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James Cornish Port

W.C. Thoms, 'Mills and Men in Western Australia', Part Ten: J.C. Port, Western Mail, Thursday 20 April 1939, p. 12.

AROUND the close of the 1890s, about 1898—when the world of engineers and railway companies had awakened to the fact that Australia had hardwoods of the highest grades for every constructional requirement, and not only West Australian saw millers were doing their best to secure contracts abroad but so were Tasmanian and New South Wales saw millers, a company was formed in London to take over first one and then another Australian sawmill. One of them took over the interests of a syndicate of which James Cornish Port, of Worsley, near Collie, was a member and general manager.

James Cornish Port was born and bred in timber, and in nearly 60 years active participation in all branches of the industry, including designing and managing, he has a total of 13 [mills? branches?] to his credit. His native place is Geelong, where he was born on Christmas Day, 1858, whither his father, James Port, first settled on coming from England to Australia. James Port, sen., opened a timber yard at Geelong and subsequently one at the corner of Collins-street and King-street, Melbourne, where today are skyscrapers. Leaving a Geelong school at 17, the son entered his father's business, and not long afterwards it was overwhelmed by the great slump that struck Melbourne. Port sen., disposed of it and moved to Port Pirie, to become the agent of some Melbourne manufacturers. There was, however, very little business for him and his sons to do. Port Pirie was in an agricultural district—what it was to become was in the very distant future of things, and a succession of droughts reduced the farmers to a state of penury.

Dire necessity for improving his present and future condition, sent James Cornish Port down to Port Adelaide, to interview Richard Honey, timber merchant. Meeting Honey for the first time, he introduced himself as the son of James Port, timber merchant of Melbourne. "Perhaps you know my father," he said. "I know your father very well," replied Honey, "but it is not enough to know a man's father. Only a few days ago I put on a man because I knew his father, but a few days ago he got away with the men's week's wages." He gave Port a job as timekeeper at the Islington workshops, of which he had the contract for the first section of what was to become a large Government concern. Among Honey's employees at the time was Robert Logan, an all-round mill man and mechanic. He became associated with Port in Western Australia and remained with him to the time of death a few years ago.

The loss of a steamer in the neighbourhood of Rottnest in the early '80's caused the Adelaide S.S. Company to place the s.s. Franklyn on the western run, under Captain Creer, and Port got the opportunity, through the influence of Richard Honey, to make the passage on the first trip from Port Adelaide to Champion Bay and back. He was the only passenger—as far as Albany, where the boat was joined by Mr. and Mrs. Hensman. Hensman was a lawyer and afterwards a judge of the Supreme Court of the West. Port's mission was the getting of orders for Richard Honey and others, and the investigation of markets and prices likely to be obtained. He secured two orders, and one was from H. P. McNess, since famous for his public munificence. His name is perpetuated in McNess Hall in Perth and Lake McNess at the caves holiday resort of Yanchep, 34 miles from Perth. McNess was then a plumber, carrying on business on land now the corner of the Royal Arcade, Perth, so long associated with his name and of which he was owner. McNess died on January 22, 1938.

In 1883 Port returned to Western Australia to represent Richard Honey and to take charge of the construction of the National Bank, Perth, the contract for which Honey had secured. A timber yard, with mill, was established at Fremantle, [in Short Street] near a building then dubbed "Manning's Folly," because the citizens regarded it as far too big for its purpose and over ambitious for the times. Supplies of timber were obtained from Keene's [Keane's] mill at Helena Vale, later known as Lion Mill, a name bestowed upon it by Port to perpetuate a similar name of Honey's mill at Adelaide. A sawmill followed at Crooked Brook, on the Ferguson River, in the Bunbury district, and a timber yard was opened in Bunbury, and maintained there for many years. From the Crooked Brook mill came the sleepers for the Bunbury end of the Perth railway, the contract for which Honey secured. Honey himself then came to the West, and entered upon an ambitious programme of development, intending to enter the British markets along with other rising timber companies of the day, but he died before his plans could mature. Port purchased his interests, and carried on for five years.

Smith and Timms

In that period he purchased the mill of Teesdale Smith and Joseph Timms near Donnybrook when they had finished their section of the Bridgetown railway, not many miles away from Kirup, where Millars' Company was eventually to open and operate one of the finest mills In one of the finest stands of jarrah the State possessed. Donnybrook today is the centre of a thriving agricultural and fruitgrowing community. One has to travel far from its environs to discover a stump of one of the trees that yielded Smith and Timms the sleepers for their section of the railway. Instead of jarrah trees on the green hills of Donnybrook there are apple and apricot and orange trees and miles of paddocks of sub-clover carrying numerous sheep and milking herds, with a growing town and flourishing businesses.

In 1888 Port, needing further capital to meet the demands for substantial extensions, transferred his interests to a company formed under the title of The Jarrah Timber and Wood Paving Corporation with a capital of £250,000, 50.000 acres of leasehold timber on the Collie River, and it acquired later 30,000 acres of freehold forest land from Sir John Downer, a lawyer of Adelaide. Port was made general manager, and he occupied that position for five years—till the advent of the amalgamation in 1902 when he retired from active sawmilling and devoted his energies entirely to the timber depot he had then established at Maylands, a suburb of Perth. In 1911, however, he once more engaged in saw milling, taking up a valuable area of forest on what was known as the Flora and Fauna Reserve, at Pindalup, out from the farming centre of Pinjarra, later disposing of a substantial section of it to the Railway Department for their mill at Dwellingup. Pindalup has continued to produce timber ever since with the idle intermissions common to other sawmills during the war period and the depression.

James Cornish Port has had a very busy life, and today ranks high among the men whose career has been in the timber industry. He found time to engage in public life. He occupied the position of chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Saw millers' Association. He was present at Bunbury on the occasion that Sir John Forrest tipped the first barrowload of stone into the harbour for the construction of the breakwater that was to mark a vital change in the character of the roadstead and estuary that was Koombana Bay, and turn the town from its sleepy-hollow condition, with heavy seas pounding on to its shores and making anchorage for ships so perilous that more than one was wrecked-their "bones" along the beaches tell the grim tale, among them the big sailing vessel the Carbett Castle, blown ashore to still moulder on the sands and afford picnickers moments of skylarking and speculation—to one of the busiest ports of the State, whence have been shipped millions of sleepers to South Africa, China and Ceylon and elsewhere, and tens of thousands, of loads of every kind of sawn and hewn timber to all parts of the world. As far back as 1901 Bunbury exported in that year timber to the value of £500,000.

References and Links

Thoms, W.C. 1939, 'Mills and Men in Western Australia', Part Ten: J.C. Port, Western Mail, Thursday 20 April, p. 12.

Lion Mill Vineyards history - including Richard Honey and James Port.

Heritage Council page for Lion Mill Mt Helena.


Garry Gillard | New: 1 January, 2020 | Now: 2 January, 2020