convict Explorers & Richard Craig

Convict Explorers

From the beginning, convicts escaped from Moreton Bay Penal Settlement and many-headed southwards towards civilization. Although not recognized as such, they were explorers just the same. The first successful of these, to arrive at Port Macquarie, appear to have been a party of four who escaped in late 1825. The Commandant at Port Macquarie, Captain Gillman, wrote to the Colonial Secretary on 18 November 1825.

I have to inform you that four Crown Prisoners (as per margin) who state themselves to be deserters from the settlement at Moreton Bay have arrived here. They assert that they have been five weeks on the journey, which they made nearly the whole way within a few miles of the sea-beach; they mention they crossed two very large rivers, besides many smaller ones; and over very large plains many miles in length; thus they give an account of their excursion; however, my opinion is, that they have made their escape in a boat, I have therefore sent a black constable with a soldier as far north as Trial Bay in hope of being able to secure the boat if they made their escape in this way as I suppose.”

Another letter of the 25 November 1825, conveyed the information that one of the convicts admitted that the party [in total about 14 persons] had seized a boat at Moreton Bay and that they had been at sea for a number of days before beaching the boat some distance above Port Macquarie. Nine of the escapees deserted inland at this stage and the remainder pushed on to Port Macquarie. A further report of this party in the Sydney Gazette of 1 December, gave further details of their claims and description of the land between Moreton Bay and Port Macquarie, but as they completed most of their journey by boat it is unlikely they saw the Tweed, Richmond, and Clarence Rivers.

In the following year, another report appeared in Sydney newspapers concerning an escapee from Moreton Bay, one William Smith. The report stated-

A runaway from Moreton Bay arrived lately at Newcastle. He performed the journey by land in nine weeks. He stopped four days in the neighborhood of Port Macquarie to refresh and brought away a companion from thither. They were stripped of their clothing by the natives, and in a most miserable plight arrived at Port Stephen’s where the assistant pilot of Newcastle discovered them. He brought them into Newcastle. We have not heard how they have been disposed of.

He describes the country between Moreton Bay and Port Macquarie ‘to be beautiful beyond description. A gentle undulation of hill and dale extends for many miles. Vast plains, well-watered and thickly wooded are to be found in abundance. He counts fourteen rivers over which he crossed on his journey.”

Smith was returned to Moreton Bay and was probably a source of comfort and knowledge to the later escapees from Moreton Bay.

Richard Craig       

It is important that we give a full study to Richard Craig and that of his father William. William Craig was born near Strokes town in County Roscommon, Ireland about 1773. It is believed he married and had at least one child, Richard born about 1811 in the neighbouring county of Longford, a few kilometres away. The country thereabouts is unsuitable for agriculture being low and marshy, but is very useful for the grazing of cattle and sheep and is, in fact, renowned for this. William Craig was a farmer and butcher living in this area. Nothing further is known of the family until 1820 when, William, probably a widower, was tried at the Lent Assizes at Cavan for sheep stealing. He was sentenced to seven years transportation to New South Wales. Although unusual, his son Richard, aged about eight years, was to accompany his father on board the Prince Regent, which sailed on 19 September 1820, and arrived in Sydney, 9 January 1821.

William Craig remained in Government employ for a short time after his arrival and is listed as such in the 1822 Convict Muster. On 8 October 1822, he was assigned to Bernard Fitzpatrick at Prospect. It is probably here that William and Richard experienced handling stock in the Australian bush and had contact with Aboriginals.

On 25 August 1823, William Craig married Jane Mitchell,  another convict, at St Matthew’s Church, Windsor. Some eighteen months later William was convicted by circumstantial evidence to be involved in cattle stealing and was sentenced to the penal settlement at Port Macquarie, for three years. Richard, now aged about 12 years of age accompanied him. Young Richard, already well versed in looking after stock in the bush and possibly acquainted with native ways would not have found the Port Macquarie experience difficult. In fact, he was now a young man and probably enjoyed the companionship of the local Aborigines and certainly learned much of their language and bush skills which would be of great help to him some years later.

While William and Richard Craig were at Port Macquarie, William’s wife, Jane, still residing near Windsor, was arrested and sentenced to the female factory for six months. When William was returned to Sydney in March 1827, he applied for his wife to be released early, however, her conduct was such that she was not allowed to return to William then, and it is doubtful that she ever did so. On his application for Jane, William refers to his farm ‘ up country’. Later he indicated that he raised cattle there for the Sydney Market. He and Richard certainly brought cattle to Sydney for sale, but it was suspected they were stolen cattle, although there was never sufficient evidence to bring them to court. This all changed in July 1828 when both Richard and William were arrested and convicted of cattle stealing.

