Today I’m going to give you an insight into how my mind works and the connections I follow when I’m exploring the Dictionary of Sydney.
As we spend more time around our local areas, for those of us with an inclination towards historical matters, we naturally start thinking about the history of our neighbourhoods. I live in the Inner West, and I was curious about the origins of some of the suburb names. Many inner city suburbs get their names from large villas or estates, which in turn reflect family connections and occupations.
The suburb of Enmore for example gets its name from a large house called Enmore House that was demolished in the 1880s.
The house was designed by the architect John Verge and built in 1835 for Captain Sylvester Brown. Brown was a master mariner with the East India Company and he named the house after a sugar plantation in Barbados, in the West Indies, that was owned by his business associate James Cavan, a merchant and slave owner. Cavan’s estate in the Carribean was, in turn, named after Enmore in Somerset, England. Brown sold the house in 1841.
There is an amazing photo of the grounds and gardens of Enmore House in the late 1860s that shows a posse of women playing croquet and archery. This extraordinary image caught my fancy.
It turns out the photo shows Joshua Josephson’s nine daughters entertaining themselves. Nine daughters! Josephson also had four sons. He brought up his family at Enmore House after inheriting the estate from his father in 1845. I hadn’t really heard of him, and he must have had a lot of money – so I thought I’d check him out.
I soon found another connection of interest to me. Joshua Josephson was an early alderman at Sydney City Council, where I work, and was the Mayor of Sydney in 1848. He went on to serve as a NSW Parliamentarian, and was later appointed as a district court judge. So he was a mover and shaker.
Josephson was also an accomplished musician. He played piano and flute, and as a younger man he performed in concerts at the Theatre Royal.
My interest was further picqued when I learned that he was the first organist down at St Peters Church at Tempe – there’s a good cemetery down at St Peter’s Anglican Church and I love a good cemetery.
In 1847 Josephson was a founder of the Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts which presented Sydney’s first public art exhibition at the Australian Library. Later on, he was involved in Australia’s representation at the Paris International Exhibition of 1867.
Josephson lived at Enmore House from 1845 until 1883 when he built himself and his second wife a new house over in Bellevue Hill called St Killian’s (that is now part of Scots College). During the time Josephson lived at Enmore House he saw the area transform from an isolated hamlet to a burgeoning shopping strip with a stream tram running up Enmore Road. Due to his prominent house and business connections Josephson apparently became known as the squire of Newtown, or the squire of Enmore House.
Enmore was so isolated in the 1840s that bushrangers – absconding convicts – would prey on the unwary. Enmore was sparsely settled and still heavily timbered, providing good cover for marauders. Robert Wardell had been murdered by convicts on his property nearby in 1834.
Josephson is said to have been the victim of an attack one evening, leaving him rather paranoid. After this unnerving experience he apparently devised an impenetrable barricade protecting those within Enmore House. His servants would shut and barricade every door and window of Enmore House at sunset. Anyone wishing to enter or depart had to do so by means of a ladder to an upstairs window. The ladder was withdrawn precisely at 10 pm. The house remained in a state of siege until morning, often with reluctant guests.
Now if that seems a bit extreme, it was not the only house in Enmore that had an elaborate safety system. Businesswoman Mary Reibey also moved to Enmore into a large house fronting Enmore Road in the 1840s, around the same time as Josephson. Reiby House was a grand, two-storey Georgian villa with tight security against bushranger incursion. Shutters fitted with heavy iron bolts ran the length of the house, both inside and out. Secret bells were installed in some of the shutters so when the window was opened the alarm was given in another part of the house. Presumably Mary’s servants were ready to repel any invader.
But back to Joshua Josephson. I suppose Josephson had a right to be paranoid. He was a solicitor and later a judge by trade, and owned property around Newtown, Lewisham, in the city, and around regional NSW. He was also accumulating great wealth, and was pursuing his interest in the arts, acquiring statues and artwork from leading artists in Britain and Europe.
When Joshua Josephson died in 1892, he had an estate worth almost £170,000 (or more than $25 million today, depending on how you calculate it). In his will he left property to his wife and all his children, and his daughters had full control of their estate – it was not to be controlled by their husbands. (Very enlightened!)
Significantly, Josephson bequeathed five statues to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, including ‘Hunter and the dog’, by John Gibson, which is still on display. Another significant proportion of his collection were offered to the gallery for acquisition at a bargain basement price. Amongst these is another sculpture by Gibson – Narcissus – which is regarded as one of the gallery’s collection highlights.
And that’s how I became captivated by the story of Joshua Frey Josephson. I started at Enmore, went to the Caribbean, back to St Peters, off to Paris and Bellevue Hill and I ended up at the Art Gallery of NSW.
I love poking around the Dictionary of Sydney – you never know what you might find. Why not follow your own curiosity trail in the Dictionary? There’s so much to discover.
Head to the Dictionary to have a look at Joshua Frey Josephson for yourself (start here), and follow the links to see where you end up!
Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of New South Wales and the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Lisa, for ten years of unstinting support of the Dictionary! You can follow her on Twitter here: @sydneyclio