Establishment of the Village of St Marys
Land Grants and Settlement
The area in which St Marys developed was first opened up for European occupation in 1806 when Mary Putland was granted the 242 hectare ‘ Frogmore’ Estate (1). Mary subsequently married Maurice O’Connell and in 1810 the ‘Frogmore’ Estate was enlarged by a further grant of 426 acres (2).
Lady Mary (Putland) O’Connell
Daughter of Admiral Bligh
Penrith City Library Photographic Collection. ©
Photo No: LCPH 1212
These combined grants were later known as the O’Connell Estates at South Creek and in February 1841 part of this area was subdivided into thirty-five town allotments and offered for sale as the Village of St Marys (3).
By 1842 approximately 400 hectares of the O’Connell Estates had been divided into town allotments, plus four and twenty hectare paddocks, and closer settlement of this area is believed to have commenced from this time (4).
While documentary evidence shows that the sale of land was relatively slow and that all but 16 hectares of the Estate was still owned by the O’Connell’s when the property was sold by the mortgagees in 1855 (5), reminicences of the area suggest that St Marys had been established as a small roadside village by the 1850s. At this time it is reputed to have included a few small houses, shops such as a butcher, ironmonger and grocer, a post office, hotel and at least two tanneries (6).
The status of the village as a small rural centre was reinforced in 1863 when the South Creek Railway Station was opened on the northern side of the village. However, development continued to be focussed around the Western Road (Great Western Highway) until after the Second World War.
Early Industrial Development
From the mid-nineteenth century the village developed as the centre of a number of major industries through which the name of St Marys became widely known. In terms of employment the most important of these was the timber industry, but in terms of the character and identity of the town it was the tanneries and the coach and waggon works which reigned supreme.
St Marys reached its first peak of development in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century and the local industries played a major role in the continued growth and consolidation of the town at this time. This peak was maintained through the first few years of the twentieth century but, in common with the rest of the present City of Penrith, the town entered a period of hiatus during the inter-war years. Although a number of the early industrial sites continued to operate during this period, changing technology and economic conditions and the development of new industrial areas elsewhere in the state diminished their importance, and their history at this time is one of gradual decline.
Little documentary evidence has been found which describes the history of St Marys’ early industries, but the available information has been supplemented by a major oral history programme which has been conducted by a local resident, Mr Bert Evans, over the last thirty years. Through this programme the memories of many of the older residents of the town have been recorded and a valuable historical resource preserved.
1800 -1860: Government Industrial Control and the Growth of Free Enterprise
Pre-Industrial Phase at St Marys
During this phase in the history of the state St Marys was first settled, in the early decades of the nineteenth century. This settlement generally took the form of large estates and this pattern was to predominate for many years. The collapse of a number of these large estates due to the economic slump of the 1840s allowed, at this time, the emergence of independent villages and hamlets. St Marys was one of these. The first subdivision occurred here during these years. By 1853 it was, however, still said to be,
“…a long straggling village, possessing a very pretty little church, two very good inns… many nice snug-looking cottages and some good gardens.” (3)
This situation was not to change dramatically until the succeeding phase when the arrival of the railway provided the catalyst for change.
Industrial development during these years, such as it was, was limited to the concerns of the large estates. These were mainly devoted to agriculture, horticulture and stock breeding. Minor industrial developments, such as brick making, were purely for immediate use and could not be termed a local industry.
This situation reflected to a certain degree the industrialisation of the colony in general. From the first years of settlement,
“There was an immediate need to create a local food supply and to find export commodities which would pay for a wide range of necessary imports… As the population of the colonies grew… there began the long process of creating manufacturing industries to supply local markets.
“Australia’s pioneer manufactures were initially limited to simple processes using the materials to hand and were directed to satisfying the basic needs of food and shelter. As the frontiers expanded new towns sprang up along early transport routes or developed as service centres for outlying pastoral or mining regions…”(4)
Until c. 1820 industrial development and manufacture were largely the province of the government although during the latter years of this period private enterprise began to assert itself.
The government utilised convict labour formed into gangs in the urban centres to supply the needs of the colony. Privately owned industrial concerns were also mainly centred in the towns. This is directly related to the fact that the urban centres contained the largest percentage of the total population, for example 46% in 1805, 59% in 1810 and 45% in 1821 (5).
