By Lyn Collingwood, Bulletin 4/2023, June 2023

James Kidd’s cottage. The Glebe Society has made a submission regarding a current development proposal for its demolition and replacement with a three-storey building (Image: V. Simpson-Young)

In March 1869 James Kidd bought a lot measuring 14.75 perches (373 sq. m) on St Johns Rd from Arthur Bastable, a Newtown pattern maker and land speculator.  On 16 January 1872 the Scottish-born engineer died in his newly-built house at what is now 181 St Johns Rd near Ross St.  Earlier numbered 97 and 101, the address changed when St Johns Rd was lengthened. 

James Kidd and Mary née Duffers migrated from Dundee, Scotland, with their children Hector (1846-1926), Emily (1851-1926) and William (1856-1937).  In 1864, the birth of James Kidd, jnr, was registered at Redfern.   James Kidd, snr, was Treasurer of the Ancient Order of Royal Foresters who met at John George Tucker’s Forest Lodge Hotel (today’s Nag’s Head on the corner of St Johns Rd and Lodge St) and it was here fellow Masons gathered before proceeding to his funeral.  

The St Johns Rd cottage was occupied by Kidd family members until the property was sold in late 1897.  Mary Kidd died aged 77 on 11 February 1899 at her eldest son’s home, Shandon, on Toxteth Rd and was buried with her husband in the Presbyterian section of Rookwood Cemetery.  

The Kidd family

All three sons followed James Kidd’s profession as engineer. James, jnr, died at Halloween, North Sydney, in 1916, some months after being struck by a falling girder at the Colonial Sugar Refinery works at Pyrmont where he was chief engineer. The crowd of mourners at his Presbyterian funeral at Rookwood included work colleagues, company representatives, Freemasons and members of the Scots Church. 

Hector Kidd, vice-president of the Dock Committee, putting the first rivet in the keel of the naval destroyer Torrens (Image: Sydney Morning Herald 27 January 1913)

A few months after his father’s death, Hector Kidd married another Scot, Janet McCall, who hailed from Lochgilphead.  The couple’s first home was at Surry Hills, near Janet’s parents.  Also in 1872, Hector gained a NSW Marine Board Certificate of Competency as a foreign-going second-class engineer.  He was a chief engineer with the Australasian Steam Navigation Company before joining the Colonial Sugar Refining Company – many of its mills were erected under his supervision.  He acted as a consulting engineer for firms including Anthony Hordern & Sons and Dalgety & Co.  A member of the Royal Society, the Fitzroy Dock Board, Institute of Civil Engineers, Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of  Engineers of Australia, he made business trips to the USA and England.  He was a life member of the Masonic Benevolent Society. 

Hector played at the Mosman Bowling Club and was proud of his Scottish heritage as a vice-president of the Highland Society and an elder of St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Phillip St. He died on 31 May 1926 at, Craiglea, Cremorne, survived by his widow, three sons (all engineers) and three daughters. His interment in the Presbyterian cemetery at Rookwood was well attended. The year 1926 also saw the death of Hector’s sister Emily, the widow of banker William Reid.  

William Kidd married Bridget Mary Lee in 1881. The couple had four children (two sons died in infancy, daughters Janet and Mary survived) and were living at 8 Forest St, Forest Lodge at the time of Bridget’s death six years later.  William returned to the St Johns Rd cottage.  In 1897 he married Mary Ann Mustow, the widow of a Forest St van proprietor and the mother of six surviving children.  By 1913, they were in Marrickville, his occupation iron inspector, and by 1930 (when 82-year-old Mary Ann died), at Dulwich Hill.  William Kidd was a pensioner when he suffered a fatal heart attack in January 1937 after quarrelling with one of his stepsons and striking him with a walking stick.

Later occupants of 181 St Johns Rd

Hector Kidd subdivided the land and, in December 1897, sold the greater portion to Hansine Anne Margrethe Hansen, the wife of miner, Theodore Hansen, and the residual to Glebe contractor, Alfred Whetton, jnr.  

The next purchaser, in 1902, was widowed Letitia Ruthven.  Her son, Herbert Joseph Gillis Ruthven, a Public Works employee educated at St Joseph’s College, lived in the cottage for a short period before it was rented out.  (One tenant was Maud Rabac, a psychic who offered ‘Tea, Talk and Truth’ consultations.) As manager of the State Resumed Properties Department, Herbert Ruthven testified before a parliamentary select committee investigating allegations of mismanagement that his department was short staffed. He died in 1936 and was buried as a Catholic in the Field of Mars cemetery.  

In 1912, George Henry Pike, a Camperdown butcher, bought the property.  Its owner from 1921 was Hedwig Liss, wife of Surry Hills herbalist Abraham Liss.  Widowed in 1925, ‘Letty’ lived there for many years before her death at age 90, in 1955.  Her executor was her medical practitioner and Glebe identity Dr HJ Foley.  After probate was granted in 1958, the property was bought by Ruby Lillian Fell, a widow, who sold it six years later to painter, John McColl. The separate building at the rear appears to have been erected during McColl’s occupancy. 

The studio, lower left, appears to have been added by John McColl (Image: Ian Stephenson)

Sources:  City of Sydney Archives; NSW cemetery records; NSW electoral rolls; NSW Land Registry Services; NSW registry of births, deaths, marriages; Sands Directories; Trove website.