Michael Gannon

(A talk delivered at St. Michael’s Church, Hurstville on the occasion of its Centenary in 1987 by Alderman R. W. Rathbone)

There is some doubt about when Michael Cannon was actually born. His marriage certificate and his convict records all indicate that he was born in 1798 but his death certificate would suggest it was the year 1800. There is no dispute about the fact that he was born in the town of Mullingar in County Westmeath, Ireland, the son of John Cannon, a carpenter and joiner and his wife Alicia.

The family were poor but God-fearing and Michael was given what little education they could afford. He was apprenticed to his father’s trade and showed some promise as a woodturner but he was also the wild one of the family surviving several scrapes with the law in his teenage years.

Eventually he found lawbreaking more exciting and remunerative than carpentry and in December 1819, he was arrested and charged with highway robbery. At the Lenten Assizes in County Meath in April 1820, Michael Cannon was sentenced to transportation for life whilst his younger brother, James, received a sentence of 14 years transportation for being in possession of forged bank notes. They left old Ireland’s shores on 22nd August 1820, aboard the convict transport “Almorah” of 416 tons burthan and arrived in Sydney Cove exactly four months later.

The Convict Records held in the State Archives describe Michael Cannon in the following terms, he was aged 22, was 5’6.5″ tall with fair pockmarked complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes. In 1823 he was assigned to Joseph Broadbent, a carpenter and builder, in whose employ worked a seventeen year old chambermaid named Mary Ann Parsonage. Michael Cannon and Mary Parsonage were married the following year.

It is some indication of Michael Cannon’s personality that despite his unprepossessing appearance and in a Colony where men outnumbered women by more than three to one, a woman born free was prepared to marry a convict under a life sentence. To add to this interest, Mary Parsonage was a Protestant whilst Michael Cannon was a Catholic and they were married in an Anglican ceremony in St. Phillip’s Church, Church Hill, by the Assistant Colonial Chaplain, Rev. William Cowper.

Perhaps the clue to this unusual arrangement can be gleaned from the fact that early the next year Mary Cannon petitioned Governor Darling to have her husband legally assigned to her as a government servant which meant that Michael Cannon was hers not only by marriage but by government assignment as well.

The 1828 Census reveals that Michael and Mary Cannon and their four year old son, John, were living in Cambridge Street, Millers Point in the area now known as The Rocks and Michael was following his profession as a carpenter. On 18th July 1829, when he was granted his Ticket of Leave, Michael Cannon’s description is again recorded. He was still 5’6.5″ tall but his complexion had changed from fair to pale and the colour of his eyes from hazel to grey and by November 1835, when he was granted a Conditional Pardon his hair had already begun to turn grey and his complexion had changed from pale to ruddy (he had obviously been out in the sun). He remained 5’6.5″ tall.

During these years Cannon had worked hard. He had prospered as a carpenter and had developed into a builder and property owner. In 1843 he became the undertaker for Catholic burials within the town of Sydney and was in partnership with his brother as an auctioneer and commission agent in Lower George Street. The Depression of that year, however, played havoc with his enterprises4 and he was declared insolvent. Salvaging what he could, he obtained publican’s licence for an inn on the Cook’s River Road at Tempe and was settled on the site of today’s Government Bus Depot by 1845.

By this time Michael and Mary Cannon’s family had increased to ten. John born in 1825, Mary in 1827, Robert in 1829, William in 1831, James in 1833, Frederick in 1836, Joseph Napoleon in 1838, Alfred in 1840, Alicia in 1842 and Maria in 1845. All but Mary survived to adulthood.

Again, because of his industry, Michael Cannon prospered. In the late 1840’s he purchased land in the City, at Petersham and along the Hawkesbury River but perhaps his most important acquisition was the 1,950 acres originally granted to Captain John Townson of the N.S.W. Corps in April 1810 and sold to the enterprising ex-convict, Simeon Lord, two years later. This vast tract of country, which today covers all the suburbs of Hurstville, Allawah, Canton and West Bexley remained entirely undeveloped because there was no access from it to the settlement at Sydney. After Lord’s death in 1840 the grant had passed to John Holden and James Holt but even after the building of Forest Road between 1843 and 1848, little development took place. On 18th November 1850, they, in turn, sold it to Michael Cannon for the sum of £732 – £68 less than they had paid for it only six years before.