The small farmer and the landed proprietor were concerned first and foremost with producing food supplies to support themselves and the colony. Any industrial development begun by this group was, in general, directly related to the primary production. For example the mills which were built along the Nepean serviced the community’s grain growers.
Linge has determined that, until 1814, most organised industrial development centred in the major urban centres of Sydney and Parramatta.
“Here (Sydney) were built the government dockyard, lumber yard and blacksmiths shop; three government windmills; five or six private windmills and one water-driven mill; two or three tanneries; brick works; the government printery; private shipyards; a salt works; and the workshops of most of the small butchers, bakers and candle makers. At Parramatta there was the government textile workshop… a flour mill; a tannery; a slaughter-house and salt works… Elsewhere in Cumberland County industrial activity was negligible.” (6)
The role of the convict gangs in supplying the industrial manufactures of the colony is revealed by contemporary statistical records. For example the records of the government lumber yard in Sydney show that, in 1819 convicts were employed there in carrying out the following trades; blacksmithing, locksmithing, making nails, iron and brass founders, bellows makers, coopers, sawyers, painters, lead castors, harness and collar makers, carpenters, joiners and cabinet makers (7).
From 1815 onwards the government began to move away from its complete control of industrial development. Private enterprise began to assert itself and the government accounts show a greater cash flow to the private sector through the purchase of goods such as soap, candles, leather, shingles, lime and bricks; items which, in previous years, it had generally supplied itself (8). Private entrepreneurs such as Simeon Lord became dominant figures during this time turning their interests to all forms of manufacturing.
Linge claims that three factors contributed to the growing interest in local industrial development. These were the high cost of freighting and insurance and the attendant delays and uncertainties associated with imported goods; the lack of interest by the British mercantile establishment in the colonial situation and thirdly, the uncertainty concerning the continuing use of convict ships as mercantile carriers (9).
At the same time financial inducements were being offered to tradesmen to encourage them to emigrate to the colony. In addition private landowners were ploughing excess capital back into large estates making them virtually self sufficient as well as allowing for the production of commodities for the local market. For example John Blaxland, on his property at Parramatta, produced thirty yards of cloth weekly from wool which was too coarse to sell (10). The role of the large estates is particularly applicable to the study area.
By 1820, therefore, private industrial development had become established replacing the previous government monopoly. It was still largely centred in the urban areas. Some large estates established industrial practices but for the purposes of complimenting primary production, supporting the estate and its dependents and/or utilising excess products. Local industry was still uncommon.
It should also be noted that the quality of local industrial products left, in many cases, much to be desired. For example Commissioner Bigge’s enquiries in 1819-20 revealed that of the seventeen tanneries operating in 1820 only one was run by a trained tradesman and most were operated only as ancillary production to boot or harness making businesses or in association with grazing activities. The quality of the finished product was said to be poor (11).
1821 was a decisive year for the development of the colony. Macquarie’s work had provided the direction for a new goal for colonial development; that of a free settlement. This was opposed to the British view which saw the colony remaining primarily as a penal settlement. Commissioner Bigge was instructed to investigate the viability of the colony continuing in this role.
Bigge’s findings were, in a sense, a compromise. He found for the continuation of the settlement as a penal colony but stressed the need for pastoral development, the products of this expansion being useful to British markets. In particular the developing wool industry could be made to serve British industry. The Yorkshire textile industry had expanded rapidly but was faced by shortages in raw materials from both Britain and the continent. Australia and its wool industry appeared to be the answer to a prayer.
The 1820s and especially the 1830s were a period of rapid and spectacular economic development in Australia as a result of this situation. The period has become known as the time of the “pastoral ascendancy”.
The pastoral expansion was aided by changes to the convict system. From 1822 to 1826 convicts were organised in gangs as before but were moved from the urban centres to country areas specifically to clear the land before settlement and for established landed proprietors (12). This largely removed the government force which had previously supplied much of the industrial labour although, in some cases, convicts continued to provide necessary products, for example shoes.
Following this move, during the later 1820s and early 1830s, the British government ordered a reduction in government spending. To achieve this government industrial concerns were leased out, scaled down and eventually closed down. By the 1830s government involvement in industrial development had largely been phased out.
Private enterprise moved in to fill the gaps. Increased government purchasing, investment in building, construction and transport activities entrenched this changed labour pattern.
