Sargent, George & Charlotte

George and Charlotte Sargent.

George Sargent (1859-1921), was born in Birmingham, England, to James Sergeant a Warwickshire grocer and his wife Ann (nee Coates). George was one of 5 pastrycook Sergeant brothers to migrate to Australia. In 1883 in Sydney he married Australian-born Charlotte Foster (1856-1924), aged 27, who had been born on 28 May 1856 to Thomas Foster, a coachman, and his wife Sarah (nee Thornber). Charlotte had a son born out of wedlock whom she named Henry Hartley (later known as Foster Henry Hartley Sargent) and who was five years old when she married George Sargent. There were no children of George and Charlotte’s marriage and Henry was brought up as their own son. They later adopted a daughter.

After their marriage, George changed all of their surnames to “Sargent.”

Before her marriage Charlotte had worked as manager of a confectionery shop and with George’s experience as foreman of a city bakery they began a shared lifelong work in the bakery and catering trade. Their first bakery shop in 1886 and 1887 was at 64 Glebe Street Glebe. By 1889 they had moved to Surry Hills where, with winnings from a Tattersall’s sweep, they purchased a bakery. They were successful in winning the contract to supply bread to the Innes string of coffee houses. The strain of meeting this new demand took its toll on George’s health and they had to sell after only 2 years when George became ill – but at 13 times what they had paid for it.

After six months, and with personal funds shrinking they opened a new shop at 390 Oxford Street, Paddington, where George began making small meat pies as well as pasties. According to local legend, George was at this time (early 1890s) pushing a hand pie cart around the city streets and was persuaded by his friend Samuel Oxley of Pennant Hills to try the latter’s newly developed egg powder made from imported broken eggs from China. Sargent tried this less costly egg ingredient and found that the taste of his baking improved and his expenses decreased  [1].

Sargent’s penny pies, and later their coffee houses became famous in Sydney and Melbourne and the Sargent family became wealthy. Charlotte’s son, Hartley, also trained as a baker and went into business as a co-director with George.

From 1895 to 1906 George and Hartley (and their wives) purchased a considerable area of Beecroft land, including eight adjoining portions of over two acres each on the northern side of Copeland Road East and about one acre on the corner of Railway Crescent (now Wongala Crescent) and Hannah Street. On this latter corner block the younger Sargents built a two-storeyed brick home and furnished it expensively [2].

On the first block of land purchased in Copeland Road East in 1895, George and Charlotte put up a weatherboard cottage, Waratah, as a holiday home. They soon built a much more handsome brick bungalow, Uralla, in a style combining both late Victorian and early Federation features. At the rear was a wide timber veranda with a turret room at one end and a four-roomed coach house was built in the extensive garden. By 1896 Charlotte was winning prizes at the inaugural Beecroft Horticultural Show for her flowers [3]. In 1902 George put up two brick bungalows on one side of Uralla and in 1905 five more close by, these latter designed by architect William Nixon. These nine houses in a row were remarkable for their quality brick and timber work and for the homogenous appearance of the street with each house sitting squarely in the centre of a wide block and well back from the road alignment  [4].

In 1903 the local newspaper reported a party at Uralla: ‘dancing commenced about eight o’clock and closed at midnight to excellent music, provided by De Groen’s band (piano, violin and cornet). The spacious veranda had been converted into a ballroom and served the purpose admirably.’ City visitors and local friends were invited, including Mrs Barnby, the Skelletts, the Meadmores and Miss Chorley  [5].

The Sargents had a great concern for the welfare of their staff, many of whom worked all their lives in the firm and it was local repute that some of the Copeland Road East bungalows were for the use of staff for holidays. Charlotte Sargent entertained one Easter Saturday evening ‘all the young ladies employed in their various tea rooms at a plain and fancy dress ball. About three 300 young ladies … and a number of guests enjoyed themselves. On the following Monday Mrs Sargent ‘gave a picnic at her residence ‘Uralla’ to the younger girls in the firm’s employ and they spent a most enjoyable time’  [6].

It was possible that the Beecroft home was not used all the time by George and Charlotte Sargent as the long hours of business would have kept them in the city much of the week. George was, however, interested in the Beecroft Public School and in 1903 he gave a gold medal to the best writer in the school to be awarded annually. His firm catered for the school picnic held in Chorley’s grounds in 1904, and for the golf club luncheon and presentation of trophies in 1907  [7].

In about 1912 George and Charlotte leased Uralla and went to live in Vaucluse where a large residence was built for them named Hartley Hope. They were always generous to charities and during the war Mrs Sargent worked hard raising money to help families of Australian soldiers who were wounded or in prisoner-of-war camps.

In 1921 George Sargent died at the age of 64 in his Vaucluse home, much respected as both a man and a businessman. The Bulletin spoke of his astute and honest dealings:

‘Until a few months prior to his death practically every pound of foodstuffs which went into the Sargent factories was ordered by and passed under the eyes of George Sargent, and the trade new better than to attempt to sell him inferior grades or charge a farthing more than the contract prices’ [8].

Charlotte carried on as Managing Director and died three years later at her home in Vaucluse in May 1924 [9].  By the time of her death significant financial issues were emerging in the company.

[1]      Information from Miss Alice Oxley of Pennant Hills.

 [2]      Land Titles Office (Copeland Road East) 1029/143, 1137/192, 1163/247, 1143/4, 1329/160,
1139/216, 1139/246; (Hannah Street) 845/193, 853/61.

 [3]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 25 January 1896 p.3.

 [4]      Hornsby Shire Council Rates Book, 1921-1924; Cumberland
Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 October 1902, 13 August 1910, 3 September 1910, 7 January 1911. These houses are now Nos. 149-163 Copeland Road East.

 [5]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 6 June 1903.

 [6]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 9 April 1904.               

 [7]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 26 December 1903, 2 April 1904, 16 November 1907.

 [8]      The Bulletin, 6 March 1924.

 [9]      Also see generally, J. MacCulloch, “George Sargent (1859-1921) and Charlotte (1856-1924)” Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 11, p. 522.