Almost immediately, Cannon set about realizing on his newly acquired estate. Section One covered the whole of the present day suburb of Carlton whilst Section Two covered most of West Bexley. Each section was divided into Lots ranging in size from 15 to 30 acres and these were offered to would-be purchasers on extremely generous terms financed by Cannon himself at 10 percent deposit and 6 percent interest repayable over a period of 20 years.

One of the earliest buyers was a man named George Perry who acquired the 18 acres now partly occupied by the buildings of the Sydney Technical High School in January 1854 for £160. Perry’s receipts for the land he bought are still in existence and whilst the interest payment was always made in cash, the capital repayment was made almost entirely in bags of charcoal, sucking pigs, fat pigs and on one occasion, a heifer.

By 1855 there was quite a reasonable population in the area and a number of these people ascribed to the Catholic Faith. To attend Mass, it was necessary for them to travel all the way to Sydney and even after the building of St. Patrick’s Chapel along the Rocky Point Road at Kogarah in 1865, the journey was long, arduous and inconvenient. Section One of Cannon’s land was partly bisected by a narrow, deeply rutted track later known as Willison Road and it was down that lane that the Catholic inhabit- ants of the area, by now known as Cannon’s Forest, made their way to Mass each Sunday. It is reported that the bend in today’s Willison Road at its junction with Short Street was occasioned by the early Catholic inhabitants of the district as they struck off across country to reach St. Patrick’s on their Sunday pilgrimages. The fact that this diversion actually reached the Ioggerah Road at a point occupied by Edmund English’s Koggerah Family Hotel some two miles distant from the church suggests that the diversion catered for both the physical as well as the spiritual comfort of those who used it.

No doubt out of concern for the convenience of the Catholic residents of Gannon’s Forest and the fact that the only school in the district was a tumble-down affair conducted under the auspices of the Church of England, Gannon donated a site for the erection of a church. On 24th November 1655, Michael Gannon of Cook’s River in the Colony of N.S.W. Innkeeper, transferred to Rev. John Bede Polding, Roman Catholic Archbishop and Rev. Daniel Maurus O’Connell, Roman Catholic Clergyman, that parcel of land in the County of Cumberland, Parish of St. George commencing at a marked stump on the New Line of Road to the Illawarra comprising all ways, lights, sewers, watercourses, easements and appurtenances for the erection of a Roman Catholic Church and no other purpose whatsoever. The sum paid by the Church was a token ten shillings and the deed of transfer was executed and witnessed by Gannon’s solicitor son, Frederick.

Michael Gannon was now 57 years of age. His family was growing up and were doing very well. Frederick was a solicitor, Alfred a wealthy land speculator, William a prominent race horse owner, his champion stallion, “Arsenal” winning the 1886 Melbourne Cup. William was later to become the licensee of the prestigious Petty’s Hotel. Gannon’s daughter, Maria, was also to achieve some prominence as the mother of Major R. W. Lenehan, the controversial Breaker Morant’s commanding officer during the Boer War.

Gannon had won a reputation for fair dealing in business and enjoyed universal respect as a man of property, a good father and family man, a faithful member of his Church and a man of generosity and compassion. He also enjoyed considerable respect among the Colony’s Establishment for, despite his convict beginnings and his Irish ancestry, he was an unashamed loyalist and a conservative in his political allegiances. Apart from a short stint as an alderman of the St. Peter’s Council, he never sought election for any public office but he was invariably a member and Often the Chairman of the Campaign Committee of the more conservative candidate for any election in the seats of Cumberland South Riding and Canterbury which at one time or another covered this area. In particular, he was a close personal friend of the conservative Protectionist, John Lucas who s an implacable opponent of Sir Henry Parkes, was responsible for opening up the Jenolean Caves and was the author of the original White Australia Policy.

