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Community Association

History of our area

Our District’s Heritage: Not One, But Two

At the birth of Australia we had not one, but two giants of literature, Lawson and Paterson. Andrew Barton Paterson was born on 17 February 1864 near Orange NSW. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School, then he studied law at Sydney University and practised in Sydney.

Paterson started writing for The Bulletin in 1889. One of his first works was “Clancy of the Overflow” and this was his first use of the name ‘Banjo’, a country racehorse. Critics described the work in such words as “The best jingle of snaffle and spur combined with poetic treatment”. His second most popular work was “The Man from Snowy River”, of which 10,000 copies were sold in 1895.

In 1895, at Dagworth Station near Winton Qld, Paterson wrote the words for “Waltzing Matilda” to suit an old marching song.

He went to the Boer War and to China as a correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald in 1904 & 1906. In 1903, Paterson married Alice Walker, who bore him a son and a daughter.

He tried his hand at cattle farming at Coodra on the Upper Murrumbidgee, then at the outbreak of WWI he went to Europe in the hope of becoming a war correspondent. In 1916 he joined a remount (horse) service in Egypt.

After the war he continued to write up until 1936, his last work was “The Shearer’s Colt”. Paterson died in Sydney on 5 February 1941.

Critics argue over the different styles and compositions of Paterson and Lawson but, as with all things in life, the ultimate critic is the reader – and the enjoyment, wonder and romance one reads into their work.

Folklore tells us that Banjo Paterson Restaurant, Punt Road, Gladesville, was once owned by one of Paterson’s grandmothers and that he stayed in that house on school holidays.

Don Coulter


Long Ago a Giant

As we board the 504 or the 438 for the CBD, Most of us miss a little street 50 metres on our right hand side, Henry Lawson Avenue.

Henry Lawson, an Australian literary giant of poems and stories, mainly about the average Australian. He died 79 years ago, and should we today read his works, we would have no trouble relating to the ‘simple bloke’ he so often wrote about.

Henry Lawson was born on 17th June 1867 at Grenfell, NSW. His father was Scandinavian. The family name Larsen was changed to Lawson. His mother instilled in him a love of reading books and the written word. This love never deserted him throughout his life.

His parents separated when Henry was young and he found himself living at 138 Phillip Street, Sydney with his mother who was an ardent republican. The house was always filled with people wanting reform.

Bertha Marie Louise Brendt accepted Henry’s offer of marriage. Bertha Lawson was an independent, self-willed person. 1897 saw the Lawsons in New Zealand, Henry teaching. There was a son born, Joseph, and later a daughter, Bertha. Between 1900 and 1902 saw the Lawsons in London.

Back in Australia, relations between Henry and Bertha deteriorated and a separation was agreed. From that point on, his life entered a descending curve. He kept writing, his fast work being ‘Song of the Dardanelles’.

Henry Lawson died on 2nd September, 1922 at Abbotsford. Folklore tells us that he walked out of the house and looked up at the Southern Cross for the last time, collapsed and died in his home.

At least ten books have been written about his life. One writer, Denton Prout, described him as ‘the grey dreamer’.

This would seem to sum up Henry Lawson’s life.

Don Coulter


Green Lights on Calm Waters

A favourite pastime of residents is to walk along the waterfront to enjoy the peaceful vista. Not many of us know that between the “green lights” opposite the cove is a monument to one of Australia’s greatest rowing athletes, Henry Ernest Searle.

Little is known of his childhood except that he came to Sydney when he was 22 years old.

Throughout 1888 Henry Searle broke all previous records in Parramatta River for rowing. In September of that same year, Searle beat the then current world champion Peter Kemp, the prize-money being one thousand pounds. In 1889 Searle accepted a challenge by an American, W.J. O’Connor, to race him on the Thames River in England, over a distance of 7.24km. The prize-money was to be two thousand pounds (a tidy sum in those days). Searle won!

On his return to Australia, Searle became ill with enteric fever. He was rushed to hospital in Melbourne and died on 10th December 1889. He was only 23 years old. Henry Searle is buried on Esk Island in the Clarence River. The monument you see across the river each time you walk along the cove marks the finish line of the old Parramatta Racing Course, the start being at Ryde Bridge, a distance of 4.8km.

