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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The Affairs Of Isaac Beehag, Dairyman, Rockdale

by Gifford Eardley

Isaac Beehag was the eldest son of James and Mary Beehag, being born on July 18th, 1841, the address of his parents then being listed at Liverpool Road, Canterbury. In 1852 the farm property at Canterbury was sold and Isaac, together with the rest of the family, came to reside on a grant of seventy-nine acres, made to James Beehag, which ranged along the southern side of the present Bay Street, Rockdale, then known as West Botany. At the age of eighteen Isaac augmented the limited family income by cutting firewood in the Black Forest (now Hurstville), carting it by dray to Sydneytown and hawking it through the back streets for sale to householders in need of fuel for their domestic fires.

About 1860 Isaac Beehag married Miss Mary Ann Wilson, the daughter of a neighbour who lived nearby in West Botany Street, It may be mentioned that Mary Ann’s old home, built of ashlar sandstone, still stands at 1970, although at this late date it appears to be occupied by Chinese gardeners. There were ten children of the marriage but unfortunately their first-born son, named James, died at the early age of five years. Then came Isabella, who married James Godfrey in August 1890. Ellen, married Thomas Jordan of Kogarah on March 17th, 1886. William, married Alice Fry of Sofala about 1891 or 1892, Maria, married Frank Fletcher Bancroft (a messenger at the Rockdale post-office) in March 1904, Margaret, who left Sydney in September 1904 for South Africa to marry Alec Burden, formerly of Climpton Street, Rockdale, Elizabeth, married Elias Godfrey in 1890. George, married Katherine Clissold of Arncliffe about 1894-5. Alfred, married Mary Jane Cary of Bexley, (related to the Parkes family), and Mary Ann married Francis Walter Worthington on April 14th, 1914, in South Africa. This latter couple returned to New South Wales in 1924 and the husband died in 1944, Mary Ann then married Thomas Beaman, a former schoolmate, at Moorebank on April 14th, 1958, This gentleman died in October 1960. Mary Ann, now a charming lady, approaching her 90th year, is still hale and hearty and is the last of the children of Isaac Beehag, a large and pioneering family with many descendants living in the St. George District.

Isaac and Mary Ann Beehag

About 1878 Isaac Beehag was still listed as a carter, and it has been stated that he was the first Town Clerk of the West Botany Council, which then met at Arncliffe. This clerical work was evidently carried out in an honorary capacity, possibly at the instigation of his father who was a local Alderman and fulfilled the position of Mayor for the second, third, fifth, and sixth years of the Council’s activities.

It was in the early 1880s, or thereabouts, that Isaac Beehag disengaged himself from gardening and wood carting pursuits and became established as a dairyman on his Uncle William Beehag’s property around Spring Creek in the eastern portion of present day Banksia. The dairy farm ranged along the shallow northern slopes of Rockdale Hill against the alignment of Tabrett Street where a herd of cows, some Ayrshire, and others of the Illawarra breed, some red coated, some white, and others a mixture of both colours, The dairy farm supplied the needs of customers living throughout the Kogarah, Rockdale, Bexley, and Arncliffe suburbs.

One particularly white cow, named “Lily”, was a favourite of the milking personnel, but another animal, known by the distinctive name of “lronbark”, proved tough to milk and was far from popular. A good cow gave upwards of thirty quarts of milk per day (seven and a half gallons) which is a remarkable output. As cows do not recognise Sunday as a day of rest the milking team had no Sabbath rest from their everyday chores, although the roundsmen had the afternoon off. To feed the cows it required the energy of two men, one to turn the handle of the chaff-cutter, and the other to feed hay into the machine. The chaff thus gained, together with a mixture of bran and corn-meal, had to be cooked on two occasions each day and formed the staple diet of the dairy herd. The cooking process was carried out in a huge iron cauldron, about four and a half feet in diameter, heated by a wood fire placed beneath.

