Barry Canham. (Photo from his own collection)
Barry Canham. (Photo from his own collection)

Musician, painter, sculptor and ‘non violent’ anarchist Barry Canham rented the same top floor flat at 28 Toxteth Road for over two decades before the mansion stopped functioning as a boarding house in July 2011.  His living room, filled with books, papers, art materials and red wine bottles atop his piano, became the venue for regular informal poetry and play readings. 

After the breathaliser made New Year’s Eve partygoing a problem, musicians and guests gathered in the house and grounds the next day for the annual party welcoming the New Year.

During Barry’s 22-year occupancy he shared the building with a variety of tenants including other musicians, a hairdresser, a computer wiz, a South American chef and a ballet teacher who taught dancing in the downstairs double drawing room.

Barry was born in 1938 (‘near the end of the Spanish Civil War’) at Kogarah, the third son of Frederick and Annie (‘Nance’) Canham.  Frederick, an accountant, played the violin and was choirmaster at Langlea Presbyterian Church.  Nance painted.  After schooling at Carlton South Public, Hurstville Opportunity Class and Canterbury Boys’ High (two years ahead of a future Prime Minister who sat on the other side of Barry’s political fence), Barry worked in the Registrar General’s Department as a cadet draftsman.  His Public Service career was short-lived however, as he soon heard about a paid music gig from a member of the jazz club he had joined.

Aged 17 Barry became a professional drummer, entertaining passengers aboard MV Kanimbla on its regular winter sailings between Sydney and Cairns.  (The Kanimbla was the first passenger ship to go to Japan post World War 11.)  For five years from 1959 he earned a living as a drummer in England.  Back in Australia, now married and with two children, he shared a house at Centennial Park with Eva Cox and other members of the Sydney Push.  He then spent a further ten years abroad, drumming in England, Scandinavia, Switzerland and on US bases in Spain. He also studied guitar with Stanley Watson.

In Australia again, he opened a music shop in Hurstville. Like many small businesses, it failed in Treasurer John Howard’s ‘greedy 1980s’ and Barry and his second wife, singer Barbara Colhoun, formed Plum Jam. This successful jazz group, featuring Sydney musicians such as Bob Gebbert, Bernie McGann and Ed Gaston, played in Martin Place and for festivals, weddings and parties.

By the end of the 1980s Barry’s friendship with Glebe poet Amanda Moriarty led to his move from South Dowling Street Paddington to 28 Toxteth Road.

In his fifties Barry pursued his other interest, the visual arts, and in 1998 he graduated from Meadowbank TAFE with an Advanced Diploma in Fine Arts. He exhibits regularly at Waverley Library and is on the committee of and an exhibitor with the annual Glebe Art Show. In 2011 his hard-edged abstraction works formed a solo showing at Camperdown’s Chrissie Cotter Gallery.

When Barry moved in, 28 Toxteth Road bore a Melrose nameplate put up as a Peyton Place joke by Peter Holmes, the boarding house’s owner since 1970. Over the years the building has been christened several times. Its original name was Garstang. The neighbouring mansion at number 26 was first known as Wortley.

By April 1884, when the Toxteth Estate was first subdivided, large houses lined the southern side of Toxteth Road. On the northern side were the grounds of Toxteth Park, entered by a driveway which curved around The Lodge at the junction with Mansfield Street. Because of their size and design (different from the others in the stretch from Bell Lane to Bell Street) Garstang and Wortley may have been the first built.  The latter, today drastically ‘modernised’ including the removal of its chimneys, was occupied some time before February 1882 when Mrs Thomas L Clarke, the lady of the house, advertised for a servant.

Folklore connects George V with Garstang. As a 15-year-old Prince George was entertained, with his brother Albert, at Toxteth House by Sir George Wigram Allen, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, on the evening of 18 July 1881. Before they returned to Government House they strolled around the grounds which were illuminated by Chinese lanterns. In 1914 George, now king, knighted explorer Douglas Mawson who had once lived at number 28.

