An insightful journey following the Gordons of Nambucca Heads in the late 1800s

Looming over the Nambucca Cemetery is the headstone of Robert Gordon, who was buried there in 1910. He, like pioneer Marmaduke England, has a prominent headstone, although it may be suffering a little wear and tear with a finial missing. Marmaduke was accompanied to Deep Creek in 1875 by his wife Ann. Robert Gordon came with his wife, Mary Jane, to Nambucca Heads in 1883.

The accomplishments, successes or failures of these men may well have been carried out in partnership with their wives and they deserve at least some credit.

Robert and Mary Gordon bought land on the site of the first land sale in Nambucca Heads. They purchased it from Pilot Whaites and it was known as Log Hollow, then the centre of Nambucca Heads - overlooking the current Gordon Park.

Robert Gordon and his wife Mary Gordon

Robert Gordon and his wife Mary Gordon

Interestingly the Gordons came to Nambucca from the Sydney suburb of Balmain which is a common link between them and several other families. As Balmain is on the water and a shipping hub at the time, perhaps this is not surprising that Nambucca was discussed as a good prospect for business.

Either that or they all met in Balmain and kept in contact. Rather than shipping, the Gordons saw the proliferation of employed men as a need for a hotel and general store. The Commercial Hotel and the general store was commissioned around 1884 and a photo of the buildings shows them as smallish concerns compared to the hotels and stores that followed them, with farm animals grazing in the land around them. The Gordon’s conducted both businesses for many years then sold out, but may have retained some interest as Robert was the licensee for the years 1884 to 1886 and then again in 1891.

Nambucca Heads first hotel, The Commercial, 1885

Nambucca Heads first hotel, The Commercial, 1885

There was some involvement by his nephew. Around this time both buildings were destroyed by fire after which the Gordons rebuilt then leased out the hotel. It seems they may have run the general store before retiring to a farm at Wirrimbi on the Bowraville Road.

On a personal note, the Gordons had no children, although Mary Jane is quoted as saying she had some but none of them survived. Robert was born in Scotland and is said to have had a fine singing voice. The Gordons were on many committees for the betterment of the district.

They gave land for the first church, the Presbyterian on the corner of Ridge and Bowra streets. Robert himself did the building and provided the finance with other volunteer labour.

Robert had a sister Margaret, who also is interwoven in local history having had a purported three husbands and lived at Fernmount where she had a shop.

As mentioned, the Gordons' Commercial Hotel was the first hotel in Nambucca Heads. They may well have served wine made by the Englands. Other hotels followed. The first Victoria Hotel was built next to the site of the Commercial Hotel, the Star Hotel at Macksville was built in 1905 and the Royal in Bowraville in 1901. The Star and the Royal, like the first Hotel Victoria, were grander buildings than the Commercial Hotel and we are lucky they still survive. 

Gordon Park swimming pool, 1946

Gordon Park swimming pool, 1946

Mary Jane outlived Robert by some 25 years, dying in 1935, and hearsay has it that she was prosperous and with no issue, left property to the shire. Gordon Park was named to recognise the Gordons' contribution to the community. Robert’s grave site includes a plaque for Margaret, his sister and Mary Jane's grave is next to him.

This account of the Gordons' sourced information and photos held at the Nambucca Headland Museum, the books Valley of the Crooked River by Norma Townsend and Precious Memories by David Dunne.

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