The Lesslie Family at Braemar
Burwood in the 1880's'
A few huts built in 1793 as overnight accommodation for convict chain gangs moving between Sydney and Parramatta were Burwood’s first buildings. Farming began when Sarah Nelson took up a land grant in the Malvern Hill area in 1794. Other farms were soon established and by the 1820’s most of the land was taken up by a few large estates. In the 1820 and 1830’s roadside inns began to appear along the two highways through the district – the Parramatta Road and the Liverpool Road (now the Hume Highway). Coaches on both routes fond Burwood a convenient staging post at which to break their journey. (Dairy at Enfield)
The Illustrated Sydney News of May 12, 1854 carried the following advertisement “The Sydney and Parramatta Railway, now near completion, runs through the [Thomas Rowley] estate, dividing it into two nearly equal portions. The Burwood station adjoins it on the eastern or Sydney side, thus affording every inducement to parties building on the estate, as they can reach the business parts of the city is as short a time as residents of any of the suburbs, and save the imposition of the monstrous rents of Sydney landlords, taxes, etc., and other heavy exactions, beside the opportunity of enjoying all the luxury of a country life.’ At 11am on September 26th 1855 a 19-gun salute heralded the departure of the first train from Sydney to Parramatta. (1880's Railway workers cottages, Stanley Street)
Within a short time a surprising number of well-to-do professional and businessmen from the city moved into the district and established themselves in fine houses (Orissa,1882; ST Cloud, 1890's; Shubra Hall, 1891)with beautiful, spacious gardens. The trend was to buy several blocks and consolidate them into estates ranging from 4 to 20 acres. So the large estates were gradually subdivided and by 1874 the district had a population of 1,250. In 1890 The Echo reported, “In some portions of the borough the fine gardens on both sides of the road bring to mind some of the country lanes in the south of England.”. The choice of Burwood was also attributable to a firm belief in its health-giving climate away from the smog of the city. William Lesslie's sister Mary moved to Burwood in 1881 with her husband R.V. Hardie. The Hardies build an imposing two storeid house called 'Ilfracoome' in Park Road. R.V. Hardie was elected to Burwood council and served as mayor for eight years in the eighteen eighties. He oversaw the building of the new Council Chambers and planted many of the original trees in Burwood Park
Churches were built (St Pauls, 1872) and in 1871 Burwood Public School’s brick school and masters residence were completed. The use of cesspits was abolished with the introduction of the pan system in about 1880 and ten years later Burwood became the first council to adopt a system of pans using airtight lids patented by the Council’s overseer, G.B Southwick, greatly reducing the risk of diseases such as typhoid. In 1888 major kerbing and guttering works were undertaken to reduce flooding and improve public health. By 1896, 31 miles of streets had been formed but although tar sealing became more common with the establishment of the Gas Works at Mortlake, the council still kept a water cart to lay dust in the streets. Street lighting was introduced in 1883 after the Gas Company laid mains to Burwood in 1882. Another improvement in 1883 was the erection of the Burwood Post Office. A telegraph service was established in 1887 and Burwood’s telephone exchange opened in 1894.
During 1886-7 water mains from the Nepean Scheme reached Burwood and within 2 years piped water was available to all parts of the municipality. It was no longer necessary to lift and carry heavy buckets of water from the tank of pump to the washing or bath tub. Sinks now had taps and bathrooms became more common, although for hot water pots heated over the fuel stove still had to be carried. Indoor water closets (wc’s) were now possible as were the introduction of more adequate fire fighting services.
By 1900 the population had reached 7,400. A police station was built and Burwood Court of Petty Sessions opened its door in a room within the Council Chambers (Burwood Post office). Fund raising projects amassed the sum of 1939 pounds and in 1893 Western Suburbs Cottage Hospital opened with less than a dozed beds and a four patient isolation ward. The occasion was marked with a grand street parade of bands and local organizations and the foundation stone was laid “in the presence of one of the largest and most representative gatherings that has ever been assembled in the Western Suburbs.”
