Newtown Land Use etc. 1862-92

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“And I do hereby … declare and direct that such a municipality shall be called by the name of the Municipality of Newtown.1 Thus, in words of biblical ring, came into being the thirtieth municipality in the colony of New South Wales. The tone was not misplaced: ahead of the tiny council lay tasks of the magnitude of those met with by the councils of Israel. The latter, however, were rather more blessed with a divine intervention which the infant Newtown council would have most fervently appreciated. Incorporation was but the first step in an endeavour which would have tried the patience of Job, required the wisdom of Solomon and could not have succeeded in by any band of mortals whose life spans were shorter than that of Methuselah. It was a test indeed. One object of this paper is to examine the council’s attempt to triumph when all things did indeed prevail against it. The paper is chiefly concerned with two aspects of the Newtown municipality in its first thirty years of existence, 1862-1892. Page 2. Such a span allows for a reasonable time lapse in which these aspects can be examined. It concludes on the eve of the disastrous bank crash of 1893, which wrought changes in Australian economic and social life equalled only by those attributable to the gold rush of forty years before. Newtown’s development was affected by one no less than the other, though the consequences of each were diametrically opposed. The intervening years provide a convenient focus for this study. The two aspects to be considered are i) the pattern of subdivision and subsequent use of land within the municipality and ii) the activities of central and local government bodies in providing ancillary services such as roads, water, drainage and lighting: in today’s ubiquitous jargon, the suburb’s ‘infrastructure’. Two themes overarch these aspects. The first is concerned with the extreme difficulty experienced by the council in its attempts to become a manifestly successful force of good government in the area. Random subdivision, confusion – even antagonism – of various bodies working at cross-purposes, and chronic indebtedness, placed the council in a virtually impossible position. Secondary to this theme is a call for reconsideration of the position of at least one local council in what might be termed the ‘morality hierarchy’ of colonial society. The activity of Newtown councillors does not altogether fit Inglis’ scathing description of municipal councils as gatherings where “private interests utterly swamp public spirit, and patriotism means plunder.” 1 Page3. Cannon also argues that “By and large, local government in Australia was a sorry tale – the wrong men doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons”.1 He goes so far as to call them “murderers”,2 attributing the appalling suburban death rate to their neglect of the health of their boroughs, A little emotive surely! In an age of prevailing laissez-faire, Newtown council faced formidable difficulties. In the context of the time, it could hardly have been expected to provide a stamping ground for the likes of William Lane, Herbert Spence or Australian versions of Henry George, especially when that great proponent of parliamentary franchise, Henry Parkes himself, argued in favour of plural voting: “What would be atrocious in a Parliamentary franchise”, he stated “…(is) quite justifiable for local government”.3 The second theme is concerned with the suburb in the context of its symbiotic relationship with other centres. It is impossible to view any suburb in isolation. Newtown utilized Marrickville’s park, Camperdown’s hospital, the city’s employment facilities. She produced few of her own basic requirements: food, textiles, timber, stone, gas. She depended on outside ad hoc bodies for water supply and sewerage disposal. Page4. In turn, her own development was much influenced by the requirements of populations further afield. This aspect of the inter-relationship will be stressed as the theme cannot be examined in the depth it merits. However, its wider implications serve to focus attention on the very limited and exclusive intentions of this paper, viz. consideration of selected aspects of a single suburb. For such a relationship to be adequately explored, similar records of adjoining suburbs would need to be researched at equal depth. This paper, then, makes no attempt to comply with Glynn’s injunction that urban studies should “shed… light on urban themes in general. “1 Rather, it aims to provide a thorough background for a more comprehensive study of the suburb. Newtown, as Sydney’s fourth most populous suburb by 1892, 2 was frequently mentioned in daily papers and magazines eg. the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Telegraph, Bell’s Life In Sydney, the Illustrated Sydney News, though copies of the two local daily newspapers have not been traced prior to 1899 and 1905. Cuttings from these papers, found in the education files, illustrate the value such papers would have in a study of the area. The files themselves are rich in information about children, teachers, parents and the education system at work in Newtown. Most church records are available and complete, and offer a wide range of useful information. Newtown Court records provide an insight into misdemeanours common in the area. Rate and Assessment books tabulate house and land ownership, and Sands Sydney Directory supplies useful data, including occupations of residents. Page5. Statistical Registers, Census Reports and Almanacs are useful references and the complete Minutes of Newtown council meetings offer much incidental information. A wealth of primary sources awaits the scrutiny of the social historian, and numerous secondary sources fit Newtown into their scheme of things. It was with some reluctance that these more interesting aspects were abandoned for the somewhat duller drain pipes and asphalt of Newtown’s physical development. However, the individuals who populated the area could only settle in such numbers after the land was subdivided. Provision of facilities was a prerequisite, an on-going necessity and an enticement to further settlement. This initial survey should provide a solid foundation upon which a more ‘human’ historical structure may be built.