Early in May 1828, William Craig rented a house from Joshua Holt in Castlereagh Street, Sydney, to open a butcher shop. He told Holt, that he had fat cattle at the Coal River, and had sent his son Richard, to collect them for slaughter. Previously Craig also told  Holt, he had some cattle at Burragarang. Holt became suspicious that Craig had more cattle than he could honestly come by, and was sending his son Richard to steal cattle, and ordered Craig to vacate the premises. Soon afterward a series of suspicious circumstances led to the arrest of Richard and William Craig, and they were indicted for ‘cattle stealing and receiving’, the property of Richard Jones. A number of people were called as witnesses at the trial. Thomas Smith, a servant of Richard Jones was bringing some cattle from the Hunter River towards Sydney and met Richard Craig at Joseph Smith’s at Putty. Craig offered his services to help bring the cattle as far as Richmond, which he did. However, during the night he made away with some of the beasts and brought them to Sydney for slaughter.

. One of the major players in the conviction of the men, was Chief Constable Jilks, a point worth remembering for subsequent events some eight years later. Richard was sentenced to death, but it was commuted to 7 years of hard labour in chains at Moreton Bay. This was William Craig’s second colonial offense, and so he was sentenced to 14 years at Norfolk Island. William died at Norfolk Island on 24 December 1836 from diarrhea, aged 66 years. The Commandants remark noted on his death record, that he was of ‘Good Character, quiet and inoffensive’.

On 10 January 1829, Richard Craig was placed on board the City of Edinburgh and sent to Moreton Bay. Like many prisoners, he tried to escape his confinement. His first attempt was in March 1829, but he was returned within two weeks. His second bid for freedom was on 19 September 1829, but he was brought in on 13 October 1829. It was most likely, he was then placed under close confinement for some time. His third and final escape was on 17 December 1830. This time he was more successful and made his way south towards Port Macquarie.

View of Port Macquarie c 1825. August Earle-State Library of New South Wales

View of Port Macquarie by August Earle,c1825 from State Library of New South Wales

Many hundreds of kilometres away at the Government Stockyards at Wellington Valley, near Bathurst, preparations were being made for another journey across the wilderness to Port Macquarie. John Maxwell was the Superintendent of Government Stock there and was winding down activities at that establishment. The disposal of the Colonial Government farms was initiated in 1830 and all Government farms except those at Emu Plains and Moreton Bay were advertised for lease, including that at Wellington Valley. The cattle there were to be sent northwards to the Port Macquarie penal establishment.

On 10 November 1830 Maxwell wrote to the Colonial Secretary.

“Arrangements will be made by the beginning of January for the cattle ordered to be sent to Port Macquarie”,

then on the 16th of December 1830.

” I have also to acquaint you that a team has been sent to Sydney for the stores for the use of the party intended to proceed to Port Macquarie with one hundred head of fat cattle, and as soon as I conceive the rivers are sufficiently low, to enable the party to undertake the journey, the cattle will be forwarded”

In reply to a letter from the Colonial Secretary’s Office at the end of March 1831 he wrote,

” Your letter…. desiring to be informed if the 6 men sent to Port Macquarie, are wanted for any special purpose here… I do not conceive it necessary to return them here.It would seem by this remark, that the party had already begun their journey. 

To put this daring journey from the Bathurst District, though the Liverpool Plains to Port Macquarie into perspective it should be noted that Oxley had tried to reach Port Macquarie via the Liverpool Plains in 1818. Henry Dangar, an outstanding bushman of his time had lost all his horses in trying to get to Port Macquarie from New England in 1825, and his exhausted party arrived on foot. No one else is known to have made the journey by 1831. Although there certainly were men and stock on the Liverpool Plains, these were few and far between. Mitchell had not made his trip down the Namoi River and any maps of the colony were certainly wildly distorted and useless. It would seem it was a particularly difficult excursion and we should not be surprised at the letter the Commandant of Port Macquarie wrote to the Colonial Secretary at the end of May, advising him of the arrival of the party, but without the stock.

27 May 1831

“An Overseer (Oliver) and five men report having left Wellington Valley with 107 head of cattle and 6 horses on 3rd February 1831 and were directed in an N.E. course – six weeks provisions –  have suffered great privations – left cattle 74 and 4 horses on 17th instant about 50 miles beyond the New River”.

The Colonial Secretary’s reply of 14 June-

” … acknowledging… your letter… reporting the arrival of Overseer Oliver and five men forwarded with cattle from Wellington Valley to Port Macquarie, but they had been compelled to leave the surviving animals on the route until the party could refresh and return for them.

I am directed by His Excellency to request that these men when recovered from fatigue, maybe despatched in search of the cattle…”

Meanwhile, it would seem the Commandant was of the same mind as an entry in his diary records,

13 June 1831

” Crown prisoner Overseer Oliver and a party of 4 men went to the interior for the fat oxen etc. left by them in the bush coming from Wellington Valley.”

4 July 1831

” Overseer Oliver and the four men, crown prisoners, who went for the cattle left in the bush on their way from Wellington Valley, returned and report they cannot proceed in the direction sent, the mountains perpendicular and the ravines being utterly impassable.

