National Family History Month

August is National Family History Month and Penrith Library has arranged a varied programme of activities during the month.

Tickets will be available from Penrith Library from 16th July. Most events are free, but bookings are essential due to limited space for some sessions.

To book a place at any of these activities, call into any branch of Penrith City Library or call (02) 4732 7891 or (02) 47327860, or email:

All activities are located within Penrith Library, 601 High Street, Penrith.

Tuesday 7 August – 10am – 12.30 pm (PC Training Room) – Family history research with a local twist – Interested in getting started with your family history research? Research Services Librarian Lorraine Stacker will present a talk on getting started in family history using online resources, and, Research Librarian Ann-maree Bonner, will detail some of the wonderful local records that can be used to flesh out your family tree.

Bookings essential – FREE event

Leitch family

Wednesday 15 August – 1pm- 4pm (Peter Goodfellow Theatrette) – Workshop: Connecting culture: tracing ancestors – Come, meet and listen to the State Library of NSW’s Indigenous Services team. They connect people with their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and provide help in exploring Indigenous family history using the diverse and extensive collections of the State Library.

Their session will be followed by Penrith Library’s family and local history historian, Lorraine Stacker, who will step through her research into the Indigenous family history of a family member.

Tea and coffee facilities available

Bookings essential – $5

State Library of NSW, Indigenous Services Team


Saturday 25 August – 1pm – 3pm (PC Training Room) – Workshop: Researching NSW land records online – Family historian and land records expert, Stephen Ford will step you through the mire of land records in NSW with some fascinating and thought-provoking results.

Bookings essential – FREE event

Stephen Ford talk

Posted in Events, family history, People

Adam “Scotty” Denholm – Local police officer turned Skippy trainer

police pic

Second Emu Plains Police Station

The second Emu Plains Police Station was built in 1908 and was used up until 1921, when the resident police officer Constable Samuel McLean retired. Following his retirement a decision was made not to appoint another police officer at Emu Plains, however the house was still used as a residence for police officers. One of the most interesting officers who lived there was Adam ‘Scotty’ Denholm who started up the Dog Training Unit with NSW Police training dogs for tracking. He continued this work while living at Emu Plains and in fact the kennels were moved to Penrith occupying some of the site the Civic Centre is on now. He was a bit of a media star and his first dog Tessa was preserved by a taxidermist and is now in the Police Museum in the city. Scotty Denholm left Penrith and went on to train all the kangaroos for the Skippy series.


Posted in Uncategorized

Toby Ryan – celebrating his 200th birthday

Toby Ryan (NFHS)


Nepean Family History Society in conjunction with Penrith City Library will celebrate local colourful identity James Tobias (Toby) Ryan’s 200th birthday on 3 February 2018.

Penrith City Library have also kindly digitised the facsimile copy of Toby’s Reminiscences of Australia published by Nepean Family History Society in 1982.

3 February – Celebrations will commence at 1.30 with the Mayor of Penrith Councillor John Thain arriving at 2 pm.

At: Old School Residence, Emu Plains, off Lawson Street, Emu Plains NSW 2750

The afternoon event will include:

  • Welcome by President Stephen McKenzie
  • Talk by Jan Thomas, President of Nepean FHS when Toby’s book was produced. Jan will speak about the creation of their facsimile edition and the people involved
  • Talk by Penrith Library Librarian and historian, Lorraine Stacker on Toby and his family
  • Mayor John Thain  will launch the digitised copy of Toby’s book
  • An invitation for descendants to say a few words
  • Raffle draw of NFHS facsimile copy of Toby’s book
  • Cutting the cake
  • Afternoon tea
  • Sale of Toby’s digital copy of his book ($20)
  • Display of Ryan family history
  • Display of Ryan’s original 1894 copy of Reminiscences of Australia – normally located in Penrith Library’s Research Room
  • Nepean FHS Library will be open from 10 am for research



James Tobias (Toby) Ryan was born on 4 January 1818 at Castlereagh, the son of convict John, and Mary Ryan. His mother was the daughter of Anthony Rope and Elizabeth Pulley, First Fleet convicts. His father, John Ryan arrived in 1815 on the Indefatigable with a life sentence. In 1827 he took over the Rope farm at South Creek. After boarding school, Toby worked with his father, but following some problems with the police, he left the district for the Hunter where he spent some years timber-getting, farm labouring and horse-breaking. he overlanded cattle to Port Phillip before returning to the Nepean district around 1838.

