John Wylie Breckenridge | Prolific pioneer

FROM bridges and parks to mountains and lakes their names live on, but have you ever wanted to know more about the people behind these place names on the Mid North Coast….

Both a street and waterway in Forster carry the Breckenridge name.  

Breckenridge street runs parallel to Little Street and the boatsheds that look across the beautiful blue waters of Breckenridge Channel.

John Wylie Breckenridge was a prolific pioneer who first came to Australia in 1858 to join his brothers at their mill at Pumpkin Point Karuah. 

He was born in April 1818 and lived in Failford near a ford over the Fail River in Scotland and his sons would remember that name when they continued in their father’s footsteps.

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After arriving in Australia he worked with his brothers for some years but then met Joseph Barling and they decided to branch out and go to Forster along with his wife Lillias Reid and, by then, seven children.

At Forster John realised the children needed a school so along with a number of other European pioneers arranged for a teacher to open a school in a building they provided under the Pilot Hill.

The teacher was Cambridge graduate Mr Underwood and to keep the chidlren cool they cut a channel through the tea trees on the dunes and so started the sand drift that became such a worry later on.

In 1870 John’s wife Lillias died after the birth of their eighth child who did not survive.  Two years later he married Maria Croker and they had seven more children.

John was essentially a mill man but transport was needed so flat bottomed punts were made to bring the timber from the lake and its rivers.  These were to begin with punts (the drivers pushing poles into the lake bed to propel them forward).

Later when steam became available he used paddle wheel punts and John’s capacity to bring logs to the mill and supplies to timber workers and families increased.

Ships were needed to take the sawn timber to market so being the shrewd businessmen he moved into ship building.

With the help of his family he continued to run the Forster mill until 1921 when it burnt down and was not rebuilt.

His eldest son (also called John) decided to move and build a mill on the Wallamba River.  He called the spot Failford after their ‘homeland’ and would go on to have 12 children with his wife Mary Miles.

Needless to say, John Wylie Breckenridge’s many descendants went on to continue his legacy and many remain in the area.

He lived to the ripe old age of 81 years.  His obituary published in the Manning River Times in 1899 began with the following tribute: