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History of Kincumber

Compiled by the Local Studies Librarian

Origins of the placename "Kincumber"

"Kincumber" is an aboriginal word, with several possible meanings. "Towards the rising sun" appears to be the most popular possible meaning, followed by "To tomorrow". The first reference to the placename dates from 1829, when mention was made of "King Coimba Creek". In 1832, Surveyor Felton Mathew noted "Kingcumba Creek". By 1833 the name changed to "Kincumber". Early electoral lists and Census taken in the 1840s seldom refer to "Kincumber", and instead call the area "Cockle Creek".

Aboriginal life

The Kincumber District was home to the Guringai tribe, whose country stretched from the north side of Sydney Harbour, north through Pittwater and Brisbane Water, to the southern end of Lake Macquarie. Signs of habitation in the Kincumber area include axe-grinding grooves and rock engravings on Kincumba Mountain.

The coastal Guringai people lived primarily on fish and shellfish, and occasionally caught possums, birds, reptiles and other small animals. Vegetable foods from fern roots and wild figs were used. Hunting implements included single-tipped spears, and multi-pronged fish spears tipped with fish teeth or fish bones. Spear throwers, boomerang, club, stone hatchets and net bags were found in tool kits.

Early settlement

Henry Gunsley Watson appears to have arrived in the Brisbane Water District sometime in the late 1820s. Two grants of Crown land to the south of Kincumber Creek and which had been earlier promised to other settlers, were sold to Watson . One property of 100 acres was named "Toowgill or Toorogil", and the smaller property of 60 acres was named "Cowringan".

Henry Gunsley Watson was a cousin to Willoughby Bean, who was Brisbane Water's first resident Police Magistrate. In the late 1830s it was recorded in the Convict Muster that Watson had five assigned convicts at Kincumber. Little is known of his activities in the District, other than he sat on the local Bench as a Police Magistrate, and was probably a Justice of the Peace. In 1843 he was elected as one of the first Councillors in the first District Council of Brisbane Water.

During 1846-1847, Watson is recorded as having left for India. Henry Gunsley Watson retired to Ceylon, and died "with straightened means" about 1870.
Section based on pg 91, Bench Books & Court Cases, GDLHS)

"Brisbania": a place with shipbuilding connections

At the top of Kincumber Broadwater lies the 1829 grant of 60 acres promised to Joseph Spears. Called "Brisbania", the grant was registered formally in 1839. At this time very few homes would have stood in the Kincumber area, and the land was heavily timbered. Joseph Spears worked as a sawyer, and shipped timber cut on and around his property to Sydney by water. In 1842, he disposed of all but 10 acres of his land to James Dunlop.

Joseph's brother-in-law Jonathan Piper was a shipwright. Piper came to Kincumber, settled and built a permanent home on part of the land owned by Joseph Spears. His wife, Ann, would have had a very hard life keeping house and rearing children in a beautiful yet isolated environment. Together with Jonathan she had 14 children.

On the remaining strip of land belonging to Spears, Jonathan Piper plied his trade of shipwright, and between 1844 and 1879 Piper built 24 vessels, mostly ketches, and a few schooners. The ships built carried names such as Ann, Jessie Spears, Chippewa, Industry, Turtle and Gorilla. Many vessels had very short lives, owing to the terrible conditions experienced by sailing ships on the coasts of Australia.

Jonathan Piper died on 18th April 1879, aged 66 years. He is buried in St. Paul's cemetery at Kincumber.

The 1840s and 50s: Kincumber grows

In the 1841 Census, "Cockle Creek" had seven householders. Pioneer families included the Normans, Picketts, Pipers, Woodwards, Humphreys, Horrigans and Blackfords. This list provides only those heads of households eligible to vote. There were no doubt other sawyers, shipwrights, assigned convicts etc. who did not appear on such lists, though numbers would still have been small at this time.