The boom conditions of the 1820s were encouraged by trade surpluses, British government expenditure and investment funding by individuals and corporations. A slight downturn in the economy in 1827 was remedied by 1830.
“In general the 1820s saw enlarged capacity in existing industries and a widening range of products being made. The growth in population produced an increased demand for food, drink and building materials; the spread of settlement created a need for more transport equipment on land and at sea and the diversification of the economy brought into being workshops making goods ranging from farm implements to pottery ware.” (13)
The 1830s were a peak period of economic development in the Australian economy; immigration and capital import furnished the material for a vast geographic expansion of the wool industry. Increased population expanded the limits of the settled colony.
The expansion of the wool industry encouraged the growth of other developments, for example the expansion of shipping and transport services required to bring the fleeces to market. Industrial specialisation, however, was still unusual during this phase and remained centred in Sydney with the exception of mills and associated works.
For example there are only four tanneries listed in the Blue Books (Statistical Registers) of the colony for the early 1830s and these were all run by one man (14). These appear to have been established for personal convenience rather than as commercial propositions. Slightly later some industrial activities were established in isolated areas for the purposes of commercial gain but these were mainly related to milling.
The 1830s were characterized by three factors; the establishment of mills and works outside the County of Cumberland; the increased use of steam power with the accompanying, growth of engineering and metal-working skills and the emergence of some external markets for a few Australian commodities such as soap, butter and cheese.
By the mid 1830s the development and location of manufacturing and processing establishments were more clearly beginning to influence and be influenced by the growth of towns. It should be noted, however, that population levels away from the major urban centres was proportionately small (15). As the 1830s progressed the range of industrial endeavors increased to service bigger communities and inland industries emerged which depended on a wider market than the immediate town.
Industrial development slackened during the 1840s due to a number of factors. Linge has suggested that a shortage of labour, and especially skilled labour, was a primary factor (16). In addition the convict labour supply ceased in 1841 after the cessation of transportation. A severe drought affected primary production during 1838 to 1840 and prices and wages increased at the same time.
A number of major banks and companies were bankrupted and smaller businesses declared insolvent. However, one feature of the 1840s was the way in which industries that had grown up during the previous decade and which had survived the economic uncertainties consolidated their gains. In addition, several new industries were introduced to the colony during this time, for example sugar refining and gas works. Boiling-down works became a feature of the early 1840s when stock became more economically viable as processed tallow and hides.
Although government control of industrial activity had passed by the 1830s, by the 1840s it was making itself felt in a new way; by means of legislation for example in the control of noxious industries. Import and excise duties also began to be fixed heralding the debate on “protectionism” which was to absorb most economic theorists’ time during the later nineteenth century.
One other factor of this period is important for understanding the development of industrialisation and this was the increasing resentment of the economic dominance of Sydney. Various “country” centres such as Newcastle and Maitland made strong moves to break this monopoly and this began a widespread concern with increased communications systems.
The 1850s saw the beginning of responsible government in New South Wales and this colony’s break with Victoria. Gold rushes brought immense wealth to the country and a massive population rise. Mineral exploitation entrenched this trend. Most of this new population settled in gold bearing areas such as Bathurst and/or established urban centres such as Newcastle and Goulburn. The 1850s also saw the beginning of improved transportation and communications within the colony.
Although labour became more abundant towards the middle of the decade wage rates and raw materials costs remained higher than in pre-gold rush days. In addition the colonies then found themselves as “dumping grounds” for end of season lines from British markets. The industrial market became depressed and large numbers of workers were retrenched. This situation only bettered itself during the later years of the decade and the opening years of the 1860s.
“By mid-century the outlines of industrial development in New South Wales were beginning to take shape. Apart from the production of everyday foodstuffs, clothing and building materials, essays had already been made into relatively capital intensive ventures like sugar refining, gas-making, meat canning, woolen-milling and smelting of iron and copper and into facilities like shipbuilding and repair yards… But events during the 1850s demonstrated that the industrial fabric was quite delicate and could be quickly torn apart…” (17)
A number of factors contributed to the lack of large scale industrial development in St Marys until c.1860. Some of these factors are attributable to local conditions and others related to the general state of industrial and economic development of the colony.
The only industrial development that may be said to have occurred during the early years of this first phase of St Marys development was directly related to the large estates. Small scale brick making and other secondary industrial activity appears to have been practiced for personal convenience. It could not be termed “local industry”.
