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Pay your rates!

The Fall… and sad end of Thomas Chalder

Thomas Chalder, Marrickville’s first hipster, named the suburb and greatly assisted its development.

Thomas subdivided land to create Marrickville, and helped establish the public school and the municipality’s first council chambers and library.

Within 20 years of arriving in NSW in 1842 he had become a wealthy man. 

He sold provisions to colonists, and materials to miners during the gold rush of the 1850s. He bought and sold gold, and traded Australia’s other golden product – wool.

Once established, Thomas moved into real estate and land speculation. He became more adventurous, and in 1852 he tried to establish a cotton export industry by offering free cotton seed to farmers.

In 1863 he joined the board of directors of the Fitzroy Iron Works Company in Mittagong. Perhaps his family background in mining in Yorkshire, England led to his being involved with a pioneer of Australia’s iron industry.  Thomas had high hopes. He bought land around Mittagong to sell to future employees of the company. And he bought into the Vulcan Forge, an ironworks in Sydney, to manufacture the iron produced.  Unfortunately, the Mittagong enterprise staggered along for years without financial success, and the jobs and land sales did not eventuate.

The Vulcan Forge did provide some income, but Thomas was in trouble. 

His real estate portfolio was underperforming. It took him over 20 years to sell all his Marrickville sites. He tried, without success, to lease or sell his own home ‘Heathcote’ at least once every decade from 1858 until the end of his life.

1875 plan of sale for Heathcote and subdivided estate. Only a small number of the lots were sold at this time. Note: Cooks River Road is now called the Princes Highway, the government road is Canal street.
nla.gov.au/nla.obj-230485400/view

Then in 1892, his friends and neighbours were shocked to learn that Thomas was in Darlinghurst Gaol for non-payment of rates. The people of Marrickville and St Peters immediately set up a collection and paid the eighteen pounds to release him. 

After two days and two nights in gaol, Thomas returned to Heathcote and the recriminations began. Led by The Daily Telegraph, newspapers castigated Marrickville Council for its treatment of “the founder of Marrickville” who was “venerated and respected.” The Daily Telegraph wanted to know “if poverty is no crime, what was Mr. Thomas Chalder, in his helpless old age, dragged to prison for?” The National Advocate of Bathurst said that the “disgrace which attaches to the Council is indelible.”  

The council was stung but would not admit any error. While noting it was a sad state of affairs, the Finance Committee released a report stating that they had been very lenient with Mr Chalder. One alderman blamed the Daily Telegraph for bringing the case to the public’s attention and for criticising the council’s actions.

Back at Heathcote, Thomas was looked after by his daughter, Mary Elizabeth, but was dead within a year.

The Chalder family plot and gravestone in St. Peters graveyard, St. Peters
Photo credit : Laurel Horton

He is buried in St Peters graveyard, St Peters. But in a final indignity, his grave is not marked. We know he is buried in the same plot as his wife, Anne, and infant son, Tom, but the gravestone does not show it. Perhaps Mary Elizabeth did not have the funds to pay for the engraving.

Rod Aanensen

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