Nestling against a background of scarlet-flowered coral-trees in West Botany Street, Rockdale, is the former home of James Wilson, a four-roomed single-storied building built of cut ashlar stone, which once had a shingled roof, and still retains its small separate kitchen at the rear. It is possible that this old house, which is still occupied*, may have a claim to be the oldest cottage in the immediate district which was once known as the West Botany Farms.
It is understood that James Wilson came to New South Wales about 1850, accompanied by his wife and a family of eight children, four boys and four girls, aboard the good ship “THETIS”, James Wilson found employment as an overseer with Colonel Johnson, a somewhat irascible old gentleman who owned the large estate known as “ANNANDALE”, an extensive grant which is nowadays incorporated within the precincts of the present day suburb of Annandale. The men employed under Wilson came from all walks of life, and included Chinese amongst other eastern races, all working hard for a meagre pittance. There was a certain amount of sadistic cruelty about the actions of the top management regarding these men, a circumstance which did not make for harmony amongst the personnel, consequently when the “gold-rush” for the Sofala occurred most of the men left “Annandale” to make their fortunes, if possible, amidst the diggings and alluvial wash of the various creek beds at the Central West. After serving Colonel Johnson for some three years or so James Wilson came to live at West Botany Street, then little more than a bush track which ran northwards to dodge the rocky ramparts of Arncliffe Hill and to reach Rocky Point Road in the vicinity of Cooks River.
Here a block of heavily timbered land, bisected by Black (or Muddy) Creek was farmed as a vegetable garden, the four sons helping with the clearing, and preparation of the rich bottom land bordering the stream. It is surmised that the stone cottage was built at this early period to adequately house the large family.
The eldest son, John, married a widow named Isabella Grant, who had two sons by her first marriage, named John and Robert Grant, Two daughters arrived with her second marriage who bore the names Jeannie and Mary Wilson. John Wilson went to the gold fields to try his luck, like countless other people, but never returned and to this day his fate is unknown. His wife, Isabella, stayed at the home in West Botany Street until 1880, when she went to live at a cottage in Farr Street, Rockdale (then known as West Botany) for a couple of years. After this period she entered the household of Isaac Beehag where she remained until her death on October 20th, 1890. She was buried in the Wesleyan Cemetery in Bay Street, Rockdale, Her son, John Grant, became an Inspector of Fisheries, whilst the younger son, Robert Grant, became a skilled boat-builder in the employ of Harry Wicks of Botany.
Reverting to the family of James Wilson we find that the second eldest child was named Isabella, and eventually married Thomas Carruthers. The third child, Janet, married Oswald Harley, and then came David who was interested in horse breaking and horse dealing as a means of making a livelihood. In due course he married Sarah Brown, and the couple had a son who was also named David. Later this lad followed in his father’s footsteps as a horse dealer. There was also a daughter, Jeannie, of this marriage who wedded Jim Deed of Wollongong. The fifth child of James Wilson was a boy, named Francis, and at the age of maturity he married Lucy Gentle, whose father operated Gentle’s Brickworks in the Newtown area, The sixth child bore the lovely name of Ellen and she married Alfred Kebblewhite. Then came another James Wilson who, after his marriage, went to live in the country. It is believed that both Francis and James the younger were employed by the Railways Department. The eighth child was named Mary Ann, who later shared her life and fortunes with Isaac Beehag, a young man who lived with his gardening family on the south side of Bay Street, Rockdale.
James Wilson (senior) died on April 20th, 1869 at the age of 70 years and was buried in the Wesleyan Cemetery Bay Street, Rockdale. After his father’s death the house and property at West Botany Street was taken over by son David, who was listed as a horse-dealer in 1887 and again in 1900. His son, David, in turn, eventually took over the same property. Trouble with the end gabled walls of the old stone cottage was experienced about 1910, and to overcome their spreading apart Mr. Albert Mathieson installed internal bracing rodding, with screwed ends, running the full width of the building, the outer ends passing through large “Ess” shaped iron braces which, clamped against the outside of both end walls, held them firmly in position.
At this time the horse paddock belonging to the property was located at the rear of the cottage, whilst the extensive market garden, lying south-wards towards the creek, was cultivated by Chinese gardeners. These industrious gentlemen occupied a small galvanised-iron shanty on higher ground in the vicinity of the cottage.
The more recent events of the Wilson Household are unknown to the writers, but on March 7th, 1958, the property of 3 3/4 acres was acquired by the Cumberland County Council from the Estate of Lily Maud Loveday for town planning purposes. When this latter Council was dissolved the land and its ancient cottage were destined, so it is believed, to come into the possession of the Rockdale Municipal Council. The gardens, under lease-hold conditions, are still operated by Chinese people and are a pleasant picture of neat husbandry. At June 1970, the small stone cottage, then about one hundred and twenty years of age, was in occupation and its fabric maintained in fairly good condition*. However, its future seems to be uncertain as the”developers” are casting eyes on the valuable land, and the production of the so essential green foodstuffs for the community at large is, and always has been, the least of their worries. One can only hope that should the former property of James Wilson be developed it will be possible to find a new resting place, perhaps under museum conditions, of, perhaps, Rockdale’s oldest settler’s home, a true relic of the past.
The authors are indebted to Mrs. Beaman, Mr. C. W. Napper, and Mr. A. Matheson for kindly supplying much of the information contained in this article dealing with the affairs of James Wilson, a farmer of West Botany in the days of yore.
*(Ed: In 1999, Wilson’s Farmhouse was listed in the NSW State Heritage Register. In 2019, Bayside Council completed preservation and restoration works. The home is not occupied).
This article was first published in the May 2000 edition of our magazine.
Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney, came of an old and very distinguished Norfolk family who are still resident at the family seat, Raynham Hall, near the quaint Tudor market town of Fakenham. They first settled in the area in the early 15th Century and, with the exception of several years during the period of the Commonwealth when their lands were confiscated because of their Royalist sympathies, they have remained in this area ever since.
The first member of the family to come into prominence was Sir Roger Townshend, who sat in the House of Commons as M.P. for Calne in Wiltshire where the family also held large holdings. He was a lawyer of great eminence who was made the King’s Sergeant at Law in 1483, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1484 and was knighted by King Richard III in 1485. He married Eleanor Lunsford of Battle in Sussex who was related to the Sidney’s of Penshurst whose descendant, Viscount de L’Isle and Dudley was one of the last British born Governor’s General of Australia. Through her the family also acquired large estates in the County of Sussex.
There were three sons and three daughters of this marriage, the eldest of whom, also named Roger, succeeded his father as M.P. for Calne In 1493. He, too, had three sons. Robert, the eldest, followed his grandfather to become a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas and the second Chief Justice of Chester. Robert and his son, Richard both predeceased their father and grandfather who lived to the quite incredible age in those days of 94 and Roger Townshend was succeeded by his grandson, also called Roger.
This Roger Townshend succeeded to the family estates in 1551 and was knighted in 1588 on the recommendation of Charles, Lord Effingham, Lord High Admiral of England, for his spirited conduct against the Spanish Armada. His eldest son, John, who was M.P. for Norfolk also fought against the Spaniards and he, too, received a knighthood after the memorable Siege of Cadiz in 1596.
Sir John Townshend had two sons, John who was killed in a duel in 1603 and Roger, who succeeded him as the first baronet. This Sir Roger Townshend was M.P. for Oxford and later for Norfolk. His son, the second baronet, died childless and the title passed Li his younger brother, Horatio. Horatio was an avowed Monarchist, fought for and stood loyally beside Charles I during the Civil War and was stripped of both his title and his estates by the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. After the restoration of the Monarchy in 1661, however, he not only had his estates returned but for his loyalty to the King’s cause, was raised to the rank of a baron and in 1662, advanced to the dignity of a Viscount, Taking the title Viscount Townshend of Raynham.
Like so many of his predecessors, he also had three sons. The eldest, Charles, who succeeded him as the second Viscount, had a long and distinguished parliamentary career. He was Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, Britain’s Ambassador at The Hague and one of the Regents of the Realm during the Reign of George I. This last position was no sinecure for, during the reign of the first George, George spent much of his time out of England in his other Kingdom of Hanover and was the only British Monarch for over a thousand years not to be buried somewhere in England.
He held continual office as Secretary of State under George I and George II from 1714 to 1730 and was made a Knight of the Garter for his services. While Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, concentrated on the country’s domestic affairs, Townshend directed its Foreign Policy almost uninterrupted for nearly twenty years during which time he kept Britain at peace with its traditional enemies, the French, the Dutch and the Spaniards. His relations with the French were, in fact, too close for Walpole’s liking and in spite of the fact that he was Walpole’s brother-in-law, he was forced from office in 1730.
He then retired to his estates where he spent his final years experimenting with large scale turnip cultivation and the four course rotation of crops – a year of cereals, a year of legumes, a year of root crops and the fourth year fallow. Turnips up until that time had been cultivated only as a source of stock fodder and particularly as feed for pigs. Townshend espoused their health and medicinal properties and alone was responsible for their acceptance as food fit for human consumption. This earned him the nickname of “Turnip Townshend” by which he is best remembered whilst his considerable achievements as a Statesman are almost totally forgotten.
