Rock Lane, Glebe
Rock Lane which runs from the end of Boyce St down to Wigram Rd (Photo: Rodney Hammett)

You could be forgiven for thinking that Rock Lane was named for the rocky outcrop it traverses, however it’s in recognition of Harry Rock, Glebe Alderman in 1913 (briefly) then 1926 to 1928.

The political aspects of Harry’s life in the Glebe branch of the Labor Party are covered in detail by Michael Hogan in his book Local Labor: A History of the Labor Party in Glebe and also discussed in Max Solling’s Grandeur and Grit, A History of Glebe.

But who was Harry Rock?

Born Henry Edwin Rock in July 1875 in Dunedin, New Zealand, he was the eldest of 11 children to Irish-born Joseph Henry Rock (1842-1920) and London-born Alice Jane Horne (1851-1931).

Alice, with three children, followed her husband to Sydney, arriving in January 18831. Initially they lived in Albert St then in Mill St in Pyrmont, attending the local Presbyterian Church. In a telling example of the dreadful urban and medical conditions at the time, of Alice’s 11 children only seven survived to adulthood. Life in Sydney at the end of the 19th century was tough; Australia suffered a devastating drought from 1880 to 18862 and in the 1890s an economic depression left the banking system in ruins.

Unsurprisingly Joseph was strict with his boys, getting them out to work to supplement the household budget at an early age but it led to them being caught by the law for petty theft. In 1892, at the age of 13, Harry’s younger brother, Valentine, was sent to the boys’ reform ship Sobraon for three years.3 The ship was moored in Sydney Harbour off Cockatoo Island. For further details, see Vernon nautical training ship on the Dictionary of Sydney website.

Harry was no angel either. During April 1893 at the age of 17 he spent seven days in Darlinghurst jail for riotous behaviour.4

Eventually finding a job as a sawyer in the timber industry in Blackwattle Bay Harry, at the age of 25, married Jessie McRae (19) with her father’s consent, in the manse of the Presbyterian Church, Quarry St, Ultimo on Friday 5 February 1900.5

Prior to his marriage he had been living with his parents and siblings at 43 Gottenham St, Glebe. This well-appointed house with 3-4 bedrooms had been built in 1881-82 by bricklayer Charles Wylie then sold to an investor; changing hands twice to other investors before Joseph Rock rented it in about 1895.6,7

Daughter Alice was born later in 1900 after Harry and Jessie had moved into 95 Bridge Rd, Glebe – a home they continued to rent for almost 30 years.

This row of single storey terraces (Numbers 77-97) was purchased in December 1884 as vacant land8 by notable Sydney architect and Glebe Alderman Ambrose Thornley (1844-1911), the architect for the Glebe Town Hall. It is most likely Ambrose who designed and built these terraces.

From this house they would have seen, from 1910 to 1922, the construction of the Darling Harbour goods line with bridges, viaducts and tunnel – now the route of the light rail.

In all, Harry and Jessie had seven children, the others being Jessie (1903), Henry (1906), Amelia (1909), Charles (1913), Jean (1918) and Norma (1922). They grew up in Glebe and then, as was usual for children of that era, most married and moved to suburbs away from the city. Tragically, Amelia died at Sydney Hospital aged only 13 in August 1922.

Up until WWI Harry was still learning from his veteran unionist father, making his way up the union ladder, being described in the press as an organiser in the Sawmill Employees’ Association and becoming an identity in the Glebe branch of the Labor Party. Harry didn’t enlist for WWI, however his son Charles served as a private in the Army during WW2, returning safely before discharge in August 1945.

After WWI Harry became the vocal Secretary of the Taxi Owners’ Association, promoting taxis and often defending taxi operators in letters to editors, a role he continued until he retired to live at St George’s Basin in 1930. Daughter Jessie and son Charles lived close by.

Harry would have enjoyed the slower lifestyle on the South Coast where interestingly he became a fisherman, according to daughter Jean’s marriage certificate in 1940. He died on 27 May 1945 aged 69 and was buried in the Nowra General Cemetery.

Returning to Sydney after Harry died Jessie lived with son Charles at Lidcombe until October 1951 when she died aged 70. She was buried in Rookwood Cemetery.

Rodney Hammett
Heritage Subcommittee

1. Passenger list;;
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics;;
3.; New South Wales, Australia, Entrance Books for the Vernon and the Sobraon, 1867-1911;
4.; New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930;
5. Marriage Certificate, NSW ref 453/1900;
6. Certificate of Title 584-244;
7. Sands Directories;
8. Certificate of Title 724-212