Fearnley, John

John Gillett Fearnley was born in Preston, Lancashire in 1861, the son of a well-to-do mill owner. He emigrated to Australia when he was about 19 years old and went to Queensland. In 1887 he married Margaret Smith, daughter of a Victorian Member of Parliament; they had two children, Ivy, born in 1887, and Norman, born in 1890. The family lived in Cairns, where John Fearnley owned a wharf and lighterage business as well as being the representative for the Adelaide Steamship Company. He was also an officer in the Naval Reserve and trained naval cadets in Cairns. By 1905, Fearnley was one of the four principal wharf owners in Cairns, the others being Burns, Philp & Co., Walsh & Co., and Howard Smith Co. Ltd. He was a Justice of the Peace and a prominent member of the community, having served for many years on the local council and on a variety of local community committees. A street in Cairns is named in his honour. In January 1906, he entered into an agreement with a group of Brisbane businessmen to convert his firm into a limited liability company, Fearnley & Co. Ltd, with Fearnley remaining the managing director of the company.[1]

Because Mrs Fearnley did not like the North Queensland climate, the family moved to Sydney later in 1906 when John purchased an estate of 11 acres in Beecroft. It was bounded by Chapman and Cardinal Avenues and Hannah Street, with the eastern portion running down Devlins Creek.[2]

A small brick house was already standing on the highest part of the land. John Fearnley enlarged this to a handsome symmetrical building with a small square fronted veranda with timber trim, a pair of bull’s-eye windows as the front door and marble front steps. Additional land was cleared and a garden laid out.[3] While the alterations were being carried out, the family lived for some weeks in the Hotel Australia in Sydney and then in a rented house in Wahroonga. Their new Beecroft home was named ‘Rivington’ after the grammar school John Fearnley had attended in his home town of Preston.

Norman Fearnley attended Sydney Grammar School, and then studied Agriculture at Bathurst Experiment Farm before buying land on New Line Road, West Pennant Hills, where he planted an apple orchard. He had begun a lifelong interest in ornithology in Cairns and spent much of his leisure time in Beecroft with the Seales of ‘Boronia’, Malton Road, where Frank and Ted Seale shared his interest. He later became a member of the Royal Australian Ornithologists Union (more recently Birds Australia) and was regarded as an expert in this field.

Ivy’s interests were in the Beecroft Musical and Dramatic Society and at times her mother acted with her. Margaret Fearnley entertained at ‘Rivington’ frequently and she and her husband were members of the Progress Association. When at the outbreak of war in 1914, a Helpers’ Branch of the Red Cross League was formed in Beecroft, Margaret Fearnley was appointed Treasurer.[4]

Lieutenant John Fearnley (as he was known in Beecroft) took part in an Empire Day service at
Beecroft Public School in May 1914 and spoke on the advantages of compulsory military training. When war broke out he was promoted to the temporary rank of Commander in the Royal Australian Navy and appointed Sub-District Naval Officer in Newcastle. He spent most of the remainder of his life there.[5]

Margaret Fearnley and Ivy went to Kirribilli to live and ‘Rivington’ was leased. She and her husband John both died in 1939.[6]

 [1] Queensland Government, Heritage Register – Jack and Newell Building (former) , Cairns
Queensland Govt Heritage Register. Accessed 15 May 2023.

[2] Land Titles Office 1605/5. At an earlier time Fearnley Park was known as Malcolm Field
Orchard. Fearnley Park at the rear of 92 Hannah Street Beecroft consists of 4 1/2 acres subdivided when Mr John Taylor (a local milkman) bought ‘Rivington’ at auction in 1951.

[3] Cumberland Argus, 28 April 1906, 4 August 1906

[4] Cumberland Argus, 16 November 1912, 21 December 1912, 6 June 1914, 31 July 1915, 24 August 1912, 15 August 1914.

[5] Cumberland Argus, 30 May 1914.

[6] Information from Miss Margaret Fearnley of West Pennant Hills.