In the early 1850’s Michael Gannon gave the land on which the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul at Tempe was erected and for many years, until its abolition in 1872, he was a member of the Cook’s River Road Trust. In 1864 he had offered 8 acres of land from his estate at Hurstville to establish a public cemetery in the St. George District and in 1881, waived all claim to the land on which St. George’s Anglican Church, Hurstville stands after it was discovered the church had stood for 25 years on land that had never been legally transferred to it.

In August 1874, Michael and Mary Gannon celebrated 50 years of married life together, an occasion which saw assembled not only a devoted family but a host of other admirers as well and when Mary Gannon died in March the following year there was a further outpouring of the love and respect in which this fine pioneering couple were held. Michael was to live on for another six years, lonely, broken and embittered by the loss of his beloved helpmate and when he was finally laid to rest beside her in August 1881, it brought to an end not only a chapter in this district’s and this church’s history but the end of an era in a family that was to make its mark in many areas of endeavour in this state.

I do not know what motivated the original builders to choose the name of St. Michael as the name for this church but if it was not intentional then it was indeed a fortunate co-incidence for Michael was also the Christian name of the good, wise, far-sighted and very compassionate man who gave the land on which this church now stands.

This article was first published in the March 1990 edition of our magazine.

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Book Review: Governor Macquarie, His Life, Times and Revolutionary Vision for Australia by Derek Parker, Woodslane Press 2010 (252 pages)

Reviewed by Laurice Bondfield

This book has been published to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lachlan Macquarie’s arrival as Governor of NSW. It is a straightforward biography quoting extensively from his journals, letters and dispatches so you get a lively sense of his personality and attitudes as well as a clear narrative of the events of his life.

One trait that particularly stood out for me in this account was his sense of adventure and love of travel. After serving in Canada during the War of Independence and Indian campaigns in Travancore and Cochin among others he returns to England in 1807, not by the usual direct sea route but overland. His route took him through Persia (modern day Iraq) to the shores of the Caspian Sea, then north to Astrakhan, beside the Volga River to Tsaritsin thence to Moscow and St Petersburg. His adventures did not end there as he sailed from Kronstadt through the Baltic in appalling weather, visiting the British fleet which had just taken Copenhagen and taking time to see the sights of the city before reaching Yarmouth after several times being becalmed or delayed by contrary winds. After he returned to England in 1822, instead of resting from his difficult time in Australia, he, his wife and son set out on a year long Grand Tour of France and Italy. He must have enjoyed the chances his governorship gave him to travel around NSW and Tasmania!

Of his time as governor, you get the impression that a man of honest and straightforward character like Macquarie was bound to find difficulty in dealing with touchy and rancorous free settlers and devious emancipists, while receiving only lukewarm support from the Colonial Office. “He has been accused of too freely taking men and women at their face value and while this is a likeable trait, its effects are sometimes troublesome”(Derek Parker p. xiii Introduction).

When reading of his rise from a poor family on the Isle of Mull via Army service (and Scots connections!) to the governorship you wonder how much his open minded attitude to the emancipists, although official Colonial Office policy, was coloured by his own experience.

In conclusion, this is a well-rounded biography of Lachlan Macquarie, intended for the general reader. It is a corrective to some histories which concentrate exclusively on his time as governor and ignore or give short shrift to his early life or his personality or private life.

This article was first published in the January 2011 edition of our magazine.

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The Bexley Ladies’ College

by Frances Stacey

“Rockdale College” was originally founded by the Rev. C.T. Forscutt, when he was 40 years old. He was born in Newtown and became a preacher at the Enmore Tabernacle for some years. Later at the age of 40 years, he decided he would found a Boys’ School and was greatly encouraged by the late Dr Prescott of Newington College at Stanmore, who was his life-long friend. He acquired three cottages in Henry Street, somewhere between Sydenham and Tempe, overlooking the railway line on the left, going towards Rockdale. I believe these cottages to be still there – one or two turnings to the right after leaving Sydenham Station and moving towards Tempe. He started his school with, forty boys. After some years there, and the school increasing in numbers, Rev. Forscutt bought a fine property in Bexley, in about 1880. It is thought the home was built by Mr Tidswell, who was t think, at that time, a Wine and Spirit Merchant.

