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Louisa Henrietta Small (1841–1928)

Associations with the earliest settlement of the Clarence River, are recalled by the death of Mrs. Louisa Small, which occurred on July 19, at the residence of Mrs. Wilford Johnson, of Pound street, Grafton, where she had lived for the last 13 years.

The late Mrs. Small, who was 86 years old, had resided on the Clarence some 66 or 67 years, with the exception of a brief sojourn of about 12 months in Queensland. She was the widow of the late John Frederick Small, who was identified with this river and district from the time that it first became inhabited by the white man, and whose father, John Small, was the first man to establish a home on the Clarence.

Interesting, indeed, is the life story of the late Mrs. Louisa Small herself. She was the first white child born at Pyrmont, Sydney, which was not then the busy crowded spot, almost in the heart of a city, that it is to-day, but was situated in the scrub and consisted of a few houses. It was in 1841 that Louisa H. Chowne, afterwards to become the wife of John Frederick Small, first saw the light of day. Her parents were Thomas and Elizabeth Jane Chowne.

Thomas Chowne was a shipbuilder and held on a 99 years lease, from the McArthur Estate, the land where the C.S.R. Coy's sugar refinery is now situated at Pymont. Here he had his house and ship-yards. Mr Chowne built the first ferry-boats, that ran from Pyrmont to Sydney, the Gipsy Queen, the Fairy Queen, and the Brothers, which were constructed for Girard Bros. He also built many other vessels and owned five or six himself. Besides those already mentioned, Mr. Chowne was responsible for the construction of the Sovereign, the Eagle, the Phoenix and the Raven, and the following six which he built for himself: The Elizabeth Ann, Aeolus, the Favorite, the Pyrmont, the Ophalia and the Ops. The last-mentioned somewhat singular designation was bestowed on a craft which was built of old pieces of ships. His Pyrmont yards were also later responsible for the Lady Augusta and the Captain Cook.

The Phoenix, after several years of successful trading, was beached south of the Clarence Heads, consequent upon an accident to her machinery. The hull of the vessel, after the machinery had been removed and taken inland, was floated off, taken to Sydney, refitted, and again placed in the trade of the Clarence, finally to find her end on the bar.

The late Mrs. Small had a wonderfully retentive memory and one of her recollections was of the historic occasion when the sod of the first railway (Sydney-Parramatta) was turned in Sydney, on July 3, 1850, and she had preserved a picture of that great event in the development of this State. The ceremony was performed by Mrs. Keith Stewart, daughter of Governor Fitzroy. Mrs. Small, then a little girl of some nine years, was taken to the scene by her two brothers, and she could remember how it came on to rain and they placed her under the shelter of a verandah.

Whilst still a resident under the parental roof, she came to the Clarence on a visit to her uncle, E. G. Chowne, of Ulmarra who had a farm and sugar mill there, and who was a shipwright in the early days and built several droghers that plied on this river, one being the Settler's Friend and another the Uloom. It was during this holiday with her uncle that she met John Frederick Small, who was then a widower. Cupid took a hand in their affairs and in 1861 she left her home at Pyrmont to become the wife of J. F. Small, the marriage taking place at Ulmarra.

It may here be mentioned that on the death of his first wife, Mr. Small had been left with four children, three of whom are still living, viz., Mrs. Havinden, of Grafton, Mrs. Wilford Johnson, of Grafton, and Mr. Frederick W. Small, of Camira. The late John F. Small, who died about a year ago, in Sydney, and for many years was a much respected resident of Kempsey, where he was at one time Mayor, was the other member of that first family. Of the second marriage, there were seven sons and two daughters, of whom six still survive, viz., Messrs. Arthur (Nambour, Queensland), Henry (Maclean),Thomas (Garden Island), Leslie (Garden Island), Roland (Grantham, Queensland), and Morris (Grantham, Queensland).

A woman of even temper and kindly disposition, the late Mrs. Small brought up her own and her husband's first family in a happy home, cemented by the bonds of mutual love.

Her husband had come to the Clarence, with his father, as far back as 1837 or 1838, of which more anon, and the family had settled down at Woodford Island. Before the advent of the early settlers, J. F. Small had removed to Ulmarra and erected a residence on the open country, about half a mile at the rear of the present township, which was then covered with dense brush. Here he followed pastoral pursuits, combining butchering therewith when the settlement warranted. This he subsequently carried on extensively. Whilst at Ulmarra, he was closely identified with most movements for the district's progress.

