In 1868, Thomas Henderson built the first house on the Redmire Estate called ‘Seven Oaks Farm’ located in the current vicinity of Victoria Street Strathfield. C A Henderson was the son of Thomas Henderson and he published some memories entitled ‘C A Henderson – Sydney to Homebush 1855’ in the Royal Australian Historical Society Journal and proceedings Vol. VIII, Supplement 1923. An edited version of this article was featured in July 1979 edition of the Strathfield District Historical Society [SDHS] Newsletter Vol. 1 No. 6. It is an important recollection of the early days of the Strathfield and Burwood Districts. This version was edited by C S Malcolm and is printed as it appeared in the SDHS Newsletter of July 1979.
Nearly all of Burwood on the north side of the railway is on the Rowley grant made, I think, about 1807. Whether old Burwood House was built before that date I know not. Mr Kent, the architect, told me that in repairing the old Burwood House a few years ago a stone in the foundation was discovered with the date of 1797.
Major Rowley, who lived here, was shot in fighting a duel at Annandale; his railed grave was visible from the railway line in the Annandale paddocks close to the eastern boundary. There was no church in Burwood except the Roman Catholic, which was also used as a day school. It must have been built before 1855. There was a Church of England day school, in which services were held about fortnightly, the minister having to preach at Ashfield, Enfield and Five Dock, as well as Burwood. St. Luke’s Church of England was built about fifty-five years ago, and the writer was at the opening service.
Neich’s Bath Arms Hotel was built by Emanuel Neich, an Italian, in 1845. The house is still kept by a Neich. It might be mentioned that the late Emanuel Neich informed the writer that he held the oldest publication’s license in New South Wales. From Neich’s on the Parramatta-road, corner of Burwood-road, there was only one house along that road to Burwood station for several years after 1856. From the Burwood station to the Liverpool-road in those days there were about three cottages and they were near the station. Near the junction of the Burwood and Liverpool roads was Seale’s Inn, and opposite it on the Burwood-road, an old upstairs house, I think occupied by Mr. Garland. The country between this place and what is now Croydon station did not contain one house, and on the west side of Burwood-road, south of the railway, it would be hard to find a dwelling till Parramatta or Liverpool were reached, except a few along the Liverpool-road. There was no post-office for some time after 1856. The nearest post-office was opposite the Concord-road on the main road, at a little shop kept by Paddy McGrath. The next Building was the lock-up. The mounted police were located at what was called the Stockade, on what is now St. Luke’s Park. It was for many years known as the police paddocks. There were two mounted police. They patrolled the Parramatta-road from Burwood, half way to Parramatta, and also half way to Sydney, at night. They wore swords, which could be heard to clank against their stirrups. One of these troopers, Parker, was a very active man, and good at throwing either man or stone.
From Neich’s along the Wharf-road to Hen and Chicken Bay ‘the only buildings were the Church of England school and two or three cottages, except at the bay, where there were the residences of the two fishermen, Barkley and Nowlon. West of the Wharf-road was known as Government Bush. It contained no houses until the present site of Mortlake Gasworks was reached, and here were three orchards belonging respectively to McDonald, Moore and Nash. Notice-boards were displayed in these orchards giving warning that ‘man-traps and spring-guns were set here’. Bronze-wing pigeons and quail were to be found in the Government Bush in the fifties and sixties. Beyond those mentioned, there were no houses north of the main road, except that behind the old Roman Catholic church there was a cluster of small dwellings, perhaps three or four. It was called ‘Fairy Town’. A bell was hung in the fork of a tree at the back of the Roman Catholic church, calling the children to school on week-days, and the people to church on the Sabbath day. The old iron-bark tree has long since disappeared, but the same bell tolls out to this day its message to young and old. The writer has heard this bell for more than sixty years.
Among the residents of the fifties, and later years, were Daniel Alderton, store- keeper, a fine old Christian, one of the best; Mr. Mosely Cohen, near the post-office already mentioned; and nearby Mr. Daly and Mrs. Charlotte Barton and her talented daughter, Miss Louisa Atkinson, a great botanist. The last-named were friends of the writer’s family. My father drew up a petition to the Government, asking that Burwood be proclaimed a municipality about fifty-five years ago.
Where the Strathfield Post-office now stands commenced Wilshire’s Redmire grant of about five hundred and seventy acres. It ran along the Redmire-road (now the Boulevarde) to Cook’s River, Enfield[i]. There were no roads in those days there, nothing but a blazed tree track through the bush, most of the way, to Burwood station. There was no Strathfield station for some years after 1869[ii].
Our first neighbours were Mr. William Wakeford, railway contractor; Mr. C. J. Muddle Deputy Registrar-General; Mr. Donald Vernon, Secretary for Railways; Mr. John Vernon afterwards Auditor-General; and Mr. Walter Renny Mayor of Sydney. Redmire estate was bounded on the west by one of the thickest of scrubs. It was a plant for horses, which were hidden till a reward was offered, for their recovery. No doubt illicit distillation was also carried on there, as the writer once found the remains of one sly still in the locality.
On the Redmire estate was a leaning tree with native bear tracks upon it. It stood about one hundred yards from the site of the present Strathfield Council Chambers. There were some large carpet snakes hereabout, one in a swollen condition was taken from a big tree that was felled. The reptile had gorged an opossum.
In the early part of the nineteenth century the blacks were hostile about this neighbourhood, as was shown by Thomas Rose, a grandson of that Thomas Rose who had a grant land between the Redmire grant and where the railway now is. Rose told the Hendersons that his grandmother was speared by a black-fellow in front of her dwelling. Fortunately the spear struck her stay-busk, which no doubt saved her life. On the south-west corner of the Redmire grant, close to the source of the Cook’s River, stands an old church built by the late Father Therry. This neighbourhood was known as Bark Huts, and is now called Druitt Town[iii]. Probably this church was built about 1850[iv]. Cook’s River here is crossed by the Liverpool-road and is then ended by what is called the ‘chain of ponds’.
At the entrance to the Police Paddocks stood what was called the ‘round house’ a very old and dilapidated structure, commonly reported to be haunted. It had iron barred window-openings. No doubt convict prisoners were lodged in this building. About the centre of the paddocks ran a deep narrow stream, bordered on each side by tall swamp oaks (casuarina), which gave out a sighing sound when there was a breeze. Behind the paddocks towards the bay was a thick bush of casuarina, a haunt for butcher birds and curlews. The high tides fifty to sixty years ago reached the Parramatta-road along the stream mentioned. It is not so now, and all the swamp oaks have disappeared with the birds that were of great interest to the writer.
[i] The writer’s family, the Hendersons, were the pioneer family of Redmire (later suburb of Strathfield). Thomas Henderson built ‘Seven Oaks Farm’ c.1868, the first property on the Redmire Estate.
[ii] The writer’s father petitioned the Government for a road, a continuation of the Homebush-road on the Redmire estate to Homebush station, and the road was granted.
[iii] Druitt Town was renamed Strathfield South in 1891.
[iv] This Church is St Anne’s Catholic Church, Strathfield South.