The Life of Henry Gillett

from Daily Examiner Oct 3 1934 Reference 22

Linked with the arrival of Thomas Small and his family on the river in the Susan is that of Henry Gillett, who built the Susan and arrivedon the river in 1836, and who, it is claimed, was the first man of that party to land on Clarence River soil. Henry Gillett's early life was fraught with tragic happenings. lHe pioneered shipbuildillg on this river and did much to rank him among the greatest of our valiant band of pioneers. Henry (Gi11ett who was born in Cork, Ireland, in  1801, was apprentised to and followed the calling of a ship's carpenter.

He married early in life and while still in the twenties decided to to emigrate to Australia, with his wife and young children. He secured the position of ship['s carpenter on the immigrant ship Hibernia, which was sailing for Australia with over 500 immigrants aboard. With provisions.. Another attempt made afterwards was successful.


After sounding the bar, the Susan crossed into tho river in 1836, being the first vessel to enter it. Soon after its arrival in the river, a boat put off from from the Susan and landed on the beaeh inside the entrance. Among its occupants was Mr Gillett, who, being in the bow of the boat, was the first man to jump ashore, thus claiming to be, the first white man to land on the Clarence. The first venture of the Susan's joint owners for cedar was not profitable and Mr Gillett decided to scll out his interest in the vessel, and the undertaking they were engaged in, to Mr Jaules Devlin, a relative of Thumas Smll. Subsequent voyages of thc Susan in its quest for cedar proved more successful, the round trip being performed in 11 or 12 days.

The point at which the loading of cedar took place on to the Susan in her voyages to the river wus at the island called then, and now known as Hclliman Island, opposite Woodford Island, which is at present owned by Mr Rupert Campbell, of Grafton. It is interesting to note that the first trip of the Susan to the river also contained the first white woman to set foot on the Clarence, namely Mrs Bryan Neil. Settlement now having taken place on thc Clarence, Mr. Gillett, who had married again, decided to come to the Clarence and follow his calling of shipbuilding.

He located himself at at Woodford Island on the South Arm side, building his yard on the foreshore of the estate where stood the Small homestead, which is now owned and occupied by Mr John Hughes, of Woodford Island. In this yard he built the sailing vessels, Martha and Elizabeth as well as two other sailing vessels and the sailing ship, Atalanta.

A great deal of the planking used in the construction of those vessels was cut by Gillett's own hands, his method being to work on top of the pit and with his saw with a heavy piece of iron or timber. After building these five vessels, he moved to the Bellinger River and there built the Martha Ann. Moving again, he went to the Tweed River and put anotber vessel on the stock, which he launched and named the Twins (commemorating the birth of twins by his wife, one being Mr. "Jack" Gillett who is still living in South Gr.fton, and the other Richard Gillett, who died last vear).

While living on the 'Tweed River, Mr Gillett was unfortunate to lose his second wife and shortly after her death he again return to the Clarence in 1858. He purchased an area of land near South Grafton in the vicinity of the railway where lived several years and engaged In farming.


He then bought the. cattle run, formally owned by the late James 8weeney on thc Coldstream, together with several farming properties. The run extended from the Coldstream to the main river at Ulmarra. Thee homestead was on the hill known as Gillett's Ridge, and the family lived there several years. Mr. Gillett carried on successfully breeding cattle, until free selection, under Robertson Act, resulted in most of the large runs ...