31 July 1831

Overseer Oliver and party who went in pursuit of the cattle have returned without them”

While all this drama was going on at Port Macquarie, Richard Craig, the runaway from Moreton Bay was slowing making his way down the coast. He spent several months on the journey and spent some considerable time in the company of Sheik Brown who was also a runaway from Morton Bay and was living with the at ‘the Big River’. With the aid of Brown and the Aborigines, he made his way south to the Trial Bay area, where it is believed he met with Aborigines he had known from his earlier years. He gave himself up to the authorities at Port Macquarie on the 4 August 1831.

The Commandant at Port Macquarie recorded in his diary-

4 August 1831

“Richard Craig, a Moreton Bay bushranger, brought in by the free servant of Mr. Partridge’s to whom he gave himself up”.

No doubt the Commandant closely questioned Craig about his sojourn in the bush and probably learned of his earlier time in the district and his friendship with the Aboriginals. He was clearly impressed with his ability to converse naturally with them and recognized in Craig the possible solution of his most pressing problem of that time, and that was retrieving the missing cattle. The Commandant’s diary reveals an interesting sequence of events- 

“13 August 1831

…. four men who were in search of the cattle from Wellington opposing the Overseer in the execution of his duty and insolent to him. Remanded. 

15 August 1831

The four crown prisoners remanded on 13th brought up and were sentenced severely each to one month Iron Gang.

Nothing more could be done about the cattle until the men had completed their sentences.

Meanwhile, Craig was not the only Moreton Bay runaway taken at this time at Port Macquarie, as the following entries in the diary show-

7 September 1831

‘Two runaways from Morton Bay taken by Mr. Partridge’s servant (Thomas Baker) on North Shore’.

12 September 1831

Two Morton Bay runaways apprehended by the natives at Trial Bay, one made his escape from the blacks,’ (but later brought in by Minni Minni’) and one was taken by the assigned servant of Mr. Reed’s on the North Shore…”

By now the cattle party convicts had completed their month on the iron gang and the Commandant was ready to send them out again, but with caution.

13 September 1831

” The cattle party in charge of Overseer Oliver cautioned by the Commandant to their conduct while on their trip to the interior.”

The party was soon provisioned and made ready but this time there was an extra member in the party.

15 September 1831

” Overseer Oliver and the cattle party (five in Number) with Craig, the Moreton Bay runaway as a guide departed for the interior in search of the cattle”.

It was more than two months before a further report of the party is recorded.

25 November 1831

“Overseer Oliver and one of the cattle party returned reports,’ his success in bringing 57 oxen and 2 horses to Point Plomer, party dreadfully exhausted being so long without flour. Reports that white people ( several in number)  are living in the bush, including two white women, and are farming between here and Moreton Bay.’

5 December 1831

‘ Oliver and party returned to the settlement, the cattle taken to Rolland’s Plains”.

Meanwhile, the Commandant at Port Macquarie had written to the Colonial Secretary concerning Craig and his reply was as follows.

” with respect to the Moreton Bay runaway named in the margin, (Richard Craig)  employed by you as a guide to the party sent in search of the strayed cattle from Wellington Valley in consequence of his perfect knowledge of the native language. I am directed by his excellency the Governor to acquaint you that there will be no objections to his detention and assignment of this man at Port Macquarie, instead of returning him whence he came”

As there was little assignment of prisoners to private and military service, at this time Craig was left at the stock establishment at Rolland’s Plains, where he did his job well.

The Commandant reported in his diary-

28 March 1832

” reported by Overseer Brunker, 4 feet water in his house at Rolland’s Plains, the flats completely covered. Government pigs and cattle saved by the perseverance of crown prisoner Creig. sic. (Craig) .

Over the next few months, the Commandant at Port Macquarie reconsidered the information Craig had given him concerning the ‘Big River’ in the north towards Moreton Bay, and also the knowledge of the ‘ Big River’ to the west (also known as the Page).”


Perhaps he thought they may have been the same river system extending over a very large area. This was a puzzle he wanted to solve. Having made his considerations, he did two things.

Firstly he sent Craig on an exploration journey into the interior and secondly he sent for Sheik Brown whom Craig had talked about at the Big River, towards Moreton Bay. This is revealed by the diary.

“28 July 1832

Crown prisoner Craig equipped for transport from Port Macquarie to Liverpool Plains to trace down the main arm of a river, known by the name of the Big River, to the sea coast.

18 August 1832

William Dalton one of the absentees from Moreton Bay, sent in the direction of the Big River, to bring to the settlement Black Jack, a runaway prisoner from Moreton Bay, who has been with the native blacks for these last three years and upwards’.

24 August 1832

Crown prisoner Craig returned- reached one of the stations belonging to the Agricultural Company Port Stephen’s- could not proceed to Liverpool Plains for the want of provisions.