In 1840 he set up as a butcher in Penrith and became an auctioneer. By 1852 he had built Emu Hall, an impressive home on the Emu Plains side of the Nepean, where he entertained visiting politicians and dignitaries. The growing confidence of the district’s leaders in their ability and economic soundness was demonstrated by their Penrith Nepean Bridge Company venture, proposed before the discovery of gold. In 1850, a group of local businessmen, including Toby Ryan, Robert Fitzgerald from Mamre at St Marys, Edwin Rouse from Berkshire Park and John Perry from Penrith, approached the government to sanction the formation of a company to build a toll bridge over the Nepean River. The proposed bridge would replace the government ferry.  The government sanctioned the proposal on certain conditions. The company had to raise £6,000, the bridge had to be at least 26 feet wide, completed within three years and kept in good repair. With all conditions met, the company was entitled to charge a toll for thirty-three years. Afterwards the bridge, land and toll house would become public property.

The low-lying ironbark bridge was constructed from the present Punt Road at Emu Plains across to the Governor Bourke Hotel (just south of the Log Cabin site). It was 700 feet long and 30 feet wide and opened for traffic on 1 January 1856. The company held a grand ball for the opening, with over 500 people attending. Chandeliers were strung across the bridge under swaths of canvas. Just eighteen months later, floodwaters washed away the pride of Penrith on 29 June 1857. Afterwards, it was estimated that it would cost £2-3,000 to repair the four destroyed central piers and the end sections. The engineer, with limited knowledge, had constructed the bridge piers on the bedrock, without fixing them into the riverbed.

Undaunted, the company began construction of the next bridge in July 1859, with a different engineer, who was instructed, against his advice, to re-build it on what remained of the previous bridge. This bridge fared little better and was washed away by another flood in May 1860. The end portions remaining of the first bridge were washed away this time and the top of the bridge was carried about a quarter of a mile down river and dumped unceremoniously on Toby Ryan’s land.

Robert Jamison was the first local resident elected to Parliament. When electorates were redistributed in 1858, a single member Nepean electorate was created with Penrith as its main urban centre. In the ensuing election of 1859 Jamison was elected. His election as the first member for Nepean helped bring the district into a wider political arena, opening up the minds of its residents to the possibilities and opportunities of the future. His defeat by Toby Ryan, at the 1860 election, ushered in an era of the local man, for the local people. Ryan’s home, business and perspective were firmly within the district.

Between 1860-72 Ryan represented the Nepean in the Legislative Assembly. Never a contender for ministerial rank, he was a popular and amusing back-bencher. The St Marys community also depended on the Member for Nepean to make representation to the government on matters such as roads repairs and improvements, health and safety and economic development.

Toby Ryan and T R Smith were appointed to undertake valuations of the 413 properties in the district when Penrith was incorporated as a Council in 1871.

Ryan was also well known as a sportsman, a good boxer, crack pigeon shot and successful racehorse owner and breeder. He was financially ruined after the destruction of the first two bridges over the Nepean River, which he helped finance. Ryan, a larger than life character published his rambling Reminiscences of Australia in 1894. His bankruptcy in 1871 had forced the disposal of most of his property at Emu Plains and Penrith by 1880. When Ryan died in 1899, his obituary recorded Reverend Fryer’s words at the graveside at Emu Plains, ‘he would be long remembered [and] cherished’.

In 1879-80 Toby was licensee of the Crown Hotel in George Street. He was again bankrupted in 1885. His occupation was asphalter. By the 1890s Toby and his wife (Sarah Hadley) ran a boarding-house in Francis Street, Sydney.

