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Williams History & Family Tree
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John Thomas Williams :: first blacksmith at Bellingen; pioneer sugar cane grower & miller, Sydney publican

The first blacksmith at the town of Bellingen on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, Australia was American born John Thomas Williams. A son of bricklayer James Williams and Mary Brice he was born about 1834 in New York State and died on 11 Sep 1903 at Darlinghurst in Sydney. On 20 December 1860 at Mitchell’s Island, Manning River in NSW he married Jane Sheils née O’Hara - a widow with three young children [1] 10]. Jane and her first husband William Sheils had arrived in Sydney as assisted immigrants from Killinkere Parish, County Cavan, Ireland on 28 July 1855 aboard the Mangerton [2]. The first of their three children was born on 1 Dec.1855 at Manning River, where William had found work as a farm servant before in Dec.1858 purchasing a 60 acre farm fronting Pelican Bay [3].  Whilst visiting Sydney he died on 23 Aug.1859 from dysentery in the Infirmary in Macquarie Street (later Sydney Hospital). From her second marriage to John Thomas Williams the following year Jane had an additional thirteen children including a set of twins who did not survive. Of her sixteen children, six were born at Manning River and ten at Bellinger River. For their birth years, marriages, history and descendants see The Family Tree.

It is not known for certain when John Williams arrived in Australia or at Manning River. His offical death record indicates a 1859 year of arrival in Australia [10]. However significant errors in other information in this record suggest the 1859 arrival year may have also been in error and he could have arrived earlier attracted by the gold rushes. He may have been the blacksmith named "Tom" who was the blacksmith on "Bungay Bungay" station and who became the first blacksmith to reside in the town of Wingham. His smithy was sited where the butter factory was much later erected. The first allotments in this government created town were sold in 1854. "Tom" likely moved there about 1856 when the P.O.was relocated to Wingham from "Bungay Bungay" [4]. In 1864 John Williams had his smithy on the northern side of Taree at Cundletown [5]. Likewise to several other early Manning River settlers he made the move north to the Bellinger, where he set up for business in Fernmount sometime between October 1865 when his last Manning born child was registered, and May 1867 when his first child was born at Bellinger River [6]. It was not until around the turn of the century that Bellingen, which was originally known as Boat Harbour, overtook Fernmount in population and became the main business and commercial center for the district.

In 1866 his wife Jane selected as a conditional purchase a 204 acre property with a ¾ mile Bellinger River frontage and a double frontage to the Kempsey road, situated 1½ miles below Fernmount between the Connell and Bayldon farms. Following her 1886 death this property was auctioned on 6 April 1889 in Baker’s Auction Rooms in Fernmount. The sale proceeds had been bequeathed by her will to her six youngest children who were aged between 5 and 16 years when she died. The property was bought in by her executor and son-in-law John James Keogh - the husband of her daughter Susan Jane Sheils [7].

The Williams family left the Bellinger River for Sydney in the early 1880s. Initially they resided at 27-29 Regent Street close to the present day site of Central Railway Station, requiring two houses to fully accommodate the then fourteen family members [9]. From 1884 to 1887 John Williams was the licensee of the London Tavern on the corner of Elizabeth & Albion Streets in Surry Hills, located just north of the then site of Toohey’s Brewery which stood as an Elizabeth Street landmark for over a century until redeveloped as Centennial Plaza in the 1990s [8].

The precision of his handwriting indicates John Williams had a formal education. Apart from being the Bellinger River’s first blacksmith, he was also apparently its first unofficial school teacher, having conducted a school in his Fernmount smithy attended by local children before the town obtained its first official school in November 1871. A legend in one line of his family is that he was the mayor of the Bellinger. However whilst Fernmount was until the 20th century the main settlement his years on the river predated the formation of a municipality. He may well have been the unofficial "mayor" who made written representations on behalf of his fellow citizens to the member of parliament and the government in Sydney re the need for roads, bridges, schools, better postal services, steam driven punts etc. Following are mentions of John Thomas Williams noted in books and newspapers:-Bellinger Courier-Sun,  5 November 1954. An article by an early Bellingen blacksmith Leo McNally, stated a man named Williams was the first blacksmith on the Bellinger and that he had come up to Bellingen from his shop at Fernmount on 2 or 3 days a week . This article is reprinted in Pioneering in the Bellingen Valley, edited by N. Braithwaite & H. Beard (Bellinger Valley Historical Society).

