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Harvie History & Family Tree
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Walter Harvie :: mariner, pioneer cedar getter, mailman, ferryman, farmer

Walter Harvie (1843-1932) was born in the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia. He arrived in Australia in 1860 at seventeen years of age and in about August 1865 became the first white settler at the now city of Coffs Harbour on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, which has a current population of approximately 60,000.

His great-grandfather John Harvie (1730-1822) had been born in Dalry, Aryshire, Scotland where the Harvie family had lived from at least the fifteenth century. Sometime before 1760 John Harvie emigrated from Scotland to the then British colony of America and then moved from Rhode Island to the colony of Nova Scotia in May 1760 to take up vacant lands previously occupied by French settlers known as Acadians, who had been expelled by the British in 1755. [1]

Walter Harvie was orphaned in 1851 at the age of eight years years after his orchardist father Daniel died from injuries received in an accident in a gypsum quarry he part-owned near Windsor in Hants County. Having already experienced a sailor’s vocation on a six month return voyage to the West Indies with a cousin Capt. William P. Harvie on board the Avondale in the winter of 1858/59, he left Nova Scotia later in 1859 at the age of fifteen years for the American east coast city of Boston [7]. After a return voyage from Boston to the West Indies for a cargo of rum and molasses he landed in Sydney on 19th September 1860 as the "boy" in the sixteen man crew of the American clipper ship Dirigo, which had to be towed from outside Sydney Heads to its berth near Market Street Wharf after a pre-dawn collision off the Heads with another inbound ship the Naomi causing considerable damage to both vessels [2]. Whilst the Dirigo was in port he and five other crew members deserted the ship [5].

Early in 1862 he wrote to an uncle James Harvie in Nova Scotia advising an intent to go on to California where three of his four sisters subsequently emigrated. However such was not to be as after following the gold rushes in New South Wales, and working on western pastoral stations where he learnt the skill of bullock driving, he arrived whilst still in his teens on about New Years Day 1863 on the Bellinger River 20 kilometers south of the present day city of Coffs Harbour to take up a pre-arranged job as a bullock driver with local shipbuilders George Tucker and Thomas Salter.
In autobiographical notes written about 1927 he recounted when he arrived at Bellinger River there were only about twenty white men and two white women men in the district, and just the one horse (a grey) owned by a cedar cutter John Frisby, who employed a few hands and had his cedar cutters camp at Boat Harbour (later renamed Bellingen) located about ten miles up river from the Tucker & Salter shipyard [6].

The obituaries of Walter Harvie and wife Anna recorded he was the first secretary of the Masonic Lodge when it opened on the Bellinger River in the 1880s, and was for some years a mail contractor and operator of the Raleigh ferry when it was located at the village of Repton adjacent to the present railway bridge and road contractor when he lived at Fernmount, and farmed at Raleigh and subsequently at Bonville until about 1916 when he sold the latter farm and retired to live in Curacoa Street in Coffs Harbour [3].

An enlarged framed photograph commissioned by the Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce in 1927 to honour his pioneering role as the city’s first white settler in 1865 is on display at the Historical Society Museum together with the notes he wrote concerning his arrival on the Bellinger River and discovery, with the assistance of the local aboriginals, of stands of red cedar adjacent to Coffs Harbour, which he harvested and exported to market in Sydney by floating the squared logs out to ships anchored in the lee of Muttonbird Island in what was then an open roadstead [4]. His autobiographical notes are the only known first hand account of the Coffs Harbour area in the 1860s and the earliest for the decade concerning the inhabitants of the Bellinger River district. A graphic account eye-witness account he wrote of the last major aboriginal tribal battle on the North Coast of N.S.W. was published in 1927. At the time of the 1988 Australian bi-centenary of first white settlement plaques marking sites with which he was associated were erected beside Coffs Creek in Rotary Park in the City and on the Sawtell Reserve, and in September 1998 adjacent to Boambi headland at Sawtell, where he wrote that the aboriginals had fed and tended their wounded after the last great tribal battle, a new bridge spanning the North Coast railway line was named in his memory the - Walter Harvie Bridge.

