Two lanes off Sheehy St – Strathmore (a dead end) and Garran – are today the only reminders of a 19th century property with grounds sloping down from Glebe Rd to the waters of Blackwattle Bay. On the five-acre estate was Strathmore, a three-storey stone house directly opposite George Allen’s Toxteth Park to the south. The view from its roof was a panorama of the Toxteth house and gardens. Strathmore’s name is probably from the Gaelic expression meaning ‘large valley’. Number 229 Bridge Rd Forest Lodge was originally called Strathmore. It, too, sits atop a hillside.

Blackwattle Bay’s Strathmore was built in 1857 for businessman and politician Alexander McArthur (1814-1909), the son of a poor Scots-Irish farmer and itinerant Wesleyan preacher. McArthur first came to Sydney for his health in 1842. After making some business connections here, he returned to Ireland where he established a softgoods company in partnership with his older brother William. In 1851 he was back in Sydney to profit from the gold rushes, not as a digger but as a shipping agent exporting gold and importing woollen goods, then in increasing demand. He built a large warehouse in Sydney and set up branches in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and New Zealand. The years 1854-5 he spent in England; from 1856-62 he was again living in Sydney where he was a member of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce and director of a number of companies, with interests in banking, insurance and mining. From 1859-61 he was MLA for Newtown, a free trader and an opponent of State aid for religion and of convict transportation to Western Australia.

A devout Methodist, Alexander McArthur was involved with various religious charities and societies and a committee member of the Benevolent Society. He gave £2000 towards the building of Newington College. In 1863 he settled permanently in London where in partnership with his brother William (in 1880, Lord Mayor of London) he established the merchant house W and A McArthur, and sat in the Commons as MP for Leicester. William, also an MP and a wealthy benefactor to Methodist charities, died childless, and following Alexander’s death on 1 Aug 1909 the latter’s sons took over the running of the London firm.

Portrait of Lucy Ann Tooth (Image: State Library of Queensland)
Portrait of Lucy Ann Tooth (Image: State Library of Queensland)

In Aug 1853 Alexander McArthur had married Maria Bowden Boyce (1837-1912) in the Wesleyan chapel in Toxteth Park; they honeymooned at the Black Horse Hotel at Richmond, nicknamed ‘Honeymoon Cottage’ and a fashionable destination for newlyweds. Maria was the daughter of Wesleyan minister William Binnington Boyce by his first wife. The Boyces and Allens were closely connected by ties of geography, friendship and marriage. Maria’s sister Marian married George Allen’s eldest son George Wigram Allen, and William Boyce took as his second wife Jane Elizabeth Pitman Allen, George Allen’s eldest daughter.1

Four of the McArthurs’ ten children were born at Strathmore – William Alexander 1857, John Percival 1858, Lilian 1860, and Allen Gordon 1862 – and two died at Glebe – babies Alexander Boyce 1856 and Lilian 1862. Like his father, William Alexander became a businessman and British MP. John Percival returned to Australia where in 1898, by which time he was a magistrate, he was awarded a bravery medal for helping in a surf rescue at Bondi. George Wigram McArthur also came back. By 1930 he was living in Sydney’s eastern suburbs where he died in 1943.

As was customary Alexander McArthur auctioned his household effects before permanently leaving the colony on 23 December 1862. Strathmore’s contents included a library of 800 books, a piano and harmonium, brass and iron bedsteads with horsehair mattresses, and many items of rosewood, mahogany, cedar and walnut furniture. Within months a new family moved in. It was the Sydney home of Lucy Ann (1828-1916) and William Butler Tooth (1823-76) for the next six years.

A nephew of the founder of the Kent Brewery, William Tooth arrived in Sydneyin 1841. He and his brother Atticus acquired big pastoral runs on the Darling Downs, including Clifton Station near Warwick, where William established a settlement village and replaced herds of cattle with flocks of up to 150,000 sheep. He organised his Queensland business dealings from Strathmore where he displayed samples of Clifton’s fine wool to potential buyers.

A founder of the Union Club, on the committees of the Sydney Club, the Society for the Suppression of Cattle Stealing, and the Agricultural Society of NSW, Tooth was MLA 1858-9 for the pastoral districts of Maranoa and Burnett. Litigious and quarrelsome, he aped the manners of an English squire and was in constant dispute with his rural neighbours and employees. He died of cirrhosis of the liver on 5 June 1876 leaving his widow and nine surviving children with a debt of £102,000. They stayed on at Clifton for a decade; William junior further antagonising the locals by erecting ‘no trespassing’ signs, fencing off access to waterholes and blocking a government road.

