Russell Lea Manor, also known as Russell Lea House, was the home of Russell Barton (1830-1916), and was situated north of Lyons Road between Sibbick Street and Lyons Road. The suburb of Russell Lea takes its name from this grand home.
Russell Barton rose from humble beginnings to become a pastoralist, mine-owner and politician.
In the late 1870s he built Russell Lea Manor on 24 hectares of land at Five Dock. The property was subdivided in 1913 to become the suburb of Russell Lea.
Barton was the eldest of thirteen children and with his wife, Jane McCulloch Davie, had a large family of eleven children. The photograph shows a family gathering at Russell Lea which may well be the occasion of Russell Barton’s 80th Birthday.
A newspaper report from September 1910 described him as ‘one of the busiest of business men in Sydney… After a convivial day… when family members met to wish him ‘many happy returns of the day’ he was in his office on the following morning attending to urgent important matters’.
The painting by Val Delawarr shows Russell Lea in its heyday in the 1880s when the area was still semi-rural.
In 1918 the Department of Defence purchased Russell Lea Manor to be used as a convalescent home for soldiers returning from the First World War who suffered from shell-shock and other nervous conditions. At the request of the Department of Defence, the Red Cross operated the hospital. Generous donations were made from Red Cross branches to create a modern facility for up to 60 patients.
At the instigation of Eadith Walker, owner of Yaralla and a great supporter of the Red Cross, the ‘colour cure’ was adopted. Avant-garde artist Roy de Maistre was commissioned to devise a colour scheme for the wards which gave special attention to the therapeutic value of colour.
A contemporary newspaper described a ward as ‘painted in colours which are supposed to suggest a day in spring.
The hospital closed in 1923 and the building was demolished two years later.