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Blakehurst is in the southern part of the Kogarah local government area, on the Georges River between Kogarah (Townsons) Bay and Kyle Bay. Its original inhabitants are thought to be from the Aboriginal clan most prominent in the St George area, the Gameygal or Kameygal, the people of Kamay (Botany Bay). They belonged to the Dharug (Eora) language group.
Georgetown becomes Blakehurst
The first European name for the area was Georgetown (sometimes spelt Georgeton). It was later renamed after one of the district's early families, the Blakes, who had quarries near the present Blakehurst Public School. Blake and hurst, an old English word meaning 'small wooded hill' were combined to create 'Blake's hurst' or 'Blake's hill'.
The area of Blakehurst was mostly contained in four vast land grants given to the Townson brothers, John and Robert, between 1808 and 1810. Jonathan Croft held a later grant comprising most of the present Carss Bush Park. These grants were gradually broken into smaller portions as settlement developed and the demand for land grew.
The area was covered with dense forests which attracted timber-getters. Fauna and flora were abundant and Kogarah's floral emblem – the waratah – grew prolifically.
Charcoal burning and lime-making from shells were two early industries in the area and as early as 1828 mangroves were burned to provide soda for soap-making.
At first, settlement was sparse and the chief pursuit was mixed farming although the older occupations of sawyers, charcoal burners, shell collectors and fishermen and trappers continued alongside the farmers.
A river crossing
Like all the coastal suburbs south of the Cooks River, there was little development until a permanent crossing of the river was built. After a causeway was completed in 1840, settlement began moving south along the coast from the Cooks River to the Georges River.
During the 1840s road and land surveys were carried out in the St George area and road construction began. By the 1860s Blakehurst was connected to Kogarah by Kogarah Road (Princes Highway) from its junction with Rocky Point Road at Kogarah to Tom Uglys Point. Other dirt roads connected Blakehurst with Hurstville, local farms and nearby settlements. There was even a coach service from Tom Uglys to Hurstville and a mail coach ran each day from Kogarah to Tom Uglys.
In 1840 the Townson grants were subdivided. Thomas Mort bought the southeastern portion of Robert Townson's land and in 1848 JB Carroll bought 170 acres (69 hectares) of John Townson's estate at Kogarah Bay.
Market gardens and boatbuilding
After the gold rushes of the 1850s and 1860s many of the Chinese who had come to Australia to find their fortunes remained in the country and turned to market gardening for a living. Market gardens became a feature of Blakehurst, Kogarah, Rockdale and Sans Souci, and many of those operated by the Chinese continued long after the European enterprises had ceased.
Blakehurst's development from the mid-1800s was aided by its proximity to the water. Water transport was very popular and boatbuilders in the area were kept busy. As a sideline they hired out boats for recreational use. Businessmen active in the area included Mr Callaghan, who built two sizeable schooners on the shores of Townsons Bay; George Thompson, who had a shipbuilding yard on part of Robert Townson's old estate at Tom Uglys Point; JJ Mildwater and his sons, who had a similar business at Shipwrights Bay; and the partners Kyle and Merriman in Kyle Bay.
Locals bought most of their everyday goods from travelling salesmen and Chinese hawkers, who sold everything from cloth and household furnishings to medicines, feather dusters, mops and brooms. Produce merchants also visited the area – fishermen with their catch, the 'rabbit-oh', the milkman and the baker all delivered door-to-door.
Tom Uglys Point and Bridge
At the southern tip of Blakehurst, on the Georges River, is Tom Uglys Point. The origin of the name is unclear. Suggestions include that it was name of an Aboriginal man who lived in a cave there; that it was named after an old fisherman called Tom Illigley; or after Tom Huxley, a caretaker on a large estate and called Tom Hoogli by the Aborigines; or named after an Aboriginal man called Tom Waggerly who had only one leg ('waggerly' being the Aboriginal word for 'lame animal'). What we do know is that Tom Uglys Point has been on maps since c1846 and has been in continuous use ever since.
[media]Tom Uglys Point played an important part in making land south of the Georges River accessible. After improvements were made to Kogarah Road (now the Princes Highway) in 1864, a hand-operated public punt began running from the point to Horse Rock Point at Sylvania. In 1881 it was replaced by a steam-driven punt capable of carrying six horsedrawn vehicles. Steel cables guided it across the river. By 1898 a larger steam-driven ferry, capable of carrying 100 passengers and 15 vehicles, was introduced to cope with increased traffic. The growing popularity of the car after World War I placed enormous pressure on the crossing at Tom Uglys Point and, even with the introduction of an additional punt, waiting times during peak periods could be several hours. On 11 May 1929 the Georges River Bridge (also called Tom Uglys Bridge) was officially opened. Nearly 60 years later, in October 1987, it was joined by a second bridge, alongside the first.
