Pleystowe Sugar Mill

1869 - 1888, 1895 - 2008


Pleystowe Sugar Mill c.1934 

In 1866 the Pleystowe land had been selected by Joseph Holmes under the Sugar  and Coffee Regulation Act. Holmes was an assistant to Thomas Henry Fitzgerald who surveyed Pleystowe in 1865. Holmes had imported a horse-powered cotton gin and had planted 42 acres of cotton in early 1868 as well as 10 acres of Bourbon cane. Holmes had shipped three 300 pound cotton bales in June 1868 but it proved to be uneconomical.

Alfred Hewitt bought Pleystowe from Holmes in June 1868 with his silent partner Charles Romilly.  Holmes retained an interest in Pleystowe until he withdrew from the partnership in February 1869.  Hewitt began preparing 20 acres for cane and ordered a sugar mill of similar power to that of the Alexandra mill within weeks of taking over.

Hewitt purchased plant cane from Davidson of Alexandra and the area was expanded rapidly.  The machinery from the mill was ordered from R.N. Russell & Co. of Sydney and it arrived in January 1869.  John Dow supervised the building of the plant that was manufactured in Sydney with the remainder being imported from England.

The mill was completed in August and the first crushing commenced on 6 September 1869.  The mill rollers were the same size as the Alexandra mill but an innovation of raising the elevation of the mill seven feet off the ground enable the juice to fall directly into the clarifiers without pumping and allowed the megass  to be dropped into drays without lifting.  The first season yielded 143 tons of sugar and 6000 gallons of rum which was sent to Alexandra for distillation until the Pleystowe distillery was completed. The distillery commenced operation in 1872 and the quality of the Pleystowe rum was well known in the district.  In 1872-1873, Pleystowe produced 18,221 gallons of rum.

The South Sea Islanders employed by the Pleystowe company were well catered for  as the plantation was credited in 1883 as having supplied the best accommodation in the district in a series of detached buildings. 

In the early 1880's Hewitt and Co. took advantage of the sugar boom by selling out to a southern investor called Nathan Thornley in May 1882 for 50,000.  The Melbourne Syndicate that Thornley was part of was named the "Pleystowe Sugar Company". The companies capital was made of 20 500 shares each held by Thornley, five Melbourne merchants - Sir James Lorimer, Sali Cleeve, H.J. Henry, John Blyth and James Ormond, a solicitor W. Attenborough, and two Victorian graziers F.R. Murphy and William Robertson.

William Steedman was appointed manager for the company and commenced to modernize the mill.  A 30,000 gallon per hour pumping plant was installed in 1886 to irrigate the estate.  By 1887 the mill was capable of making 1,200 tons of sugar each season.

Despite the improvements the southern investors found little profit in the venture. In the 1888 season which was in a drought year the company lost 8,00 only obtaining 170 tons of cane from crushing 450 acres of cane.

The capital invested was exhausted in 1889 due to losses running the plantation and with the opening of the Racecourse mill it was more profitable for the company to sell its cane rather than crush it themselves.  The growing of cane ceased and the land was leased to Steedman.

The Pleystowe  Sugar company went into voluntary liquidation in August 1894.

A new company called the "Pleystowe Central Mill Company Limited" was set up to take advantage of the Sugar Works Guarantee Act which was introduced in 1893 .  John Cook of Balnagowan, Edward Maitland Long and Steedman combined to form the Pleystowe Land Syndicate, each holding 2,000 shares in the central mill company, the Syndicate Company held 45,588 shares while individual farmers only held 2033 shares.  The Syndicate had been formed to subdivide land for farmers who would supply cane to the re-opened mill.  In September 1894, 150 farms were offered for sale.

Advances under the Sugar Works Guarantee Act were used to purchase the plantation as well as buy new machinery.  Two mills five feet six inches wide and 34 inches in diameter were purchased in addition to a shredder to prepare the cane for the rollers, a tripe effet with 7500 square feet of evaporating surface, partial maceration and a twelve ton vacuum pan for crystallizing the sugar.  Most of the new plant was imported from A. & W. Smith of Glasgow.  

The Pleystowe distillery closed after the 1894 season to make way for the new machinery.

The mill commenced crushing on 9 September 1895 with the new machinery and made 715 tons of sugar for the season. Production increased in 1896 with 1084 tons of sugar made and 2100 tons in 1897.

Bernard Celestin Dupuy had designed a low level bridge and winding gear to allow cane to  collected on the horse hauled tramway to be taken across the river to the mill.  The tramline was extended to obtain cane in the Dumbleton area and the mill extended.