The land was bounded by Gladstone Street, Queen Victoria Street and Monomeeth Street. In Gladstone Street, it adjoined another lovely old home built and occupied by another Tidswell family for. many years. Later this property was bought by Mr George Hudson of the Timber Mill Business. This home finally became “Margaret House” and used for entertainments. Also adjoining was the large residence in Dunmore Street built by Mr Conley. It still stands there as Fairmont Hospital and is the only one of the old homes to be still standing.

The School stood in fourteen acres of land all told and a photograph of the old home may be seen in Lydham Hall. In the College Prospectus it was quoted as “standing in its beautiful park-like grounds overlooking Botany Bay.” The view must have been very lovely then!

A school hospital was built near the lower end of what was called the A.E. Watsons Reserve and on the Monomeeth Street side where the old stone stables were situated. Here were housed the horse-drawn coaches and horses all cared for by “Charly” who always had his “hand bitten”. He was never without a smile to us all and we all loved him. He once allowed me to climb up on to one of the carriages! Barry Humphrey attended to all the outside work in the garden and his wife Agnes did the house-keeping. All were kind and gentle.

The large grounds were sheltered by pine trees where the children could play. They also had a big see-saw and swings.

As the school grew in numbers, Mr Foscutt built a large building in Monomeeth Street. The ground floor was a very large school room, built with a stage at one end for concerts. etc. On one side was a hail with a music room and sitting room, the other with a large hall leading to the front door. On the other side was a verandah looking right down to Gladstone Street and the old home. Upstairs were all the boarders bedrooms.

I can remember one morning so clearly when we had a bad thunderstorm. One of the chimneys was struck by lightning. It was so frightening and I saw Mr Forscutt stagger backwards hold his hand to his forehead, and also one of the teachers with my class right under the window on that side. I picked up a piece of that chimney and kept it for many years with My own geological specimens, but can find it nowhere now! Should I ever find this it will go to “Lydham Hall”.

Many readers may be interested to know that when in later years the old stables were demolished, the bricks which I imagine were standstone, were used by Mr Forscutt to build cottages near the railway at Banksia. The old stables were built to the design of an English barn.

The front verandah of the building in Monomeeth Street was built with a beautiful arch, believed to have been a replica of the arch at the Marist Brothers at Kogarah.

In the early years of the College, a Garden Party was held “in the park-like grounds” each year. Members of Parliament and many other notable people . also were invited – most in those days coming by train. Rockdale Station was beautifully decorated for the occasion with bunting. James Cook – the local member of Parliament at that time – always attended. At that time the school was a “Boys’ School” and it was quite some time before it was to become a “Girls’ School”.

This article was first published in the February 1980 edition of our magazine.
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Old St. David’s Church Of England Arncliffe

by Peter Orlovich

The following article, from the researching pen of Mr. Peter Orlovich, M. A. , a member of our Society, deals with certain phases of the early history of Old St. David’s Church of England at Arncliffe, and also throws light on the pioneering Hannam family who were amongst the early settlers of the area. The article was initially prepared for the congregation of, shall we say, New St. David’s, located at Forest Road, Arncliffe. Through the kindness of the Rector, the Rev. N. G. Robinson, our Society has been permitted to republish the article, which has great historical value. So little information has survived in relation to Old St. David’s, a circumstance brought about by the loss of relevant minute books and a somewhat chequered existence under different administrations. A further article, to be published by the Society, is in course of preparation.

The story of Old St. David’s Church of England, Arncliffe, might be said to commence with the conviction and transportation of Reuben Hannam alias Richard Hannam to New South Wales in 1811. Reuben Hannam, a brick and tile maker by calling, and a native of Somersetshire, England, was convicted at the Somerset Assizes on the 31st March, 1810, and sentenced to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney on the convict transport “Admiral Gambler” on the 29th September, 1811, and in due course was employed as Overseer of Brick Makers in Sydney.

