Local History

A map of the Subdivision of Burwood Farm in 1833 -
A map of the Subdivision of Burwood Farm in 1833
From the 1920's motor vans gradually replaced horse-drawn vehicles, but horse-drawn vehicles were still around, although scarce, in the 1950's. -
From the 1920's motor vans gradually replaced horse-drawn vehicles, but horse-drawn vehicles were still around, although scarce, in the 1950's.
From the 1920's motor vans gradually replaced horse-drawn vehicles, but horse-drawn vehicles were still around, although scarce, in the 1950's. -
From the 1920's motor vans gradually replaced horse-drawn vehicles, but horse-drawn vehicles were still around, although scarce, in the 1950's.
Original Burwood Railway Station -
Original Burwood Railway Station

How It All Began

The story of Burwood commences with the original owners of our island nation – the Aboriginal people. Long before the convict history and early European settlers, Aboriginals lived in complete harmony with nature. Archeological evidence suggests that Aboriginal people occupied the area in and around Sydney at least 11,000 years ago and they may well have been there much longer.

The Aboriginals in Sydney belonged to two tribes; the ‘Kuringal’ or ‘Eora’ tribe who were coastal dwellers, and the ‘Dharug’ tribe who lived further inland to the foothills of the Great Dividing Range . Within these two tribes were specific clans or extended family groups.

The Aboriginals who lived in our neighbourhood, were known as the Wangal people. The Aboriginal leader Bennelong was a member of the Wangal clan.

Although the Wangal travelled about to trade and search for food, their territory was the land on the southern bank of the Parramatta River. Their boundaries extended to the west of Iron Cove to as far as Homebush Bay, with a southern boundary along the watershed between Cooks River and Sydney Harbour

The British First Lieutenant William Bradley writes in his journal about seeing a number of Wangal people along the banks of the river around Mortlake in 1788. When his exploration party stopped for breakfast on the opposite bank, a group of seven Wangals came over in canoes to meet them. “They left their spears in the canoes and came to us” wrote Lieutenant Bradley. When the Europeans had left, the Wangal people used the Europeans’ fire to cook mussels they had gathered from surrounding rocks.

European invasion forced the retreat of the Wangal into alien territory, depriving them both of their source of food and spiritual connection with their country. The small pox epidemic of 1788 also proved to be the bane of this tribe. No Wangal people survive today. Now Burwood is home to 200-300 of the 10,000 Aboriginal residents who live in Sydney .

The next chapter in a historical analysis would be the very first years of the convict colony.

Governor Phillip’s settlement was mainly clustered around Sydney Cove, but he also founded a small farming community at Parramatta, or ‘Rose Hill’, as it was called then. Communication between the two settlements was essential, so a rough bush track was established through heavily timbered country. The track, in 1791, more or less followed what is now Parramatta Road. In 1793, the building of this road gave Burwood its humble beginnings as a settlement.

 The earliest recorded settler in Burwood was Sarah Nelson, a free settler who arranged her own passage to Sydney in 1791 after her husband, Isaac Nelson, was convicted and sentenced to seven years penal servitude. Sarah's tiny farm was situated on the spot now called Malvern Hill. It must have been a lonely place in those days because there was no Liverpool Road and the only access to Sydney was a bush track leading out onto Parramatta Road, a little to the east of Cheltenham Road.

Sarah's fate is not recorded, but the 1828 muster shows that Isaac had remarried and had his own farm at Lower Minto.

Sarah Nelson's earliest neighbour was James Brackenrig, a private soldier in the New South Wales Corps. In 1794, he received a grant in an area then called York Place. His land was bounded by Parramatta Road and the present day streets of Queen, Lang and Acton. Brackenrig did not occupy his farm for long. He had moved to Parramatta by 1806 and his land was eventually absorbed into Joseph Underwood's huge estate of Ashfield Park.

Another early settler was a convict named Denis Connor who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Exeter in 1788. His sentence was later reduced and he received a grant of land at York Place in 1796. Two years later he married Mary Anne Hill, another convict. Connor's farm included the present Blair Park and Acton Street and extended to Parramatta Road.

Burwood derived its name from a grant of 250 acres made by Governor Hunter on 3 August 1799, to Captain Thomas Rowley of the New South Wales Corps, who named the land after the Burwood Farm on which he had lived in his native Cornwell, England.

