A prominent Sydney physician, Dr George Fortescue, bought an estate on the Parramatta River in 1851. He named the area “Chiswick” after the village on the Thames River and his home “Wymston” after the Fortescue family estate in Devonshire. Blackwall Point Road was laid out in the late 1870’s but few houses were built in the area until the Iron Cove Bridge was built in 1882.
This subdivision map dated 1883 shows the position of Dr Fortescue’s home.
Chiswick was obviously slow to develop as I’ve seen an aerial photo from 1943 (shown below) and only a couple of houses had been constructed on the eastern side of Chiswick Street by that time. The area was difficult to reach and was only serviced by ferries rather than buses, trains or trams.
It became more of an industrial area with Lysaghts occupying the point and the Co-Operative Box Factory also in the area.
While my cousin Janice and I have not been able to ascertain with certainty who designed and built “Wymston”, it may have been John Frederick Hilly. He was known to be working at the right time and he designed Barnstaple Manor at Iron Cove and Greycliffe at Vaucluse, both of which were very similar to Wymston.
The photo at the head of this article is our family photo, showing Wymston during the years our great grandparents, Henry & Lucy Walsh, lived there with their six children. (1901-1906)
Sands Directories first list Dr Fortescue at Wymston in 1882. He died of typhoid fever in 1885 in his home “on the Parramatta River.” (Australian Medical Journal, 1885) but his widow still lived there in 1889. The house was rented out after this date and must have still contained the original furniture and fittings until late 1892 as I found this wonderfully descriptive, and very extensive, “For Sale” notice in the Sydney Morning Herald 23 Nov 1892. The sale was authorised by Mrs Fortescue.
There were several tenants in Wymston from 1890 until 1901 when my great grandfather, Henry Deane Walsh, moved in with his family.
Henry Walsh was a civil engineer, educated at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He had been appointed as Engineer-in-Chief of the newly formed Sydney Harbour Trust in May 1901. It was a position he held until his retirement in 1919. He was also one of the three Commissioners from 1st January 1913 until his retirement. There are several fine examples of Henry’s design work still standing around Sydney Harbour, including the Jones Bay Wharf, The Finger Wharf at Woolloomooloo and, most importantly, the finger wharves at Walsh Bay, named after him upon his retirement in 1919.
But back to the house “Wymston”. Sands Directories list Henry Walsh as the tenant until 1906, however the estate of the late George Fortescue listed the house for sale in December 1904, as the ad from the Sydney Morning Herald shows: (I don’t know if it was sold at this time.)
A For Sale advertisement from SMH dated 7 Dec 1904 describes the property . . .
“By Order of The Perpetual Trustee Company Ltd, Trustees in the Estate of the late George Fortescue.
Chiswick on the Parramatta River, just above Gladesville Bridge, occupying one of the best positions on the river and embracing most beautiful river views, that attractive, copper-clad Gothic residence, “Wymston”, standing in the centre of 12 acres of ornamental ground, divided into three paddocks, flower garden, thickly planted with choice trees, shrubs, and tennis court.
The house is massively constructed of stone, with slate roof, verandah front and side, and contains commodious hall, dining room, drawing room, with conservatory off it, library, ballroom, five bedrooms, servants’ room, dressing room, bathroom, linen closest, kitchen, storeroom, pantry and laundry. Also, well-built brick stables, comprising 2 stalls, coach house, 3 rooms and large loft.
The land has extensive frontages to Blackwall Point Road and Chiswick Streets and also water frontage to Five Dock Bay and Parramatta River, with boat shed, enclosed swimming bath, and substantial stone pier. The boatshed is held under lease from the Harbour Trust at a rental of five pounds per annum.
The property is situated quite close to the Steamer Wharf, and is within convenient distance of the Abbotsford Tram.
Raine and Horne have been instructed by the Perpetual Trustee Company Ltd to offer the above for sale at public auction.”
When our Walsh family photo was initially uncovered, it was not labelled so it took some time to work out exactly where it was. I sent the photo, along with the two advertisements, to David Sansome, the Local Studies Librarian at Canada Bay Council, to ask him if he had any other photos of Wymston which might help us identify the “gingerbread house” as we cousins were calling it at the time.
David said he had none but comparing the description to the photo, he felt it just had to be right. He offered to put our photo on the Canada Bay website saying it was “probably Wymston” as such actions sometimes chased further photos out of the woodwork which could confirm or deny the initial assumption.
In due course he did come across another photo of Wymston, clearly labelled as such and clearly the same house, although perhaps a few years later as the ivy had grown considerably. This is his photo.
David also uncovered the photo below, labelled “Wymston c.1915”, which shows a little of the garden.
Following the entries in Sands Directories after Henry Walsh left Wymston, it was occupied by Joseph J Gates JP from 1907 until 1919. There are different occupants in the next few years until 1922. From 1923 onwards there are no longer any houses listed east of Chiswick Street, suggesting that was when Wymston was demolished. It was certainly gone by the time the 1943 aerial photo was taken.
While we no longer have this magnificent example of Gothic architecture to admire, we are fortunate to have uncovered the two photos and the wonderfully descriptive For Sale ads of the household furniture and the house itself, which give us a truly remarkable glimpse into a grand family home.