Rueben Hannam’s Cottage (Wolli Creek)

In August, 1813, Reuben Hannam addressed a Memorial to Governor Macquarie, in which he stated:-

“That the Memorialist is a Prisoner of this Colony, and arrived in the Ship Admiral Gambier, having much reason to consider that his Term of Transportation is during his natural Life. That the Memorialist left in England, a Vhf and Children for whom he has entertained a Serious affection, and whom, he has most lamentably to reflect, must be under extreme hardships in their native country as they are bereft of their only succour a Husband and a Father. That the great and compassionate goodness of his Most Majesty extended tcr your poor Memorialist that mercy which continues to him a blessing of existence, so that he might cordially repent of his past Errors, and regenerate in this distant Region, under Your Excellency’s benign authority, wherefore, your Memorialist, conscious that the power which interposed in lengthening the days, had no less in view, the promotion of the happiness of your Memorialist, should his conduct render him worthy of the favourable charge, he entertains a hope that through the Medium of Your Excellency’s humane Representation and interposition, his Wife and Family may be permitted to follow his footsteps and to share his Destinies, which Memorialist is assured his forlorn partner would very gladly do. The Memorialist therefore supplicates Your Excellency in this behalf; that he may share in the bounty which has extended itself so generally for the good of the Unfortunate, most humbly prays as the greatest blessing he can derive on Earth to see his Dear Wife and Children once again, and believe great and good Sir, that his tears and theirs gratefully flow in praise of your goodness &c

Reuben Hannam”

This Memorial, together with a certificate signed by the Rev. William Cowper (Assistant Chaplain) and Isaac Nichols (Principal Superinten- dent of Convicts) testifying to the good conduct of Reuben Hannam in the Colony, was transmitted by Governor Macquarie to Under Secretary Goulburn on the 20th August, 1813 with a request that the documents be submitted for the favourable consideration of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Earl Bathurst, and recommending him to- order a passage for Hannam’s wife and children “in one of the first Convict Ships coming out to this Colony.” (Historical Records of Australia, Ser. 1, v. 8, p. 78-79)

As a direct consequence of Reuben Hannam’s Memorial, his son David embarked on the “Lady Northampton” about the same time and sailed for New South Wales, his age then being about 8 years. David Hannam settled in the colony, and on the 15th November, 1825 was ordered or promised 60 acres of land by Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane. The land was soon thereafter occupied by David Hannam in the Parish of St. George, County of Cumberland, although the grant was not made until the 31st August, 1833 by Governor Bourke, on the condition that 16 acres be cleared and cultivated, or buildings or fences erected, or other permanent improvements made to the value of £10. Reuben Hannam was granted 100 acres on the same date adjoining his son’s farm.

David Hannam married Mary Masterson of the Airds district on the 17th March, 1828 at St. Peter’s Church, Campbelltown. David was then aged 23 and his wife was 17 years old. They resided apparently on the farm at “Cook’s River”, with John Masterson, aged 12 years, and three assigned or emancipated convict labourers.

In 1857, David and Mary Hannam had a family of twelve, Reuben (28 years) John (25), Elizabeth (23), Mary (21), Phillis (18), David (16), James Australia (14), Charlotte (12), Sarah Jane (10), Catharine (8), Lydia (6) and Louisa Ruth (born 6th April, 1857).

Reuben Hannam died on the 14th December, 1852 aged 73 years, his wife predeceasing him at the age of 62 years on the 5th February, 1852. David Hannam died at the age of 67 years on the 5th September, 1872 at his residence on the “New Illawarra Road” at Cook’s River. He was survived by his widow, four sons and eight daughters.

Old St David’s, Arncliffe

The site of Old St. David’s Church, Arncliffe is located within the primary grant issued to David Hannam. There were clearly two churches erected on the site. The earlier of the two appears to have been erected early in 1861, and a reference to its construction was made in The Church of England Chronicle, vol. 5, No. 5, March 7th, 1961. p. 36:-

“PARISH OF ST. PETER’S, COOK’S RIVER”

