Canning Jarrah Timber Company

Research by Gordon Freegard


In researching the history of Canning Mills and the timber industry in February 2011, Gordon Freegard managed to uncover a 120 year old photo album that contained very rare and exciting photos that had never surfaced before. This incredible album was in the hands of Mr. & Mrs. Ray Simpson, in Western Australia. Ray’s wife, Margaret is a direct descendant of the White family that was involved in White’s Mill, the building of the Midland to Chidlow’s Railway, the Midland to Walkaway Railway, and the Zig Zag Railway, the building of Canning Mills and the starting Illawarra Orchard at Karragullen.

Although the album was very old and the pages had become buckled due to possible dampness at some stage, the 33 photos were still in remarkable condition. The Pickering Brook Heritage Group have had all the photographs professionally scanned and digitally copied so that they are now preserved for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. They have been added to this section of the website for you to view for the very first time.

Canning Jarrah Timber Company

During the 1870’s railway construction was started in the Kapuda area of South Australia and the engineer in charge was Edward Vivian Harvey Keane. He was a well educated man and a very capable engineer. The line was surveyed to run through a property called “Illawarra” owned by Abraham and Mary White. It was to run very close to their house. Some discussion must have taken place as Edward Keane had a new survey carried out and the line was moved away from the house. From that time on he became a regular visitor to the White home and although he was 33 years of age he managed to woo the 17 year old raven haired Lilla and make her his bride. They were married in St. Peter’s Chapel, Adelaide in 1877.

"Illawarra" Kapunda, South Australia Built in 1864 by Abraham White

Edward Keane must have made quite an impression on his father-in-law for the following year “Illawarra” was sold and a partnership of Keane and White, Railway Contractors, had been formed. They tendered for and completed a number of railway contracts in South Australia. Abraham White’s sons became involved in the project. Edward joined the survey team while Lionel was put to work in the sleeper cutting operating at Wirrabara. Both boys were keen to learn and each became very proficient in their respective fields of employment.

Early Map Showing Layout of the Early Railway Lines

In 1881 the partners tendered for the construction of the second stage of the Eastern Railway linking Guildford to Chidlow’s Well for the Government of Western Australia. However their tender was not the lowest and the contract was let to J. W. Wright for a tender price of 53,043 pounds. Wright was also a South Australian and must have known Edward Keane’s expertise because after signing the contract he invited him and his partners to join forces with him and move to Western Australia.

The partners set about their task of railway building in the new state in March 1882 and it was not long before they sent for Edward White to come and assist with the survey work on the line. In the construction work of this nature a vast amount of timber was required, particularly in the form of sleepers and J. W. Wright was granted timber licence number 12/4 on 26th August 1882. This allowed cutting of timber on 1920 acres north of the proposed railway route at a point which is now known as Mount Helena.

DR. MURIEL UTTING Honorary Historian #47

Lionel White

Edward Keane was granted lease 1036 on 100 acres in the same area, and on this land Abraham White, who had been engaged in pit-sawmilling, constructed his mechanical mill in 1883 and brought his son, Henry Lionel from South Australia to manage it. Even though he was only 19 years of age, Lionel White built up the mill and kept it working to capacity with a staff of about 30 men, most of whom were a great deal older than he. Sleepers were his main concern but he was never too busy to accept local orders for timber and when J. W. Wright contracted to build “Woodbridge” for the Harper family at Guildford, White’s Mill cut all of the timber for the project. On the 1st January 1884 Edward Keane was granted a further licence covering 7000 acres adjoining lot 12/4. and on 11th September 1884 the timber licence number 12/4 was transferred to Abraham White. Tragedy struck on 15th May 1885 when Abraham White died from heart failure and exhaustion. He is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in East Perth.

Edward White

J. W. Wright encountered many difficulties and found he was unable to carry on the work for the original tender price. Edward Keane renegotiated the contract and took over and completed the work. Edward Keane completed many railway contracts over the next few years. Chidlows to York, York to Beverley, Spencer’s Brook to Northam, Bunbury to Boyanup, to name a few. Most of the surveying work on these projects were completed by Edward White. He became the largest employer in Western Australia. He contracted to build a railway from Mildand Juction to Walkaway near Geraldton, for the Midland Railway Company which had been formed in England. Trouble was encountered raising the necessary capital in England and work was suspended early in 1887. Work re-commenced in 1888 but the same problems were experienced and little progress was made.

Also at this time the colony was in the grip of a recession and White’s Mill was sold to Richard Honey & Co and the name changed to Lion Mill, the Lion being the trade mark for the company. Luckily the gold mining boom in Western Australia broke the recession and greatly increased the population of the colony as people arrived in search of gold and work.

