The next two years will see the Marrickville Metro redeveloped and expanded. A new building will appear across Smidmore Street from the current site, and they will be connected by a pedestrian bridge.
While people may be aware of the industrial past of the area, let’s go back further and ask “Who was Smidmore?”
Simply, Smidmore was Thomas and his family, local land owners after colonisation. But this belies a deeper Australian story.
It begins in Dublin in May 1804 where a young woman was tried for stealing from her employer. Mary Gough, an illiterate 23-year-old servant, was sentenced to 7 years transportation. On 31 August 1805 she sailed from Cork on the ‘Tellicherry’ along with rebels from the Irish uprising of 1798. We do not know if Mary had much contact with these rebels but she did have contact with someone as she was pregnant when she arrived in the colony on 15 February 1806. It is thought the father of her son may have been crewman John Smidmore, as her child was known as Thomas Smidmore for the rest of his life.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much information about Mary but what we do know points to a resourceful woman. Very shortly after her arrival a ‘muster’ or census was taken; Mary was listed as already having obtained her ticket of leave (freedom) and as being self-employed. Could Thomas’s father have helped her in some way? Two years later she had another son, Robert Gough, father unknown, but she was recorded as living with Robert Murray at the time.
Then in 1827 Mary married Thomas Cooper, an ex-convict, blacksmith and farrier. As he was 60 years old, Thomas sold his business and he and Mary ran “The Farrier’s Arms” hotel in George Street. It appears that from this time until their deaths, the pair began to truly prosper, mainly through real estate. When Mary died in 1842 it is said she left an estate worth 20,000 pounds, over $3 million in today’s money.
The efforts of his illiterate, convict mother ensured that Thomas was a wealthy young man. He now set about making himself a pillar of colonial society.
At 26 he married the first of his three wives; they will all be called Mary – Mary Watson, Mary Cullen, Mary Ann Curtin. He inherited a real estate portfolio, owned a glassware/earthenware business and his household had its own assigned servant, a convict called, you guessed it, Mary (Edmonds).
The business was not to his liking so Thomas moved into hotels like his mother. He ran three hotels in all – the Crown and Thistle in George Street, The Loggerheads on the corner of Clarence and Market, and the Union on King Street.
Thomas also stood for the first Sydney City council in 1842 and was one of the foundational members for the Brisbane ward which covered the area to the west of George Street where his businesses stood. He remained a councillor until 1850.
At the time of his election, Thomas had become a newspaper man.
This decision requires some background. When the NSW colony was first established, many of the convicts were Irish and Roman Catholic. The historical British battle with Catholicism and the rebellious Irish meant that there was great concern that rebellion would be exported to the colony and fomented by priests. In reality the British were doing the exporting, but they needed to keep rebellion suppressed. The colony therefore effectively banned the Roman Catholic church by denying the entry of priests, excepting those tried for rebellion!
This had a significant effect on Roman Catholics as they couldn’t carry out their religious practice. For instance, marriage had to take place in Protestant churches and Mary was listed as a Protestant in the census after her marriage to Thomas Cooper.
After an agreement between the British and the Catholic Church saw two officially recognised priests come to Sydney in 1820, Catholics felt more empowered and able to express their views more freely.
Thomas and his family were devout Catholics. Thomas supported, and was one of the trustees of, “The Australasian Chronicle”; the first openly Catholic newspaper in NSW, started in 1839.
The family supported many church endeavours financially including the building of St Mary’s Cathedral, St John’s College at the University of Sydney, and Sts Peter and Paul church at Tempe when they moved to our area.
Like many wealthy families, the Smidmores wanted to leave the mean streets of Sydney for the countryside. Thomas bought 8 acres of land in Enmore and named it Frankfort Park. Initially he built two brick cottages where Smidmore Street meets Edgeware Road. But he then began work on a large house further south on Unwin’s Bridge Road. He called the house Silverleigh and the estate Silver Hill, but it was also known as Smidmore’s Paddock . The house was near Silver Street but was demolished about 1900 and the site is now a transport storage area.
Thomas died at Silverleigh in 1861 but his third wife, Mary Ann, stayed until her death in 1880.
Thomas had many children with his three Marys. The eldest Hannah (mother Mary Galloway) never married and died at Silverleigh. Thomas Cooper (TC) Smidmore (eldest child of Mary Cullen) also never married and died at Silverleigh. For our story we need to look to Albert Murray Smidmore the fourth child of Mary Cullen. As an aside, note the boys’ middle names; a reference to Mary Gough’s male companions?
Albert returned to Sydney from the Bathurst area to look after matters when his father died.
When TC died, Albert decided to sell off the Silver Hill land. It had been divided from Frankfort Park by the new railway line through to modern day Sydenham station. (See map above.)
Albert moved back to Frankfort Park and built a large house there near his father’s brick cottages. This house still exists at 209A Edgeware Road on the corner with Smidmore Street. It was known as Frankfort House and, fittingly, these days it is the presbytery and parish office of St Pius V church.
Albert lived here for about twenty years before retiring to a house, “Caloola”, in Wentworth Falls. He died there in 1905 and the last of the Smidmore lands were sold in 1906.
The time between Mary Gough’s arrival in Sydney, Thomas Smidmore’s birth, and his son Albert’s death was about 100 years. Mary’s family had prospered here and have left a legacy for us today.