Courageous Captain Colvin


The S.S. Cooloon with Captain Colvin, 1910     www.picturecoffsharbour, mus07-2941

This story was told by the first of his grandchildren William James Colvin (1924) and compiled by him with assistance from Cathy Colvin, youngest granddaughter.
Born in Sunderland*, UK in 1867, James Colvin was apprenticed to the Union Castle Line as a ship’s officer.  He joined “Roslyn Castle” and journeyed to Sydney via Cape Horn arriving in July 1883.  Enjoying the sunny winter weather, he decided to jump ship and make his home here and join in the gold rush.
James, 16 years, walked miles to the diggings at Queanbeyan, outside Canberra.   He spent the next four or five years at gold digging in New South Wales and Queensland.  He gambled the money he made on horse racing.
Returning to sea he received his First Mate’s Certificate.  He obtained a job with the North Coast Company as a Mate on a small ship which crossed the bar at Lismore.  During the loading an altercation occurred between himself and Allen Taylor, resulting in his leaving the company.
He went to work for the Nicoll Steamship Company.  He gained his Master’s Certificate and Mr Nicoll gave him a job commanding his ships.
After a collision between the ships of this company, James went to work for Langley Brothers as Captain of the S.S. Cooloon.  Once this ship went through a very bad storm for two days and when it came through, the family was very excited as they expected not to see him again.  This earned him the title ´Jimmy Cooloon’. * to be confirmed

His first wife
Captain Colvin married Lucy Goff in St Philips’ Church, Sydney in 1892. They had six children.
In 1908 his wife, Lucy, died and James had to face the task of who would raise his children while he was at sea.  The Walsh family cared for them on their dairy property.  In return, James Colvin gave one of the sons, Fred Walsh, the deeds to crown land on the far north coast of New South Wales near the Queensland border.  This parcel of land was built up and called Kingscliff.
On 24 March 1908 Captain Colvin opened a Cordial Factory at the eastern end of Ocean Street (now Harbour Drive).  In 1911 he sold this business and in this year Langley Brothers had a steel ship, the Fitzroy, built in Scotland to replace the wooden one they had here.

S.S. Fitzroy transferring passengers by basket at Coffs Harbour Jetty, around 1910,, mus07-2922

Langley Brothers wharf where the Fitzroy docked was first on the left after passing through Pyrmont Bridge.  The cargo was hauled up Market Street to George Street by horse and cart where Markets were.
Captain Colvin was a generous and compassionate man rescuing two female passengers, and on another occasion he saved another from drowning at Darling Harbour for which he was awarded at a reception at Sydney Town Hall.  On another occasion he dived in to free a tangled chain around the propeller.  Captain Colvin, taking over from the cook, was cutting at the time the chain was cut.  The chain wrapped around his foot and he was dragged to the bottom.  At the bottom, the chain broke and he floated to the top unconscious.  He revived and in a short space of time he was back in control.
A second wife
In 1914 Captain Colvin married Frances May Cox (known as May), the great-great-granddaughter of William Cox, the retired paymaster of the 1st Military Corps who was overseeing the building of the Blue Mountains in 1813.   They had three children.
In 1919 James bought a small farm on the outskirts of Coffs Harbour at Upper Corindi.  On approaching Coffs Harbour in the Fitzroy, he would blow the horn on the ship which was heard at his home.  His son, Alfred, would saddle up the horse and gig and by the time they travelled six miles to the wharf, the ship was in.

Captain James Colvin with a horse and buggy, (1908-1921), www.picturecoffsharbour, mus07-1052

The sinking of the Fitzroy
On 25 June 1921, just after his daughter Mary was born, Captain Colvin was travelling to Sydney from Coffs Harbour when he noticed a big storm brewing.  During the night when he was just off Cape Hawke the storm got worse and a southerly had washed cattle off the deck of the ship and the logs were rolling to the port side of the ship.  Captain Colvin with A B Johnannsen were able to move some of the logs overboard.  About 6.30 next morning the ship was listing towards the sea and water was going down the funnel putting out the fires.
The engineer announced that the situation was hopeless and the order to abandon ship was given and two boats got away.  There were 35 souls on board, 31 of whom drowned.  Johnannsen told James that it was time to go as the two had a big occasion coming up.  It was acceptance into the Masonic Lodge the following week.
Captain Colvin went to his cabin, put on his cap and went up to the bridge and bravely went down with his ship.
Johnannsen jumped overboard, swam away then returned to retrieve something.  He then swam a total of 13 miles (20.92 kms) to shore landing at Tuncurry.  Exhausted, he was washed ashore by a wave.  He rolled up the beach, dug a hole, covered himself with sand and lay there for four to six hours.  He was rescued and nursed back to health.
Meanwhile a lifeboat with four people reached the shore.  One man died soon after.    The bodies of Roy Daley and George Karlsen were washed ashore. The four survivors were Olaf Johnannsen, Carl Jensen and Peter Hansen and a passenger by the name of Herbert Ramsey.  The ship still lies a few miles off Cape Hawke in deep water.   Mr Langley did not live long after the disaster and the company folded.

