District To Lose Two Of Its Most Historic Buildings

(article from October 1963)

Unless it receives another last minute reprieve, lovely “Rosevale Villa”, for more than ninety years a landmark at the entrance to Rockdale Shopping Centre will soon disappear to make way for a service station.

Rosevale Villa, circa 1905 (courtesy Bayside Library)

Persistent efforts by this Society to the Rockdale Council for removal of the building on Princes Highway have been met with marked indifference and in some cases open hostility.

Rosevale Villa sketch by Cedric Emanuel (courtesy Bayside Library)

The Oil Company which has bought the site on which “Rosevale Villa” stands has agreed to give the building to the Council and take the utmost care in its demolition provided the Council removes and stores it.

Rosevale Villa, circa 1960 (courtesy Bayside Library)

The Council is now trying to have the stones marked free of cost in case it ever is re-erected but from the current temper of the Council this would appear to be a forlorn hope.


The second landmark to go will be the old Brickwood family home in Turrella Street, Arncliffe, which stands in the way of proposed new extensions of the National Cash Register Factory.

This building is about 80 years old and quite unique in that it is the only known building in the St. George District with a covered courtyard and it is suspected, one of the very few in Australia with this distinction.

All this adds up to the very great need of this Society to educate the leaders of the Community and the public at large to the value of these buildings. Practically all the buildings of note in the Rockdale Municipality at least are in areas zoned for industrial, commercial or home unit purposes. All are in the gravest danger of being valued out of existence unless the authorities can be persuaded to acquire at least a selection of them for public purposes.

This article was first published in the October 1963 edition of our magazine.

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A Tribute To Jean Elizabeth Preddey

by Jean’s grandson – John Mark Williamson

Gran lived right through the greater part of the 20th century and lived a century herself in doing it. This was a great achievement when you consider those times and how Australia was affected by world events in one form or another.

Gran’s childhood was growing up while Australia was fighting for the Empire in World War One, quickly followed by the incredible Spanish Flu pandemic. We must remember there were no antibiotics in those days and Penicillin’s discovery was another 10 years away. Gran would often tell us how her Father survived this pandemic, despite visiting and helping suffering families, because he chewed tobacco which she maintained killed the germs before they could get into his body!

While going through all this, Gran was educated at Arncliffe School and, in her teen years, she achieved her “Cap and Gown” from the London School of Music the equivalent of a Diploma or Degree in music today. From this Gran went on to teach music at St. Francis Xavier School at Arncliffe.

No TV! These were days of early radio. Radio in Australia was growing rapidly and becoming popular. Gran became a featured singer on station 2UW in Sydney with a very fine Mezzo Soprano voice. She continued to use this gift later on with choir singing in her local church at Bexley as well as in the Billy Graham Crusades of 1957 and 1968.

As Jean grew into early adulthood with her three sisters, they all became, as was the fashion of the times “flappers”, which in turn introduced Jean to her favourite jewellery “Pearls”. The fashions have changed many times since, but the love of pearls never stopped for Gran.

Gran, was also at this time being courted by her husband to be, George. Over the six years of courtship Jean and George were very much into the life that was going on around them in “happening Sydney”. They went on a “joy flight” with Charles Kingsford-Smith in his famous “Southern Cross” aircraft above and around Sydney; they were at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 when Captain De Groot pushed past them on his way to beat Premier Lang cutting the ribbon to open the Bridge — exciting times in Sydney in those days.

After their marriage in 1932 they moved into their new home built on the Preddey Estate in Bexley. This was the start of 55 years of happy and exciting events including the birth of their daughter, Gloria.

When the 2nd World War started, George immediately built a very sturdy backyard air-raid shelter equipped and even fully stocked for a long stay if necessary. George never did anything by halves. When the first siren sounded across Sydney announcing the Japanese submarine attack In Sydney Harbour, George rushed out to his warden duties in the streets of Bexley. Jean and her young daughter, Gloria, meanwhile dressed and hurried to the shelter… only to find it already full of neighbours, so much so, they couldn’t even get in themselves!

For the last 20 years or so Gran lived with Gloria and John at Blakehurst.

A large part of her life evolved around her church activities, teaching Adult Sunday School at Bexley. Using this gift of teaching Gran was a Counsellor at both Billy Graham Crusades in Sydney, guiding enquirers regarding the decision they had made for her beloved Lord Jesus.

Gran also taught Scripture at various schools in the area around Bexley. It was during this time she picked out a young gentleman, Peter Ferguson, as a possible future husband for her Grand-daughter, Kate.

Up until 2 years ago Gran was still taking Bible studies in her home at Blakehurst where she lived with Gloria and John.

A few weeks after Gran fell and broke her leg at Blakehurst she moved into Huntingdon Gardens at Bexley.

While there Gran turned 100 and received so many letters from some very important people round the world, including the Queen of course, that we were all humbled to be there and to have been part of her life.

During her stay at Huntingdon Gardens each staff member bestowed so much love, time and very personal care on her that we shall be forever grateful.

As I close this tribute to a great and loving Mother, Grandmother and Great-Grandmother I will read one of Gran’s favourite Psalms, Psalm 100 – Psalm of Thanksgiving

  1. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands!
  2. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
  3. Know that the Lord, he is God: it is he that has made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
  4. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
  5. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endures to all generations.

Mrs. Preddy was an exceptionally dear lady and long-time member of our Society. Many thanks to her family for providing us with this information to share with you.

This article was first published in the May 2012 edition of our magazine.

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The Eddystone Lighthouse

by Bettye Ross

At a Service recently our Minister mentioned the Eddystone Lighthouse and said the third builder of this edifice had placed at its base a plaque stating “except the Lord build the house, the builders labor in vain” from Psalm 127:1. This Lighthouse (4th on the site) had been built by John Smeaton. and stood from 1759 to 1882 when it was replaced by one of much greater height.

Eddystone Lighthouse in 2005 (with helipad and solar panels) alongside the stub of Smeaton’s Tower

But to begin at the beginning I had noticed a replica of Eddystone Lighthouse at Lydham Hall, and knew I had heard of such a landmark before but couldn’t recall anything about it, so I set to at the Mitchell Library and decided to find out what was famous about this Lighthouse.