Don Coulter


Alas Poor Francis

Francis Howard Greenway was born and bred in Bristol, England. He first worked with his father in his stonemason yard, and later he studied architecture under a Mr John Nash until 1805. Francis and his brother then went into business that year, but by 1809 this venture failed. In 1812 Francis found himself in court on a forgery charge; he was found guilty and the death sentence was pronounced. This was later commuted to 14 years in the colony of New South Wales.

Francis arrived in the colony in 1814 and that same year he opened his own business. Being a convict, this could not have happened without the consent of the Governor, whom we must assume was impressed with his papers, for that year he also received his ticket of leave. That same year he became the Inspector of Public Works. His impression on the Governor was considerable, for by 1816 he was the Civil Architect and Assistant Engineer for the colony, on a salary of 30 cents a day.

His talent as a builder impressed ail who saw his work. Amongst his most outstanding achievements are St Matthews at Windsor, built in 1817, St Luke’s Liverpool in 1818 and St James’ in Sydney, built in 1819. For this work, Francis Greenway received full citizenship. In total he designed over 40 buildings in the colony, though regrettably only 11 now remain.

Being headstrong and of a fiery nature, he fought with almost everyone including his benefactors who had helped him in all his endeavours. He suffered from penury, and both he and his wife died in 1837.

The final tragedy of this man who gave so many beautiful monuments to us was that he was buried in an unmarked grave at East Maitiand ‑ truly a sad and undignified end to a man whose name is revered today.

Don Coulter


Among the Greatest

Matthew Flinders was born on 16th March 1774. He came from a stable and intelligent family; his family hoped for a medical career but it was not to be.

Matthew stood 175cm. His childhood shows him as an excellent student, his favourite subject being maths. As a young lad he read Robinson Crusoe – it appears from this reading he made a decision to join the Navy. He had an uncle also in the Navy who gave him due warning as to life at sea. Matthew was not to be discouraged, entering the RN as a Lieutenant’s servant aboard HMS Alert on 23 October 1789.

Matthew’s first sea voyage was aboard HMS Providence, sailing on 3 August 1792. Returning home he offered himself for further service. Matthew sailed again to Australia, using all his mapping skills to chart three quarters of our unknown coastline.

Early in 1803 he applied for leave to return to his wife. The only ship available was a small schooner, the Cumberland. The ship was never built for ocean voyages, having only 1.8m free board, but being the only boat available he took the opportunity – in all, a most unsatisfactory vessel.

The Cumberland reached Mauritius on 3 December 1803. Unknown to the crew, England and France were at war. Matthew did not speak French so this became his first problem, secondly were discrepancies in the ship’s papers. His superior British attitude did not help any, and the Governor of Mauritius decided the most diplomatic way was to make the whole crew guests of France – for 6½ years Matthew remained a guest.

Matthew was given a small chateau in the hills & here he worked on his charts. He also taught himself French & the local farming families went out of their way to entertain him – he was also very fond of them. When news came that a British ship of war had arrived to take him and his men home to England, he learned that the war had been over for 10 months.

On his return he continued working on his charts and today we marvel at the accuracy of his work. Matthew Flinders died on 19 July 1814 aged 40 years and 4 months; the cause of his early death was, in our modern medical terms, severe renal destruction.

Few men indeed achieved in 40 years as much as Flinders did – truly among the greatest.

Don Coulter


A Castle not Far

Whilst enjoying a pleasant walk along our waterfront, only very few have noticed a Prussian Castle built across the river at Huntley’s Point. Very little is known regarding the reason why such a building, with such ornate Italianate features, would be built so far away from the CBD of Sydney town one hundred odd years ago.

Mr Oscar Schulze commissioned the design and building in 1887 and he lived for a short time in the castle. The register of residents shows that between 1909 and 1911, the castle was the residence of the Consul General of Germany.

To find this castle, one must stand at the end of Harbourview Crescent, looks for Searls Monument and then the Castle can be seen. It is the third house to the left, so all you opera buffs out with your glasses, check out the tennis court, the pool and those beautiful gothic windows.


