Gaddes: Red Cedar pioneers on the Nambucca

Catherine Gaddes, Williams daughter and son-in-law Archie Woods plough the Old Swamp, now the new Macksville Hospital site.
Catherine Gaddes, Williams daughter and son-in-law Archie Woods plough the Old Swamp, now the new Macksville Hospital site.

European settlement in the Nambucca Valley is a recent event compared to the rest of the Australia.

The Nambucca was a dense, heavily timbered area with difficult access for shipping and many rivers, creeks and estuaries to cross.

With the demand in the cities and overseas markets for cedar high in the early 1800s, the development of the Nambucca Valley became more attractive.

If you want a first-hand account of the red cedar industry, I can highly recommend Red Cedar Our Heritage by Alex Gaddes, who is William Gaddes grandson.

William Gaddes was born in 1832 and came from Scotland. He went to the Victorian goldfields and then to Dungog where he worked at farming.

He married Dungog born Jane Mackay on July 21, 1856, he was 24 and Jane just 16.

They spent some time at Rolands Plains farming before arriving to a selection on the Nambucca at Missabotti around 1869.

Their move northward was accompanied by other Mackay family members interrelated with the Bradley family.

Their daughter Christina was about seven at the time of the move and she later became postmistress of Bowraville in 1885.

Christina married John Byrne and her brother William married Emma Byrnes showing the close social relationships between families at the time.

William is often referred to a being heavily involved in cedar getting.

Margaret Sheridan's maiden name is Woods but her mother was born Elva Gaddes. Elva's grandfather was William Gaddes.

Jane Gaddes nee McKay and William Gaddes.

Jane Gaddes nee McKay and William Gaddes.

I asked Margaret what she knew about William Gaddes.

"Uncle Alec told me that he was born in Scotland. He stopped in Victoria where the gold rush was before he headed for New South Wales.

"He met Jane Mackay, they married and they had a large family of boys."

"I am not sure if William was a cedar cutter, but I know his sons were. He acquired bullock teams and set his sons up as cedar getters up the top end of the Nambucca River.

They took their bullocks up the river, cut the cedar and brought it back down.

"It would have been a hard life "

They used to go for a fortnight and take their supplies.

You could imagine how long the corn beef lasted with all the flies.

The farmers they passed used to let them put their bullock team in their paddocks overnight.

When you think of the value of cedar nowadays it was a pittance they got in return.

However they all made a success of it and had families and farms around the Bowraville area."

"William and Jane had their home at Bowraville. Their son James was my grandfather. His wife Granny Gaddes died young.

I think she was in her sixties although we thought she was quite old at the time.

Grandfather had a large family of ten or eleven and would visit various children.

"He used to call on us at our farm outside of Macksville in his horse and sulky.

"His horse's name was Dolly and we would all get excited because here comes dear old Grandad.

"Part of the excitement was getting a ride in the sulky."

This article would not be complete without testament to William's wife Jane.

It was said she was extremely well known far and wide during her long lifetime.

She was highly respected by both the indigenous population and the whites for she never turned a soul away from her door.

She also reared several families of children beside her own, including the children made destitute by family members drowning on the ship "Rosedale".

William Gaddes died in 1902 at the age of 70.

Jane lived on longer, dying in 1931, at the age of 91.

They are buried in the Bowraville Cemetery where there are 25 Gaddes internments.

This article was sourced from Margaret Sheridan and the book "Mackay-McKay Family History", "Valley of the Crooked River" by Norma Townsend and the records of the Nambucca Headland Museum.

Rachel Burns is a museum volunteer and radio presenter on 2NVR in the Nambucca Valley.

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