A large flywheel to be seen at the Kempsey Museum is a reminder of early attempts to establish a sugar industry on the Mid North Coast.
It is part of a sugar mill first established at Rollands Plains, which ended in failure.
In 1824, Thomas Allison Scott received authority from the Colonial Secretary to grow sugar cane at the settlement of Port Macquarie.
Scott was from Jamaica in the West Indies and had experience in growing sugar cane there.
Sugar cane was planted first at Prospect, the area near the Maria and Wilson rivers and later at Rollands Plains.
Sugar cane cultivation here however, had ceased by 1828 with the crops either flooded out or ruined by frost.
On the Macleay in 1868, James Midgely, a farmer at Darkwater Creek (now the Belmore River) wrote to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR) asking them to erect a sugar mill in the vicinity.
He offered, along with other farmers, to grow sugar cane, cut it and deliver it to the mill for ten shillings per ton (equivalent to twenty dollars today).
CSR wrote back to say that a sugar mill capable of working from 400 to 500 acres would be ordered from England and be operational by the end of the following year.
The mill was built on five acres of the village reserve in the town of Darkwater (now Gladstone) and arrangements were made with farmers supplying sugar cane similar to those already in place at their previously established sugar mill at Southgate, on the Clarence River.
The Darkwater Mill, near the current bridge, was accompanied by four cottages and a blacksmith's shop.
There was an underground cellar and a series of large sugar vats were still visible from the Gladstone Bridge in the 1960s.
Along with another sugar mill situated at Frederickton, CSR's mills at Darkwater and Southgate began operations in 1870.
The Darkwater Mill commenced operations in September 1870 but things did not go well.
Only a fraction of the 12,000 tons of sugar cane required each year for the venture to succeed was produced.
Additionally, the farmers supplied sugar cane of inferior quality due to the combined effects of flood and frost.
CSR however, persevered, hoping for a better season the following year.
Early in 1871, the company had three gangs of men constantly at work cutting cane for the farmers on the river who had agreed to sell to the mill, carting the cane to the riverbank for transport to the mill by the company's steam tug and punts.
It was unloaded at the wharf near the mill where it was processed, the whole operation worked by steam.
The following two seasons however were equally unsuccessful and in 1872 CSR decided to dismantle the Darkwater mill and relocate it to Harwood on the Clarence River where the sugar cane would really thrive.
For the farmers on the newly named Belmore River, it was a savage blow. Some of them had not only given their labour and land, but had invested heavily in the new crop and were ruined beyond redemption.
A forthcoming publication by the Macleay River Historical Society will be "Folk of the Darkwater: A history of the Belmore River and its inhabitants".
If you have any information to add please contact the Society at Kempsey Museum.
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