Joadja is a small historic town in the Southern Highlands of NSW, approximately 20 mins drive west of Berrima. It’s beginnings go back to around 1850, with the discovery of what was to become a lucrative shale seam in the area. This discovery led to the establishment of a bustling mining settlement in the late 1870s by the Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral Company.
At one time this settlement was home to approximately 1200 people, mostly Scottish miners and their families, recruited from Scotland to work in this isolated mining town. The town grew to incorporate a general store, pub, post office and orchard. It also had its own school of arts, which became the focal point for the community and hosted recreational and educational activities as well as serving as a church and Masonic Lodge.
My personal interest in Joadja goes back to my great great grandfather Robert Sneddon (1841-1912). Robert was born in Lanarkshire in Scotland to Richard Sneddon (1801-1868) and Nicholas (yes, a lady’s name!) Stanners (also known as Stonehouse) (1805-1882). Robert Jnr married Mary McEwan (1841-1913) in 1862 and they eventually went on to have 10 children, 8 in their native Scotland and 2 in Australia – Richard, Mary, Nicholas, Margaret, William, Robert, Mary (the eldest Mary died in infancy), Andrew, Malcolm and Rebecca.
In 1879, Robert was one of many Scotsman recruited to make the trip across the world to settle in Joadja. Skilled miners like Robert were in great demand at a time and place where there was a shortage of skilled labour. Robert and Mary and their 6 children (Richard, Margaret, William, Robert, Mary and Andrew) arrived in Sydney on 3rd April 1879 aboard the ship Clyde. If you have done the maths, you will realise that 2 children were missing – Mary and Nicholas had both died in March 1868 of whooping cough at the ages of 3 and 1 years respectively.
Robert and family settled into life at Joadja, with Mary giving birth to 2 more children – Malcolm in 1880 and Rebecca in 1882. Conditions were very tough in this isolated town and we can only imagine what they had to endure. There were many deaths due to illness, accidents and suicide and the town is rumoured to have had a number of resident ghosts. The cemetery still remains but with very few intact and legible head stones.
Robert wasn’t the only member of his family to make the journey to Australia. At least two of Robert’s brothers-in-law also lived in Joadja during the same time – Andrew McEwan (1844-1901) and David McEwan (1857-1931) and their wives and children also lived and worked at Joadja. Robert’s eldest sister Elizabeth (1831-1894) also emigrated to Australia with husband William Ferguson and their 3 children (Nicholas, Daniel and Janet) sometime around 1855/56 and settled in Victoria, where they went on to have a further 4 children (Richard, William, Elizabeth and Isabella).
In exchange for their passage to Australia, the Scottish immigrants who worked at Joadja were obliged to stay for a minimum period of 2 years. At this stage I’m unsure when my Sneddon and McEwen ancestors left the Joadja township. Certainly by 1911, Joadja had ceased to be a profitable operation and the mine was wound up. While the orchard continued to exist until the 1920s, the town essentially became a ghost town after mining operations ceased and many of the workers and their families, including my Scottish ancestors moved to the Hunter Valley area where they continued to work in the mining industry.
If you are in the area, I strongly encourage you to visit Joadja. The town and what is left of the historic buildings is now privately owned and it is so encouraging to see that the current owners are working very hard to protect and restore the buildings and make Joadja a tourist attraction. The owners run very informative and entertaining tours on select weekends and there is a lovely cafe on site. Further information is available on the Joadja Town website – http://www.joadjatown.com.au/index.html. You will also find for sale at the cafe a wonderful souvenir history of the town by Leonie Knapman and Andrew Hutton if you are interested in learning more about the area.