Kempsey Shire Libraries

Kempsey Shire heritage

Kempsey was given its name in 1836 by Enoch William Rudder, a Birmingham manufacturer who migrated to the Colony of New South Wales in 1834. Like many newly arrived entrepreneurs, he hunted for cedar to export.

In 1835, his explorations led him to the Macleay River, which Europeans had discovered and named only a few years earlier. Its cedar stands were largely untouched and in the end he saw his future as a resident cedar merchant with ready access to the ‘red gold’ and to the world’s markets via the quick flowing Macleay, its union with the sea at Trial Bay – and waiting timber schooners.

Rudder also planned a private town of which he would be squire and in 1835, after much wrangling, achieved his objective by acquiring Samuel Onions’ grant of 812 acres (328ha). Rudder paid five shillings per acre for his parcel of land. He called his land ‘Kempsey’ after a town in the Severn Valley (Worcestershire in England).

Rudder is believed to have commented:

‘Rising above the Severn, like Kempsey over the Macleay, it overlooks the rich vale through which that river passes till the Malvern Hills meet the eye and bound the view.

Rich as the soil bordering the Severn is, that of the Macleay is richer.’

In 1836, he subdivided the parcel of land and the area is now known as East Kempsey.

Kempsey is also made up of Central Kempsey which began as a town in 1850, West Kempsey which was proclaimed in 1856 and which was to become, and is still known as, the ‘civic’ centre of Kempsey and South Kempsey which was gazetted in 1926 as a town area after being included in the boundary of West Kempsey since 1859.

River crossings were one of the problems of early Kempsey and a punt was brought into service in 1842 to cross the river from East Kempsey to central Kempsey as the town grew on both sides of the river.

Opening of Kempsey's main bridge c1900
Opening of Kempsey's main bridge c1900

Source: Macleay River Historical Society and A Portrait of Kempsey by Patricia Riggs, illustrated by Tony Nolan, 1988
Photos: Courtesy of the Macleay River Historical Society

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