Thomas Collins’ estate, 1856. The hatched buildings include his three brick houses on Grose Street. (Inner West Library)

By Lyn Collingwood, from Bulletin 8 of 2023, October

Thomas Collins owned a large parcel of land fronting Parramatta Street (now Broadway) and backing onto Grose Street.  In September 1845 he bought lots 25-27 of the Bishopsgate Estate from ironmonger Launcelot Iredale and John Rose Holden, a Legislative Councillor.  In 1849 and 1851 he added Joseph Lazarus’ lots 20-23 to his holdings.  Lot 24 was a drainage reserve allowing water from the pond in Victoria Park to flow towards Blackwattle Swamp.

The major structure on Collins’ land was the Omnibus Inn which provided accommodation for travellers and their horses.  Collins opened the .hotel in December 1848 and retained the licence until 1853 when it was transferred to Sampson Palmer.  Subsequent publicans were Joseph Johnson followed by James Parle who transferred the licence to another address in 1869.  The site was then briefly occupied by Lewis Lester & Co. before the cordial manufacturer was declared bankrupt.  At the time of his death, Collins was also the owner of several Parramatta Road shops and three houses on Grose Street. 

There were several men with the same name in the colony and the ancestry of Glebe’s Thomas Collins and how he made his money is unknown.  In addition to the Bishopsgate properties and 16 houses in the city, he possessed a 340-acre farm near the village of Irishtown, Bankstown; 250 acres of this was Crown land purchased in the years 1834-1836.  Collins was assigned government servants, two of whom absconded: butcher John Simpson and farm servant John Stickland. 

On 4 September 1837 Collins married Alice Ryan in St Andrew’s Scots Church; their witnesses were Thomas and Mary Reynolds. The bride marked her signature with a cross.  Although that ceremony was Presbyterian, their children were baptised Roman Catholic: Alicia, Henry, Ellen, James, Catherine, Christopher and Louisa (1846-1849) whose parents’ address at her birth was in Kent Street.  Alice Collins also had the responsibility of caring for her spouse’s illegitimate son.  In 1852 Thomas advertised that he would not be responsible for his wife’s debts after he claimed she had walked out of their Parramatta Road household leaving seven children to fend for themselves.  

Grose Street, 1938.  Numbers 4-8 are behind the dominant terrace at the right. (State Library of NSW)
The rear of 4-8 Grose Street, 1938 (State Library of NSW)


His given age varying from 49 to 54, Collins died on 10 June 1854 at Mount Lewis, Bankstown.  On 13 January 1855, only a few months later, his 34-year-old widow died at home on Parramatta Road.  They were buried with their daughter Louisa in Devonshire Street Cemetery.  Days before his death, Thomas Collins had made out a will appointing as executors John McEncroe, a clergyman he barely knew, and John Abbott, a neighbouring farmer on Liverpool Road, Bankstown.  Alice’s will was drawn up two days before she died, and publican Cornelius O’Neal was named as her executor.      

Grose Street terrace in 2012 after it ceased use as a steel fabrication workshop (

All the orphans were under the legal adult age of 21; the youngest being only a toddler.  Their welfare was put in the hands of solicitors Brenan and Russell.  The girls were sent to board at Miss Moore’s Ladies’ Seminary.  John Abbott died at Irishtown in June 1856, and the following February the state of the Collins children’s affairs was examined at length in the Supreme Court.  One complication was working out what entitlement, if any, was due to illegitimate son William Collins.  Another was the posthumous discovery that the principal trustee, Abbott, was illiterate.  Careless in collecting rents, Abbott was found guilty of reckless extravagance, charging his own bills for food and liquor to the estate and giving large sums of money to Henry, the eldest Collins son and a gambler.  

In 1861, not long after he came of age, Henry Collins died after falling from a gig at South Creek.  His funeral left the Omnibus Inn for Devonshire Street Cemetery.   Of the other Collins children, youngest daughter Catherine married William Henry Whiting at Singleton in 1870 and died at Taralga in 1891.  Oldest daughter Alicia, in 1865 in St Mary’s Cathedral, married John Mooney whose family were Taralga graziers.  In 1896 Broadway confectioner Ellis Mostyn Murray brought an unsuccessful suit against the Mooneys for excessive duress in extracting rent arrears.  Alicia Mooney died in 1909 at Croydon; her widower died 20 years later.  They were buried in a family vault at Rookwood with the Collins parents and siblings Louisa and Henry, whose remains had been reinterred from Devonshire Street. 

Grose Street today. The modest grey building, numbers 4-8, is occupied by Staves Brewery. (Image: Lyn Collingwood)

Numbers 4-8 Grose Street

Thomas Collins’ three brick houses have survived.  The balconies, back shed and well have gone but the terrace retains its original proportions and footprint and access to a common yard. Dwarfed by its neighbours, it is today the only reminder of the street’s residential past.

Former inhabitants of number 4 include spiritualist Madame Zanzi who conducted seances there, and dogman Benjamin Gray who grabbed a coping when the hopper he was riding with its cargo of concrete fell from a city building site  (he hung on until he was rescued).  Number 6 was home to two women who at different times took out warrants against their husbands for child desertion.  Both fathers were thought to have gone rabbiting in the country.  The mother-of-eight wife of carnival showman Arthur Gabriel advertised that she was keen to buy animal and bird ‘freaks of nature’.  Among those who lived at number 8 were saddler John Williams, van driver Ernest May, cook David Munro and Mavis Pearl Bormann who was naturalised as a British citizen in 1947.

The three properties were consolidated by 1958 when architect John Crawford’s plans for extensive alterations were approved by Council.  In 2013, work began on converting the site, now derelict, into a bar.  Staves Brewery opened for business in October 2015 and is still operating there.  

Sources: City of Sydney Archives; NSW cemetery records; NSW electoral rolls; NSW Land Titles Office; NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages; NSW State Records; Sands Directories; Trove website; W H Wells (1848), A Geographical Dictionary or Gazetteer of the Australian Colonies