Until c.1840 the settlement of the area was dominated by a few large estates and these inhibited the growth of independent urban centres. The estates, in a sense, acted as an alternative to these providing all the opportunities of the same. However, they did not create the stimulus or conditions for town development. It may be concluded, therefore, that independent local industries could not succeed until the economic and social dominance of these estates was reduced.
At the same time most industrial activity was located around the major towns of Sydney and Parramatta and to a lesser extent Windsor, Liverpool and other large towns. It could be argued, therefore, that even if the estates had not inhibited the growth of independent urban centres the likelihood of significant industrial development would have been minimal.
After the breakdown of the estate system during the 1840s St Marys emerged as a small roadside village. However, at the same time the state was entering an economic and industrial depression. These conditions combined with a small local population created an unfavourable atmosphere for local industrial development. Similarly the economic problems of the 1850s and 1860s precluded the development of significant local industry; the only known industrial developments of these years appear to be a very few small family enterprises, mainly tanneries.
However, the enactment of legislation with respect to noxious industries during the later 1840s and the increasing “country” resentment of the economic dominance of Sydney which increased agitation for improved communications provided the right climate for industrial growth. During the succeeding phase the upturn in the economic climate and an increased population, both attributable to the gold rushes, provided the right conditions for the development of local industry. The introduction of the railway provided the catalyst for change.
It was not until the introduction of the railway that the catalyst was provided for substantial urban development at St Marys. The railway also provided the impetus for industrial development. This development occurred both to support the railway’s requirements and secondly as a means of providing alternative incomes when traditional sources were threatened.
After the initial expansion provided by the introduction of the railway, development gradually tailed off and during the early years of the twentieth century St Marys entered a period of economic decline. Industrial development slowed and gradually declined. In addition new industrial centres outside the study area posed serious competition for those industries established at St Marys. A local history of the area expressed the mood of the time;
“From 1902 when Botany was declared a Noxious Industries centre, tanneries began moving to that suburb. Thompson and Brell both continued here till after World War I but by then the wattle trees were all gone and tanning operations and high freight costs made the industry uneconomical.
“As motor vehicles became more available and widely used, the wheels and the wagons were no longer required…
“Open fires, fuel stoves and bakers’ ovens were replaced by gas and electric appliances and the saw mills closed. The great trees were gone leaving only scrub behind.
“Industrial development and progress at this time brought only an economic slump and unemployment to the area… From then till World War 11 there was very little progress or prosperity in St Marys.” (18)
It was not until WWII that St Marys again enjoyed an industrial resurgence but of a very different nature from that which had characterised the nineteenth and early twentieth century developments.
In the rest of New South Wales, during the early years of the 1860s, a number of reports were prepared which investigated the state of manufacturing, industry and imports in this state. Some favoured a protectionist policy but this was not upheld by the parliament for some time. Industry continued under the conditions of free trade.
At the same time consumerism was growing and many new products appeared on the market. Increased population created demands for more housing and much private and institutional funding went into the construction industry. The second half of the 1860s saw a great increase in construction; this fell off in the following decade and then dramatically increased during the 1880s (19).
This pattern provided considerable impetus for industries associated with the building trade such as brick making. The changes in housing standards also stimulated many other industries for example furniture, sanitary fittings, domestic appliances and interior decorations.
Massive investment went into pastoral and agricultural activities during the 1860s – 1880s inclusive. Much of this money was spent on property improvements but this in turn stimulated growth in allied industries such as fencing manufacturers and saw-milling firms as well as makers of agricultural implements (20). Mining operations during the same period created great demands for processing equipment.
Increasing government and public service bureaucracies created large demands for items such as stationary, hardware, uniforms and boo s thereby providing capital stimulus for industries such as tanning, textiles and paper milling (21). The expanding communications systems such as the railway required a large input from the local foundaries and other metallurgical industries. Increasing urbanisation created demands for such items as water pipes.
At the same time as the stimulus was being provided within the colony for industrial expansion overseas markets were becoming available to take exports from the colony. Britain, for example, took large quantities of preserved meat. In particular New South Wales exported significant amounts of tin and copper.
Industrial employment expanded quite rapidly during the 1860s and then continued at a slow but steady rate until 1874. It quickened again until 1885 but then stagnated from 1885 to 1887. A modest recovery peaked in 1890 but was then stifled by the depression of the 1890s (22). At the same time mechanisation began to play an increasingly important role in industrial development and practices. To finance the latter manufacturing companies and corporations began to assume a higher profile.