Isaac Beehag is reputed to have been the first local dairyman serving the then somewhat scattered community, per medium of two milk-carts and three cart-horses. In between whiles he also indulged, so it has been said, in a little market-gardening as a sideline, A weekly load of vegetables were taken by dray to the city markets for sale, and when there was a surfeit of green foodstuffs it was occasionally necessary to bring the load back to the garden, a heartbreaking journey as no money had been obtained to offset the hardwork involved, the digging, planting, watering, and the gathering, washing, and bundling, all a dead loss, apart from providing luscious tit-bits to the ever hungry cows. It may be mentioned that Spring Creek, a clear pellucid stream of those days, bordered the garden property and its waters were dammed by a sluice gate, to conserve the necessary water for distribution by watering cans amongst the various growing beds. The banks of the creek were lined with quince-trees, the fruit of which proved saleable for jam-making. The crops grown comprised beans, cabbages, carrots, peas, turnips, and such like, whilst the bed of the creek proved ideal for water-cress, then in great demand for salads.

The Beehag family at this time lived in a small cottage with slab walls located near Tabrett Street, Banksia, on the higher and dryer portion of the land. The double-fronted facade was not provided with a verandah, the door opening from the outside path, whilst each of the front rooms had its small paned glass windows. The living room was at the north-eastern corner of the house and had an outside brick fireplace, broad based at the lower end, with its small rectangular shaped flue projecting above the roof ridge. A narrow verandah, flagged with sandstone slabs, led past the window of the living room to give access from the rear door to a single width separate kitchen which had its chimney (fitted with a “Colonial Oven”) placed outside the slab walls. The cottage, free from any adornment, was purely functional in its character.

The four interior rooms intercommunicated with each other and were each lined with hessian, this rough woven material being nailed direct to the inside face of the slab walls. The hessian was well papered to prevent draughts and the entry of the dreaded night air. Candles and oil lamps provided lighting at night, being carried from room to room as required. Large circular shaped tubs, and a clothes boiler were provided for the weekly washing programme, the water being obtained from either one of the three wells which were close handy to the rear of the premises. The buckets, dangling at the end of a rope, were raised and lowered hand over hand at the well-head and carried to the house. The water supply for the cattle was also handled in this manner, although further supplies were obtained from the neighbouring Spring Creek and its sluice dam.

It has been stated that Mary Ann Beehag, the good housewife, found a cool place for the butter at the base of the living room chimney, where the circulating breeze passing up the flue had the definite advantage of keeping down the temperature. An exploring snake wriggling in from the neighbouring market garden also found the chimney hearth to its liking, and was not above having a snack from the butter container. Great was the excitement amongst the household when the presence of the snake was discovered. Isaac raced for his shot-gun whilst a daughter was sent to play suitable music on the parlour harmonium, music calculated to inspire the snake to get a wriggle on. One would appreciate a knowledge of the tune played on this momentous occasion, apparently it was alluring enough to bring the snake from its hiding place into the living room, where Isaac gave it a blast from his shot-gun, causing injuries from which it did not recover.

For reasons which are now obscure it became necessary for Isaac Beehag to vacate the dairy farm at Tabrett Street as from about 1887, and take his cow bails and milking sheds etc, together with “Lily” and “Ironbark” and the rest of the herd of cows to a small wind-swept paddock at the crest of Arncliffe Hill, Little if any agistment was available at the new site and it was necessary to seek pasture land elsewhere, the animals being driven out and returned daily under the custody of a herdsman. A sufficient supply of fresh water was a big problem and daily trips had to be made to the unnamed creek flowing into Cooks River in the vicinity of the Cooks River Dam at Tempe. The family lived in a large two-storied weatherboard house, which, it is presumed, still stands adjacent to the present day Pitt Owen Avenue, a poplar tree-lined cul-de-sac once aptly known as Cliff Street, Arncliffe. The large house is now converted to a series of residential flats. Nearby and facing Forest Road was a small weatherboard building, flanked by pepper-trees, said to have been Arncliffe’s first general store, an emporium which has long vanished from the scene. The stay of the Beehag menage off Forest Road only lasted about eighteen months, as the site proved most unsuitable in every way, and a move was made in 1888 to the orchard property of Mr. Ferrier, located in the Upper Spring Creek valley, on the lower northern slopes of Bexley Hill, where grazing and living conditions were more to the liking of the large family.

The Ferrier’s house was a single-storied place, with perhaps six main rooms, situated at the then eastern terminal of Herbert Street. Beneath the wooden floor of a large verandah was a deep well, its trap-door covered by a long table, the water being raised by means of a hand-operated pump for household purposes and then carried in buckets to the section of the house where the previous liquid was required.