William Butler Tooth had in 1850 married Lucy Ann Harris who arrived in Sydney from London in 1833, including brothers John and George who became prominent Brisbane businessmen. Lucy Tooth gave birth to 11 children: Louisa Emily 1851-72, William Edward 1853-1930, Nelson Augustus 1854-1932, Sydney Herbert 1855-1947, Florence Rowena 1856-1935, Hedley Havelock 1858-1942, Arthur George 1860-1935, Ernest Septimus 1865-1933, Edwin Butler 1867-1884, Cecil Robert 1870-1897. Stuart Alfred was born and died, aged one month, in 1863 at Strathmore. Lucy herself died in 1916 at Toowoomba. Most of her children made their homes in Queensland; William and Hedley settled in Sydney.

By November 1869 George Wigram Allen (1824-85) and Marian (1835-1914) nee Boyce (older sister of Maria McArthur who had lived there some years earlier) had moved from Lynwood in Ferry Rd to Strathmorewhere their two youngest sons (Walter Macarthur [sic] in 1870 and Cecil Stewart who died aged nine weeks in 1873) were born. Wigram Allen was a lavish host. In 1880 flags arching over the entrance to Strathmore welcomed 300 guests todaughter Adeline Marian’s marriage to Alexander Leeper, principal of Melbourne’s Trinity College, whom she’d met when he was teaching at Pendrill’s school at Glebe Point. The service was held in the Toxteth Park chapel, draped in white, the path outside strewn with roses scattered by Sunday School pupils.

Eldest son of Toxteth Park’s George Allen, a JP and a partner in his father’s legal firm, George Wigram Allen was a Glebe bigwig and enormously wealthy. At Strathmore in late 1869 he penned his credentials as MLA candidate for Glebe and Balmain: his 30-year residency in the area; his ten-year period of office as Glebe’s first mayor; his 13-year period of office as commissioner of national education; his support of the Public Schools Act and of immigration. Duly elected, Allen held portfolios in Henry Parkes’ ministry, was knighted, and elected House Speaker 1875-82 (his successor was Glebe-born Edmund Barton). George Allen died in 1877 leaving his estate to his oldest son but George Wigram did not move across the road until 1881 when his additions to Toxteth Park house were completed: a ballroom, a third storey and a tower. Wigram Allen did not live long to enjoy these ‘improvements’ – of which his father would have disapproved. When he died four years later the Toxteth Park chapel was draped in black.

Lady Allen outlived her husband by more than three decades, dying in London survived by three daughters (Ethel, Ida and Mabel – Adeline had died in 1893) and six sons (Herbert, John Woolley, Boyce and Rex all living in England) and Reginald Charles and Arthur Wigram who remained with the family’s legal firm Allen, Allen & Hemsley.

When the Allens vacated Strathmore other Wesleyans moved in: Andrew Garran (1825-1901) and Mary Garran (1829-1923) who worshipped in the Toxteth Park chapel. Before going to Darlinghurst in the mid 1870s they had lived in Glenwood, a big house set in five acres on Hereford St. By 1881 they had five surviving daughters (Mary E 1856-1930, Winifred I 1858-1935, Helen Sabine 1860-1959, Elsie Clement 1862-1949 and Lucy R born 1864) and a teenage son Robert Randolph (1867-1957). Two girls (Adelaide M 1869-77 and Beatrice B 1871-8) had died in childhood. Lucy was the only daughter to marry, the Garran name continuing through Robert and his four sons.

Andrew Garran was born in Bethnal Green, one of 13 children of a merchant Robert Gamman. After arriving in Adelaide in 1851he was known by a reinvented surname, the original being perhaps too close to ‘gammon’ meaning both a cut of ham and a humbug. After editing newspapers in South Australia, Garran moved to Sydney where he became editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, added LLB and LLD to his BA and MA degrees, edited the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, was a freelance journalist for The Times, an MLC parliamentarian, and an advocate of federation of the colonies. A Canberra suburb is named after his son Sir Robert who became Solicitor-General to the Commonwealth and an authority on the Australian Constitution. (Robert’s tertiary education was at Sydney University, in the late 19th century ‘a very small affair’).

