by Cathy Jones
The Mount St Mary’s Campus of the Australian Catholic University is located on the site of the former Mount Royal residence built in 1887 for John Hinchcliff. Not only are the buildings historically significant but they also display the work of two very prominent late 19th and early 20th century architects: Harry Chambers Kent and John Hennessy.
The land now known as the Mount Saint Mary Campus of the Australian Catholic University formed part of a glebe belonging to the St James Church of England in 1823. The glebe rights were transferred back to the Crown in 1827 and northern part of 256 acres was regranted in 1841 to Joseph Hyde Potts, Secretary of the Bank of New South Wales. The glebe rights were transferred to a location closer to Sydney, establishing the inner west suburb of Glebe. An Act of NSW Parliament [Bates Estate Act 1881] was required to permit sell, lease or mortgage of this estate and under this authority, the 256 acres were subdivided by the Trustees and 30 acres were sold in 1884 to William Von der Heyde and George Todman, tobacco merchants, for £4500. Heyde and Todman resided on Albert Road [at ‘Milroy’ and ‘Elwood House’ neighbouring properties which are now the site of Strathfield Girls High]. William Von der Heyde served as an Alderman on Strathfield Council and was Mayor of Strathfield [1887-89].
Todman and Heyde then sold in July 1886, a block comprising 3 acres 29 perches to Messrs A. Thomson, F.L. Barker and John Hinchcliff, all of Sydney, as joint tenants, who were in due course registered as the proprietors. Barker and Hinchcliff were woolbrokers. It was their intention to erect a large country mansion on this property.
This residence, called Mount Royal, was designed by Harry Chambers Kent and built in 1887[i], for John Hinchcliff of A. Hinchcliff & Sons, woolbrokers and Mayor of Strathfield [1890, 1892]. Finance for the land and mansion appears to been provided by Laura Ann Hinchcliff, wife of John[ii]. The firm’s business was located at 5-7 Young St Sydney, now the Marist Chapel and International School near Circular Quay. The original lettering ‘Hinchcliff’ is still marked on the building and the property is considered a State significant heritage property and is classified by National Trust and City of Sydney Council.[iii]
In the course of time, with the decease of the other joint proprietors, the ownership of Mount Royal passed into the possession of the Hinchcliff family. In 1895, John Hinchcliff himself died at Mount Royal, heavily in debt, despite his £30,000 interest in his father Andrew’s woolbroking business. In the process of settling Hinchcliff’s affairs, the ownership of Mt Royal passed into the hands of his son and his father-in-law Henry Griffits. However, the family moved from Mount Royal and made attempts to sell or lease the property with varying success until the sale of the property in 1907 to the Christian Brothers.
In 1896, W. Stewart Page moved his college, which he named Mount Royal College[iv], into the mansion from The Priory, Burwood Road, Burwood but by 1899 it was again vacant. During 1903 to 1904, ‘Mount Royal’ was the home of the Rt. Hon. Sir George Houston Reid, Premier of New South Wales [1894-1899], Prime Minister of Australia [1904-05] and Member for Westminster [British House of Commons]. On becoming Prime Minister, he left ‘Mount Royal’ to live in Melbourne, which was, at that time, the seat of Federal Government. The property again became vacant and given the concerns by members of Strathfield about Mount Royal’s potential for dereliction and deterioration, some Alderman unsuccessfully urged that Council acquire the property as a public park. As Jones notes in ‘Oasis in the West’ , concerns that Strathfield Municipality did not contain any public parks or recreation areas were first raised at Council in 1899 by the Town Clerk and it continued to be an issue for many years, however there was no resolution of this problem until the acquisition of Strathfield Park in 1914[v].