Firstly of course it is the most famous Lighthouse in the world. It is 14 miles south-west of Plymouth and 9 miles south of Rame Head, Cornwall and stands on ridges of gneiss rock which have been battered about ceaselessly from the sea with 23 jagged pinnacles rising up above the water pointing towards the land. It can only be seen half a mile away and goes down into the depths of the English Channel on a very wide base. Seafarers named it the “Eddy-Stones” because of the turmoil of currents flowing through its rocky teeth. Some sea captains gave this reef such a wide berth their ship was wrecked on rocks of the Channel Islands or the rugged north coast of France.

In 1694 a patent was granted by the crown “to erect a Lighthouse or Beacon with a light upon the rock called Eddystone off Plymouth… as safe direction for ships hereafter to avoid that dangerous Rock upon which the lives of so many of our goad Subjects have perished.” Six years later Henry Winstanley from Saffron, Walden, Essex, a ship owner, inventor, showman, designer, conjurer, engraver and businessman commenced work on the first Eddystone Lighthouse. He had drawn plans up the previous winter and his men armed with picks set to fix 12 iron bars 3½ inches. diameter in a circular pattern on the rock. Pick after pick was discarded too blunt to proceed, but with perseverance six months later the holes were ready for their iron stanchions.

Work proceed slowly and Winstanley, working from the guard ship Terrible, which had been provided for him as an assurety of safety due to England being engaged in one of the numerous wars with France, was kidnapped. It seems the captain of the Terrible strayed from his position to check out a nearby French merchant ship with an eye to looting. However a thick fag descended preventing the French ship being captured and also the Terrible from returning to Eddystone. The kidnapped Winstanley was brought before Louis XIV who was concerned at the incident, punished the officer responsible and after endowing Winstanley with many presents sent him home with the alleged words “your work is for the benefit of all nations using the sea. I am at war with England, not with humanity.”

November 14, Henry Winstanley lit the first Eddystone Lighthouse’s tallow candles suspended in the lantern gallery of this 80 ft. tower. Constant wave and spray prevented the cement between the blocks of the solid base setting, often the tower shook and shuddered as frequent storms assailed it so Winstanley set to and increased its height after encasing the whole circumference with iron bands and also increasing the size and height of its base. This cost Winstanley personally and was finished in 1699 being known as the second Eddystone Lighthouse. He stated he could wish for nothing better than to be in it during “the greatest storm that ever was”.

Winstanley lighthouse, Eddystone Rock, 1813

Unfortunately in November 1703 whilst he was effecting some repairs to his prize one of the greatest storms ever in the British Isles hit and thousands of people died in its few short hours of devastation. Houses were swept away, ships as well, with 8,000 sailors lost, and inland rivers burst their banks. When the sun case the next morning the twisted remains of the 12 iron piles which held the base stood alone. Henry Winstanley had got his wish.

Two years later John Rudyard, a Cornishman in the silk trade, decided he would design and build the next Eddystone Lighthouse and enlisted the services of two expert shipwrights from Her Majesty’s Naval Dockyard at Woolwich. He was to build it of timber and when almost completed in July 1708 lit the first 24 tallow candles on his magnificent structure. Five years later he died but it stood in service for another 46 years until one of the three keepers named Henry Hall woke one night to find a fire in the lantern room. He was a man of 94 years of age, and tried to wake the other two keepers who had had a heave drinking night. Henry using only a leather bucket was flinging the water upwards towards the fire when finally his two companions woke and tried to help but the fire had too firm a hold. The lantern roof collapsed and a bullet of molten lead dripped from its remains towards the gaze of Henry Hall who was looking up. He screamed and said “God help me. I’m on fire inside!” The others were sceptical when Henry stated the molten lead had gone down his throat and the three resumed their efforts with Henry unable to communicate. The inferno was seen from the land and a boat set out to pick the three keepers up but it was not for hours that the men were rescued.

Henry Hall was put under medical attention complaining and mumbling about his awful experiences but it was put dawn to the dreadful experience along with its shock in one of such advanced years. Henry spent 12 days convalescing before he suddenly died. The Doctor to allay all doubts of Henry’s declarations performed a post-mortem only to find a flat piece of lead weighing 7 ounces 5 drams in the pit of his stomach. Today this can be seen in the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh.

John Smeaton of Yorkshire was a mathematical instrument maker who also turned his talents to engineering. He decided to build a new Eddystone Lighthouse of stone and work began August 1756 and was an engineering feat. At last after three gruelling years of conflict between man and nature, the Eddystone reef was once again conquered using 1,493 blocks of stone weighing almost 1,000 tons, 700 marble joggles, 1,800 oaken trenails and £40,000 to do it. He placed an inscription on the last stone “24th August 1759 Laus Deo” as well as the text from the Psalms. Some years later he commented that the glow from the lighthouse appeared 7 miles away.

Late 19th-century colourised photograph of Douglass’s lighthouse (courtesy Photochrom Print Collection – Library of Congress)

Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse stood from 1759 until it was decided to build another taller and larger one. This 5th and last one, still standing, was built by James Douglass 1882 and differed from Smeaton’s use of trenails and dowels to Douglass preferring dovetailing the blocks of stone together.

So next time you are at Lydham Hall take time to see the replica of Eddystone Lighthouse in the cabinet above the stairs and to the right of the back dormer window and dwell for a little time on the mammoth task each of the foregoing builders undertook.

SOURCE: The Rock Lighthouses of Britain: The End of an Era? by Christopher P. Nicholson 2nd Ed. Pub. by Whittles of Caithness, 1995

This article was first published in the September 2000 edition of our magazine.

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Botany Goods Line

The question of giving railway communication to Botany was considered in 1882 when it was proposed to extend a line from Everleigh, via Waterloo to the Botany area. In 1902 a trial survey was made from Erskineville to Botany and also from Flemington to Belmore, the estimated cost then being 107,933 and 56,738 pounds respectively.

The Minister for Public Works, Hon. E W O’Sullivan, promised that the question would be referred to Cabinet with a view to the line being referred to the Public Works Committee.

In August 1909, the question of a railway to Botany from the nearest point on the then existing system was brought under the notice of the then Minister for Public Works, Hon C A Lee, by a deputation, including the mayors of Botany and North Botany and representatives of the Pastoralists Union; The Sydney Meat Preserving Co; the Sandown Freezing Works, Clyde; the Wool Combing Mills, Botany; the Bunnerong Wool Scouring Works, Botany; the Metropolitan Coal Agency and others. It was pointed out that the construction of a railway to Botany was indirectly before the Public Works Committee in connection with the proposed line from Flemington to the new abattoirs and that a recommendation should form portion of the scheme in connection with the establishment of new abattoirs at Homebush.

