by Lyn Collingwood & Rodney Hammett, 25 February 2021 (from Bulletin 1 of 2021)

Leichhardt Historical Journal No 23, p.9

Last August’s Bulletin (Bulletin 6/2020) noted the closing of the YHA Australia hostel at Glebe Point. This article details the history of 28 Ross St, Forest Lodge, a house that was altered to function as Sydney’s first YHA hostel, which opened in 1976. (While the building was being restructured, an upstairs bedroom was used as a location for some domestic scenes in the feature film Caddie.)

The Forest Lodge allotment, part of Catherine Farm (20 acres of land granted to Catherine King in 1795), was purchased by George Wigram Allen in 1862. In October 1875 clergyman George Sutherland bought 28 perches (708 m2) from Allen for £300.1 On the site, fronting Ross St and St Johns Rd, Sutherland built a 14-room mansion with balconies at ground and first floor levels. The Sutherland family moved into their new home in 1877. A coach house was added to the rear in 1885.2

No 28 Ross St in the 1880s (YHA Publication)

Moderator of the Presbyterian Church for Eastern Australia, George Sutherland preached hellfire and damnation at St George’s Free Presbyterian Church in Castlereagh St. He had relocated to Sydney from Dunedin after his conduct there was censured, and his resignation sought by the NZ Presbyterian Synod. Viewed by many as sour and illiberal, Sutherland thought Sundays should be spent wholly in church and threatened perdition on those, such as letter sorters, who worked on the Sabbath and on any who enjoyed time on their one day off work riding in a cab or sailing on a pleasure craft. He also demanded, on the grounds of his talent, that his salary be substantially increased. Sutherland’s squabbles with members of his St George’s congregation became notorious throughout Otago and, although he was farewelled with 100 sovereigns by his supporters, others were only too glad to see the back of him.

28 Ross St today (photo: Lyn Collingwood)

Early in 1872, Sutherland made a reconnoitring visit to the Australian colonies. In September he, his second wife and five of his children sailed on the Rangitoto to Melbourne from where they transferred to the coastal steamer Dandenong. Two months later Sutherland began preaching in Sydney.

It was no doubt one of Sutherland’s enemies who relayed details of the clergyman’s new workplace back to NZ: the Sydney church featured ugly stained-glass windows, hard and uncomfortable seats, and a small congregation (‘250 at most’) of mostly elderly, gloomy and austere worshippers. There was a sprinkling of children but hardly any young men or young women. People stood to pray and sat to sing and much of the service was in Gaelic. During the singing the correspondent found himself trapped between two ‘screech-owls’.

Born in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada on 14 January 1830, George Sutherland trained at Halifax, was ordained in 1854, ministered at Charlottetown 1856-66 and worked for the unification of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. He was chaplain to the provincial parliament of Prince Edward Island, a member of the Board of Education, and wrote a handbook on the island’s geography, natural resources and economy.

In June 1857 Sutherland married Charlotte Lydia Mott, one of ten children of politician and confectionery manufacturer Henry Yeomans Mott. The Mott family were prosperous chocolate makers. Four children were born of the union: Elizabeth Mott (1858-1909), Isabel Fraser (1860-1946), Constance Adelaide (1861-1933) and George Whitfield. After Charlotte’s death, Sutherland married Louisa Julia Ballam (a Nova Scotian born in 1834 at Arichat). They had three children: Jane Elmina Louise (‘Ellie’ 1866-1949), Victor Ernest (1869-1946) and Irene Beatrice (‘Rene’ 1874-1956).

In 1867 Sutherland took up the posting in Dunedin. His second daughter remained in Canada, perhaps with her wealthy uncle Jonathan Prescott Mott who was childless and had informally adopted other family members. Isabel in 1887 wed Henry Spurr Creighton at Halifax. She kept in touch with three of her unmarried sisters who visited her as adults.

