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Marrickville’s first hipster?

Hipster is a label attached to many people in our area over the last few years. It has been used to describe people with a similar style of personal grooming, who dress a certain way and carry out certain activities. The label is, of course, just another label, a way to categorise and separate people. 

In a less judgemental spirit let’s go back into Marrickville’s history and pick someone out.

This is Thomas Chalder. Not only could we call him a hipster, we could say founding father, community leader, developer and 10-pound Pom.

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Image courtesy of Inner West Council
Library and History Services

Thomas was born in North Yorkshire. His family is associated with the town of Marrick. He left England as a 28-year-old and arrived in Sydney in 1842. He came on the ship ‘Nabob’ which carried assisted immigrants ‘imported’ to NSW by A.B. Smith and Company. The company was meant to be importing agricultural workers to help the country grow, so Thomas was listed as an ‘agricultural labourer’ but it is unlikely he ever did that work. 

We do find him in Windsor and then in Sydney town as a man of business. Keen to get ahead, Thomas is involved in the sale of almost anything. On his own, and in partnership with his good friend Tom Aspinall, he bought and sold hats, gloves and boots, wool and gold, figs and cheese. He also had a business selling jams, marmalades and jellies. He made his own (grape) vinegar and pickles. 

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Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser 14/10/46
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page124888

By the 1860s Thomas was a wealthy man. It is said that he had a fortune of at least 7000 pounds within five years of arriving in Sydney.

Thomas moved into land speculation and bought land in our area and Mittagong. He subdivided the land here as ‘Marrickville’, named after his home town, and then spent 20 years selling it off.  In the process he offered land for the first Marrickville Public School and the first Marrickville Council Chambers. He donated money to St Peters Anglican Church and many good causes. Unfortunately, his land speculation was his downfall. Marrickville land took a long time to sell and his Mittagong dealings were linked to the Fitzroy Iron Works, which lost money for years. By the end of his life Thomas had little left except his house ‘Heathcote’. Heathcote was very large and stood where the Southern Cross Hotel now stands on the Prince’s Highway. The story of Thomas’s last years is a sorry tale which we will return to another time. 

Rod Aanensen

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