It was admitted by the Minister, in the course of his reply, that the line was one that must be built, and that as soon as a new survey was completed the line would be referred to the Committee.

A further deputation representing residents and other interested bodies waited on the Minister of Public Works, Mr A Griffith, in 1911, when it was urged that as the abattoirs were to be removed from Glebe Island to Homebush Bay, and the bulk of the by-products were treated in Botany, a railway to the latter place should be put in hand at once, so that it might be available by the time the new abattoirs were completed. This proposal was submitted to the Public Works Committee in March 1912.

Two proposals for the route were considered, one from Tempe along the north side of Cooks River to Cooks River Rd, crossing Alexandria Canal a few chains south of St Peters Park, then to Ascot Racecourse terminating in a “Y” shaped branch, one of which was to terminate on Botany Pier and the other on the southern side of Botany Rd between it and the bay. The other suggestion, approved by the Chief Commissioner for Railways, Mr T R Johnson, allowed the line to leave the Illawarra line a little to the north of Sydenham Station, rising gradually, cross the Illawarra line by means of a bridge, with a connection with the Belmore line.

Bridge over Botany Goods Line (courtesy State Rail Authority Archives)

It was estimated that 100 tons of skins per day would be forwarded from Homebush to Botany, and in addition, the local Botany industries would require 60,000 tons of coal and 100,000 tons of raw material per year, the whole being carried from St Peters, Sydenham and Alexandria stations.

A branch line, 1 mile 50 chains long, was also suggested to Alexandria a junction with the then proposed Eastern Suburbs Railway.

After a careful inquiry, the Committee recommended that the railway extension to Botany, from Sydenham, be carried out. Construction was by the Department of Railways, and the line opened for traffic on the 11th October 1925.

The length of the line is 5 miles 28 chains long, made up of 26 chains double track and 5 miles .02 chains single track. Maximum gradient is 1 in 80 and the sharpest curve 12 chains. The main goods yard is at Cooks River with a smaller yard at Botany. A deviation of the line around Mascot airfield of 10.5 chains was opened on 22nd March 1960, making the line 5 miles 38.75 chains in length.

Sidings from Marrickville end:-

  • Cooks River Goods Yard – 17 sidings.
  • Southern Portland Cement
  • BHP By-Products
  • Mascot Goods sidings and loop
  • Commonwealth sidings
  • Stewart & Lloyds
  • Ready Mixed Concrete
  • Email
  • Total Oil Co.
  • Kelloggs
  • Bates
  • Botany Goods Yard
    • Goods line
    • Goods loop
    • Goods siding
    • H C Sleigh
    • Boral
    • Bunnerong – Switch House
    • A.O.R.
      • Boral
      • 8 sidings to Power House

This article by the late W. Foster was kindly submitted by Mrs Ruth Foster.

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

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Kogarah Golf Club

by Miss Francis Stacey – September 1979

Fifty years ago this year of 1976, saw the establishment of the Kogarah Golf Club. I remember very clearly one day when I was in the Chair at the Dental Surgery of the late Mr Stanley Binns, awaiting my turn to be attended to, when the telephone rang. It was Mr Riley, asking Mr Binns if he could meet him at the Moorefield Race Course at once to discuss something important in connection with the work going on for the Golf Course. To my delight, Mr Binns said, “you come too, Fran, and I will show it all to you.” So off we went to the Race Course in President Avenue, Kogarah.

I roamed about all over the Race Course with. Mr Binns and Mr Riley, learning where this fairway and that should be and backwards and forwards across the old stream which used to run through the course and which became one of the main hazards to us all in time to come, especially after wet weather.

The land to be used was inside the Race Course, although some of the tees were placed beyond and above the race track. This caused a real hazard also as so often the ball would hit a fence or become lost among the hoof marks (some very deep) of the horses.

The Members of the Golf Club had the use of most of the Members Stand at the Race Course. The lovely verandah on the President Avenue side, surrounded and shaded by the lovely old Moreton Bay Figs, which must have been a great age then. We also had the use of the cloakroom, washroom and last, but not least, the kitchen where Mrs Scott served us with lovely lunches and afternoon teas, all prepared by herself. The parking ground for cars was just inside the big gates, off President Avenue. It was most picturesque with the lovely big trees and a man to guard the cars, for a small fee.

I think there could never have been a happier group of people all together – with our President, the late Mrs Primrose, and our Secretary, Mrs Colvin. All our Annual Meetings were held on the big verandah or occasionally on the Race Course side where there was more seating accommodation, and cooler in summer. They were such happy days and I can still hear Mrs Primrose’s voice calling – “Ladies!” – when she wished to speak to us. The “Ladies” stopped their chatter immediately!!

I am sure no person who had been a foundation member would forget the kind and gentle patience given us by Mrs Primrose and Mrs Colvin in teaching us how to play golf, because few of us could play prior to joining the Club. Also to be remembered was the first Professional – Mr Scott, who gave wonderful lessons to all who wanted them, and I can still hear him advising us to “get that gay abandon” when swinging the club to drive the ball.

At the end of each year, the Annual Meeting and Luncheon was held on the verandah and afterwards the presentation of trophies. These were lovely, happy occasions also. One of my treasures is a very lovely picture of red poppies growing in the fields of France. This was presented to me by the late Mrs Fifi Binns, wife of the late Dr Will Binns, of Kogarah. On all the Annual Meeting days, members were invited to bring along their favourite dish to augment the luncheon table.

Kogarah Golf Course (courtesy Bayside Library)

Some months ago we had occasion to use a number of taxis. One day we drove through Arncliffe and the driver remarked on the sad fate of Kogarah Golf Club and its amalgamation with Bonny Doone. He used to be a caddy at Kogarah, and remarked on all the people he had caddied for – mostly Mrs Primrose and Mrs Colvin. His name is Mr Higgerson and no doubt, some of you will remember him as he also caddied with others, too. He was most interested to hear of the 50th Anniversary being celebrated.

This article was first published in the November 1980 edition of our magazine.