Past Days around Wallis Lake, p.27,

The Marine Court of Enquiry
The finding of this enquiry was that everything possible was done to preserve the ship and the lives of the passengers and that there was no evidence of misconduct or error of judgment on the part of the captain or officers.
His Family
Alice May* Cox was a nursing sister at Coffs Harbour when they married and when he drowned, she had three small children and a debt on the farm.  She started a Midwifery Hospital in a rented cottage in Coffs Harbour.  Some years later she got out of the maternity hospital and the general hospital absorbed that section and went back to the farm where she lived until after the Second World War, eventually buying a house in Woolgoolga next to Valley Gilmore (her son-in-law).  She remained there until her death.  Her children were Dorothy born 1916, Archibald born December 1917 and Mary born 1921
Coffs Harbour Regional Museum research file mus13-489
Further reading
WRECKED ON THE NORTH COAST (1921, June 27). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), p. 1 (FINAL SPORTING),
CAPTAIN COLVIN. (1921, June 28). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), p. 5.,
LOSS OF THE FITZROY (1921, June 28). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 7.,
*given as Frances May in news articles of the day.
This blog post was compiled by Coffs Harbour Regional Museum volunteer Marie Davey.

The deposition that changed the course of Coffs Harbour's history

From John Kramer, Ships and Timber: a short history of Coffs Harbour port and associated railways

In 1911, a Royal Commission into Decentralisation concluded that the “port of the south” should be Jervis Bay and the “port of the north” should be Port Stephens. [1]  Patrick MacNamara was having nothing of this. When the Public Works Department [PWD], which had the role of actually building the harbours, conducted further hearings in 1912, Patrick launched forth, as only he could. [2]
The rest is history. Port Stephens became the sleepy town, and Coffs Harbour became the place that launched a thousand ships. At the same series of Public Works hearings, Woolgoolga had a go at becoming the chosen port. But Woolgoolga’s advocate, Mr. Rudder, admitted defeat, explaining that “we don’t have a P. J. MacNamara”. [3]
P. J. McNamara
Patrick MacNamara passed away in 1929, aged 62 years. His funeral was the “largest ever seen in Coffs Harbour”. [4]  Mr. C. A. Clarke of Karangi, who had accompanied Patrick on a number of deputations to Sydney, paid tribute: “We would have failed repeatedly but for him,” said Mr. Clarke. “The officials we saw could put us off, but Mr. MacNamara was too well primed with facts and the knowledge of how to go about things to be brushed aside.” [4]
As the Coffs Harbour Advocate put it at the time: “In the death of Mr. MacNamara Coffs Harbour loses its greatest champion and most ardent and consistent worker for its progress and development over a period of almost a quarter of a century.” [5]
The deposition that changed history follows.

The Public Works Committee.
At Coff’s Harbour.
The above Committee visited Coff’s Harbour last week, when the following evidence was tendered in connection with the construction of the harbour, and the value of trade derived from the adjacent districts:—

