History of West Australia/Edmund Gilyard Lacey

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HER great jarrah forests have been an invaluable source of wealth to Western Australia. Rearing their tall heads on the ironstone ridges of the high hills, standing as a huge phalanx on the long plains, and affording a delightful shelter from the powerful rays of the sun in the cool valleys, these mahogany monarchs have very materially helped to enrich colonists. Hardy and tenacious, they are the enemies of decay, and as articles of commercial utility will compare with any hardwood in the whole world. Numerous are the fortunes which have been made out of the umbrageous woods, and the one-time solemn sylvan scenes now resound with the jarring of saws and the sharp thud of many axes. Man has made many gaps in the woodland ranks, and the noble fronts have been serried by his onslaughts.

Edmund Gilyard Lacey HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

Mr. Lacey supplies a typical example of the beneficence of the jarrah forests. Edmund Gilyard Lacey was born in Yorkshire in 1843. The alluvial gold discoveries in Victoria were the cause of his father, Mr. James Lacey, leaving the old country and coming to Australia. The latter gentleman had heard of the great fortunes which were being found in Victoria, and every Australian mail brought news of a more and more startling nature of the golden wonders which adorned hilltop and valley and plain at Bendigo and Ballarat. Those who could possibly get away crowded the many sailing vessels, and each month landed on Victorian shores thousands of strong-minded and bodied men, eager to fight Nature and make her yield forth her wealth. Thus the first great influx of population to Australia took place, and the best stuff to develop and establish the colonies was secured. The father came out alone in 1854, but in 1855 his wife and youngest daughter followed him, while in 1857 the two remaining daughters and one son left England, and four months later stepped on the old jetty at Sandridge (Port Melbourne). Mr. James Lacey possessed at this time a farm at Templestowe, near Melbourne, where he subsequently spent many peaceful years. Mr. E.G. Lacey remained under the paternal roof until his twenty-first birthday. That herald of legal manhood saw him enter the commercial arena on his own account, to gain a place among the successful, or to shrink back among the unknown. He began as a carrier on the roads between Hoddle's Creek and Wood's Point, and for nine years pursued this avocation and made money by it. Meanwhile, he had observed that there was wealth to be gained in mills, and, selling his carrier's business, in 1873 he went to Deniliquin, in New South Wales, and at Gulpha, hard by, erected a saw-mill plant. The woods thereabouts contained magnificent specimens of the giant eucalypti of the red-gum species, and these were felled and treated by Mr. Lacey. They were sent to various markets along the Murray, throughout the Riverina, and to Melbourne and Sydney, and, taking year by year, Mr. Lacey's enterprise thrived. He was soon able to purchase another business in the town of Deniliquin. Engaged largely in the timber trade and in a substantial butchering business, he led a busy life.

Looking away from his immediate surroundings, he decided that there were greater opportunities of making a fortune out of jarrah than out of red-gum. He had heard much of Western Australian forests and the splendid qualities of her woods, and at the latter end of 1879 he made up his mind, sold his timber and butchering business, packed his milling plant, and came to this colony. He reached here in 1880, and, with the aid of two men he brought with him and others employed locally, erected his plant at Mahogany Creek, on the York Road. He operated on the jarrah, and his trade relations expanded beyond his best anticipations. Each year saw his wealth augmented, his plant more powerful, and his assistants more numerous. At the inception of his local enterprise, he engaged but one small engine, but this was soon found insufficient, and at the time of his finally selling the business, thirteen years later, in 1893, he employed seven. Ten men were able to cope with his orders at the beginning, but in the course of a few years he engaged at one time as many as 120. Orders for jarrah came to the colony from all over the world, and naturally those engaged in a large way in the denuding of the woodlands gradually became wealthy. It was truly an auspicious day when Mr. Lacey determined to come to Western Australia. He was the first to open saw-milling plant and yards of any dimensions in Perth, and by means of his Mahogany Creek location and his success in Perth, in 1893 he retired from work with a competency.

Mr. Lacey was one of the earliest supporters of mining in this colony and he invested capital in Southern Cross and Murchison ventures He has acted on the directing boards of several companies, and is sill largely interested in mines. He also invested in Perth real estate, and at present (1896) holds city property from £30,000 to £40,000 in value. A keen business man, he carefully observes all that goes on around him, and he estimates with fair correctness whither certain events will lead.