The First Sawmill at Forster


FORSTER: The first sawmill at Forster was built by the Partnership of Barling and Breckenridge who had a 5 year lease from the Crown of a 3 acre site. The lease commenced lst February, 1868, and was subject to the payment In advance of Five pounds per annum. The partnership was between Joseph Barling and John Wylie Breckenridge.) 

Joseph Barling (1808-1895)1832 married Elizabeth Bennett (1809-1881) they had eight children. Joseph Barling met John Wylie Breckenridge at Pumpkin Point(Port Stephens) where the family lived after emigrating, and Breckenridge had a sawmill. Breckenridge made an agreement with Barling whereby they jointly erected a mill and store at Forster. The finance being supplied by Barling at 15% interest, with Breckenridge to provide labour and expertise. Barling was currently holding a lease on M2.1035, in the centre of Forster. When John Hall made his initial survey from June 1st to 9th 1869 of the area now known as Forster he made a note on the map, which stated, “The land coloured green leased by Mr. Barling for sawmills etc.”  This land some 60 metres wide and 200 meters long would today enclose Pacific Arcade to the waterfront and north across the camping area and half way to Pilot Hill.

Joseph Barling after negotiations with Edward C. Merewether of the AA Co. At Stroud about 1863 took up a 10 year lease on Booral House and 93 hectares. After the sale of the Forster mill in 1871, and with the lease of Booral House running out in 1873, Barling bought a property he called “Dunwell” near Scone and lived there for a number of years.

The partnership was dissolved by mutual consent, the business in future will be carried on under the name and style of:

J.W. BRECKENRIDGE AND SON. Cape Hawke, December, 13th 1871. 

John Booth bought the sawmill lease 17th November, 1871 and it would appear then sold it to Breckenridge on 13/12/1871. (We believe that Breckenridge was unable to raise the money in time for the sale on 17/11/1871, so John Booth stepped in and did the deed for them selling it back to them on 13/12/1871)

John Booth (We have extracted this information from: The Batchelor Family Tree: Researched by-Leon Wellman-2000.) John Booth had land at Coolongolook in 1864. This was situated on the Right bank of the Coolongolook River the one furthest away from the present village. His land was a little North of Midge Island and had the Batchelor Creek running through it. (John Booth was involved in the timber industry from 1869 at Coolongolook, he had the First sawmill, and owned a wharf, the location could point to Noone’s wharf as it was known as in later years. His wharf was at the mouth of Batchelor’s Creek. John Booth was also big time at Balmain where he had lots of land and a sawmill, with timber yards, wharves etc. He also had a sawmill on the Manning River.)

See: Sydney Morning Herald articles below.

Sale of Saw Mill at Cape Hawke. Thur 16 Nov 1871-SMH

Friday 17th November Instant. RICHARDSON AND WRENCH have received  instructions for Mr. Joseph Barling to offer for sale, at the rooms, Pitt Street, Sydney, on Friday 17th November, at half-past one 0’clock prompt. The Saw Mill and plant, and other partnership effects of the late firm of Barling and Breckenridge, in order to close the partnership accounts. Full particulars at Sale. Terms cash on the fall of hammer.

The purchaser will be entitled to the residue of the 6 year lease from the Crown of a 3-acre site on which the mill stands. The lease commenced lst February, 1868, and is subject to the payment in advance of five pounds per annum. Each partner is at liberty to bid on the sale.

Fri 29 Dec 1871: SMH NOTICE: The firm of BARLING and BRECKENRIDGE, Saw Mill and Timber Merchants, of Cape Hawke, having been dissolved by mutual consent, the business in future will be carried on under the name and style of:

J.W. BRECKENRIDGE and SON. Cape Hawke, December 13th, 1871.


  1. 6. SEPTEMBER. 1862.
    S.M.H. p8 c6. The following gentlemen have been appointed magistrates of the colony:—Joseph Barling, Kundibach, Manning River.

  2. 16. NOVEMBER. 1859.
    William Brackenridge a late partner in the Port Stephens Sawmill, carried on under the firm of‘’Brackenridge Bros’’ has this day by mutual consent ceased to be a partner in said business.
    William Breckenridge.
    For Breckenridge Bros.
    Robert Breckenridge.
    The business will still be carried on by the other partners as before
    For Breckenridge Bros.
    Robert Breckenridge.

  3. As far as I am aware the sawmill at Pumpkin Point was owned by John Breckenridge’s two brothers, James & Robert, who subsequently moved their operation to the Richmond River area in 1864. John Breckenridge provided timber for the mill.

    When the Barlings and Breckenridge could no longer work together, and the mill at Forster was put up for auction, John Breckenridge asked his friend John Booth, the timber merchant in Balmain, to buy the mill for him, which he did, and John Breckenridge paid him off.

    As far as I can tell from the sudden jump in the amount of timber exported from Cape Hawke, the Barling-Breckenridge steam sawmill at Forster began operating in December 1869.

    An excellent book on the Breckenridges is Molly Breckenridges, Mills, Merchants and Migrants, 1992, one of the best researched family histories I’ve read.

  4. J. W. Breckenridge Sr was my first cousin 3x removed. His mother and my 2nd G Grandmother were sisters. Catherine Cassels and Marion Cassels both born in Carluke, Scotland. My family, after my great great grandmother Catherine died, came to the USA. My grandfather remarried. I was just wondering if you have any photo’s of the family? I am in the USA so not sure I will ever make it there.

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