Built on the waterfront at Blackwattle Bay at a cost of £75 for ship chandler and sailmaker George Linley Robinson, Llangollen was occupied by November 1844. The original stone house, reached by a circular drive and fronted by a dramatic staircase and an 80-foot verandah, had four bedrooms, dining and drawing rooms, servants’ quarters and wine cellars. On its 1½ acres, watered by a fresh spring water well, were a coach house and stables, fowl yard, flower and vegetable garden, and jetty. More rooms were added later and the grounds developed with croquet and tennis courts, swimming baths and a boatshed, cowsheds and an orchard. George’s brother, soap manufacturer Richard Wilkinson Robinson, lived up the hill in Guildford Lodge, built on land purchased from George Miller in 1842. Guildford Lodge is now 431 Glebe Point Rd, and Llangollen, 12 Leichhardt St. Both houses have been demolished.

George and Esther Robinson née King relocated from St Peters to Llangollen and were soon looking for a laundress and house servant. After their marriage at Christ Church St Laurence on 30 April 1845 their daughter Agnes Georgiana and her husband Custom House agent Michael Metcalfe jnr moved in. In June 1845 George Robinson bought Skellatar a 10,000 acre property at Muswellbrook, but in January 1846 its house and orchard was advertised for rent and the next month Robinson auctioned his mahogany furniture, ornaments, engravings of the Duke of Wellington and Victoria and Albert, plus farm animals, agricultural machinery and boiling-down equipment. Also put up for sale was a child’s bed, although Robinson’s youngest son was born the next month. (This was Charles Cecil who became a bank manager and was at Braidwood when Ben Hall was bushranging in the district. Charles died in 1927; his obituary claimed he was born at sea. Charles’ older sister Evelyn, baptised at St Peters in 1843, married James Smith Adams in 1861 and moved with him to Mornington, Vic. where James set up as a butcher. Evelyn Adams gave birth to nine children and died at Geelong on 30 Jan 1915.)

In 1851 George Robinson was at Ferry Cottage on Glebe Rd. Now an accountant and arbitrator with offices at 20 Macquarie Place, he was Secretary of the Second Benefit Building Society, and of the Church of England Cemetery Company set up in 1848, its revenue primarily from sales of plots in the Camperdown graveyard adjacent to St Stephens Church. In 1852 Robinson moved to Melbourne with his business Woolley & Robinson, merchants and bond storeowners. In 1857, announcing that he was leaving the colony, he sold up his Eastern Hill possessions including his horses and carriages, a mangle and a harmonium.

Son-in-law Michael Metcalfe was also a director of the commercial cemetery enterprise. Born in Yorkshire in 1813, he arrived in Sydney in 1837 and set up as a commission and insurance agent. He established Metcalfe & Co. general merchants and shipping agents, and was connected with the Australian Mutual Provident Society, the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, and the Australian Gaslight, Australian Steam Navigation, Illawarra Steam Navigation and Wallsend Coal companies. A High Church Anglican, Metcalfe was also bursar to St Paul’s College and treasurer to the Melanesian Mission fund, and with John Betts (of Kew Cottage Glebe Rd) a foundation trustee of Christ Church St Laurence. His wife was on the visiting committee of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute.

Llangollen on Blackwattle Bay. It is now demolished.

During the 1840s Llangollen was advertised for sale several times but the Metcalfes remained its tenants until ca 1853 by which time they had the first three of their eleven children. Annie Georgiana (born 9 July 1846, in 1873 married real estate agent and MLA John Mitchell Purves) died in 1923. Annie’s closest siblings George (born 1849) and Walter (born 1852) both died in August 1854.

The Metcalfes made several trips to London, the resting place of daughter Ethel Mary (1867-77), probably the birthplace of Algernon James (in the 1880s a tenant of Enfield House Bridge Rd, he died in 1932) and where Florence Agnes (born 1858) and Beatrice (born 1865) married. The other Metcalfe children were Edward Milner (civil servant, 1854-1925), Charles Theophilus (insurance broker, 1860-1919), Estella Constance (born 1863, she married at Albany WA) and Wilfred Cecil (barrister, born 1870).