The influence of the rail had created industrial markets in many outer urban and country areas and by the 1880s increasingly suspicious attitudes had begun to develop in these areas with respect to the role played by businessmen and politicians in Sydney. This culminated in the formation of “decentralisation leagues” aimed at breaking this monopoly (23). The leagues achieved some gains but it was generally recognized that workers would continue to gravitate to the major urban centres thereby entrenching the dominance of those areas.
“The first hundred or so years of European settlement in Australia can be summarised as being a period of ‘industrial awakening’ … The years 1889 and 1890 marked the end of a period of rapid industrial growth and formed a turning point in several other respects. Public companies with multiple branches were beginning to play a more significant role; governments were taking initial steps to expand exports by organising and subsidising certain processing industries; overseas investors were becoming interested in the potential offered by meat processing, timber-milling and other activities; the community was demanding effective legislation to improve working conditions…; employee apd employer groups were being formalised… new technology was emerging… and the climate of opinion in New South Wales was moving towards the acceptance of protection… In short, by the end of this period, the ‘colonial’ era of manufacturing was being replaced by some of the trappings of a modern industrial society… Spatially, too, the later 1880s saw the emergence of new forces: capital city firms were becoming more directly involved in non-metropolitan industry; ‘decentralisation’ had appeared as a live issue in country areas; manufacturers were beginning to seek sites in the outer suburbs of the larger centres..” (24).
By the 1890s, however, the debit side of this massive development became apparent. The intensive development had been largely achieved by a huge input of British capital. Colonial indebtedness could be carried while overseas prices held and Australian production increased with investment.
However, between 1886 and 1890 much foreign capital went into speculative, non-productive enterprises. At the same time overseas prices for Australian staples began to sag in 1886 and slumped after 1890 while labour troubles increased. The abrupt collapse of Australian credit in London in 1892 brought the boom to an end and many banks crashed (25). A series of industrial strikes between 1890 and 1894 created further tension in the situation.
The effects of the depression were, among others, to create a large body of political and economic thinkers who believed that the future of the country lay in federation. During 1897- 1898 a constitution was drawn up. In 1901 federation was achieved.
During the early years of this century tariff protection was introduced into Australian industry. The motives of the first tariff were as much to protect native industry as to raise revenue. A second tariff was designed promote regular employment, furnish security for investment, render stable conditions of labour and ensure a standard of living (26).’ Wage arbitration was introduced in 1903.
In 1914 Australia entered WWI and the economy was geared to this development. The effects of the economic changes wrought at this time were to greatly increase the role of the state in economic life and the power of the commonwealth in relation to the states. Prices were fixed and marketing became state controlled. The war speeded up the development of secondary industries. For example, as the war increased, the demands for foodstuffs, clothing, boots, weapons etc (27) created the conditions for significant growth rates. In 1918 the war ended and a new period of economic development was begun.
The first phase of industrialisation at St Marys is directly attributable to the impact produced by the introduction of the rail. Some industries, such as saw milling were created to service the system others, such as tanning, took advantage of the newly available Sydney markets. The railway, however, only provided the catalyst for change. The improved economic conditions and the demands created by increased population and expanding urbanisation created the climate for industrial development.
The development of industry at St Marys during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reflected the greater economic trends of the state. The depression of the 1890s removed some industries and caused others to restructure to survive the economic difficulties. The war years provided a capital injection into the surviving industries but the major social and economic changes that occurred after the war inevitably meant the end of the nineteenth century industrial tradition in this area.
In addition the severe and shortsighted exploitation of the natural resources during the nineteenth century ensured that the raw materials for the industries were exhausted by the 1870s.
The latter was a problem of both state and national significance. All industrial development of the nineteenth century relied heavily on local resources, however, there were few attempts to conserve and replace these materials for long term use. Even pastoralism had created serious environmental problems through soil erosion caused by over-grazing. Conservation of natural resources was not to be part of economic theory for some time.
By 1918, therefore, the altered economic climate, changed social and political conditions and the depletion of local raw materials combined to stifle the nineteenth century industrial tradition at St Marys. It was not until WWII that conditions again became favourable to create a new industrial tradition in the district. This was a result of the impetus provided by the war economy. However, the new industrialisation was of a very different type and Organisation than that which had preceded it.