“A small School-house has lately been built for the benefit of a numerous and scattered population south of the Cook’s River Dam. Half an acre of land was kindly given by Mr. D. Hannam several years ago, and some money collected, the work was begun, but soon failed; and a traveller through the retired bush between Woolli Creek and the Eastern Wollongong Road, would have stumbled suddenly on grass-grown ruins of rubble work, half raised between rough hewn corner posts. During the last few months a sub- scription has again been set on foot and carried out with praise- worthy zeal by wives of two respectable cottagers, so that on the whole £42 has been raised. The building was recommenced, the front and two end walls of good stonework, the back wall of slabs, in the hope of afterwards adding two rooms for a Teacher’s residence. The roof is of galvanised iron for security against bush fires; the ceiling and slabs inside neatly covered with calico; the floor of Asphalte, which will, it is hoped, combine a constant dryness with freedom from white ants. The building is 22 feet long, by 14 feet wide, and 8 feet high under the eaves, and the whole presents a pleasant appearance. A neat pulpit and forms (to seat about 40 persons) complete the furniture inside. The whole cost is £43.

On Sunday afternoon, February 24th, the first service was performed by the Rev. A. H. Bull, M. A. , Minister of the district of St.. Peter’s, who purposes to attend there on alternate Sunday afternoons.

A collection was made after the service amounting to £1.11. lOd. , to complete the funds required.

Mr. Charles Kellett has undertaken the charge of the school., which having no aid from Government, must at least for the present depend on local resources.

A.H.B.”

St David’s Church of England (circa 1875)

The second church -, the. present structure – appears to have been built sometime between 1875 and 1892, for in 1875, the Rev. Stanley Howard, incumbent of St. Peter’s, Cook’s River, recorded his observations of the original School-house and church in a letter to a relative, a copy of which was published in the Church of England Messenger, Arncliffe of August, 1934. (See attached copy).

The Town and Country Journal of the 27th August, 1892 featured an article on the churches of Christ Church, Bexley and St. David’s Arncliffe, including sketches of both, and the latter is quite clearly the present Old St. David’s. “It has not much pretension to architectural beauty, but is not unpicturesque”, noted the observer .. . . “St. David’s is a much older building than Christchurch, and what there is of architecture is of an early English character. The weather stained shingle roof gives a good bit of rich brown grey., and the primitive belfry is, in its way, not uncomely.”

There are, however, two main questions which I consider essential to a more rounded history of the Church, but which I regret I have been as yet unable to answer:

(1) When, and what form of legal title to the land occupied by the Church was actually granted to the Church or its trustees?

(2) When the present structure was built?

I regret I could not undertake the research to establish these points at present. I trust this information supplied will be of some benefit.”

“St. Peter’s Parsonage,

St. Peters, nr. Sydney, N. S. W.

Monday, 22nd August, 1875.

I have long contemplated a day’s riding in the bush with my good neighbour, Mr. Done, over the River, to view his parish. We agreed to do it this day: so I provided myself with a bag full of edibles not to be despised even by a dainty appetite; and we met at the dam at 10 o’clock. First we rode for about a mile and a half to Arncliffe Church, which was certainly a remarkable edifice. I hardly ever tried to sketch in my life before, as you will suppose when you see the accompanying attempts; but I feel I must try and put a few lines together to give you an idea of the reality; and I think I have partly succeeded. Someone who visited it said they must certainly not destroy that when they built another, but leave it as a “fossil remains.” The attempt at the sketch inside is the least successful, because I can’t manage the shading — but I must send it. The Vestry you see is an old clothes horse done up with canvas and whitewash. Over the desk is a. hole in the ceiling — for ventilation I suppose — from which frequently appears a large green snake, hanging down over the preacher’s head. On the walls are tacked pieces of bent tin supporting “patty pan” to hold the candles. A very old-looking table and a few clean benches completes the ecclesiastical furniture of this Cathedral Church I must confess that it looked clean enough in spite of the rest.

St Davids, Arncliffe – 1875

From this we rode through the bush, along roads which were often the merest tracks, to Belmore. We occasionally got on a good road for a while, and passed nice cottages with pretty orange trees loaded with fruit in the gardens. Then we would suddenly dive into the forest again, and ride through tall, thick bush, among which the acacia was most lovely, in full blossom, so rich and golden. Belmore Church is better than my sketch represents. We heard the children read. Then we rode to Connelly’s Creek, and, borrowing a “billy-pot” and cups (yes, and she actually gave us saucers and spoons, which quite spoilt our bush tea, as it requires to be stirred with a stick to give it its true flavour), we found a sheltered place at the foot of two big gum trees and lit our fire, and thoroughly enjoyed our lunch. It was great fun Mr. Done is an elderly gentleman, but full of spirits, and a most genial as well as spiritually minded companion. I believe he felt as much as a boy as I did The spot will not soon be forgotten by me. If I were a sketcher I would send you a pencil representation of it. I need hardly say that it was (as George used to express it when we went for expeditions together ) “sanctified by the word of God — – it was John xvii — and prayer.”

