M.C. Davies (1835-1913)
M.C.Davies was one of Western Australia’s most successful timber entrepreneurs, establishing a timber industry in the State’s south west.
Born Maurice Coleman Davies in London, in 1835, he migrated with his family to Australia, at the age of five. His farming family settled in Tasmania before moving to New Norfolk. In later years the family moved to Victoria to try their luck on the goldfields.
M.C.Davies in South Australia
At the age of 21, M.C.Davies, moved to South Australia to establish himself as a building supplier. Davies would eventually find financial success in his trade, specializing in the supply of hardwood timber to railway and construction industries.
In 1872 Davies won part of a tender for the construction of a section of the Adelaide to Melbourne railway. The tender required a steady supply of hardwood which was not available in Adelaide. Davies had to begin looking farther a field to meet the tender requirements.
M.C. Davies Moves to W.A.
In 1875, Davies left South Australia to visit the large forests in Western Australia’s south-west region and look for new business opportunities in a timber industry which was still in its infancy.
To gain first hand knowledge of the States timber industry, Davies began by studying the operations of the ‘Rockingham Jarrah Timber Company’. As a result Davies recognized some basic fundamental problems that would have to be resolved before the local timber industry could expand.
The mills needed to be located near harbours (reducing transport costs) and a railway network needed to be established to service the mills. In essence the industry had to work efficiently for it to be successful. The bullock teams used in transporting the timbers were inadequate as they struggled in the harsh terrain, often becoming bogged in the soil and the roads were also inadequate to cope with the haulage of heavy loads. The solution was to build a railway network that connected to each mill and harbour.
M.C. Davies Timber Mills
In 1876 M.C.Davies was granted a licence to cut timber in Western Australia and he quickly built two saw mills along the banks of the Collie River. The location proved to be inadequate for Davies’ needs and he began to look further north. He eventually discovered the perfect location near Margaret River where forests contained an abundance of Jarrah and Karri trees close to the coast.
The area also had bays perfect to build ports for shiploading. In 1879 Davies applied to the Government for a timber licence in the area but it was rejected. In 1882 he finally obtained the timber rights and established the M.C.Davies Karri & Jarrah Company LTD in Karridale. Davies then established saw mills at Coodardup, Karridale, Boranup and Jarrahdene and almost single-handedly create a market for Karri and Jarrah hardwoods which was highlighted at the Paris Exhibition in 1878.
By the 1880’s the timber industry was booming with mills, jetties, ports, towns and railways being built to cope with the demand for Western Australian hardwoods. The demand was so great that timber became Western Australia’s second largest export, behind wool.
Over 100km of railway networks were built which linked the saw mills of Coodardup (1882), Karridale (1884), Boranup (1891) and Jarrahdene (1895) to the Flinders Bay and Hamelin Bay ports. From these ports the Karri and Jarrah timbers were shipped around the world. The London streets of Pall Mall, Piccadilly and Regent were paved with M.C. Davies karri blocks.
In 1882 the Coodardup Mill was dismantled and transported by rail to a new mill at Karridale. The Karridale Mill was larger and had an ample water supply. The M.C.Davies Co. became the biggest timber producer in the colony, producing over 30% of all Australian timber exports.
M.C.Davies, with the help of his sons, was establishing and creating a worldwide market for Western Australian hardwoods. He appointed each son to head operations in each continent of the world, whilst he managed the headquarters in Perth.
Unfortunately the Western Australian timber boom was shortlived, by the 1900’s the demand for Western Australian Karri and Jarrah had declined due to South African competition, flooding of Karri & Jarrah from overseas markets and the affects of the Boer War.
In 1902 M.C.Davies merged with seven other companies to form the Millars Timber & Trading Co Ltd (Millars Combine) but by then the industry was in steep decline. Though many towns in the State’s south-west owe their existence to M.C.Davies there is little left to remind us of this remarkable man’s vision and achievements in such harsh lands.
M.C. Davies’ Legacy
During M.C. Davies time in the State’s South-West he became instrumental in establishing the sawmills at Coodardup, Karridale, Boranup and Jarrahdene, the town of Karridale,the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse , the Hamelin Bay and Flinders Bay Jetty, Alexandra Bridge and the extensive railway network that was required to transport the timbers to the ports. He was also the first Chairman of the Augusta Road Board (1891) where he negotiated improved road conditions.
In 1913 Maurice Coleman Davies died at home in Perth, the year the last of his saw mills closed.
A memorial park in his honour can be found at Old Karridale, the originally site of the once thriving saw-milling township that once supported a population of over 300 timber workers and their families. In 1961 a fire destroyed what was left of the old town leaving only the solitary chimney stack from the mill.