The municipality of Newtown, incorporated in 1862, consisted of 480 acres within the existing electorate of Newtown. There had been considerable activity in the area – part of the district of Bulanaming in the parish of Petersham – since the earliest days of the colony. Tench, in his Sydney’s First Four Years, provides a map on which a road, then un- named, is marked as the land route to Botany Bay,1 the route which Governor Hunter, in 1789 declared “well known and the path well trodden. “2 Page6. This well trodden path followed “an elevated ridge which separates the flat swampy sands of Botany Bay from the stiff clayey lands and sandstone promontories of Port Jackson.”1 It was to become Newtown’s main road, first called Cook’s River Road, later named King Street2 and today variously known as City Road, King Street or the Princes Highway. The track passed through “an open forest of large trees with a thick belt of scrub along the banks of the creeks and in the low lying valleys. The ground was a sort of red marl… “, 3 the home of the Botany Bay tribe of Aborigines who shared it with prolific wild life including birds, kangaroos, possums, dingoes and large carpet snakes. 4 The area which became the municipality was composed of a number of land grants, mostly issued in the eighteenth century. In 1779, Governor Phillip set aside land for the Crown, the Church and – the area which concerns this paper – 200 acres for the support of a school teacher. 5 No definite action was taken to utilize the 200 acres, and it reverted to the Crown. Page7. In 1801 it formed part of the land granted to the trustees of a Female Orphan Institution but in 1806 the trustees upon being granted 1000 acres at Bathurst in lieu of this land, 1 agreed to its being granted to William Bligh for the purpose of erecting a residence. He named it ‘Camperdown’. In 1793, Lieutenant Thomas Rowley was granted 100 acres which he called ‘Kingston’, and Superintendent of convicts, Nicholas Devine was granted 120, 90 and 8 acres in 1793, 1794 and 1799 respectively. He amalgamated these grants to form ‘Burren Farm’. Only a portion of each of these grants was enclosed by the borders of the Newtown Municipality. (See Map 1.) However, the entire area of the 25 acre grants to Private Dukes, Evans and Field, and the 30 acre grants to Caudell, Jenkins and Page, as well as Jane Codd’s grants (all issued in 1794) were later incorporated. Smaller grants, all less than 3 acres issued in 1837, 1843 and 1869 made up the balance. 2 By 1800, Devine had cleared 68 acres of ‘Burren Farm’ and grew wheat and maize. The produce of his large garden, orchard and dairy augmented his income and he brought sheep and goats out from the Cape. 3 Bligh’s Camperdown Park valley was also cleared and cultivated, 4 but as early as Macquarie’s time, it was obvious that the small farms in this area were not a success. Page 8 Map 1 Map 1. Scale: 5.3″ = 1 mile. Details of the grants below. Page8a. Original Land Grants in the area which was incorporated into the Municipality of Newtown in 1862.

  1. ‘Camperdown’.
    1. 200 acres granted for the support of a school teacher, 1779.
    2. Not utilized, so reverted to the Crown.
    3. Granted to the Trustees of a Female Orphan Institution, 1801.
    4. 210 acres granted to William Bligh, 1806.
  2. ‘Burren’. 120 acres granted to Superintendent Nicholas Devine, 1793, 1794 and 1799.
  3. ‘Kingston’. 100 acres granted to Lieutenant Thomas Rowley, 1793.
  4. Two twenty acre grants to Jane Codd, 1774.
  5. Thirty acre grant to ex-convict, William Page, 1794.
  6. Thirty acre grant to ex-convict James Jenkins, 1794.
  7. Thirty acre grant to ex-convict. James Caudell, 1794.
  8. Twenty-five acre grant to Private William Field, 1794.
  9. Twenty-five acre grant to Private Richard Evans, 1794.
  10. Twenty-five acre grant to Private Thomas Dukes, 1794.
  11. 2 acre, 16 perch grunt to Sylvester Brown, 1837.
  12. 3 acre, 1 rood, 28 perch grant to David Chambers, 1843.
  13. 1 acre, 16 perch grant to W. C. Wentworth, to be held in trust for Mrs. Bucknell, 1843.
  14. 1 acre, 36 perch grant to William Bucknell, 1843.>/li>
  15. Further grant to David Chambers, 1843.
  16. Tiny grant to Christopher Newton, 1869.

