Operating in Villeneuve from 1877 to 1893
From Ron Trim, local historian
Frank Villeneuve Nicholson selected a parcel of block of land from the Durundur, Kilcoy and Mt Brisbane resumptions and came to live on his blocks about 1876. He stocked his cleared country with cattle using local Aboriginal people as labourers. There was so much timber on his property, both hardwood and hoop pine, that it was a simple decision to think of milling. He selected the site for the mill on the south bank of the Stanley River, a few hundred metres from the crossing over the river between Kilcoy and Woodford.
Nicholson erected a shed and when the mill started operating built houses for his workers and a school for their children. The mill was very modern: it was equipped with a Waterous mill with a 25 horsepower steam engine driving a shaft to operate two saws simultaneously. It also operated a planer that could plane boards up to 24inches (60cm) wide and there was a pump on the river to supply the water. The saw benches came from America, Emerson brand, with knockout teeth. The teeth cut for about three months when they needed replacement by the ‘saw doctor’. Water had to be sprayed on to the saw when working to keep it cool to keep the teeth in place. The mill had timber trolley lines so that as the sawn timber came off the bench it was pulled away and put in stacks. With this village now in place, it was called Villeneuve after Frank.
The only problem with the mill was the distance to the market at either Brisbane or Ipswich, which was then called Limestone. Nicholson employed about 20 men in the mill and about the same in cutters, haulers and stackers. It was a long way to Ipswich by bullock wagons over many river crossings, with no bridges in place at that time, and the trip took about three weeks. It was a little less distance from Villeneuve to Caboolture, but when the railway reached Caboolture in 1888, this was reduced to about three days.
Times were tough and became worse with a small flood in 1890 that washed some of Nicholson’s stacks of timber away. This was the start of a disaster because in 1893 the river wiped out his village, houses, mill, timber and all except his own house and the school where most of the people took refuge. Nicholson was ruined and had to go to Brisbane to find a job.
From Kate Mobsby, great-granddaughter of Frank Villeneuve Nicholson
Frank Villeneuve Nicholson (Snr) 1843 – 1898
Frank Villeneuve Nicholson Snr. was born in India, son of Lieutenant Robert Nicholson in the British Army stationed there. He emigrated to Australia in 1871 on the ship Storm King and married Saranna North in 1872. In 1877 Frank purchased Crown land 4 1/2 miles from Kilcoy. It was part of the land resumed from the ‘Durundur’ and ‘Kilcoy’ Runs and was a large property for grazing cattle.
Some years later Frank decided to erect a sawmill on part of his property at Oakey Creek as there was good milling timber growing both on his property and in the surrounding district. This gave a lift to the area and brought more settlement. As well as his family homestead, Frank erected houses for his workmen, a school, church and store. All buildings were built by Frank and on his property, and the place became known as Villeneuve. A receiving office for mail was opened in 1886 and was elevated to an official post office in 1888 (it closed 1968).
Sawn timber was initially taken by bullock team to Ipswich but was hauled to Caboolture after the railway opened to there in 1888. Frank established the Villeneuve timber depot in Countess Street, Brisbane, beside the main Brisbane rail yards. In 1890 Frank Nicholson was one of a number of sawmillers who became shareholders in The Queensland Timber Company Limited which was registered to acquire the businesses of several timber merchants in Brisbane. In 1891 the company’s office was moved to the Villeneuve Timber Yard in Countess Street.
Frank was a member of the Caboolture Divisional Board and Shire Council 1888-1890 and was appointed one of three trustees for the Aboriginal Reserve, Binambi, Durundur from 21 March 1878. The flood of 1890 gave the Villeneuve sawmill a setback but it recovered until 1893 when the great flood of that year destroyed the sawmill, homestead and the timber yard which was full of stacks of both sawn and log timber. This and the failure of the banks at that time put Frank out of business and he moved to the city of Brisbane and became an Inspector of Brands and Stock. The area of Villeneuve still exists today, although much of the property has been inundated by the waters of the Somerset Dam.