The orchard ground was spread over eighteen acres of which some eight acres were devoted to fruit growing. There were seven varieties of apple-trees, plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, orange-trees, mandarin trees, medlars, figs, mulberries, cape-gooseberries, grapes, damson plums, and also a flattish variety of Japanese plum. Guavas of both the small red and the large yellow varieties flourished and it is believed that an attempt had been made, without success, to grow pineapples.

In these shall we say fruitful surroundings the cows, some thirty in all, led a contented life, although, sad to relate, a couple died through the inroads of a particularly wet winter. These beasts, in good condition, each having a sale price of about thirty pounds cash. Evidently the place was unhealthy as Isaac Beehag also took a sickness and about 1891 he moved, with his family and cow sheds and other paraphernalia, to Mr. Stapletons old home, known as Pembroke Park, at Kingsgrove. Here they occupied a weatherboard cottage, with two attic rooms, which was located opposite Smithson’s famous wine-bar on Stoney Creek Road.

The family lived in these quarters until 1893 when Isaac Beehag decided to return to his earlier haunts at Tabrett Street. During his absence from this scene the old slab hutment had been demolished and a new cottage, built by the then owner of the “Belmont” property, Mr. Samuel Beehag, was ready for occupation. Isaac brought his now almost portable cow-sheds and bails from Kingsgrove and re-erected them on their original site. The cows were driven overland to their former pasture ground and everybody was happy. It is unfortunate that Isaac died in June 1894, leaving his good wife to carry on the dairy business until about 1901 when, her health having failed, the business as a going concern was sold to an Englishman named Joseph Moreton. It may be mentioned that the entrance gate to the new dairy farm was opposite to the intersection of Gibbes Street with Tabrett Street.

It has been related that Isaac Beehag was either the first, or the second, person to be buried in the then newly opened Woronora Cemetery at Sutherland, Mr, Charles Fripps being the registrar. In due course his beloved and industrious wife was laid to rest beside him, The Tabrett Street farm has long departed, and its place is now occupied by rows of modern bungalows, a housing estate served by Chestnut Drive and a pair of cul-de-sacs.

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

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Book Review: “Into the Unknown: The Tormented Life and Expeditions of Ludwig Leichhardt” by John Bailey

396 pages, published by Pan Macmillan 2011

Review by Laurice Bondfield

Another recently published book! The author, John Bailey has written two much praised books on Australian history: The White Divers of Broome and Mr Stuart’s Track, and this book is sure to be another. There has not been much non-specialist writing published on Leichhardt and this book fills a gap. Leichhardt’s life story and accomplishments as an explorer have often been overshadowed by the sensational fact of his disappearance and by Patrick White’s novel Voss vaguely based on his character.

What do we learn from this biography? Firstly, how well educated Leichhardt was. Born to a poor farming family in the village of Trebatsch in Prussia, the sixth of nine children, he was sent at the age of six to a boarding school in a nearby village. As the author points out, except for holidays, he never lived with his family again. From there at the age of eleven he won a place against stiff competition in the Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium in Cottbus. There is much fascinating detail about the political background of the Prussian defeat by Napoleon and the course the Emperor Friedrich-Wilhelm took to strengthen his country by reforming the education system and army.In 1831 at age eighteen, he graduated with the “Abitur” and entered the Fiedrich-Wilhelm University of Berlin (now Humboldt University) where he studied for six years (with a” Wanderjahr” (wander-year) at Gottingen University in the German tradition), constantly changing courses until he struck on the natural sciences which fired his interest.

Since childhood, he had been fascinated by the travels and scientific discoveries of Alexander von Humboldt in Latin America and longed to emulate them. A holiday walking and camping in the Harz mountains strengthened this resolve. A friendship with two English brothers John and William Nicholson led to a trip to England and a period in London then Paris, studying the collections at the famous museums in these cities and attending the free lectures offered by these institutions as well as walking tours in France and Switzerland observing and collecting plants and rocks. One problem faced Leichhardt – like all young Prussian men he was required to spend a time in the military, which interested him not at all and which he tried to avoid.

