Grantley Fitzhardinge was born in Waverley, Sydney, in 1845, fourth son of William George
Fitzhardinge who had come to Australia with his family in 1838. The family lived in a house on the waterfront at Balmain where the boys came to have a great love of the harbour; they rowed their father to his city office and themselves to school. Grantley attended St Philip’s Grammar School, St James’ Grammar School and Sydney Grammar School.
In 1867 Grantley graduated in law from Sydney University and by the age of 45 had risen to be a
District Court Judge. At times he acted as a judge in the Supreme Court. Much of his time was spent on country circuits. Frequently ‘he had either to ride, with a pack horse behind, or drive in a sulky to keep his circuit engagements over long stretches of primitive country. On one occasion, after an eventful journey, he took his seat in Court in his riding breeches at 10 a.m. to open the Court. He then adjourned proceedings for about half an hour so that he could have a ‘brush up’.
In 1876 Grantley married Julia Yeomans who was from a pioneer farming family on the Hawkesbury River. They had a daughter Julie and two sons, John and Richard, born between 1884 and 1888. It was their custom to take their summer holidays in the Blue Mountains but the appeal of Beecroft with its high altitude and bush surrounds led Grantley – or ‘the judge’ – as he came to be known, to purchase 4½ acres of the highest land in the new suburb at Red Hill in 1893.
Further purchases of adjoining land enlarged the property to 13 acres. Here in 1894 the young
architect Herbert Ross designed a summer holiday home for the family and their two live-in servants. It was plain in style, deliberately following the tradition of the English ‘Arts and Crafts’ movement, a return to simple and individual handcrafted furniture and interiors. The wallpapers were the colourful and heavily flowered designs of William Morris, and floors were laid with linoleum and not carpeted. The house was named ‘Red Hill’ after the site.
Fitzhardinge soon decided to live permanently at Beecroft and Ross was commissioned to enclose the upper south-western veranda – which would have been exposed to cold winter winds – for a schoolroom and governess’s room. He also designed a greenhouse and a tennis court. Gardens with plantings of Australian trees were laid out in terraces down the sloping ground to the lower level near Albert Road where there were orchards, poultry runs and paddocks for the horses which the family including the grandchildren loved.
The Fitzhardinges did not take a leading part in Beecroft life because of the judge’s lengthy absences; when at home he spent time with his family. His boyhood interest in rowing and sailing never diminished. His yacht ‘Mia Mia’ proudly sailed the pennant A1 to denote its being the first in the register of the Sydney Amateur Yacht Club, and family, friends and grandchildren sailed around the harbour in it all year round. A story circulating in the courts told of the judge’s tipstaff
having standing orders to place a big law book on His Honour’s cushioned chair because the judge was used to sitting on the gunwale and disliked sitting on a cushion.
The judge retired in 1917 at the age of 72 years, and continued to sail until failing eyesight
forced him to give it up at 90. He liked his gardens at ‘Red Hill’ and the story was told
‘he potters around in old clothes and has one answer for the tramps who take him for the gardener: “the boss is a holy terror”, he says, “but he'll give you a job if you’re looking for work”. They never are’.
Mrs Julia Fitzhardinge died in 1926 and Julie looked after her father until his death at the age of 94 in 1939.