27 August 1832

Crown prisoner Dalton, one of the Moreton Bay absentees sent after Black Jack a runaway from Moreton Bay came in and reports he has been with him and he is coming to give himself up to the Resident Magistrate.’

29 August 1832

Black Jack a runaway from Morton Bay  came in and gave himself up states he has been in the bush 3 years 4 months and chiefly resided at the Big River and its neighbourhood.’

30 August 1832

Black Jack interrogated relative to the Big River gives a very promising statement of the navigation of the river, which abounds with fish-the land excellent-abundance of emu, kangaroo and wildfowl are in all directions of this river. Fine oak, gum and other trees of use, for various purposes, are growing here.”

Black Jack Sheik

Sheik Brown, a ‘man of colour’, originally from Bombay, was sentenced for Life at the Middlesex Court on 7 April 1824. He arrived in Sydney in 1825 onboard Asia (5). In 1828 he was sent to Moreton Bay from where he soon absconded. He traveled southwards and then settled with the Aboriginals at the ‘Big River’ for several years before voluntarily giving himself up at Port Macquarie in August 1832.

Much of his later life is told in the correspondence between the Colonial Secretary’s Office and the Commandant at Port Macquarie.

“4 February 1833

Sir,  It having been represented by the Commandant of Moreton Bay that the prisoner named in the margin (Sheik Brown per Asia), is a runaway from that settlement, is now employed as a servant at Port Macquarie.

I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to request your report on the matter and that Brown if actually at Port Macquarie may be apprehended and returned to Moreton Bay by the first opportunity.

A few days later the Resident Magistrate wrote to the Colonial Secretary.

15 February 1833

‘Sir,     I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 4th instant and in reply I beg to state that Black Jack, alias Jack Brown, alias Sheik Brown was duly reported of having voluntary surrendered himself at this settlement as a runaway from Moreton Bay after having been three years and three months in the bush between this and Moreton Bay upon a promise on my part that I would intercede with his Excellency the Governor, to allow of his remaining here instead of returning to that settlement and in consequence I addressed the Private Secretary on 8 September last, upon the subject, and therein  stated that in consequence of the prisoner being an unfortunate black from Bombay and unaccustomed to mess with Europeans I had taken him on loan into my own service which I trusted would meet with his Excellency’s approbation, since then the said Sheik Brown absconded from this on 16th ultimo and returned to his former haunt where it is likely he will remain from being befriended by the aboriginals. Signed Benjamin Sullivan- Resident Magistrate.

Little was heard of Sheik Brown for some time. However, on 15 May 1834, a letter from the Colonial Secretary’s Office refers as follows-

‘ The prisoner named in the margin (Sheik Brown, Asia (5)), a runaway from Morton Bay, the subject of my letter to you of 25 March 1833… having been apprehended at Hunter River is returned to that settlement by the present opportunity”that is, by the government cutter,

Governor Phillip. After spending some time at Moreton Bay Brown was returned to Sydney where he received a Ticket of Leave, from the Parramatta Bench in 1842. Later it was altered to Moreton Bay where he remained until the completion of sentence.


Richard Craig remained in the Port Macquarie District under assignment. It is believed some of this time he was on the Upper Macleay taking care of stock for settlers who were opening up the area. On the Monthly Returns of Crown Prisoners for March 1834, he is noted as-

Richard Craig, Prince Regent, from assigned service.

On 30 July 1830, a proclamation announced that the Port Macquarie settlement was to be thrown open for private settlement although the convict settlement was to remain.

The Crown land in the Port Macquarie District in the 1830 to 1831 period, was received by the grantees, on what was termed as the ‘Governor’s Promise’. They occupied the land, and after seven years from the date of the authority to take possession, quit rent became payable until redeemed. These grants were under Governor Darling, who was the last Governor to dispose of land in this way. After 1831 Crown Land was sold by auction after having been surveyed and advertised in the Government Gazette.

At the end of March 1832, the Government Agricultural Establishment at Port Macquarie was closed and the convicts were assigned as labourers to free settlers. Craig after carrying out work at Rolland’s Plains and the exploration journey was reassigned.

In June 1832, Captain Smyth, the last military commandant, departed and was replaced by Benjamin Sullivan, the first resident Police Magistrate.

In 1835 the resident Magistrate of Port Macquarie, Benjamin Sullivan published his proposals for the development of the area around Port Macquarie and reported to the Governor his concerns of the movement of the squatters into the districts outside the ‘limits of location.’