Finally with the help of William Nicholson, whose brother was migrating to Australia, Leichhardt set out on the Sir Edward Paget in 1841 bound for Sydney. He felt Providence had offered him a chance to lead the life he had always wanted in a land where so many mysteries both geographical and natural needed to be solved. From the moment he arrived he was fascinated by the land and determined on leading a journey of exploration as soon as he could. He travelled extensively in the Hunter region and northern N.S.W. and Queensland, sleeping rough and learning how to live on the land. In 1844 he began his first and most successful journey to Port Essington (near present day Darwin).The account of this expedition is harrowing. The expedition was meagrely funded and Leichhardt made poor choices in the men to accompany him. Nevertheless in 1845, after most people in the colony had given him up as dead, he and his ill-assorted companions reached Port Essington. On the journey Leichhardt’s hardiness, botanical knowledge and willingness to try eating “Everything that grew, flew, swam, hopped, ran or slithered” saved them from starvation: bandicoot, a joey, kangaroo, cockatoo, lorikeet, emu, fish, eels, mussels, goanna, snakes, native lemons, nonda plums, palm hearts, bush honey, caper bush berries cassia pods cordia tree fruit all were consumed when flour, tea and sugar ran out. He even found passable substitutes for coffee and tea!

On his return to Sydney, he was lionised by society, which did not suit him at all and he hurried to plan and begin another expedition to cross the continent and reach the Swan River settlement. This was an unmitigated disaster: constant rain, sickness and dissension among another ill-assorted group forced him to abandon the attempt. Humiliated by this disaster and by hostile stories spread by his former companions, convinced Providence was deserting him, he hastened to set out again in 1848. On 5th April he and his six companions rode out from Cogoon Station in the Darling Downs heading west and were never seen again.

The author details attempts to find him or any remains-over nine different expeditions with little result. After all, there is a huge area to cover and Leichhardt did not give any precise indications of which way he intended to go. Bailey also lists the common explanations of what could possibly have happened to the group-no theory has any persuasive evidence to back it. All that remains is a nameplate from a gunstock-not even the stock itself was kept. The gunstock was found wedged into a fork in a tree and no-one could explain how it came to be there as no other items or bodies were found anywhere near.

John Bailey has written a detailed and intriguing account of one of the most mysterious episodes in Australian colonial history. His portrait of Leichhardt -driven by a thirst for knowledge, by an insatiable desire to explore the unknown- is compelling. Highly recommended to all who love biography and mystery.

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

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Bexley: As I Knew It, from 1895 – 1917

Grace (Middenway) Nicholls, Faulconbridge N.S.W. 1963

John S. Middenway was the principal of Bexley Public School from 1895 to 1917 (courtesy Bayside Library)

I have been asked by Mr Philip Geeves, Historian for the St. George District, Sydney, N.S.W., to write some of my early memories of Bexley; also to give a brief outline of the life and work of my father, John Saunders Middenway. I remember so much that it is difficult to know what to record and what to leave unwritten.

We went to Bexley towards the end of 1895, when I was nine years old. We had been living in Wagga, where my Father had been Headmaster of Gurwood Street School.


Father was born in Sydney, when his parents were living in a house near the Observatory, somewhere in the vicinity of Fort Street School, on April 24th, 1855. Later his parents moved to Woolloomooloo Bay. Part of the backyard of their home was a sandy beach, washed by the waters of the bay. That was before the reclamation was carried out, and the bay was filled in as far inshore as the old Fish Markets. His father, of Dutch descent (Gerritt Hendrick Middenway), was an engineer at “The Sydney Morning Herald” office. He died as the result of an accident while working there. His mother was an Englishwoman) whose first husband was Captain Spicer, an English Military Officer on duty in New Zealand during the Maori uprising in March 1845.

My grandmother was the first white woman living at Russell, in the Bay of Islands, in the north of New Zealand. I did not know either my grandmother or grandfather as they had died some years before I was born. After her first husband died, Grandmother came to Sydney where she married Grandfather. She had two children by the first marriage, and three Sons by the second. Father was the youngest.

Father was educated to the age of 14 years, at Fort Street School, Sydney, as also was my mother, Sarah Elizabeth Venteman, also of Dutch descent on her father’s side. Father left Fort Street, and became a pupil teacher at Paddington School. He received- instruction before and after school hours from the headmaster, and taught a class of boys during the day, many of them being older than he. He later became an Assistant at Paddington School. When he was about 20 years old, he was appointed Master of Clarence Town School. While there he and Mother were married. (Their parents had been friends before either of them was born.) They had 3 sons: Frank, Arthur & Gerritt Hendrick (Dick).