The Christian Brothers acquired ‘Mount Royal’ from Griffits and the Hinchcliff’s on 20 December 1907 for the price of £7428 and it became the centre of the Christian Brothers Congregation for the whole of Australia and New Zealand. Over time, the Brothers also acquired two additional adjoining properties ‘Ovalau’ and ‘Andross’ bringing the total site to 10 acres. ‘Ardross’ was built for Mr Robert Phillips and destroyed by fire in 1961 and ‘Ovalau’, built for the Morgan family of New Zealand, was demolished to make way for the St Edmond’s Building in 1961. There is a photo held by the Strathfield District Historical Society, which shows the three properties, ‘Mount Royal’, ‘Ovalau’ and ‘Ardross’ [copy is reproduced on pages 94 to 95 of ‘Oasis in the West’]
After acquisition by the Christian Brothers, significant alterations and additions commenced at Mount Royal. It was at this stage that John Hennessy [1853-1924], a prominent architect, began a long association with Mount Royal. Hennessy designed the Frazer fountain in Hyde Park , the Centennial Hall extensions to the Sydney Town Hall , Hordern Brothers Drapery Store  and City Tatterstall’s Club in Pitt St [vi]. However, Hennessy’s most enduring works are the many Catholic buildings he designed with partnership with Joseph Sheerin [1884-1912] and with his son at Hennessy, Hennessy, & Co [1912-23]. Hennessy, a devout Catholic and a close friend of Cardinal Moran, designed the 1894 Santa Sabina building, St Patrick’s College Manly, St Joseph’s College Hunter’s Hill, St Vincent’s College at Potts Point  [vii]. Hennessy lived at Burwood for forty years, serving as an Alderman [1890-1895] and Mayor of Burwood [1892-93] and designed the Burwood Council Chambers .
Hennessy was the architect on the following series of alterations and additions to Mount Royal starting with the addition in 1908 of a transverse wing of two storeys ending in a Gothic Chapel was erected at the end of the ballroom wing to replace a large conservatory. In 1912, the roof of the ballroom was raised and a second storey built up to meet it; new columns being added to the ground floor verandah. The side billiard room was also extended and made into two stories.
The Barron Memorial Chapel was built in 1925 and dedicated to Brother Patrick Jerome Barron. The dedication reads:
This Chapel was erected by the Christian Brothers of Australia and New Zealand to commemorate the golden jubilee of Brother Patrick Jerome Barron, Provincial 1902-05, 1927-30 and was blessed by Most. Rev. Michael Kelly, Archbishop of Sydney 8th September 1925’.
The Barron Memorial Chapel, belltower and arcade won for Hennessy’s firm of Hennessy, Hennessy, Kessing & Co. the Master Archtiect’s Gold Medal in the Turin Exhibition of 1923 The Chapel was built by Kell & Rigby.
In the 1930s, a classroom block also designed by Hennessy’s firm was built to match the Barron Memorial Chapel and the arcade was extended to incorporate the building.
On 7 January 1993, the Christian Brothers sold 5.8 hectares of the property to the Diocese of Sydney, who hold the property in trust on behalf of the Australian Catholic University.
Brother A. I. Keenan, ‘Mount Royal’, Strathfield District Historical Society [SDHS] vol.3 no.2, September 1980
Howells, T. & O’Donnell, M., ‘Survey of Warehouses and Woolstores within the City of Sydney’, City of Sydney Council, 1997.
Howard, R., ‘John Hennessy’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1891-1939.
Jones, M., ‘Oasis in the West’, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1985.
Malcolm, C. S., ‘Joseph Hyde Potts’ Crown Grant – A sidelight’, SDHS vol. 3 no. 4, Nov-Dec 1980.
National Trust of Australia Classification Listing of ‘Mount Royal’ 
Sydney Morning Herald, November 20, 1886 [Tender Notices]
[i] SMH 20/11/1886 Notice in Tenders section: ‘TO BUILDERS. Tenders invited until 1st December for the Erection of first-class RESIDENCE and STABLES, at Homebush, for J. Hinchcliff, Esq. For plans, specifications, &c, apply to HARRY C. KENT, Architect. Bell’s-chambers, Pitt-street’
[ii] National Trust of Australia Mount Royal classification 1980
[iii] Survey of Warehouses and Woolstores within the City of Sydney 1997 pps 79-83
[iv] Sands Sydney Directory 1897
[v] Jones, p105 . Strathfield Park is crown land and was offered to Strathfield Council by NSW Government.
[vi] Australian Dictionary of Biography
[vii] Emilsen, page 20
© Cathy Jones 2006. This article is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced without permission of the author.
I have a coloured brochure of The Christian Brothers of Mount St Mary Strathfield that belonged to my mother. I would like to donate it, and was wondering if your organisation would be interested. Regards Helen Nilsson
Helen. That would be wonderful. Happy to scan it if you wish to keep the original but would be interested. Regards, Cathy