Schulze Castle, Gladesville, NSW

Schulze Castle, Gladesville, NSW

Don Coulter


The River

Our walks by the waterfront at the cool of the evening are among the most enjoyable things we do, though some may not know that the expanse of water is actually a river, and it is slowly passing us by on its way to the sea, as it has done for many thousands of years. We see many ferries passing by on their way to the city at the head of this river.

The Dharruk tribe occupied this land before European settlement, for how long we don’t know. The first record of this area was from a Lt. Bradley, Royal Marines, who took an expedition to find the headwaters of this river that some believed to be fed by an inland lake.

From Lt. Bradley’s diary of 5th February 1788, “We were far enough to see the termination of the harbour, it being all flats, sounded and found the bottom to be shale”.

It is believed that Lt. Bradley’s boat grounded about Charles Street Parramatta. During a re-enactment of this event in 1988, at the same time and tide as in 1788, divers brought up shale.

We cannot imagine the difficulty that confronted the good lieutenant in trying to communicate with the local Dharruk people, first by pointing to the water and trying to get an answer as to the name of the river in Dharruk, however he must have had patience with the Dharruk people and for the first time he wrote the word Parramatta. Confusion still remains as to its meaning – experts tell us that it has two meanings, first, “Head of the river”, or second, “The place where eels lie down”.

Lt. Bradley’s expedition continued inland for several days, his diary states e.g. “We passed over land with few trees and long grass. I consider this parcel of land to have very good prospects”. The land he spoke of still bears that name, ‘Prospect’. Lt. Bradley must have been a good and capable officer in serving the Governor, for Bradley’s Head on Sydney Harbour is called after him.


Lt Bradley finds the origin of Parramatta River, NSW

Lt Bradley finds the origin of Parramatta River, NSW

Don Coulter


Lavender Bay

Many of us have heard of this bay, and seen it as we pass over the Harbour Bridge. The name Lavender Bay conjures up mental visions of a sweet-smelling flower; however, the naming of this bay was far from sweetness. In the later part of the 1780s a Royal Navy ship, the HM Bufflow made a navigation error and ran onto the well marked Sow and Pigs rocks at the entrance to Sydney Harbour.

The accident broke the back of the ship and she was condemned as unseaworthy; however, another use was found for the ship as a prison hulk. She was anchored in a deserted bay, now known as Lavender Bay, and the former proud naval warship received prisoners that were considered to be uncontrollable. Aboard, they would await transportation to the dreaded Norfolk Island.

Soon after she was anchored, a convict was appointed as coxswain to the hulk. His special job was to transfer convicts from the hulk to a waiting ship sailing to Norfolk Island. His name was George Lavender; he was trusted and performed his work with due diligence for many years, finally earning his Ticket of Leave. Like so many others he was last heard of owning a pub.

So, when next you are passing over the Bridge, think not of the pleasant scene, but ponder on that ghost ship that once lay there.

Don Coulter


The Crossing – Part 1

As we board the Rivercat for the CBD, we take for granted the old boatshed on our left. As we cast our critical eye over this building, we are oblivious of its history in the early development of our nation. The earliest resident is believed to be Alfred Bailey who first built a lean-to about 1880 at Abbotsford Point, then later the boatshed you now see. The Bailey family had an interest in farming, quarrying and a hotel as well as running the boatshed.

The first mention of a ferry was as early as 1834, then called the Bedlam ferry. This ferry, operated by convict labour was capable of carrying one horse and cat plus a few passengers. The current engineering at that time was to anchor a chain at either side and wind the punt across by hand. At this point the Parramatta River is at its narrowest, so early surveyors would naturally build the Great North Road to this point.

Continuous complaints by the gentry that the ferryman would not carry the heavy passengers over the last few metres of water so as not to wet their shoes caused the ferry to close after 50 years’ service. The Bailey family, having an ever-ready eye for business took over the service with a rowing boat then later a launch named the KINKA. Another family of early settlers, the Cashmans, also competed for business, the fare being about 2 cents.