Then we rode up a slope on the opposite side of the little creek, and dived again into a very pretty piece of regular forest, amongst which the rays of the afternoon sun shone softly and richly. After a few miles we came to Lord’s Forest Church, which I had not time to put on paper, but I send you an extract from an inscription. We reached Mr. Done’s house at Rocky Point — a small but very substantial new parsonage which he has had great difficulty in raising — at sunset. I could not stay to touch the neatly prepared tea, but hastened home, having thoroughly enjoyed the 26 mile ride.”

This article was first published in the February 1970 edition of our magazine.
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A Link with the Past

by Fred Gannon

In his beautiful home at Tempe Mr. Fred Gannon, who is the oldest solicitor on the rolls of New South Wales, now spends the quiet evening of his days. He has reached a hardy old age of 85 interesting years; his wife is still living, and his sons and relations worthily carry on the famous name in the legal circles of Sydney. Time was when Mr. Gannon held for many years the largest criminal practice in the city, and his experiences run far back to the beginnings of the State.

Mr. Gannon is supposed to be an invalid; but his long record in sport has left him hardier than the average man of middle age. His memories are clear about famous criminals, but more vivid in his remembrance of the shooting matches he won and the games he had played. His house is filled with trophies won at pigeon shooting; one room is almost lined with silver prizes. He was a great cricketer in the old Albert Ground – in the days when it was not considered playing the game to bowl overhand; and as a fisherman he was famous.

Mr. Gannon was born in Argyle Street. His father, Mr. Michael Gannon, was a well-known early settler. He bought what was afterwards known as Gannon’s Forest, an expanse of bush that started from Arncliffe and extended to Hurstville, 2400 acres of valuable firewood. He paid for it only 7/6 an acre; and his son, Mr. Leslie Gannon, solicitor, holds the original deed. Gannon’s Forest nowadays includes all Bexley, Rockdale, Carlton, and Hurstville, and every acre is worth approximately £500.

Michael Gannon was a shrewd man. There was only one way of getting into Gannon’s Forest to cut firewood, and only one way to come out – that was at the dam at Tempe. There was a toll-gate there, and Michael Gannon was on the spot. Every cart going in to cut firewood had to pay toll to the owner of the forest for his load. Thousands of loads were cut every day to keep the home fires of Sydney burning.

Sixty years ago Cook’s River was the Potts Point of Sydney. It was the residential area of all the leading men of those days; and the curious visitor will find to-day the remains of fine old houses, each set proudly on one of the high hills. Tempe’s great industry was shell-gathering, to burn for lime; for this was before the great discovery of good limestone quarries. The late Mr. D. Cairncross, of Rockdale, was one of the early lime-burners.

The communication with Sydney was chiefly by ‘buses, and when the road was muddy the ‘bus proprietors got any price they demanded. There were profiteers even in those days.”

This article was first published in the February 1970 edition of our magazine.
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Book Review – The Aborigines of the Sydney District before 1788 by Peter Turbet, Kangaroo Press 1989 (160 pages)

reviewed by Laurice Bondfield


The author collects together in this small book as much information as possible about the tribes who lived in the Sydney region before 1788. He covers such topics as social organisation, languages, food gathering, marriage and family life, medical treatments, religion, initiation and artistic expression. Although the Aboriginal people who lived along the coastline of NSW shared many customs, they were also diverse in languages, tools and cultural practices.

The writer cites three types of sources for the information he presents: the observations of the colonial diarists and missionaries, the memoirs and testimonies of Aboriginal people and the results of archaeological excavation.

