It was a special moment in Yamba last Friday December 9 when the town’s historical society launched Yamba: The Next Thirty Years – A History from 1885 to 1915.
The publication continues the town’s story, following on from From Clarence River Heads to Yamba, which chronicles Yamba’s history from its beginnings to June 1, 1885 – the date when the town of Clarence River Heads was officially renamed Yamba in the government gazette of March 20, 1885.
These two publications are the ‘children’ of Historical society member John McNamara, whose labour of love is setting the record straight.
“Research began on my book about 10 years ago when I replaced the late Stuart Lee as research officer,” he told those gathered at the launch.
“I was concerned that much of the information in files and publications at the museum was anecdotal.
“The book was compiled over a three-year period from … newspaper items, historical documents from state archives, electoral rolls, the births, deaths and marriages register, relevant preceding publications, a full land title search of Yamba by Rob Knight and information from various websites.
“The period covered by the book was one of tremendous occupational, social and economic development in the town.
“The population increased from 200 to 300 in 1885, being mainly workers on the Clarence entrance breakwaters, to over 500 in 1915, who were principally involved in farming, fishing and tourism.”
Mr McNamara highlighted the contents of Chapter 10, which “is devoted to the Yamba murder mystery of 1902”.
“Two Chinamen, Ah Won and Ah Lun had a market garden at the edge of town where the Caroona aged hostel now exists,” he said. “Ah Lun went to Grafton for two weeks on business, leaving Ah Won and a Sri Lankan employee in charge.
“When he returned the pair had disappeared and blood was found in their hut.
“A manhunt ensued and the Sri Lankan was arrested as he stepped off a ship at Auckland, New Zealand. [He was] returned to Maclean to face trial for murder and theft.
“The surprising result is in the book.”
Mr McNamara said that over 145 photographs and illustrations, mainly from the museum collection, and human interest stories were included in the dossier.
The granddaughter of Edward Albert Cox, Pat Cox, launched the book.
“I feel very honoured that I’ve been given the opportunity to do this,” she said.
She told those present that her grandfather had “died a few years before I was born”.
“He was born at Jerseyville on the Macleay River and, as a young man, travelled to Sydney and joined the dredge service and later came to the Clarence as a staff member of a river dredge,” she said.
He was “master and engineer of the steamer, Vivendiere, at which he remained until the closure of the harbour works.
“My grandfather acquired considerable property in Yamba, including the site where the Catholic Church is today, which he donated to the church.
[He lived at his] Yamba property, Rosedale, until his sudden and untimely death in 1937.
“I believe he was a man of sterling character; generous, considerate and ready to help those in need.
“…My grandfather married Emma Weller … and they had four sons and four daughters; my father, George, being the eldest of the family.
“So, in launching the book, I would like to commend John … and I consider it an honour to be given the opportunity.”
Mr McNamara has a new project to continue with, too, the revision of Yamba Yesterday, by Keith Howland and Stuart Lee.
“A lot of the information in there was anecdotal and dates were incorrect,” he said. “I’ve done a revamp of that … it just needed a tidy-up.”
Yamba: The Next Thirty Years – A History from 1885 to 1915 is on sale ($25) at the Yamba Museum or through its website.