Judge Josephson’s Land

Written by Reg Kennedy 1988 and first published in SDHS Newsletter Vol. 10 May, 1988 No. 9

The large part of Strathfield lying to the west of present day Chalmers Road, north of Liverpool Road, reaching on the west to Rookwood Cemetery [about] and bounded in the earliest colonial times by the road to Parramatta, was dedicated in about 1800 as a glebe land for the sustenance of the Church of St. James, King Street, Sydney. In 1823 the British Home Office issued a Church and School Act under which Macquarie was required to withdraw the grant. He seems not to have done this because a wonderful old map of 1832 [in the possession of our good friend Ken Tie] shows this whole area marked as “The Glebe”.

Later on, right up to the late nineteenth century, it was known as “Judge Josephson’s Land”. He seems not to have done anything with it. It was then a fairly unusable stretch of scrub land not having even the commercial prospects attributed to the Redmire Estate of 1854 which was put up for sale by Rosetta Terry’s trustees, unsuccessfully, as a source of profitable timber harvesting.

Many older people of the present time will refer to this area as having been known in their youth as Potts’ Paddock. The fact that at this time also the western end of Albyn Road was called Bushy Hill Street clearly refers to the above description of the sort of area it was. There also come from the Josephson period all those tales of all sorts of illegal happenings there such as the active operation there of illegal stills and its use as a refuge for horse thieves who secreted their ill-gotten prizes there until a reward was offered.

After that came the modern development by land-speculator-builders, two of whom have left their names on at least two of the principal thoroughfares [Newton Road and Barker Road], and a great many quite beautiful modern homes. They were, most of them, very well built and costly buildings and have certainly every bit of this original eminence and attraction to the present day.

So far as the history of Strathfield is concerned, it would have to be said probably that there is such a wealth of it arising from the more central area of the suburb that no one has been able to add any more than the foregoing brief outline to this westerly part, now an important part of the Municipality. It must be confessed that we have not gone much beyond a mention such as ho-hum, the glebe land, Josephson, Potts, and leave it at that.

In very recent times, I for one have been confronted so many times by ‘Judge Josephson’ that I have been drawn into something like a Judge Josephson whirlpool and I had to get to know about it.

Here is how it all began.

During 1986 we did some research at the request of a resident of the Lake Illawarra area who was trying to trace an ancestor who had, she believed, been the licensee of an inn on the Liverpool Road which had been colloquially known as the “Bark Huts”. Our Newsletter story of November 186 was based on some of the results of this enquiry which over all did not produce a great deal of information about the ancestor. In the course of this research, our enquirer kindly sent us a photo copy of a sketch map [of undisclosed origin] which, very interestingly, showed a road leading north westerly from Liverpool Road right up to Parramatta Road. It was inscribed on that map as Josephson’s Road. It went in a straight line from almost opposite the old hotel. Both the presumed site of the hotel were shown on the right, or west, bank of the Cook’s River and the course of Josephson’s Road keeps right on just to the east of Rookwood Cemetery.

I have since discussed this with two different people who lived nearby about sixty years ago. Both remember the old hotel and both said that it had been commonly referred to as “the blood house”. It is not unusual for an out—of-the—way pub to have such a nickname where there might be some human bloodshed from alcoholic brawling now and then. But no, my informants say, it was because after the removal of the Abattoirs from Glebe Island to Homebush early in the present century, slaughtermen on their way home drank there with blood on their working clothes. It is certain that more hygienic regulations now apply to home-going slaughtermen, and the attachment of this explanation may indeed be unfounded. One thing is undoubted….Josephson’s Road as shown on the abovementioned sketch map is a straight line from the Abattoirs to the Royal Hotel facing Liverpool Road. The pub was demolished in about 1950; it had been de—licensed for some time before that and there is of course no trace of the old road, which was no more than a rudimentary track, but if you could walk it today it would be a direct line across the countryside and not even a long way either.

More recently a member has given me a photo copy of what seems to have been a magazine article by Will Carter and titled “Cobb and CO’s Oldest Driver, Richard Palmer”. It covers nine closely typed foolscap pages and is of more general than local interest and so not suitable for reproduction here. Moreover, it ma be covered by Will Carter’s or the original publisher’s copyright.

It is a very interesting tale indeed. It consists of Richard Palmer’s reminiscences of a long lifetime of service. Part of it is of relevance to our local history and is in part used here for that reason only in paraphrase and a brief direct quotation with due and grateful acknowledgement to its author. Palmer’s over all chronology is a bit hard to follow but he seems to have told his life story to Will Carter in the 1950s when Palmer was in his 94th year. The following extract lies well within this period.

The coach driven by Palmer was held up on the Bathurst-Trunkey Creek stage by the notorious bushranger Stapleton who had a young accoin1ice named Rose and there was a third man, McGrath, whose part in the robbery was to hold the bushrangers’ horses while Stapleton caused the coach to be driven about a quarter mile into the bush beside the road where it was ransacked and then set free. It did not turn out to be a remunerative haul. Most of the passengers were women going to the diggings at Trunkey; there was no gold on board, and one male passenger who was carrying a large amount managed to slip this unobserved to the driver, Palmer, who put it into an inside pocket of his greatcoat while pretending to scratch his head. Stapleton and Rose were caught a little later and Palmer was called to attend their trial as a Crown Witness to identify the two accused and give his own account of the event.