To call the ferryman to the northern shore, one would have to light a hurricane lamp and swing it slowly back and forth; the first boat to hit the beach would get the fare. On both sides, passengers would have to walk a fair way up the hill to board the coach awaiting them.

Folklore tells the story of illegal rum being sold to servant drivers carrying produce to market; at about Wareemba the drivers would take a break to sleep off the indulgence, allowing the horse and cart to become entangled in the bushland. Days later the owner would set out to find the culprit, much labour would be required to untangle the mess.

No drawing exists of the punt, however the most likely was a Napoleonic design with a chain across the river and wound by convicts.


Etching of Abbotsford ferry crossing Parramatta River, Sydney NSW

Etching of Abbotsford ferry crossing Parramatta River, Sydney NSW

Don Coulter


The Crossing - Part 2

As previously explained, the Bailey and Cashman families took over the crossing service from about 1832 or soon after – both families competed for customers, each having a boat ready at any time. Old timers tell us that when a boat was required on the northern side, a hurricane lamp would be lit and slowly swung back and forth; the first boat to each the other side would get the trade for about 2 cents per person. The type of boat used was known as a Waterman boat; examples of this boat can be seen in the National Maritime Museum.

Having made the crossing, the longest part of the journey would begin, first the long climb to the waiting coach at Punt Road. There were no way stations and the coach would stop at the many creeks for the horses to drink, also to allow the passengers a comfort stop, so the journey would normally take up to ten hours from Bedlam Point to Brookvale.

The Bailey family had many interests, a quarry hotel called the Red Cow, and of course taking picnickers to the other side of the river. The remains of the quarry can be seen today at the far end of Battersea Park, the hand drill marks still visible. A gesture of outstanding generosity was the donation of the whole of this piece of land to Drummoyne Council.

A swimming baths existed in front of the Scout Hall and the 12 foot sailing club and in the late 1800s and early 1900 a tram ran down almost to the wharf. The Council converted the quarry to a picnic ground and with the addition of the tram, the park became a very popular place. Old-timers say that the boat shed made more money selling hot water for the traditional Aussie cup of tea than by ferrying passengers across the river.

Today, Ryde Council has built a very fine wharf at Bedlam Point and the National Parks have built a raised walkway to view the untouched landscape, as it was in the beginning. For those who are adventurous, you can walk to the top and dine at the now-famous Banjo Paterson Cottage Restaurant.

Don Coulter


The Crossing – Part 3

One can only imagine the strength of character of our early travellers.

The drawing below, “The Red Cow”, depicts an over-night stop. Local stone was quarried from nearby for the front of the inn, split hardwood slabs formed the sides and a slate roof over an old sail completed this welcome scene.


Etching of historic rest stop, Killara NSW

Etching of historic rest stop, Killara NSW

The Inn was a primitive long hut built with anything they could find – with two small rooms, three beds in each; the larger room was for everything else, cooking, drinking, not forgetting the nightly entertainment … one can only imagine what that was!

A good test for our modern outdoors people: try sleeping on a straw bag covered with a blanket, plus having the wind howling through the walls. Any takers?

The drawing below shows an officer, a doctor, their wives and a daughter, waiting to board the open dray that will take them to the new convict-built Parramatta Road. There they will board the coach and four to Sydney.

The Red Cow Inn, nothing of which survives other than the cellar. A plaque has been erected in the Sydney Rowers Club to commemorate the spot where the Inn once stood.

Don Coulter


Trams in Abbotsford


Historic photo of Abbotsford tram

Historic photo of Abbotsford tram

Typical of lines built to then undeveloped areas was the route to Abbotsford, opened in 1893 and electrified in 1905. In the top photograph taken about 1909, timbered countryside surrounds

O class car 808 as it passes along the original single track line in Great North Road near Blackwall Point Road. In the second view taken about 45 years later another Abbotsford bound O class car passes the same spot. By that time the line was double tracked with a background of typical Sydney suburbia identified by modest home while the gardens at left beautified the grounds of the Nestlé’s confectionery factory.

