On Monday afternoon, 18 November 1946, while the old residence of the Manning Ambulance Superintendent was being demolished to make way for a more modern building, a letter in a bottle was found. It had been lodged under the wooden floor of the attic and above the ceiling of the lower floor.1 Here is what the message said:
John Samuel Sydenham
Taree, 31 Oct. AD 1881
Born at Warneton, Macleay River, 22 day of September, 1859, now 22 years and one month old. Now in the employ of William John Smith Esq., builder and contractor, of Cundletown with whom he served his apprenticeship to the building trade. Mr Smith is now building this house for Dr W Faddy late of Paterson River. The last named gentleman with whom I am pretty intimately acquainted, is the best man I ever worked for while in Mr Smith’s employ.
No doubt when this slip of paper is unearthed the writer may be far away and though far away may not be forgotten. Therefore, I would feel thankful to the finder if he or she would kindly publish these few facts in the Local Journal, if there be one. The one at present existing is owned by C Boyce Esq and is called, the ‘Manning River Times’.
Remember that Christ died for you.
The letter was indeed published in all of the local journals including the Manning River Times.2 The house was located where the Manning Mall car park now is, south of the Taree Protestant Hall. Dr William Faddy bought the land from Charles Boyce, printer, mentioned in the letter and sold it in 1885. It thereafter passed through several owners before it was sold to NSW Ambulance and Transport Service in 1942.3
You may think John Samuel Sydenham went on to become a builder, but he did not. He did however marry the daughter of the builder who was his employer, Louisa Smith of Dumaresq Island, and then became an officer in the Sydney Water Police.4 He was promoted to First Class Constable in 1892 and to Senior Constable in 1900.5 By 1927, Sydenham was a retired Sergeant of Police living in Hornsby.6 Sydenham did not forget his roots, regularly visiting the Manning and Macleay Valleys in his retirement. Sydenham died in 1941, missing out on rediscovering his letter written long ago by just five years.7 The 137 year old letter is now preserved in the MidCoast Library Taree.8
Author: Janine Roberts
1 Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of NSW, 20 November 1946, 2; Wingham Chronicle, 22 November 1946.
3 NSW Land Registry Services, Vol-Fol: 592-148; Taree Historic Rate Books 1885-1950.
4 NSW BDM, Marriage Index 1883, Sydney, No. 623; Birth Index 1854, No. 204; Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, 25 February 1938, 4.
5 Sydney Morning Herald, 5 April 1892, 4; Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 22 January 1900, 4.
6 Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, 29 November 1927.
7 NSW BDM, Death Index, 1941, No. 10460.
8 MidCoast Libraries Local History Collection, Taree, No. 668.