written by Karen Chessell

My great-grandparents George and Johanne married in Newtown in 1886, when some of the earliest buildings were appearing in King Street and new houses were being built.

Johanne Kempf left Copenhagen, a girl aged nine, with her mother and sisters to join her father in Queensland in 1873. The family lived in Melbourne before moving to Sydney shortly before Johanne’s mother Olavia died in 1883.  In Sydney her widowed father Johannes Carl and his six daughters took up residence in Phelps Lane, Surry Hills, before moving to Newtown where they lived at 3 Walker’s Terrace, Albert Street.  Johannes Carl Kempf worked as a bricklayer and must have struggled to support his daughters.


Johannes Carl Kempf and six of his daughters c.1883

A horse-drawn tram travelled down Albert Street. The picture below shows what had been a corner shop near the terminus in Albert Street.

43 Albert

43 Albert Street, Newtown in 2016

George Chessell left Brighton, a single young man of 18, occupation plumber, to start a new life in Sydney in 1883.  His father, a carpenter, had died young and his mother had remarried in Brighton.

At the time of Johanne’s and George’s births in Europe in the 1860s there were only about 200 houses in Newtown.  Camperdown Cemetery was already filling up with graves. The Dickenson family who lived at Holmwood played croquet in their garden in the 1860s. Martha Bucknell was photographed on the verandah of her cottage c. 1860.  Tobacconist W.H. Aldis lived in style in a two-storey detached house at 275 George Street, photographed in 1862.  Croquet and archery were both played in the grounds of Enmore House in the late 1860s.

The Old Colonial Sugarworks were in Parramatta Road and presumably many of the men living in Newtown had jobs there.

After their marriage in 1886 George and Johanne lived in Kent Street. Below are Nos. 33, 35 and 37 Kent Street.  The Chessells must have lived in a small house like the one on the left.

33 Kent

33, 35 and 37 Kent Street, Newtown in 2016

My grandfather Lance George was born in Kent Street in 1887.  Johanne must have taken her baby son to visit her family – her father and five sisters – in Walker’s Terrace.  Also to visit her married sister Marie who lived in a two-storey house at 50 Station Street.. Johanne’s father and family had moved to Erskineville Road by the time Lance George was three years old.

My great grandfather George Chessell is listed in Sands Directory as an engineer and he did well enough that the small family (no more children

1 Wells Street Newtown, shown from Kings Lane, 2016

1 Wells Street Newtown, shown from Kings Lane, 2016

came along) were able to move by 1894 to a larger house at No. 1 Wells Street, on the corner with King Lane, separated from King Street by fields.  The house had metal-pressed ceilings, beautiful fireplaces and was surrounded by verandahs. (There would not have been a mural on the outside wall as seen below and probably not the walls either.)

Johanne’s sister Olivia made the news in 1895 when she set up the Olivia Kempf Dramatic Society and produced and played in a number of performances.

Olivia Kempf

Olivia Kempf

Johannes Carl died in 1896 at 50 Station Street where his daughter Marie and her husband lived. He was not quite 60 years of age, and was buried at Rookwood, where his brother Carl had also been buried.  His six surviving daughters must have deeply mourned his passing as he had been their sole parent for 12 years.

In 1899 George Chessell’s brother William immigrated to Australia and before the year was out he’d married Johanne’s 22-year old sister Olga, at St Stephen’s Church.  The two brothers from Brighton were now married to two sisters from Copenhagen.  William and Olga went on to have and to adopt many children.

41 Reiby Street, Newtown in 2016

41 Reiby Street, Newtown in 2016

George, however, was not destined to know his nieces and nephews, as he died aged 38 years, in 1901.

His 37-year old widow Johanne was forced to move to a very small house at 41 Reiby Street with my grandfather, Lance George, a young teenager.  This semi-detached house featured a ‘semi’ outside toilet, one little building for two houses.  It’s still there today housing a washing-machine on the No. 43 side.


In 1906 the Newtown Markets opened and Lance George turned 19.  He worked as a book-keeper and he and his mother were able to move to a somewhat bigger house at 87 Station Street by 1910.  That was the year the Victoria Palace Theatre and Clay’s Bridge Picture Theatre were built. .  Johanne’s sister Violet lived at No. 89 Station Street from 1903 to 1913.

87 station

87 Station Street, Newtown in 2016

87 station

87 Station Street, Newtown in 2016


Note that the verandah roofs either side of No. 87 are the original rounded ones.

In 1912 Lance George married my grandmother Edith and they moved to Five Dock, taking his widowed mother Johanne with them.


lance george

Lance George & Edith Chessell 1912


46 station

46, 48 and 50 Station Street, Newtown

Johanne’s sister Olivia, married to John Archbold, lived in Newtown and their daughter Helga married Raymond Heaton in Newtown in 1918.

The house at 50 Station Street was called “Lynstan” and was the venue for the wedding reception of William and Olga Chessell’s daughter Eunice in 1934.  My Newtown-born grandfather Lance George sang “Because” during the marriage service and his 60-year old Danish mother Johanne was one of the guests. No. 50 Station Street is on the far right, now with a modern verandah enclosure.