Building a community
With the subdivision of the original land grants, Blakehurst gradually became a cluster of farms to which were added a dairy, general stores, a butchery, bakery, a one-man police station and a community hall that later became a church. Blakehurst Public School, the second oldest in the Kogarah municipality, was opened in 1882.
Blakehurst's population increased after the railway line was put through to the Illawarra in 1884 and before the end of the nineteenth century gas and telephone services had been connected. Blakehurst grew even more quickly in the twentieth century until the effects of the Depression took hold.
For many people, the 1930s were grim – money was scarce, security was tenuous, and unemployment massive. It was a difficult period for the Kogarah municipality as land values dropped, rate revenue decreased and residents found it hard to pay their rates. However, the Depression had one unexpected benefit. With funds made available through various government schemes for the relief of unemployment, Kogarah council was able to undertake more permanent public works projects than ever before. Road construction, kerbing and guttering, footpath paving, tree planting, drainage and reclamation works, and park formation and improvements were carried out on a grand scale. Reclamation and development of the head of Kogarah Bay started, more than 35 kilometres of roads were reformed and more than 21 kilometres of kerbing and guttering was laid. A large number of stormwater canals and drainage channels were constructed and 15 parks or reserves were either formed or considerably improved.
Today Blakehurst is essentially a residential suburb with some of the southern suburbs' most impressive homes, many of which have wide vistas to Kogarah Bay or the Georges River. Dr William McBride lived in the large waterfront property St Bernards for several years. The house, built in 1937 by Cecil Bentley, a tennis racquet manufacturer, overlooks Shipwrights Bay. The Fleming family, proprietors of a supermarket chain, lived in the house in Townson Street known locally as The Castle. Jim Fleming built the English-style manor house in the 1960s. A recent arrival to the area is the boxer and former rugby league player Anthony Mundine.
Commercial activity is practically non-existent except along the busy Princes Highway.
John and Robert Townson
Both of these brothers received land grants in what was to become the municipality of Kogarah between 1808 and 1810 – the first grants made in Kogarah municipality. Neither brother seems to have persevered with his grant. John sold his land at Botany Bay to Simeon Lord between 1811 and 1812. Robert exchanged some of his holding for more arable land at Minto and lived there, although he did retain some of his St George holdings. These were divided among several owners after his death.
Captain John Townson (1760–1835), the elder of the brothers, was the first to arrive in Australia. He joined the army in 1779 and transferred to the New South Wales Corps (later unofficially known as the Rum Corps) in October 1789. He arrived in Sydney in June 1790 with the Second Fleet aboard the Scarborough and spent most of his military service on Norfolk Island, where he was Lieutenant Governor from 1796-1799.
In 1800 he returned to England and sold his commission, due to ill health. He returned to the colony in 1806 and received a grant of 2,000 acres (809 hectares) in the Botany district in July 1808 and another 1,950 (789 hectares) acres, which extended from the beachfront of Kogarah Bay towards present day Carlton, Allawah and Hurstville, taking in part of Kogarah and Rockdale. He had another smaller holding around Kogarah Bay, where he built a cottage, The Retreat. After the sale of the Botany Bay grants in 1812 he moved to Tasmania. He died aged 75 in 1835.
Dr Robert Townson (1763–1827) was a botanist and naturalist. His grant comprised 1,605 acres (650 hectares) and included the area now developed as Blakehurst. The grant boundary went from the river at Tom Uglys Point along its banks to Kyle Bay and beyond, up to what is now Oatley, turning eastwards to join his brother John's land around Hurstville, taking in parts of the present day Mortdale, Penshurst, Riverwood and Peakhurst. He held another 75 acres (30 hectares) at Kogarah Bay.
After moving to Minto Robert Townson established vineyards and raised stock. He never married and died on 2 July 1827, aged 64.
William George Blake
William George Blake was born in County Galway, Ireland, in 1824. He moved to London in search of work and in 1851 married Mary O'Neill, who bore him seven children before her death in 1861.
Blake and his family arrived in Sydney in 1854. In 1864 he married Mary Brooks, who also bore him seven children.