Along with John MacArthur and Reverend Samuel Marsden, Rowley was one of the men who purchased merinos from the original flock brought to Australia by Captain Waterhouse in 1797. Although Rowley had another farm at Newtown, where he lived, he undoubtedly would have pastured some of his sheep at Burwood. His name is remembered at Rowley Street. Captain Rowley's tomb was originally laid at Kingston Farm but has since been re-erected in Waverley Cemetery.

In 1812, the land was bought by a well-known Sydney businessman, Alexander Riley, who built the first house in the district, 'Burwood Villa' in 1814. The house stood on a site approximately 400 metres west of the Coronation Club and a small granite obelisk was erected on the western side of Burwood Park to permanently mark the position of the original villa when it was demolished in 1937. The villa is embodied in the official crest of Burwood.

Mr Riley cleared and cultivated 500 acres of this land and he successfully introduced into the colony the orange, lemon, pomegranate, loquat, grape, peach, nectarine, apricot, apple, pear, cherry, plum, fig, chestnut, almond, mediar, quince, raspberry, strawberry and melon.

Enfield was granted to William Faithful who arrived in Australia in 1792 as a Private in the New South Wales Corps. The land was later owned by the farmer/convict, Simeon Lord, who became one of Sydney's wealthiest merchants. In 1824, it was bought by W.H. Moore, who cleared much of the heavily timbered area for farming. The name Enfield clearly came from the Middlesex market near London, but we do not know when or why it was adopted. Its earliest known use was in 1853 when the first Enfield Post Office opened in Richard Fulljames' store near St Thomas' Church.

The Longbottom Government Farm was another early establishment in the Burwood area. In 1821, 110 convicts were working on the farm. They were housed in wooden barracks with shingle roofs, near the present pavilion in Concord Oval. The farm consisted of the barracks, the mess room and a house for the Overseer (also a convict).

The Longbottom Government Farm eventually grew into a considerable establishment covering more than 700 acres of heavily timbered flat land, sloping down to the extensive mangrove swamps along the foreshores of Hen and Chicken Bay. Timber was cut and sawn on the spot and conveyed to Sydney in boats via the Parramatta River.

A stagecoach began running to Parramatta in 1814 and during the 1820s inns were built at staging posts where the coaches changed horses at 10 kilometre intervals along the road. The journey from Sydney took a good two hours and in bad weather, coaches were often bogged or overturned on the muddy road. The most famous and long-lived coaching inn on Parramatta Road was the Bath Arms at the corner of Burwood Road.

This was the era when bushrangers became the scourge of Parramatta and Liverpool Roads, hiding out in the undeveloped lands around Cooks River and Liverpool Road and making roads and highways unsafe. Justice was swift and punishment, death by hanging, was handed out quickly to those guilty of highway robbery. In 1826, Burwood House was robbed and later that year the men responsible were hanged at Burwood Farm in front of assembled convicts, as a deterrent to any future misdeeds.

In about 1833, the owners of a number of grants commenced to subdivide and sell their lands and thus commenced the growth of the suburb of Burwood.

The earliest commercial activity in the area was the Enfield lumber trade. Thomas Hyndes, a young Londoner who arrived in Sydney in 1803, received an early grant in Enfield which was not recognised by Governor Macquarie. Hyndes returned to Enfield in 1823. By this time he had become a prosperous timber merchant with a mill and a house in Sussex Street and properties on the North Shore and in the Illawarra district. In 1842, he set up his country home on the Punchbowl Road, naming it Adelaide Park after his daughter. By the mid 1840s, wood cutters, gardeners, innkeepers, storekeepers and blacksmiths were forming the nucleus of a village along Parramatta Road, and Hyndes was something of a village squire.

Hyndes built a substantial stone schoolhouse which opened in 1847 as the Adelaide Park Free School. This was used as a church before the opening of St Thomas' in 1848.

Hyndes is said to have commissioned a prominent Sydney architect, John Frederick Hilly, to design a typical English village church, such as he had known as a boy. The portrait of Thomas Hyndes and his wife are preserved in St Thomas' Church porch.

The Municipality of Burwood was incorporated by proclamation in the Government Gazette on 27 March, 1874. The first Council was elected on 9 June of that year. Burwood, as we have described, was a quiet little village with a mere 1,200 people and only about 300 buildings. Its southern boundary was Liverpool Road, beyond which lay the even more sparsely populated village of Enfield. Fifteen years later, this too became a Municipality, which was quite separate from Burwood until 1949, when its Council was abolished and two of its wards were added to Burwood.

