ANOTHER fascinating piece of Shoalhaven history will be brought to life this Saturday when local historian Alan Clark launches his latest book, Blacksmiths of the Nowra District.
Horses played an important part in Australia’s 19th century lifestyle and from the earliest days of European settlement in the Shoalhaven there were various trades and professions that helped keep the animals working and healthy.
Blacksmiths were one such profession.
Three convicts assigned to the Coolangatta Estate in 1822 had the occupation of blacksmith - John Billington, Thomas Connor and Edward Fordham (sometimes called Ford).
“For many years I had thought about the importance of the Shoalhaven pioneers who worked with horses, and that it would make a worthwhile book,” Mr Clark said.
“But when I started researching in earnest about 18 months ago, I realised the extent of the subject and decided to start with blacksmiths and farriers.”
Much of his research has been done by reading newspapers of yesteryear, and with some of the men it has been possible to trace their careers before and after they worked in the Shoalhaven.
“Just as I did with my book on the hotels, I focus on Nowra but also take in Berry and Kangaroo Valley with the assistance of historical societies there,” he said.
The book contains profiles on about 90 men who worked in the trade.
“Some only worked for a relatively short period, while others spent a lifetime in it,” he said.
“Anyone could set up a blacksmith all they really had to do was buy the tools. Some made a good living out of the trade, others did not.
“It was a bit like the newspaper industry. I read a newspaper could be set up for as little as 400 pounds. But that was a lot of money back then.”
Many local people remember visiting Frank Rouen’s blacksmith shop just below the now Nowra Library in Berry Street.
He features on the cover of the book and was the third generation of his family to follow the trade.
“He worked on that site for 65 years,” Mr Clark said.
“When Frank retired in 1983, it ended almost 200 years for the Rouen family in the blacksmith trade that had started in Ireland during the 1870s.”
One of the better known blacksmiths, particularly for his farming aid was Arney Aldous, who started making windmills in the 1890s, later developing the self-acting windmill, which would turn itself off and on.
Based at what was the little village at Barellan, east of Nowra, later changed to Brundee, over the next 30 years his windmills would be seen on many properties around this district and beyond.
“More than 200 windmills were installed throughout the district. They were even advertised in the Sydney newspapers,” Mr Clark said.
“He would also repair most of the farmers’ steel farm equipment.”
Mr Clark came across many fascinating stories during his research for the book.
“Even before he went into business as a blacksmith and wheelwright, former convict Owen Hewitt was designing and manufacturing digging tools for the miners passing through Nowra in 1861,” he said.
Weigand, O’Connell and Hammick are other families once prominent in the trade at Nowra, but now largely forgotten.
One Berry blacksmith was John Ison who entered public life at a young age and became mayor at 30.
“Throughout his three years in the chair, invariably when there was a daytime function he would simply pull a coat over his work clothes, fulfil his duty and then rush back to his Queen Street forge,” Mr Clark said.
The story is also told of former Terara schoolboy Leo McCarthy who had spent almost five years as an apprentice with Fred Hammick when he enlisted for World War I.
He did not come back to Nowra or pursue the trade on his return, but died while a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II.
Published by Shoalhaven Historical Society, Blacksmiths of the Nowra District will be officially launched at the Nowra Museum on Saturday, October 8 at 2pm.
If purchased on the day it will be available at an early bird price of $20.
Mr Clark is currently working on the next book in the series, Coachmen of the Nowra District.