Thursday, September 3, 2015

Cigar Smoke in the Billiard Room

My husband remembers his (great) Uncle Bill’s place at Glebe Point from the 1950s when, aged four or five, his mum at work and in his grandfather’s charge, they would drive in the FJ Holden down from Johnston Street, Annandale past warehouses and factories along the edge of White Bay. They crossed a wooden bridge over Cook’s Creek and entered number two Forsyth Street via a worn, uneven brick and stone paved drive that spanned 20ft of the the property’s vast width. The driveway  rose gently towards the back of the house leading to an old barn and stables now serving as  a garage and workshop and housing a makeshift office  where Pop sat to do the accounts for  Treharne’s Taxi Service.  The roll top desk Pop used was big enough for a child to hide in and whenever my husband sees His Girl Friday he recalls squeezing between its pigeon holes, tiny drawers, secret compartments and the wooden roller shutter.

To keep him occupied while he did the books, Pop would give his grandson a pencil and a little cloth bound notebook with marbled covers in which he would pretend to write. The ‘office’ smelt of the oil and grease that wafted from the workshop and of dust and old leather. Beside the desk was an old fashioned standing phone, its separate earpiece dangling at its side.

At lunch time they walked down to the huge two storey house. Sometimes they entered at the rear through a service wing with kitchen, laundry and storerooms separated from the house’s living rooms by a hallway.  Sometimes they entered from the front, passing a gravel drive that encircled an Italianate fountain featuring a nude female form and cherubs. They climbed three broad steps to a veranda that afforded views of Blackwattle Bay, Wentworth Park and the city and entered through a wide doorway. Inside a vestibule led to a marble staircase that took you to the six bedrooms on the upper storey. It was flanked by two enormous rooms with shuttered French doors and ornate fireplaces.  The ground floor was redolent with the smoke of Cuban cigars which Uncle Bill drew from an abundant store of exotically decorated wooden boxes.

In 1971, my husband was driving trucks for white goods manufacturer Malleys and made a delivery of refrigerators to Forsyth Street, Glebe. He was surprised to discover that they were destined for a brand new block of flats called ‘Arden’ on the site of his great uncle’s former residence and place of business. A few years later when we lived in Forest Lodge diagonally opposite the old Nag’s Head and I crossed the footbridge each day to uni, he told me about the ‘mansion’ up at Glebe Point that had once been in the family. Impecunious and lovers of Glebe’s old architecture, we felt wistful that any money the family once had was now long gone and that the grand house no longer stood.

Business card for Treharne’s taxi depot and repair workshop circa 1960.

It wasn’t until the genealogy bug bit me this century and I started researching the Treharnes of South Wales, who emigrated to New South Wales, living first in  Newcastle and then in and around Sydney’s west,  that I learned more about Uncle Bill, or William Maritime Treharne to give him his full name. I came to wonder how a sickly youth from Stanmore  had become a shrewd businessman who owned a shop at 369 Glebe Point Road and  a holiday cottage at Lake Conjola as well as the Forsyth Street property my husband remembered. I became particularly curious about 'Arden' itself and how what was clearly once a gracious residence, became a taxi depot and then fell to the wrecker’s ball.

Although today Arden is a block of flats, a glimpse of its former incarnation is possible via an online tool called SIX maps which allows users to switch between modern day Google maps-type imagery of Sydney and suburbs and a grainy 1943 black and white aerial survey of the same locations.  On SIX maps I found the fuzzy outline of the house William Treharne had owned for 50 years.  My husband recognised the shape of the grounds and could show me where the stables/office were. From then the quest was on to find a better image of Arden and to learn all I could about its history.

The two dwellings George Miller built at Glebe Point in 1836-37 as they looked in an aerial photograph taken in 1943.

As usual, I turned to TROVE, the National Library of Australia’s database of scanned newspapers, searched for ‘Arden Glebe Point ‘ and found numerous references to it as a Church of England Girls ‘Rescue’ Home in the era directly before William Treharne first leased and then bought it in 1929. By Googling the same terms I even found a copy of the original lease agreement between the church and Uncle Bill! A ‘rescue’ home was an institution where ‘fallen’ women could be redeemed and rehabilitated. The Glebe homes (they comprised four buildings) also catered to children whose families were unable to care for them and later, as ‘Hammond Hotels’, to entire impoverished families. Arden was the last of four buildings in Forsyth Street acquired by the church for this purpose and served as the administrative office for the homes. The others were Strathmore (built in 1857), the grand former home of Sydney businessman and politician Alexander McArthur, Tress Manning, purpose built as an institution in 1909, and Avona about which I was soon to learn more.