George Hughes' slab timber house, Kincumber

The concentration of settlers at Kincumber at this time led to the establishment of key services then unusual for Brisbane Water.

The Humphryes (sometimes spelt Humphreys or Humphries) family lived on a 100 acre property which was first promised to Patrick Humphryes in 1823. Shortly after land title was confirmed in 1841, his son Thomas purchased the land from his father. Devout Catholics, the Humphryes were early supporters of the building of a Catholic Church at Brisbane Water. It is uncertain whether the land for the Church at South Kincumber was donated or sold to the Catholic Church by the Humphryes.

Construction of Holy Cross Church at South Kincumber began in the early 1840s. A progress date of 1842 can be seen in the stone set in the front wall of the church. Evidence suggests that 1844 was the year of completion. Many members of the Humphryes family are buried in the graveyard next to Holy Cross.

Around the same period a Church of England at Kincumber was proposed. In 1842 a land grant of one acre was given at Kincumber for a burial ground. In 1845 a further grant of two acres for a burial ground and church was made. Construction of the St. Paul's Church of England took many years. Commenced in the early 1840s, it was described as "unfinished" by Reverend Rogers in 1846, and completed sometime around 1849.

By 1843 William Davis was listed in Government Returns as "Parochial teacher" at "Kincumba". William Davis had brought his family from Wollongong, and at Kincumber ran a Church of England Denominational School. It is thought that the school had an enrolment of between 20-40 children. Davis taught at Kincumber for three years before his death in 1846. The Davis family were to have a lasting legacy as shipbuilders in the Brisbane Water District.

James Dunlop and "Boora Boora"

James Dunlop was born at Dalry, Ayrshire, Scotland in 1793.

Dunlop, a weaver's son, was building his own telescopes by the age of 17. At some stage he made the acquaintance of Sir Thomas Brisbane, who encouraged Dunlop's interest in astronomy.

James arrived in Sydney with Governor Brisbane in 1821 as an assistant at the Parramatta Observatory. After a busy period in which Dunlop made many thousands of observations of stars (with a telescope he built himself) he returned to Scotland with Sir Thomas Brisbane to work in his private observatory.

In 1831, James Dunlop was appointed superintendent of Parramatta Observatory, and returned to the colony. Around 1837 Dunlop's health began to deteriorate after he got tetanus from an animal bite. He retired to his farm "Boora Boora" at Kincumber in August 1847. He died there on 22nd September 1848, and is buried at St. Paul's graveyard, Kincumber.

Dunlop's wife Jean (also known as Janet or Jane) died at Kincumber on 29th October 1859. As the couple had no children, the property passed to John Dunlop. A descendant still lives in the house.

The Kincumber Post Office operated from "Boora Boora" between 1869 and 1894, before popular pressure forced removal of the service to the centre of the village of Kincumber.
The original farmhouse at "Boora Boora" stood on the same site as the current cottage. Around 1908 the old Dunlop house was replaced by a new weatherboard structure. "Boora Boora" is a heritage property listed with Gosford City Council.

A Village at Kincumber

In the 1830s during an initial survey land near Kincumber Creek was set side for village. A more complete land survey was undertaken in the 1850s, and following this growth occurred in and around Kincumber Creek.

A wharf was built at the end of Wharf Street (now Killuna Street), and from here timber and produce were sent to Sydney. Churches and schools were established to cater for the growing population.

Vessels were built at the various shipyards. Sawyers cut timber in the hills around the village. Sawmills were established to mill the raw material dragged by Bullock team to the Creek.

Activity at the shipyards required the talents of many craftsmen. Shipwrights fashioned the milled timber into ketches and schooners. Blacksmiths made iron fittings and also repaired steam boilers in the sawmills. Bush carpenters built a variety of necessaries, from homes, to furniture and bullock wagons.

In February 1867 the Sydney Morning Herald reported "between the village and the neighbourhood [of Kincumber] there are fully 800 inhabitants, and there is not one public house, although it is by no means a poor neighbourhood, for at Kincumber there are four shipbuilding yards, where sailing vessels of 200 tons are constantly building."