  1. J. Macnamara deposed :— I was six years secretary to the local Railway League, both in connection with the North Coast railway and the Dorrigo railway. I accompanied Mr. Usher, of the Railway Department, on two occasions. He came here, I think, on instructions from the Railway Commissioners, first when he was making a report in connection with the North Coast railway, and secondly, when he was making a report about the Dorrigo railway. On the last occasion, he and I were out together for six days, and we traversed the whole of the route from Coff’s Harbour to beyond North Dorrigo, up near the Little Murray River.                                                                                                                                     I have given evidence on two occasions before the Public Works Committee in connection with those railways, and the Decentralisation Commission. l have been pretty well all-over the country through which it is proposed to connect this port. l have been right out as far as Mungindi, on the Queensland border, and to Moree, Armidale, Inverell, and other places.                           The absolute necessity of having on the North Coast a deep-water harbour, capable of dealing with large ocean going vessels for direct export traffic, is evident because Newcastle (including Port Stephens) is, approximately, the centre of the coast line of New South Wales, and therefore, in the extreme southern boundary of the northern half of the coastline, and for this reason, quite unsuitable as a sea outlet, which should be as central as possible, whilst Coff’s Harbour is midway between Sydney and Brisbane, and also being 178 nautical miles from Newcastle, and 134 from Point Danger, is within 22 miles of the absolute centre of the northern half.                                                   It has, within 40 miles south, the rich and rapidly developing territories of the Bellinger and Nambucca Rivers, the bar of which are very bad, and practically incapable of improvement; therefore, with railway connection, Coff’s Harbour in the future must be looked upon as their natural outlet. It has behind it the fertile Orara and Dorrigo country, with an average rainfall of 60 inches, the second highest in the State, and, with the Dorrigo part only in its infancy.                                                                                                                                                It has, within 70 miles north and south respectively, the large and growing districts of Grafton and Kempsey with their, at times, not too reliable sea outlets. Further back, it has the enormous inland territory comprising Guyra, Glen Innes, Inverell and Moree districts, which in natural richness are unexcelled, and which will be eventually joined to the coast by a connecting link between the Great Northern railway and the Dorrigo railway. The estimated cost of harbour improvements, namely, £190,000, is a mere trifle compared to the ad-vantages to be gained by having a safe and reliable port in the north, and also, when the inland connecting railway is built, by the saving of freight on goods sent from the interior for direct oversea shipment.                              The size of the harbour projected would be ample, 65 acres in minimum depth of 30ft. at spring low tide, as, with the modern cargo vessels security and depth of water are of far more importance than size. For instance, at Circular Quay, Sydney, with, its small area, there are sometimes to be seen seventy or eighty thousand tons of shipping berthed.                                                                                  It has been shown that Coff’s Harbour is, naturally, the sea outlet of a tract of country roughly speaking 20,000 square miles in extent, or in other words, of a territory half the size of England and Wales; and for the proper expansion and development of this large area, it is imperative that a central deep-water port should be formed for direct oversea shipment. On all grounds, therefore — geographical and economical — Coff’s Harbour has a pre-eminent claim to special attention being devoted by the Committee to its advantages for the formation of a national port on the North Coast.                                                                 When I came here, exactly six and a half years ago, the population was 200, now it is 2216, an increase of over 2000. The population return as taken by the Police during the past four years is as follows:— 1909, 1422; 1910, 1730; 1911, 1875; 1912, 2243. The number of butter factories in 1905 was 1; now there are 5, an increase of 4. The postal revenue in 1905 was £400; now it is £2,600. There has been an enormous increase in the number of passengers by steamer. The arrivals and departures in 1908 totalled 3000; 1909, 5000; 1910, 6000; and 1911, 7100. There has been a large increase in the timber business. That of the British Australian Timber Company amounts to six million feet annually.                       The new mills are: Karangi, Roberts’, Langley’s, Bumby’s, Mulhearn’s, McKenzie’s, Porter’s, Ulong, Ashton, Wild Cattle Creek, and two new mills are going up at Bonville; and the royalty from timber is: 1909, £1150; 1910, £1582; 1911, £1820. There is a very large area of timber left yet. There has been a great increase in settlement, but there are 30,000 acres still available in this district, and 79,000 still available in the Dorrigo district. The minerals obtainable consist of gold, copper and coal. The number of teams drawing to the Jetty is forty-five, and there are fifty teams drawing timber to Armidale.                                        The Guy Fawkes country is suitable for potato growing and grazing, and there is a butter factory there. At Dorrigo there is a butter factory and sawmills, and there is a butter factory at Coramba. The number of new settlers in Dorrigo since I came here has been 600. There is a large traffic in timber between Dorrigo and the tableland, via Guy Fawkes. The timber is cut up and carted from Dorrigo to Armidale. There will be freezing works at Dorrigo and Coff’s Harbour as soon as the railway starts. The State Freezing Works should be here, it is the only place big vessels can come in. The railway from the tableland to the coast here would be of great advantage to the western country in time of drought, in connection with the carriage of stock.                                               There is no doubt that when the pro-posed line of railway is made, that there will be new sawmills opened, and a trade in frozen meat and rabbits. The line will pass through 100,000 acres of land between Guy Fawkes and Guyra suitable for closer settlement, and which will be used for sheep farming, mixed farming, dairying, cheese production, butter making, pig raising, and maize growing. In addition, the line will carry large quantities of logs and other timber; and all these products will be shipped from Coff’s Harbour.                                 The Coast railway will go from Coff’s Harbour, via Coramba and Nana Glen, to Glenreagh. I do not think it is necessary to say anything about the resources along the line, because tenders for that portion of the railway are to be called in a few months. A railway from Glenreagh to Dorrigo has been unanimously recommended by the Public Works Committee, and the permanent survey will be finished in six months. On the Dorrigo there are 250,000 acres, of which 79,000 acres are still available for settlement. The main road from Coff’s Harbour to Dorrigo is now opened right through to Eastern Dorrigo, into the town of Dorrigo, and goes on to Guy Fawkes, with good country at the back, almost as good as the Dorrigo country.                               
                      The railway line should be eventually made to Guyra and on to Inverell, a distance of 167 miles from Coff’s Harbour. That would relieve congestion of traffic at Sydney and Newcastle, and shipments could be made direct from Coffs Harbour to the markets of the world. This line has been recommended by [the] Decentralisation Commission and Commissioner of Railways. On the Dorrigo there is an enormous quantity of timber, and at present there are seven sawmills there. About 15,000,000 feet of the timber there is absolutely destroyed annually.                                                                                                                         The Dorrigo is good for growing fruits, including apples and other English fruits, potatoes and root crops. All the grass is good. From Eastern Dorrigo cream is brought to Coramba. When I came into this district, six and a half years ago, the population on the Dorrigo was about 70, now there are 800 people within a radius of 3 miles. In this district there has been a large increase of business in connection with storekeeping and banking. There are now 7 branch banks in the district and two at Dorrigo, and the bank accounts must number 2000.                                                                                                                                    The Dorrigo has the largest supply of soft woods still left in New South Wales. Altogether it is computed by experts that the timber wealth of the Dorrigo and contiguous forests is about £6,000,000, the timber including cedar, bean, mahogany, blue gum, blackbutt, tallow-wood, rosewood, mountain-ash, etc. The building trade of the districts to the north west is often seriously retarded owing to inability to reach those forests other than by team, a slow and uncertain method, and far too costly to be much availed of. The surveyed railway route from Dorrigo to Inverell traverses for the most part magnificent arable land, capable of maintaining the vastly increased population that would be sure to settle thereon if it were connected with the railway system of the State. A bacon factory is now about to be erected at the Jetty, and no doubt frozen meat works later.                                                                                                                It is claimed that Coff’s Harbour can be made one of the best harbours in Australia, able to accommodate the largest ships afloat; and that if it were made available to the rich producing districts to the north-west of it, it would ultimately become a busy port of call for the shipping of all nations. … Some years ago, when the Public Works Committee took evidence on the relative merits of the several proposed railway routes from New England to the coast, namely, Tenterfield to Grafton, Glen Innes to South Grafton, Guyra to Coff’s Harbour, and Armidale to Port Macquarie – that body strongly recommended the lnverell-Coff’s Harbour route, on account of its comparatively easy grades, the total absence of engineering difficulties, its shorter distance compared with some of the rival routes, and the cost or construction being much less than either of them. …                                                                                                                           The country along the route of the proposed line from Coff’s Harbour to Glenreagh, Dorrigo, Guy Fawkes, and Guyra to Inverell, is all good land, and will carry an enormous population. The land still to be thrown open on the Dorrigo would maintain at least 600 families. In regard to the Inverell-Guyra-Coff’s Harbour line, I do not think that any man in my position could form an estimate of traffic; but what I propose to make an estimate of is the trafficable area from here to Inverell, 100,000 population, 2½ sheep per head – 250,000. Would also require 1800 tons of wheat and by-products; all this would come down that line. I think that line would extend from 20 to 35 or 40 miles in width altogether.                                                                                                                            For instance, at lnverell I do not think it would be extravagant to say that the trafficable area would be up to 40 miles. Of course, in a dairying district the trafficable area would be much less – 20 or 24 miles. That would be 12 miles on either side of the line, or perhaps 15, but in the wheat and  woolgrowing districts, I myself have seen wheat carted 40 miles on waggons to a railway.                 There is a very bad bar Nambucca Heads, and an equally bad one at Bellinger Heads, and I feel sure that the bulk of the traffic would come in here for places in that direction. Nearly all the passenger traffic from the Bellinger now comes to Coff’s Harbour. I do not think that any business would be attracted to Coff’s Harbour from the south below Uralla, nor do I think that any business would be attracted to Coff’s Harbour from the north beyond Deepwater, between Glen Innes and Tenterfield; I do not think that any traffic would come to Coff’s Harbour from places beyond Warialda.                                             I think we would come into competition with Newcastle when we got to Moree.                                                                                                                                                I consider that we shall get all the traffic from Glenreagh and all the traffic from the Dorrigo. When the bar at Bellingen recently closed it cost £4 per ton to bring the Dorrigo butter to Coff’s Harbour. Any farmer living on the Dorrigo who wanted to go to Sydney – and I contend that the bulk of the business there would go south and not north – would have to go down to Glenreagh. When he got to Glenreagh he would either go north about 28 miles to South Grafton, or he would go south 25 miles to Coff’s Harbour. When he got to South Grafton he would have a long river journey on an average fifteen hours to the heads. That estimate is taken from the evidence of Mr. J. T. McKittrick, the President of the Grafton Chamber of Commerce at the time.                 When you get down to the heads on a steamer from South Grafton you are 60 miles north Coff’s Harbour. Supposing that a man from the Dorrigo did come to Coff’s Harbour, he wouId be able to reach here by coming from Glenreagh, 25 miles. I say that any man wanting to go Sydney from Dorrigo would not go up to South Grafton and then down the river, and still find himself 60 miles north of Coff’s Harbour, when he could come into Coff’s Harbour, and get down to Sydney in 16 or 17 hours. From Glenreagh to Dorrigo there is good dairying country, with some patches of very fine timber. Dorrigo itself contains some of the best land in the State.  From Dorrigo to Guy Fawkes there is excellent country.                                                                                                             I cannot say anything about the country from Guy Fawkes to Guyra, but I am told it is the finest cattle-raising country almost in New South Wales. On the other hand, I have been at Armidale and other places on the northern line, and also at Inverell and Moree, and out to Mungindi. Within the trafficable area I have described, and which is shown on the plan I have put in, I am of opinion that the whole of the produce, or very nearly the whole of it, would come to Coff’s Harbour if a railway line were made from Inverell to Coff’s Harbour, which is already practically assured as far as Dorrigo. Some men might like to send something north, but the bulk of the produce of the Dorrigo, which if
    sent there would come into competition with the produce of the Clarence and the Richmond, would I think come south.                                                                                       The difference from Coff’s Harbour to Inverell in a straight line, is only 167 miles. In that trafficable area I do not think we would come within 40 miles of another line. I think that, from its position, Coff’s Harbour being so central, is the best place for a harbour of refuge, and that if a port were made here there would be a big interstate trade, especially with Queensland, this place being practically half way between Sydney and Brisbane. I wish to have it put on record in the evidence that the area of Mutton Bird Island is 40 acres. During the last five years, the depth of water, in my opinion, has increased here. I think that the old charts are wrong, and that instead of having a depth of 17 or 18 feet, as they show, the depth is much more. I wrote a letter to the ”Daily Telegraph” a little while ago, giving the soundings taken at the time, and they showed a depth of 25 feet 6 inches and 24 feet 6 inches, one at the end of the Jetty, and the other to the south of the Jetty. It was in connection with a statement, that was made by Mr. Nash, the financial editor of the “Daily Telegraph”, about the depth of harbours north of Sydney.                                                     The Jetty and its approaches are nearly always congested as evidenced by the decision of the Government to make the Jetty 150ft. longer. I wrote that letter and signed my name to it, and it was never contradicted. I consider de Burgh’s scheme the cheapest one that can be got for the money, but I think that the Northern wall should be extended to the northern point of Mutton Bird Island. This would include the calm water under the lee of the Island where the ships take shelter now.                                                                                                                  If this scheme were adopted the money would not be thrown away as elsewhere, if it were ever decided to make a larger breakwater, as the northern wall of the proposed harbour would be the northern wall of the large harbour. If additional accommodation were required, Coffs Creek could be opened. There are large coal measures at Glenreagh, the junction of the North Coast and Dorrigo railway lines. At Karangi, five miles away, there is a fine copper lode. 90 tons taken out and treated at Port Kembla gave 20 per cent of copper. A good water supply could be obtained from the Orara River five miles away.                  The statistics submitted of the exports from Coff’s Harbour do not include any goods or timber previously shipped at either Grafton or Woolgoolga. I contend that the fact that Woolgoolga is off the railway line is fatal to any selection of that place, and that any proposed connection between Nana Glen and Woolgoolga is more expensive than between Nana Glen and Coffs Harbour; and that the proposed route does not admit of suitable grades being located, vide Amphlett’s and Kennedy’s report.                                                                        I consider that Coff’s Harbour should be selected as a port for the North Coast rather than that Sir John Coode’s scheme should be carried out in its entirety, at an additional expense of £389,000, in addition to the £464,248 already spent, to give a minimum depth of 18ft., which, in face of the fact that the English Board of Trade have given expression to the opinion that the steamers of the future are likely to grow in the same ratio as the Dreadnoughts have done. Compare this with the fact that for an expenditure of £190,000 we can get here 65 acres of water with a minimum depth of 30ft at spring low tides. There are splendid fishing grounds hereabout 7 miles out, and with a safe anchorage the industry would assume large proportions.

