Pioneering Personalities: Matthew James Woodbury – 1838-1921

Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday 1 April 1921, page 10 (re-printed from Gosford Times)




Woodbury MJ_1838-1921_Portrait_01

Matthew James Woodbury (1838-1921)

There passed away at 11 o’clock on Sunday night, 20th March, 1921, a man who will never be forgotten as long as Wyong endures, for he was the father of Wyong, and every inhabitant loved him as a child loves a parent. He truly possessed every virtue in high degree; he was gentleness personified; a man of truth, and his word was his bond.

Born on the Mangrove over 83 years ago, his father being an Australian, he came of long-lived people, for his mother died at about 89 and his grandmother at 100. Remaining on the Mangrove till he was 18 years of age, he then proceeded to the Snowy River gold fields at the very time when the white diggers had made a raid upon the Chinese, gold miners, and cut their long pig tails off.

Some time later he found his way to the Wollombi, and thence to the Cedars, Wyong, where and at his late residence he resided 55 years. Hence he was one of the first pioneers that settled in the Wyong district. For half a century the dear old ‘Cedars’ was his home. In the far away days only two kinds of wood were extensively used, oak and cedar, the former for shingles and the latter for fine cabinet work. The timber and the shingles were carted to Maitland, and even slides were much in use when roads were impassable for drays. Away via Yarramalong and the Wollombi to Maitland was the route. In the bush 50 years ago there were practically no timber-getters, except shingle splitters and cedar cutters.

When about 27 years of age he married Miss Eliza O’Neill, of The Cedars. She was a lady beloved by her husband. Great was his grief when some seven years ago she passed away. He never ceased to mourn his loss, even though his children continually ministered unto his comfort in the most loving manner.

His sorrowing daughters are Miss Woodbury, Mrs. W. A. Chapman, Mrs. W. Baldwin, and Miss O. Woodbury, and his sons, Councillor W. B. Woodbury, and Mr. Edwin Woodbury, to whom we extend our deepest sympathy.

Our late friend was the Chairman of the Directors of the Wyong Butter Factory, and had been Chairman from the inception of the company. His very last conversations were about the re-building of the factory on the ideal old site.

He possessed a wonderful memory, and up to within a few hours of his end, his mental faculties were unimpaired. He knew he was nearing The Bar, and was much comforted to see a number of his devoted children round his bedside.

The remains were brought to his beloved church, where service was conducted by Rev. Father Herlihy, and thence removed, by procession to the Jilliby cemetery, where a very solemn service was followed by a most eloquent address by the priest, which will be treasured in the memory of Protestants and Catholics alike for years to come as a grand tribute to a good man. The immense concourse, testified to the worth and to the nobility of character of Matthew James Woodbury. Numerous wreaths and floral tributes were offered by loving friends.

Memorial to Matthew James Woodbury and his wife Eliza at Jilliby Cemetery [photo source: Susan Buck]

Memorial to Matthew James Woodbury and his wife Eliza O’Neill at Jilliby Cemetery [photo source: Susan Buck 2014]

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SOURCES: Trove Digital Newspaper Archive; NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages Historical Indexes; Photo of M. J. Woodbury from Blue Gum Flat to Budgewoi, Charles Swancott, 1963.


First white child in Wyong district

These history notes are contributed to Valley Ventures by one of our members, Max Farley.


It is a common practice for people to claim that “so-and-so” was the first child to be born in their area. Meaning the “first white child” of course. Making an unchallengeable selection is risky. Swancott, for example, said in his Blue Gum Flat to Budgewoi, published in 1963, that the honour went to James Ezekiel Waters who was born on 24 June 1859.

This overlooks the fact that John and Sarah Lette arrived from Tasmania in 1853 and settled in Stinsons Lane where they had sons Frank (1854) and Donald (1856). A daughter, Emily, came in 1859 the same year as James Waters. The Lettes left for the Kiandra goldfields in 1860 where John prospered as a storekeeper and pastoralist.

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SOURCES: Max Farley; Illustration of baby from Project Gutenberg EBook of Searchlights on Health by B. G. Jefferis and J. L. Nichols.

Bush Wives & Midwives

I found this snippet in The Australian Women’s Weekly, Wednesday 30 October 1963.

Blue Gum Flat To Budgewoi,” the latest volume produced by Charles Swancott, the folk historian of Gosford and neighboring parts, reminds its readers that many of the bush wives used to do their own doctoring. They had to.

Consider Mrs Priscilla Waters, of Yarramalong, born in 1859. She is said to have cured her six-year-old Diana’s lockjaw (tetanus) with hot packs and to have saved her niece’s almost severed hand by stitching it and splinting each finger.

Then there was Mrs Isabella Robley, who died at 100 in 1944. From Ourimbah she often rode on errands of mercy on nights too dark to see the tracks over Mangrove Mountain at Kangy Angy and across to Dooralong.

After she’d returned from one journey her husband gravely announced to the Rev. Mr Moore, who was at the house, “I’m going to divorce my wife.”

The clergyman gasped. “Tut, tut, man. What’s your reason?”

“I can tell you of 28 children she has brought into the world, and none of them is mine.”

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Pioneer Women’s Monument, Jessie Street Gardens, Sydney. Sculptor: Alex Kolozsy

Pioneer Women’s Monument, Jessie Street Gardens, Sydney. Sculptor: Alex Kolozsy

This 3.5 metre bronze sculpture in Jessie Street Gardens at Circular Quay, Sydney was installed for Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988. It was commissioned by the Women’s Pioneer Society of Australasia in recognition of the courage and endurance of Women Pioneers and their vital role in the development of Australia.

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Sources: Wyong Museum & Historical Society ArchivesTrove Digital Newspaper ArchiveWomen’s Pioneer Society of Australasia.