George Frost: Shipbuilder

George Frost was born at Kissing Point (now known as Ryde) in Sydney on 4th November 1842. He moved to Brisbane Water when he was about 19 years of age, with a younger brother, William.

They were working together as Sawyers around Kincumber, where all timber would have been pit-sawn at this time. Exposed to the work of the shipwrights of the area, shipbuilding may have seemed to George a more lucrative and satisfying career than timber getting. George eventually acquired a small property beside Kincumber Creek.

Here, between 1884 and 1906, Frost built 19 ketches, schooners and steamships.
The first vessel constructed was a 52-ton, 70-foot long ship which bore the name of his beloved wife Lizzie Frost. After an eventful career of only three years, the Lizzie Frost was totally wrecked off Brunswick Heads in 1887.

Only one of the products of George Frost's shipyard is known to survive today. The ketch Defender was built in 1896, and was extensively rebuilt and refitted by a team of volunteers for Australia's Bicentennial celebrations in 1988.

The last vessel built at Kincumber Creek by George Frost was the Rock Lily launched in April, 1906. George died on 1st September, 1906, and was buried in St. Paul's graveyard.

SS Rock Lily

SS Rock Lily, the last ship built by George Frost at Kincumber Creek, 1906

Margaret Elizabeth (Lizzie) Frost died in 1937 at the age of 93, and was well known and respected in the Kincumber community. The former Frost home, a distinctive high-pitched weatherboard building, can be seen behind newer homes near St. Paul's Church. It is not heritage-listed at the present time.

The original Kincumber CBD

The main business centre of Kincumber today lies on the block bounded by Avoca Drive, Bungoona Road and Kincumber Street. Traditionally, the business heart of Kincumber lay closer to the head of Kincumber Creek. The old Village of Kincumber centred upon St. Paul's Church, the Kincumber School of Arts, Manasseh Frost's Post Office and General Store, and Kincumber Public School.

Adjacent to the village lay George Frost's shipyard, Frew's Sawmill and a ferry wharf with storage sheds. Bullock teams, many operated by members of the Frost family, brought loads of timber in from the surrounding bush. Kincumber was proclaimed a village in 1885.

In 1874, the Public School was established. The first teacher was Mr. D. Eden. John Pryce taught at Kincumber for 38 years between 1899 and 1937. At this time the school had 90 pupils.

The Erina Shire Tourist Guide in 1928 described the area:
"It [Kincumber] is at the head of Cockle Creek, which near the head of navigation widens into an extensive inland lake, known as Kincumber Broadwater. For a short distance beyond this, launches and small vessels can get along the narrow stream, and penetrate right into Kincumber, where at the head of the creek there is a wharf, storage shed, and saw mill. Transit is by road from Gosford, 7 miles with a regular bus service; or by launch from Woy Woy, with a frequent service by Kincumber Growers' Co. and others. Orcharding and market gardening are successfully carried on in the district, which also has an extensive trade in fine timber. There is a public hall, school (with soldiers memorial) post Office and store. Public affairs are attended to by a Parents and Citizens' Association and Progress Association. Many growers are interested in the Growers'Company, which markets on co-operative lines fruit and vegetables despatched via Woy Woy, and which find ready sale"

Manasseh Frost's House

In 1901 a weatherboard building was erected by Manasseh Frost to house the Kincumber Post Office. Manasseh had paid his father George 5/- for the rights to operate the Post Office Service in 1894.

In November 1905 the first telephone in Kincumber was installed at the Post Office. Telegrams could be sent and received via the telephone service. Another addition housed the "Kincumber Cash Store".

Manasseh Frost died in February 1956, at the age of 82. Mrs Doris Tincknell, daughter of Manasseh, lived in the house until she passed it on to the Uniting Church. Recently the heritage-listed building has been restored.

