Coward, William

William Gratus Coward, born in 1857, and his wife Jane (née Crossing) lived in Strathfield until 1890 when they moved to Beecroft and lived in a weatherboard cottage, ‘Beresleigh’, in Hannah St.[1] Coward, an architect, was at once involved in civic affairs, being a foundation member of the Beecroft Progress Association, and its President in 1892 when that body was in trouble over two local issues; the Copeland Road-Hannah Street priority road question, and the proposed establishment of a slaughterhouse nearby. Opposing this latter proposal, Coward stated that he had left Strathfield because of ‘a nuisance from a boiling down plant two miles away’ and that he had come to Beecroft for its ‘pure air’. On behalf of the residents he protested that they relied on Devlins Creek – near the proposed works – for clean water. The slaughterhouse licence was refused.[2]

In 1890 William Coward was a member of the small group who planned and built St John’s Church, he being its first Treasurer and co-trustee of the land as well as being architect of the building. He was also a trustee of a 25 acre park and recreation reserve set aside in Beecroft in 1894.[3]

William and Jane, who were married in 1885, had three sons, William (born in 1886), Harry (born in 1888) and Edwin (born in 1891).

In November 1894 William Coward died after being horribly burnt in a railway accident at Redfern station. The suburban train from Strathfield, carrying Beecroft residents, was slowing down to stop when the heavy engine of a train from Goulburn ran into it, destroying the lightweight train engine and the first-class carriage behind. Steam from the damaged engine filled the carriage where the unfortunate passengers were effectively imprisoned because of steel bars on the windows.[4]

The shocked Beecroft  people talked at once of a memorial to the memory of William Coward and within two months a tablet was set into the wall of St John’s Church in a position above where he and his family customarily sat. A proposal to create a Memorial Park, on the corner of Beecroft Parade and The Crescent, with a memorial to William Coward within it, had to be dropped when the Department of Lands refused to dedicate the land.[5]

Mrs Jane Coward and her three young sons went to live in the Mudgee district with relatives after the death of her husband. In 1896 she gave to St John’s Church in Beecroft an especially ordered inscribed lectern from England, as a memorial to her husband.[6]

 [1] ‘Beresleigh’,
51 Hannah Street, was sold to developers in October 1995 to build townhouses.

[2] Cumberland Argus, 30 July 1892.

[3] Land Titles Office 899/57, Cumberland Argus, 14 February 1891, 3 February 1894

 [4] Michael Jones, Oasis in the West – Strathfield’s First One Hundred Years, North Sydney, 1985, p. 46.

[5] Cumberland Argus, 29 February 1896.

[6] Cumberland Argus, 20 May 1896.