His proposal and information he had gleaned about the country to the north and west was published in the newspaper ‘The Colonist’ in 1835- Included was reports made by various convicts-

“Richard Craig, per Prince Regent in 1820 states- that he left Moreton Bay in 1830, and proceeded to Point Danger, continued along the coast and crossed several rivers till he came to the mouth of the Big River, which had an entrance resembling this, having a point on the North Shore, and having a high cliff on the south; at low water, the river is about as wide as this (referring to Hastings at Port Macquarie), at high water that getting inside the Head, it forms an estuary with two sandbanks in it, the channels running around and between them. Into this estuary two branches empty themselves, the one running due west about three-quarters of a mile, divided at its mouth, the other half a mile wide, running North-west; the entrance of the harbour is deep, and there was no appearance of breakers or bar. He met there another runaway from Moreton Bay, who informed him he had seen the boats of H M S Rainbow, go up the Western River to a great distance. That about forty miles from its mouth, he met with delightful plains, far superior to any about here; and as he passed along the mountains to them, he could see on the opposite side of the river, and on the north-west, others extending as far as the eye could reach. On the mountains he met with trees very lofty and thick in the bark, differing from any he had seen elsewhere. On the south side of the entrance to the harbour, there is good ground for a Township, with plenty of good water.”


” Sheik, alias Jack Brown, a Mussulman, states, that he has been absent from Moreton Bay three years and four months, having principally stopped at the large river, called by the natives, Brimbo, and by some Berin. That the river is very wide at the mouth; that during the neap tides at half-ebb, it has nine feet water, and at low water, six feet, and during the spring tides at high water, from fifteen to sixteen feet; the ebb tide runs strong; he has been up the southern branch in a canoe, carried by the tide; in going up the northern branch afterward, he entered a large lake, about a hundred miles round, from which he again continued going up the river to the southward and westward six days, at the rate of from twenty to thirty miles a day, the country around appeared to be flat, with an abundance of all kinds of fish in the rivers. All the rivers appear to unite. Half a day’s journey up the western branch, he came to a branch like a canal, which runs into the southern lake, a ship of seventy-four guns can go up the northern branch in four tides, at seven knots per hour. It took him ten days and a half to go from the entrance to the farthest extremity of this river in his canoe. He saw the Rainbow at anchor at the Big River. The land is beautiful all about the river. Half a day’s journey up the northern river, there is plenty of pine. He saw a whaleboat near the Black Rock River, and another about two miles distance, buried in the sand. Between Trial Bay and Smoky Cape, a schooner lies wrecked and appears to have been there some time. During the summer, plenty of sea salt can be collected off the rocks; plenty of stone to be had for building.”

The Governor realized it was an impossible task to confine the squatters within further boundaries and in 1836 an Act was passed admitting the right to graze stock, after payment of a license fee, on lands lying beyond the limits of location. The Act made squatting on lands legally and respectable and from that time on many large holdings on the New England and the Macleay River were taken up. To overseer, the seven districts beyond the boundaries of location, Commissioners of Crown Lands were appointed. One of these appointees was Henry Oakes, whose district No 7, included the County of Gloucester, Port Macquarie and the area of all waters falling towards the east coast (up to Morton Bay). Major Oakes played a major part in the settlement of the northern rivers, particularly the Clarence and Richmond, and we will learn much more of him in later chapters.

To return to the story of Richard Craig. Although Craig may have lived a fairly free life in “assignment” at Port Macquarie District, he was discharged from the Convict establishment on 30 September 1835 as a ‘free’ man. He then made his way to Sydney. However since his years spent away from civilization, some things had changed. For example on completion of their sentence, ‘free’ convicts in Sydney needed to apply and be granted a ‘Certificate of Freedom’, which was to be carried at all times to ‘prove’ his or her status. Constables were paid a bounty for the apprehension of absconders. Both these were important facts known to ‘free’ men in Sydney. Another important fact as far as Craig was concerned the Chief Constable of Sydney was still George Jilks, who was so instrumental in Craig’s conviction in 1828.

When Craig made it to Sydney, he stayed at the Three Crown Inn, at the corner of Cumberland Street and Charlotte Place, which was kept by Charles James Bullivant. Also staying at the Three Crowns was one Richard Payne, who had come to Sydney as a convict in 1819 onboard the Malabar, but by this time was free by servitude. Payne was a contemporary of Thomas Ryan, who at the time was the Chief Clerk to the Superintendent of Convicts at Hyde Park.

Thomas Ryan had also been a convict and had come out on the Pilot in 1817. He had been a clerk in the Colonial Office for many years before being appointed Chief Clerk on 1 January 1828. Bullivant asked Payne to negotiate the voluntary surrender of Craig stating that he had valuable information to convey to the Government. After Payne had spoken to Craig concerning the information about the Big River, Payne went to see Thomas Ryan and obtained a pass for Craig to proceed to the barracks free from arrest by the constables. On reaching Hyde Park, Thomas Ryan recognized Craig at once, having what we would term now, a photographic memory. He had been in that office when Craig and his father had been convicted in July 1828. Craig’s business was told and he was given a pass to undertake employment during the day and to return to the barracks for muster in the evening until his free status could be confirmed from records.

There is no doubt Thomas Ryan would have passed this information onto his brother-in-law Francis Girard, a well-known businessman and timber merchant on the Macleay River. However, his part in the settlement of the Clarence River will be told later.