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Cobbitty: A Village Of The Cow Pastures

Written & Illustrated by Gifford & Eileen Eardley

The pleasant village of Cobbitty is sited amidst a surround of low grassed hill country, some four miles north of the older established settlement at Camden, which was in the possession of the Macarthur family (of sheep raising fame) as from 1804. It is understood that the unusual place-name of Cobbitty was derived from the aboriginal name for the district which was anglicised as “Kobady” in the first instance, the former spelling was later adopted. The original land grants of the immediate area were made in the early years of the colony to Messrs. G. Blaxcell, G. Blaxland, W. Cowper, C. Hook and E. Lord. These people each gained an extensive allotment of land whilst a number of smaller blocks of about fifty acres were granted to other and, perhaps, not so influential people. The land today, for the most part, is devoted to cattle grazing and dairying, although there is intensive cultivation of the fertile bottom lands bordering the adjacent Nepean River, which approaches and then leaves the vicinity of Cobbitty in a series of meandering loops. It is a very pretty rural landscape, graced here and there by some splendid examples of age-old twisted Apple-oak trees.

The approach road to Cobbitty leaves the Bringelly to Narellan Road, sometimes known as the Northern Road, at a distance of about two miles from the village of Narellan, and follows a straight westerly course for two miles before the settlement of Cobbitty is reached. The lazy old road ascends gentle slopes and descends gentle slopes, amidst fenced grass paddocks and an overhang of eucalyptus trees, which on occasions best known to the birds themselves, are thronged with screeching Eastern Rosellas. Except for the beautiful “Dawn Chorus”, thought into being for a quarter of an hour or so at day-break., there are few birds in evidence throughout the day, apart from occasional prospecting magpies and, sometimes, a speculating kookaburra. On hot summer days there is generally a stifling heat haze which spreads evenly over the whole district, when only the whirring repeated note of a small species of black cicada breaks the otherwise solemn quietude of a scorching mid-day period. Although the paddocks are largely devoid of growth, apart from the native grasses, one has to be cautious when traversing the roads on foot as large Black-snakes also like the place, and have been encountered on sunny days even in the depth of a cold winter.

For descriptive purposes it is convenient to deal with the village buildings ranged along the northern side of Cobbitty Road, and then retrace our steps to the point of entry and do likewise with those along the southern side. The first building, on the north is a modern type General Store which caters for the every day needs of the small community, and calls for no particular comment. Next, on its western side, there once stood the blacksmith’s shop of Hugh Campbell, The “smithy” was well built with walls of ashlar-cut sandstone and a roof of galvanised iron. At each end corner of its eastern gabled wall was a large vertical circular-shaped water tank, each collecting the rain-water from the guttering of its respective roof slope. The entrance doorways faced towards Cobbitty Road, the façade being set back a short distance from the grassed verge, thus providing a space for the repair of horse-drawn vehicles and also for the tethering of horses awaiting their turn to be fitted with iron “shoes”. Between the double doors of the building was an unglazed window opening which could be closed by hinged shutters made of vertical boards. Two hearth fires were provided, each being placed beneath a rectangular shaped brick chimney, both of which passed through the roof for a short distance. The interior of the forge when in operation was fascinating, with its smoky gloom and glittering coal fires, and rays of sunlight filtering through the doors and open windows. All the tools of a busy trade were scattered around as most convenient, whilst the walls were hung with rows of horse-shoes. At the rear of the premises were untidy heaps of metal strips, some new, some old, together with a miscellaneous assortment of sundry bits and pieces of iron components culled, over the years, from a wide variety of horse-drawn vehicles. It is said that Hugh Campbell was also engaged with the manufacture of iron railings and other fitments for the nearby cemetery of St. Paul’s Church of England, where the same man now rests in peace. When first noted by the authors in 1930 the smithy was intact but derelict, and by 1935 it had been demolished, presumably for the materials of its construction.

Across the adjoining narrow Chittick Lane, leading northwards for about half a mile to give access to several farm estates, there was a small two-roomed weatherboard cottage which faced Cobbitty Road, whilst at the rear, facing Chittick Lane, was a separate kitchen and an outhouse, The cottage formerly possessed a split-shingled roof but had laterly been reroofed with corrugated iron. Each building had a large brick chimney projecting above a wide outside fireplace ranged against their western wall, the top of each chimney being covered by a curved metal bonnet to prevent down draughts and rain entry. A small lean-to verandah was erected at the rear of the cottage, whilst a short narrow verandah, with its iron roof painted alternatively in red and white, shielded the entrance doorway to the kitchen. When noted in 1962 there was a lovely old world garden, brick bordered, displaying a host of fuschias, geraniums, and many bulbs of various sorts. Behind was a wealth of high trees growing in the adjacent rectory garden. By 1965 both the cottage and its kitchen had been demolished and their site, at 1970, was a tangled unapproachable mass of “cobbler’s pegs” and other noxious weeds.

The neighbouring rectory garden was once adorned by a pair of huge Apple-oak trees, which lent an air of shady enchantment to the sward in front of the beautiful “Domestic Gothic” rectory building. These lovely trees are distinctive to the area and it is most unfortunate that they have both been destroyed, only their short solid stumps remain to mark their position. The rectory, built in eighteen-seventy, is a large building with an upper storey beneath its once shingled roof, which is now covered with cement shingles of “diamond” pattern. The several upper rooms are lighted by neat dormer windows, two on the eastern, two on the northern, and others on the rear portion of the house roof. All the fascia boards are cut in a series of curves along their lower edge for decorative purposes, giving a charming effect to the many gables, both large and small, of the roof assembly.

The grounds of the rectory are laid out in lawns, with a partial surround of dense shrubbery and trees, which create a haven for the small-bird population inhabiting the area.

Next door and west of the rectory garden is a fenced pasturage which, fortunately, retains in its south-east corner, a splendid specimen of an Apple-oak tree, a kin in size and appearance to the pair destroyed in the rectory grounds. These trees are fascinating, in their masses of pendant gumtree like foliage, dangling at the end of long thin grotesquely shaped branches.

Then, beyond the pasturage is “STONELEIGH”, an ancient cottage of intriguing design, embowered in a mass of tall shrubs, and protected along its road frontage by a dense hedge. One can only glimpse the layout of the place through this leafy coverage and note that there are upper rooms huddled beneath the sloping confines of the galvanised-iron roof, their presence betrayed by tiny window openings let into the walls of both end gables. The outside chimneys, broad-breasted for the fire-places, are diagonally sited, one at the front south-eastern corner, and the other at the north-western corner of the four-roomed dwelling. There is a weatherboard building, possibly a separate kitchen and scullery, at the rear of the main cottage, but only the roof- lines can be seen from the roadway. For one interested in domestic architecture “STONELEIGH” is a most intriguing old-fashioned home.