The St George District was home to the Bidjigal people. It is possible that their territory extended as far as Castle Hill. The famous guerilla leader Pemulwuy had connections to this area. In 1790 he fatally speared a man named M’Entire near the Cooks River. Later in 1797 he took refuge in the country near the mouth of the Georges River after escaping from a hospital in Parramatta.

Local archaeological digs at Curracurang overhang in Royal National Park and a shell midden at Gymea Bay have yielded information about the shelter and diet of Bidjigal people. A tantalising reference by a colonial diarist to a “village of bark huts” that once stood near the mouth of the Cooks River makes you wish to know more- were they a permanent seasonal site or something more?

The evidence of rock art at La Perouse and in Royal National Park shelters gives evidence of a rich cultural and religious life.

The Aborigines of the Sydney District Before 1788 is a good first reference book. It was published in 1989 and in the 22 years since then more research has been carried out. Most of this research is published in academic journals and is sometimes difficult for the general reader to gain access to. In the last few years one or two more books on Aboriginal life in the Sydney region for a general audience have been published and I intend to review one of them, Rivers and Resilience about Aboriginal life past and present on the Georges River, for a later journal as Rockdale Library has a copy.


This article was first published in the January 2011 edition of our magazine.
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New Logo and Magazine Archive

New SGHS Logo

During our November meeting, members unanimously approved a new logo designed by Tina Workman.

The striking image at the centre of the logo is of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon. It represents our connection to the St George District.

Magazine Archive

Our society has published a regular newsletter/bulletin/magazine since 1961. Over 440 editions have been produced.

Fred Scott has digitised each edition. The process requires considerable effort to scan each page. The volunteers and staff at the Internet Archive apply a similar process to build their digital library. A video of the process shows the careful effort to build this valuable resource.

Browse the St George Historical Society magazine archive.

Many Thanks to Tina Workman and Fred Scott!

The Rockdale Historical Society – Tasks For The New Society

Precis of a talk delivered on 12th July, 1961, by Mr. W. Poster (Councillor of the Royal Historical Society of N.S.W. and Headmaster of the James Cook High School, Kogarah)

The chief task of any newly formed Historical Society is to add to the information already in existence.

The Rockdale Historical Society has an almost unlimited field in which to work.

James Cook, discoverer of this part of Australia and possibly the first white man to set foot in what is now the Rockdale Municipality,is comparatively unknown yet a wealth of information on him is available.

The same may be said of Arthur Phillip.

This district is particularly rich in family histories. Those of James Chandler whose estate “Bexley” covered a huge portion at the Rockdale Municipality and Alexander Brodie Sparkes whose home “Tempe House” still stands would each make a first class lecture.

No one has yet written a history of the Rockdale School of Arts yet all its records are still in existence. Only the Rockdale Methodist Church has written a history of its existence. The history of State and Federal Politics in this area is untouched despite the fact that this district produced some of the most colourful personalities of the early years.

Accuracy must be the keynote of all research. “Everything is wrong until it can be proved right”.

Where can this information be obtained?

Thanks to the foresight of David Scott Mitchell, Australia has an- unrivalled collection of its early history. Mitchell was an assiduous collector of Australiana. When he died in 1907 he left over .70,000 volumes and 6,000 manuscripts and diaries on Australia plus £70,000 for additional purchases. Australia, thanks to Mitchell, is the only country in the world which can trace its origins from its original beginnings. Today the collection numbers some 150,000 volumes.

Always go to the Mitchell Library where original manuscripts, newspapers and Statistical register and the Historical Records of N.S.W. are available. Secure a reader’s ticket and the rest is up to you.

Other places to obtain information include the Railways’ Department Historical Society, the Registrar General’s Department for early land grants and transfers. The Lands Department. The records of various churches, Municipal records and newspapers.

All are available to the genuine student of history.

This article was first published in the February 1962 edition of our magazine.

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No Ordinary Flag

In 1915, after the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli and as men around the country were joining the Australian Imperial Force, a small group at Bexley Public School took up their needles to support the war effort. By making a donation to the local fund to buy ‘comforts’ for the troops, donors could have their names embroidered on the flag. Fifty-nine donors came forward and raised £42.

Continue reading “No Ordinary Flag”