THE MACLEAY River Historical Society receives family history inquiries and information from all over the world and sometimes these can add valuable information on our local families.
One such request in 2015 was from Maralyn in Northern Ireland inquiring after John Bryson, storekeeper of Frederickton and later Kempsey.
John Bryson was born in Ballynahinch, County Down in Ireland, around 1853. His wife, Margaret, also came from the same locality (now in Northern Ireland).
John was a traveller for John Gray and Co, a wholesaler and exporter of confectionery, and came to Australia and the Macleay with that firm around 1880.
He opened a grocery business in Frederickton soon after in partnership with Samuel Bond, who had also worked for John Gray and Co.
The business proved exceedingly popular, and another store was opened in Bowraville.
In 1887, John Bryson and Samuel Bond opened a new business in Smith St, Kempsey, in premises formerly occupied by Hardaker and Melville.
By now, Bryson and Bond traded in drapery, ironmongery and many other lines besides grocery items, and found a need for bigger premises to accommodate their growing business.
They engaged builder Harry Lancaster to construct a new store on the corner of Smith and Forth streets, where the current Chinese restaurant is situated.
The new building was on a grand scale with drapery, grocery and ironmongery departments, a millinery room and a boot section.
In the large yard at the back along Forth St were stables and a bulk store, while the second storey contained the equivalent of two houses with a total of 16 rooms.
A four-metre balcony extended around the whole building and rosewood from a huge tree felled by Henry Crossingham on Anderson's Sugarloaf provided handsome fittings and fixtures for the interior.
The store was said to be one of the best and most complete outside Sydney.
The business survived the 1893 flood by staff moving most stock to the second floor, and after the great financial crisis of 1897, John Bryson bought out his partner Samuel Bond and carried on business on his own account.
Since his arrival on the Macleay in 1880, John Bryson had taken an active part in the social and business life of the community, being a foundation member of the Masonic Lodge, a hospital committee member for several years, an alderman on Kempsey Council for two terms and treasurer of the local branch of the Aborigines Mission. In 1903, John was ordained as an elder of the Presbyterian Church in Kempsey.
In 1912, John and Margaret Bryson, together with their two daughters, decided to leave Kempsey and their business after an overseas trip. They made their retirement home at 'Melleray' in Mosman, Sydney, where Margaret passed away in 1921.
Upon his death in 1924, John Bryson left an estate worth almost £30,000.
In an email from Northern Ireland, Maralyn, whose husband was a relation of John Bryson's wife's family, wrote that John made allowance in his will sufficient for three houses to be built there. Her husband grew up in one of these.
In achieving his phenomenal success in NSW, John had not forgotten his former countrymen.
This article was prepared with resources and photographs of the Macleay River Historical Society. We also acknowledge additional information and a photograph from Mr and Mrs McBratney of Northern Ireland.