In the early sixties, wheat growing was extensively practised by the farmers, and Mr. Small possessed one of the first threshing machines in use in the district. He, with the late Mr. T. T. Seller, purchased Newton Boyd Station, on which the latter for some years resided.

After spending a number of years at Ulmarra, Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Small and family returned to Woodford Island. Here Mr. Small resided till the time of his death on October 15, 1897. He entered into cane growing and erected a sugar mill, which, however, like too many other ventures of a similar character, was not a successful speculation. In addition to his joint ownership of Newton Boyd station, he also owned Taloumbi station, now in the possession of Mr. W. N. R. Waugh. His name also figures prominently on the early maps showing the ownership of lands adjoining the South Arm.

Mr. Small built a stone house on Woodford Island, which is still in existence, being owned and occupied by Mr. John Hughes, who purchased it after Mr. Small's death. It was through Mr. Small's agency that the first school was established on Woodford Island. The authorities agreed with him if he would find the building and furniture for the school and select a teacher they would pay him. Mr Small fell in with this arrangement, gave the old home erected by his father as a school, and Mr Wallwork was appointed as the first teacher.

After Mr Small's death, Mrs. Small continued to reside at the old homestead on Woodford Island till 1914, when the property was disposed of and Mrs. Small went to Queensland with her son, Morris, and daughter, Louisa. The latter only lived for 12 months afterwards and upon her death Mrs. Small returned to the Clarence to reside with Mrs. Wilford Johnson, with whom she remained until she passed away. Thus from the time she first came to the river in 1861 she was only away from the river about 12 months and so spent some 66 years in the district.

A striking testimony to the esteem in which the late Mrs Small was held is provided in an illuminated address presented to her from the people of Woodford Island and district on her departure for Queensland, after being a resident of the island for upwards of 50 years. That address says: ''As a pioneer of the Clarence you have, under great difficulties, succeeded by your industry and perseverance in converting part of the wild scrub lands into flourishing farm and grazing land, thus materially helping the work of settling and bringing into prominence the fertile lands of the beautiful Clarence River.

"The kindness and hospitality shown by yourself and your late beloved husband and family will always be remembered by those who had the pleasure of knowing you all. Our institutions will suffer the loss of your great help and support. You have always given your time and energies towards the social and moral uplifting of the district and your place, will be hard to fill".

The late Mr. J. F. Small came to the Clarence in the Susan in the first trip she made to the river and the Susan was the first boat to enter its waters. Mr. Small's father, John Small, having heard of the existence of a big river on the North Coast from Craig, who travelled the coast south-wards from Brisbane, embarked hither in the schooner Susan with 24 sawyers and a large quantity of stores and supplies. It was too rough for them to cross in and they returned to Sydney. A second trip was made to the Clarence and this time, the Susan was able to successfully negotiate the bar and the party landed on Woodford Island, where the home of the Smalls was established. Mr J. F. Small was at this time 20 years of age.

The landing on Woodford Island was made from a whaleboat. The first cattle to be brought to the river were also landed on that island by the Smalls. The cattle were put overboard and swam to the island, and the late Mr. J. F. Small often showed his family the spot where the cattle landed. It was on this island, that Mr Small's father erected the first house in the district and in it Mr. J. F. Small lived for many years.

At that period intense hardships had to be encountered. The banks of the river and right around the island were clothed in dense brush. There were no stores in the district, and the few residents were dependent for supplies on the irregular visits of sailing vessels that arrived about once a quarter.

The celebrated dry season that occurred in the thirties was keenly felt on the Clarence, and provisions ran up to famine prices.

The blacks were plentiful in those early days, and though those on the island were friendly, visiting tribes were at times inclined to be troublesome. Mr J. F. Small and his brother on one occasion had an encounter with a party of natives up the Coldstream. The brothers were each severely wounded, were in fact left for dead, and probably would have perished, but for the assistance of Sydney Billy, a friendly native of Woodford Island.

