Floating Life 4/06 ~ 11/07

an archive

James O’Brien on Surry Hills

James has a good post on my neighbourhood — you can follow some of his walk on the masthead image above!

He refers to Cleveland House, which is, some say, the oldest house still standing in Sydney, perhaps even older than Cadman’s Cottage in The Rocks. It is amazing to think it was there and around twenty years old when my Great-grandfather William Joseph John (below) was born a stone’s throw from it in 1836, especially as I now live so close myself.

Wikipedia says of Redfern: “The suburb is named after surgeon William Redfern, who was granted 100 acres of land in this area in 1817 by Lachlan Macquarie. He built a country house on his property surrounded by flower and kitchen gardens. His neighbours were Captain Cleveland, an officer of the 73rd regiment, who built Cleveland House and John Baptist, who ran a nursery and seed business…”

I have borrowed the picture below from James; you will find more in his post.


It is so sad Cleveland House (in private hands) is in such poor condition, unlike Cadman’s Cottage. I wonder if Daniel Cooper**, who lived in Cleveland House at the time, noted the birth of the convict’s grandson, my grandfather’s father, somewhere near his house in 1836; I somehow doubt it. Major Thomas Sadlier Cleveland sold it (or lost it?) in 1819 and the house was unoccupied 1814-25. Did Cleveland ever live in it? Was it a white elephant in his day? What happened to him?* I find only one other reference to him:

Before European settlement in 1788, this area was the home of the Cadigal people of the Eora Nation for many thousands of years.

The sands of Strawberry Hills were originally covered by stands of blackbutt, bloodwood, angophora and banksia trees of immense size, but [these] were soon chopped down. In the early 19th century, this area remained undeveloped, gazetted as “Government Paddocks” but soon became known as the Cleveland Paddocks (now Prince Alfred Park) after Macquarie’s friend, Major Thomas Cleveland.

It was surrounded by various land grants with Cleveland House being the first house associated with it.

The western side of the paddocks was granted to the Sydney Railway Company (formed 1849) for establishment of a rail line to Parramatta (the first in the colony) which opened in 1855.

Canon Walsh of Christ Church St Lawrence lived there from 1850-1855. I seem to recall there was a girls school there at some time. Today it is abutted by high rise in full Meriton style and bits of it are visibly rotting…

Good to be reminded there of the first owners too…

See also Surry Hills; Donna’s comment there in June is a nice addition. 🙂

* A little more on Captain Cleveland.

  • “During the latter half of 1810, Macquarie accompanied by Mrs Macquarie, Capt. Antill, Dr. Redfern, Mr. Evans, Ensign Maclaine, Capt. Cleaveland, Mr. Meehan and Mr. G. Blaxland made a tour of the colony surrounding Sydney, taking in the Hawkesbury Nepean Rivers. During this tour Macquarie named the five towns of Richmond, Castlereagh, Pitt Town, Wilberforce and Windsor. These towns are now referred to as the five Macquarie towns.” (Source)
  • Is this why he left Cleveland House unfinished? “Royal Highlanders. The 1st Battalion of the 73rd Regiment landed in Sydney on 1 January 1810 and took over duties from the New South Wales Corps (102nd Regiment). It was thus the first of many British line regiments that garrisoned New South Wales for the next sixty years. When the 1st Battalion serving in New South Wales completed its tour of duty in 1814 it was ordered to Ceylon, where it remained until 1821.” (Source)


  • In this list “CLEAVELAND, T S Capt 1/1/1810 Major of Brigade till 1812” is among “The Soldiers … who were in Australia on Garrison Duty. Some may have settled, some may have not. When it has been confirmed they settled in Australia they will receive their own page. If it is confirmed the men settled in Australia, they will not appear on this page… If they are listed on this page, then this is all we know of them.”

Cleveland Street High School

Situated in one corner of “Cleveland Paddocks” this school turned 150 years old last year. Today it is a first-rate Intensive English High School for recently arrived migrant students. The page I have linked to tells the school’s history, but the whole site is worth exploring.

** On Daniel Cooper: “The area known as Waterloo had the Aboriginal name of Illpah (meaning “plentry of raspberries”) and it was peopled by the Kamilaroi Tribe and various sub-tribes whose language was Turruwul [Dharawal?]. The area consisted of swamps and low sandy hills and the vegetation included coarse grasses, ti-trees and reeds. Mount Lachlan (now Mount Carmel) was the watershed of the Lachlan Swamps (Centennial Park) – the source of Sydney’s early water supply.