Another enclosed paddock precedes the lengthy double-fronted weatherboard cottage, named “BETHSHEAN”. This place may be regarded as the historic outer western end of Cobbitty village, although the Cobbitty Road continues onward for many a mile. By outward appearances “Bethshean” has at least six rooms, the northernmost, with its fat-breasted chimney outside the western wall, evidentially being the kitchen. The roofing is of corrugated iron and what may be considered as the front portion of the house, containing four rooms and, perhaps, a centrally placed hail, is covered on the “Hip” pattern. The narrow front verandah is separated from the road footpath by a dense mass of spindly-trunked trees which give an air of privacy and seclusion to the edifice whilst a noble tree overshadows a large section of the backyard near the house, a favourite roosting place for a flock of cheeky Soldierbirds who spend much time squabbling amongst themselves. The place breathes the tranquil peace of Cobbitty village and is good to look upon.

At this juncture we retrace our steps eastward along Cobbitty Road to regain the vicinity of the village general store. Located almost immediately opposite to this emporium is the old established mansion known as “POMARE GROVE”, which lies on the southern side of Cobbitty Road, We had a cursory glance at this large two storied home, replete with many rooms, and admired the long single storied extension at the rear. It is to all outward appearances of cement rendered brick construction, and roofed with blue slate. One hesitates to guess at the period of its erection. The house is built on grant of one hundred acres (or as otherwise claimed one hundred and fifty acres) made by Governor Macquarie to Thomas Hassall, and gains its distinctive name “POMARE GROVE” after Pomare, a king of Tahiti in the early days of last century.

Thomas Hassall was born in England in 1797, and came with his missionary parents to Sydney in 1799. As a lad he returned to England in 1817 to complete his education and study for entry to the Church of England ministry. After being ordained he again came to Sydney and eventually became a curate associated with the Reverend Samuel Marsden, later marrying that gentleman’s daughter. In 1827 he became the incumbent of the Cowpastures Parish, which extended all over southern New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia and towards, as facetiously stated, the South Pole, with headquarters at the then incipient Government township of Cobbitty. In recent years the affairs of “POMARE GROVE” have been taken over by a young peoples organisation under Christian auspices, and the building, now shining in a coat of white paint, has been maintained in excellent order.

Westwards, across the laneway, there is a large grassed area in which the neat Parish Hall is situated, where recently, through the courtesy of the rector, the Reverend Marsh, many members of the St. George Historical Society, after their attendance at the eleven o’clock service at the adjacent St. Paul’s Church, took advantage of the amenities and lunching facilities. A row of trees mark the frontage of the block and at the entrance gateway, growing against another short dead-end laneway, there is a row of small olive-trees, the tree nearest the gate being in full berry in April 1970.

Across the laneway stands St. Paul’s Church of England, a charming Gothic edifice of mixed styles, incorporating features of the Perpendicular period and minor details of that may be called the Early English period. The church, which cost 2,522 pounds 7/6, an exactitude which would please any auditor, was consecrated by Bishop Broughton in 1842. The structure is of ashlar sand-stone and the squat tower is dominated by a very fine steeple surmounted by a large cross. It has been stated that originally the church, together with the rectory opposite, once stood on the same block of land, evidentially the now dividing Cobbitty Road was constructed at a later date than 1870.

Entrance to the sacred edifice may be made by any one of four side vestries, those on the eastern and the western walls being commonly used by the parishioners, whilst that at the north-eastern corner of the fabric, overshadowed by an immense “Bean” tree, is generally reserved for the entry of the choir and the clergy. There are at least five magnificent stained glass windows, which, when illuminated to their full beauty by the morning sunlight, fill the church precincts with dazzling colour, reds, purples, blues, orange yellows, and deep greens. Their brilliance holds one spell bound. The chancel is of very small dimensions, of sufficient width to contain the altar in comfort, whilst the communion rail infringes into the space afforded by the two short transepts. The transepts hold several box-shaped enclosed pews, each with a low entrance door. In some instances these private pew “sittings” have been held in reserve by local families for many generations. Originally there was a “Three-decker” pulpit, a somewhat rare fitting, where the preacher occupied the top deck to give his sermon, the church clerk the second deck, and the sexton sat in the lower deck at floor level. Before the arrival of the fine organ an orchestra of sorts conducted the music of the church, the tune being set by the clerk sounding the relevant note on a large tuning fork after the hymn or psalm was announced.

On the occasion of the visit by the members of the St. George Historical Society to the 11 a.m. Morning Service on May 17th, 1970, the juvenile choir, in their robes, consisted of ten choristers who entered the church in procession and led with the singing of the opening hymn. It is believed that six members of the choir came from one family and the other four from another family circle. It was a very pleasant and memorable experience to have worshipped in this fine country church of the village of Cobbitty.

The cemetery surrounding St. Paul’s Church is well kept and a credit to those good people who have made themselves responsible for its maintenance. The church grounds are notable for the splendour of the trees, which include a Weeping Cypress, a pleasure to look upon, and a majestic Bunya Pine, or Monkey Puzzle, as it is locally known. In November the Jacaranda trees display their clusters of mauve blooms to perfection, and the magnificent “Bean” tree, overshadowing the front of the church, is a rare specimen that may have an Indian background.

Tucked away in the south-west corner of the church-yard, with its entrance doorway facing to the east, flanked by two tall knarled cypress trees of sombre mien, stands the historic Heber Chapel. This low building was erected in 1828, and was the first church built at Cobbitty, being named after Bishop Heber, then Bishop of Calcutta, and consecrated by the Reverend Samuel Marsden. Residential premises are attached to the south-western side of the building and are still in occupation. This was the head-quarters of the Reverend Thomas Hassall where he stayed for a period of forty-one years, combining the pursuits of farming with those appertaining to his clerical duties. As before mentioned his original parish embraced “All Australia, south of Liverpool”. Thomas Hassall died in 1868 and is buried in the adjacent cemetery. The Heber Chapel is now used for Sunday School classes and has had a religious background for more than one hundred and forty two years.

The allotment next door, now a wilderness of Acacia-trees, once held a small cottage of rather primitive construction which has long been demolished. A sketch made in 1952 shows a slab-walled building with corrugated-iron roof and sundry water storage tanks of similar material. The separate kitchen, obviously incorporated within the precincts of the stable, had a huge brick chimney, wide enough at its hearth base to roast an ox, its upper brickwork being corbelled in steps of decreasing width until the squat rectangular-shaped chimney-flue was reached.

