New England history matters: Building a business empire

Glen Innes Town Hall: Construction began in 1887, with George Nott responsible for the brickwork.
Glen Innes Town Hall: Construction began in 1887, with George Nott responsible for the brickwork.

As a regional historian, I am constantly frustrated by the lack of previous work on northern history.

I stand in awe of the energy of historians such as Lionel Gilbert, John Ferry, Bruce Mitchell, Graham Wilson, Jillian Oppenheimer or John Ryan to name just a few. Without them, we would all be the poorer. 

Writing on the history of Northern NSW, the broader New England, over the last 40,000 years has made me a bowerbird historian. I do not have the time to research every town or topic. I rely on the work of others, pecking around in the dirt to collect glittering pieces to bring back to my nest so that I can gather them in new displays.

Every so often, more often than I like, I run across a gap that frustrates me. Builder, industrialist and philanthropist George F. Nott is a case in point. He cries out for a biography and, so far at least, I have not been able to find one.

We  know that he was born on the Breeza Plains in 1865. We know that his father came to Inverell where he worked as a brickmaker and established a brickworks.

Part of the business empire: George Nott's mill and joinery, 1949, with the tower that became a central Armidale landmark.

Part of the business empire: George Nott's mill and joinery, 1949, with the tower that became a central Armidale landmark.

We know from Glen Innes historian Eve Chappell that George was responsible for the brickwork on the Glen Innes Town Hall where construction began in 1887. Eve notes that George later moved to Armidale, but does not give a date.

We know that by 1901, George had taken over the Inverell brickworks from his father and had begun to expand it. By then, he seems to have been living in Armidale and had built a significant business empire.

I say a significant empire. In 1898, George had sufficient money to spend £1000 erecting a sawmill in his central Armidale joinery works.

In 1900, he extended this by adding an office and workshop. He also bought the Armidale brickworks from George Palmer for £4000, immediately extending it by adding a large chimney stack and three new kilns, each capable of taking 85,000 bricks.

The empire continued to grow, In 1905, plant was purchased from the Eleanora gold mine at Hillgrove, along with a 225hp boiler and woodworking machinery intended for door and sash making for the wholesale trade. In 1906, a brick chimney was added to the timber works that became an Armidale landmark. Then, in 1913, Nott took over Trim’s West End timber and joinery works including the Styx River hardwood mills.

This large operation provided a base for George Nott’s later contributions. My frustration is that we know just so little about the timing and process involved.

Jim Belshaw’s email is ndarala@optusnet.com.au. He blogs at newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au/ and newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au/