Manasseh Frost's Kincumber Post Office & Store

Manasseh Frost's Kincumber Post Office & Store

In January 1945 the operation of the Post Office was taken over by William George Humphrey, at a new building sited closer to Gosford. This "new" Post Office was in use until the 1990s, and still stands on the corner of Avoca Drive and Davies Street. It is not heritage-listed at present.

The School of Arts

Kincumber School of Arts was located prominently in the centre of the old Kincumber village. As early as November 1886 a site on the corner of Davies and Church Streets (an early name for Avoca Drive) was dedicated for a School of Arts. Later, the original site dedicated was not found suitable, and a decision was made to build on the former Kincumber Pound site on the corner of Bridge and Church Streets. The site was reserved on 28th September 1901. A Kincumber Progress association movement had begun in the 1890s. A small amount of money had been banked towards the cost of Building a hall, but little further progress was evident.

On 4th March 1911 a new Progress Association formed. At a meeting held at Kincumber Public School on 2nd June 1911, a committee of twelve members, with teacher/headmaster John Pryce as President, voted to take the necessary steps to have built a reading-room and library, and a hall. Again progress was slow, and a decision was made to build a smaller hall for 100 pounds. A loan of 50 gold sovereigns was secured from Mr Thomas Humphrey.

William George Humphrey prepared plans and specifications. Tenders were called, and Messrs Mathew & Landsdowne. The floor was of Tallowood, supplied from Morisset. Mr. James Hastings of Kincumber South built the hall. Delays caused by a foot injury to Mr Hastings was described by W.G. Humphrey as a "blessing in disguise", as the delay allowed the Tallowood floor to finish shrinking, "with the result that there was not a faster dance floor in the district".

The building was opened on 7th March 1914. Use of the library and games room was sporadic owing to local enlistments. In late 1915 the Red Cross Committee was allowed free use of the hall as a sewing room and for the purposes of packing Red Cross supplies for the troops.

As the hall had no piano, a second-hand Beale was obtained for 55 pounds, with the intention of having a "welcome home" for troops. The piano arrived in February 1919.
The hall was lengthened and additions were opened in 1921. In 1945 a bushfire burnt down one of the lavatories. The Hall did see some early use as a picture theatre, but this died out until the 1950s, when Charles Hickling held picture screenings twice weekly. The hall ceased to be used for movie showings in the early 1960s. The hall is heritage listed.

The War Memorial

The War Memorial, which stands inside the Public School grounds on Avoca Drive, was officially unveiled on 20th December, 1919, by Brigadier-General G. M. Macarthur-Onslow. Newspaper reports of the time credited Mr Tom Humphrey "who had worked early and late and used every energy in bringing the project to a successful issue".
On 12th April 1918, 3850A Lance Corporal Sidney Lansdowne of the 19th Battalion A.I.F., became the first Kincumber lad to die in the Great War. He is buried on the Somme in France, at Boves West Communal Cemetery.

Trooper Clive Harris Frost died of illness at Port Said, Egypt, on the 1st December 1918. This was after the armistice, when he should have been safe.

T. Andrews and Sons of Lidcombe, Stonemasons, submitted the successful design to the Memorial Committee. It is built of Parramatta sandstone, and cost 74 pounds, 15/- and 9d.

Life at Kincumber

Today, we take electricity for granted. Electricity appears to have come to the Kincumber area in the late 1940s. On 26th November 1948 a "switching on" ceremony took place at a successful ball at the School of Arts "soon after 9pm".

Prior to electricity, lighting was supplied by kerosene lamp, or if you were lucky, a Tilley pressure lamp. Wood stoves were most common means of cooking, and heating was often by wood fire. Refrigeration was primitive. Meat safes were wooden or tin boxes, with perforated zinc doors and sides, and were usually hung in cool areas in kitchens. The idea was to keep small quantities of meat cool, clean and free of flies and maggots for a few days. Meat was usually killed locally, and supplied in small quantities that could be consumed within days. Chickens were kept for eggs and meat. A cow would supply milk for a family, and a small vegetable plot would be kept.