In 1928 the girls' home relocated to Carlingford leaving Arden and Avona vacant. William and his wife Ivy were living above the Glebe Point Road shop at the time just across the laneway from Arden. This must have seemed a perfect opportunity to extend the business and gain more spacious living arrangements.  From the newspapers it looks as if they bided their time while the church tried unsuccessfully to divest itself of a white elephant, entered into a lease arrangement and probably eventually bought the house for a song. The couple’s two sons must have been born at Arden; I am still following their trails and hope to uncover some recollections and photographs of their years at Glebe Point. There is a certain electrical contractor at Lake Munmoorah who may be Uncle Bill's great grandson.

The block of flats named ‘Arden’ which now stands at 2 Forsyth Street, Glebe.

We knew that Uncle Bill retired to Sans Souci in 1971 and that Arden was sold to developers and demolished the same year, now I  worked backwards to discover who had lived there earlier and who built the house.  The Glebe Society has an occasional series of articles in its newsletter called ‘Who Lived In Your Street?’ In 2009 they ran one mentioning that a Dr Rudolph Bohrsmann and family lived at Arden from 1907 until the church acquired it in 1918 and that he had in turn purchased the house from wool merchant Eugene Carette.  

I now had two new names to search on and gradually established the sequence of owners and residents at 2 Forsyth Street. A breakthrough came when I realised that it was the Carettes who named the house ‘Arden’ and that previous mentions of the property referred to it as 'Forsyth Cottage' and the land it occupied as the Forsyth Estate.  Searching by ‘Forsyth’ I found ‘To Let’ advertisements where the contact was a Mr George Miller of Forsyth Cottage; these led me to believe that the house was frequently rented out yet this didn’t tally with birth announcements for the Miller family at the cottage. In the classified advertisements the house was described and my husband said it didn’t match his recollection of Arden’s layout; he couldn’t see how it could ever have included a croquet lawn and a rose garden. It turned out that the discrepancy was because these advertisements weren’t looking for tenants for Forsyth Cottage at all, but for a neighbouring property!

A bit more research and I made the happy discovery that in 1836 - 37 two dwellings were built on newly released land at Glebe Point overlooking Blackwattle Bay by a Mr George Miller (source: City of Sydney, History of Sydney Streets) I found bits and pieces about George Miller on TROVE but I wasn’t sure all the references were to the same man until the Manly Library Local Studies Blog joined the dots for me in a post entitled ‘Who was Sarah Ann Miller?’ . Well, she was George Miller's wife then, for many years, his widow. The post also revealed that Miller was a Scot who who arrived in Australia in 1822. He worked for the Commissariat Department (army and navy stores) for nine years, posted first to Port Macquarie and then to Melville Island. The work was gruelling and took a toll on his health so he returned to Sydney to follow the less physically taxing profession of banking.  Between the late 1830s and the 1850s he rose from clerk, to Director to Manager of the Sydney Savings Bank and was dubbed the ‘oracle in colonial banking’.

Miller built Forsyth Cottage as a home for himself and his new bride Sarah Bailey (widow of a fellow Commissariat employee) and built a second, grander residence nearby called Avon House/Lodge (later ‘Avona’). It was Avona that he regularly advertised as ‘to let’ in the newspapers in the 1840s and which boasted the rose garden and croquet lawn.

Auction flyer featuring an artist’s impression of Avona and subdivision plans for its estate 1899 (NLA).

Sarah and  George had  a large family at Forsyth Cottage, and in  1855 Miller applied for two years’ leave of absence and the whole family took a trip to Scotland where he died suddenly in August 1855 aged only 55 years. Sarah, widowed for a second time, returned to Sydney to await the granting of probate, leasing out their Glebe home in the meantime.  Between 1856 and 1858 engineer William Randle, responsible for constructing parts of the Glebe Island abattoirs, the Great Southern Railway and much more of the Sydney rail network besides, lived at Forsyth Cottage.

In 1860 the house was put on market and fetched £2000.  By 1863 it had been renamed 'Arden' and become home to the Carette family.  Eugene Carette,  a Frenchman, was a successful wool buyer who lived and worked in Adelaide and Britain as well as NSW. He had a large family, three members of which were born at Arden, two daughters and a son in 1897, 1898 and 1900 respectively. The Carettes quit Arden in 1901 departing for France and selling off all their household furniture and effects at an onsite auction. Also listed for sale was a pair of bay horses and a ‘Superior Victoria carriage’ – all occupants of what became the Treharne ‘office’ space.  Poor Eugene Carette died in what must have been one of Paris’s earliest motor vehicle accidents in Paris in 1926  and his obituary in The Register of Adelaide stated that he left numerous children and that ‘several of his sons’ worked in the family business.  