Father was teaching at Clarence Town for five and a half years. He as then transferred to Greta at that time a very small coal mining town. He was there for 11 1/2 years. My sister Ada Oliver, and I were born in Greta. From Greta we went to Wagga Wagga. My youngest- brother, John Reginald (known as “Reg” as a child, and “Jack” as…. he grew older) was born while we were living in Wagga.

After being at Gurwood Street school for three years, an exchange was arranged with Mr Hume, Headmaster at Bexley. Mr Hume did not have good health, and as Bexley was not far from the coast, he wished to move to a drier and warmer climate. Father was only too pleased to make the change as his children were growing up; the eldest, Frank, was then in charge of North Wagga School. He was 19, and the next 3 children were aged from 18 to 14 years. He realised it was a good opportunity to give them the advantage of living near a city.

Eliza Pearse was an early Bexley storekeeper and Bexley’s first postmistress (courtesy Bayside Library)

After the town of Wagga, with a main street nearly 2 miles long, and which even then in 1895, had 46 hotels, Bexley was quite a small village in comparison. The school, two or three small shops, two churches and a tiny Post Office, with a number of scattered houses, comprised Bexley. (On thinking back, I believe the Church of England was the only Church and that the Presbyterian Church was built later.) One side of Harrow Road was fairly well built on, but the district near the school was not nearly so closely settled. The Post Office was a tiny, whitewashed building of the very early type seen in the country many years ago, with a low corrugated iron roof, and built almost flat on the ground. It was in Forest Road, on the western side, in about the same position as the Community Centre occupies, near the top of Harrow Road. I believe it was attended by a Mrs Pearse. There were quite a number of people of that name living in Bexley then. Several of that name came to school. I remember a Charlie Pearse being in my class.

Eliza Pearse’s Bexley Store and post office (courtesy Bayside Library)

There was a larger cottage of the same type as the Post Office on part of the ground where Bexley school now stands. Granny Parkes (she was never known by any other name) lived there with her, daughter and son-in-law, Mr & Mrs Luck, in their family. Granny Parkes appeared to grandmother or close relative of nearly all the school children. I think she must have belonged to one of the earliest families to settle in Bexley. I would think by the style and age of the cottage that it was her original home. Mr Luck was a wood & coal merchant. They lived opposite the school residence, or “school house” as we called it, where we lived. It faced Forest Road, the ground went to the corner of Bay View Street. The house has been demolished for some years.

Mr Luck’s house was similar to the Post Office, only larger; very low roofed, whitewashed, & almost flush with the ground. It had a 3 roomed frontage. The 3rd room had no connecting door with the rest of the house, so the person occupying that room had to go out into the open when he wanted to go to bed, which was not too comfortable on a cold night.

One of Mr Luck’s sons was a teacher at the school when we arrived. Other teachers Were Miss Rose Simpson, Miss Woods & Miss Swan, who was a member of one of the highly respected, earlier families to settle in Parramatta.

From the verandah of the school house we had a fine view of part of Botany Bay, the high ground on which Long Bay Gaol is built, the district round the northern end of the bay and beyond, near where Bunnerong Power Station now stands. It wasn’t long before houses were built at the top end of Frederick Street (near Forest Road) & on the spare ground opposite the old school, blocking out much of our view; but on turning into Frederick Street on my way to the train or to the Congregational Church, Rockdale, which we attended, & where I was for many years Church Organist, I always had immense pleasure from the view of Botany Bay, Bare Island, Cape Banks Solander (“The Heads”), Kurnell, then in its native state, forming a dark green background to the obelisk which was erected to mark, the first landing on Australian soil. All this could be seen very plainly on a clear day (before the days of factories & smoke to take away the clearness of the atmosphere); the whole picture being highlighted by the blue of the bay the distant ocean showing between Botany Bay Heads. Eventually that view was also blocked out, as the large expanse of open country in that area was subdivided & streets & houses took the place of open ground.

The first night we spent in Bexley, it was decided that we would sleep at my Aunt’s home in Judd Street, Rockdale Park (or at least some of us would) as our furniture having come by train, was still partially unpacked. (I remember my job was to unwind yards & yards of strips of rag which had been wrapped round the legs of our dining room suite; how different from the easy way of moving furniture now!)