Strathmore Glebe Point (Image: Garran 1958)
Strathmore Glebe Point (Image: Garran 1958)

The Garrans had a holiday house at Lawson but, unlike the Allens, had to be careful with money. As soon as they moved into Strathmore the five daughters advertised for day girls and boarders for the Strathmore Ladies’ School, an enterprise that lasted until the 1890s economic depression. The house was also a social hub. At Strathmore, Dr Garran played awkward host to Robert Louis Stevenson on one of his four trips to Australia from Samoa. The chronically-ill writer, a chain smoker and heavy drinker of coffee and alcohol, was an unsociable, eccentric guest.

Andrew Garran had in 1854 in Adelaide married chemist’s daughter Mary Isham Sabine, a friend of social reformer and suffragist Catherine Helen Spence. In Sydney Mary was instrumental in forming the Boarding Out Society with two of her daughters, plus Lady Allen, Lady Windeyer and the wife of Congregational minister James Jefferis. The organisation, which took children from institutions such as the Benevolent Society and placed them with foster parents, was replaced in 1881 by the State Children’s Relief Board. Mary Garran was an active member of the Relief Board until 1911 when she retired because of age and deafness. She was also involved with the founding and running of the children’s hospital in Glebe (a major victory was its acceptance of women as Resident Medical Officers), and lobbied for higher education and, after the Sydney University Senate voted in 1881 to allow female students to study ‘in complete equality with men’, for a residential college for those students.

Hit by falling wool and wheat prices and failed building and land speculations, Andrew Garran found the upkeep of Strathmore too expensive. The mansion was rented out as a temporary women’s college, with an initial intake of four undergraduates, from 1892 until May 1894 when the permanent Women’s College was opened in the Sydney University grounds. In Mar 1894 the Strathmore estate, subdivided into more than 60 building lots, was put up for auction. The house was not sold but reverted to private use, its occupants being French consul Eugène Boivin, a Bonapartist, and Clemence Bercher Boivin, who had married in Paris in 1855 and arrived in Australia in 1884. Eugène was for over a decade a member of the choir of St Patrick’s, Church Hill. He and his wife died in Balmain in 1907; both are buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood Cemetery.

Bounded by today’s Avona Ave and Charlton Way, Strathmore and neighbouring Avona were bought in 1899 by the Church of England and turned into the Church Rescue Home, its matron Miss McGarvie. Additions to the property, including a chapel and nurses’ accommodation, were completed in 1909. Strathmore’s female inmates operated a commercial steam laundry, were trained in ‘the domestic arts’, re-caned old chairs, and made sweets and lace quilts, often exhibited in the showrooms of Beard Watson & Co. Because the women were unpaid, the institution became largely self-supporting.

Vacated in Sept 1929, Strathmore was during the Depression an Unemployed Housing Fund hostel with sleeping facilities for 23 homeless families living on the dole. Each family was allocated a room, plus extra sleeping accommodation on the balconies, partitioned with calico curtains. No food was provided but newspapers enthused that ‘sturdy bonny children’ were playing in the mansion’s reduced grounds. It was later leased as a home for boys in trouble with the Child Welfare authorities, and by the Home Mission Society.

Its grounds being progressively shrunk after the estate’s subdivision in the 1890s, Strathmore finally succumbed to the demolisher’s hammer to be replaced in the 1960s by featureless flats. A congregation at Malabar made arrangements for the stone to be recycled there as a new church, but it was delivered by the contractor as useless rubble.

1. The common 19th century practice of giving successive generations the same first name sometimes results in confusion. The William Binnington Boyce entry in The Australian Dictionary of Biography names his second wife as the daughter of George Wigram Allen — meaning Boyce married his granddaughter! (His bride was George Allen’s daughter and Wigram Allen’s sister.) 

Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography: Allen, Boyce, Garran, McArthur, Tooth entries; Australian Encyclopaedia: Garran entries; Cemetery records; Evening News various issues; Garran, Sir Robert Randolph Prosper the Commonwealth 1958; MacDonnell, Freda The Glebe: Portraits and Places 1975; McArthur, Alexander Transportation to Western Australia pamphlet (London) 1864; NSW births, deaths, marriages online registry; NSW electoral rolls; Sand’s Directories; Solling, Max Grandeur and Grit: A history of Glebe 2007; Sydney Morning Herald various issues; Women’s College website.