Coal depot – 80,000 tons of coal to be stored here, and I presume it will be necessary to have railway workshops also.
Exports from Coff’s Harbour for the year 1911: 19,373 boxes butter, 6,137,000 super. feet timber, 3,009 pigs, 835 tons sundries, 90 tons copper ore.
Imports at Coff’s Harbour for year 1911: 7,395 tons general cargo, 365 head cattle, 131 horses, 1,009 sheep, 7,104 passengers in and out, 382 boats called for this period, 4 Shire trucks, 1 portable boiler, 1 traction engine. Wharfage dues collected for this period, £1,113 12s. You will note we do not get any credit for outward cargo.
Exports from Coff’s Harbour from January 1st to June 30th, 1912: 13,407 boxes butter, 4,508,000 super. feet timber, 2,655 pigs, 445 tons sundries, 4,558 passengers in and out.
Imports at Coff’s Harbour from January 1st to June 30th, 1912: 7,886 tons general cargo, 70 head cattle, 55 horses, 983 sheep, 1 bull, 1 motor car, 1 fire engine, 80 tons coal.
Coff’s Harbour: – 1906, 417 vessels, 97,072 tons; 1907, 309 vessels, 79,304 tons; 1908, 266 vessels, 71,763 tons; 1909, 436 vessels, 104,860 tons; 1910, 403 vessels, 96,654 tons; 1911, 488 tons, 245,035 tons; 1912 (first six months), 217 vessels, 117,915 tons. Byron Bay, 1911: 161 steamers, tonnage 125,600.