It has also been claimed that the Government cutter Prince George was dispatched by the Governor to the Big River, to check Craig’s story, however, there is no record of a special visit of that ship for that purpose. On 22 September 1836, the vessel departed Sydney in quest of the wreck and crew of the brig Stirling Castle and returned on 14 October 1836. It is possible Girard had made inquiries through his shipping connections for Shoal Bay to be checked. Another possibility is that the Betsy which arrived from Morton Bay on 24 November 1836, could also have been used to convey news of the entrance of the Big River.

After his return to Sydney we loose sight of Craig for some months but believe he was hiring himself out as a labourer in certain establishments, including working at the timber yard of Thomas Small. He later claimed to have overheard a conversation between his employers concerning the employment of the ship they were building for the cedar trade. There was already a  decline of available timber on the Illawarra and Hastings River districts, and an incident in September 1837 on the Macleay or New River, had made Small and Gillett reluctant to try these areas, so they were interested in Craig’s information on the ‘Big River’ further north. As the ship was near completion Henry Gillett wrote to the Colonial Secretary’s Office seeking permission ” to cut cedar on unlocated Crown Lands about ninety miles beyond the Macleay River on the Big River.”

When the ship named “Susan’ after Thomas Small’s daughter, was completed and rigged she set out on a journey of discovery in early April 1838.

Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author. This publication is fully referenced and indexed.

Clarence River History: Sea and Land Exploration- John Oxley

John Oxley   

John Oxley, a Yorkshire man, was appointed Surveyor-General of New South Wales and in  1818 undertook an exploration journey into the interior to explore the Macquarie and Castlereagh Rivers, then crossed over the Warrumbungles onto the Liverpool Plains. After traveling northwards in a large arc the party passed along what was later named the New England He finally returned to the coast near what is now Port Macquarie. His party underwent much hardship in getting off the plateau, and down to the coastal plain. His report helped to facilitate the opening of Port Macquarie as a penal settlement to replace Newcastle.

John Oxley

John Oxley  (1784-1828) image through Google images from from State Library of New South Wales 10 April 2020

In 1823 Governor Brisbane commissioned Lieut. John Oxley to sail northward along the east coast for the purpose, of finding a suitable site, for the establishment of another penal settlement. Port Macquarie which had been established in 1821, was considered not secure enough. Oxley set sail in the Mermaid on 23 October 1823.

Accompanying him was Lieut. Robert Stirling an officer of the Buffs (3rd Regiment of Foot) who had arrived in the colony earlier that year. He had experience in cartography, and his skills would have been invaluable to the expedition. His military experience concerning convicts would have made him sensitive to proposed penal settlement sites.

Also on board was John Fitzgerald Uniacke who had some knowledge of Australian flora and fauna species as well as rocks and minerals. Uniacke was born in 1798, the son of a member of the Irish House of Commons, and his wife, Annette, who was the daughter of John Beresford, the first Commissioner of Customs in Dublin. Soon after the voyage with Oxley Uniacke was appointed Superintendent of Distilleries, and in 1824 was appointed Sheriff and Provost Master of New South Wales. He died on 3 January 1825, aged 26 years, from fever. Uniacke’s most unique contribution to the exploration of the north coast of New South Wales was his published report of the voyage he made with Oxley.

On Tuesday, October 21, 1823, Mr. Oxley, Lieut. Sterling ..and I embarked on board the colonial cutter Mermaid with Charles Penson, as Master.

Early of the morning of Saturday-(October) 25 th we came to anchor off Port Macquarie’…..

………..    we left Port Macquarie with much regret….we met the boat at the rocks, where we landed, and with some difficulty, on account of the surf, reached the cutter at two o’clock Monday 27th October. The wind being fair we immediately got underway and continued our course northward [ NB- passed the mouth of the Clarence and Richmond Rivers ]- till Friday afternoon, when the wind shifted and came on to blow so hard, that we determined to run inshore and look out for anchorage; this we found under the lee of a small island off Point Danger, about a mile from the land. While running down for this place, we perceived the mouth of a large river about a mile and a half to the northward; and next morning at daylight the master was despatched in the whaleboat to ascertain the possibility of taking the vessel into it…

Stirling and Uniacke landed on the island… where they secured food in the way of birds, their eggs and turtles….and located an old wreck, the origins of which they speculated. They then returned to the ship where the master reported on his boat trip into the river. “He had examined the entrance and found two fathoms on the bar at low water, with deep water and secure anchorage further in. As the river appeared to run from the southwards, and parallel with the shore for some distance, it was agreed that the mate should go after breakfast with a boat into the river, until opposite to where the vessel lay, when we were to join him by land and proceed to the examination of the upper part of the river.


