John Eichmann: Nambucca's milling and shipping pioneer

John Eichmann was born in Prussia, a part of the German empire, in 1832 with the first name Johann, but when he came to New South Wales via the Americas, he was already John Eichmann.

A document from 1855 in the file at the Nambucca Headland Museum describes him as 24-years-old and five-foot-eight and three-quarters with a fair complexion. 

John Eichmann. Photo courtesy of Nambucca Headland Museum.

John Eichmann. Photo courtesy of Nambucca Headland Museum.

The museum file also contains original documents about John, mostly letters from his family written in his native language. They were at some stage translated and make most interesting reading.

The letters tend to refer back to the events that had been detailed in John’s letters and it seems John travelled “all over the world”.

In one letter his father urges him to return to his Fatherland as this would be “his father’s greatest happiness as long as he did not come home as a slovenly person”.

He urged him to save some money and come home well-dressed not “like a vagabond he would be ashamed of”. It seems that John never made it back, at least not before his parents passed away.

John Eichmann lived in Balmain in Sydney before coming to the Nambucca, and in fact ended his days there in the Sydney harbourside suburb. He may well have met other Nambucca pioneers like the Gordons, the Buckmans, the Davis’s and the Christensens there.

On the Nambucca, John had a mill called the Enterprise in 1882, which joined the growing number of mills at Nambucca Heads. He also had a mill at Urunga.

Prior to this he had been involved in coastal trade for some years. His mill was said to use the latest technology and he had as many as thirteen bullock teams hauling in logs.

Milling and shipping are notoriously risky businesses, but of all of them on the Nambucca, John seems to have poured in the most capital and endured the longest. 

Eichmann's Mill at what is now Gordon Park in Nambucca Heads. Photo courtesy of Nambucca Headland Museum.

Eichmann's Mill at what is now Gordon Park in Nambucca Heads. Photo courtesy of Nambucca Headland Museum.

John was a trustee along with Marmaduke England, William Whaites and others, which built the first school of arts on the Nambucca in 1896.

A grand inauguration concert and ball for the opening attracted more than 150 people who danced into the early hours of the next morning. John had also been to a party in the establishment of the first school at Nambucca Heads.

In one of the letters his fiancé Charlotte Bennet is mentioned and there is two letters from her in his file. They are written in English in a large sloping hand and signed with love and affection. It is also worth mentioning that in the early days of the Nambucca Valley you were just as likely to hear John’s native German language around the area as English.

His sailing ship, “Prince Alfred” was built in 1867 and wrecked in 1919. A painting of this ship by renowned maritime artist William Edgar is displayed in the Headland Museum.

There is also a photographic portrait of John hanging proudly between Marmaduke England and Robert Gordon. John has bright eyes and a good head of hair and full beard. 

John died in Balmain in Sydney in 1911 at the age of 78 and is buried at the Field of Mars Cemetery in Ryde. A wife does not adjoin him.

  • This article quotes the files of the Nambucca Headland Museum and the book Valley of the Crooked River by Norma Townsend.