  1. John Kramer, Ships and Timber: a short history of Coffs Harbour port and associated railways, p.8,
  2. The Public Works Committee. (1912, July 9). Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889 – 1915), p. 3.
  3. Visit of P.W.C. (1912, July 6). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  4. Late Mr. P. J. MacNamara (1929, April 16). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 3.
  5. Coffs’ Great Loss. (1929, April 12). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 3.

This is the final post compiled by recently retired Museum volunteer Geoff Watts.

History Mysteries – seeking your help

Corambirra Point, with Gallows Beach on the right, 1956-1960; part of mus07-11104
Photographer: Desmond Eeley

The first in an occasional series.

Gallows Beach
Do you know how Gallows Beach, between Corambirra Point and Boambee Beach, earned its name? Did the name come from a surfer tradition or something a little more sinister? Surfing World may have featured it in the 1960s. If you have copies of this  magazine from the 1960s with stories of our Coffs Coast beaches, the Regional Museum would love to see them.

From Beaches of the New South Wales Coast, Australian Beach Safety and Management Program p.107

the old Courthouse & Police Station building at 215 Harbour Drive
The Council’s history team is also seeking reminiscences, photos and any other documented information about the old combined Police Station and Courthouse building, (now the home of the Regional Museum). They were in operation at 215 Harbour Drive from 1907-1930. It would be fascinating to hear from descendants of the police families who lived at the site, as well as accounts from the court officials.

Coffs Harbour Courthouse and Police Station, Coffs Harbour, N.S.W., circa 1925; mus07-857
Photographer: Peter Jensen

In the 1920s, there was a two-storey house in central Coffs Harbour referred to as Colderbrea. It had tiled fireplaces, beautiful timberwork and fruit trees. It was a rental property during the early part of the 1920s. Does anyone have any memories or photographs to share?

the Keilawarra porthole
In the Regional Museum’s extensive maritime history collection, there is a porthole encased in its original timber. It’s believed to be from the wreck of the 780-ton Keilawarra which went down in 1886 near North Solitary Island with the loss of 41 lives after colliding with the smaller, southbound steamer, the Helen Nicholl. Do you have any information on this tragic shipwreck?

SS Keilawarra

Please contact us via if you have further information.

A very Coffs Coast Christmas

Smallman, Steve & Dunn, Robert, (illustrator.) & Pyke, Jerry, (illustrator.) (2014). Santa is coming to New South Wales. South Melbourne, Vic Lake Press

Throughout 2017, the History Services unit of the Library, Gallery & Museum team has aimed to share our local heritage online for easier access.
From Sawtell and Bonville, to Red Rock and Woolgoolga and all the places in between, here are some of the stories we issued this year, with considerable assistance from our Museum and Library Volunteers, and the community.

  • John KorffDiscoverer of Coffs Harbour compiled by Marie Davey, available from Coffs Harbour Libraries and for sale at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum;
  • Georges Gold, a book about gold mining on the Orara goldfields of eastern Dorrigo and the gold mining pioneers, in a new edition freely available online or in print;
  • the 1893 shipwreck of the Buster at Woolgoolga – a Trove list of resources describing how the event unfolded;
  • Bonville Creek Station to sunny Sawtell, edited by Arlene Hope and Merv Pitman, explaining the origins of the seaside town;
  • The wicked boy: the mystery of a Victorian child murderer by Kate Summerscale, available for borrowing from Coffs Harbour Libraries. The author was interviewed by the ABC where she explained how a young English boy grew up in Nana Glen;
  • A Compendium of Pioneers of the Local Government Area 1880-1903, compiled from several extant lists by Geoff Watts;
  • STILL National Still Life Award, the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery’s new national art prize with accompanying catalogue;
  • several issues of the newly launched newsletters of the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum and the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, edited by Kylie Castor.