Charles Townshend had two sons, Charles the younger, who succeeded to the Title on his father’s death in 1738 and Thomas, who, apart from being M.P. for Cambridge, was an acknowledged Classical Scholar. He was born in 1701 and married in 1730, Albinia Selwyn, daughter of Colonel John Selwyn of Gloucestershire who, on 24th February 1733, presented him with a son and heir who was also baptised Thomas and is the gentleman about whom this story is set.
History has judged this man very harshly claiming that he possessed neither the intellect of his distinguished father nor the political perspicacity of his illustrious grandfather. He was educated at Eton College and attended Clare College at Cambridge where he succeeded in obtaining his Masters Degree in 1753. On 17th April 1754, at the age of 21, he was elected to the House of Commons for the pocket borough of Whitchurch in Hampshire where the family also held large estates and remained Member for that constituency for the next 29 years. For twenty of those years, he had the unusual distinction of sharing a place in parliament with his father who represented the Cambridge University seat until 1774.
A dissolute and a philanderer in his youth, he was known as “Tommy Townshend” but on 19th May 1760, he was married off to Elizabeth Powys, a tough and resourceful Suffolk heiress who smartly pulled him into line and apparently managed to keep him in the marital bed for she presented him with no less than twelve children, six boys and six girls over the succeeding fifteen years.
In 1756, he was appointed Clerk of the Household of the Prince of Les, a sinecure that ensured the Prince was aware of Government [icy on major issues of the day and sufficiently intimidated not to express opinions contrary to those of the governing political party and, the accession of the Prince of Wales to become King George III, he was appointed Clerk of the Board of Green Cloth, another sinecure designed to see that the King was always aware of how he was expected to react to any sudden changes in Government Policy. He was greatly influenced by his Great Uncle, the powerful Duke of Newcastle and vigorously opposed the expulsion of John Wilkes M.P. for Aylesbury from the House of Commons when he refused to withdraw his criticism of the King’s Speech from the Throne, was convicted of libel and accused of being a member of the Hell-Fire Club which held satanistic orgies at High Wycombe.
He also opposed Lord Grenville’s Stamp Act which imposed severe taxes on the American colonists and ultimately led to the War of American Independence declaring passionately that Grenville was treating the Americans with “levity and insult” and, with the outbreak of civil disobedience in the Americas in 1765, he fought the Committee Stages of the America Mutiny Bill clause by clause. His fierce loyalty to the King also saw him lead the opposition to the Regency Bill when the King was declared insane and incapable of carrying out his functions as Monarch. When offered a position at the Treasury in the administration of Lord Rockingham, he refused it unless William Pitt was also included in the Ministry and when Pitt declined to serve under Rockingham, was responsible for Rockingham’s resignation to make way for Pitt.
In 1765 at the age of 32 he became a Lord of the Treasury under his cousin, Charles and was a contemporary and friend of the greet orator, Edmund Burke. He was advanced to the position of Joint Paymaster of the Forces and held that office until 1768. Without commanding talents or brilliant eloquence, he appears to have been an honest and capable administrator and if he had no other attributes, he displayed an honourable consistency and loyalty during a period of great public corruption and dishonesty. In 1767 he was made a Member of the Privy Council but resigned all offices in 1768 when he was passed over for the position of Paymaster General.
He was an unapologetic Whig, i.e. a Liberal, and was out of office throughout the Tory Conservative ascendancy of Lord North between 1770 and 1780. During these ten years he was a particular critic of the Tory Government’s American policy urging conciliation and appeasement at every turn and strongly opposed the Tea Duty which he described as “frivolous and unnecessary” and which proved to be the spark which set the American War of Independence alight in 1775. Throughout the course of the War he was second only to the great orators, Charles James Fox and Edmund Burke in his condemnation of the conduct of the hostilities.
It was said of him that his abilities, though respectable, scarcely rose above mediocrity, yet he always spoke with facility, sometimes with energy and was never embarrassed by any degree of timidity and he maintained a conspicuous place in the front ranks of the Opposition. In 1769, Burke had said of him -“Had there been fuel enough of matter to feed that man’s fire, it would make a dreadful conflagration”. During the War of American Independence there was no lack of material and he habitually reproached the Government in the harshest language.
Perhaps it was unfortunate that he was constantly overshadowed by his more brilliant cousin, Charles Townshend, who was noted for his powerful oratory, masterful personality and shameful inconsistency. It was said that Charles Townshend lacked everything that was common common truth, common honesty, common sincerity, common steadiness and common sense ….. and it was only after his death at the age of 42 in 1767, that the true qualities of his less spectacular relative came to be appreciated. In 1770 he was proposed as Speaker of the House of Commons but declined the nomination.
The War of American Independence concluded in 1781 with Britain’s most ignominious defeat in its history and shortly after the Conservative Administration of Lord North fell. Rockingham again became Prime Minister and Thomas Townshend was appointed Secretary of State for War. To him devolved the responsibility of concluding the War and of representing Britain at the subsequent Treaty of Versailles. His conciliatory attitude to the Americans ensured that any animosity between the two proponents was kept to a minimum and above all else, his handling of the negotiations resulted in there being no lingering legacy of bitterness over the conflict. To him must go the credit for the special relationship that has existed ever since between the two leading English speaking nations of the world.
He also proved to be a master at out-manoeuvring America’s allies, the French and the Spanish who received few rewards for their support. The Peace, he said, was as good as Britain had the right to expect and a Peace that promised to be permanent. He belittled the concessions Britain had to make to France and Spain and declared that Britain should continue to consider the Americans as their brethren and give them as little reason as possible to feel they were still not British subjects.
So pleased was the Government with what he had been able to salvage from the War and his masterful handling of the Peace negotiations that in 1783 he was translated to the House of Lords with the title of Baron Sydney of Chislehurst. It is thought he took the name Sydney from his relatives, the Sydney’s (Sidney’s) of Penshurst, previously mentioned.
On 22nd January 1784, he was appointed Secretary of State for the Home Department which dealt with Colonial Affairs, a position he was to hold for the next five years when he was elevated to the title of Viscount Sydney of St. Leonards in the County of Gloucester.
The greatest single task that confronted him in his new portfolio was not what to do with Britain’s overcrowded jails and the stinking hulks which accommodated their overflow, as most Australian historians have suggested, but what to do with the 15,000 American loyalists of British origin who had returned to Britain after the War of American Independence. These settlers had lost everything because of the British Government’s bungling of the War and they demanded resettlement in some other part of Britain’s growing colonial empire.
Their leader was James Mario Matra who, despite his Corsican ancestry was actually an Englishman of Irish extraction who had been born in New York and educated in England. He had accompanied Captain Cook as a mid-shipman aboard the Endeavour and on his return to England was appointed British Consul in Teneriffe and later, Secretary of the British Embassy in Constantinople. In 1783 he returned to London where he soon became recognised as the leader of the American Loyalists resident in Britain.
Having sailed with Cook to Australia and having maintained a long-term friendship with Sir Joseph Banks, Matra was well aware of the potential for settlement there and in August 1783, he submitted to Lord Sydney, a proposition to resettle the American loyalists in N.S.W. he Government, however, had other priorities, not the least of which was he rebuilding of the British Navy which had been allowed to run down under the previous administration and had proved largely ineffective in the war with America.
Sydney at first showed little interest in the project until it was pointed out to him the country’s enormous potential for the growing of flax, a commodity much needed for the manufacture of ships’ sails and one that was in chronic short supply now that America had won its independence. Flax could also be made into hemp for rope and as Britain’s main supplies of this material came from Continental Europe, its availability was always at risk.
Matra tried again. This time his proposition was not only to resettle the loyalists in N.S.W. to grow flax but also to solve the problem of England’s overcrowded jails by sending the convicts to work as indenture servants under them. He finally won Sydney’s interest when he mentioned the huge stands of timber that lined the eastern seaboard of N.S.W.. Timber for rebuilding the Navy was also in short supply.
These factors, together with concern at France’s interest in the South Pacific following the expeditions of Count Jean de La Perouse, caused Sydney to reconsider his initial disdain of Matra’s proposals and by May 1785, a plan had been formulated which encompassed nearly all of Matra’s suggestions. By this time, however, most of the loyalists, tired of waiting for the Government to decide their future, had returned to North America and settled in Nova Scotia. They apparently bore Sydney no ill will as they named the capital of their settlement, Sydney, after him.
As they were now no longer a consideration in Sydney’s deliberations, he decided to press ahead with a settlement in N.S.W. composed largely of convicts. Despite what some historians would have us believe, there Is no evidence that ridding Britain’s jails of their convict inhabitants was a major priority of the British Government at the time. These unfortunates had long been a handy source of cheap labour which was used extensively on public works projects such as dredging sand and silt to keep Britain’s ports accessible to the sea. Only an outbreak of disease on the insanitary hulks in 1783 had caused the re-settlement of their occupants to even be a consideration. In any case, the Government was more inclined to send them to Canada or the West Coast of Africa. The plan put forward by Matra was placed before Lord Sydney in January 1785 and adopted by the Government early the next year.
Present day historians are quick to condemn the convict system and Britain’s sponsorship of it and there is no doubt that in many of its aspects it was a cruel and degrading system but by the standards of its day, it was the most enlightened form of penal administration the world had ever seen. Other European countries simply hanged their criminal classes in vast numbers or used them in chained gangs in their mines, galleys and quarries and other places considered totally unsuited for any creatures other than animals. The British convict system with its limited sentences and remissions for good behaviour was the first penal system in the world which offered its participants any hope of rehabilitation and release.