Here is Richard Palmer’s own account of the trial and its aftermath:

“I well remember the day when he got his hearing and was committed for trial. Of course I was a witness for the Crown and when they asked Stapleton whether he wanted to ask me any questions he declined but afterwards changed his mind and I was brought back into Court. The police had secured a pair of Bedford—cord trousers at some of his haunts that were produced in court. Of course he denied that they were his property. “How”, he said to me, “can you swear that you saw one of the men wearing these breeches the day the coach was robbed?” “Of course I can,” said I.” How can you recognise them?” “I can tell by the material and by the patch on the knee.” “And who was wearing them?” “Why, you were of course. I can tell you by your flash Sydney talk”. When they got on to the trial of Rose they arrested him at Windsor where his home was and he turned Queen’s evidence and the two were committed for trial. I was sorry for Rose as I had gone to school with his mother at St. Albans years before and I know she was a good woman and that the youngster had been led astray by men of bad character like Stapleton. By and bye the trial came off and Stapleton got ten years and Rose seven and the funny part was that McGrath, the third member of the gang who was holding the horses in the bush the day the coach was robbed was right in the court room listening to the evidence when his two mates were being tried. The police got wind of it. He was arrested and tried later on and got ten years. I forgot to say that both Stapleton and Rose pleaded guilty and Rose got three years off for giving information in the first place, but I got his sentence reduced to two years, and this is how I got to do that. It was Judge Josephson who tried the men and he happened to be on the box with me going back after the Sessions. I told him I was sorry Rose had got such a heavy sentence. The Judge and I had been having a good deal of talk one way and another in his travels.  He seemed to take a good deal of notice of what I told him. “Why do you think his sentence was too heavy?” he asked. “Well, I used to go to school with his old mother when we both lived at St. Albans on the Macdonald River and a better woman don’t breathe than she is, and the lad got led astray, and after all is said and done he helped the police when it came to the search.’ The Judge didn’t say anything at the time but soon afterwards the news came that Rose’s sentence had been reduced to two years.”

End of quote from Dick Palmer. O judge! O merciful judge?

Now a little light on the career of Judge Joshua Josephson.

He had a long, variable and amazing career. His entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography runs to over one and a half columns of tightly packed information and I hope at least seine of those who read this article will hurry off and read about him in that work. For those who do not, I can only give a condensed synopsis.

When Joshua Josephson was only two years old his father Jacob, a jeweler, was transported for fourteen years for possession of forged £1 bank notes. Some years later the mother and her son travelled to Sydney to re-unite the family. The ‘boy was an accomplished pianist, flautist and violinist and gave music lessons. He married a sixteen year old music pupil. Her sister married John Robertson who became Premier of N.S.W. He lived at Enmore House which he inherited on the death of his father.

A successful career in the Law began when he took articles, was admitted as a solicitor and was then called to the N.S.W. Bar. He travelled to London, entered Lincoln’s Inn and was admitted to the English Bar. Returning to N.S.W. he was appointed a District Court Judge and Chairman of Quarter Sessions, with extensive service at Mudgee and Wellington and the western area.

At other periods of his life he pursued a successful business career and was closely associated with Thomas Sutcliffe Mort and other leaders of industry. He made large investments in pastoral properties and in both city and urban land. He served as a director of important companies including the Australian Joint Stock Bank, railways and docks in the Hunter region.

Among his many other public activities he was a Mayor of Sydney, a member of the N.S.W. Legislative Assembly, a founder of St. Paul’s College within the University of Sydney, a commissioner of the Paris exhibition of 1867 and a land titles commissioner under the Real Property Act. While visiting London he also travelled to Italy where he collected a number of valuable works of art which were installed in his home. When Enmore House was sold and demolished in 1883, he built a large home at Bellevue Hill which has since become part of the Scots College. His statuary and sculptures were left to the National Art Gallery of N.S.W.

He died in 1892 and was buried in Rookwood Cemetery, not far from what had once been the Josephson Estate. A lifelong association with the Church of England began when he was born the son of a Jewish Christian, as a youth he was honorary organist in St. Peter’s Church, Cooks River and this was the faith in which he died.


  1. Would anyine know about the House “Melrose” in Ashfield I believe this was owned by the Josephson family My fathers mother was the first wife of Sydney Arther Josephson , Ada Scott Nee Carr she is buried in Waverley Cemt with her son William Melrose King (Scott) I have several photos of the house in Alt Street
    Thank You David King


  2. David King, I am interested in your note above re Melrose House, Ashfield. I could not find a reference to it while trying to find more about my grandfather’s employment as head Gardner there after he came back from his Bathurst farm. He mentioned at some stage that the family that brought Caterpillar tractors to Australia, was the owner. This lead to the info above about Judge Josephson’s involvement with the development of Strathfield. My dad and mum built our house at 19 South st ( south of Barker road). I have a photo that shows the house with no other houses in sight and well before neighbours built. Our house was just south of Nigel Love’s place..
    Most of the land west of South st was tee-tree scrub where we played.
    Regards Roland Churches
    Beecroft 2119
    Roland.churches@ Gmail.com


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