News and Articles for Jan 2018

Back in the Day (3) . . . Everyday Life and How it Was Lived a Hundred Years ago.

Schooling Schooling has changed a lot since our grandparents were kids. These days we have computers, detention, graphics calculators and learning software to teach us. Back in the early 20th century, teaching was done with a book, a slate, an inkwell and the cane.  Schooling was simple, but effective. It concentrated on the ‘Three R’s. What are they?  Reading, WRiting and ARithmetic.  Or in other words, English comprehension, penmanship and mathematics. Penmanship is a dying lesson in school these days, but back in the old days, you HAD to have nice handwriting, and you were caned if you didn’t.

Teachers used to force lefthanded children to write with their right hands. Why?  There are several theories about this, ranging from devil-worship and sinister evil to bad posture, but there is actually one very simple explanation: The pens.  Until the 1950s, children in school wrote with dip-pens, using liquid ink and inkwells. Dip pens write very wet and glossy on the paper. Writing with the left hand smudged the still-wet ink all over the page, something that right-handed scribblers had no problem with, since they wrote AWAY from their writing, moving across the page from left to right. To prevent the smudging and to encourage neat handwriting, teachers forced children to write with their right hands instead of their left.

Did You Know?

  • Gas was first produced at Mortlake on 23rd May, 1886 – gas was supplied to the public on 28th May, 1886.
  • The last electric train ran in Sydney on 25th February, 1961, ending 100 years of tram service. It ran from Hunter Street in the city to La Perouse.
  • The original Palace Hotel in Mortlake was opened in 1886, the same year as the gasworks. The first licensee was John Stuart.
  • Most of the earliest settlers in Mortlake were deserters from ships
  • The Ballot Box was invented in Australia. In Victoria on 19th March, 1856, the world’s first ballot law was passed. South Australia followed a few weeks later.
  • The first paddlewheeler, which ran to the wharf at Concord, is said to have been the “Ironbark”, a boat with a paddle wheel at the stern, worked by horses which walked round and round on a raised platform.
  • John Leacock, born in Leicestershire, England, came to Camden as a child. He fought in the Boer War. Some time prior to the 1914 War he set up the Hygienic Dairies Ltd. at Concord and began to supply Sydney with its first bottled milk.
  • Lotto’s first millionair was a truck driver from Concord. The father of four children, Sam Fabio, won $1,185,872 on 17th March, 1980.
  • The very first ferry service that operated in Sydney went from Sydney Harbour and all the way up Parramatta River. Back then the journey took a week to complete.
  • Ashton’s Baths, the first non-tidal baths built in Sydney, were established in 1886.

Frances Ashton Remembers

Excerpts from an interview with Frances Coskerie (nee Ashton) who, at age 90, was living in a local nursing home.

I was born in Sydney on 10 April, 1885.  I don’t remember ever learning to swim, but I know it was at a very early age.  My father, Samuel Ashton, owned the Public Baths at Mortlake.  As a matter of fact, he built the baths himself, all cut out from solid rock, on the Parramatta River at Majors Bay, Concord.

These baths were the first of their kind in the metropolitan area and I swam in races before I was in my teens.  We had a swimming carnival every month and I competed in the racing events.

Our costumes were neck to knee with a collar band, short sleeves, and an all-over skirt.  We had long capes that were worn until the race was being started and we threw them off at the last moment.  When asked, she replied:  “No, I haven’t a photograph of the outfit.  It was improper enough to be seen in it.  It would have been outrageous to be photographed in it.”  Very few girls went swimming in those days.

At the age of 16 years I was teaching swimming.  Then, one day, Major Reddish of the Boy Scouts, suggested I go to the Public Schools and see if some arrangement could be made about the pupils coming to Ashton’s Mortlake Baths to learn to swim.

It took a tomboy to talk the young ladies of Enfield, Mortlake and Concord into taking swimming lessons back in 1901.  The schoolmarms of the day were scandalised when young Frances Ashton, then 16, walked in bold as brass and offered to teach their pupils how to swim.  Some of the more progressive, however, decided to give it a try.