Pioneer Park revisited

Duke St Pioneer Park 20171129 - 29Nov2017
The new Pioneer Park beside the old Museum site on Harbour Drive, November 2017

History to 2016
In July 2016, the Duke Street extension was opened as the replacement to Pioneer Park, a green space between Harbour Drive and Duke Street.
The space was named “Pioneer Park” by the Coffs Harbour and District Historical Museum in February 1996, and the Museum (which was then not funded by the Council) also paid for the park’s furniture. The Museum deemed it the only park “in Coffs Harbour named in memory of the Pioneers of this wonderful part of the world” and its decision was supported by the City Council, which maintained the space well.

Duke St Pioneer Park Letter - 23 Feb 1996
1996 Letter from the Coffs Harbour & District Historical Museum
Duke St Truncated Old Pioneer Park 28 June 2016 Advocate, 28 June 2016

In 2017
To reflect the naming of the space as Pioneer Park, the Coffs Harbour City Council decided to honour the pioneers who had resided or worked nearby: Peter Moller, the first selector; squatter John Carrall, after whom the flooding creek is named; Miss Ida Archibald, the first teacher; and Robert Bray, first grocer.
Their stories are told in six panels, placed along the footpath beside the street extension. The panels are made from core ten steel and were supplied by Armsign. The brick pavers were original pavers from the city centre, removed when Gordon Street was developed. The information on the panels was compiled with input from staff and volunteers the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.
A 1911 map shows this space was always designated to be a through street, although both ends are situated on top of Carrall’s Creek.

1911 map part
Coffs Harbour : alternative schemes submitted by Mr T. W. Keele, M. Inst. C. E., for the establishment of a port at Coff’s Harbour / Royal Commission on Railway Decentralisation;    MAP G8971.P3 1911;

Trees were originally planted by Mrs R R Macdonald, wife of the doctor, for the enjoyment of her family which lived next to the park, and the public [cf., Coffs Local History – Remember When, 13 March 2016].

Trees in the new Park providing shade include Buckinghamia celcissima (Ivory curl flower), Syzygium australis ‘resilience’ (Bush cherry), and Tristaniopsis luarina ‘luscious’ (Kanuka gum), replacing eucalyptus trees.

The original Pioneer Park bench seating and sign, made from tallowwood, can still be enjoyed in the garden at the site of the recent Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, a short walk away at 215A Harbour Drive.

Peter Moller et al are described in the Compendium of Pioneers of Coffs Harbour Local Government Area 1880 – 1903.
Lead photograph: Raymond Mather Photography, 29 November 2017. Left to right: Debbie Campbell, Local Studies & Digitisation Librarian; Geoff Watts, volunteer researcher; Terrie Beckhouse, LMG Cultural Collections Officer; and Cath Fogarty, Cultural Development, Gallery & History Services Coordinator. Not present: Andrea Vallance, Landscape Designer, Coffs Harbour City Council.

Illuminating a community leader

HOSCHKE Amandus Print_MG_4538-cropped
Amandus Hoschke’s 1909 illuminated address

One of the most beautiful items donated to the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum recently was an illuminated address presented to Orara Valley resident Amandus Hoschke in 1909. The address features his portrait, artistic flora and birdlife, tinted photographs of the main street of Coramba and the Solitary Islands, with stylised signatures of local neighbours. More than 100 years later, it remains in perfect condition.

Dear Sir, On the eve of your departure on a well earned holiday trip to Germany, your many friends in the Orara, Bucca Creek and Coffs Harbour Districts are desirous of showing some slight recognition of the excellent services you have at all times rendered for the progress and welfare of the community generally. 

Amandus and his wife Mary Ann were original pioneers to Upper Orara in 1886, and they made a significant contribution to the development of the wider community. He had assumed the Presidency of the local Progress Association a year after arrival, and set about expanding local industry and transport infrastructure.
Upper Orara and West Branch Progress Association. (1888, August 7). Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (Grafton, NSW : 1859 – 1889), p. 3.

Illuminated addresses were created to mark a special occasion for a person who transformed community life. It was not unusual for this gesture to be given in farewell; but less commonly, this time it was given to someone expected to return from their journey abroad. The level of confidence in this outcome was evidenced by Mrs Hoschke remaining at home with the family.

The proposal to give one of the pioneers of the district, Mr. A. Hoschke, sen.. of Upper Orara, a send-off, prior to his departure for Germany, meets with general support here, and Coff’s Harbour will be well represented on the occasion.

[EASTERN DORRIGO. (1909, April 20). Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889 – 1915), p. 8.]

A send-off, in the form of a well represented smoke concert, was tendered to Mr. A. Hoschke. sen., of Upper Orara, on Monday evening last, on the eve of his departure for Germany.
Messrs. McLean, Smith, Martin, MacNamara, Gale, Pritzler and Cochrane also spoke, the latter gentleman presenting Mr. Hoschke with a beautiful illuminated address in album form, showing various photographs of the district, and one of the recipient.
Mr. Sherwood, in proposing the health of the guest of the evening, referred to Mr. Hoschke’s early pioneering experiences, and showed the great pluck and upright honesty of practically a young man in the little settled district of the Orara. As one who was foremost in everything that went for the best progress of the district, and one who had worked hard for the attainment of such. Mr. Hoschke was a citizen to be proud of. It afforded him the greatest pleasure to wish him bon voyage on his well earned holiday trip to his native country.
In replying, Mr. Hoschke said that it was one of the proudest moments of his life to think that he was held in such esteem by his many friends, as has been evidenced within the last few days and at the gathering that evening.