The Midland Railway, meanwhile, slowly progressed and on the 14th April 1891 the section to Gingin was opened with much pomp and splendour. At this time Keane was a Justice of the Peace, Member for Geraldton in the Legistive Assembly and the Mayor of Perth.

The Midland line continued to progress at a very slow rate during 1891 and Edward White was engaged in survey work in the Gingin district. Keane was very dissatisfied with the lack of finance for the project and looked harder for alternative ways for using the staff and resources at hand. An advertisement in the “Enquirer” of February 1891 attracted his attention. Joseph Shaw who had acquired the timber licence number 12/1 in 1883 that was formerly Mason’s and Birds, was in financial trouble and was selling up so he could return to England.

In 1889 Edward Keane took up this timber license but requested that some of the terms be changed to protect any investment that was made. Under that contract nothing bound the holder to erect any machinery on the land, or work it in any way. It reserved the right to the Government to sell any portion of the lands over which the right to cut timber was held, at any time, under the Land Regulations. The consequence was that any person who desired to block the operations of the timber-cutter had only to apply under the Land Regulations for a fifty, a hundred or a thousand acre block, and by selecting it
at the head of the tramway, the concession was rendered valueless. This particular point Mr. Keane set about to change. He points out that he was sure that it was not the intentions of the Government, who granted the right, that it should operate in that way. After great debate on 25th April 1891, the Government proposed the change the regulations to protect the timber-cutter who was investing heavily by proposing a railway up the Darling Range from Midland to the Mill. But in return they insisted that he was to carry the public and general freight on that railway line. This agreement was to continue in force until the end of 1899, at which time the Government would have the right to purchase the line.

Having now secured the timber concession to his liking, Edward Keane and Lionel White set about to build the Upper Darling Railway in 1891 to serve the new mill run by the recently incorporated Canning Jarrah Timber Company. This unusual railway was surveyed by Edward White. It stretched for twenty miles from Midland Junction, up the switchback to Kalamunda and on to the Canning Jarrah Timber Mill. To enable the trains to travel to the top of the ranges, the line was constructed in the form of a zig zag with the wagons being alternatively pushed and pulled from section to section, till they reached the top.

The Staff of the Metropolitan Waterworks Offices 1898

The opening of the railway assisted in the construction of other projects in the Darling Ranges. One such project was the Perth Water Works, Victoria Reservoir, built by a private company to supply water to the City of Perth. It was completed late in September 1891 and the Lady Mayoress of Perth Lilla Rebecca Keane, Edward Keane’s wife, was invited to name and open the reservoir in front of 200 guests.

From the opening of the Canning Timber Mills, Lionel White, who had been moving around the goldfields and running a wood yard at Guildford since the sale of White’s Mill, was engaged as Manager. Above him at Canning Mills was no less a prominent man than Frank Wilson, Premier of Western Australia on two brief occasions, 1910-11 and 1916 – 17. Frank Wilson came from the managing directors of the Canning Company, formed in Melbourne, inn 1891, with a letter of his appointment as general manager in the West. signed by John Coates and Edward Noyes, both whom had locomotives named after them. On the 4th June 1891 the timber licence number 12/1 and associated plant were transferred to the Canning Jarrah Timber Company (with Edward Keane as a major shareholder). With the expansion of operations further staff were required and Arthur Graham White , Lionel’s brother, arrived from the Goldfields to become tallyman at the mill. In 1901 the ownership of the mill transferred to the well known timber merchants Millar’s Timber and Trading Company. Lionel White remained as manager and continued to be employed by that firm until the day of retirement. After leaving Canning Mills, White took charge of the Ferguson River Mill until 1896 when he undertook the managership of Wellington Mills.


Within two years the population of Canning Mills was four hundred and Canning Mills grew into large settlement complete with Inn, two Churches, resident Doctor, Hospital, Post Office, General Store and a School. The Company employed 150 men, and 40 children attended the school. In 1893 three smaller mills had been established further into the forest – the Yankee Mill, the No 3 and the No 1 Sleeper Mill.

Alf Cook entered the timber industry at Canning as a boy of 14 in 1902. and spent most of his life within the industry later becoming mill foreman at Barton’s Mill.

Workers at the mill settlement created their own entertainment by organising various social days which included sports days, log chop competitions, cricket matches, sports day, dances and picnics.

The Forrest Inn was licensed and also had accomodation available. Many enjoyable nights were had around their piano.

A story is told that Mr. Liebow, who owned the Forrest Inn, called a meeting of interested bushmen from around the district. He was organising a Log Chop Competition and offered 50 pounds as prize for the main log chop. Other prizes were to be paid out of entry fees. A Saturday a month ahead was fixed for the series of log chops and preparations proceeded quickly. Plenty of food and liquid refreshments were ordered and the day was well advertised. A few days beforehand, the logs arrived and were inspected by the committee. Soon all was in readiness.