By 1860 Michael Metcalfe was a wealthy merchant and the family settled at Petersleigh a fashionable home at St Peters. They worshipped over the road at St Peters Church where Metcalfe donated a lectern, installed a window in memory of his daughter Ethel, and kept a close eye on the church’s finances, arguing against the purchase of a new organ and urging that people in arrears of pew rents be sued. In 1882 he was appointed a Commissioner of Customs. To mark his death (at Bothwell Macleay St Potts Point on 27 October 1890) the Sydney Exchange flag was hoisted at half-mast, and his surviving children donated a memorial window in St Andrew’s Cathedral. His widow Agnes died at Darling Point on 14 September 1895 and was buried with her husband in the St Peters Church graveyard.

Octavius Ebsworth, a hand-coloured photograph set in the reverse of a cameo brooch, ca 1852. (Source: Mitchell Library/SLNSW)

After the Metcalfes moved out Llangollen, now the property of local chemist Charles Mercian Penny, was occupied briefly by solicitor M C Stephen who kept bloodhounds. Its next tenant was Octavius Bayliffe Ebsworth who had had business dealings with George Robinson. Ebsworth moved there from Surry Hills with his wife and sons Edward (1852-1925) and Alfred (1854-1917).

The son of a wool-broker, Octavius was born in 1827 in London and followed an older brother to Sydney where he joined Mort & Co. before going into business on his own as a wool-broker and manufacturer. In 1868 he was awarded a medal for colonial tweed. On 6 July 1852 he married Frances Mary Barker whose family were wool millers in Sussex Street. (London-born Frances had sailed to Australia as a four-year-old.)

The third Ebsworth child, George, was born at Llangollen on 14 July 1856, followed by Fanny Amy on 18 February 1858. By now Octavius was hoping that no more progeny would come along for a few years as he found the boys impossible to discipline. On Boxing Day 1858 Fanny died in her father’s arms, of dysentery and ‘inflammation of the brain’. The weather was intensely hot, the boys had croup, Octavius was distraught and his wife exhausted. After Frances gave birth to Arthur Charles in 1861 there was a gap before their fifth son Francis Octavius was born in 1869 by which time they had moved to Tytherton House Burwood. Octavius Bayliffe died suddenly on 23 June 1870 of diphtheria following an insect bite. As a mark of respect sales of wool, tallow and hide were postponed. His widow died aged 89 at Woollahra on 27 February 1914 and was buried Church of England in the family grave at Camperdown. George, who twice survived bankruptcy as a livery stables proprietor, died in 1927; Arthur, a solicitor, in 1953; and Francis, also a solicitor, in 1958.

In 1857 Charles Mercian Penny’s son Charles William inherited his father’s considerable Glebe property including Llangollen, but he died in 1860 and the estate passed to Charles William Penny jnr who tried several times to sell the house. Short-term tenants included draper Antoine Arthur Coutin and his wife Annie; Surveyor-General and officer in the Volunteer Rifles Allaster Grant Maclean; and Major Chauval.

From 1862 to 1879 Llangollen was occupied by the family of bankrupted ironmonger William George Ainsworth who shifted there from Parramatta Rd. His wife Elizabeth Ann died aged 53 at Llangollen on 30 May 1864. After his own death at age 60, of apoplexy at Bowenfels in July 1873, his affairs were handled by his son, agricultural machinery importer Richard John (1834-96) who by 1867 had moved to Glebe from Richmond with his wife Ann Elizabeth née Sharp (1842-1902) and their sons William Richard, Thomas Richmond and Joseph. Born at Llangollen were Ann Elizabeth on 5 June 1867, Emma Sharp on 30 December 1871 and Martha Euphemia on 2 August 1874.

Emma died of typhoid at Snail’s Bay Balmain on Boxing Day 1885 just before her 14th birthday and was buried in Balmain Cemetery, as was her brother Thomas Richmond in 1888. Ann Elizabeth married Henry Augustus Rudder in 1886 and died in 1938; Martha married Alfred Ward in 1897 and died in 1910; Joseph died in 1944. Eldest son William Richard, educated at Thomas Bowyer’s Collegiate School Glebe Rd, was elected an alderman on Leichhardt Council and mayor in 1905. A produce merchant selling hay and corn, he became a real estate agent and president of the Leichhardt School of Arts. In 1917 he bought property in the Sutherland Shire where he was again active in local government. He died at Leichhardt on 12 January 1922 and was buried in the Church of England section at Woronora.