[SEND OFF AT CORAMBA (1909, May 13). Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889 – 1915), p. 8.]

HOSCHKE Amandus Web Email _MG_4529-_preview-cropped
On 28 October 1909, Mr Hoschke returned from the journey to his homeland:

Mr. Hoschke arrived home on Thursday, and is looking the better of his trip to Germany. His many friends are pleased to welcome him back to the district.

[UPPER ORARA. (1909, November 2). Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889 – 1915), p. 2.]

Amandus Hoschke died in 1928. His obituary was generous: “He possessed all the qualifications for a pioneer, being hard working, industrious and intelligent above the ordinary. By dint of hard work, together with his family, he gained a competence, and had been living in retirement for some years. He was greatly respected by all who knew him and the settlers who came after him speak in the highest manner of the helping hand that he was always willing to extend to any one in need of assistance, although at times hard pressed himself. In the passing of Mr. Hoschke the district loses one of its grand old men.”

[Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), p.4.]

The Hoschke illuminated address is able to be viewed at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.

CHRM HOSCHKE Family 20171011 Web Email_MG_1681-
l to r: Cath Fogarty, Cultural Development, Gallery & History Services Coordinator; Brothers Ian, Fred and Doug Hoschke, with a portrait of their great-grandmother Mary Ann Hoschke nee Drew (1847-1923) in the oval frame on the wall behind them [11 October 2017]

  • Illuminated address and donation photographs: Raymond Mather Photography
  • The family story is told in Settlers at Orara – the Hoschke Family in Australia by Ian Hoschke, 2014, which is available at both the Museum and the City Library, see


Jetty Village and Top Town – a town divided?

Coffs Harbour Progress Association was formed in 1891. [1] From 1905 to 1909 it met alternately at Top Town and Jetty Village [2], and was “the acknowledged official representative of the township in Government matters”. [3] Membership of the Progress Association (presumably) was open to anyone.
With the 1905 “rise of Coffs Harbour”, an elitism of sorts raised its head. A “Coffs Harbour Ratepayers’ Association” was formed, membership of which was confined to ratepayers (in other words, property-owners). [4]  The Ratepayers’ Association met monthly at Top Town.
On 12 February 1907, the Coffs Harbour Advocate’s editor accused this new organisation of trying to undermine (and ultimately “disintegrate”) the Progress Association. [5] In mid 1909 a conference was attempted between the two associations which revealed mutual mistrust. [6]
About this time, a Coffs Harbour Jetty Progress Association comes on the scene. [7] Its meetings over the next year are reported under the banner “The People’s Parliament”, fairly obviously a jibe against the more exclusive Ratepayers’ Association. The issues to be discussed were also ironic, echoing complaints in 2017 about weather reporting: “The Commonwealth Meteorologist [does] not favor Coff’s Harbor Jetty being established [as] a weather reporting station, as if the desired concession were granted it would be necessary to extend it to dozens of other places. He pointed out that for scientific purposes the daily bulletins contained that was required.
In May 1911, Dr Cook was president of the “combined Ratepayers’ and Jetty Progress Associations”. [8] In November 1911, a meeting was called to discuss the question of whether to revive the now ‘defunct” Progress and Ratepayers’ Associations, or to establish a Chamber of Commerce instead. The latter option was chosen [9], and the Chamber of Commerce was operating by December 1911. [10]
The Chamber of Commerce would have looked very like the Ratepayers’ Association. A win for the Top Town elitists against the Jetty Village egalitarians?
In 1941, NSW Shire elections were opened up to all residents of a district. Before then, you needed to be a ratepayer (property-owner) to vote at Shire elections. [11,12]  After 1941 Shire Councillors became the local Progress Association. Between 1912 and 1941 in Coffs Harbour, the People’s Parliament went underground.
With thanks to volunteer Geoff Watts for research.
Image: Aerial View from Top Town to the Jetty, Allen Hogbin, 1951-52. Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-11313

  1. TUESDAY FEBRUARY 12, 1907. (1907, February 12). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  2. PROGRESS ASSOCIATION. (1907, February 12). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  3. ibid.
  4. RATEPAYERS’ ASSOCIATION. (1908, March 17). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  5. TUESDAY FEBRUARY 12, 1907. (1907, February 12). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  6. THAT CONFERENCE. (1909, June 18). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  7. The People’s Parliament. (1909, December 17). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  8. The Public Dinner. (1911, May 19). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  9. ibid.
  10. Continuous Telephonic Service. (1911, December 8). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2. from
  11. Hearfield and B. Dollery, “Representative Democracy in Australian Local Government”, Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance, Issue 2: January 2009, p.69 and
  12. Advertising (1906, January 15). The Grafton Argus and Clarence River General Advertiser (NSW : 1874 – 1875; 1879 – 1882; 1888; 1892; 1899 – 1922), p. 1. (“Election of Aldermen & Auditors”)

From Hardwoods to Soft Cottons

By guest writer Jo Besley, Curator, Coffs Harbour Regional Museum & Regional Gallery
The new exhibition at Coffs Harbour Regional Museum features tools of the timber trade and hand-crafted, household textiles from the museum’s collection to recall the earliest days of settlement in the district.
Timber was the Coffs Coast’s first colonial industry. Timber-getters arrived here from the 1860s, seeking cedar – “red gold” – a tree of the mahogany family highly prized for its rich red appearance, warm grain and workability. It grew plentifully in the subtropical rainforests of New South Wales and from the 1820s cedar-getters moved up and down the coast, hauling it out of remote gullies, making rafts of logs and floating them to the coast. It was an opportunistic pursuit requiring little more than an axe, some bullocks and kit – and a great deal of muscle. Fortunes could be made if the conditions were right but given the remoteness of the Coffs Coast from major settlements, it was a tough way to make a living.

