Early Nambucca timber mills: The pioneering story of the Buckmans

The headstone on the graves of Jabez and Mary Ann Buckman is one of the earliest surviving in the Nambucca Heads cemetery.

There is an earlier one for Charles Vaughan, cedar cutter from 1900, which predates the Buckmans only by months.

Prior to the opening of the Nambucca Cemetery, interments were made at Blackbutt Cemetery near Macksville and the Pioneer Cemetery near Beilbys Beach. There were also other cemeteries in the valley which have fallen into disuse and burials were also made on farms and properties.

Both Jabez and Mary Ann were born in the UK, in Sussex and Kent respectively. Mary Ann may have had humble beginnings as on her death certificate it lists her mother as unknown. 

Mary Ann Buckman nee Albury raised 10 children in Nambucca Heads in the late 1800s. Photo courtesy of Nambucca Headland Museum.

Mary Ann Buckman nee Albury raised 10 children in Nambucca Heads in the late 1800s. Photo courtesy of Nambucca Headland Museum.

Jabez arrived on the ship named “Strathfieldsaye” along with his brother Gideon and sister Ruth in July 1839 at Port Jackson. This ship also brought Henry Parkes, who would later be the Premier of the New South Wales colony and is known as the father of federation. The two families may well have been acquainted on the journey. 

Jabez travelled with his brother and sister to Mulgoa, west of Sydney. One account says he had a brother, John, already residing there. Jabez’s trade it unclear, but accounts mention him having blacksmith and gardening skills, from which he earned a living. He worked around that region then near Camden and also Mudgee. He married May Ann Albury at Mulgoa St Thomas Church of England in 1842. Mary Ann was 20 and Jabez was 24. 

Jabez started a timber mill on the Myall River. There were many mills there, the owners of which relied on agents to sell their timber. Jabez however dealt direct with the ships and had two punts and his own bullock team.

The fierce competition, the advent of steam mills and the possible underhandedness of agents was too much for him and the New South Wales gazette of 1871 reports the sale of his timber, equipment, house and land due to bankruptcy.

This may have been Nambucca Heads’ good fortune as the family moved to Nambucca central (now Macksville) in the 1870s and then on to Nambucca Heads.

In 1878, Jabez established the first sawmill on the flats by the river on the site now known as Gordon Park, which at the time was known as Log Hollow.

Jabez Buckman who in 1878 established the first sawmill in Nambucca Heads on the flats by the river on the site now known as Gordon Park. Photo courtesy of Nambucca Headland Museum.

Jabez Buckman who in 1878 established the first sawmill in Nambucca Heads on the flats by the river on the site now known as Gordon Park. Photo courtesy of Nambucca Headland Museum.

The first survey done in 1879 records that Jabez had built a wharf and a working steam mill and was awarded a lease of waterfront land on which they sat, for ten pounds a year rent.

It was reported by the Town and Country journal that the mill was “rather primitive but effective, cut mainly hardwood timber, turning out 35,000 feet of timber per week”.

The mill cut and shopped nearly all the timber that built the first Callan Park Mental Hospital. 

Jabez was also joint owner in 1882 of the Copenhagen Mill with his brother-in-law Nicolai Christensen from Denmark. By this time there were four sawmills erected and working at or near Nambucca Heads.

It is unknown how much Mary Ann aided Jabez’s business ventures, but she was well employed herself. They brought three children to Nambucca and then had another seven. The children are said to have opened up mills of their own in other North Coast centres.

Mary Ann had a connection to iconic Australians. Her brother Henry Albury was the father of Louisa Lawson, writer, poet and suffragist and mother of poet and writer Henry Lawson, so Mary Ann was aunt and great aunt to them respectively.

Mary Ann was the aunt of Louisa Lawson, a writer, poet and suffragist and great-aunt to Lousia's son, the poet and writer Henry Lawson.

Mary Ann was the aunt of Louisa Lawson, a writer, poet and suffragist and great-aunt to Lousia's son, the poet and writer Henry Lawson.

Jabez died in 1901 at the age of 82, Mary Ann died five years later in 1906 aged 84 years.

Wellington Drive was originally called Buckman Street and the site of Jabez’s mill had a historical marker placed on it by The Nambucca District Historical Society and Nambucca Shire Council.

The sources for this article were the files of the Nambucca Headland Museum. The museum has many files on local families which are a boon for the history researcher. It is open 2pm to 4pm Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

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