On 18th August 1786, Sydney wrote to the Lords of the Treasury asking that an adequate provision be made, a proper number of vessels be made available to conduct the convicts to their destination and two Naval vessels be provided to escort them.
It was the prerogative of Lord Howe, First Lord of the Admiralty, Britain’s most distinguished naval officer, an able administrator and a man of immense personal prestige, to decide who should command the expedition but Sydney made It quite clear to Howe that the man he believed had the capacity for the task was Captain Arthur Phillip. Not only did Howe resent this usurping of his authority but he stated quite categorically that he did not think Phillip had the qualities for the task that were required. Phillip was well known to Sydney as the vast Townshend estates in Hampshire adjoined the modest estate at Lyndhurst owned by Phillip. It Is not generally realised that Phillip was also accomplished farmer as well as being a competent and successful naval officer.
Sydney was often criticised during his years in office as being insensitive and a poor judge of men, but he could also be a very determined man and backed by Sir George Rose, Treasurer of the Navy, who also lived near Phillip, he stood his ground against the opposition of Lord Howe. His selection of Arthur Phillip was a stroke of genius.
Phillip was 48 years of age, short of stature and slight of build. His father had been a refugee Jewish language teacher from Frankfurt in Germany but his mother was the widow of Captain John Herbert of the Royal Navy. It was she who determined that her son’s career was to be that of a naval officer. Unfortunately for his mother’s ambitions, Phillip’s advent to the Navy coincided with the longest period of peace in Britain’s history and whilst he made steady progress through the ranks, he spent much of his time farming on his estate in Hampshire because there simply wasn’t anything else for him to do. He had a small, narrow face, a thin aquiline nose, full lips and a sharp, powerful voice. He was intelligent, active, kind but firm, lacking a sense of humour but above all else, intensely humane.
It is believed he accepted this comparatively mediocre assignment partly to satisfy his desire for adventure and his wish to command but mainly to get away from his wife, Margaret, who, from all accounts, was a harridan of the first order. He made meticulous preparations for the voyage ahead. No Australian historian has ever given this outstanding man his full due and it was significant that during our Bicentenary Celebrations in 1988, the exploits of this truly great man received hardly a mention.
No subject is more open to abuse and misinterpretation than history and few historians, particularly Australian ones, have ever let the facts interfere with a good story or justification for a cause. The facts of the Eureka Stockade, for example, bear little relationship to the popularly held concept of a heroic group of harassed and oppressed miners fighting for justice against corrupt authority. It is, in fact a sordid story of treachery, intrigue, cowardice and betrayal on a grand scale. The story of Ned Kelly is another but perhaps the worst distortion of all is the story that the degradation of the Australian aboriginal is due to the fact that a British Colonial settlement was established in Australia.
When Lord Sydney drew up his guidelines for the establishment of the settlement at Botany Bay, they contained detailed and specific instructions. After securing the company from any attacks by the natives Phillip was to proceed to the cultivation of the land. All convicts not needed in the production of food were to cultivate the flax plant. He was to grant full liberty of conscience and free exercise of all modes of religious worship not prohibited by law provided his charges were content with a quiet enjoyment of the same and he was to emancipate from their servitude any of the convicts who should, by their good conduct and disposition to industry, be deserving of favour and to grant them land, victual them for twelve months and equip them with such grain, cattle, sheep and hogs as might be proper and could be spared.
Nowhere were these instructions more specific than how Phillip was to treat the native inhabitants of the country. He was instructed to make contact with them, to establish and maintain friendly relations with them, to respect their culture and traditions and above all, to see that they were not ill-treated in any way. And he took these instructions very seriously indeed.
From the time he landed at Sydney Cove he interested himself in the life of the natives and did his utmost to win and keep their friendship. At first he seemed to have succeeded despite the fact that La Perouse had fired on them at Botany Bay and there were inevitable incidents between some of the convicts and the aboriginal women and there is no evidence that the aborigines resented the advent of the whiteman or that they tried to drive them out. They actually showed some admiration for their power and especially their leader whose missing front tooth apparently possessed some symbolic value. Even after he was wounded by a spear at Manly when one native misinterpreted his gesture of friendship as a hostile act, Phillip sought to maintain harmony while gradually persuading the aborigines of the superiority of the culture he brought with him.
Anyone who interfered with or ill-treated the natives during Phillip’s time in Australia was severely punished and he refused to allow retaliation against the natives when several of the convicts were speared when found in places they had been specifically instructed to avoid. The degradation and the ill-treatment of the aborigines dates from a much later period in our history and reached its peak when the discovery of gold brought to this country the very dregs of many nations motivated by greed and hell bent on exploiting everything it had to offer including its native inhabitants. Even Manning Clark, whose anti-British obsessions are well known, has had to admit Phillip treated the natives with the utmost kindness.
All that aside, it is doubtful if Phillip ever envisaged the settlement he established in Sydney Cove growing to a great metropolis of over three million inhabitants for whilst he certainly did name the bay on the shores of which the first convicts landed, Sydney Cove, after Lord Sydney he never at any stage named the settlement after his mentor. The name simply devolved from the bay on which it was set.
Shortly after the first reports on the establishment of the settlement at Sydney Cove reached London, in June 1789, Lord Sydney was forced out of office with a sinecure worth £2,500 a year and a viscountcy. He spoke only once more in the House of Lords in October 1789 then retired to his estates at Chislehurst in Kent. On 13th June 1800, Thomas Townshend, Viscount Sydney of St. Leonards in the County of Gloucester, died of apoplexy at the age of 67.
Of Australia’s six capital cities, Adelaide bears the name of a queen, Melbourne the name of a British Prime Minister, Brisbane the name of an early Governor and Perth, Hobart and Sydney the names of cabinet ministers. Is, then, Sydney, a worthy enough name for one of the world’s most beautifully sited cities?
Thomas Townshend has been described as a man without commanding talents or brilliant eloquence though he appears to have been an honest and capable administrator. In another age when he did not have to bear comparison with such historic figures as Charles James Fox, Edmund Burke and William Pitt, history may have been kinder to him. He was, at the very least, a good example of the noblesse oblige which served Britain so well over many centuries when men of wealth and privilege who had neither worldly goods nor prestige to gain, devoted their lives to the service of their country and to the betterment of their fellow man.
No biography has ever been written about him and no record of his achievements has ever been enshrined. He was, however, a man of peace and understanding and great humanity in an age when these qualities were often considered to be a sign of weakness. He was a capable negotiator, a conscientious public servant and a man of surprising strong will when the occasion demanded it.
And if there is no other reason why I believe he deserves our thanks and our honour, it was his choice of Arthur Phillip to establish the settlement In N.S.W. – a decision which ensured the success of this venture and the sound establishment of the nation we are all so proud to call our home today.
Based on information contained in the Mitchell Library of N.S.W., a biography of Arthur Phillip by Thea Stanley Hughes, the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Cassell’s Picturesque Australia, Records of the Library of the House of Commons particularly The History of the House of Commons 1754 -1790 kindly supplied by the Chief Librarian and family papers made available by George John, 7th Viscount Townshend of Raynham.
This article was first published in the May 1990 edition of our magazine.
Isaac Beehag was the eldest son of James and Mary Beehag, being born on July 18th, 1841, the address of his parents then being listed at Liverpool Road, Canterbury. In 1852 the farm property at Canterbury was sold and Isaac, together with the rest of the family, came to reside on a grant of seventy-nine acres, made to James Beehag, which ranged along the southern side of the present Bay Street, Rockdale, then known as West Botany. At the age of eighteen Isaac augmented the limited family income by cutting firewood in the Black Forest (now Hurstville), carting it by dray to Sydneytown and hawking it through the back streets for sale to householders in need of fuel for their domestic fires.
About 1860 Isaac Beehag married Miss Mary Ann Wilson, the daughter of a neighbour who lived nearby in West Botany Street, It may be mentioned that Mary Ann’s old home, built of ashlar sandstone, still stands at 1970, although at this late date it appears to be occupied by Chinese gardeners. There were ten children of the marriage but unfortunately their first-born son, named James, died at the early age of five years. Then came Isabella, who married James Godfrey in August 1890. Ellen, married Thomas Jordan of Kogarah on March 17th, 1886. William, married Alice Fry of Sofala about 1891 or 1892, Maria, married Frank Fletcher Bancroft (a messenger at the Rockdale post-office) in March 1904, Margaret, who left Sydney in September 1904 for South Africa to marry Alec Burden, formerly of Climpton Street, Rockdale, Elizabeth, married Elias Godfrey in 1890. George, married Katherine Clissold of Arncliffe about 1894-5. Alfred, married Mary Jane Cary of Bexley, (related to the Parkes family), and Mary Ann married Francis Walter Worthington on April 14th, 1914, in South Africa. This latter couple returned to New South Wales in 1924 and the husband died in 1944, Mary Ann then married Thomas Beaman, a former schoolmate, at Moorebank on April 14th, 1958, This gentleman died in October 1960. Mary Ann, now a charming lady, approaching her 90th year, is still hale and hearty and is the last of the children of Isaac Beehag, a large and pioneering family with many descendants living in the St. George District.