Burwood Literary Society met weekly in the Presbyterian Hall and the Amateur Operatic, Dramatic and Musical Societies performed in the School of Arts, which also housed the library. Sunday sport was taboo, but on Saturdays cricket and football clubs played on the private fields of their patrons. Gradually sports clubs developed their own facilities. Daytime swimming was illegal until 1902 but the advent of a tramline to Mortlake in 1901 made the swimming baths there accessible. Correy’s Gardens and picnic grounds beside the river at Cabarita (St James Choir at Cabarita) were a popular destination with “wagonettes meeting trains at Burwood for the Gardens”. It was common for young people to hire a “drag or coach and drive to Parramatta Park ending the day with a picnic tea (picnic) and a fireside sing-song. A ferry wharf at the end of Burwood Road afforded the possibility of harbour outings and sculling was another popular river activity.[Go to top]
Moving to "Braemar"
In 1883 William Lesslie moved his family to Burwood where he built a substantial house named “Braemar” on a large corner block at No. 19 Lindsay Street. The land was a subdivision of the 200 acres granted to William Faithful in 1810. There was a gas lamp in thstreet near the front gate and a small lake on the oposite side of the road. The Lesslie children all attended Burwood Public School and then went variously to Sydney Girls High School, Sydney Boys High School or Newington College.(Family Picnic at Meadowbank)[Go to top]
The Lesslie Boys
Wallace spent his early years in Paddington. After the family moved to Burwood he attended Burdood Public School, the Sydney High School. He had a varied career starting out in a solicitor’s office before turning to farming. Allan completed a Diploma course at Hawkesbury Agricultural College and in 1904 he and Wallace went dairy farming at Berry NSW. In February 1907 the pair continued their farming activities on 300 acres belonging to Wallace at Gara on Mandagery Creek near Molong NSW. Wallace married Phyllis Elwin in 1916 and moved to Ashfield. Their sons [William] Thomas and Ian Wallace were born in 1917 and 1921. Later they moved closer to the rest of the family in Burwood. In 1924 Wallace purchased a shorthand writing business. He taught shorthand at times, but mostly took notes for various bodies including Hansard for the Commonwealth Parliament. Wallace was session clerk of Ashfield Presbyterian Church for many years. Wallace died in 1952.
Allan returned to the family home in 1913 and opened a mercery business in Beamish Street Campsie. In 1921 he purchased two modern shops in Beamish Street and moved the business into one of them. In 1924 he married Dorothy King at St James church. Their daughter Nola was born in 1928 and son Robert (who later took over his fathers business) in 1934. Allan was a member of Strathfield Golf Club and Burwood Bowling Club. He died in 1952.
Gordon also went into the mercery trade, opening “The House of Men’s Wear” at 128 Liverpool Street, Sydney. In 1916 he married Madge Rae at St James and they had a daughter Helen Jean born in 1921. Madge died in 1927 and Gordon and Helen moved back to Braemar . In 1930 he married Anne Gillies and moved his family to “Crief” the Californian bungalow style house he built at 16 Torrington Road Strathfield. In 1932 their son David Gordon was born. Gordon died in 1951.
Ronald worked as a clerk with the Sydney City Council and later joined the Commonwealth Audit Office were he became a Senior Audit inspector with responsibility for the Commonwealth Bank, the Bankruptcy Court and the combined Army, Navy and Air Force. In 1922 he married Doris Long and their son Russell John was born in 1924. Ronald’s interests included early radio, photography, carpentry and gardening. He enjoyed skiing (another shot..), tennis and golf and was a member of Pratten Park Bowling Club. For many years he was also a trustee of the Presbyterian cemetery at Rookwood. He died in 1953.[Go to top]
The Ladies of "Braemar"
Mabel used her bedroom at "Braemar" as a studio for her pottery, china painting, pyrography (poker work) and other craft activities. Gordon brought his young daughter Helen back to live at Braemar for several years (1927-1930 approx) after the death of Helen's mother, Madge. Helen remembers Aunty Mabel asking road workers in Lindsay Street for clay from their excavations. She also recalls trips with Mabel to the city to drop off and collect pots from the Craft Society's rooms where some of Mabel's work was fired. Helen made a small pottery jug (HJL-17) and her cousin Russell recalls "helping" with a flannel flower bowl (RJL-17).
Mabel successfully supported herself through the judicious management of investments in shares and real estate. Her other self supporting interests, natural to a country house in those times, included, gardening, fruit preserving and egg and chicken production.
Meanwhile, her sisters Linda and Mary were not idle. The three women shared the family home and each contributed to the houshold’s expenses. Their father, William died in 1915 and their mother, Jeannie remained with them until her death in 1932. Linda ran the household. She sewed clothing for Helen. She was a fine musician and conducted piano lessons at Braemar. She was involved with the establishment of the Chinese Presbyterian Church at Darlinghurst and supported various other charitable activates.