Source; Newtown Old Rolls, 1 and 2. Land Titles Office. Page9. “I called at…. Captain Rowley’s and several other small farms in the district of Petersham, all of which are poor and of little value. The farm houses however are tolerably good and considerable pains have been taken to clear, enclose and improve the lands. “1 As the land proved unsuitable for farming, it was not long before the grants were subdivided into blocks, usually less than ten acres, on which subsequent owners built large country residences surrounded by gardens and orchards eg. ‘Ashley’ and ‘Thurnby’ on Codd’s grant; ‘Holmwood’ and ‘Rosewarne’ on Field’s grant; ‘Stanmore’ and ‘Rieby’ on Page’s grant. Sometimes the land was utilized as dairies or, when the sale yards were moved to Camperdown, as holding yards for local butchers. In 1831-4, Devine’s heir, Rochford, subdivided ‘Burren’ in a similar manner,2 and large homes in pleasant surroundings were also built eg. ‘The Pines’, ‘The Grange’, ‘Leichhardt Lodge’. ‘Camperdown’ was also subdivided in 1841, but, as shall be seen, a different pattern emerged, for almost immediately, in 1845, a subsequent subdivision reduced the blocks to their present size. Evidence of an incipient suburb, rather than just an area of country residences was to be found in two hamlets. Page10. newpage10a Plate 1 ‘The Grange’ – home of Sir Saul Samuel, and later Mr. felix Wilson. leichhardtlodge Plate 2. ‘Leichhardt Lodge’, built by W. H. Aldis and named after his friend, the explorer Leighhardt. Stephen Campbell Brown lived for some years in this house. Page11. One, O’Connell Town (at the junction of Missenden Road and King Street) and another at the junction of Enmore Road and King Street where “in the thirties… a village began to coagulate”.1 The Sydney Gazette of 24th November, 1834 informed its readers that “the neighbourhood about the spot known as Devine’s farm has obtained the name of Newtown”. For some years these hamlets were quite separate2, but were slowly joined by a ribbon of buildings along the main road. By 1832, this road was considered “fair travelling for a gig”3 as far as Cook’s River – it was the only road to the South until the Illawarra Road was laid out in 1843. In 1858, Jevons reported that Newtown was “a large suburb of rather superior character… the high street (having) an important appearance similar to that of many villages in the neighbourhood of London. There are good shops, chapels, road side residences. There is a post office, railway station and the terminus of a line of omnibuses…. As a whole the appearance of the Newtown district is pleasing compared with either Redfern on one side and Camperdown on the other”. 4 Newtown was clearly on the move. It was time that some direction should be given to her development. The Municipalities Act of 1858, though poorly framed, provided the means. Page12. This legislation established the first general system of local government in New South Wales. It was a matter of some urgency, as all previous experiments, including the city corporations and district councils had failed dismally.1 The Act provided for permissive (as opposed to compulsory) incorporation. On receipt of a petition containing the signatures of at least fifty householders, the Government was empowered to proclaim the stated area a municipality, provided no counter petition containing a greater number of signatures was received within three months. Each municipality was to be governed by six or nine elected councillors. Revenue was to be derived from rates and a government endowment. Councils were to be given specific powers, and would also be permitted to frame their own by-laws. Their chief functions would be concerned with roads, sewerage, lighting etc.2 Newtown’s first petition3 of 169 signatures, gazetted on 15th December, 1859 evidenced rather unwarranted territorial ambition and not surprisingly, it failed. Map 2 illustrates the area the signatories, mostly from Newtown, hoped to incorporate. No really important names appear on this petition, but the counter-petition 4 of 718 signatures reveals influential opposition from some of the Newtown landholders, including Gibbens, Donohoe, Goodsell and Kettle. Significantly the majority of signatures on this petition were also from the Newtown area. Page 13 page13a Map 2. Area proposed for incorporation in the first unsuccessful petition, 15th December, 1859. The territory was significantly reduced before the next petition,1 with 377 signatures, was forwarded in July 1861. (See Map 3). Important landholders such as Holt, Wilson, Breillat, Hinchcliffe and G. W. Allen signed this petition, but it too was defeated by a. counter petition2 with 634 signatures, gazetted on 2nd November, 1861. The area was further reduced (See Map 4). Page 14 newpage14a Map 3. Area proposed for incorporation in the second unsuccessful petition, 31st July 1861. newpage14b Map 4. Area proposed for incorporation in the third and successful petition, 15th. July, 1862. Page 15. This third petition of 233 signatures was not countered, and the 480 acre municipality was declared on 12th December, 1862.1 It was divided into three wards, Enmore, Kingston and O’Connell. The first was divided in 1885,2 and the fourth ward named Camden. Each ward annually elected a representative for a three year term, thus the council consisted of nine members until 1885 and twelve thereafter. The mayor was elected annually by the councillors. The 1858 Act was superseded by the Municipalities Act of 1867, and a series of amendments improved the legislation though it remained a source of dissatisfaction throughout the period. The council will be considered in more detail in chapter 4. Meanwhile, the one single activity which made the council’s task so very difficult was well under way: the private subdivision of land.

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