After the Ainsworths went to Balmain, Llangollen was put up for auction in 1880. Land and estate agent Henry Edward Vaughan of H E Vaughan & Sons moved in. A founding member of Glebe Masonic Lodge in 1881 and president of Glebe Bowling Club, Vaughan as Glebe alderman on Sydney Council heard evidence at the 1883 Royal Commission into Noxious and Offensive Trades including much on the Glebe Island abattoir. After leaving Glebe he was an alderman on Campbelltown and Katoomba councils. Vaughan married twice and had 13 children. Aged 58, he died at his country house at Katoomba on 5 January 1901 and was buried with full Masonic honours in the Church of England section at Rookwood with his first wife Mary Anne née Brown. They had left Llangollen by the time of her death at age 45 on 8 September 1884.

Glebe architect Ambrose Thornley jnr moved around the corner from Florence Villa to Llangollen where he kept a boat and launch and entertained lavishly with guest entertainers such as popular baritone Arthur Hunter. The grounds now featured tennis and croquet courts, a bowling green and garden fountains. The house was serviced by town water and gas, and the tram terminus was nearby.

Born in Glebe in 1844 and educated at Fort St and Sydney Grammar, Ambrose worked with his father as a carpenter, graduating to master builder and architect. Locally he built dozens of shops and houses (including Bellevue on Leichhardt St) and is best known as the designer of Glebe Town Hall. Keen on bowls, he played with the Glebe Club at Wentworth Park and Victoria Park. He succeeded his father as Glebe alderman on Sydney Council.

In 1868 he married Caroline Matilda Prior at St Barnabas. Their six children were born at Glebe. Mary Ambrosine, born 1869, died unmarried in 1943 at North Sydney; Robert Henry, real estate agent born 1871, died 1937 at Oberon; Florence Caroline, born 1873, married Reginald Alfred Eichler 1914, died 26 January 1916 at Haberfield; Ambrose Thornley the third, born 1876, died 1929 at Hurstville; Albert Edgar, house painter born 1878, died 1947 at Newtown; James Victor, born 1881, died 15 December 1962.

As was common, the household included single women dependants. Ambrose’s widowed mother-in-law Eliza Green died at Llangollen in 1890.

Thornley fell on hard times, one of the many victims of the 1893 economic depression. With fewer clients, he borrowed money to buy shares and was declared bankrupt in 1895. He moved to Port Hacking where he planned to enjoy retirement with his new motorcar and motorboat. His last business venture was as licensee of the Grand Hotel at Rockdale. Thornley died at Bexley on 3 August 1911, survived by his widow and six children, and was buried with his parents in the Church of England section at Rookwood. His widow, who died on 15 November 1922, was also interred there.

After sailing from New Zealand with a chartered captain and crew aboard the Nautilus William Paul Featherstone was at Llangollen by 9 September 1893 when he advertised the steam-yacht for sale. Born at sea in 1839, Featherstone was the son of Charlotte and Michael Featherstone, a pioneer of Brighton SA. William married Hobart-born Elizabeth Esther Smithson (1841-1915) in 1859 in Adelaide where the births of their first seven children were registered: William Ernest (1861-99), Arthur Edwin (1862-1930), Minnie Ethel (1865-6), Ethel Edith (born and died 1867), Raymond Eustace (1869-74), Amy Elizabeth (1873-99) and Osmond Benjamin ‘Jack’ (1875-1941). The two eldest sons died in New Zealand; the three infant burials were in St Jude’s Anglican Church cemetery Brighton; Amy died from typhoid in Fiji while on a trip to visit Samoa.

Featherstone owned 18-room Avenue House set in 60 acres at Brighton with a bathing house. The property was leased long-term to the YMCA, providing a steady income. Featherstone took his family to Auckland where three more children were born: Stanley Victor (1877-1932), Rothurst Frederick ‘Ross’ (1882-1946, died NZ) and Hephzibah Coralie (1884-1969).

Adopting the first name ‘Fairy’ later spelt ‘Faire’, Hephzibah Featherstone played hostess at Llangollen parties. During the First World War she ran fundraising fetes there with sock knitting competitions, stalls and spinning jennies in the grounds, afternoon tea on the terrace and continuous concerts playing in the drawing room. The house, now featuring hand-painted angels on its ceilings, was also the venue for farewell evenings for departing soldiers. At a fundraiser on her houseboat at The Spit, Fairy organised rowing races, fortune telling, quick sketch portraits and musical entertainment. At the Hotel Australia she raised money for the Australian Nurses’ Gift Fund, and helped out at the Voluntary Workers’ Café in the city. She acted and sang in amateur theatricals and revues. For the North Sydney District Comedy Club she performed with singer Dorothy Helmrich and Horace Frederic Quartly (1891-1943). She and Horace also sang with the Petersham Choral Society.