The documentary evidence for the industrial traditions of St Marys prior to 1914 presents a picture of a small rural town which developed as the centre of a number of local industries, some of which were highly successful. From its tentative beginnings as a roadside village in the 1840s the town reached a peak in its development in the 1880s and 90s, and this pattern of urban growth was largely promoted and supported by the development of its industrial sector.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this was followed by a period of stability, but it was during this time that a number of significant problems associated with the management of the local industries began to emerge. The major difficulties were related to the high cost of transporting goods to and from the markets in Sydney (the tanning and timber industries); the dwindling local supplies of timber (the sawmills); and the impact of new technology in the form of motor transport (the coach and waggon works). Some of the tanners moved to new areas during this period (eg. Herford, 1891; Hamilton, 1901; and Anschau, 1911), but most of the proprietors had strong links with the district and continued to operate from their original sites.
Over the next thirty years most of the men who had been responsible for the development of successful industries during the late nineteenth century reached retirement age or died, and in most cases their industrial sites closed down soon after (eg. Andrew Thompson, c.1915, George Bennett, 1920; Martin Brell, 1934). By the end of the Second World War all of the tanneries in St Marys had closed (although one continued to operate at nearby Kingswood until 1958), as had the saw-mills and cattle saleyards. Of the early industrial sites within St Marys only James Bennett’s works were still open and these were reduced to undertaking general repairs, no waggons being built after 1934.
During the Second World War a new period of growth and expansion commenced with the establishment of a large munitions depot on the northern side of the railway line. Three and a half thousand people were employed on this site and high levels of employment continued with the its occupation by private industrial firms during the post war years.
The residential development associated with this new industrial estate rapidly changed the character of the town and most of the remaining buildings associated with the early industries were demolished at this time. The town centre moved from the Great Western Highway to Queen Street and during the last twenty years many of the public buildings associated with the consolidation of St Marys in the late nineteenth century have been demolished as part of general re-development and road-widening programmes.
As outlined in Part Three of Appendix E this pattern reflects the broader industrial and economic patterns of New South Wales during these periods. The enactment of legislation with regard to noxious industries during the late 1840s and the increasing “country” resentment of the economic dominance of Sydney provided the right climate for the tenative industrial growth experienced by St Marys in the mid-nineteenth century. During the second half of the century the upturn in the general economic climate and an increased population, both attributable to the gold rushes, provided the right conditions for the continued development of these industries. At St Marys, the introduction of the railway in the early 1860s provided a major catalyst for change.
Throughout New South Wales industrial employment expanded quite rapidly during the 1860s and then continued at a slow but steady rate until 1874. It quickened again in 1885, but then stagnated from 1885 to 1887. A modest recovery peaked in 1890, but was then stifled by the depression of the 1890s. At the same time increasing mechanisation began to play an important role in industrial development and practices. By 1918 the altered economic climate, changed social and political conditions and the depletion of local raw materials had combined to stifle the industrial tradition at St Marys.
The only major deviation from this pattern was the ability of the town’s two largest tannery owners, Andrew Thompson and Martin Brell, to not only survive the economic depression of the 1890s, but to enter a significant phase of growth and consolidation. Both had maintained direct control over their yards and their steady success and careful management provided an economic buffer against the general climate of depression.
During its first phase of industrial development St Marys had seven industrial traditions – tanneries, sawmills, coach and waggon works, brickyards, cattle saleyards, pulp and canning factories and, very briefly, wool-washing. Of these only two, the tanneries and the pulp and canning factories are known to retain physical evidence of their development as standing structures and/or significant archaeological features. Although related to the development of St Marys the site of the pulp and canning works is outside of the study area defined for this report.
Two other industries, the coach and waggon works and the cattle yards may have left some stratigraphic evidence, but this is likely to have been disturbed to some considerable degree. One brick-making site may contain valuable archaeological evidence but, at the time of investigation, there was insufficient data to make an informed decision with respect to the archaeological potential of this site.
The few remaining structures which are known to have been directly associated with the development of St Marys as an industrial centre (eg. houses and an outbuilding on the site of Page’s Tannery; the receiving shed, pits and cottage on the site of Thompson’s Tannery; Thompson’s house, ‘Mimosa’; Martin Brell’s house, ‘Four Winds’; James Bennett’s house, ‘Bronte’; and the various examples of small workingmen’s houses) are a particularly valuable part of the area’s history.