Rockdale Park is now Banksia, the name being changed when Banksia Railway Station was built. (Jannali & Allawah Stations were also built during our time at Bexley.) To go to Rockdale Park we crossed Frederick Street & Herbert Street. It was very dark, no lights anywhere. Soon we found ourselves stumbling over row after row of what we later found out to be grass covered furrows. It had been cultivated ground some time before. We were told later that it had been part of an orchard owned by Mr Lauff or his father. They lived in Lauff Street, a street running off Railway Street, Rockdale, towards the higher land on which Bexley is now built, on which was the furrowed ground we stumbled across that night. (Lauff Street was about the second or third street from Frederick Street, running parallel with it.) The furrowed land stretched from the foot of the grounds belonging to “Lydham Hall”, the large stone house on Lydham Hill, which was near what are now Oswell and Clarence Streets. After crossing the furrowed ground we eventually came to some rocks down which we had to scramble to get to the lower ground of Rockdale Park, not far from what was then Caincross’s dairy.

Lauff family home in Villiers Street, Rockdale, since demolished (courtesy Bayside Library)

It is all laid out now with streets and cottage homes. Mr Alec Sutherland was the first builder to buy land & erect cottages for letting or selling on terms in that area; in fact, I think possibly in Bexley. He was a Deacon of the Congregational Church. Why all the streets in that area were named Herbert, Frederick, Oswell, Clarence, etc., I am at a loss to know. I don’t know if these boys’ names had any historical significance or not. I never heard anyone speak of it, but I do think a little more originality could have been shown.

The street lighting in 1895 was most primitive and inadequate. The lamps were very few and far between, and many of the footpaths were not made. Frederick Street after rain was anything but pleasant to walk in, especially at night. One could easily be bogged as the ground was composed of clay in parts and would be very slippery and dangerous to walk on. Later the centre was laid with a path of bricks, about 3′ wide. The light from the street lamps was practically of no sue at all as the lamps were lit by gas. To the time of our leaving Bexley in 1917, there was no electricity. The school building had no lighting whatsoever. If a meeting was held there, it had to take place in the daylight hours, or those attending had to take kerosene lamps, storm lanterns, candles, etc., to light the room in which the meeting was held. Often lanterns were carried to church or meetings which were attended at night as the street lighting was so poor.

Aftermath of a 1930s flood, looking from Frederick Street on to Rawson Street, Rockdale (courtesy Bayside Library)

When we first went to Bexley we would see the lamplighter carrying his little step ladder over his shoulder every evening as he went on his rounds lighting the lamps.

Later, when incandescent burners were introduced, he used a stick with a hook on the end. There were two chains with rings attached at the end, hanging from the burner. To light the lamp, one of the rings would be pulled down and the burner would light. In the morning he would come round again and pull the other ring and the light would dim, but not go out. It was then ready to light in the evening by repeating the process.

Incandescent lights had a great habit of burning holes in the asbestos mantle if the light was pulled up too quickly, or exposed to a draught. The lamplighter must have spent as much time renewing mantles as lighting lamps.

An area which changed tremendously after we had left Bexley was along Forest Road from the old school to Preddy’s Road. There were no streets running off Forest Road from Stoney Creek Road corner to Preddy’s Road, and there were only two houses in all that distance. The houses and the land belonging to them occupied the whole of that space.

“Besborough” was the home of George Preddy between circa 1859 and 1876. It stood on Forest Road, Bexley between what is now Besborough Avenue and Preddys Road (courtesy Bayside Library)

They were Preddy’s home “Besborough” and “Kinsel Grove”, the home of the Kinsela family. The Freddy home was fairly large, but “Kinsel Grove” built by Mr Kinsela, founder of the firm of that name, was a large square stately home, standing in park-like grounds with a tennis court and carriage drive on the rise between Forest and Stoney Creek Roads. In the parklands from the house to the corner of these two roads were animals and birds roaming under the large trees. I am not quite clear as to the kind of animals they were. If my memory is correct, there were kangaroos, emus and deer. It was all very peaceful, and has left a delightful memory; the large shady trees, the tiny creek running through the grounds and the animals grazing; the green grass and tiny stream giving food and drink to the animals. There was also an animal shelter built for bad weather.