It was, perhaps, the widest chimney of its kind ever to come under our appreciative notice. We speculated how cosy its great wood fire must have been on frosty nights, and it can be intensely cold in Cobbity village. The little slab-sided kitchen, illuminated by the fire-light, and perhaps an odd candle or two, would have its occupants closely gathered around the hearth, basking in its warmth, with the household dogs and the cat well to the fore. Truly a domestic scene of rural contentment.

This old time cottage appeared to have marked the housing limit of Cobbitty village as clustered around its dominant and stately church. Beyond, the Cobbitty Road continued its westerly course, passing through tree-covered grazing land to reach the intersection of Cut Hill Road. Here the old highway turned sharply south, and then curved west and south-west, passing isolated farm-houses enroute, some of great age, to cross a bridge over the picturesque tree-lined banks of the Nepean River, Over the bridge a connection was made with the road which led southwards to link with Camden and north-westwards, via Brownlow Hill, to the hamlet of Werombj, the junction marking the end of Cobbitty Road.

Cobbitty Village exercises a charm over those who are acquainted with its treasured past, and the personalities of these people involved in its development. Not the least of its charms is the quiet unhurried atmosphere, engendered to a large extent by the beauty of its tree-clad surroundings,the beauty of its ancient church, and the comeliness of its few remaining old-world cottages.

This article was first published in the July 1970 edition of our magazine.

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Captain James Birnie

The following letter was received by the Secretary in April 1970:

In the Bi-centenary issue of the Leader, reference is made to a whaling master Captain James Birnie who gave up the sea to settle in Sydney about 1890 and in the edition of March 18th mention is made of the whereabouts of his headstone.

I have lived in Bexley for nearly eighty years. In my young days we used to pass through a bushland now occupied by Bexley’s main shopping centre known as Birnie’s Bush. It was bounded by what is now Oriental Street, Forest Road, Kingsland Road and Godwin Street.

Two tracks led from the top of Abercorn Street, one to the left coming out at the top of Oriental Street and the other to the right coming out opposite the present post office.

Beyond Oriental Street, Mrs. Birnie lived in the big house later occupied by Dr. Laverty with the land running back to Godwin Street (only a track in those days). The house was known as Oaklands and two large oaks stood at the gateway. A smithy’s forge was next under another oak tree.

We seldom saw Mrs. Birnie but I understand a relative named Smalley lived in a house afterwards demolished to make Bexley Road.

Do you think this was the same Birnie? I would like to know.

P. S. We came here in 1892.

Yours faithfully,
(Miss) Bessie F. Hill

“Oaklands” in Oriental Street, Bexley (courtesy Bayside Library)

In reply to the letter from Miss B. F. Hill, published in the June Bulletin of the St George Historical Society, we would like to thank those members who have forwarded information in reference to this article.

In answer to the question, the following comprehensive reply was submitted by Mrs. N. Hutton-Neave.

Birnie And Bexley

With reference to the enquiry by Miss B. F. Hill in the June Gazette concerning Mrs. Birnie of “Oaklands”, there is no connection with Captain James Birnie.

Captain Jas. Birnie arrived at Sydney in his whaler the “Star” in 1802; he returned to England and brought out his wife in 1809 (confirmed by Shipping Register).

The Birnies settled in a “town house” in O’Connell Street, where they lived for about fifteen years. (confirmed Sydney Gazette – various issues).,

James Birnie was granted by “Governor’s Promise” Portion No. 1 of 700 acres at Kurnell (then unnamed) – first described as in the Parish of Holdsworth or Holdsworthy, then “at Botany”. He named this “Alpha” Farm, but the convict clerk never having heard Greek, entered it in the Grants Register as “Half-a-Farm”. The correct name was not legally recorded until the Grant Deeds were issued in 1844: the Title was delayed owing to litigation concerning another part of Birnie’s Estate (confirmed by Grants Register).

Captain Birnie died 1844 and his wife in 1851, and both were buried in the Presbyterian Section of the Devonshire Street (“Sandhills”) Cemetery. When this land was resumed in 1901 for Central Railway these two headstones were removed to Botany Cemetery. (confirmed by Burial Records Mitchell Library).

Captain Birnie and his wife had no children, no next-of-kin in Australia, and no near next-of-kin in England: so that the Mrs. Birnie of “Oaklands” cannot have any connection with Captain Birnie.

Inter alia, “Alpha Farm” was the correct name given by Captain Birnie, as will be seen by advertisements, etc. signed by him, in early contemporary issues of the Sydney Gazette. A “Governor’s Promise” of land was not legally binding and could be rescinded – and occasionally was, for the “Promise” was issued conditionally, e.g. subject to survey, non- alienation for a stated period, and improvements to the land (i.e. development), Thus the name entered in the Grants Register was not recognised legally, but only as a means of identification, and could be altered at any time before the Deeds were granted. (confirmed by Registrar General’s Department, Land Records Section). In regard to this particular grant it is a common error for it to be referred to as “Half-a-Farm”; Cridland in his “Story of Port Hacking Cronulla and Sutherland Shire” 1924, made this error, which like other errors in his book, has unfortunately been perpetuated by unqualified “researchers”; but checking of facts by any experienced historical research student will establish the truth.

These articles were first published in the June 1970 and July 1970 editions of our magazine.

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Brighton-Le-Sands: A Suburb Evolved From The Sandhills

The development of Brighton-le-Sands as one of Sydney’s first “model” suburbs was due, almost entirely, to the enterprise of one man. That man was Thomas Saywell. Nowhere in Sydney has the name of one man been so extensively associated with the progress of a particular area and yet, oddly enough, no trace of his name will be found in any street, park, building or other place in the district.

Thomas Saywell (courtesy Bayside Library)

Perhaps the best memorial to his pioneering influence at Brighton is the grand avenue of Norfolk Island pine trees that form such a landmark at the Beach, and which Saywell was himself responsible for planting there over seventy years ago.

To trace the suburban beginnings of Brighton, it is necessary to look back to the eighties of the last century. Brighton really began as an off-shoot of Rockdale. Prior to 1870, most of the first settlers lived along Muddy Creek and Rocky Point Road. A mere handful of people, they were mostly market gardeners, timber getters and poultry or pig farmers.

Thoroughfares in those days were mere cart tracks. One of them wound down over a hill from Rockdale, across a swamp and petered out in the sandhills near the beach. Today we know this track as Bay Street. Another track was made from West Botany Street, across Muddy Creek towards the beach. It was originally called Goode Street but afterwards re-christened Bestic Street.