The railway was opened from Sydney to Parramatta in 1855. There were four stations - Newtown, Ashfield, Burwood and Homebush. In 1874, Five Dock Station was opened and in 1876 it was renamed Croydon Station, supposedly because the suburb was about the same distance from the old Homebush racecourse as the London suburb of Croydon was from another racecourse. In the same year, Concord Station was opened, renamed Redmyre in 1877 and finally changed to Strathfield in 1885.

In 1860, the number of trains daily to and from Sydney was six each way. One hundred years later, the number of trains daily was 255 to Sydney and 259 from Sydney. In 1860, 29 868 passengers made the trip to or from Sydney. In 1960, over two million passengers made the trip over the year. Two level crossings at Burwood Road were replaced by overhead bridges in 1892. The third bridge and set of lines were built in 1926.

The opening of the railway was a momentous event for Burwood as it made the suburb easily accessible to the city and brought a number of wealthy merchants and industrialists who built spacious country houses. One of the oldest surviving members of this class of gentlemen's residences is Henry Webb's 'Cicado' (1863), 74 Queen Street, Croydon.

Anthony Horden's magnificent 'Shubra Hall' (1869) near Croydon Station, is typical of the elaborate homes built by wealthy merchants in Burwood during this period. Anthony Horden was one of the people who signed a petition in 1873 urging the Governor to establish a municipality. Leading the petition was Richard Wynne, another merchant who eventually became Burwood's first Mayor. Wynne's name is memorialised in Wynne Avenue.

 William Archer, another member of the first Council, also has a street named after him. Archer began his working life as a pageboy at Kensington Palace. He later joined the Navy, fought in the Crimean War and migrated to Australia in 1857, where he became a businessman involved in a variety of projects from horses and real estate to coal mines and railway construction. He settled in Burwood when it was still a village and became known as 'the grand old man of Burwood' because of his service as a member of the council and his work for the municipality. He lived in the same house in Railway Parade until his death in 1925 at age 94. The story is often told about how he once helped out the School of the Arts Building Committee by producing 100 pounds from his own pocket to settle a contractor's advance payment. At that time, 100 pounds represented a year's wages to most working people.

The population of Burwood rose from 7,400 in 1900 to over 20, 000 by 1930. In 1912, the old steam trams were replaced by electric trams. The steam tram from Ashfield to Enfield was extended to Burwood and Mortlake in 1899 and to Cabarita in 1907.

In 1948, the trams were taken off the road and replaced with the diesel buses you see today. The motor bus service was begun by F.H. Stewart from Chullora (Enfield) to Sydney in 1915. Burwood's streets were lit by gas until the change was made to electricity in 1921.

The 1920s were a great period for brick houses in Burwood. Two huge brick pits supplied the building materials for the site. One operated between 1879 and 1930 in Webb Street. The other began production in Cheltenham Road in 1913.

Undaunted by the fact that they could raise only $256 revenue in rates from the 1,200 inhabitants in that first year, the Council of 1874 set about its task with determination and vigour. Its work, with that of successive Councils, has given us the Burwood we know today.

  1. Work on Burwood Railway Station November 1927 -
    Work on Burwood Railway Station November 1927
  2. Original Burwood Railway Station -
    Original Burwood Railway Station
  3. A map of the Subdivision of Burwood Farm in 1833 -
    A map of the Subdivision of Burwood Farm in 1833
  4. From the 1920's motor vans gradually replaced horse-drawn vehicles, but horse-drawn vehicles were still around, although scarce, in the 1950's. -
    From the 1920's motor vans gradually replaced horse-drawn vehicles, but horse-drawn vehicles were still around, although scarce, in the 1950's.
  5. From the 1920's motor vans gradually replaced horse-drawn vehicles, but horse-drawn vehicles were still around, although scarce, in the 1950's. -
    From the 1920's motor vans gradually replaced horse-drawn vehicles, but horse-drawn vehicles were still around, although scarce, in the 1950's.
  6. Burwood Station Entrance 1939 -
    Burwood Station Entrance 1939
  7. Burwood Second Railway Station 1861 - 1892 -
    Burwood Second Railway Station 1861 - 1892