Mary attended Burwood Public School until she was thirteen when she won a scholarship to Sydney Girls High School. In the Senior (entrance) results of 1909 she was awarded Sydney University silver medals for mechanics and geometry, prox.acc. in trigonometry and music and tied for second place in algebra. She also won the Baker Scholarship and was the first girl to win the Mechanics medal and the Baker Scholarship. She was awarded a gold medal in 1909 as dux of the school. (Newspaper clipings mentioning Mary)
She was also awarded a medal at the Horner "Young People's Industrial Exhibition " which was held in conjunction with the 1901 Royal Visit. She studied mathematics at Sydney University and obtained her BA, then commenced a long career as a high school maths teacher. Helen recalls the thrill of being allowed to join Mary and her Fort Street Class as they walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to celebrate its opening. Mary also taught at North Sydney Girls High School (1914), Parramatta Co-ed (1921), Maitland Girls (1922), Sydney Girls High School (1924, 1933) and the St George Girls High School (1936-1946). She was Maths Mistress at Fort Street Girls High School in 1929 & 1936. Mary and her brother Ron took up driving and Mary bought a car which they both drove. Later Mary had an early model Holden. During the Second World War Mary joined the National Emergency Service (NES).
Mary was responsible for the "outside jobs" at Braemar. She tended the fruit trees including persimmon (probably an early specimen imported by the Guilfoyles), cumquats, pomegranates, apricots, peaches, apples, and citrus. On Saturdays she raked the gravel drive, sometimes with Helen's help. Great care was taken to avoid disarranging the gravel before Sunday when the uncles all brought their families to visit. Mabel & Linda had their own patches of garden. Linda grew sweet peas and Mabel looked after the flowerbed that ran along in front of the verandah. An Australian terrier named 'Jocky' was a memmber of the household for several years.
Mabel travelled widely both in Australia and overseas and was an early visitor to Ayers Rock. She and Mary travelled by sea to Britain, for the Coronation of King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth.
Linda Clarice died on the 11th December 1956, Jeannie Mabel died on 15th May 1961 and Mary Elizabeth died on the 5th July 1966. All were buried at Rookwood Necropolis Sydney N.S.W. Breamar was sold after Mary's death.
Sundays at Braemar
Braemar formed the centre of family life for the sisters, the brothers and thier growing families. Sunday was the day when the whole family gathered. The children walked to and from Sunday School at St James each week and were provided with cordial or cordialised ginger wine. unday dinner usually included fare from the extensive vegetable gardens and Aunt mabel's chickens. Braemar had a wireless (radio) which comprised a large ariel in the back yard connected to a mantle cabinet and horn. Papers were not deliveered on Sundays and Helen remembers the uncles sitting chatting on the verandah while the children played in the large gardens. The young cousins used to climb onto the well (or rain tank) in the back garden. It was topped with a concrete slab, which the children enjoyed jumping off, and and had aa pump to enable the water to be used for garden watering. As well, there were swings, aviaries and fruit trees to plunder. Christmas beetles and cicadas were collected and silk worms flouished on the leaves of the huge mulberry tree (which was still flurishing in 2004). Feeding the chickens and collecting the eggs were other jobs eagerly undertaken by the young cousins. At Christmas one of the uncles would don red garb and a white beard while another of the seniors rang a bell announcing the arrival of Santa.
Nola remembers the rose bowl (NB-8 ) always filled with roses and the rosebud tea set (HJL-14) used every Sunday for afternoon tea. Large green bowl (RJL-16) with gum leaves in relief stood on the hall table, containing a pot of maidenhair fern. The front sitting room and grandmother's bedroom (also at the front) were "out of bounds" to the children. Most casual family activities centred around the large back room know as 'the lobby'. As the cousins grew up they continued the tradition of Sunday gatherings (though less frequently in later years) at Breamar, bringing their fiancés, wives, husbands and children. A family Christmas evening meal was an annual event around the large table in the dining room well into the 1950's
St James Presbyterian Church
The first Presbyterian services were held in the School of Arts in 1882. A handsome brick building seating 450 people was built in Belmore Street and a large hall was added in 1904.
The Lesslie family were regular attenders at St James Presbyterian Church, Belmore Street Burwood, where Jeannie and William were founding members. The children attended Sunday School and Fellowship groups and joined in activities including bushwalks in the Blue Mountains, fellowship camping weekends to Nowra and Mount Victoria, and the church tennis club. Ronald served on the Committee of Management for many years and became an elder in 1951. Gordon became Session Clerk(window in memory of Gordon).
Mabel and her sisters supported St James’ community activities and as keen gardeners particularly the annual flower and produce show – a huge event which continued well into the 1960’s.
They were also involved with church’s local and overseas missions, including Sholingur, in India. Mary was President of the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union of Australia for many years. She also did voluntary work with elderly people at Pitt Wood – Presbyterian nursing home at Ashfield.[Go to top]