By half past ten that Saturday morning people began to arrive by sulky, spring cart or on horseback. The bar was soon well patronized and it was not long before the publican had re-couped the prize-money he had offered. The dining room, too. was so well patronized that several sittings had to be arranged.


Officials and competitors, meanwhile, were busy with the various events. Quite large bets were laid too. Log chopping in such a district was most popular and top class men came from long distances to participate.

After the log chopping events were finished, quite a few men set up a two-up school on the road outside the Inn. When it became too dark for this, the gamblers moved into the room behind the bar of the Inn and a poker school was quickly in session. Much money was lost and won. Men with fistfuls of banknotes laying their bets. The poker school eventually broke up in the early hours of the following morning.

Mr. Liebow had arranged to buy all unused logs. During the next few days, he was busy with his barrow gathering up the great heap of chips and the severed logs. Soon a large pile of firewood lay weathering and drying in the back yard of the inn. Estimated to be about two years supply. A very smart move on his behalf.

In the early years, four wheeled Whims were used throughout the industry for hauling the logs from the forest to the mills for cutting into sizes of timber. This rare photograph above, shows three of them in use at Canning Mills. However that all changed after one of the haulers had an accident. The main support beam between both sets of wheels snapped and he was stuck out in the forest with a predicament. However not to be outdone he devised a method of using the broken beam as a lever to lift the log and sling it between the two large wheels. It worked so good that in a very short time all future whims had only two wheels. They were much more monouverable through the forest and did just as good a job. Richard Weston was the wheelwright at Canning Mills and manufactured some of the first two wheeled whims in the State. His biggest being “Daisy Bell” which had 9 foot diameter wheels. It is pictured further on in this website.

In the book “History of the Canning” by Charles J. McIntosh the following story is told:

“I would like to digress for a moment, and tell readers of an incident that happened, and which caused much consternation at the time. The axle of a jinker broke, and without it no logs could be hauled to the Mill, so it caused a holiday for most workers. The Blacksmith had selected that particular week to go on a “bender” ….. drunk for a whole week …. and a young man just nineteen years of age had been given his job as Blacksmith, just a week before. This young man was still on probation, as Mr. White considered he was too young for the job. In desperation, he was called into Mr. White’s office, and asked could weld the axle. He said he reckened he could, if they gave him enough men to help him.

Mr. White suggested he had 50 men, if necessary, to assist him, so the young man selected 10. Four to lift each side of the axle, and two as strikers, while he himself would do the tapping and directing. In those days if was all fire welding (electric welding and acetylene welding were unknown). It took four heats to weld the axle, and a perfect job resulted. Ordinarily, on a small job, just one heat is sufficient, but this was no ordinary job. That young man never weighted more than just 9 stone in his life …. he was only a boy, but he did a man’s job that day. He was my father, and still alive to tell the tale (in October 1961.) He will celebrate his 90th birthday in November (1961).”

PLAN SHOWING LAYOUT OF CANNING MILLS 1889 - 1925 Information supplied from various sources 2008 - 2011 MAP NOT TO SCALE

Copyright : Pickering Brook Heritage Group 2008-2011

Richard Weston, the wheelwright and carpenter who had worked at Mason and Bird’s Mill pioneered his “Springdale” property in Pickering Brook in approx.1885 near the present golf course on Reserve Rd. Weston built the famous whim “Daisy Bell” at the Canning Mill before the turn of the century, the biggest then built in Western Australia with massive 9 foot diameter wheels. When you consider the method of making these wheels was to form the wooden wheel and then slip over this the heated metal rim which when cooled down shrank tight. To heat a 9foot diameter metal hoop was hard enough because this was heated over only wood fires but then to lift and man-handle this hot metal rim and place it over the wooden wheel rim and push it into place, was a true feat.

As the timber close by got cut-out, “spot” mills were established further into the forest. Some of the were many miles from the base mill and temporary rail lines were install to access these mills. They were frequently moved to other sites as the timber was progressively milled, and the need to find new timber was demanded. Canning Mills had a number of these “spot” mills such as; No 1. Sleeper Mill, Newton’s No 2 Mill, No 4 Mill and Death Adder Gully Mills, scattered throughout their timber lease. Some of these mills were up to 15 miles from the main mill and they served a vital part in providing a continuing flow of pre-cut logs, back to Canning Mills for final processing.