Bellinger Courier-Sun, 2 June 1964 'District Pioneers - Part 1'. An article by R.J Hobson on the Tysons' of Fernmount recounts that one of the older Tyson children had recalled that John Williams had conducted a school in his blacksmith shop attended by local children as follows - quote: "There were so many small children in the small town, and no school teacher, that ‘Tom the Blacksmith’ decided to hold a class in the blacksmith shop. This was where the older members of the Tyson families received their early education.............‘Tom the Blacksmith’ was a well educated man and was appreciated in the community". This newspaper article is reprinted in Pioneering in the Bellingen Valley (BVHS).

(Ed. - The first born of George & Ellen Tyson's 14 children was Annie born 1863. She would have been aged about 3 years when John Williams setup his smithy at Fernmount ca.1866. Thus the blacksmith shop classes referred to were conducted sometime between then and the establishment of the government school at Fernmount on 1 Nov 1871).Sydney Morning Herald,  1 December 1876,  p. 6 "There are four successful sugar growers, each party possessing a mill of his own. Mr. Williams has six acres of cane,  upon which he has commenced operations.  He has just planted four acres more, and intends increasing it to twenty acres, which he considers will be quite as much as he can manage profitably, not considering it advisable to depend on hired labour. He has two South Sea Islanders employed in cutting the cane; but the remainder of the work is performed by members of the family.  The mill is erected by the side of a gentle slope, part of which has been cut away to enable him to take advantage of the position, and thereby save a good deal of unprofitable labour. The cane is drawn up and delivered at the feet of the feeders, which, after it has passed through the mill, is dropped into a large drag, drawn down hill about 100 yards, and thrown out for the cattle.  The crushing power being considerably elevated, the mill horses work in the shade, a luxury they no doubt appreciate. Being a machinist, he erected the mill himself, but it is his intention to supersede the present horsepower by steam which will probably be ready for next season’s crop."Sydney Morning Herald,  heading "Bellinger River",  9 May 1878,  p.7 "Sugar making is evidently an important industry here.  Messrs. Williams, Jarrett and Lucas are the three principal growers, while there are two or three others who carry it on successfully on a smaller scale.  Mr. Williams is preparing to plant out more cane as soon as the present crop is off.  It appears to be advantageous to plant a crop of corn before the canes are put in."

Nehemiah Bartley,  Australian pioneers and reminiscences, 1849-1894   (Gordon & Gotch, Brisbane, 1896) pp.50-51. "On the Bellinger one small sugar-mill, owned by a farmer named Williams, survived till 1880. It was a curiosity in its way, made entirely by Williams himself, who was a blacksmith by trade, and a most ingenious man to boot.  The rollers (a set of three, placed upright) had been cast and turned for him in Sydney;  but he himself made the strong iron frames in which they were set.  The clarifiers and boiling-pans he made out of half tanks, and he built the furnace, flue, and chimney.  He worked the farm and mill with the help of his numerous family, and it would have been very wonderful if, under such circumstances, with the most unremitting industry, the concern had not been made to pay."