Before he enlisted on 6 August 1917 Horace and Fairy became engaged. On 19 June 1918 he embarked from Sydney with reinforcements on board the Field Marshal and served with the 56th battalion. Discharged in London in August 1919, he returned to Australia and married Fairy Featherstone at St Andrew’s on 11 October, a society wedding performed by the Dean of Sydney, their attendants including members of Glebe’s Preddy and Hogue families. The reception was held in the Voluntary Workers’ Café, but after a couple of hours Fairy took off with a friend for Melbourne and said she didn’t want to be married. Horace petitioned for divorce eight months later. He died at Ryde in August 1943 after his car collided with a US military truck (its occupants fled the scene). His ex wife continued performing with the Greentree Players into the 1930s. As Faire Hephzibah Coralie Quartley, she died on 8 September 1969, a woman of ‘independent means’ who derived her income from shares.

Fairy’s brother Arthur Edwin (1862-1930) was also involved in a publicised divorce. After his marriage to Violet Louise Mumme on 15 October 1896 they honeymooned in Melbourne where Violet claimed he went to the races and came home drunk every night. In Sydney after visiting his parents Arthur left his wife outside while he went into each of the eight hotels they passed, coming out of the last with a bottle of whisky and striking her. When the first of their four children was born he pointed a revolver at her but it misfired and the bullet lodged in the ceiling. He was admitted to RPA with a flesh wound to his forehead. Violet took him back several times on promises to reform but matters had come to a head by March 1904 when William Featherstone arranged for his daughter-in-law to live in Melbourne. The pair finally separated in August 1906 and by May 1911, when the divorce was finalised, Arthur was living in Auckland where he died on 19 December 1930.

The Featherstone family matriarch Elizabeth Esther was visiting Townsville when she died on 3 July 1915. Her widower died at Llangollen on 4 July 1916 and was buried alone in Waverley Cemetery. He left an estate of nearly £20,000.

In 1918 Llangollen was bought for £5,000 and converted into a hostel for country girls attending Hereford House Training College on the site of what is now Foley Park. The renamed Anderson House originally accommodated 25, each student having her own bedroom with balcony access, but by 1930 the number had increased to 40, including ex-students, with girls sharing rooms. Amenities comprised a sitting room, study, laundry and dining room with a waitress in attendance. Although there were rules about being in by 7.30pm and two hours each night of silent study, most seemed happy there, reading the Land newspaper together and renewing friendships at the Easter Show. After graduation students were expected to serve three years in country schools.

The hostel was under the charge of a matron. Its first was Georgina Talbot Simonson (1880-1963), second youngest of eight daughters of US shipwright turned builder Henry Edgar Johnson Simonson and Annie née Gentleman (1842-1916). At least two of Georgina’s sisters had long careers as public schoolteachers. The second matron Margaret ‘Maggie’ Elsie Ward (she died unmarried on 4 April 1951) ran the hostel until its closure after Hereford House ceased taking students in 1932.

The grounds of Anderson House ca 1931 looking towards Blackwattle Bay, a vegetable garden on the left and tennis court at rear. The Teachers College students on the lawn are using their bodies to form ‘Ando’, their nickname for the hostel. (Source: Lianne Gratton)

The 12 Leichhardt St site was subsequently bought by timber merchants Vanderfield & Reid and the mansion was demolished ca 1945.


Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography: Octavius Ebsworth, Michael Metcalfe; City of Sydney website: Sydney’s aldermen; Featherstone Genealogy website: Horton, Laurel Grave Reflections; Horton, Laurel and Halls, Thomas St Peters Anglican Church Cooks River; information from Lianne Gratton; MacDonnell, Freda The Glebe: Portraits and Places; NSW cemetery records; NSW electoral rolls; NSW registry of births, deaths, marriages; NSW State Records: probate packets; O B Ebsworth papers in Mitchell Library MSS 1679; Sands Directories; Sunday Times 12.10.1919; Trove website.