Lake Macquarie History

Joseph John Tucker 1845-1923

A nineteenth century surveyor

Research by Dulcie Hartley

Joseph John Tucker was born at Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire England on 23.8.1845, the eldest son of Joseph Kidger Tucker and Elizabeth (nee Finn). In 1860 Joseph's father was appointed Australian agent for the British and Foreign Bible Society and the family migrated to Australia.

photo: joseph john tucker

On arrival in 1861, the duties of the Rev. Dr Tucker required him to travel extensively throughout Australia and New Zealand. Whether young Joseph John Tucker accompanied his father on any of these epic journeys is unknown, but it would certainly have been excellent training for a future surveyor. However, it seems likely that he was living in Victoria at the Wangaratta Anglican vicarage as he soon obtained an appointment as a schoolteacher at the Collegiate School in Wangaratta. In 1875, whilst in this employment, he qualified as a Licensed Surveyor.

By 1878 Joseph John Tucker with his wife Marian Farrell and family had moved to NSW where he qualified as a Licensed Land and Mining Surveyor. They had children Arthur (1873), Mary (1875) both born at Wangaratta, Ella, (1878?), Elizabeth (1880), and Dora (1885) the latter three born at Newcastle.

J J Tucker practised in the Newcastle district for seventeen years where he resided initially in Darby and King Streets, before renting Apsley House in Ordnance Street on the Newcastle Hill. His career was obviously successful as he was involved in many local residential subdivisions, as well as working for the Northumberland Land & Investment Co. He worked on contract surveying for the Department of Lands, and was involved in surveying part of the route of the Great Northern Railway line. At times he speculated in land, purchasing and subdividing for himself or other vendors.

In the early 1880s, Tucker and some other Newcastle business men formed the Fassifern Coal Company and took up a selection at Lake Macquarie (Fassifern), with the intent of mining coal. A condition of the agreement was that the property had to be continuously occupied for a period of three years, and a large wooden house was built (Fassifern House) and Tucker moved his family out there in 1885. His daughter Mary Moore (nee Tucker - 1875-1957) in her advanced years (c1955) wrote a charming account of life in Newcastle and Fassifern at this time.

Although he finished the three year stint in the house, the business venture finished badly with a large shareholder absconding with a significant amount of the company's money, leaving the other shareholders to make good on debts and leaving the venture short on funding. The family left Fassifern House around 1890, with Joe pursuing surveying work in the Stroud, Port Stephens and Buladelah districts.

Alec Rice, the son of an early manager of Northumberland Colliery, lived in Fassifern House after the Tucker family departed. The house was abandoned about 1912 due to its isolation and the fact that most of the Rice family had gone to Sydney. Fassifern House is supposed to have been burnt down some time after the Rice family left.

By 1893 the surveying profession had been adversely affected by the economic depression with resultant bank failures and extensive unemployment and this year saw the family move to Cootamundra where Joe Tucker was appointed auditor to the borough and where he opened a collegiate school.

In 1894 Tucker accepted the position of Town Clerk and Surveyor for the new gold mining settlement of Coolgardie in WA, leaving his family behind in Cootamundra. Joseph Tucker remained in this position until 1898 when his services were terminated, after which he became Special Commissioner for The Western Australia International Mining & Industrial Exhibition held at Coolgardie. He afterwards moved to Bunbury WA and accepted a position as Town Clerk, and Secretary/Engineer of the Water Board from 1899 to 1906. He was later employed by the Lands Department in Albany from 1911-1913, after which he resumed his teaching career in the south west of WA until retirement in 1918.

Tucker's life as a surveyor typified the boom and bust years of the later part of the nineteenth century. He pursued an entrepreneurial role in the speculative purchase and subdivision of residential lands likely to be in demand. His involvement in the coal mining boom was interesting, although not unusual. At the time, many members of parliament, bank managers, merchants and shipping men were directors and shareholders of embryonic coal mining ventures. The bank failure of 1893 and resultant depression sounded the death knell for many of these highly speculative ventures.