About 1878 Isaac Beehag was still listed as a carter, and it has been stated that he was the first Town Clerk of the West Botany Council, which then met at Arncliffe. This clerical work was evidently carried out in an honorary capacity, possibly at the instigation of his father who was a local Alderman and fulfilled the position of Mayor for the second, third, fifth, and sixth years of the Council’s activities.
It was in the early 1880s, or thereabouts, that Isaac Beehag disengaged himself from gardening and wood carting pursuits and became established as a dairyman on his Uncle William Beehag’s property around Spring Creek in the eastern portion of present day Banksia. The dairy farm ranged along the shallow northern slopes of Rockdale Hill against the alignment of Tabrett Street where a herd of cows, some Ayrshire, and others of the Illawarra breed, some red coated, some white, and others a mixture of both colours, The dairy farm supplied the needs of customers living throughout the Kogarah, Rockdale, Bexley, and Arncliffe suburbs.
One particularly white cow, named “Lily”, was a favourite of the milking personnel, but another animal, known by the distinctive name of “lronbark”, proved tough to milk and was far from popular. A good cow gave upwards of thirty quarts of milk per day (seven and a half gallons) which is a remarkable output. As cows do not recognise Sunday as a day of rest the milking team had no Sabbath rest from their everyday chores, although the roundsmen had the afternoon off. To feed the cows it required the energy of two men, one to turn the handle of the chaff-cutter, and the other to feed hay into the machine. The chaff thus gained, together with a mixture of bran and corn-meal, had to be cooked on two occasions each day and formed the staple diet of the dairy herd. The cooking process was carried out in a huge iron cauldron, about four and a half feet in diameter, heated by a wood fire placed beneath.
Isaac Beehag is reputed to have been the first local dairyman serving the then somewhat scattered community, per medium of two milk-carts and three cart-horses. In between whiles he also indulged, so it has been said, in a little market-gardening as a sideline, A weekly load of vegetables were taken by dray to the city markets for sale, and when there was a surfeit of green foodstuffs it was occasionally necessary to bring the load back to the garden, a heartbreaking journey as no money had been obtained to offset the hardwork involved, the digging, planting, watering, and the gathering, washing, and bundling, all a dead loss, apart from providing luscious tit-bits to the ever hungry cows. It may be mentioned that Spring Creek, a clear pellucid stream of those days, bordered the garden property and its waters were dammed by a sluice gate, to conserve the necessary water for distribution by watering cans amongst the various growing beds. The banks of the creek were lined with quince-trees, the fruit of which proved saleable for jam-making. The crops grown comprised beans, cabbages, carrots, peas, turnips, and such like, whilst the bed of the creek proved ideal for water-cress, then in great demand for salads.
The Beehag family at this time lived in a small cottage with slab walls located near Tabrett Street, Banksia, on the higher and dryer portion of the land. The double-fronted facade was not provided with a verandah, the door opening from the outside path, whilst each of the front rooms had its small paned glass windows. The living room was at the north-eastern corner of the house and had an outside brick fireplace, broad based at the lower end, with its small rectangular shaped flue projecting above the roof ridge. A narrow verandah, flagged with sandstone slabs, led past the window of the living room to give access from the rear door to a single width separate kitchen which had its chimney (fitted with a “Colonial Oven”) placed outside the slab walls. The cottage, free from any adornment, was purely functional in its character.
The four interior rooms intercommunicated with each other and were each lined with hessian, this rough woven material being nailed direct to the inside face of the slab walls. The hessian was well papered to prevent draughts and the entry of the dreaded night air. Candles and oil lamps provided lighting at night, being carried from room to room as required. Large circular shaped tubs, and a clothes boiler were provided for the weekly washing programme, the water being obtained from either one of the three wells which were close handy to the rear of the premises. The buckets, dangling at the end of a rope, were raised and lowered hand over hand at the well-head and carried to the house. The water supply for the cattle was also handled in this manner, although further supplies were obtained from the neighbouring Spring Creek and its sluice dam.
It has been stated that Mary Ann Beehag, the good housewife, found a cool place for the butter at the base of the living room chimney, where the circulating breeze passing up the flue had the definite advantage of keeping down the temperature. An exploring snake wriggling in from the neighbouring market garden also found the chimney hearth to its liking, and was not above having a snack from the butter container. Great was the excitement amongst the household when the presence of the snake was discovered. Isaac raced for his shot-gun whilst a daughter was sent to play suitable music on the parlour harmonium, music calculated to inspire the snake to get a wriggle on. One would appreciate a knowledge of the tune played on this momentous occasion, apparently it was alluring enough to bring the snake from its hiding place into the living room, where Isaac gave it a blast from his shot-gun, causing injuries from which it did not recover.
For reasons which are now obscure it became necessary for Isaac Beehag to vacate the dairy farm at Tabrett Street as from about 1887, and take his cow bails and milking sheds etc, together with “Lily” and “Ironbark” and the rest of the herd of cows to a small wind-swept paddock at the crest of Arncliffe Hill, Little if any agistment was available at the new site and it was necessary to seek pasture land elsewhere, the animals being driven out and returned daily under the custody of a herdsman. A sufficient supply of fresh water was a big problem and daily trips had to be made to the unnamed creek flowing into Cooks River in the vicinity of the Cooks River Dam at Tempe. The family lived in a large two-storied weatherboard house, which, it is presumed, still stands adjacent to the present day Pitt Owen Avenue, a poplar tree-lined cul-de-sac once aptly known as Cliff Street, Arncliffe. The large house is now converted to a series of residential flats. Nearby and facing Forest Road was a small weatherboard building, flanked by pepper-trees, said to have been Arncliffe’s first general store, an emporium which has long vanished from the scene. The stay of the Beehag menage off Forest Road only lasted about eighteen months, as the site proved most unsuitable in every way, and a move was made in 1888 to the orchard property of Mr. Ferrier, located in the Upper Spring Creek valley, on the lower northern slopes of Bexley Hill, where grazing and living conditions were more to the liking of the large family.
The Ferrier’s house was a single-storied place, with perhaps six main rooms, situated at the then eastern terminal of Herbert Street. Beneath the wooden floor of a large verandah was a deep well, its trap-door covered by a long table, the water being raised by means of a hand-operated pump for household purposes and then carried in buckets to the section of the house where the previous liquid was required.
The orchard ground was spread over eighteen acres of which some eight acres were devoted to fruit growing. There were seven varieties of apple-trees, plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, orange-trees, mandarin trees, medlars, figs, mulberries, cape-gooseberries, grapes, damson plums, and also a flattish variety of Japanese plum. Guavas of both the small red and the large yellow varieties flourished and it is believed that an attempt had been made, without success, to grow pineapples.
In these shall we say fruitful surroundings the cows, some thirty in all, led a contented life, although, sad to relate, a couple died through the inroads of a particularly wet winter. These beasts, in good condition, each having a sale price of about thirty pounds cash. Evidently the place was unhealthy as Isaac Beehag also took a sickness and about 1891 he moved, with his family and cow sheds and other paraphernalia, to Mr. Stapletons old home, known as Pembroke Park, at Kingsgrove. Here they occupied a weatherboard cottage, with two attic rooms, which was located opposite Smithson’s famous wine-bar on Stoney Creek Road.
The family lived in these quarters until 1893 when Isaac Beehag decided to return to his earlier haunts at Tabrett Street. During his absence from this scene the old slab hutment had been demolished and a new cottage, built by the then owner of the “Belmont” property, Mr. Samuel Beehag, was ready for occupation. Isaac brought his now almost portable cow-sheds and bails from Kingsgrove and re-erected them on their original site. The cows were driven overland to their former pasture ground and everybody was happy. It is unfortunate that Isaac died in June 1894, leaving his good wife to carry on the dairy business until about 1901 when, her health having failed, the business as a going concern was sold to an Englishman named Joseph Moreton. It may be mentioned that the entrance gate to the new dairy farm was opposite to the intersection of Gibbes Street with Tabrett Street.
It has been related that Isaac Beehag was either the first, or the second, person to be buried in the then newly opened Woronora Cemetery at Sutherland, Mr, Charles Fripps being the registrar. In due course his beloved and industrious wife was laid to rest beside him, The Tabrett Street farm has long departed, and its place is now occupied by rows of modern bungalows, a housing estate served by Chestnut Drive and a pair of cul-de-sacs.
This article was first published in the May 2000 edition of our magazine.
Another recently published book! The author, John Bailey has written two much praised books on Australian history: The White Divers of Broome and Mr Stuart’s Track, and this book is sure to be another. There has not been much non-specialist writing published on Leichhardt and this book fills a gap. Leichhardt’s life story and accomplishments as an explorer have often been overshadowed by the sensational fact of his disappearance and by Patrick White’s novel Voss vaguely based on his character.
What do we learn from this biography? Firstly, how well educated Leichhardt was. Born to a poor farming family in the village of Trebatsch in Prussia, the sixth of nine children, he was sent at the age of six to a boarding school in a nearby village. As the author points out, except for holidays, he never lived with his family again. From there at the age of eleven he won a place against stiff competition in the Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium in Cottbus. There is much fascinating detail about the political background of the Prussian defeat by Napoleon and the course the Emperor Friedrich-Wilhelm took to strengthen his country by reforming the education system and army.In 1831 at age eighteen, he graduated with the “Abitur” and entered the Fiedrich-Wilhelm University of Berlin (now Humboldt University) where he studied for six years (with a” Wanderjahr” (wander-year) at Gottingen University in the German tradition), constantly changing courses until he struck on the natural sciences which fired his interest.