In his Reminiscences of Australia (1894), Ryan made many exaggerated claims including that he had met Bold Jack Donohoe, and to have been associated with Edward Hargraves. There is probably an element of truth in some of it. And to quote the Australian Dictionary of Biography, there is ‘a simple warmth, generosity and tolerance, and an eccentric prose style reminiscent of his parliamentary speeches. Ryan’s language, ‘unmistakably vigorous’, ‘rudely eloquent’, but ‘nearly always opposed to the rules of the grammarians’, is a useful reminder that he was a genuine character, a self-made man proud of his descent from emancipist stock’.

Ryan died at Woolloomooloo on 17 October 1899 and was buried with family members in the Anglican section of the Emu Plains cemetery. Toby and Mary Dempsey (1817-1864) married on 16 August 1838 at Castlereagh. They had four sons and four daughters. He married his second wife Sarah Hadley (d.1923) on 16 September 1866. They had one son and three daughters. A Freemason for fifty-six years he was, in December 1862, the first worshipful master of Queen’s Lodge 982, Penrith.

toby headstone



Posted in Emu Plains, family history, Penrith, People

2018 History Calendar

2018 calendar front cover

Penrith City Library’s 2018 History Calendar is out and for sale for just $10 at all Penrith Library branches and Nepean Family History Society (

Our calendar celebrates the many anniversaries in our history, especially the forming of the Nepean Rowing Club in April 1928. Also, we again commemorate the sacrifice of our local men during the First World War. Twenty-One men from our district died during 1918 in faraway places such as France, Damascus and Baghdad.

Also, in January, James ‘Toby’ Ryan of Emu Hall celebrates his 200th birthday. The Library is currently digitising a facsimile copy of his 1894 book Reminiscences of Australia. You can view his original 1984 book in the Library’s Research Room. The Nepean Family History Society produced a facsimile edition in 1982, which was their first publication. On 3 February, the Mayor will join with the Library and Nepean Family History Society to celebrate Toby’s life and commitment to our Penrith area. Toby, a grandson of Anthony and Elizabeth Rope, was the main financial backer for the first two bridges across the Nepean, built in the same location where the green bridge is now under construction. Ryan was also our elected Member for Nepean in the 1860s.

Another significant date in 2018 is the 200th anniversary of the 3,000 acre land grant to James Erskine, which he named Erskine Park.

The images in the calendar have been mostly sourced from Penrith City Library’s Photographic Collection. Over many decades the Library has gratefully accepted photographic donations from the public which, added to the Library’s own photographic archive, has created an impressive visual history of our City.


Posted in Publications, World War 1 | Tagged

Film night and talk – To Beersheba and back – the story of the Australian Lighthorse charge at Beersheba on 31 October 1917

  • To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Charge at Beersheba on 31 October 1917 by the Australian Lighthorse, Penrith City Library will be screening the 1987 film The Lighthorsemen.


  • Prior to the film screening Information Librarian Lorraine Stacker will give a talk on this military event and the recent commemorations held at Beersheba in Israel.

The commemorations are to be held on 31 October 2017. For more information see . Many Australians will be there for this event, including Information Librarian Lorraine Stacker who will be taking photos and gathering information to share with everyone at the film night event.

When: 15 November 2017, 5.30 pm for 6 pm

Where: Peter Goodfellow Theatrette,
Penrith City Library
601 High Street, Penrith

Refreshments: Light refreshments at 5.30 pm

Booking: Free event – tickets available from Penrith Library Service Desk (02 4732 7891) from 16 October. Tickets essential (for catering purposes)

Contact Vanessa on 02 4732 8040 for additional details.


Posted in Events, World War 1 | Tagged

Launching the self-guided audio tour for Creative Enterprises’ embroidery projects

On Monday 11 September at 10:30am, Penrith City Council will be launching a new self-guided audio tour of the various embroidery projects created for the Civic Centre.

The tour contains audio commentary by Mavis Reynolds, founder and Director of the

Audio tour handset

Foundation for Creative Enterprises, explaining the process of creating the embroideries and examining the stitches and designs in detail.

Information about the audio tour can be found here.

The full audio commentary with images of the embroideries can be found on this website under the Creative Heritage banner, or click here.

The launch will be held in Penrith Library and members of the public are welcome to attend.

