Biographies of the Early Aldermen

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Henry Marcus Clark.

Alderman December 1893-January 1894.

Newtown’s most well-known alderman attended only five meetings. He was an enterprising and energetic shopkeeper who courted self-publicity. Henry Clark was born in 1860 near Sefton and Liverpool in Lancashire England. He arrived in Melbourne in 1880, worked in the countryside in Victoria and then came to live in Sydney in the early 1880s.

We don’t know why he came to Newtown. There were other Clarks living in Raper Street and London Street at the time, but perhaps it was because of the religious beliefs he shared with Mayor Joseph Kingsbury. He started work in the drapery store run by Joseph Kingsbury’s second son John opposite the Wesleyan Church.

One source says the young Henry Clark bought Joseph Kingsbury’s store on time payment from February 1883 while another says he opened a rival store four doors away from Joseph Kingsbury in 1883. The store, known as Victoria House, was said to be a gabled three-storey building of 75 x 200 feet dimensions. It is mentioned in Council minutes in April 1884. A parapetted three-storey building can be still seen at 237 King Street,between Church and Mary Streets. The name of Kingsbury and the date 1886 can be still seen on the parapet even though they have been chipped away.

Henry Clark married another of Joseph Kingsbury’s employees, Martha Anne Day[?] that same year. She was his age and known as Pattie and very forthright. She was related to members of the Church of Christ faith and also to John Roote Andrews, the mason who worked in the Camperdown cemetery. One of their bridesmaids was from the Tye family. Henry and Martha had the first of seven children that year.

Henry Clark was vigorous and dashing. He was photographed in his 20s wearing smart bowler hats and a magnificent twirling moustache. He rode a black charger and joined the Sydney Light Horse Brigade in 1887 (afterwards the NSW Lancers, and he was censured for wearing their uniform to parties). His daughter tells an anecdote of him pursuing two shoplifters from his store down Brown Street and through the railway yards.

He was keen to expand the business which he named as “Marcus Clark’s”. This was to steal some fame from the similarly-named Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke (1846-1881), the popular novelist who wrote the popular adventure story “For the Term of His Natural Life”.

He rented new premises on King Street just down from the Brown Street corner. These premises were converted from what were formerly public swimming baths (the 1890 Sands Directory refers to them as Municipal Swimming Baths). The company employed many Newtown people including members of the Kingsbury and Whately families. In 1889 the store supplied the uniforms for Newtown’s Brass Band (of which there were 18/20 members who practised two nights per week and performed frequently).

Fabric, napery and manchester had to be sold spotless, so in November 1890 he was writing to Council complaining of smoke from Mr Gormeeson’s chimney in Wilson Street being injurious to his business. In August 1891 and 1892 he was asking for awnings in front of his premises, a lamp at the rear of the shop and for encaustic tiles along the footpath.

He built a large house for the family named ‘Sefton Hall’ out at Fern Hill, past what was then known as ‘Marrickville Heights’. The property and its swimming pool was surrounded by a 6 foot fence made of brick with a coloured glazed porcelain palisade fence.

Henry Clark was nominated by Alderman Fallick to compete against Joseph Abbott for the Newtown seat in Parliament on 15 June 1891. He campaigned as a freetrader in favour of Federation, and early closing for hotels but allowing local options for hotel licensing. He was not successful, but the store had gigantic growth in business. He planned to diversify turning the drapery into a department store selling furniture, bedding and pianos similar to Grace Brothers, his rivals, who had commenced on Broadway in 1885.

During all this his wife died on 14th. November 1892 and he then married her younger sister, 22 year old Georgina at a church in Woollahra. They had two children.

He was brought onto Newtown Council to replace another shopkeeper, the fiery Alderman Richard Bellemey who resigned again in October 1893. Henry Clark first attended the Council meeting on 12th. December 1893 when the minutes misspell his name, as they did for three out of the four times it was mentioned.

One wonders about Henry Clark’s literary interests: “For the Term of His Natural Life” was an adventure story, his daughter said he wrote poetry and he named his sixth child Byron. At the Council meeting on 23rd. January 1894 (when his surname was spelt correctly) he asked that the library books be rebound and “renovated” so that the library could reopen. He stood down from Council that month.

He visited the ‘Home Country’ (England) in 1895 to see family and suppliers and returned to open branches in North Sydney and Waverley, then the first Bon Marche Store near Broadway in 1896. The next Marcus Clark’s Store in Newtown was the so-called ‘Big Store’. This was built by local resident, architect/engineer James Nangle (1868-1941) who had an office in St George’s Hall, built Newtown’s Bank Hotel at the station in 1891, was later on the staff of the new Sydney Technical College and finally NSW State Astronomer. Marcus Clark’s ‘Big Store’ boasted ten acres of space on Brown Street (in what was S.C. Brown’s garden). It was just off King Street but had access from MacDonaldtown station which was then situated at the bottom of Brown Street.

The Jubilee Souvenir described it as “an ornament to our borough and perhaps the largest of its kind in any suburb”. The business styled itself as ‘universal distributors’. It was converted to a limited liability company in 1902. Grace Brothers enlarged their Broadway emporium the same decade, and Anthony Hordern’s commenced the Palace Emporium, the biggest in Australia if not the southern hemisphere, on Brickfield Hill.

Henry Marcus Clark tried to match it with an 8 storey landmark building nicknamed ‘the Flatiron’ by James Nangle on the George/Pitt Street corner overlooking Railway Square in 1904-05. It became the head office to the 12 branches. The King Street Branch was restyled as a down-market store known as ‘The Cash Store’ to be managed by son Reginald.

He sold the house at Fernhill (now Dulwich Hill) and acquired 200 acres on Mt. Wilga, west of Hornsby, in 1904. He died from pancreas and bladder problems on 14th. March 1913 and was buried at Waverley Cemetery.

Reginald (1883-1953) was married in the Metropolitan Road tabernacle, called himself Marcus Clark after his father’s death and was knighted. The Cash Store used the slogan ‘The Hub of Newtown’ and this name was given to the cinema which operated in the building after the company moved out in the 1920s; by which time the company had 1000 people on staff in 22 branches.

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