Some interesting references to the Small family and their associations with the Clarence in the early days of its settlement are contained in addresses which were delivered by the late Thomas Bawden at the School of Arts, Grafton, in June, 1886. Copies of these addresses have been carefully preserved by Mr. T. T. Bawden, who kindly lent them to us. In one address, referring to the discovery of the Clarence by Richard Craig, Mr. Bawden said: 'There arises some difficulty as to who, outside the officials, is entitled to the honor of first receiving and acting upon the information from Craig as to the cedar-producing and pastoral qualities of the district. My own impression is that the information was communicated to two sets of persons at about the same time. The information was received by Mr. Thomas Small, sen., of Kissing Point, and Mr. Francis Girard, of Sydney— both of whom (about the same time) despatched sailing vessels from Sydney to the Brig ? the former sending the Susan, the latter the Taree, subsequently wrecked on the bar. In the first-named vessels were a number of sawyers. . . The Susan appears to have been the first to enter the river. The Taree also had a number of sawyers on board, with a person named Williams as overseer. The latter pitched upon the place now known as Tyndale for his head-quarters, that place being known for many years as Williams Flat.

Messrs. John and Thomas Small, seniors. appear to have been the first to bring cattle to the district by water in 1837 or 1838. The stock so brought were landed on the island.

In another part of his address the late Mr. Bawden says: — 

"My next statement is gathered from my friend, Mr John F. Small, who has, to a certain extent kept a sort of record of events collated some years back, when those events were probably more fresh in his memory, than they can be in men of our ages, relying upon our memories alone. The late Mr. Thomas Small, senr., of Kissing Point, built a schooner, the Susan, at his own place, now Ryde; in the year 1836. The late Mr Henry Gillett did the shipwright's work for an interest in the vessel. When the Susan was ready for sea, Craig was working in the yard as a sawyer. One day when Small and Gillet were discussing in his hearing, what trade they should place the Susan in, he spoke up and suggested the 'Big River'. This led to a conversation on the subject, when Craig gave a glowing description of the cedar brushes and the magnificence of the riyer. It was then decided to try this river with the Susan, and test Craig's story. Henry Thorne was placed in command, John Boyle as mate, while Henry Burns was one of the able seaman (Burns was subsequently one of a party who accompanied Sir John Coode on a trip to the Clarence). The Susan was despatched to the Clarence, having on board twelve pairs of sawyers and a large quantity of stores and supplies; Mr John Small senr (as representing his brother) and Mr Henry Gillett being with the party. The vessel arrived off the bar and knocked about for some days, but having no suitable boat for sounding, she did not enter. Gillett was strongly against risk being run, consequently the Susan returned to Sydney, when, having procured a whaleboat and supply of fresh water, she resumed the voyage. The Susan succeeded in entering the river on this occasion and finding Craig's statement as to the plentiful supply of cedar correct, landed the party. The Susan then returned to Sydney for a further supply of stores; and it would appear that Gillett went by her, and being that his all was jeopardised in crossing the bar, sold his interest in the vessel to Mr James Devlin, of Ryde. The Susan then returned to the river, and on arriving off the bar found a schooner of Mr Girard's waiting to enter. It is not quite clear, but there is some reason to believe that both Mr. Thomas Small senr., and Mr James Devlin came to the river either on the second or third voyage of the Susan. On her third return voyage the Susan took the first cargo of cedar to Sydney. In those days the country was visited by a very severe drought. Flour reached £100 a ton; maize was £1 per bushel, and beef 1/ per lb."

"The Susan brought the first horned cattle to the river, and these were landed on Woodford Island, nearly opposite Sheather's.

"The first house built on the Clarence was on Woodford Island, the walls being of cedar slabs — round — on the outer side — and the roof of cedar boards. The cedar-getters moved about on the river in whale-boats, each boat having a crew of five, fully armed on all occasions. Money was plentiful, for the reason, we may suppose, of there being available none of these temptations, to expenditure that are numerous to-day. Cedar was worth ? per 100 feet in the log, sawn or axe squared.

"It is beyond doubt that the Smalls were on Woodford Island during the greater part of 1838, and Williams must have been at Tyndale about the same time," says Mr. Bawden in another place, 'I think therefore, the weight of such evidence as we have tends to show that settlement— or the advent of Europeans— took place about 1837, and that the first party to arrive was that of Small's.

"I accept the conclusion, that the Susan with the Small party was the first vessel to enter the river, and the Taree, with Girard's party under Williams, followed within a very short time after, and that this important event occurred not later than the middle of the year 1837."

Original publication

Citation details

'Small, Louisa Henrietta (1841–1928)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 31 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Chowne, Louisa Henrietta

30 November, 1841
Pyrmont, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


17 July, 1928 (aged 86)
Grafton, New South Wales, Australia

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