Since childhood, he had been fascinated by the travels and scientific discoveries of Alexander von Humboldt in Latin America and longed to emulate them. A holiday walking and camping in the Harz mountains strengthened this resolve. A friendship with two English brothers John and William Nicholson led to a trip to England and a period in London then Paris, studying the collections at the famous museums in these cities and attending the free lectures offered by these institutions as well as walking tours in France and Switzerland observing and collecting plants and rocks. One problem faced Leichhardt – like all young Prussian men he was required to spend a time in the military, which interested him not at all and which he tried to avoid.
Finally with the help of William Nicholson, whose brother was migrating to Australia, Leichhardt set out on the Sir Edward Paget in 1841 bound for Sydney. He felt Providence had offered him a chance to lead the life he had always wanted in a land where so many mysteries both geographical and natural needed to be solved. From the moment he arrived he was fascinated by the land and determined on leading a journey of exploration as soon as he could. He travelled extensively in the Hunter region and northern N.S.W. and Queensland, sleeping rough and learning how to live on the land. In 1844 he began his first and most successful journey to Port Essington (near present day Darwin).The account of this expedition is harrowing. The expedition was meagrely funded and Leichhardt made poor choices in the men to accompany him. Nevertheless in 1845, after most people in the colony had given him up as dead, he and his ill-assorted companions reached Port Essington. On the journey Leichhardt’s hardiness, botanical knowledge and willingness to try eating “Everything that grew, flew, swam, hopped, ran or slithered” saved them from starvation: bandicoot, a joey, kangaroo, cockatoo, lorikeet, emu, fish, eels, mussels, goanna, snakes, native lemons, nonda plums, palm hearts, bush honey, caper bush berries cassia pods cordia tree fruit all were consumed when flour, tea and sugar ran out. He even found passable substitutes for coffee and tea!
On his return to Sydney, he was lionised by society, which did not suit him at all and he hurried to plan and begin another expedition to cross the continent and reach the Swan River settlement. This was an unmitigated disaster: constant rain, sickness and dissension among another ill-assorted group forced him to abandon the attempt. Humiliated by this disaster and by hostile stories spread by his former companions, convinced Providence was deserting him, he hastened to set out again in 1848. On 5th April he and his six companions rode out from Cogoon Station in the Darling Downs heading west and were never seen again.
The author details attempts to find him or any remains-over nine different expeditions with little result. After all, there is a huge area to cover and Leichhardt did not give any precise indications of which way he intended to go. Bailey also lists the common explanations of what could possibly have happened to the group-no theory has any persuasive evidence to back it. All that remains is a nameplate from a gunstock-not even the stock itself was kept. The gunstock was found wedged into a fork in a tree and no-one could explain how it came to be there as no other items or bodies were found anywhere near.
John Bailey has written a detailed and intriguing account of one of the most mysterious episodes in Australian colonial history. His portrait of Leichhardt -driven by a thirst for knowledge, by an insatiable desire to explore the unknown- is compelling. Highly recommended to all who love biography and mystery.
This article was first published in the January 2012 edition of our magazine.
I have been asked by Mr Philip Geeves, Historian for the St. George District, Sydney, N.S.W., to write some of my early memories of Bexley; also to give a brief outline of the life and work of my father, John Saunders Middenway. I remember so much that it is difficult to know what to record and what to leave unwritten.
We went to Bexley towards the end of 1895, when I was nine years old. We had been living in Wagga, where my Father had been Headmaster of Gurwood Street School.
Father was born in Sydney, when his parents were living in a house near the Observatory, somewhere in the vicinity of Fort Street School, on April 24th, 1855. Later his parents moved to Woolloomooloo Bay. Part of the backyard of their home was a sandy beach, washed by the waters of the bay. That was before the reclamation was carried out, and the bay was filled in as far inshore as the old Fish Markets. His father, of Dutch descent (Gerritt Hendrick Middenway), was an engineer at “The Sydney Morning Herald” office. He died as the result of an accident while working there. His mother was an Englishwoman) whose first husband was Captain Spicer, an English Military Officer on duty in New Zealand during the Maori uprising in March 1845.
My grandmother was the first white woman living at Russell, in the Bay of Islands, in the north of New Zealand. I did not know either my grandmother or grandfather as they had died some years before I was born. After her first husband died, Grandmother came to Sydney where she married Grandfather. She had two children by the first marriage, and three Sons by the second. Father was the youngest.
Father was educated to the age of 14 years, at Fort Street School, Sydney, as also was my mother, Sarah Elizabeth Venteman, also of Dutch descent on her father’s side. Father left Fort Street, and became a pupil teacher at Paddington School. He received- instruction before and after school hours from the headmaster, and taught a class of boys during the day, many of them being older than he. He later became an Assistant at Paddington School. When he was about 20 years old, he was appointed Master of Clarence Town School. While there he and Mother were married. (Their parents had been friends before either of them was born.) They had 3 sons: Frank, Arthur & Gerritt Hendrick (Dick).
Father was teaching at Clarence Town for five and a half years. He as then transferred to Greta at that time a very small coal mining town. He was there for 11 1/2 years. My sister Ada Oliver, and I were born in Greta. From Greta we went to Wagga Wagga. My youngest- brother, John Reginald (known as “Reg” as a child, and “Jack” as…. he grew older) was born while we were living in Wagga.
After being at Gurwood Street school for three years, an exchange was arranged with Mr Hume, Headmaster at Bexley. Mr Hume did not have good health, and as Bexley was not far from the coast, he wished to move to a drier and warmer climate. Father was only too pleased to make the change as his children were growing up; the eldest, Frank, was then in charge of North Wagga School. He was 19, and the next 3 children were aged from 18 to 14 years. He realised it was a good opportunity to give them the advantage of living near a city.
After the town of Wagga, with a main street nearly 2 miles long, and which even then in 1895, had 46 hotels, Bexley was quite a small village in comparison. The school, two or three small shops, two churches and a tiny Post Office, with a number of scattered houses, comprised Bexley. (On thinking back, I believe the Church of England was the only Church and that the Presbyterian Church was built later.) One side of Harrow Road was fairly well built on, but the district near the school was not nearly so closely settled. The Post Office was a tiny, whitewashed building of the very early type seen in the country many years ago, with a low corrugated iron roof, and built almost flat on the ground. It was in Forest Road, on the western side, in about the same position as the Community Centre occupies, near the top of Harrow Road. I believe it was attended by a Mrs Pearse. There were quite a number of people of that name living in Bexley then. Several of that name came to school. I remember a Charlie Pearse being in my class.
There was a larger cottage of the same type as the Post Office on part of the ground where Bexley school now stands. Granny Parkes (she was never known by any other name) lived there with her, daughter and son-in-law, Mr & Mrs Luck, in their family. Granny Parkes appeared to grandmother or close relative of nearly all the school children. I think she must have belonged to one of the earliest families to settle in Bexley. I would think by the style and age of the cottage that it was her original home. Mr Luck was a wood & coal merchant. They lived opposite the school residence, or “school house” as we called it, where we lived. It faced Forest Road, the ground went to the corner of Bay View Street. The house has been demolished for some years.
Mr Luck’s house was similar to the Post Office, only larger; very low roofed, whitewashed, & almost flush with the ground. It had a 3 roomed frontage. The 3rd room had no connecting door with the rest of the house, so the person occupying that room had to go out into the open when he wanted to go to bed, which was not too comfortable on a cold night.
One of Mr Luck’s sons was a teacher at the school when we arrived. Other teachers Were Miss Rose Simpson, Miss Woods & Miss Swan, who was a member of one of the highly respected, earlier families to settle in Parramatta.
From the verandah of the school house we had a fine view of part of Botany Bay, the high ground on which Long Bay Gaol is built, the district round the northern end of the bay and beyond, near where Bunnerong Power Station now stands. It wasn’t long before houses were built at the top end of Frederick Street (near Forest Road) & on the spare ground opposite the old school, blocking out much of our view; but on turning into Frederick Street on my way to the train or to the Congregational Church, Rockdale, which we attended, & where I was for many years Church Organist, I always had immense pleasure from the view of Botany Bay, Bare Island, Cape Banks Solander (“The Heads”), Kurnell, then in its native state, forming a dark green background to the obelisk which was erected to mark, the first landing on Australian soil. All this could be seen very plainly on a clear day (before the days of factories & smoke to take away the clearness of the atmosphere); the whole picture being highlighted by the blue of the bay the distant ocean showing between Botany Bay Heads. Eventually that view was also blocked out, as the large expanse of open country in that area was subdivided & streets & houses took the place of open ground.
The first night we spent in Bexley, it was decided that we would sleep at my Aunt’s home in Judd Street, Rockdale Park (or at least some of us would) as our furniture having come by train, was still partially unpacked. (I remember my job was to unwind yards & yards of strips of rag which had been wrapped round the legs of our dining room suite; how different from the easy way of moving furniture now!)
