Henry Woodward has been called ‘Father of Australia’s oyster industry’ after he was granted the first ever oyster lease in 1884.1 The lease was No. 41 in Breckenridge Channel, Wallis Lake – just off Little Street, Forster.2 Woodward was a pioneer in methods of oyster cultivation and he built up his leases along the coast of NSW, including the Manning River and Cape Hawke.3
Woodward was born in London, England in 1825 and arrived in Australia around 1849.4 He moved to Sydney where he set up two well known ‘Tea Shops’ in King and George (Pitt) Streets. He specialised in serving oysters and fish and employed managers to supply the shops with fresh produce from his leases.5
Oysters have long been an important part of the diet of Aboriginal people as evidenced by the large number of coastal middens. When early settlers arrived they took advantage of the oyster supply for both food and the production of lime from the shells for building. Oyster beds were dredged which stripped all stocks leaving few oysters to spawn and provide for future crops.6 Woodward was a strong advocate for a leasing system which required lease holders to immediately lay down oysters to produce spat and thus replenish the beds. The leasing system was introduced in April 1884 and Woodward was the first to take up leases.7
Woodward was involved in all aspects of the oyster industry from experimenting with culture to selling the produce.8 He wrote a book in 1887 called ‘Oyster culture in NSW’.9 Woodward died in 1899 aged 74 years.10 Woodward & Co was continued by his family.11
Author: Janine Roberts
1 Cape Hawke Advocate, 26 September 1984.
2 W. Birrell, The Manning Valley: Landscape and Settlement 1824-1900, 1987, 160. Cited in Great Lakes Council Heritage Study 2007.
3 Oyster Culture Lease No. 2616, Bohnock, Manning River. Taken up by Woodward and Moriarty, oyster merchants, 2 May 1898; Cape Hawke Advocate, 26 September 1984.
4 Ancestry.com, Church of England Births and Baptisms, London, England, 1813-1917; NSW BDM, Death Certificate, No. 14896/1899.
5 Cape Hawke Advocate, 26 September 1984.
6 Great Lakes Council Heritage Study 2007, p.33 & 34.
7 Cape Hawke Advocate,27 August 1981, 8.
8 Daily Telegraph, 5 May 1888, 6.
9 H Woodward, Oyster culture in NSW, Sydney: John Woods & Co, 1887.
10 NSW BDM, Death Certificate, No. 14896/1899.
11 NSW State Archives & Records, Index to registers of firms, H Woodward & Co.