Meanwhile, Oxley and  Uniacke had returned to the wreck on the island, but making no more of it they then turned their attention to the mainland. and landed,…to proceed with the examination of the river; the part of it where we found the boat, extended over a large flat, being in many places above a mile broad, interspersed with numerous low mangrove islands, and very shallow, except in the channel, where we found from nine to two fathoms water.

The country on either side was very hilly and richly wooded, and the view altogether beautiful beyond description. Having wandered out of the channel, we with some difficulty proceeded about four miles, when the river assumed a different appearance, being contracted to a quarter of a mile in width, with five fathoms water all across; the banks also wore a different aspect, being free from mangroves; the soil seemed rich, and the timber evidently improved in size and quality. The scenery here exceeded anything I had previously seen in Australia- extending for miles along a deep rich valley, clothed with magnificent trees, the beautiful uniformity of which was only interrupted by the turns and windings of the river… while in the background, Mount Warning ..reared its barren and singularly shaped peak…

It was…. agreed that the mate and crew should remain with the boat in the river, where we had joined them, … and that Mr. Oxley and I should return on board to sleep, and come back with Mr. Stirling at daylight.

However (next morning) just as we were preparing to land, the wind suddenly shifted to the S.W; and as it seemed likely to continue steadily at that point, Mr. Oxley thought it impudent to lose the advantage of it, and therefore deferred exploring the river till our return. The signal was accordingly made for the boat to return on board, and all hands were employed in getting the vessel underway…..

We… gave the name of the ‘Tweed’ to the river. The latitude of our anchorage is 28° 8’S and its longitude 153° 31’ 30” E…

The next day, Thursday, November 6th… we came to anchor in Port Curtis

The Tweed River had now been discovered, but the Richmond and Clarence Rivers continued to hold their secret.

Oxley and his party returned to Sydney on the 13 December 1823. Due to Oxley’s favourable reports on the Moreton Bay area, a penal settlement was set up there in the following year, under the Commandant Captain Henry Miller. The settlement was named Brisbane in honour of the Governor.


Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author. This publication is fully referenced and indexed.

Clarence River History: Sea Exploration – Flinders & Bingle

Eleven years after the first European settlers arrived on our shores, with the First Fleet, the Governor had a problem. The area of settlement was becoming overcrowded and was not as productive as it had been.

Governor Hunter needed to find other areas to settle. He sent explorers out by land and by sea. One was Matthew Flinders.


Matthew Flinders. Unknown artist, 1801. Miniature watercolour on a locket kept by Ann Flinders. Copy of original Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (ZML MIN 52)

From <>


Matthew Flinders

“In 1799, Governor Hunter, commissioned Matthew Flinders, of the Government sloop, Norfolk, of 25 tons, to sail northwards and examine the coast” with as much accuracy as the limited time of six weeks would permit”. Flinders with a crew of nine, including his brother, Samuel, a Midshipman on the Reliance and Bongaree, a Port Jackson aborigine as a native interpreter, left Sydney on 8 July and sailed northwards. Flinder’s Journal recorded the following- “The small projections that opened out as we sailed along, often presented the delusive appearance of openings behind them; and we were the more inclined to entertain these hopes, as Capt. Cook passed along this part of the coast at night. At half-past two, a small island opened off from a low rocky point, behind which there is a small river running to the S.W.  but the breakers seem to extend mostly across the entrance. If there is any passage it lies to the south side of the island.

At half-past three, a peaked hill standing four or five miles inland and more conspicuous than usual bore true west. Before five, we stood in for what appeared to be an opening, and about dusk were in the entrance of a wide shoal bay. Our soundings were from five to three and a half fathoms on the south side of the entrance, and the breakers extending from the low north point more than halfway across showed that it was the deepest side. In standing inward the water shoaled to ten feet; upon which we wore, and on hauling close to the South head, deepened to four fathoms. Soon after we anchored in two and a half fathoms, on a hard, sandy bottom; the extreme of the south head bearing and the breakers from the north side N.E.; between these, we were exposed to the sea winds.

Flinders gave his reasons for entering the bay- The objects that induced me to come into this bay were that we might have daylight to run along the remaining part of the coast which Captain Cook had passed in the night, and to ascertain a place of safety to run for, should the wind come dead on the coast, on our return. The leak was also a part of the inducement; for if this place turns out to be a place of consequence enough to be worth expending a few days in its examination and a convenient place offer itself for laying the Sloop on shore, I intended to get it stopped in the meantime. During the night the ebb tide ran near two knots past the Sloop.

FRIDAY, 12th  At daylight in the morning I went up on the South Head of the entrance and took bearings of the few remarkable objects that presented themselves.”

