Biographies of the Early Aldermen

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Robert Dunlop

Councillor in 1864-66.

Born to William and Jane, Robert Dunlop was a member of the Wesleyan faith. The Wesleyans joined with the Methodists in 1896 and then in the 1970s with the Presbyterians and Congregationalists to form what is now the Uniting Church. The Wesleyans were known to be puritanical, they abhorred indecency; George Allen who laid the foundation stone for Newtown’s church thought dancing of any sort was indecent.

Dunlop purchased land for the Wesleyans at the corner of Cooks River Road, Erskineville Lane and Wilson Street from the Ralph Robey estate for £70 in 1845. An 1846 map shows they had land fronting 140 feet on the main road and there are two lots for Dunlop behind it fronting on to Wilson Street. This was one year after the Church of England built their first St Stephen’s, and two years before the Christians Meeting House was built on Cooks River Road. The church encouraged members ‘to collect their neighbours together’ in private houses on the Sabbath afternoon in order ‘to read them the Holy Scriptures and pray to them’. Their congregation was said to have consisted of seven families but by 1849 they built their first chapel on the corner. The Annual Report of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in London reported that the ‘good new Gothic Chapel’ was 30 x 12 feet.

The church realised that operating schools was a way to help people ‘awaken to God’. They had ones in the city and at the Sugar works at Canterbury. The schoolroom and house was built in 1852.

Dunlop was superintendent of the Newtown Circuit. It seems he was not ordained but he was appointed as the church’s schoolmaster with responsibility for the Wesleyan Day School situated on the main road and its eight teachers and 372 pupils. The Circuit covered the area from the city to Ashfield to Georges River with responsibility for the ten other schools and 61 teachers.

He lived on Wilson Street in the parsonage behind the church. Originally it was a secondary position but the opening of the rail station brought the town’s focus southwards.

The Wesleyans’ second church, seating 900 worshippers was built in 1859 for £6,750 to a Gothic design and opened on 19 July 1860. It would have stood for a decade as the largest and most prominent building in the town. The interior was lit with gas six years before there were gas lamps in the street (probably because the architect working with John Hilly was George Allen Mansfield whose father Rev Ralph Mansfield was also secretary of the Australian Gas Light Company).

Dunlop was on the Committee of the local School of Arts in the late 1850s-60, he retired as the church schools’ superintendent in April 1861 and was one of those 223 residents who petitioned the Governor to form a municipality in July 1862. He was successful as a candidate representing O’Connell Ward in Council’s second year but was absent on 29 June 1864 when his colleague, Reverend Joseph Oram, unsuccessfully sought that their parsonage be exempted from paying rates.

The local horsebuses nicknamed ‘Newtown Dodgers’ were a great nuisance. Painted red and white they would race each other along the Newtown Road with the conductors spruiking for passengers and their wheels making a ‘great injury’ ‘cutting up’ the gravel roads. They were licensed and controlled by the Metropolitan Transit Commissioners, presumably a division of the Sydney City Council who set the cost of fares and location of bus stands.

Newtown’s by-laws, published in October 1863, stipulated that ‘no bus driver or conductor be permitted to call aloud for passengers on Sundays’ nor that they ‘drive faster than a walk in front of any place of worship during the hours of service’. This law seems to have been ineffective for Dunlop complained in February 1865 of the ‘public nuisance occasioned by those in charge of the buses on Sundays’. He attempted to interfere ‘but only received abuse’.

In the following month, March 1865 he moved that a deputation be made to Sydney’s Mayor ‘for the purpose of ascertaining if any arrangement can be entered into for the purpose of securing half the fees of licensed vehicles plying within the Municipality’. This unlikely proposition actually bore some fruit in February 1870 when several inner-city Councils met to discuss the situation.

He seems to have been equitable on some issues, he proposed that the disgraced clerk, accused of embezzlement, be permitted to balance the books in January 1866, and in the following month he readily agreed to the Catholic Church establishing itself in ‘the township’. We know alcohol was a bugbear to most Methodists and he vigorously and thoroughly pursued the case of liability against the publican Rowland Hill in August 1866.

It may be assumed that he had some part in the Council’s second attempt to purchase land for Council chambers. In August 1866 Council considered buying Wesleyan land between their church and Erskineville Lane. Dunlop moved that Chairman William Curtis offer the sum of £3 per foot for 83 feet six inches to the estate agents Richardson & Wrench. There were quibbles from Councillors Bedford (who preferred a site in Hanson’s Paddock adjoining Mr Brown’s) and Goodsell and Cozens (preferring the White Horse Estate adjoining the Congregational Church). The agents increased the price to £3/5/0 per foot with Council to pay ‘one-fourth part cash and the residue to be paid at 6, 12 and 18 months at the usual interest to suit their convenience’. Dunlop remarked again on ‘the suitable situation of the piece of ground’ and moved again that Curtis be empowered to make the offer. The Councillors were split equally and Curtis cast the affirming vote.

Dunlop received only 56 votes in the 1867 municipal election and stood down. In April that year the newly-acquired Council land was put up for rent of two shillings and sixpence per week. A first instalment was paid the following month but with Dunlop no longer on Council and Conley as Chairman, William Bailey moved in July 1867 it be sold with a reserve of £300. This decision was regretted later as the land gained in value tremendously and twenty years later the MPs Abbott, Molesworth & Hawken urged that the Posmaster-general buy it as the site for the proposed post office.

‘Dunlop’s Academy’ continued to operate as well as the ‘National’ or Superior School (which commenced in rented rooms within the Congregational Church’s School in 1863) further down the road. Children from all three schools were invited to the picnic which Thomas Holt, former Colonial Treasurer, held at it his Warren estate in 1870.

Robert Dunlop died in 1871 and thus missed out on a grand moment in Wesleyan education, Newington College opening at Stanmore in January 1881. Not much is known about his personal life, a certain Mr Dunlop offered to act as Council auditor in 1879, in the same year a Mr H Dunlop was superintendent at the St Peter’s Suburban School and a Jessie Dunlop was buried in the St Peters graveyard in 1892.

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