Claude Frost's Bullock team on MacMaster's Beach

Claude Frost's Bullock Team on MacMaster's Beach

Market day at Gosford was held every Thursday, and a popular trip was to take the Ferry in to visit shops along Mann Street, catch up on local news and talk, and pick up a few necessities. Supermarkets were unknown in the district until the 1960s, and Kincumber had to wait until the 1980s to get a shopping centre of its own.

Battery-operated radios were used for entertainment and news, and dances and games nights were popular. When electricity did come along, electrical appliances were expensive and rare in country areas. Around 1954, when Brisbane Water County Council extended electricity to properties along MacMaster's Road, Kincumber, the array of appliances kept by Mr. L. Jones was modest by today's standards. His property boasted electric lights, power points, an iron, a jug for boiling water, a toaster and a stovette. Ironically, for many people in the 1950s this level of electrical convenience was regarded as quite luxurious. Water, before town water was put on, came from a corrugated iron tank at the back of the house.

Toilet facilities on many properties were "dunnies" built far enough away from the house to avoid disease and odour, but not so far as to be a major hike in the middle of cold winter nights. A "dunny" was a small shed, built over a pit. Sometimes these were built on wooden sleds, so that when one pit was full, another was dug and the "dunny" could be positioned over a new pit. Septic tanks and chemical closets very gradually came into use in the 1950s and 60s. There was a "pan service", where toilet pans, emptied from the rear of the dunny through a flap, were picked up by a "sani-man", who took them to a refuse depot by wagon or truck.. Many properties in and around Kincumber relied on Septic Tanks until comparatively recent times. Kincumber Sewerage Works, costing $11 million, opened in September 1983.

Ferry Services

Kincumber Growers' Co-operative Company Ltd was formed as the result of a public meeting held in July 1921. Local farmers required a simple and rapid means of getting produce to market and rail transport.

The first ferry, the Kincumber, was built at Gordon Beattie's Palermo shipyard on Cockle Creek and was launched in October 1921. The second ferry, Avoca , operated for a short period. Grower, another product of Gordon Beattie's Cockle Creek yard, was launched on 29th September 1924 to carry produce and passengers. In 1924 the company shortened its' name to Kincumber Growers Ltd. The ferry Kin-Gro joined the service in 1927.

The Growers' Ferry serviced Davistown, Empire Bay, Woy Woy, Sunnyside (Bensville), Kincumber South and Kincumber Creek. On 30th June, 1944, the service was terminated. Today a much-refurbished Grower operates between Iluka and Yamba NSW.

Modern Kincumber

In the early 1960s Kincumber was still essentially rural in character. An aerial photograph shows some proposed subdivision of land along Avoca Drive, but very few built homes. In the block east of the School of Arts and shops there was a small concentration of homes.

Along Avoca Drive Mrs Doris Tincknell lived in her late father's home, Manasseh Frost's House. Behind the Tincknell home stood an old corrugated iron shed that once stood on the Kincumber Wharf. The sawmills and shipyards of earlier years had long gone. Wharf Road had its name changed to Killuna Road. The Kincumber Creek saw little activity at this time.

The Burns family home stood close to the main road, near the corner of Bungoona Road. The original house had burned to the ground in 1927, and a replacement built on the same foundations. In the 1980s it was moved further west on the Kincumber Shopping Village site for use as a child-care centre.

On 27th December 1966, 'Egyptian Park' opened at Kincumber. This small zoo was built and owned by Jack Hankinson, and featured unusual birds and animals in a garden setting. Located on the corner of Joalah and Arakoon Streets, visitors remember ornaments such as various gnomes, a windmill, etc. Young adults of Kincumber have memories as children climbing around the overgrown remains of the various cages and landscaping once the park had closed.