Flinders was very precise in his descriptions “The Bay appeared from thence to be a large extent of shoal water, with channels somewhat deeper in different parts of it. The principal one seemed to be that in which the Sloop lay, which ran West along the Southside of the Bay till it turned round the west end of the middle shoal. This shoal is mostly dry at low water. We afterward went up this channel in the boat, and round the shoal; but although the tide ran very rapidly, there were scarcely three fathoms anywhere; and in going towards some branches in the north part of the bay, were obliged to get out and drag the little boat over the sands into another channel. The north point of the entrance into this bay is only a projecting spit of sandy ground; for the water turns sharp round the point and runs to the Northward nearly parallel with the coastline. Along this shore is a deeper channel, but the swell from the sea seems to prevent the tide from making a clear passage out, for the channel becomes shoaled as it approaches the entrance. The tide having fallen so much as to preclude our return by the way we came, we were obliged to try this passage thro’ it was at the risk of swamping the boat; for the ebb tide ran with increasing rapidity in this shoal water and meeting the sea swell and southerly wind, the water broke at times all across the north point to the middle shoal and made such a jumble that the oar could scarcely be used. In one minute, however, the danger was past; for the velocity of the tide was such, as to carry the boat windward against the obstacles. It was only necessary for us to keep the boat end on to sea, to prevent from filling.

Having returned to the Sloop, I took the sextant and artificial horizon onshore to the South Head to observe for the latitude.  The sun being more than half an hour distant from the meridian … gave me time to examine three Native’s huts that stood at a little distance; they were of a circular form about eight feet in diameter. The frame were made of the stronger tendrils of vine, crossing each other in all directions and bound together with strong wiry grass at the principal intersections. The covering was of bark of soft texture resembling the bark what is called Tea Tree at Port Jackson, and so completely laid on as to keep out both wind and rain; the entrance is by a small avenue projecting from the periphery of the circle and does not go directly into the hut, but turns sufficiently to prevent the rain from beating in. The height of the under of the roof is about four and a half to five feet and those I entered had collected a coat of soot from the fires that had been made in the middle of the huts. Those who have been in an oven will have a tolerable exact idea of these habitations, but the sides of these were nearer to the perpendicular than those of ovens usually are. One of the three huts was a double one, the form containing two recesses with but one entrance, intended most probably for kindred families. This hut contained room for ten or fifteen people”. Bongaree, who was with me, admitted that they were much superior to any native houses that he had seen before. He brought away a small hand basket made from some kind of leaf which would contain five or six pints of water and was nearly such as I have seen used at Coupang in the island Timor for carrying the toddy about in.

The meridian altitude of the Sun gave the latitude of the entrance into the bay, 29º 26’28” South.


Having given the most important details Flinders then mentions several of his observations. There were many white Cockatoos and Parroquets about this bay, as also crows, whose notes were much more short and hasty than any ever heard. Numbers of Pelicans frequent the shoals and some Gulls and Red bills. The Palm-nut tree grows here, which is the third kind of palm mentioned by Capt. Cook as being produced in New South Wales…

As this bay seemed to deserve but a little examination, I did not think it worth staying any longer in it and therefore got under weigh at one o’clock, the tide being then rising by the shore, altho’ the stream was still running out.

There was but ten feet in some parts of the entrance, and the wind dying away, we were obliged to get the sweeps out to prevent the S.E. swell from setting the Sloop amongst the breakers that lay off from the north side. At four o’clock the South head bore and, behind which there may be another entrance into the shoal behind one or other of these heads.

I can give no particular mark that will point out the situation of Shoal Bay, but its latitude and the somewhat remarkably peaked hill that lays about four leagues to the southward of it. Was any vessel ever likely to visit it, it would be necessary to remark that either of the two heads above mentioned might be mistaken for the South head of the bay.

Saturday 13th -We had a moderate breeze all night from the S.W. and at ten o’clock… Cape Byron bore N 67º W. three miles, and at the same time…, the peak of Mouth Warning was just topping over it. Captain Cook observes that it bears from the Cape; the bearings, therefore, given in his voyage, are reduced from the magnetic to the true bearings.


At noon the latitude was 28º 32′ 12″ south, being but 4′ south of the Log. Mount Warning bore W 8º N and Cape Byron S 16 º W 7 or 8 miles. Towards the evening, as we brought the Mount to bear more to the Southward, it put on a cockscomb like appearance. We had hauled more off the shore soon afternoon, to pass without the reef laying off Point Danger; the wind being from the eastward. At ten in the evening the meridian altitude ….gave our situation to the northward of the reef, and finding no bottom either at eight o’clock or at ten with forty-five fathoms, we edged more away towards the land, and at daylight kept well in, finding the land to be at a considerable distance, and so Flinders moved on northward.”


John Bingle

Many years later in 1822, Governor Brisbane commissioned Captain John Bingle of the colonial cutter, Sally to survey the coast of New South Wales to the northward of Sydney, so far as latitude 25 degrees south The voyage took from 31 December to 24 March 1822. Although the Log Book of the Sally has been found in recent years, in private hands it would appear Bingle followed in the footsteps of Flinders and made no new discoveries. There is no mention of Shoal Bay or the rivers to the north.


Extracts from “ European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author. This publication is fully referenced and indexed.