On the eastern side of Forest Road, from Dunmore Street to Queen Victoria Street, there were about three large houses, possibly four. One near the top of the hill was occupied by the Macleod family. Mr. Macleod’s brother was Dr Macleod of Rocky Point Road, Rockdale (now I think known as “Princes Highway”). The girls came to school with me, – Jessie, Flora and I think there was a third girl.

The Wyndhams lived in a house nearer Dunmore Street; Hilda and Vera were also at school with me.

From the corner of Queen Victoria Street, looking towards Carlton, there was a large open common. Away in the distance could be seen a few houses. I would say those houses which were seen in the distance would be within walking distance of Carlton Railway Station.

Other large houses in Bexley, Arncliffe and Rockdale are worth mentioning, as also are the families who lived in them.

Mr Gibbins lived in a large home on Wollongong Road, about half way between Bexley and Arncliffe. I have been told that he accumulated his money in the pearl fishing industry. Before we left Bexley, the house had been taken over by the Salvation Army as a “Girls’ Home”. Another residence was purchased about the same time by the Salvation Army, as a “Boys’ Home”. It stood on the top of the hill between the first and second gullies. Miss Gibbins married Mr David Stead, for many years a leading official in the Government Fisheries Dept. They lived for some time with their family of young children at “Lydham Hall”. Christina, a daughter of Mr Stead by a previous marriage (known at school as “Peggie”) was a very, quiet & almost shy girl when at school. She later wrote a book which was wonderfully received. The reviews were the most outstanding I have ever read. It took the bankers & men of the financial world by storm. It was stated in effect that never before had a woman shown such insight and understanding in matters of finance.

John Horatio Clayton served as an alderman on Rockdale Council from 1891 to 1903. He was Mayor of Rockdale from 1895 to 1898 (courtesy Bayside Library)

Mr Clayton, a well known Sydney solicitor, lived with his family at “Myee” near the junction of Wollongong and Forest Roads. Hector later became a solicitor and Harry became a doctor. Both these boys were at school with me. I am told the home is now a Babies’ Home or Hospital.

“Esrom” Convalescent Hospital, which is connected with the Rachel Forster Hospital, Sydney, was once the home of the Cormack family. It was later bought by Mr Torn Morse (one of a large family of that name, who married & settled in the St. George district some years previously). He named the house “Esrom” which is the name “Morse” spelt backwards. They were still living there when we left Bexley.

Mr. W.G. Judd, who had at one time a business interest in the Hurstville Brick Works, was a very much respected & well like member of the community. He was always a most enthusiastic member of any organisation of which he was a member. He was Mayor of Rockdale for some time. He was much interested in the Congregational Church. He lived at “Athelstane” in Wollongong Road, Arncliffe. He owned a large piece of land adjoining his house. This he made available for the use of the church football and cricket clubs. He was very interested in young people, & on occasions he & his wife would entertain a number of them at his week-end cottage in a delightful setting at Howie Bay. My first drive in a motor car was with Mr & Mrs Judd. I’ll never forget it. Mr Judd sped at 34 miles per hour!! It was an open car of course, & compared with the very low cars of today, we appeared to be perched very high in the air.

I would like to tell of 4 clergymen who impressed me very much, and were well known to most people in Bexley in the earlier years.

Reverend Charles James Byng, Rector at Christ Church, Bexley (courtesy Bayside Library)

Rev. Mr Byng. He was Rector of Christ Church in Albyn Street,Bexley. He gave religious instruction to the school children. He was a man of wonderful physique; very tall, well built, upright, with a natural dignity of bearing. He had iron grey hair, which he parted down the centre of the back of his head & brushed forward on each side. He had a very swarthy skin. All this has been attributed to an Indian Princess mother & a distinguished English father. He always wore a huge plain gold cross hanging from his watch chain. It caught the sun as he walked, so that the first thing one noticed was Mr Byng’s gold cross, then the man himself, almost always surrounded by a group of children, all trying to hold one of his hands. He was a friend of Father’s. They often took Saturday outings together, often joined by Mother.