[1] NSW Marriage Cert. #1860-2788. Anglican Diocese of Newcastle, Manning River marriages - reel #8.
[2]  Sydney Morning Herald, 30 July 1855 &A.O. of NSW microfilm, NSW Immigrants, persons on Bounty Ships to Sydney & Newcastle - reels #2137 & 2471
[3] Manning River Presbyterian Bapt. 1856-1093-V53 - daughter baptised as "Margaret O’Hara"
[4] John Ramsland, The struggle against isolation :a history of the Manning Valley  (N.S.W : Library of Australian History, 1987)
[5] NSW Birth Cert. #1864-9597 for dau. Sarah Ann gave her father’s occupation as blacksmith at Cundletown.
[6] NSW Birth Cert’s. #1865-10118 & #1867-11057
[7] The North Coast Times, 29 March 1889 - property sale advertisement
[8] Sands Directory of Sydney for 1885 to 1887.  NSW Death Cert’s. #1885-2219 for daughter Henrietta & #1886-1238 for wife Jane.
[9] Recollections of great-grandsons James Dale & John Williams of the family history as told to them by their respective grandparents & confirmed by the 1883 compiled Sands Directory of Sydney for 1884, which listed John Williams at 27-29 Regent Street.
[10] Death Notice, Sydney Morning Herald 14 Sep. 1903, p.6. (this notice gave his age as 72 years which calculates to a ca. 1831 birth). Transcript of death record #1903-08982 provided courtesy of Gustav Schaefer of Port Macquarie, NSW, - gave him as having been: "44 years in NSW", born "Durham", England", aged "75 years" - informants were listed as his children - James Williams of 12 Regent Street & Beatrice Gaffney of Winnie St., Neutral Bay. The England birth place given is considered unreliable as a total of 13 other records, being his 1860 marriage record and the birth registrations of 12 children for which either he or wife Jane was informant, all gave his birth place as either New York, America, or just as America or as the USA. There is a Durham township in Greene County in New York State. However no ten yearly federal census from 1790 to 1860 listed a James Williams in Greene County, nor did the State census for 1855, and no marriage record has been identified of a James Williams to a Mary Brice or Bryce, nor has a baptism record of a John Williams been found in the published records of Durham township churches.

Researched and compiled by J. Raymond 2000- reproduced by consent

Family Tree


m.1860 Manning River, JANE O’HARA (widow)

4. Henry James WILLIAMS b.1861; d.1902; m.1884, Fanny GRAHAM
5. Sarah Ann WILLIAMS b.1863; d.1950; m.1885, Frederick William BOX b.1861; d.1928.
6. EmmaWILLIAMS b.1865; d.1952; m.(1) 1885, Peter Benedict MURPHY b.aft.1846; d.1898; m (2) 1899, John FOX
7. Maria Jane WILLIAMS "Mary" b.1867; m.1886, Alfred Fanshaw HAMILTON
8. unnamed twin male b.28 Dec 1868; d.1868 Fernmount, NSW
9. unnamed twin male b.28 Dec 1868; d.1868 Fernmount, NSW
10. Martha WILLIAMS b.1869; d.1956; m. "Jack" SHANNON - no known issue
11. Henrietta WILLIAMS b.12 Mar 1871 Bellinger River, NSW; d.1 Nov 1885 Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW; buried same grave with mother Jane in Old C of E Section Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney.
12. Beatrice WILLIAMS  b.1873; d.1953; m.1892, James Albert GAFFNEY; d.1926.
13. John Thomas WILLIAMS *untraced* b.7 Mar 1875 Bellinger River Alive in 1903
14. Charles WILLIAMS   b.1877; d.1954; m.1905, Bertha JACOBSON b.1885; d.1960.
15. Joseph WILLIAMS b.1878; d.1910 - unmarried.
16. James WILLIAMS  b.1880; d.1964; m.1909, Florence Isabella SMITH b.1884; d.1974.

First Marriage for Jane O'Hara ....

WILLIAM  SHEILS 1832; d.1859;

m.1855 Co. Cavan Ireland, JANE O’HARA; d.1886

1.  Margaret SHEILS b.1855; m.1882 Sydney, George PEARCE
2.  Anna SHEILS (SHIELDS)  b.1857; d.1949; m.1872, Walter HARVIE b.1843; d.1932.
3.  Susan Jane SHEILS (SHIELDS); d.1919; m.1881,  John James KEOGH b.1857; d.1908.

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