Biographies of the Early Aldermen

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Henry Knight

Councillor in 1863-66

Henry Knight was a builder and brickmaker born in Northampton England in 1800 and arrived in 1831. He and wife Elizabeth lived just outside the municipal boundary in that slough of land just north of what is now St Peters station.

He built the St Peters Church in 1838-39. His craft is evident in the relatively soft handmade bricks and cedar timberwork of this 35 x 96 feet building; the ironbark columns which were dragged from Gannon’s Forest (now Hurstville) 163 years ago (albeit splitting) still hold up its roof. He also built Lyons Terrace to the design of John Verge and John Bibb in 1840-41. This four-storey terrace looked on to Hyde Park on Liverpool Street and was reputed to be Sydney’s best and most expensive and most like those of London’s Regent’s Park but was demolished in 1910. John Rae wrote a satirical poem; Lyon’s Terrace, which from ground to attic/ is thoroughly aristocratic/and tenanted by men of rank/ (vide their balance at the bank).

Knight seems to have been humane. Percy Walter Gledhill, a real estate agent in Newtown claimed in his 1934 St Peters Church history that Henry Knight was the colony’s first building contractor to use free labour even though ‘government men’ (ie convicts) were available. He is said to have subdivided his own land in 1846 and sold it to ‘mechanics and the industrious classes’ at £1 per foot with payment deferred.

He stood for election for Kingston ward in the first Council (though his name does not appear in the Herald report of 14 February 1863). He moved at Council’s second meeting that a cash credit of £500 be opened at one of the banks. He was made Treasurer for the years 1865-66 and was involved with Henry Munro in the sacking of the clerk in February 1866, for which Council thanked him for his services on ‘this occasion of much anxiety and considerable loss of time’.

He was also Chairman of Council’s Works Committee in 1865 and often commented on roadmaking; he complained in June 1864 of the priority and expense of forming footpaths at Station Street in Enmore bearing in mind that it was used almost exclusively by those who do not pay rates.

He was unsuccessful in election in 1867 and endorsed Conley in 1869 but did not get onto Newtown Council again. He was made a Trustee of the Cooks River Road Trust for a number of years (until after 1873) and acted on a sub-committee liaising between them and the Newtown and Darlington Councils on issues such as lighting the road.

MacDonaldtown was made a municipality in 1872 and he was its first Mayor. A new street was made close to his house in the 1870s and was named after him. He changed address during that time to streets nearby, to George Street and to ‘Camberwell House’ in Rochford Street.

He was buried at the St Peters graveyard in 1887. His son Henry was an alderman for MacDonaldtown in the 1890s and may be the contractor who tendered to Newtown Council for roadworks in Enmore in the late 1870s-1880s.

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