“Waterloo was undoubtedly named as a result of the British victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 but there is some controversy as to how the name actually came to be applied to that suburb. Part of the area that is now Waterloo was included in a land grant of 1,400 acres made to William Hutchinson by Governor Brisbane in 1823 and according to records entered by the Colonial Registrar on 27th May 1823, this grant was to be called “Waterloo”. On 25th January 1825, this land was purchased by Daniel Cooper, his brother Robert and Solomon Levey for L2,700 to be paid in Spanish Dollars. Cooper and Levey were well known Sydney merchants and their establishment on the corner of George and Market Streets, Sydney was known as “Waterloo House.” Even if this building was the origin of the name of the suburb, it in turn was named after the Battle of Waterloo, and so Waterloo was named at least thirty five years before its proclamation as the Borough of Waterloo in 1860.”

Waterloo is where South Sydney Uniting Church is situated.

The Sydney Echo June 1890 published this interesting account of the area, based on memories of early settlers. The language reflects its time; it would hardly pass muster today. Our idea of “progress” is not quite as naive either, nor can we contemplate the dispossession of the Indigenous inhabitants with quite the same sentimental insouciance — though at times I suspect the Howard government and our Ozneocons are not too far removed from the 1890s…

As might be expected THE FACE OF THE COUNTRY has been completely changed since the first white man, whoever he might have been, crossed it in search of game, for there can be no doubt that much of the exploring, especially in the sandhill districts, was accomplished by sportsmen. The extensive sheets of fresh water, the luxuriance of the vegetation in the bottoms, and along the edges of the lakes and creeks, and perhaps even the huge mounds of loose sand in which it was so easy to make a nest, and which was always dry, and, is compared with clay lands, warm all tended to attract not only birds and animals of all kinds, but even the blackfellows, for whom this region was a sort of paradise. The water fowl of every sort indigenous to Australia which once frequented this region have flown; the kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots, have disappeared; and even the opossums and native cats only exist now in some few isolated spots, mostly in that portion of Randwick which still consists of Crown lands, and they are never seen in Waterloo or Alexandria.

The last member of THE LOCAL TRIBE OF ABORIGINES, known as Johnny Malone, died some time ago. The huge gum trees have been replaced by tall factory chimneys, and large tracts of flowering shrubs, the banksias, cabbage tree palms, and other vegetation, have been covered with Chinamen’s gardens, brickyards, and other signs of civilization. There are people living who recollect when the Cleveland paddocks, where the railway station and the Exhibition building now stand, were a favorite place for the blacks. Then their “corroborees” kept the few residents in Redfern awake till far into the night. By degrees the camps were driven back to Waterloo and Alexandria, until the blacks, THE ORIGINAL LORDS OF THE SOIL, have all gone to that bourne whence neither individuals nor races return.

There are blacks’ camps to be found along the Pacific Coast and round Botany Bay, wherever sheltering shrubs are to be found; but the blacks do not belong to the local tribe. They travel towards Sydney from various parts of the coast, even as far as the Tweed River, but the majority come from the Illawarra and South Coast districts, where a remnant of the native races may be found. “Hulloa mate, where you come from?” inquired a Sydney man of a blackfellow in Alexandria the other day. “Oh, along a Illawarra” was the reply. “How did you get here : walk” was the next question. “Walk!” replied the darky, with such a tone of scorn as scarcely be conveyed in writing, “Baal mine walk, Guvmen keep it railway, Whaffor I walk?” “Whaffor,” indeed! And so the poor darkey , like the Members of Parliament, is privileged to ride free on our railways. It is little enough, considering we have robbed him of his land, and by degree his life. The sylvan beauties of the place have gone forever; but in their stead have grown a thriving and industrial population, living in well built comfortable cottages, with wide streets, well made roads and footpaths, and all the advantages of civilization.

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  1. Wow there’s lots of great stuff in your post. And yes, I agree about the state of disrepair for the cottage, as it’s quite a beautiful building, in contrast to many others close by, and obviously representing a part of the Surry story that’s not so often told. I mean, there was life in Surry before Ruth Park wrote about it!!!


    August 10, 2007 at 9:20 pm

  2. Thanks, James. I pass Cleveland House very often and have been meaning to do a post about it. Your entry prompted me to do it at last.


    August 10, 2007 at 10:30 pm

  3. Hi James, My Convict Ancestor was Elizabeth Berry. She and her sister, Tamar Seaton, were convicted of the same crime and transported in 1829 on the “Lucy Davidson”. While Elizabeth had a reasonably “cushy” life, assigned to William Foster, the Barrister, Tamar spent 3 years in the Female Factory and had her children taken from her, before being assigned to G. Waller of Cleveland House, Redfern in 1832. Tamar was there until 1834 when she committed a similar crime to her first and was sent to Moreton Bay. I was delighted to see information and a photograph of Cleveland House on your post. Now I need to find out who G. Waller was.

    Colleen Jones

    December 29, 2008 at 10:29 pm

  4. Great, Colleen. Thanks for that information.


    December 29, 2008 at 11:01 pm

  5. Oh, I should add that I was wrong about my ancestor being born “a stone’s throw” away. See this page and also more pics of Cleveland House.


    December 29, 2008 at 11:07 pm

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