George Sutherland’s sermons on topics such as baptism were printed in Dunedin. In Sydney, he published a journal Australian Witness and treatises on Christian psychology, papal domination and moral training in schools. In the early 1890s, Sutherland decided he needed a quiet place to concentrate on writing and moved his family to Mount Arcadia off Pennant Hills Rd, Parramatta. The Forest Lodge house was rented out. In 1893 Mrs Andrews used the building as Queen’s College, a day and boarding school for ‘young ladies’ and a primary school for boys. It then functioned as Tara Seminary, a girls’ private school run by Caroline Hosier who had trained as a pupil-teacher in the public system. She lived on the premises with her widowed mother Sarah and sisters Theresa and Julia. The Hosiers left sometime after Sarah’s death in January 1895.

The Reverend George Sutherland (source:

George Sutherland died in office.3 He was with his younger son Victor on 27 July 1893 when he collapsed in the street near Mount Arcadia. The patriarch left an estate valued at £5,794 and a complicated will dealing with property in Nova Scotia, Forest Lodge and Parramatta. 4 The main beneficiary was his widow and executrix, and provision was unequal for the seven children from his two marriages, their ages then ranging from 19 to 35. George Whitfield disputed the will but lost a case against his stepmother in 1896, the court deciding that

because he and his ‘American’ siblings were left annuities by an uncle in Nova Scotia they were excluded from having an interest in their father’s estate. Louisa Sutherland died from pneumonia and heart failure on 5 June 1899 and was buried at Waverley Cemetery. By this time she had returned to Forest Lodge and had assigned all her entitlements in her husband’s estate to her two daughters.5

Grand Chaplain of the Orange Lodge, the Reverend Sutherland was vehemently anti-Catholic. In an act of defiance, his oldest child Elizabeth converted to the rival faith, moved into a Glebe Point boarding house and worshipped at St Mary’s Cathedral. This was probably after her father’s death as in his will he left her a block of land at Beecroft, auctioned in 1900. Elizabeth died on 20 September 1909 at Bathurst but was buried with other family members at Waverley.

Third daughter Constance was educated at Glebe Public School and Sydney University, graduating BA in 1887 and MA in 1889 (one of three females). By 1900 she had been appointed principal of the Church of England Deaconess High School, a boarding establishment. Constance travelled a great deal. Prominent in the National Council of Women (its secretary Rose Scott), she was in London when approached to attend the 1911 international conference in Stockholm as the organisation’s Sydney delegate. She repeated the exercise in 1914 at the International Council of Women in Rome. In 1928 she sailed from Sydney on a health trip on the Medic to London, after which she continued to Nova Scotia to see her sister Isabel and dispose of some property. In 1930 she was welcomed back in Sydney by Ellie and Rene but was soon overseas again. Constance made her will in Canada in August 1933 before returning to London where she died on 17 December 1933.

First son George Whitfield was another academic success story, graduating BA from Sydney University, MB in Edinburgh and MD in London. On returning to Sydney, he lived in fashionable Lyons Terrace on Liverpool St. Survived by his wife Ruth Agnes and their newborn Constance Margaret Irene, George died on 3 March 1896 and was buried in Waverley Cemetery.

Fourth daughter (Jane) Elmina was educated at Sydney Girls’ High where she was a classmate of writers Ethel Turner and Louise Mack. She graduated with a BA in 1891, majoring in Philosophy, English, Greek and Latin after which she and her sister Constance were on the committee of the Sydney University Women’s Association. In 1907 Elmina and Irene returned from three years’ overseas travel, mainly in England and America where, in company with Constance, they visited women’s clubs, notably in Boston. A school teacher, Elmina was a founder and first secretary of the Women’s Club, and served on the committee of the Women’s National Movement for Temperance. During the First World War, she organised women’s pro-conscription rallies. Elmina died on 30 September 1949 at the Neutral Bay home she shared with her surviving sister and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Waverley Cemetery.

