Heathorne the Jamberoo brewer

heathorn 1

The Jamberoo Valley in the 1840s, showing (circled) the Woodstock Brewery.


WHEN 52-year-old Henry Heathorne arrived alone in Sydney from Portsmouth on the ship Candahar in the winter of 1842, he had a tough job in front of him.

Henry Heathorne arrived in Sydney from Portsmouth on the ship Candahar in the winter of 1842.

Henry Heathorne arrived in Sydney from Portsmouth on the ship Candahar in the winter of 1842.

Heathorne, a Kent brewer, had been called upon by the owner of the Woodstock Mills at Jamberoo, HW Hart, to rescue his ailing business concerns. Heathorne, although confident the abundant supply of rainforest timber in the mountains and valleys surround the mills were sufficient to pull Hart’s business out of ruin, for added insurance he also included a brewery to Woodstock in 1844.

At its peak, the saw and flour mills at Woodstock employed 50 families, and many convict servants. There was a store open for a few hours twice a week, principally for the men. But the mills had been running at a loss and the financers were hovering. If anyone could have succeeded in the task of brewing beer at Woodstock, it was Heathorne.

A second generation brewer, Heathorne had the experience to make the mills a going concern. He was well travelled.

Heathorne met widower Sarah Richardson while travelling the West Indies, striking up a romance, and their child Henrietta or Nettie was born in 1825. Henry and Sarah married four years after Henrietta’s birth and it was some while before she discovered that her illegitimacy was the reason for her half-sisters’ calling her “It”.

Henry and Sarah travelled back to England, marrying in 1830, before the merchant adventurer set sail once again – this time to Sydney, Australia and eventually Jamberoo.

Sarah at the age of 50, her 17-year-old daughter Nettie and Nettie’s half sister Isabella Richardson joined Henry in Jamberoo from England in the summer of 1843.

This is Henrietta’s description of the road to her new home in Jamberoo: From Wollongong to Jamberoo, the road was a mere day track through a forest of tropical foliage; gum trees 200 [feet] or more in height, gigantic India-rubber trees with broad shining green leaves, lofty cabbage palms, and many other kinds of tree towered above us, so that their tops made a twilight canopy, impenetrable to the sunlight, save for an infrequent clearing in the forest made by the settler’s axe. Huge lianas, some as thick as a man’s arm, hung down snakelike from the trees.

Nettie Huxley, nee Heathorne.

Nettie Huxley

Nettie would later marry the famous English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley in 1855. Huxley was known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his defence of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Henry Heathorne was introduced to brewing from the age of about 12, when his father, Robert ran a brewery at Maidstone, Kent, England and by 1812, aged just 22 he had opened his own brewery at Battle in Sussex.

By March of 1844, Heathorne’s Jamberoo brewery was progressing rapidly under the supervision and construction of a Mr Bloomfield.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on March 4 that a brewery was also under consideration at Kiama, but now Heathorne had nearly completed his Jamberoo brewery, the Kiama one would more than likely be scrapped, “as the distance between the two places is only five miles, and the neighbourhood not so populous or wealthy as to support two establishments of this description”.

Heathorne immediately threw himself into civic life, becoming a member of the Illawarra Agricultural Society in 1845, and a magistrate of the law courts in 1846.

Despite all of Heathorne’s experience and brewing knowledge, the Woodstock Mills were a failure. In a 1935 reminiscence of Jamberoo, DA Silva Waugh recalled the 1840s in the Sydney Morning Herald on March 16, writing that the failure of Heathorne’s brewery was due to the beer “not keeping”, and “it could only be used for blacking (whether for shoes or stoves, I don’t know)”.

Woodstock was taken over by Charles Newnham, of Kent Brewery fame, in 1847, and Heathorne moved to Bathurst where ran the Kelloshiel Brewery. Heathorne’s Bathurst venture was much more successful than his Jamberoo brewery. He remained at Bathurst until 1862 before setting sail back to England in 1863. The pioneering brewer died at Croydon, Surrey, England aged 80 on 5 February 1879.

 © Copyright Mick Roberts 2014

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