The teachers would bring the girls, providing I would be responsible for them.  I showed the girls the way to use their arms and legs in the breast stroke method.

I had each pupil wear a specially designed canvas belt, buckled at the back, with a rope attached to the front.  The girl would them swim towards me as I took up the slack in the rope.  This proved a very successful method of teaching them to swim because of the firmness of the belt, and the sight of the rope in the hands of the teach produced in the pupil’s mind a feeling of security and safety from drowning. The girls from the schools came to the baths for many years and there were never any accidents during that time.

Ladies were admitted during the classes of the schoolgirls, but at no other time.  That was until “Continental” bathing was introduced by my father.  This type of bathing meant that a man was not admitted unless accompanied by a woman.  This bathing was only allowed at night.

In 1904, at the age of 19, I became the first single woman in NSW (and, I believe, the first in Australia) to receive a Life Saving Certificate.  I trained at the Domain Baths, using the Sylvester method.  A year later I applied for the position of manageress of the floating baths at Lavender Bay, which had been handed over to women when the Council built new pile baths for men.  I had many  references as well as my Life Saving Certificates, which I submitted to North Sydney Council, and I had little trouble in obtaining the position.

I remember that the swimming costumes available there were made of unbleached calico and were hired out for one penny.  As far as I can recall, admission for adults was threepence, schoolchildren two pence.  My salary was thirty shillings ($3.00) a week for the summer months, the baths being closed during the winter.  They opened from 6 am to 6 pm.  I gave private swimming lessons there.  The Sydney Ladies’ Swimming Club came each Saturday and held races.

In 1933, when the first Olympic Pool in New South Wales was to be opened at Bankstown, I was appointed as manageress.


Palace Hotel, Mortlake

The original Palace Hotel was opened in 1886, the same year as the gasworks It was built on the river at the end of Tennyson Road, where the River Quays Marina now stands.

The first licensee was John Stuart. The hotel, known as Mongomery’s Palace, was a distinctive building with verandas and a tower which made it a popular vantage point for the viewing the sculling and rowing races along the Parramatta River.

This hotel was demolished in the mid-1920s and a new hotel, still named the Palace, was built further up Tennyson Road, nearly opposite the entrance to the gasworks. The gasworks entrance was also the Mortlake tram terminus.

Second Palace Hotel

The hotel became a very popular watering hole for the thirsty workers and was one of Sydney’s early-opener hotels. This variation to the normal hotel opening hours was to accommodate workers coming off night shift.

The hotel still serves excellent beer and has incorporated a bistro.

The Palace’s most striking feature is the size of its men’s toilet. “Big enough to hold a dance in”, quote the locals. This feature is a constant reminder that while the gasworks operated, the Palace dispensed huge volumes of beer to its many thirsty patrons.

Ashton’s Baths

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there were many tidal swimming pools along the Parramatta River providing welcome relief and recreation on hot days.

Ashton’s Mortlake Baths, near Majors Bay on the Parramatta River, were established in 1886.  They were the first non-tidal enclosed public baths built in metropolitan Sydney.  Samuel Ashton, a bricklayer by trade, who emigrated from England, blasted the baths out of sandstone bedrock adjacent to the foreshore. They measured 30 metres by 12 metres.   He devised a way to empty and fill the baths with the tides and every fortnight they were emptied out and the sides and bottom scrubbed and whitewashed.

Bathers were charged threepence (2.5 cents) admission, which included use of a clean towel.

It is recorded that 21,000 school children attended the baths each week during the swimming season.

In the early days males and females were strictly segregated. Under no circumstances were men and women allowed to swim together.

Although electrical pumps had been installed so the baths were not dependant on the tides, competition from larger and more modern swimming pools in the area led to a decline in patronage in the 1930s. Ashton’s Mortlake Baths closed to the public in 1937 and were eventually filled in 15 years later.  A paint works was later built on the site but it is now high-rise accommodation.


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