Posted in Events, Penrith

National Family History Month @ Nepean Family History Society

Free Open House  – August 2017

Tues, Wed & Thurs                     10am to 2pmOld School House, Emu Plains
Thursday                                       7pm to 9pm
Saturday                                        2pm to 5pm

  • Free access to the Library’s Resources including Ancestry and FindmyPast
  • Talk family history with NFHS members and have a chat over a cup of tea

Saturday 5 August 1:30pm               Guest Speaker: Lorraine Stacker

“The House of Vicary” – Researching and writing a local family history

Wednesday 2 August                         Library Tour of the NFHS library

Wednesday 9 August                         Help with your Irish research

Wednesday 16 August                        Help with online databases 

Wednesday 23 August                        Help with your English research

Wednesday 30 August                        Help with your Scottish research

Click here to download flyer:   Family History Month 2017

Enquiries:     Judy McLeod     02 4733 1631

Old School House,
Great Western Highway,
Emu Plains (parking off Lawson Street)

Tues, Wed & Thurs 10am to 2pm;    Thurs 7pm to


9pm;   Sat 2pm to 5pm

Posted in Events, family history, Nepean Family History Society

National Family History Month – Activities at Penrith Library

August is National Family History Month and Penrith Library has arranged a varied programme of activities during the month.

Tickets will be available from Penrith Library from 17th July. All events are free, but bookings are essential due to limited availability for some sessions.

To book a place at any of these activities, call into any branch of Penrith City Library or call (02) 4732 7891.

All activities are located within Penrith Library, 601 High Street, Penrith.

Workshop: Family history research with a local twist
August 2nd           Wednesday        10:00 – 12:00      PC Training Rm

Using the resources found in the Library, especially the treasures to be discovered in the Research Room, Information Librarian Lorraine Stacker will present a talk on getting started in family history using the internet and Ann-maree Bonner, Research Librarian, will detail some of the wonderful local records that can be used to flesh out your family tree.

Movie Morning: Dad and Dave: On Our Selection
August 18th         Friday                    10:00 – 12:00      Peter Goodfellow Theatrette

There will be a short talk by Lorraine Stacker, Information Librarian, to introduce this 1995 remake of the Chauvel Classic starring Leo McKern, Dame Joan Sutherland (in her only non-singing role), Geoffrey Rush and a host of well-known Australian actors. The movie will be accompanied by light refreshments.



Guest speaker:  ‘The History behind Who Do You Think You Are?’
August 22nd         Tuesday               10:00 – 12:00      Peter Goodfellow Theatrette

For the past eight years, Linda Emery has been a member of the research team for the SBS television genealogy program Who Do You Think You Are?, and is about to start work on Series 9. This will be a behind the scenes look at the research work involved in creating the programme. Light refreshments will be provided.


Workshop: Recording Oral Histories
August 24th         Thursday             10:00 – 12:00      Peter Goodfellow Theatrette

Ever thought about recording your family memories for posterity? Lorraine Stacker, Information Librarian, and Vanessa Stockford, Research Coordinator, will provide some practical tips on creating oral history recordings and preserving them for the future.

Guest Speaker: ‘Jane Austen: Her Life and Works’                                                    Jane Austen
August 29th          Tuesday                1pm – 3pm               Peter Goodfellow Theatrette

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death at 41. Her six completed novels are well-loved classics and relevant even today. Susannah Fullerton OAM FRS(N), President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, writer and Jane Austen fan, will talk about Jane, her family and her work. Light refreshments will be provided.


Posted in Events, family history | Tagged

Vale Sue Sewter, nurse, educator, local historian and Library volunteer


Audrey Dorothy ‘Sue’ Sewter was born on 11 January 1928 in Lancaster, England to Walter and Gladys (Cookson) Sewter. Following her schooling, Sue trained as a nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and met fellow trainee Joy Edmonds. They became lifelong friends. In 1954 Sue and Joy travelled to New Zealand. After three years they returned to England. In an oral history interview with Penrith City Library, Sue recalled that she first visited Australia in 1956 and felt an affinity with the country. She returned to settle here in Penrith in 1959. She arrived on the SS Fairsea.