The Rev. Mr. Waddell came to the district later, but he has his place on this list. He was a retired Methodist Minister. I especially remember him for his genial kindly manner, his cheerful happy face and smile & his love of children. He had a white flowing beard, & this with his whole appearance made him the personification of a perfect Santa Claus.

The Rev. Thomas Hill, was the Bexley Presbyterian Minister. I did not know him well, but admired him for the steadfast way he carried out his duties. He was elderly & also blind, but he did not let these things interfere with his work & duties.

The Rev. James Clark – he had once been Rector of the Church of England at Kogarah, years before we arrived in Bexley. He was reputed to have been an exceptionally clever man, but overstudy is blamed for the brain disturbance from which he suffered for the rest of his life, He had to give up the Ministry.

The trains until after we had left Bexley, were all steam driven. They ran once an hour, to & from Sydney Station, which at that time was situated on the southern side of Devonshire Subway. We lived 3/4 of a mile from Rockdale Station. The only conveyance from the station was a horse drawn wagonette, which occasionally met the trains. As the charge from the station to our home was 2/-, we mostly ended up walking home up the steep Frederick Street Hill.

A tram line was laid from Arncliffe Station, along Wollongong Road, into Forest Road, past the old school, & along Stoney Creek Road. The whole line was 3 miles in length.

The Kinsela Estate was subdivided, the trees & parklands disappeared and rows of houses were built round the old home.

A daily paper article of the time stated that by worldwide statistics, it was found that Sydney was the healthiest city in the world, & medical statistics proved that by average, Bexley had the least deaths of any of Sydney’s suburbs. Bexley residents were going about telling people that Bexley was the healthiest spot in the world.

Commencing near Stoney Creek Road, through the back of Bexley, old Arncliffe nearly to Tempe ran a small gully. The part of the gully we liked most was at the bottom of Bay View Street, about 10 minutes walk from the school. It was the first of 3 gullies running almost parallel with Forest Road on the western side, almost as far as Belmore. The East Hills Railway Line runs along the second gully.

When we went to Bexley, the attendance must have been something over 200, as I remember Father coming home soon after we went there, and telling us there had been a record attendance of 240 people. Quite a number of the children in the earlier days had to walk up to 2 miles each way to and from school.

About this time a large galvanised iron building was erected in Broadford St very near the school. It was used for the “Silent Movie”. One half only was roofed, 6d. was charged for the roofed end & 3d. for the unroofed part. The whole building was later floored & covered, & for quite some time it was used to accommodate school pupils. Christ Church Hall was utilised next. Finally a brick two-storey building of 4 rooms was erected in the grounds. Before it was finished, it was found necessary to double it in size. By that time the playground had so many buildings, there was not much room for the children to move about.

When first World War broke out, there were calls for books & reading matter for the troops. The result was astounding. Hundreds of books, magazines & other reading matter came in, & continued to do so until we left Bexley in 1917. Each magazine enclosed a letter from one of the senior pupils, & some very interesting replies were received. Father packed them in cartons which a local carrier took to the receiving depot.

One of the lady teachers organised knitting classes for girls & boys, and these classes were held regularly during school hours. They made socks, scarves, Balaclava caps and other comforts for overseas troops.

It became very difficult for the Education Department to keep up supplies of men teachers to the various schools which were short staffed owing to enlistment, numbers killed and other casualties.

Father through this lack of sufficient teachers was obliged to teach a class of 80 boys, as well as supervising a school with an enrolment of 1200 pupils & a total teaching staff of 22. The school had a few years previously been divided into 3 departments, boys, girls and infants, all at Primary level.

We were then planning for Father’s retirement. The strain was telling on him. He had been teaching for 48 years, and for more than 30 of them had suffered attacks of Angina Pectoris. I do not think he would have retired during the war if he had been in good health.

Father retired at the end of 1917. He held a 1A Classification and he had built the school to a 1st class Classification. He had been teaching at Bexley School nearly 22 1/2 years. He was nearly 63 when he retired, and his salary on retiring was under 6 pounds per week. Better conditions and pay came in a few years after Father’s retirement.

I will finish this paper by telling of Father’s main interests, apart from teaching.

Music, the study of Native Flora of N.S.W. and photography. These things he was keenly interested in and gave much time to, often using them in his school work.

In each of the country towns where he taught, he conducted a Church Choir, and inaugurated a Band of Hope for the children.

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

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