The opening of the Rip Bridge, on 14th June 1974, made transport easier between settlements on the east side of Brisbane Water and the Woy Woy Peninsula. In December of that year the Shire President, Clr. Malcolm Brooks, officially opened the first stage of a $2million hotel/motel and tourist complex.

In 1982, Television reporter and businessman Mike Willesee and partner Max Williamson proposed that a 12 storey International Hotel be built on the site of the Kincumber Hotel. To be known as the 'Kincumber Tourist Centre', the centre was to boast a marina, squash and tennis courts, and was seen by many at the time to be "just what the coast needs".

Photographs of Avoca Drive taken in the early 1980s show the rural character of Kincumber slowly changing to one of increasing urbanisation. Between St. Paul's Church and Manasseh Frost's house was an unbroken view of paddocks and post-and-rail fences. On the edges of the images, houses can be seen to be intruding slightly.

Kincumber's life as a retirement mecca began in earnest in November 1982, when the first stage of Brentwood Village was approved. In 1985 Brentwood Village reported that 32 units were ready for occupation, and by 1988 the village boasted its' own Community Centre.

Kincumba Mountain Avoca Ridge Natural Reserve was opened in 1986. Kincumber Mountain Kiosk was built in 1985-1986 with Community Employment Programme funds.
Kincumber Ritz Cinema opened on 17th June 1988. The cinema was notable for its Art deco inspired foyer.

Community facilities in the form of Kincumber Multipurpose Centre officially opened in May 1996, and featured a craft room, auditorium, a display area, an office and kitchen facilities.

Dave Warren, Kincumber boat builder, announced the construction of 'Slipstream', a $23million dollar yacht at his works in Kincumber Creek in August 1999. During construction the workforce tripled to 140 people. Warren yacht owners include Golfing personality Greg Norman, and businessmen Kerry Packer and Rene Rivkin.

The new Kincumber Library in Bungoona Road, was opened to the public on 6th September 2003.

Kincumber population figures.

1891 293 persons*
1976 493 persons*
1981 2,345persons (Kincumber/Bensville area)*
1991 6196 persons (Kincumber & Kincumber South)*
1996 6,787 persons (Kincumber & Kincumber South)*
2001 7,324 persons (Kincumber & Kincumber South)*
* based on Census figures.


[Brisbane Water County Council outlying area files, Electricity connection, MacMaster's Beach, c.1950s.] Gosford City Library Local Studies Collection.

Connolly, Brendan & Tod, Les. Paddocks, palaces and picture shows.

Dundon collection photographs, Gosford City Library Local Studies Collection.

Dundon, Gwen. Shipbuilders of Brisbane Water NSW.

Erina Shire Tourist Guide, 1928.

Fenton, Joan & Pry, Kathryn. Gosford: from Shire to City 1947-1997

Ferry Services file, various articles [Local Studies Vertical file, Gosford]

Gosford District Local History Study Group. Holy Cross, St. Paul's discussion paper.

Historic buildings -Burns Family House, Kincumber. [Local Studies Vertical file, Gosford]

Historic buildings - Kincumber School of Arts. [Local Studies Vertical file, Gosford]

Historic buildings - Manasseh Frost House, Kincumber. {Local Studies Vertical file, Gosford]

Historic buildings - St. Paul's Anglican Church, Kincumber. {Local Studies Vertical file, Gosford]

Kincumber - History file, various articles [Local Studies Vertical file, Gosford]

Kincumber School of Arts Minute Books [Rare books, Local Studies Collection, Gosford]

Population in the Gosford Region [Local Studies Vertical File, Gosford]

Pratt, Eileen. Placenames of the Central Coast, N.S.W.

Ross, Anne. "Aboriginal life on the lower Hawkesbury at the time of European settlement" in Dharug and Lower Hawkesbury Historical Society. Hawkesbury River History, p.31-42.)