mus07-2193_bullock team on jetty becah 1908
Bullock team on Jetty Beach 1908 Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-2193

There were no roads – just rough bush tracks and the ocean beach – and the only communication was via ships that stopped at river heads to collect the cedar, bringing supplies with them. Many of the cedar-getters were itinerant single men, moving from district to district, denuding the forest of its riches. Others came with their families looking for a place to settle. A common pattern was for a selector to arrive first as a timber-getter; then after they’d cleared the land they would begin farming. Women took part in these activities too, planting crops and tending gardens, while also creating homes with whatever materials were at hand or that could occasionally be bought. Clothing and domestic items were usually handmade and repaired constantly to last as long as possible.
In the 19th century, domestic sewing was strongly associated with femininity and was a primary duty for women in maintaining their family’s welfare, as well as a recreational pursuit for many. Class was a factor, with working class women doing “plain needlework” and utilitarian tasks, while middle and upper class women spent their time on fine embroidery and fancywork. These types of households were rare in Coffs Harbour; most women in the early days were living in tents or rudimentary huts, with few creature comforts.
mus07-0959_Dorothy Black 8 mths 1918
Dorothy Black, eight months old in 1918 Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-0959

Clothing supplies were sparse and took months to arrive. The few local stores stocked just basic fabrics such as cottons, calico and canvas, so women depended on hawkers who came by intermittently to buy haberdashery and drapery. The exquisite hand-sewn and detailed items on display show the care that women took to clothe their families and furnish their homes, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
From Hardwoods to Soft Cottons is on at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, corner of Harbour Drive & North Street 24 August – 21 October 2017. CHRM booklet Sawmills, Tramways & Jetties is also available from there. SawmillsTramwaysJettiesCut

A supercentennial trove of compelling stories

On page 31 of the Wednesday 12 July 2017 issue of the Coffs Coast Advocate, its 110th birthday* was announced. What is astounding to note is that it is still possible to read the newspaper in full from 1907 to now. To do so requires an understanding of where to find it.
In 1907, the Coffs Coast Advocate began with a slightly different title – The Coff’s Harbour Advocate and Dorrigo, Orara, Coramba, Bucca Bucca, Woolgoolga, Glenreagh and Lower Clarence Advertizer.  The issues of the paper between 1907 and 1942 are available for reading or searching on the National Library of Australia’s discovery platform, Trove.

(1907, February 12). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1.

There was a publication break during the Second World War, from May 1942 until October 1946, but the geographical coverage of the Coffs Coast remained the same when it resumed.
(1942, April 24). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1.

(1946, October 11). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1.

(1954, December 31). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1.

However it is still possible to explore subsequent issues, copied for reading and preservation onto microfilm. They are accessible at the Harry Bailey Memorial Library in Coffs Harbour. The Library continues add microfilm to its local history collection, and for the digital years this still provides an important backup copy for the newspaper on the Advocate’s own website.
We are fortunate that, by virtue of various tranches of government and other sponsored funding, the newspaper is freely available to read in all of these forms – online, on microfilm and through free delivery to local households since 1985. Using these mechanisms we can ensure that more recent editions are not lost, so that we can browse through the trove of compelling stories and celebrate the paper’s next major anniversary.
* A supercentenarian is acknowledged as the result of surpassing a 110th birthday event.

When did Coffs drop its apostrophe?

The name Coffs Harbour has passed through a few permutations since the location was acknowledged in 1847. Originally named after John Korff, the location’s name was changed to Coff’s Harbor by surveyors in 1861. But the apostrophe lingered, and in response to a recent enquiry, the Library-Museum team at Coffs Harbour City Council looked into the transition.
The quintessential barometer of small-town life, the daily newspaper, was a leader in this transition. The Coff’s Harbour and Dorrigo Advocate commenced printing in 1907 and dropped the apostrophe from the text of the newspaper in 1914. The abbreviation “Coffs”, used in article headings and elsewhere, didn’t look right when written as “Coff’s”.
The Guide Book to Coffs Harbor and District, published by the Chamber of Commerce in 1926, uses the apostrophe throughout except, ironically, in its title:

Read it here

“Next issue Sept. 16. Office burnt down”

A fire at the Advocate’s premises on 3 August, 1930 resulted in a new printing press and a new masthead. The masthead changed from “Coff’s Harbour” to “Coffs Harbour” on 16 September, 1930.
“Owing to office being burnt down, the previous issue was August 1, 1930.”

In 1950, in response to a letter from a member of the public How is Coffs Harbour spelled? the editor wrote
Excerpt from CORRECT SPELLING OF COFFS HARBOUR (1950, April 21). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.

The New South Wales Government Gazette of 17 May, 1968 announced that the Geographical Names Board had dropped the apostrophe from “Coffs Harbour” from both the town name and the harbour name.  However some Government Gazette notices continued using “Coff’s Harbour” until 1972.
From Coff’s to Coffs

Of particular note is the fact that Coffs Harbour Shire Council notices published in the Government Gazette continued to use “Coff’s Harbour” until 1972.

While the apostrophe was not completely put to rest until 1972, it was dropped from common usage in 1914.
With thanks to volunteer researcher Geoffrey Watts for his investigation into this matter.