Eighty years ago the last sign of civilisation on the Bay side of Rockdale were Francis’s duck farm about half a mile back from the beach and the lonely home of a German butcher, George Hook, on the site of the present Brighton Public School.

The area that was to eventually become Brighton-le-Sands then comprised part of a great belt of wilderness varying from half a mile to a mile in width, and extending parallel with Lady Robinson’s Beach from Cooks giver right through to Dolls Point and Sandringham. No one except a few wandering bands of blacks or an odd fisherman lived in that huge tract of virgin country. For the most part it was inhospitable; comprising arid stretches of sandhills, a dense blanket of scrub and thick forest. The part where Brighton now stands was actually described as a “desert” at one time. This hungry waterless region was certainly unattractive to the pioneers for most farming purposes. They preferred the rich soil along the flats of Muddy Creek.

Between 1870 and 1880 two historic events occurred which tended towards more attention being given to settlement along the beach. The first was the incorporation of the Municipality of West Botany and the second was the naming of Lady Robinson’s. Beach. Hitherto that great length of sea-washed strand was popularly spoken of as Seven-Mile Beach – although actually it is less than five miles long.

Its official title commemorates the name of the wife of the Governor of N.S.W. from 1872 to 1879, Sir Hercules Robinson. The person responsible for the naming was Thomas Holt, M. L. C., one-time Colonial Treasurer, the wealthy pioneer who once lived at Sylvania and owned most of Sutherland Shire.

The story goes that Holt was host to a large picnic party at the beach one day in the seventies, his guests including the Governor and his lady. It was Lady Robinson’s admiration of the local silver sands that caused the beach to be named after her. Thence afterwards, it became her ladyship’s favourite resort for horseback riding.

Between 1882 and 1890, the Colonial Government acquired more than 600 acres of what is now North Brighton and Kyeemagh for use as a “farm” for the southern outfall of Sydney’s early sewerage system. This did not enhance its popularity and for several decades after 1882 it remained the dead-end of the Municipality, a bar to local settlement and inter-suburban communication.

At this stage of our story Thomas Saywell comes upon the scene.

Thomas Saywell was born in Nottingham, England and educated in France. In 1848 at the age of eleven years, he arrived in Sydney. Saywell first achieved prominence in 1881 when, in partnership with Sir Hugh Dixon, he floated the Saywell Tobacco Company and very soon cornered a large share of the Australian Market. He also founded the Clifton and South Clifton Collieries and the Vale of Clwydd Coal Company. He owned the Zig Zag Coal Company and erected the huge Bellambi ocean jetty near South Bulli at a cost of £40, 000. He founded the Eagle and Standard Brick Companies and had large interests in the copper mines at Cobar.

Thomas Saywell was a director of a number of Sydney Companies and was one of the city’s leading commercial personalities.

In the early 1880’s Saywell bought about 100 acres of the wilderness and sandhills facing the beach and extending from Bay Street to Bestic Street for £1,000. On portion of this land he built an hotel which in those days cost in the vicinity of £20,000. He also acquired a large area of land to the south of Bay Street.

It is quite possible that even before he took up this land Saywell could foresee the improvements and facilities he was later to establish there.

The leading factor which no doubt influenced his decision to open up the beach was the commencement of the construction of the Illawarra Suburban Railway. The first length as far as Hurstville was opened in 1884 but twelve months before this event Saywell had approached the authorities for permission to construct and maintain a tramway along Bay Street from the proposed Rockdale Station to Lady Robinson’s Beach.

On March 6, 1884, a special Act of Parliament was passed granting him the right to make and maintain the tramway and to run it for a period of 30 years.

A Saywell tram (courtesy Bayside Library)

Some of the preliminary work done to open up the beach area included the forming of Bay Street right through to the beach and the levelling and clearing of the extensive sandhills. Side streets and a short section of the Grand Parade were formed later and in 1885 construction of the first half of the big swimming baths at the beach was begun, together with a long pier which was to separate, on final completion, the women’s and men’s sections. About that time Saywell’s steam tramway was being built and in the decade between 1885 and 1895 he expended thousands of pounds to make Brighton a model suburb.

The swimming baths were a particular innovation in those pre-surfing days, there being only two or three others in the whole city. Saywell spent several thousand pounds on those baths. Constructed almost entirely of timber and corrugated iron, the first half had an enclosure of between 250 and 300 square feet. All along the sides were dressing cubicles and there was a refreshment room at the entrance. Its freshwater showers and hot seawater baths were a novelty for those days. The latter were claimed to be a “sure cure for rheumatic complaints’. Women were permitted to use the enclosure from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. each day and men before and after those hours. As many as one thousand Deotile crowded the enclosure at one time.

In 1887 the second half of the baths was built separated from the first portion by a huge promenade pier. This pier became, apart from anything else, a popular spot among rod and line fishermen.

Admittance to the baths was twopence for adults and a penny for children or else portion of the combined rail-tram-baths (or still later, rail-tram-racecourse-baths) ticket could be used.

People came from many suburbs of Sydney, especially Newtown and such places to bathe and picnic at the beach. The old horse-drawn coaches alone used to bring crowds of people from outlying areas. Every Sunday morning a special train was run from Redfern, at six-thirty returning at 8 a.m. so that hundreds of before-breakfast dippers could sample the briny.

Perhaps the best remembered feature of these baths was a large, long sign in feet high lettering painted on the galvanised iron sheets enclosing the women’s baths. As people walked along the jetty they read “Blackguards peep in, gentlemen pass on” all of which seems to have been a little unnecessary when it is realised that a woman’s bathing attire in sharp contra8t to that worn by the men covered their entire form from neck to ankle and filled out like a balloon when they were in the water.

The first lessee to take charge of Saywell’s Baths was the well-remembered Lieutenant F.A. Von Hammer, a noted swimming instructor who was formerly at the Domain Baths and later at Manly.

Early patrons included the famous Australian athletes ‘Snowy” Baker and Fred Lane, Jack Hellings and Ken Chambers. Miss Annette Kellerman (champion lady swimmer), Peter Jackson (coloured boxer) and many other notables had many swims in the old baths.

Thomas Saywell retained ownership of the baths until 1921.

In the early part of 1886, the Government resumed the whole length of Lady Robinson’s Beach and a narrow strip of land behind it and from thence on it was called Cook Park. This reserve was originally 105 acres in extent – one of the longest park areas in Sydney but over the years much of it has been washed back into the Bay.