Rockdale Park is now Banksia, the name being changed when Banksia Railway Station was built. (Jannali & Allawah Stations were also built during our time at Bexley.) To go to Rockdale Park we crossed Frederick Street & Herbert Street. It was very dark, no lights anywhere. Soon we found ourselves stumbling over row after row of what we later found out to be grass covered furrows. It had been cultivated ground some time before. We were told later that it had been part of an orchard owned by Mr Lauff or his father. They lived in Lauff Street, a street running off Railway Street, Rockdale, towards the higher land on which Bexley is now built, on which was the furrowed ground we stumbled across that night. (Lauff Street was about the second or third street from Frederick Street, running parallel with it.) The furrowed land stretched from the foot of the grounds belonging to “Lydham Hall”, the large stone house on Lydham Hill, which was near what are now Oswell and Clarence Streets. After crossing the furrowed ground we eventually came to some rocks down which we had to scramble to get to the lower ground of Rockdale Park, not far from what was then Caincross’s dairy.
It is all laid out now with streets and cottage homes. Mr Alec Sutherland was the first builder to buy land & erect cottages for letting or selling on terms in that area; in fact, I think possibly in Bexley. He was a Deacon of the Congregational Church. Why all the streets in that area were named Herbert, Frederick, Oswell, Clarence, etc., I am at a loss to know. I don’t know if these boys’ names had any historical significance or not. I never heard anyone speak of it, but I do think a little more originality could have been shown.
The street lighting in 1895 was most primitive and inadequate. The lamps were very few and far between, and many of the footpaths were not made. Frederick Street after rain was anything but pleasant to walk in, especially at night. One could easily be bogged as the ground was composed of clay in parts and would be very slippery and dangerous to walk on. Later the centre was laid with a path of bricks, about 3′ wide. The light from the street lamps was practically of no sue at all as the lamps were lit by gas. To the time of our leaving Bexley in 1917, there was no electricity. The school building had no lighting whatsoever. If a meeting was held there, it had to take place in the daylight hours, or those attending had to take kerosene lamps, storm lanterns, candles, etc., to light the room in which the meeting was held. Often lanterns were carried to church or meetings which were attended at night as the street lighting was so poor.
When we first went to Bexley we would see the lamplighter carrying his little step ladder over his shoulder every evening as he went on his rounds lighting the lamps.
Later, when incandescent burners were introduced, he used a stick with a hook on the end. There were two chains with rings attached at the end, hanging from the burner. To light the lamp, one of the rings would be pulled down and the burner would light. In the morning he would come round again and pull the other ring and the light would dim, but not go out. It was then ready to light in the evening by repeating the process.
Incandescent lights had a great habit of burning holes in the asbestos mantle if the light was pulled up too quickly, or exposed to a draught. The lamplighter must have spent as much time renewing mantles as lighting lamps.
An area which changed tremendously after we had left Bexley was along Forest Road from the old school to Preddy’s Road. There were no streets running off Forest Road from Stoney Creek Road corner to Preddy’s Road, and there were only two houses in all that distance. The houses and the land belonging to them occupied the whole of that space.
They were Preddy’s home “Besborough” and “Kinsel Grove”, the home of the Kinsela family. The Freddy home was fairly large, but “Kinsel Grove” built by Mr Kinsela, founder of the firm of that name, was a large square stately home, standing in park-like grounds with a tennis court and carriage drive on the rise between Forest and Stoney Creek Roads. In the parklands from the house to the corner of these two roads were animals and birds roaming under the large trees. I am not quite clear as to the kind of animals they were. If my memory is correct, there were kangaroos, emus and deer. It was all very peaceful, and has left a delightful memory; the large shady trees, the tiny creek running through the grounds and the animals grazing; the green grass and tiny stream giving food and drink to the animals. There was also an animal shelter built for bad weather.
On the eastern side of Forest Road, from Dunmore Street to Queen Victoria Street, there were about three large houses, possibly four. One near the top of the hill was occupied by the Macleod family. Mr. Macleod’s brother was Dr Macleod of Rocky Point Road, Rockdale (now I think known as “Princes Highway”). The girls came to school with me, – Jessie, Flora and I think there was a third girl.
The Wyndhams lived in a house nearer Dunmore Street; Hilda and Vera were also at school with me.
From the corner of Queen Victoria Street, looking towards Carlton, there was a large open common. Away in the distance could be seen a few houses. I would say those houses which were seen in the distance would be within walking distance of Carlton Railway Station.
Other large houses in Bexley, Arncliffe and Rockdale are worth mentioning, as also are the families who lived in them.
Mr Gibbins lived in a large home on Wollongong Road, about half way between Bexley and Arncliffe. I have been told that he accumulated his money in the pearl fishing industry. Before we left Bexley, the house had been taken over by the Salvation Army as a “Girls’ Home”. Another residence was purchased about the same time by the Salvation Army, as a “Boys’ Home”. It stood on the top of the hill between the first and second gullies. Miss Gibbins married Mr David Stead, for many years a leading official in the Government Fisheries Dept. They lived for some time with their family of young children at “Lydham Hall”. Christina, a daughter of Mr Stead by a previous marriage (known at school as “Peggie”) was a very, quiet & almost shy girl when at school. She later wrote a book which was wonderfully received. The reviews were the most outstanding I have ever read. It took the bankers & men of the financial world by storm. It was stated in effect that never before had a woman shown such insight and understanding in matters of finance.
Mr Clayton, a well known Sydney solicitor, lived with his family at “Myee” near the junction of Wollongong and Forest Roads. Hector later became a solicitor and Harry became a doctor. Both these boys were at school with me. I am told the home is now a Babies’ Home or Hospital.
“Esrom” Convalescent Hospital, which is connected with the Rachel Forster Hospital, Sydney, was once the home of the Cormack family. It was later bought by Mr Torn Morse (one of a large family of that name, who married & settled in the St. George district some years previously). He named the house “Esrom” which is the name “Morse” spelt backwards. They were still living there when we left Bexley.
Mr. W.G. Judd, who had at one time a business interest in the Hurstville Brick Works, was a very much respected & well like member of the community. He was always a most enthusiastic member of any organisation of which he was a member. He was Mayor of Rockdale for some time. He was much interested in the Congregational Church. He lived at “Athelstane” in Wollongong Road, Arncliffe. He owned a large piece of land adjoining his house. This he made available for the use of the church football and cricket clubs. He was very interested in young people, & on occasions he & his wife would entertain a number of them at his week-end cottage in a delightful setting at Howie Bay. My first drive in a motor car was with Mr & Mrs Judd. I’ll never forget it. Mr Judd sped at 34 miles per hour!! It was an open car of course, & compared with the very low cars of today, we appeared to be perched very high in the air.
I would like to tell of 4 clergymen who impressed me very much, and were well known to most people in Bexley in the earlier years.
Rev. Mr Byng. He was Rector of Christ Church in Albyn Street,Bexley. He gave religious instruction to the school children. He was a man of wonderful physique; very tall, well built, upright, with a natural dignity of bearing. He had iron grey hair, which he parted down the centre of the back of his head & brushed forward on each side. He had a very swarthy skin. All this has been attributed to an Indian Princess mother & a distinguished English father. He always wore a huge plain gold cross hanging from his watch chain. It caught the sun as he walked, so that the first thing one noticed was Mr Byng’s gold cross, then the man himself, almost always surrounded by a group of children, all trying to hold one of his hands. He was a friend of Father’s. They often took Saturday outings together, often joined by Mother.
The Rev. Mr. Waddell came to the district later, but he has his place on this list. He was a retired Methodist Minister. I especially remember him for his genial kindly manner, his cheerful happy face and smile & his love of children. He had a white flowing beard, & this with his whole appearance made him the personification of a perfect Santa Claus.
The Rev. Thomas Hill, was the Bexley Presbyterian Minister. I did not know him well, but admired him for the steadfast way he carried out his duties. He was elderly & also blind, but he did not let these things interfere with his work & duties.
The Rev. James Clark – he had once been Rector of the Church of England at Kogarah, years before we arrived in Bexley. He was reputed to have been an exceptionally clever man, but overstudy is blamed for the brain disturbance from which he suffered for the rest of his life, He had to give up the Ministry.
The trains until after we had left Bexley, were all steam driven. They ran once an hour, to & from Sydney Station, which at that time was situated on the southern side of Devonshire Subway. We lived 3/4 of a mile from Rockdale Station. The only conveyance from the station was a horse drawn wagonette, which occasionally met the trains. As the charge from the station to our home was 2/-, we mostly ended up walking home up the steep Frederick Street Hill.
A tram line was laid from Arncliffe Station, along Wollongong Road, into Forest Road, past the old school, & along Stoney Creek Road. The whole line was 3 miles in length.
The Kinsela Estate was subdivided, the trees & parklands disappeared and rows of houses were built round the old home.
A daily paper article of the time stated that by worldwide statistics, it was found that Sydney was the healthiest city in the world, & medical statistics proved that by average, Bexley had the least deaths of any of Sydney’s suburbs. Bexley residents were going about telling people that Bexley was the healthiest spot in the world.
Commencing near Stoney Creek Road, through the back of Bexley, old Arncliffe nearly to Tempe ran a small gully. The part of the gully we liked most was at the bottom of Bay View Street, about 10 minutes walk from the school. It was the first of 3 gullies running almost parallel with Forest Road on the western side, almost as far as Belmore. The East Hills Railway Line runs along the second gully.