Second son Victor Ernest lived for most of his adult life in the Parramatta district. He gave his profession as an architect and civil engineer and was frequently in court as both plaintiff and defendant. In 1888 he was the victim of an assault by two teenagers; a decade later he was fined for travelling on an expired train ticket. In 1896 he was awarded £250 damages for injuries received when, out riding with his sister Irene, his pony was struck by a cart and a shaft penetrated his thigh. By 1900 Victor was in a financial fix, accused of fraud and declared bankrupt. Following the death in 1924 of Caroline née Ellison, Victor married Rita Phyllis Brell, 34 years his junior. The couple divorced. Victor died on 4 May 1946 and was buried near his first wife in the St Mary Magdalene churchyard, St Marys. There were three children from the first marriage: George Ballam Hilton

(1900-82), Helen (born and died in 1913) and Sheila Margaret (1914-2001). And two from the second: Robert (1928-92) and Brian (1931-5).

Youngest child Irene Beatrice kept house for her schoolteacher sisters. During the First World War, she and Elmina opened up 28 Ross St as one of the metropolitan district centres for soldiers’ wives and mothers, providing help and shelter for those in need. (The Police Gazette of 13 November 1918 gave Tara as the address for the mother of private Charles Crowley, a deserter.) After the war, Irene and Elmina moved to Waverton and then to 35 Wycombe Rd, Neutral Bay, where they remained for the rest of their lives. Irene did not marry and nothing further is known of her private life and interests.

In 1923 Tara was advertised as a boarding house offering ‘superior board, airy rooms, electricity, a bath heater, and every convenience; ladies from £1, gentlemen from 25 shillings’. 6 By 1938 it was the Audley Guest House, advertised to country visitors in country newspapers as ‘… at tram stop, only 2d from the city, excellent table, airy rooms, tariff 30 shillings, bed and breakfast 22/6.’ 7 Tara remained a guest house, albeit a shabby version of its former grandeur, until 1966 when it was leased to Gala Knitwear (Manufacturing) Pty Ltd resulting in changes to the building.

One of the first ‘Smith Family’ Christmas celebrations at Mt Arcadia, c.1934

With the 1949 death of Elmina, Irene became the sole owner of 28 Ross St. In 1957 she sold it to her niece Sheila Margaret Armstrong, the wife of grazier Jack Trench Armstrong of Nyngan.8 Sheila, the daughter of Victor Ernest Sutherland, in July 1974 sold the property to YHA, ending almost 100 years of Sutherland family ownership. The other Sutherland property at North Parramatta became the Smith Family’s home for needy children in 1933; it was purchased in 1958 by the Tara Anglican School for Girls.9

Considerable research has confirmed that there is no connection between the name Tara for the Forest Lodge property and the Tara Anglican School for Girls.

Notes: 1 NSW Land Registry Services, Bk154 No382; 2 Daily Telegraph: Wed 2 Sep 1885, p1. See also sheet 31 of the 1883-7 survey of Glebe; 3 Daily Telegraph: Sat 29 Jul 1893, p8; 4 Findmypast; NSW Wills; 5 NSW Land Registry Services, Bk645 No692; 6 Sydney Morning Herald: Tue 19Jan 1923, p7; 7 Mudgee Guardian: Tues 23 Dec 1938, p4; 8 NSW Land Registry Services, PA 32892 & Vols 4928-101/102; 9 Mt Arcadia and the Smith Family [Barrier Daily Truth: Mon 17 Mar 1952, p4]; Hills District Historical Society – Mt Arcadia Children’s Hospital; 10

Other Sources Glebe Society Bulletin 8/1976; McCulloch, John E S Beds, books and backpacks: the story of YHA in Australia; NSW cemetery records; NSW electoral rolls; NSW registry of births, deaths and marriages; NSW State Records; NZ Papers Past website; Sands Directories; Trove website; Ward, Rowland S A Witness for Christ; Ward, Rowland S, The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia 1846-2013; Youth Hostels Association of New South Wales A Short History of the Development of YHA 1942-1980.