Assessment of Significance
The significance of all of the identified industrial sites must be considered at a number of levels.
The early industrial traditions of St Marys played an important role in establishing the town and providing an economic resource for its development. This was the only town within the present City of Penrith which developed a strong industrial base, although Penrith itself certainly included some examples of tanneries and brick works. If the history and development of St Marys is to be successfully and accurately interpreted then the known industrial sites must assume a significance by association, even if they have been redeveloped and show no visible signs of their past use.
These sites may be used to demonstrate the history of the town in a number of ways.
Firstly they can be used to demonstrate the way in which the industry helped to shape the development of the town. For example, the patterns of early housing which are associated with the industrial sites.
Secondly, they may be used to show how elements in the town helped to attract and influence industrial development. For example, the tanneries relied on the availability of large quantities of water, but because of the flood-prone nature of the land along South Creek most were located just beyond the flats. They relied instead on the prevalence of underground springs and/or used windmills to draw water from the Creek. Similarly the location of the sawmills helps to illustrate the importance of the railway in the development of the town.
By association these sites also help to illustrate the role of a small number of men in providing employment for the majority – either directly or by their contribution to the economic stability of the town. A decline in the major industries was quickly reflected in a decline in the fortunes of the town as a whole.
While the significance of the industrial sites at St Marys is largely related to their important role in the development of the town during the second half of the nineteenth century some were also important within the broader state context as major or renowned sites of their type. For example Thompson’s ‘St Marys Tannery’ was a major establishment which, in 1904, boasted the largest tanning sheds in New South Wales, while the Bennett coach and waggon works achieved national renown for their production of sturdy table-top wagons.
In addition to significance by association some of the former industrial sites are also significant because of the research value they contain in the potential extant archaeological remains. This is particuarly true of the tanneries.
Industrial archaeology is a relatively new study in Australia and considerable research is still required to determine how various industries functioned and adapted in the colony. In particular, regional variations of the industries have not been widely investigated to this time.
Therefore, while in most cases more extensive extant sites can be found elsewhere in the state, the industrial archaeological resource at St Marys is valuable because of the potential that exists to explore regional variations.
The three major tannery sites which have been assessed during this investigation to contain significant potential archaeological remains (ie. Page’s, Brell’s and Thompson’s) offer an important opportunity to investigate questions of form, function and variation which have not been explored to date. It is evident from the locations of these sites that regional variations did occur. The same potential may exist for Mr Mitchell’s brickyard if this is found to retain significant archaeological remains.
It may therefore be concluded that the significance of the industrial sites at St Marys is primarily local and regional in scope. All of the identified sites are significant by association with important developments and important people within the town’s history. They demonstrate ways in which the townscape evolved and how the location of the town could create unique local variations in established industrial practices. In addition, a few sites are significant because of the inherent scientific research potential.
1. Quoted in Birmingham, J. et al. Industrial Archaeology in Australia: Rural Technology., 15
2. Birmingham, J. et al. Australian Pioneer Technology., 7
3. Quoted in Proudfoot, H. “Thematic Development History”, Section 4, in Fox and Associates “Heritage Study of Penrith”
4. Birmingham, J et al. Industrial Archaeology in Australia: Rural industry., 7
5. Greenwood, G. Australian Social and Political History.,30
6. Linge, G.J.R. Industrial Awakening., 46
7. Quoted in Thorp, W. Non-Institutional Convict Sites: A Study on Work Gang Accomodation., 149
8. Linge, G.J.R. Op Cit., 80
9. Ibid., 81
10. Ibid., 82
11. Ibid., 82-3
12. Cf Thorp, W. Op Cit., Section 7.2.1
13. Lings, G.J.R. Op Cit., 85
14. Ibid., 108
16. Ibid., 92
17. Ibid., 407
18. Stapleton, E. South Creek – St Marys From Village to City., 12 – 13
19. Lings, G.J.R. Op Cit., 417
20. Ibid., 418- 419
21. Ibid., 426
22. Ibid., 467
23. Ibid., 575
24. Ibid., 717- 719
25. Greenwood, G. Op Cit., 142
26. Clark, M. A Short History of Australia., 177
27. Ibid., 185