When we went to Bexley, the attendance must have been something over 200, as I remember Father coming home soon after we went there, and telling us there had been a record attendance of 240 people. Quite a number of the children in the earlier days had to walk up to 2 miles each way to and from school.
About this time a large galvanised iron building was erected in Broadford St very near the school. It was used for the “Silent Movie”. One half only was roofed, 6d. was charged for the roofed end & 3d. for the unroofed part. The whole building was later floored & covered, & for quite some time it was used to accommodate school pupils. Christ Church Hall was utilised next. Finally a brick two-storey building of 4 rooms was erected in the grounds. Before it was finished, it was found necessary to double it in size. By that time the playground had so many buildings, there was not much room for the children to move about.
When first World War broke out, there were calls for books & reading matter for the troops. The result was astounding. Hundreds of books, magazines & other reading matter came in, & continued to do so until we left Bexley in 1917. Each magazine enclosed a letter from one of the senior pupils, & some very interesting replies were received. Father packed them in cartons which a local carrier took to the receiving depot.
One of the lady teachers organised knitting classes for girls & boys, and these classes were held regularly during school hours. They made socks, scarves, Balaclava caps and other comforts for overseas troops.
It became very difficult for the Education Department to keep up supplies of men teachers to the various schools which were short staffed owing to enlistment, numbers killed and other casualties.
Father through this lack of sufficient teachers was obliged to teach a class of 80 boys, as well as supervising a school with an enrolment of 1200 pupils & a total teaching staff of 22. The school had a few years previously been divided into 3 departments, boys, girls and infants, all at Primary level.
We were then planning for Father’s retirement. The strain was telling on him. He had been teaching for 48 years, and for more than 30 of them had suffered attacks of Angina Pectoris. I do not think he would have retired during the war if he had been in good health.
Father retired at the end of 1917. He held a 1A Classification and he had built the school to a 1st class Classification. He had been teaching at Bexley School nearly 22 1/2 years. He was nearly 63 when he retired, and his salary on retiring was under 6 pounds per week. Better conditions and pay came in a few years after Father’s retirement.
I will finish this paper by telling of Father’s main interests, apart from teaching.
Music, the study of Native Flora of N.S.W. and photography. These things he was keenly interested in and gave much time to, often using them in his school work.
In each of the country towns where he taught, he conducted a Church Choir, and inaugurated a Band of Hope for the children.
This article was first published in the October 1980 edition of our magazine.
Cooks River has always played a part in the history of our Municipality therefore, Mrs. I. E. Currey, of the Canterbury and District Historical Society, thinks its story should be told in this the year of the probable sighting of the river by Captain James Cook.
Captain Cook, after whom the river was named, apparently rowed up the stream as far as where the Princes Highway now crosses it. Cook spoke of the area as being banked by lovely meadows where many hundreds of cattle could browse. The foreshores were at this time lined densely with mangroves and other trees.
Exploration of the River
In September 1789, Captain John Hunter (later Governor Hunter) probably entered Cooks River after exploring Georges River. However he was not greatly impressed, as he described one journey of about five miles up the river to have been mostly through shoal waters.
In December of the same year, Lieutenant Bradley was sent to explore the north-west branch of Botany Bay. There he found a creek about eight. miles in length. The description of this stream was “winding shoal channel,, ending in drain to a swamp., all shoal water”.
The name Cooks River does not seem to have been given the stream until 1798, for in this year Governor Hunter sent home a map to England of the area around Sydney Cove. On this map Cooks River is named, but on a previous map in 1796, it was not mentioned.
After the first land grants in the district, the river came to play, an increasingly more important part in the lives of the people affected by it.
Some of the leading citizens of the young colony began to build homes in this., then outer-area of Sydney. In 1831, on the Arncliffe side of the river, Alexander Brodie Spark. built a fine mansion which he called ‘Tempe’. This lovely home is still in existence, beautifully preserved and is owned by a Roman Catholic order of nuns. It can be seen from the road bridge over the Princes Highway at Tempe.
The Unwin family built their pleasant home on the river at Undercliffe and called it “Wanstead”. It was later occupied by Edward Campbell, merchant, and, was still kept on by his widow after his death.
There was also “Undercliffe House”, in which at one time, Mr. P.A. Thompson, a solicitor, lived. It was a neat cottage made of stone and contained 9 rooms, It was built on that part of the river where the cliffs are steep and so gave the residence its name.
A little further up the river on the right bank, during the 1860’s, Mr. Thomas Holt built a mansion of ‘noble proportions’. This home was on the hills overlooking Marrickville, and could be seen for miles, Mr. Holt called his home “The Warren”.
Two stone pillars, all that are left of this one time lovely building, have been erected at Richardson’s Lookout by interested citizens of Marrickville, can be seen from the train before entering Sydenham Station on the left hand side going from Marrickville. Station.
The River Crossings
To get to the various residences, farms and grazing lands along the river banks, the owners had to construct fords, punts or bridges. Thus many of the early bridges were frail affairs.
We have a record from James Meehan, an early surveyor,, in which he mentions Laycock’s Bridge This is probably the same ‘slender bridge’ mentioned in 1810 by Governor Macquarie, near Hannah. Laycock’s farm, Kingsgrove.
A dam was constructed across the river near ‘Tempe’, by convict labour, in 1835. This, for many years. was used as a ford as well. There is of course a very busy road bridge across the river on the Princes Highway now.
An article in the Sydney Gazette of the 1st August 1883, says, “We understand that Mr. Prout finished a large, substantial punt at his residence, Cooks River”, This punt was used until 1839, when the same Cornelius Prout built a bridge over the river. For many years this bridge was known in the district of Canterbury as Prout’s Bridge. There was also a smaller bridge across the river up towards Enfield. This was called Miller Bridge, after the farm nearby.
At a later date, a punt was established about half way down river, between Prout’s Bridge and Tempe Dam. This was known as Thorpe’s Punt. It was still in existence in 1854, when a bill was passed in the Legislative Council to give Mr. Fisher and Mr. Thompson power to build a bridge over the river. About 1835, a second road to Illawarra was opened and a punt used to cross the river. This was later succeeded by a bridge built about 1840 by Mr. F. T. Unwin of “Wanstead”. It was known as Unwin’s Bridge. This bridge was still in use until 1889, when it was replaced by an iron and concrete span.
A bridge over the river at Undercliffe was built about 1870. It too, was replaced by a new structure in 1880. The present bridge over the river at this point is still known as Undercliffe Bridge.
After many suggestions by both the Canterbury and Marrickville Councils, a bridge over the river at Wardell Road was commenced in 1898 and was completed in the following year.
Many of these bridges have now been replaced and new bridges constructed in areas where expansion in the districts made river crossings necessary.
The older folk of our Municipality, no doubt remember Cooks River as a pleasant stream, lined with trees and flowing through a timbered countryside. Erosion, silt and commerce have all played their part in despoiling the rivulet in past years.
However, there is a resurgence of effort and will among many of our citizens to once again see the river banks as public parklands, and beautiful with trees. We have an association in the district dedicated to this scheme. Our Council too, seems to have in mind ideas for better usage of the small stream called after our great discoverer, Captain Cook, and perhaps one day we will see the banks along the river looking as he described them, ‘lovely meadows and lined with trees’.
My appreciation to James Jervis and his History of the Canterbury Municipality and to the Canterbury and District Historical Society for the use of their journals. From these two sources came much of the material for this short history.
(By courtesy The Campsie News & Lakemba Advance 25.2.70., and written by Mrs. I. E. Currey, member of the Canterbury & District Historical Society. )
This article was first published in the June 1970 edition of our magazine.
Inaugurated in 2006, the Ron Rathbone Local History Competition is an initiative to explore and appreciate Bayside’s rich, diverse and vibrant history. Former City of Botany Bay Council and former Rockdale City Council were amalgamated in 2016 to form Bayside Council. The Ron Rathbone Local History Competition now extends to include these two local government areas that both have a long rich and diverse history and cultural heritage. Ron Rathbone OAM was Mayor of Rockdale, holding that position for a record four terms. The prize is awarded in his honour.
The 2022 winners were announced at Rockdale Town Hall on 20 September.
Congratulations to all entrants, especially the young historians in the Schools categories.
The historic “Tempe House” was built for Alexander Brodie Spark, who owned a large area of land at Cooks River in the early 1800’s, and became a director of the Bank of New South Wales in 1826.
“Tempe House” is a stately home of Georgian style set in a number of large gardens, trees, and sloping well kept lawns. According to a yellowed clipping in the possession of Miss Madeline Spark, of Roseville, a grand-daughter of Alexander Spark, the name of Tempe was suggested to the latter by its resemblance to the landscape of the Vale of Tempe in Thessaly, Greece.
The clipping says “Mr. Spark, a gentleman of means, arrived in the Colony while he was touring the world, and, being struck by the possibilities of the country he decided to remain at least for a time, but subsequently became a permanent resident”. He also was given a grant of land in Darlinghurst, by Governor Darling, where he built “Tusculum”, whose first tenant was Bishop Broughton.
Miss Spark said “Tempe House” was a show place of the era. Conrad Martens, the artist (1801-1878) painted the landscape three years after he arrived in Australia from London. His views of early Sydney are collector’s items.
