History of Hurstville

PAGE SOURCE:  Hurstville City Council, Library Museum & Gallery (external link)



The Bidjigal and Gameygal are two clans thought to be associated with the Botany Bay-St George region.

Another clan affiliated with the area, the Gweagal, lived south of the Georges River.
A number of language groups are associated with the clans of the St George area such as the Dharawal and Dharug.

These aboriginal groups belonging to the Eora Nation are the traditional owners of the land now recognised as the contemporary district of Hurstville.

The First Land Grants

In 1808, Captain John Townson and his brother Robert received two of the largest land grants in the Sydney region.

These grants are significant to the Hurstville district as they represent the land occupied by much of today’s Hurstville.

Captain Townson’s 1950 acre (789 ha) grant comprised an area which was to become the present day suburb of Hurstville and part of adjoining Bexley.

Townson received an additional 250 acre (101 ha) land grant in 1809 which became the Kingsgrove and Beverly Hills area.

The contemporary suburbs of Penshurst, Mortdale and parts of Peakhurst occupy the land granted to Robert Townson.

The land granted to the Townon’s was considered by them to be to be unsuitable for wool production and they are not believed to have lived in the area.

Simeon Lord, a wealthy merchant, purchased Captain Townson’s land in 1812, and the area became known as Lord’s Forest. Following the death of Simeon Lord, the land came under the control of John Rose Holden and James Holt of the Bank of New South Wales (later Westpac).

In 1809, land grants were made to Charles Doudall, James Ryan, Jane Trotter and Mary Shepley in the area now known as Riverwood.

Mary Redman received a grant in the same area in 1816. These individuals are believed to have occupied the land granted to them.

George Tyrell, Thomas McCaffrey and John Robert Peake resided in the Peakhurst area, and Thomas Lawrence in the region which was to become Lugarno.

Robert Gardiner and James Oatley are known to have lived in the Beverly Hills/Narwee area.

Forest Road

In 1839, a dam was constructed on the Cooks River at Tempe. The roadway across the top of the dam provided a direct route between Sydney and the developing areas in the south such as Hurstville.

In 1843, the Mitchells Line of Road, later known as Forest Road, was cut through the forest to the Illawarra, crossing the Georges River by way of a hand winched punt at Lugarno.

Before the arrival of the railway in 1884, Forest Road followed the course of modern day Ormonde Parade, however, once the railway had been constructed, Forest was made to run parallel with the railway line.

Before the coming of the railway in 1884 Forest Road followed the course of Ormonde Parade, and near where the R.S.L. is now, stood the Gardeners Arms, a hotel owned by Mrs. Humphrey.

Small Farms

Many of the local inhabitants in the 1800s were timber getters and charcoal burners, however, as the thick forest was cleared, market gardens, orchards, and later, dairy farms were established.

Michael Gannon purchased the Lord’s Forest estate in 1850. The estate included small farms along what is now Croydon Road, and larger farms which were purchased by Dent, Peake and Ibbotson.

In 1830, John Connell purchased the land originally granted to Robert Townson.
After Connell’s death in 1849 the estate was divided between his grandsons, Elias Pearson Laycock and John Connell Laycock.

John Connell Laycock later sold the land north of Forest Road to W.W. Billyard and the land south of Forest Road to Thomas Sutcliffe Mort.

Billyard subdivided his land into 16 small farms, with a road that became Baumans Road, Peakhurst running through the centre. In 1855, Mort subdivided his land holding into 17 lots, which were to become known as Mort’s Farms.

The land owned by Elias Pearson Laycock was divided in 1869, becoming the Connell’s Bush subdivision.

This subdivision formed part of the Penshurst Park Estate, comprised of a number of 5 acre (2ha) lots, upon which several country mansions were built.

Development of the District

The first church in the area was the St.George’s Church of England. Services were held in a bush shed from 1854, and later in the house of the schoolmaster, George Crew.
A wooden church was built in 1856 on land donated by Crew.

The first school in the district was conducted in Crew’s Tent from 1853, later becoming the Lord’s Forest Church of England school which conducted classes in the 1856 church.
In 1876, Hurstville Public School began classes, replacing the denominational school. A school inspector at the time had recommended the name for the new school.

The post office adopted the name Hurstville in 1881. The following year, a policeman was appointed, however, prisoners required transfer to Newtown.

A significant event in the history of the district occurred in October, 1884 when the Illawarra Railway was opened as far as Hurstville.

Also opening in that year was the Hurstville Steam Brick Company, known locally as Judd’s Brickworks, located at Mortdale.

In the course of the following decade mansions were built for local residents who could commute by train to the city. During this time, much of the land in Hurstville, Penshurst, Mortdale and Oatley was subdivided into residential building blocks.

In 1886, the first telephone in the district was installed at the Hurstville Post Office, and telephones became more common after the opening of the Kogarah exchange in 1896.

A petition of 635 landowners and residents of the district called for the establishment of the Hurstville Municipal Council, which was incorporated on 28th March, 1887.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church was opened in 1886. Water and gas mains were laid in the area in 1895 and a volunteer fire brigade was formed in 1897.

Two brickworks were opened in the district in the first decade of the twentieth century, the Federal Brick Company in Hurstville in 1907 and Mashmans at Kingsgrove in 1904.

Hurstville Retail and Commercial Centre

The first shop in Hurstville was Claggett’s store and post office, which was located on Forest Road in the vicinity of today’s Kenwyn Street.

The Blue Post Inn was on the opposite side of the road to Claggett’s.

A two storey building containing four shops was built nearby in the 1890s or early 1900s and this group of businesses comprised Hurstville’s original commercial centre.

In the vicinity of this early business district was the hotel Free and Easy, formerly the Currency Lass, which hosted cock fights and skittles games. Horse races were also staged along Forest Road from the Free and Easy.

The Gardener’s Arms Hotel stood on Forest Road in the area now occupied by the Hurstville RSL Club.

This was so because prior to the arrival of the railway Forest Road followed that particular course.

Another recreational venue at the time was Chappelow’s Paddock situated behind the Blue Post Inn, which conducted horse racing and pigeon shooting.

An immediate effect on Hurstville flowing from the opening of the railway was the closure of the Gardeners Arms and the Free and Easy hotels, which were replaced by Patrick MacMahon’s hotel at the corner of Forest Road and MacMahon Street.

With the advent of the railway, the retail and commercial centre of Hurstville gravitated towards Hurstville Railway Station, and the former village near the public school declined.

Forest Road was also made to run parallel to the railway line and a ‘ribbon’ shopping strip in the vicinity of the railway station flourished.

As the Railways Department sold their land holdings between the railway line and Forest Road in the 1920s and 30s, Hurstville’s retail and commercial underwent further expansion.

The area fronting the railway station on Forest Road was used as a bus and taxi hub until it was converted into Memorial Square, featuring the Hurstville War Memorial.

The Hurstville Super Centre, built over the railway station in 1965, was one of the earliest developments of this type.

The retail and commercial centre of Hurstville once again shifted after the opening of the Westfield Shoppingtown complex in 1978 and its subsequent expansion in 1990.