Biographies of the Early Aldermen

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Mayor William Curtis

Chairman in 1866, Mayor in 1869, Councillor/Alderman in 1863-70, Treasurer in 1869

William Curtis was part of Henry Munro’s faction in the early days of Council. He was born 1819, lived with wife Elizabeth and son William Jnr in Hordern Street Camperdown from the late 1850s and worked with John Hamblin as a builder, carpenter and carter. His surname is spelt as Curtis in Council’s minutes and as Curtiss in the two mentions of him in the Sydney Morning Herald, once on 1 October 1856 for being a Committee member of Newtown’s School of Arts. He was also a member of Manchester Unity Oddfellows’ Loyal St John’s Lodge.

He stood in the first elections. One of his rivals, Thomas Cullen noted that he is likely to ‘give us good service’. He received 47 votes and represented the O’Connell Ward. In April 1864 he complained that a house of ill fame in his street was ‘a disgrace to the neighbourhood’ and asked it be closed under Clause 28 of the By laws. Seventeen months later, he again warned of the house which has ‘been suspected by the police for some time, and its being a nuisance for harbouring a lot of drunkards is a notorious fact’.

He was the main supporter in Henry Munro’s clique. Munro recommended him as his replacement on 20 February 1866.

His quarterly report in August 1866 referred to an improved state of finances, recommended purchasing land for erecting Council chambers and spoke to Robert Pemberton Richardson (1827-1900) of Richardson & Wrench about buying land from the Wesleyan Chapel on King Street.

The major event which occurred in his year as Chairman was the mismanagement of pollution from the Camperdown Cemetery and presentations to the Legislative Council’s enquiry into it in September 1866.

He deputised as Mayor in Munro’s absence in April 1868. He was again elected as Mayor on 11 February 1869, again without opposition and again on the recommendation of the outgoing Mayor Henry Munro.

On 23 February 1869, 2 weeks after his re-election (unopposed) there was a dispute in the Council chamber, from Leslie Meredith claiming Curtis had him sacked (see Gibbens). During this year he presided over the opening of the library by Henry Parkes and sought a loan of £500 to pay £635 to enlarge the hall.

He was involved in building the new St Stephen’s Church of England in 1870. It was located on the ridge and its dimensions (of 110 x 48 feet and cost £13,000) superseded the Wesleyan Church as the biggest and most prominent building in the area. It is recognised as one of Edmund Blacket’s most successful designs. Robert Kirkham was the mason and William Curtis and W. Elphinstone were the carpenters. They used New Zealand Kauri Pine.

The Herald for 7 February 1871 says he was a candidate that year for O’Connell but he did not attend Council again. The family moved to Lord Street that year. He is said to have died on 26 June 1873 and was buried at St Stephens but unfortunately the State Library of NSW’s copies of the Cemetery records are illegible. Curtis’s Lane was named in 1878.

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