In 1891, Edward and Lionel White, while moving around the forest of the upper Darling Range were very taken with the quality of the soil. They felt that it was an ideal spot for fruit growing so they formed a partnership with a prominent Perth architect, E. H. Dean Smith to buy a parcel of land and start an orchard. The clearing of the land presented some difficulties but the resourceful Lionel was able to use the mill horses and equipment and arranged busy-bees on Sundays until enough of the property was suitable for the planting of trees. The first 12 acres of the orchard was laid out with a theodolite by Edward White who supervised the excavation of the main drain, the straightening of the natural water courses and the digging of the holes for the trees.

(The original theodolite and level used, has been restored after being left in a shed for many years and is proudly held by a descendant of the White family at Dongara (2011). the story is told that during the restoration a very intricate part that had used a human hair was replaced with a piece of spider web and it worked perfectly.)


The planting of the area was entrusted to a Mr. Laufer, a nurseryman and orchardist from Mundaring. (He was reportedly shot dead by a French ex-army officer a short time later.) This was the birth of “Illawarra” orchard (named after the White’s home in Kapunda) which is so well known in the Darling Ranges. All varieties of fruit trees were planted and the first manager employed by Smith and White Bros. was a Mr. McDonald who tended the trees and in addition grew fine vegetables and tobacco plants. Later on a Mr. Kruse was engaged as Manager and he remained in that position until 1899 but the venture was not as successful as one might hope, mainly because none of the partners could lay claim to any experience in the fruit growing field. This lack of success prompted them to invite an experienced fruit grower, Mr. Thomas Price, to join the project as Manager and become a partner. With his knowledge and assistance a very successful venture resulted.

In 1900 Smith’s nephew, Frank Laverack arrived from England and started work at “Illawarra” at the rate of one dollar and fifty cents per seventy two hour week. In his spare time he developed a 100 acre block about a mile from “Illawarra” and started another successful orchard, “Rockwood”, prior to his marrying William St.Claire White’s daughter Pearl. Another of the family who worked at “Illawarra” was the eldest son of Edward White (Ted Kieth). After gaining experience he also took up property close by and called it “Invermay”.


The standard of fruit continued to improve over the years and it was reported that many overseas buyers demanded “Illawarra” fruit and were prepared to pay extra for the privilege of obtaining it.

Over the years most of the shares in the orchard were acquired by Thomas Price and eventually the only connection the White family had with “Illawarra” orchard was the shares that Edward White left to his children when he died. Today Thomas Price’s grandson Tom Price Jnr is the sole proprietor, and still maintains the reputation of the quality of fruit grown at “Illawarra”.


Progress on the construction of the Midland line improved greatly after Edward Keane manage to obtain better financial arrangements with the parent company in England. The work was duly completed in 1894 and Edward White moved his family to Grass Valley when he was engaged on survey work in the district.

With all his brothers settled in Western Australia, William St.Claire White decided that he would like to move there with his wife and children. They arrived in Western Australia in 1897 and William obtained a position with the Canning Timber Company as a tally clerk in Fremantle. Jarrah was being exported in large quantities, particularly in the form of blocks, to pave the streets of London and he was kept busy checking out the cargo.

Early in the 1890’s Edward Keane purchased 15 acres of prime land at Cottesloe, (later named Peppermint Grove) at a point known as Butler’s Hump, which later became known as Keane’s Point. He built a large home there and named it “Cappoquin House” after the family home in Waterford, Ireland, and the family took up residence there in 1894. During 1904 while he was busy electioneering he caught pneumonia and on the 9th July, he died not knowing he had been elected as the Legislative Council Member for the East Province (Perth).

The original home of the “White Family” who established a local landmark, the sawmill subsequently called “Lion’s Mill” in Mount Helena in 1883 was put up for auction on Sunday 5th August 2001. It was described as a home oozing with character and charm with high ceilings, jarrah floors and open fireplaces. An opportunity to secure a truly historic home.


The Millar’s Company and the Australian Hardwood Company were responsible for opening up much of the timber country in the south West. The Department of Forest was established in 1895. The first Annual report of the Woods and Forests Department of WA was published on June 20th 1897. In its report it noted that about 2500 men were employed in the timber industry supporting 7000 people. One thousand four hundred and fifty one horses and two hundred and eighty four bullocks were used in the industry. There were 193 miles of private rail line and tramways used in the forest. The peak of the industry in WA was reached in 1913

References: Article: Pickering Brook Heritage Group
The Whites From Illawarra – Ray Simpson

Images: 1 Cala Munnda A Home in the Forest – John Slee & Bill Shaw
2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34,
41, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67 ,71 Ray Simpson
5 , 13, 24, 25, 28, 40, 54, 71 National Library of Australia
32 Silio Di Marco
35, 36, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51 Gordon Freegard
37, 70 Pickering Brook Heritage Group
38, 42, 46 Kalamunda & Districts Historical Society
43, 44, 45 Tom Price
59, 89 Battye Library
68 City of Armadale