Tom Blom


The original Abbotsford House

The NSW suburb of Abbotsford was originally part of Five Dock farm and takes its name from our own Abbotsford House. Our Abbotsford House was built in 1878 by Sir Arthur Renwick (1837-1908), a doctor, politician and philanthropist. Sir Arthur was born in Glasgow, and named his mansion after Abbotsford House on the banks of the River Tweed near the town of Melrose in the picturesque Borders region of Scotland. The Scottish mansion was built in 1824 by his favourite author, Sir Walter Scott.


Original Abbotsford House, Scotland

Original Abbotsford House, Scotland

Sir Walter, born in Edinburgh in 1771, had already achieved great literary success and had “married well” enabling him to purchase the 110 acre farm on the River Tweed.

The farm was originally called “Cartleyhole” however Scott changed its name to Abbotsford, as the land on which the farm stood had belonged to the Monks from nearby Melrose Abbey, and the ford used by them to cross the River Tweed was just below the house.

Sir Walter Scott died in 1832 and his family opened Abbotsford House to the public. Visitors could see Scott’s study, library, drawing room, armoury and the dining room. Scott was an avid collector of arms, including Rob Roy’s gun, Montrose’s sword and items from the battlefield of Waterloo in 1815.

Melrose Abbey (near Abbot’s Ford)

Melrose Abbey near the River Tweed was founded in 1136 by Cistercian Monks from Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire at the request of King David I.

In 1322, the abbey & much of the town were destroyed by the English army of Edward II. It was subsequently rebuilt with the generous assistance of King “Robert the Bruce”. The abbey was again destroyed by the army of Richard II in 1385 and yet again under the rule of Henry VIII in 1544. The Monks of Melrose Abbey subsequently embraced the reformation, and the last resident Monk died there in 1590.

The history of Melrose Abbey and Scotland’s Abbotsford House provide an interesting insight into the naming of our own heritage house, our suburb & Melrose Crescent which runs behind Alexander and Elizabeth buildings.

The background and photo for this article were provided by Cove residents Phil & Robyn Clarke who holidayed there.


The House of Denison

At the first mention of the word “Denison” we immediately think of Fort Denison. I am sure that the builders of our complex had a former governor in mind when naming the building.


Picture of William Denison

Picture of William Denison

William Thomas Denison was born in London on May 3, 1804. He was sent to Eton for his education and at age 15 entered the Royal Military Academy. He received his commission in the Royal Engineers in 1826. From 1827 to 1846 he served with the Royal Engineers in Canada and England. During this period he won the Telford Medal and became an Associate of the Institute of Civil Engineers.

William Denison was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land in 1846 and that same year he was knighted.

On January 20, 1855 he was appointed Governor of New South Wales. This appointment also made him Governor General of all the colonies in Australia. The following year, 1856, he was awarded the K C B. London gave him the unenviable task of preparing the colony for responsible self government. Slowly the colony of NSW started to administer its own affairs. This left time for Denison to concentrate on public works such as roads, bridges and defence. Of particular interest was fortification work on an island in the harbour that was started then postponed during the Crimean war.


Photo of Fort Denison, Sydney Harbour

Photo of Fort Denison, Sydney Harbour

The island was first used by the local aboriginals. It was then only a large rock, standing 40 m above sea level. In 1788 the First Fleet used the small island, called Rock Island, as a punishment for the most troublesome prisoners. The first use of the island as a prison was on February 8, 1788 when Thomas Hill was sentenced to a week on short rations for theft of food.

William Denison restarted the old fortification work. Many thousands of tons of stone were transported to build the Martello Tower. Such a tower was then state-of-the-art of defence. The fort was completed in 1857. However, the fort was never used to protect the colony and was used only as a store. Denison was appointed Governor of Madras in 1860 and left NSW on January 22, 1861.

He held this appointment until 1866. Sir William Denison was married with 13 children. He died on January 19, 1871 in London.

The seafaring fraternity of Sydney who pass by this imposing piece of 1800 circa stone work have Sir William Denison to thank for one of Sydney’s best recognised landmarks.

Don Coulter

Ref: Australian Encyclopaedia

(c) Abbotsford Cove Community Association 2017