In April 1890 Garstang was advertised for sale as ‘the residence of Lady Allen’: brick on stone with a slate roof, on the ground floor a wide entrance hall, double drawing room divided by sliding doors running into the walls, dining and breakfast rooms, kitchen, pantry, store room, linen closet (all fitted); on the first floor seven bedrooms, bathroom. There were verandahs and balconies, Venetian blinds inside and out, and brass picture rods in the drawing room. The property’s frontage was 50 feet and its depth to a lane 114 feet. The Allen family were philanthropists and staunch Methodists. The widowed Lady Allen was said to have been driven out of Toxteth House by persistent beggars and cadgers, but whether she ever lived in Garstang is unknown.

The first known occupants of Garstang (in 1884) were Wesleyan John Wilson and Hannah Jane née Hare who had married by special licence on 11 August 1853. The Wilsons had at least nine children born in the period 1854 to 1871. Some died young: Blanche aged 19 months in 1871, Charles aged 14 in 1876, and Albert aged 27 in 1892. Their grandson John Gordon Alldis was born at Garstang in March 1885 to daughter Kate and her clergyman husband John Alldis but died seven months later.

The house was the venue for the reception following the wedding in 1891 of third daughter Florence to Robert Oswald Ede.  The service at St Paul’s Redfern was conducted by sonin-law Alldis.  John Wilson junior lived nearby at Caton.

After John and Hannah Wilson moved to Tremow, 5 Wigram Road, Richard Watkins lived in the house before solicitor William Thomas Ashton Shorter moved into what was now renamed Rhodesia.  Following the marriage at St John’s Bishopthorpe in July 1899 of daughter Gertrude Margaret to Dr Arthur Benjamin Carvosso a reception for 80 guests was held there.  After William Shorter’s wife Margaret died at Glebe in 1900 he remarried and moved to Mosman.

By the time of the 1901 census 28 Toxteth Road was occupied by Margaret Ann Mawson, her sons William and Douglas, and five male lodgers.  Her husband Robert Ellis Mawson, a bankrupted fruit grower turned accountant with a timber firm, had sailed to New Guinea to seek his fortune.  To augment the family income Margaret advertised accommodation in Rhodesia, a ‘refined home’.  It was while living there that Douglas Mawson completed his degrees in engineering and science at Sydney University.  Following his Antarctic exploits he became a celebrity and was knighted in London.  His brother William graduated in medicine and moved to Campbelltown where he provided a home for his parents, his father dying aged 58 in 1912 and his mother at the same age five years later.

The house was still called Rhodesia in 1908 when Mrs Julia Edwards lived there, but was renamed Trevanna during the occupancy (1909-1913) of Kate Price, her daughter Bessie, and sons commercial traveller Ellis Leslie, salesman Lionel, commercial traveller Sidney Theodore and solicitor Maurice Emanuel.  In the period 1914-19 Miss Caroline Saker Jones lived there, followed by Mrs Nellie Stapleton.  Harry Percy Stewart, a clerk, occupied the building (with wife Minnie and daughter Marie Sylvia, also a clerk) from 1920 until his death in 1928.  His widow stayed on into the 1930s.

Robert Conrad King, a salesman, moved in ca 1937 and remained at 28 Toxteth Road until his death on 15 April 1947.  In June 1953 a balcony and room with use of conveniences were advertised as suitable for a ‘middle aged business woman’ and by the 1960s the building was functioning as a boarding house.

Personal information from Barry Canham
1891 and 1901 census collectors’ books
Dalton, John N (editor) The cruise of Her Majesty’s ship Bacchante 1879-1882
NSW cemetery records
NSW registry of births, deaths, marriages Sands directories
Sydney Morning Herald, various issues including 7.7.1910, 20.10.1916, 6.3.1943, 17.4.1947, 26.6.1953