Details about other occupants of Arden remain sketchy. Export agent George Munro, lived there from about  1888;   he and Mrs Munro hosted a lavish wedding reception for their daughter Ida there in 1894. Refreshments were served in one of those large downstairs rooms which was described as the 'billiard  room'.

Finding a picture of Forsyth Cottage/Arden remained a challenge. Leichhardt Library holds surveyor’s drawings of the Avona and Forsyth estates only some of which are available online and the State Library of NSW has a Glebe subdivision plan that mentions the Arden Estate. What level of detail these documents hold will only be revealed when I can get to  Sydney to view them. On a genealogy site I found and contacted descendants of the Millers (who knew nothing about Forsyth Cottage) and of the Bohrsmanns  (who have yet to respond but who have  attached to their family tree a tantalising photograph of Dr Rudolph playing backyard cricket in what just might be the grounds of Arden). 

Through TROVE I knew that the Church of England homes often held meetings at Arden and had a couple of fetes in its grounds.  After much searching, TROVE also yielded up, in the Friday 11th May 1928 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, under the snappy headline ‘C. OF E. GIRLS' HOMES AT GLEBE POINT, FOR THE TRANSFER OF WHICH TO CARLINGFORD AN APPEAL HAS BEEN LAUNCHED’ this photograph. 

 Eureka! Maybe not its best angle - it's the service wing - but perhaps the only photograph of Arden in existence, taken in the house’s last year as part of the girls’ home complex (SMH May 1928).

The photo shows the rear of a house, the girls and staff congregated around the back steps, a picket fence and washing on a line.  It’s location at ’some distance from the main buildings’ and my husband’s memories confirmed it – it is Arden - as it looked shortly before his great uncle moved in!

Through further digging in TROVE I have uncovered 2 more gems. The first is that Forsyth Cottage was indeeed a cottage until 1879 when the Carettes added the second storey, and made other renovations.  The second was an advertisement from July 1929 placed by the Church of England who were attempting to sell Arden as 'a subdivision opportunity' (it was passed in at auction). It contains a full description of the property which reveals that the Carette's additions included that marble staircase as well as a ballroom and conservatory! I reproduce the cutting here.

A potted history of the homes appears on the Glebe Society’s website:

The Manly Local Studies post can be read here:

STOP PRESS: Went to the Mitchell Library recently and searched loads of maps and real estate fliers of the Forsyth and neighbouring estates. Below is what is known as a cadastral map showing the outline of Arden. 


Megan Carter said...

This is a wonderful piece of research - bringing the past to life, as the best histories do. Your diligence and perseverance has really paid off, with hopefully even more discoveries to come. I have done quite a lot of research on the various children's homes so I was aware of Arden and Avona and their history before the move to Carlingford. But very nice to know a personal connection for them. Isn't TROVE the most amazing resource - I have found so many treasures within. I hope Bob has enjoyed seeing his childhood memories brought back with your efforts.

Alice said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Megan, just this evening I found a full description of Arden from the SMH advertisement in 1928 that led to Uncle Bill acquiring the property. This kind of research is almost open ended and great fun to do. On the Pittard side there is also a link to children's homes. My great grand aunt Regina married Joseph Wallis of Mittagong who once owned the Southwood Estate/Wallis Farm (later Renwick)Cottage Homes. He and his former wife were cottage parents there - I am trying to find out if Regina took on that role too.

Unknown said...

My name is John Semple
a little about Uncle {Monopole}Bill the nickname was given to him by the other cabbies becaus of his smoking habit
I remember the old place very well
The old barn in the south west corner was a workshop for his 5 taxies
the eastern side which in its day would have had magnificent views of sydney looking over the large marble fountain one can still imagine the old horse drawn hansom cabs pulling up to let the Gentry disembark to enter the lounge room which if my old memory serves me correctly was as large as the footprint of a terrace house

Alice said...

So those exotic boxes contained Monopole cigars, did they, John? Thank you for the image of the business card and the extra informatiopn both here and over the phone.

Glenda Sladen said...

What a wonderful yet sad recount. Sad in that if only the authorities at the time could have ensured the old building remained.

By the way, Jan - can you give more explicit instructions on how to access the 1943 pictures of Sydney properties on SIX?