He married Anna Sheils (Shields) on 19 November 1872 in East Kempsey. She had been born at Manning River in 1857 and at the time was her death in 1949 at 92 years of age was Coffs Harbour's oldest resident. Anna was the second born of the sixteen children of Jane O’Hara, who together with her first husband William Sheils who died in 1859 had arrived in July 1855 in New South Wales from County Cavan, Ireland and later that year had settled at Manning River. In the year following her first husband's death Jane, who had three young children, remarried an American citizen John Thomas Williams, and in about 1866 the couple and their then six children moved north to the Bellinger River where her husband was that district's first blacksmith and a pioneer sugar grower and miller.

Shortly after his marriage to Anna Sheils, Walter Harvie left the Coffs Harbour and Sawtell area where he had been living for seven years, and returned to the Bellinger River. Their twelve children were born there over a twenty-seven year period from 1873 to 1900. Only one failed to survive to adulthood. All married and produced a total of fifty grandchildren.


[1] (i) Rev. McLeod Harvey, From Old Scotia to New Scotia: A Family of Harveys’ (circa 1945). (ii) Robert Paton Harvey, John Harvie (1730-1822) of Newport, Nova Scotia: Three Generations of Descendants (Nova Scotia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 4, 1976). (iii) Leland Harvie, The Harvie/Harvey Family of Hants County Nova Scotia, (Hantsport, 1984).
[2]  Sydney Mail, 22 Sep 1860 - shipping column
[3] Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo Advocate, 2 Aug 1932 and Coffs Harbour Advocate, 6 May 1949.
[4] Walter Harvie 1927 auto biographical notes were mostly published in the Coffs Harbour Advocate newspaper issue of 12 August 1965 to mark the estimated month and year of the centenary of his first settlement at Coffs Harbour.
[5] Jim Melton, Ships Deserters 1852-1900 (Sydney, 1986), and Water Police Court reports, Sydney Mail, 13 October 1860.
[6] Corroboration of there having been only 2 white women in the district in early 1863 is found in the account of an early stockman Mr. Periera, who named them as having been - Mrs. Frisby at Bellingen and Mrs. Williamson at Bongil Creek - both the wives of cedar cutters. See: The Coffs Harbour Story, Central North Coast Newspapers in conjunction with Coffs Harbour Rotary Club, 1976, p. 8.
[7] 1925 letter from Walter Harvie to his sister Caroline Hill in Bakersville, Kern Co., California.

Descendants of Walter Harvie

Walter Harvie, born in 1843 in Newport, Hants Co., Nova Scotia; died 29 July 1932 in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia, buried with wife in the Presbyterian Section, Coffs Harbour Cemetery., son of Daniel Lockhart Harvie (1811-1851) and Jane Ann Burton (1823-1845) of Avondale, Hants County, Nova Scotia. He married on 19 Nov 1872 in East Kempsey, NSW, Australia, Anna Sheils ( Shields ), born 30 Nov 1857 at Lower Manning River, NSW, Australia; died 4 May 1949 Coffs Harbour, daughter of William Sheils and Jane O’Hara previously of County Cavan, Ireland.

Children of Walter Harvie and Anna Sheils (Shields) were:

1. William Ambrose Harvie b.1873; d.1849; m.1912 Margaret Ellen Ryan
2. Walter Harvie  b.1874; d.1960; m.1898 Sara Jane Smith
3. Weston Harvie b.1877; d.1926; m.1901 Florence May Smith
4. Bertha Harvie b.1879; d.1924; m.1893 George McKenzie
5. Ada Harvie b.1882; d.1977; m.1901 Wilfred Ernest Augustus Gordon
6. Henry E. Harvie  b. 1885; d.1887
7. Norman Harvie  b.1888; d.aft.1951; m.1912 Martha Matilda Worland
8. Lena Harvie b.1890; d.1971; m.1911 Edward J Ryan
9. Harold Henry Harvie  b.1892; d.1948; m.1914 Minnie Sylvia Knight
10. Cyril Oswald Harvie  b.1895; d.1955; m.1922 Louisa Marjorie Gurd
11. Wilfred Harvie  b.1897; d.1972; m.1916 Lily Knight
12. Estelle Verona Harvie b.1900; d.1968; m.1918 (1) George Alcon Pullen
(2)  William Prisk

Contributed by: J. Raymond

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