1898 was a poor year with a drought following on from the effects of Cyclone "Eline" earlier in the year, however 2887 tons of sugar was produced from 25,004 tons of cane.  The 1899 crop was insufficient to make a profit for the mill.  The 1900 crop yielded 1992 tons of sugar.  However due to Pleystowe not having a large enough crop to repay the Government loan problems continued. 

In 1902 the problems came to a head and a commission of enquiry was convened to investigate the problems of the management of the Pleystowe mill. Steedman left the district in 1903 and Long died  in London , England on 4 August 1905.  The government took over the management of the mill until new financing could be obtained.

J.C. Penny, formerly of Farleigh, became manager of Pleystowe in 1907 .  The government debt had been repaid through refinancing with the Q.N. bank.  The mill produced 3541 tons of sugar from31,676 tons of cane.

In 1910, Pleystowe crushed 53,539 tons of cane to produce 5,940 tons 94 n.t. of sugar.

As a note of interest, Sir Arthur Fadden, Prime Minister of Australia in 1941, had started work at Pleystowe mill in the office in 1910,  before moving on to the Mackay City Council and into politics in which he was to serve Australia.

Farmer resentment surfaced again with another enquiry in 1915. 22 farmers held only 2452 shares whereas 11 non-farmers held the remaining balance of 56, 147.  Calls were made to make Pleystowe a co-operative or to water down the stock and reduce dividends.

The 1918 Cyclone severely damaged the Palms mill 2 miles east and as a result Pleystowe mill crushed the cane from the Palms Estate.  

After 1924 the Palms mill ceased crushing altogether and the two companies operating the mills were amalgamated to create the company "Amalgamated Sugar Mills Ltd.". 

In 1925 Pleystowe crushed 114,235 tons of cane to produce 15,000 tons 94 n.t.of sugar.

The old brick chimney stack was dismantled sometime in the 1930's.

In 1959,  The Australian Estates Co. Ltd. which had owned the Palms mill, acquired the remaining minority shareholding in the company which was then incorporated as Amalgamated Sugar Mills Pty. Ltd.

In 1962, Pleystowe crushed 521, 264 tons of cane to produce 83,331 tons 94 n.t. of sugar. 

In March 1975 Australian Estates became a subsidiary of the C.S.R. Limited company.  

In 1977, Pleystowe crushed 949,010 tonnes of cane to produce 144,527 tonnes 94 n.t. sugar.

In 1986, the mill exceeded one million tonnes of cane crushed in a season. It crushed 1,150,346 tonnes of cane for 154,100 tonnes 94 n.t. of sugar.

In 1988 six Mackay district mills merged and formed the company Mackay Sugar Co-operative association Limited which consisted of Racecourse, Farleigh, Marian, North Eton, Cattle Creek and the previously CSR owned Pleystowe mill.

Rationalisation of milling operations followed seeing the closure of the North Eton Mill in 1988 crushing season and the closure of Cattle Creek mill in the 1990 crushing season.  The cane from these mills was reassigned to the four remaining mills. Racecourse, Farleigh and Pleystowe mills were upgraded to enable them to crush the extra cane and Marian underwent a major expansion to allow to become a "Super Mill".

In 1991 Pleystowe crushed 883,969 tonnes of cane  to produce 136,151 tonnes of sugar.

In 2002 the Pleystowe mill was left in mothballs following poor crop estimates that would be crushed by the three remaining mills.  However, later in the season Mackay Sugar decided to fire up the mill as a "juice mill" only after original crop estimates were revised higher.

The 2003 season started with more poor crop estimates resulting in the closure of the mill for the 2003 crushing season. 

Mackay Sugar made a decision to rationalise its milling operations reducing the number of mills from four to three. As a result a decision was made to close Pleystowe Mill at the end of the 2008 crushing season.

References -

Hamilton, Pat. (1994). Sugar from the Scrub. Moorooka, QLD: Boolarong Press. p. 18-22.

Kerr, John. (1980).  Pioneer Pageant. Mackay, QLD: Pioneer Shire Council. p. 31, 85, 86, 118-120, 157, 165.

Manning, K.W. (1983). In Their Own Hands. Farleigh, QLD: Farleigh Co-op Milling Association Ltd. p. 2, 12, 17, 48, 87, 94, 109, 121, 132, 151-153, 169, 200, 230, 271.

Walkerston Neighbourhood Centre Group, Scrubby News, October 1992, number 8, p.2-3.


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