Blake was one of the first permanent residents of the district, purchasing 20 acres (eight hectares) running from Kogarah Bay across Carss Park to the spot where Blakehurst Primary School stands today. He was prominent in the fight to get Blakehurst Public School built and his signature appears along with those of Albert Emerson and William Climpson on the application for the establishment of a public school at Blakehurst, dated 24 November 1879. He offered to sell some of his land as a site for the school and the transaction was eventually completed in December 1880. On 16 January 1882 the school opened for enrolments.
Blake appears to have had several business interests over a period of time. He saw the potential in the sandstone deposits on his land and built two stone homes on his property as well as quarrying for commercial use. Blake's quarry supplied sandstone for the footings of many homes in the area and provided material for roadways and the railway bridge at Como.
In 1862 Blake was appointed one of the first assessors of Rocky Point Road. Before the creation of a state government body to oversee road construction and maintenance, it was the responsibility of the parish through which the road passed to maintain it. The Rocky Point Road Trust was formed for this purpose. Usually a group of landowners who were affected by the state of the road became members of the trust. With Blake's stone quarry nearby, it was in his interests to become involved in the upkeep of the road.
He was also involved in the postal service. In 1863 Kogarah's first post office opened and a Thomas Blake (possibly a relative) was put in charge of it. William Blake succeeded Thomas in 1864 and remained in the position until 1868. A post office opened in Blakehurst in July 1888, although there were no deliveries – residents had to collect their mail from the post office.
When Kogarah was incorporated as a municipality in 1885, Edward Blake, one of William Blake's sons, was appointed to the first council. Edward was extremely popular in the area, receiving most votes in the council election. He was also a keen sportsman and race-goer.
William Blake died on 23 September 1892, aged 68, and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. Edward died in 1924. The land remained in the family well into the twentieth century, when it was subdivided into 75 lots known as the Kingsgrove Estate.
[media]No history of Blakehurst would be complete without mention of Cocky Bennett. The St George district's most famous bird, Cocky spent most of the last 25 years of his life at the Sea Breeze Hotel at Dover (Tom Uglys) Point.
The first 78 years of his life Cocky spent with his owner, a Captain Ellis, travelling the world. After the captain's death he was bequeathed to a Mr and Mrs Bowden. Mr Bowden died in 1889 and soon afterwards his wife married Charles Bennett. They moved to Tom Uglys Point in 1891, when Mr Bennett became the licensee of the Sea Breeze Hotel. Cocky had a cage on the hotel's front verandah, where he watched passers-by and greeted old friends. Hotel patrons soon learned that Cocky became more talkative and his language more lurid after being given a 'sip of strong brew'. His most famous saying was: 'If I had another bloody feather I'd fly.' The older Cocky became, the fewer feathers he had, and by the time he died he was virtually bare. Cocky died at the grand old age of 119 in May 1916. He was stuffed and now resides with Kogarah Historical Society in their museum at Carss Cottage in Carss Bush Park.
Blakehurst Public School Centenary Committee, Blakehurst Public School: the 'bush' school: its first century, Blakehurst Public School Centenary Committee, Blakehurst NSW, 1982
AG Coxhead (ed), The History of Blakehurst: a monograph prepared for the Kogarah Historical Society, Kogarah Historical Society, Kogarah NSW, 1982
B Earnshaw, The land between two rivers: the St George district in Federation times, Kogarah Historical Society, Kogarah NSW , 2001
J Fletcher (ed), River, Road and Rail: a history of Kogarah Municipality, Kogarah Municipal Council, Kogarah NSW, 1985
M Grieve, 'Cocky Bennett, late of the Sea Breeze Hotel', in Kogarah Historical Society Newsletter, June 1978, pp 5–8
D Kirkby, From sails to atoms, Publicity Aid, Sydney, 1970
Kogarah Council, School Resources Kit & Stormwater Education Kit, Kogarah Council, Kogarah NSW, 2001
J Lawrence, Pictorial memories: St George, Kingsclear Books, Crows Nest NSW, 1996
BJ Madden, The background to the Townson grants, Hurstville Historical Society, Hurstville NSW, c1977
F Pollon, The Book of Sydney Suburbs, Angus and Robertson, North Ryde NSW, 1991
DF Salt, Gateway to the South, the author, Como West NSW, 1987
E Weir, History of Postal Code area 2221, the author, Kogarah NSW, 1988
Kogarah Library Local Studies Collection, vertical files: Blakehurst