Racecourse at Homebush Bay

Colonial History

Long before Homebush Bay became known for the Olympic Games or the clean-up of the industrial waste, this area played a vital role in the history of New South Wales, Australia's first British Colony.

Jutting out into the Parramatta River this irregular promontory was home to a handful of pioneering families who left their mark on the economic and cultural direction of the infant Colony. A scouting party had recorded 'The Flats', the extensive tidal wetlands at Homebush Bay, within 10 days of the arrival of the first fleet in Australia. From 1788 to 1831 blocks ranging from 100 to 10,000 acres were given out from the great divvying up of the Wanng-al clans' land. Little squares and rectangles were inked in on County of Cumberland maps, with names of owners and number of acres clearly displayed.

Thomas Laycock was the first recipient of a land grant in the Bay area. He acquired 40 hectares in 1794 and a further 40 hectares in 1795. By 1803, Laycock's estate totalled 318 hectares and was named Home Bush.

The following people were also recipients of early land grants in the area:

1796 - William Pritchard and eight partners were granted 37 hectares
1797 - Henry Waterhouse (Waterhouse Farm) and John Shortland (Shortland Farm) were both granted 2 x 10-hectare (25 acre) parcels of land 1800 - Isaac Archer was granted 32 hectares (80 acres) adjacent to Shortland's property
1806 - Samuel Haslam received 20 hectares adjacent to Parramatta Road.

The estates located in Homebush during the late eighteenth century were generally used for agricultural purposes. By the early 1800s, most of the land came under the ownership of two families; the Blaxlands and the Wentworths.

Newington Estate

In 1807, John Blaxland acquired 520 hectares, reserving the grants of Waterhouse, Shortland, Archer and Haslam. He named the estate Newington after his family estate in Kent. Blaxland established a series of salt pans on the banks of the Parramatta River and by 1827, was producing 8 tons of salt each week for the Sydney market. Blaxland also established a tweed mill, limekiln and flourmill. Newington House was completed in 1832 and St Augustine's Chapel in 1838. The property, extending from near Holker Street to Carnarvon Street, was sold to John Wetherill in 1877.

In 1843, Blaxland mortgaged the property to the Australian Trust Company. After he died in 1851 the Trust Company sold the property to John Dobie to recover the mortgage. The Blaxland family re-purchased the estate from Dobie in 1854 but offered it as security against a large loan. The property was transferred to the Official Assignee of the Insolvent Estate of Edward James Blaxland in 1860 and subsequently leased to the Methodist Church, who established Newington College on the site Coal mining explorations were undertaken by Blaxland in 1841. He dug several 6 metre pits which gained the interest of the Australian Mining Company. The two parties reached agreement and undertook subsequent unsuccessful explorations. In 1878, the City of Sydney Coal Company acquired the right to bore for coal at the site. The company drilled to 457 metres with no success. In 1855 the Australian Timber Company formed to exploit the site's timber stands.

Home Bush Estate

D'Arcy Wentworth was granted 370 hectares, including Thomas Laycock's estate, in 1810. In 1811, he established a horse stud and subsequently became one of the most noted breeders in the colony. In 1819, Wentworth acquired more land so that his estate comprised 394 hectares. It was at this time that he constructed Homebush House, positioned near to the corner of Figtree Drive and Australia Avenue.
In 1825, a horseracing track was developed on the estate, and between 1841 and 1860 the track was used as the headquarters of the Australian Jockey Club. D'Arcy had died in 1827 and left his property to his son Charles Wentworth (who had been a member of the first European exploration party to find a route through the Blue Mountains). The property was tenanted throughout Charles' ownership. By 1881, the estate consisted of 440 hectares (with the addition of areas drained and reclaimed from around Powells and Haslams Creek commencing from 1826). In 1883, Fitzwilliam Wentworth, Charles' son, registered a residential subdivision to be called Wentworth Estate.
From 1879 parts of the Newington and Home Bush estates were gradually purchased or resumed by the Crown for various uses.
[image] Newington House was built by John Blaxland in 1832
[image] A map of the Homebush Bay area in the early 19th century showing the Blaxland and Wentworth Estates
[image] Horseracing at Homebush Bay in 1853

To find out more about aspects of the Blaxland's and Wentworths daily lives at Homebush Bay, download the factsheet of interest below:

Download the Colonial History at Homebush Bay (812 kb) factsheet.
Download information for a glimpse into the Daily life of the Blaxland family (231.2 kb)
Find out more about the Blaxlands as Entrepreneurs and Explorers (165.7 kb)
Download the factsheet detailing the Colonial Industries of Salt-making and lime production (175.5 kb)

Public Use

The Newington Estate was first offered to the Government for use as an Asylum for the Insane in 1874. The Government did not accept this offer, however in 1879, Government Architect James Barnett prepared a report on the suitability of the Newington estate for a Reformatory School for Boys. His report concluded that the site was suitable for a Boys Reformatory or a Benevolent Asylum for Aged Women. In September 1897 the Crown Solicitor confirmed that 5,000 pounds would be paid to John Wetherill for the property.

The Government acquired about 19 hectares of land which included Newington House. It was planned that this new Aged Women's Asylum would replace the existing asylum which housed within the Immigrant Depot at the Hyde Park Barracks. The first buildings were established on the site in 1886 to house 300 patients. The two wards, known as the Margaret Catchpole and Caroline Chisholm buildings were among the first erected. By 1890 there were 450 patients at Newington. At this time, the hospital was categorised as a state asylum for dependent adults' with infirmity or illness of 'incurable character'.

Various additional buildings and structures were added to the Newington Hospital over the years. In 1918 a large timber building was erected for the treatment of people with venereal disease. In 1931 a large Nurses Home was built fronting onto Holker Street and further men's wards were constructed in the 1940s.

In 1960 it was proposed that the hospital should be closed and the site sold to industry. The significance of the site, however, stimulated significant public opposition to the plans. In 1968, after a series of drawn out negotiations the Government decided to transfer the property to the Department of Prisons.

Growth of a Suburb

In the late 1870s and 1880s, Sydney's suburbs were expanding rapidly and it was hoped that the creation of a residential settlement between the large centres of Sydney and Parramatta would be a profitable exercise. This did not prove to be the case.

Newington: In 1878, John Wetherill registered a subdivision plan for the entire 520 hectare Newington Estate. This proposal comprised an extensive grid layout, of some 114 lots, which extended well into the mud flats and mangroves of Wentworth Bay and Homebush Bay. In 1906 and 1909 Wetherill further subdivided his property as Riverside Heights, with the first allotments sold in that year. It was hoped that the location of the subdivision in close proximity to the developing State Abattoirs and Brickworks would attract people to the area in association with the employment opportunities offered by these establishments. This venture was largely unsuccessful, with only a few lots being sold. However the layout of the western part of the Newington subdivision remains obvious in today's street pattern and street names.

Homebush Village: Homebush was subdivided in 1883. The subdivision affected approximately half of the Wentworth Estate and extended from Parramatta Road in the south to the Parramatta River in the north. The estate comprised some 22 large, irregularly shaped lots on a curvilinear scheme and was named the Homebush Village. Like the subdivision proposals devised for the Newington Estate, this proposal was unsuccessful. As such, the estate remained virtually intact until its resumption by the Public Works Department in 1907 for the establishment of the State Abattoirs.