Sue arrived in Penrith to take up work as a nurse and nurse educator at Nepean District Hospital. Sue was head of Group School of Nursing at Nepean Hospital. In 1978, she was appointed by the Minister for Education as the first coordinator of the Western Metropolitan Regional Council for Nurse Education. She retired in 1984.

History and photography were always favourite past-times. When Sue arrived in Penrith she fortuitously and meticulously recorded and photographed the town. Sue joined the Nepean District Historical Society in the 1970s. She organized many walking tours around Penrith and Emu Plains for the Society and enthralled everyone with her dry wit and humour, and extensive knowledge of the local area.

Sue and Pam Sheppard started the archives at St. Stephens Church in 1989 and together they have published a series of booklets on the church’s history. Sue was also asked to help establish an archives at Nepean Hospital.

In 1994 Sue became a volunteer in Penrith Library’s Research Room. She lent the Library her photographic collection, from which the Library now holds its Sue Sewter Collection of 243 photographs. For a number of years, Sue undertook indexing of the Nepean Times and later assisted in cataloguing the Library’s extensive and historic photographic collection. Her last day as a volunteer was on 16 October 2009, when she signed with her familiar signature – A. Sewter.

In 2004 Sue presented an entertaining paper at the Library’s History Conference entitled ‘The Nepean Times: a brief look’. Sue’s contribution to our City was recognised in 2009 when she received a Penrith City Council Wall of Achievement Community Award.

Sue Sewter & Pat Curry - Wall of Achievement Dinner Sue with fellow Library volunteer Pat Curry at the presentation evening
at Penrith City Council


Sadly, Sue passed away on 4 June 2017. Being such an organized person, Sue had planned her funeral, the church service and hymns and the eulogy! At her Thanksgiving Service at her beloved St Stephens Anglican Church in Penrith, held on 10 June, Sue’s friends, colleagues and past students paid their last respects to a great lady. Marie Hurley read her eulogy, but added a whole lot more!



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Family History Saturday: “Sourcing and Sorting It”

A big thank you to all of those who participated on the day. We received some lovely feedback on the speakers, the tours and the Library staff. Thank you to Nepean FHS for being there on the day and to State Records (Martyn and Dominique) for giving us their time. Thanks also to Ted Chapman for showing us the techniques of bookbinding, and Mavis Reynolds for coming along and giving an extra tale or two on our beautiful wall hangings.


Family History Saturday: “Sourcing and Sorting It”

Saturday 25 March – a free event.
In conjunction with the Nepean Family History Society, State Archives and our local bookbinder Ted Chapman, Penrith Library will host a day to help people research and preserve their family history.The Research Room will be open all day from 9am to allow staff to help people with their research of the local area

  • Penrith Library staff will also present talks:
    • 10am – PC Training Room – Beginning family history with Lorraine Stacker, Information Librarian, Penrith City Library
    • 11am – PC Training Room – Finding gems in council records with Ann-maree Bonner, Librarian, Penrith City Library
  • State Archives will present talks on the preservation of historical documents, and on the government records they hold and how to access them:
    • 1pm – PC Training Room – Preserving the Past for the Future – basic conservation techniques with Dominique Moussou, conservator, NSW State Archives
    • 2pm – PC Training Room – Finding ancestors on the State Archives website with Martyn Killion, Manager, Public Access, State Archives and Records Authority of New South Wales
  • Escorted audio tours of the five Library and Council Creative Enterprise embroideries – between 12pm – 1pm –  – Library staff will escort small groups of 5 with accompanying hand-held audio devices to view each artwork. Please collect a token for the tour from the Research Room desk. A Not just stitches booklet will be given free to each participant.
  • Nepean Family History Society will have volunteers available all day to provide guidance and advice on all matters family history. They will also have their publications for sale on the day. 
  • Ted Chapman will be repeating his workshop on bookbinding techniques.
  • Tickets will be available from 1 March 2017 as there are limited spaces for the talks. 
  • Tea and coffee facilities, and biscuits will be available all day to refresh researchers.

For more information, please contact Lorraine Stacker on 0247327886 or email ; or Vanessa Stockford on 0247328040 or email

Posted in Events, family history, Nepean Family History Society, Penrith