New Brighton Hotel (courtesy Bayside Library)

The hotel which Saywell erected at Brighton and which he called the “New Brighton” Hotel was a “grand” hotel in every sense of the word. Built in graceful Italian Style it was claimed to be the finest in the colony. It comprised about eighty compartments including forty bedrooms and a large billiard room with two tables. From its tower a fine panoramic view of Botany Bay and the surrounding country could be obtained. Set back in extensive gardens with artistically arranged shrubs and trees it had the appearance of an oasis amid the surrounding dunes of sand.

At the rear of the building stood a large pavilion.

In the nineties the Hotel was conducted by a Mr. Harry Figg who gave it the rather quaint name of “The Lick-House Hotel” but one of the oddest and least known facts about it was that in 1892 it became the first home for the Scots’ College.

For some reason the hotel lost its licence and the premises were rented by Rev. A.A. Aspinall a Presbyterian Minister. From distinctly modest beginnings the school grew, its chief attraction being its proximity to the baths. Unfortunately for the moral welfare of the boys, a racecourse was established nearby attracting an element which was described as extremely undesirable. In any case the waters of Botany Bay “were unsuitable for rowing for the boys being too shallow and often treacherous” and the site of the college was both bleak and windy. Aspinall packed up his college in 1896 and moved it to its present location at Bellevue Hill. The licence was restored and it operates as a public house to this day.

The hotel was once the rendezvous of various celebrities in the sporting world. Several famous boxers resided there and trained in the pavilion at the rear during the late eighties and early nineties. Among them were the former world featherweight champion Albert (Griffo) Griffiths and Dan Creedon. The greaty Tommy Burns also trained there, and it was at the Brighton Hotel too that the famous coloured boxer, Peter Jackson took up residence after his return to Australia in 1899.

The pavilion which stood at the rear of the hotel was an enormous structure – 170 feet long and 41 feet wide with a high domed ceiling and minareted towers. It could accommodate 1,500 people and what was perhaps its most amazing feature, it was lit by electricity.

In later years this remarkable building was used for roller skating, dancing, concerts and boxing.

In 1887 Saywell moved from his home at Petersham and took up residence in The Grand Parade. From that date until the turn of the century be had various streets opened up and many cottages erected. The imposing terrace which still fronts The Grand Parade is but one of these projects.

Other enterprises initiated by Saywell during these years include a series of bores which he had sunk in the sand beds to ensure a reliable water supply and the placing of a number of ancient pieces of cannonry beneath the pine trees facing the beach, for decoration or protection, we are not quite sure.

One of the most popular features of the resort was the steamboat service which operated between the pier and Saywell’s baths and Kurnell, Botany and Sans Souci. Cruises on the “S.S. Erina” were the highlight of any visit to Brighton.

S.S. Erina (courtesy Bayside Library)

Until the late 1880’s all Saywell’s improvements took place north of Bay Street but as the nineteenth century drew to a close he developed south of Bay Street an establishment called “Shady Nook”. This was a park and pleasure ground which occupied the corner of The Grand Parade and Bay Street opposite the hotel. Its features included shady trees, wide expanses of grass, old tram cars as shelter sheds, a merry-go-round, seesaws, swings, a bandstand and a refreshment kiosk. In the refreshment room was opened Brighton’s first post office.

Children at Shady Nook, circa 1910 (courtesy Bayside Library)

Another uncatalogued attraction was presence of large numbers of bushes bearing a fleshy berry called “Five-corners”. These were much sought after by children and were often sold to supplement their pocket money. Encounters with snakes and bull-ants, both of which abounded in the area appeared to hold little terror for the children who ravaged the area armed with bags and tins.

The following description of Brighton and Saywell’s part in developing it appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald late in 1889.

“Mr. Saywell has, with unstinted energy laid out sufficient money to all but perfect the requirements of a watering place. Viewing the young township of New Brighton as a whole, it affords only another instance of the surprising rapidity with which, by judicious outlay of capital in suburban Sydney, substantial townships and rapidly increasing populations take the place of barren bush and wild, seemingly valueless stretches of country.”

The racecourse previously mentioned, like all Saywell’s enterprises, was quite remarkable by contemporary standards. To construct it he had to level a sandhill which was something of a landmark on the site. The frontage was to Bay Street with the western side limited by what is now Francis Avenue. Although not large, it was more than ample for pony, galloway and trotting events. For privacy a twelve foot fence was erected around it. In between race meetings the oval in the centre of the course served the purpose of a football and cricket field, an arena for pigeon shooting matches and a parade ground for the St. George Regiment.

Brighton Racecourse, circa 1905 (courtesy Bayside Library)

In 1911, however the racecourse was sold and Princess Street, Gordon Street and Moate Avenue extended across its environs.

Because the name New Brighton caused confusion with a smaller Brighton being developed near Manly the name was changed in 1900 to the present distinctive title of “Brighton-le -Sands”.

This description has purposely omitted a detailed account of Mr. Saywell’s tramway because this has been treated in great detail in other publications. It will suffice to say that in 1900 also, Saywell sold his original steam tram engines the “Saywell” and the “Pigmy” and had his system electrified. He converted portion of his stables at the rear of the hotel into a power house which contained a steam engine generator and many large storage batteries. Saywell used power from his plant to light many homes and business premises in the district as well and it was not until the advent of the St. George County Council in 1920 that this plant ceased to operate.

By 1911, the racecourse was closed and in June 1914, the State Government took over the tramway. A few years later he sold the baths and after offering it to the Rockdale Council first, sold and subdivided “Shady Nook”.

In 1926 after thirty-nine years residence, Thomas Saywell moved to Mosman where he died two years later at the great age of 91.

By his death there passed from the commercial life of Sydney a most picturesque personality and whilst the years have dimmed many of the memories of his business enterprises, Brighton-le-Sands the model suburb which his courage, foresight and enterprise developed from a waste of sand and scrub, remains his enduring memorial.

This article was first published in the October 1963 edition of our magazine.

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The Affairs Of James Wilson: An Early Settler Of Rockdale

by Gifford and Eileen Eardley

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.

James and Isabella Wilson

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.

Wilson’s Farmhouse in 2019 (courtesy St George & Sutherland Shire Leader)

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.

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Thomas Townshend, First Viscount Sydney: The man after whom our city was named

by Alderman R. W. Rathbone

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.

Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney, c1785. Painting attributed to Gilbert Stuart (courtesy Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales)

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.

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