“This delightful residence, the seat of A. B. SPARK, Esq., is situated on the western bank of the river named after the immortal martyr of “OWHIEE”, Captain Cook, and was selected originally as a retreat from the cares of business, yet within easy distance of the town. The spot formerly displayed all the wild features of the unbroken interior, which yielded indescribable charms to the seeker after the tranquillity of romantic retirement. The “Avenger”, has, however, broken through the once apparently impenetrable serenity which prevailed, a massive dam protruding its rude masonry to the briny waves of far-famed Botany Bay, now supplies the place of “Old Willie and his skiff”, and in lieu of the plashing of the paddle, or the joyous carol of “sweet sounds” sent forth along the, moonlit waters by a cargo of returning visitors, the echoes of “TEMPE” are now degraded to the reverberations of woodmen’s slang, and lime-burner’s orgies.
Alas, alas, truly hath the Poet written –
“Like the gale that sighs along” “Beds of Oriental flowers” Is the grateful breath of song That once was heard in happier hours”.
“But these are not days of sentiment and pathos – plodding matter of fact men are in the ascendancy and taste succumbs to Mammon.
The bath, the lodge, and the garden with its fruits and its flowers still remain, but the privacy of the one hath been invaded, and the grandeur of the other, impaired, aye, and the oyster-growing mangroves temptingly inviting one to partake of their juicy dainties – where are they? Torn down by the ruthless hand of time, destroyed, and almost forgotten – yet “Tempe” thou sittest still in beauty on thy mound, and even could the vibrating chord of recollection cease to awaken in me the most pleasing reminiscences which connect they past history with mine own, I, enraptured with thy simple stateliness could ever in sincerity exclaim “With all thy faults I love thee still”.
“Tempe House” is now part of a convent conducted by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, and is now in an excellent state of preservation.
There is a 128-year-old painting by Conrad Martens showing “Tempe House” and Cooks River, which was purchased by Mr. Stanley Lipscombe for the low price of ninety guineas. The house is situated behind rising ground a short distance from the Princes Highway. It faces the river on the north and a few hundred feet west is the main Illawarra Railway line. The house is situated between the turbulent traffic airlines. That is not all as the sky-way above is busy with air traffic coming into, and going out of Kingsford Smith Airport, one of the world’s busiest. All this is far removed from the days of “Old Willie and his skiff”.
In conclusion, it should be mentioned that Mr. Spark had a good deal to do with the establishing of the historic Church of St. Peter on the Cooks River Road, now Princes Highway, and he was buried there. He died at his Tempe residence on October 21st, 1856, aged 65 years.
This article was first published in the June 1970 edition of our magazine.
Reprinted from the Rockdale Times of April 17, 1947
This account of the early history of Rockdale deals with the period over 70 years ago, when a fine orchard flourished where the Town Hall now rears its proportions; from the Grand Hotel to Bay Street was called “Frog Hollow”, and the oldest Aboriginal at Sans Souci was named Jimmy Lownes.
Our historian, Mr. Joseph Bowmer, is 89 years of age, but has a memory like that of a schoolboy. He is not so old, except in years — his mental outlook is surprisingly modern. He says:
I will start at Wickham Street, Arncliffe, near the Public School, which is on the Terry Estate. On the southern side of what is now called Princes Highway (late Rocky Point Road), stretched the Terry Estate, except for Mrs. Vincent’s property at the corner of Spring Street and Rocky Point Road. Opposite the Vincents lived the large Lawrence family, their land finishing at the Free Church. Next was Mr. Lawson’s orchard. Mr. Iliffe had a large nursery, followed (as we pass to Rockdale), by Frank’s beautiful orchard, where the present Town Hall stands. Another orchard extended to the hotel site, and was owned and worked by Mr. William Bray.
From Bray’s Lane to Bay Street was called “Frog Hollow”, as it nearly always was full of water and frogs, and eels used to be caught there.
A gentleman named Campbell owned from Chapel Lane to the old fire station; then came John Andrew’s property. His wife had the first drapery shop here, while he conducted a denominational school next door.
From there to the stormwater channel was Mr. Sam Schofield’s – an orchard and vegetable garden extending as far as the present-day Ashton Street. His brother had an orchard and garden to Beach Street; and a Mr. Podmore owned from this point to the site of Moorefield racecourse.
Mr. Bowmer then gives us details of the properties on the eastern side of Rocky Point Road.
The hotel at Arncliffe was kept by a Mrs. Clune, and had a large area of land attached. Sheath’s land came next, and the next again extended to where Rickett & Thorp’s factory is a vegetable garden belonging to Mr. Touchell. On the adjoining property the first Rockdale shop was erected — a general store run by Mr. Moss, who had a vegetable garden around it, and looked after both person- ally. Then came Soden’s orchard; and Humphrey’s property reached to the corner of Tramway Arcade and the main road. Here Rockdale’s second general store was opened by Mr. Yeoman Geeves, who also conducted the post office.
The story then tells how Rockdale came to be so-called (see Mr. Fred Geeves’s reminiscences in our last issue).
Continuing, Mr. Bowmer says a Mr. Waltz owned the next block as far as Napper’s store; and the ambulance station site belonged to Mr. Fred Barden. This gentleman owned a vegetable garden and slaughterhouse here, and a butcher’s shop at Cooks River. Then came Skidmore’s land – he and his Sons gardened, and also carted wood to the city. The bridge over the watercourse was known as “Skidmore’s Bridge”.
One of the pioneers, Mr James Beehag, owned from Rocky Point Road down Bay Street to what is now James Street, where the hospital stands, and his area took in the swamp land, now Draper’s nursery. He had four boys and two girls and divided the property between them, reserving portion as a gift to the Methodist Church, in Bay Street.
On the west side of West Botany Street a Mr. Warren had a large market garden, and the next again was Mr. Chas. Napper’s; then Wilson’s garden; and at the rear of this Mr. John Bowmer, Snr. , tilled a market garden. From there on to Bestic Street belonged to Mr. Foulks, who gave portion of the West Botany Methodist Church. Following this was Wilmot’s, then Mr. William Beehag’s farm, while Mr. James Beehag owned from Bay Street to March Street.
The other side of March Street was a bullock paddock owned by Mr. McGuinness, who also conducted the hotel at Cooks River. The next settler was Mr. Lankorn; then Mr. Terry, as far as Spring Street; from hereto Tabrett Street was William Beehag’s; to Bestic Street, Mr. Godfrey’s; to Bryant Street, Mr. Foulks’s, and from Bryant Street to Bay Street, Mr. James Quirk. All were market gardens and orchards.
Rockdale Park is part of the old Quirk’s Estate.
The only outlet from the beach was Bay Street. At Rocky Point Road end, a cliff of rocks blocked the way, so a track was used through private land. Mr. Saywell cut through this cliff for his tram line.
The only private property on the beach was where the Brighton Hotel stands, and it was owned by Mr. Hook, who had slaughter-houses at Marrickville, a slaughter-house where Sydenham Station now is; and butcheries in the city.
The bush from Cooks River to Ramsgate was called “No-man’s land” and firewood could be cut without licence, and sold. Barton Park was a swamp, partly covered with ti-tree and swamp oak.
It was a great place for snakes, and there were ducks, snipe, plovers, and curlews for the sportsman. A colony of flying-foxes lived here.
The largest tree in Rockdale was blackbutt, on Godfrey’s property, known as Avenel Estate. It was 200 feet high. Mr. Godfrey had it felled, used the top as firewood for his boiling-down works, and had the barrel blasted asunder with “black-jack” for posts and rails. A photo of the old stump may be seen at Mr. F. Beehag’s office.
In these days there was no gas, and no laid-on water this side of Cooks River.
Aboriginal camps existed at Blakehurst and Sans Souci. They were later moved to La Perouse. Jimmy Lownes was the oldest aborigine at Sans Souci, and the boys of the village used to enjoy visiting him.
Mr. Joe Bowmer’s father came to Australia from England in 1853. He was in the formation of West Botany Municipal district, and was elected alderman in 1875. He was Mayor for 1877, and the six years following. In 1885 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace. At the Wesleyan Church he was a frequent preacher. He had 10 children.
This article was first published in the June 1963 edition of our magazine.
The sudden death of the President of the St. George Historical Society, Mr. J. I. Swann, has left in our ranks a large gap which will be extremely difficult to fill. Since its inception some two years ago, Mr. Swann was the driving force and inspiration of this Society.
Those of us who were privileged to know him away from meetings of the Society, as a friend and as a neighbour, cannot speak too highly of this very forthright, public-spirited and far-sighted old gentleman whose love for the history of the St. George and Parramatta Districts was infectious.
Perhaps this is not surprising when it is realised that it was Mr. Swann’s schoolteacher father who many years ago rescued derelict Elizabeth Farm House at Parramatta, Australia’s oldest and most historic building from the hands of the demolisher and raised a large family within its walls.
Mr. Swann’s eldest sister, Miss Margaret Swann, whose death was announced only last week, founded the Parramatta Historical Society. For many years she was its President and the late James Jervis, its secretary.
Many tributes have already been paid to Mr. Swann in the various capacities in which he served this community and it remains only for this Society, which he founded and which absorbed his time and his interest in the last years of his life, to say John Isaac Swann, we honour you.
This article was first published in the June 1963 edition of our magazine.