Tuesday 16 August 2016

A snapshot of the lost suburb of Eckersley

In the early 1800s, a small township developed within the boundaries of what is now the Holsworthy Field Firing Range on the eastern side of the Georges River. The Parish of Eckersley had been named in 1835 by the Surveyor General after Nathaniel Eckersley, who was a Quartermaster-general during the Peninsular War which was part of the Napoleonic Wars. There was, however, no European settlement there until it was opened for selection under the Crown Lands Act of 1884.
The first blocks applied for were between Punchbowl Creek and the Georges River. An interesting mix of people settled in the area. The first to take up their selection were the Etchells brothers, Harry and Frank in 1889. They distilled bootleg rum made in illegal stills in the bush. Other settlers included Leonce, Gustave and George Frere, and Charles and Edmond Kelso. The Freres selected large acreages at Eckersley where George Frere established a vineyard. Charlie Kelso decided his land was unsuitable and forfeited it in 1892. James Heffernan extracted shellac resin from the trunks of tree ferns and sold it to a gunpowder merchant. The Everetts ran the little post office from their selection at Eckersley, and also grew grape vines and apples. They were very well respected and were given a big send off when they left the district in 1902. The Trotts also lived at Eckersley - Whyndam Albert Trott and his wife Lavinia. Mr Trott was away working for weeks at a time, possibly due to his occupation as a builder. Jules Pierre Rochaix also had a house at Eckersley, but he exchanged his land for two blocks at Mount Colah. He was a detective with the New South Wales police force, just one of 14 detectives in a force of just under 2000 officers and constables.
The early Eckersley settlement
Further along the river other families built homes and established vineyards and orchards, including Nathaniel Bull, a former mayor of Liverpool, and Isaac Himmelhoch, who cleared and terraced his land with stone, and built a large winery and cellars.
In 1891 there were more than 30 small farms in the area, but by 1912 the Post Office closed. The remoteness of the area, and the fact that the soil proved to be not as suitable as first thought, were contributing factors to the demise of Eckersley. Its fate had been sealed when Lord Kitchener, visiting Australia on military matters, declared Holsworthy as the site for a permanent army camp. The Army took possession in 1913, and the rural settlement was abandoned. The settlers were paid no compensation.
Today only a few ruins, stone walls, wells, and foundations remain of Eckersley.

Written by Claire Lynch
Grist Mills Vol.8 No.4 "The Road to Frere's Crossing".
Grist Mills Vol.16 No.1 "Snippets of history of the Georges River".
www.liverpool.nsw.gov.au "History of our suburbs"

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