Martin, Ernest

Ernest Martin

 was the son of William Arthur Martin (born 1854), who was the grandson of Mary Martin who had lived on the Field of Mars Common. William married Esther Bellamy (1862-1941) of Pennant Hills in 1879. Esther was a descendant of William and Ann Bellamy and William Mobbs, all convicts of Pennant Hills and Carlingford. William and Esther Martin had eight children between 1880 and 1900. All were baptised at St Paul’s, Carlingford, except the youngest, Doris, who was baptised at St John’s, Beecroft. William’s brother Frederick and his family also lived in Beecroft.

William had a five acre property on Murray Farm Road where he planted an orchard. To supplement his income he took on labouring jobs. In 1896 he contracted to ballast (i.e. to cover with crushed stone) Pennant Hills Road from Thompson’s Corner to Thornleigh, and on another job, Castle Hill Road at Milsons Hill (near Highs Road). He was one of the original group of Beecroft residents who met with the Rev. George McIntosh and made the decision to build an Anglican church in Beecroft.[1] He became a regular attender at the church and when he left the district many years later, William was presented with a large grandfather clock for the ringing the church bell for 20 years without missing a Sunday.[2]

Ernest Arthur Martin (born 1881), William’s eldest son, worked with his father in the orchard and on gardening jobs. In 1902 Ernest married Catherine Olive Strangman, born in Edgecliff, Sydney, in 1883, the daughter of a wealthy sea captain who reputedly lost his money and died early. Catherine’s children treasured a photograph of her in her younger years, in which she wore a brown velvet dress with expensive jewellery and black patent shoes. ‘We were so proud of her’. Catherine had grown up on her grandparent Fifie’s farm near Penrith, where a Grand Champion clydesdale stallion was reared. She was an expert horsewoman, winning prizes at local shows. Before she married Ernest she was a dancer in vaudeville at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney.

Ernest purchased a five acre property on Murray Road opposite his father, both farms being parts of the Murray’s Farm Estate subdivision of 1882. A dirt road made through this subdivision was a continuation of Murray Road across the creek, and the steep grade down from Boronia Avenue was known as the ‘Devil’s Pinch’. A timber bridge was later built across the creek a little upstream and Kirkham Street extended to make an easy grade for the horse traffic. On his property Ernest planted fruit trees, mainly apples, but he also grew mandarins, oranges, quinces and peaches.

As a young man Ernest was not averse to a fight and his sons many years later told this story of their father fighting with David Willis, who was about the same age and worked nearby as a groom:

‘David Willis had a difference with our Dad when he was a single man, of course, and challenged him to a fight. The conditions of the fight were to be of an old English custom, when the line was drawn and the opponents toe the line and are not allowed to cross it… My uncle urged my Dad to fight but not under these conditions. Free for all or Queensbury rules to be stipulated. Uncle had noted that the opponent was about three inches taller and had an ever so much longer reach. But David insisted on the old gallantry style regulations, and my Father stubbornly agreed, adding he could have it any way he liked. Well, they drew the line in the bush, toed it and set to and to use my uncle’s words, David belted the daylights out of my Dad. After about an hour of trying to breach the gap he had to give up and they had to piggyback him home because by this time both his eyes were closed.’

Catherine and Ernest had fourteen sons and one daughter: Russell, Bert, Bruce, Spencer, Jean, Jack, Reg, Ernie, Claude, Peter, Dan, David, Silas, Stephen and Paul, born between 1903 and 1925. The weatherboard house Ernest built (close to the corner of Murray Road and the present Midson Road) consisted of three bedrooms, a large dining room with an open fireplace and a very large kitchen. Although there was no front veranda, a back veranda covered with wisteria ran the width of the house. The veranda floor was paved with flagstones. A laundry in the back yard contained a copper, bath tub and shower. As the family increased, Ernest added a large room called the ‘big bedroom’, and later bought two weatherboard sheds which he put behind the house as the boys’ bedroom. Tanks and wells provided water but gas and electricity were not connected until about 1932.

Life was a struggle when an orchard was the only source of income. Crops failed in drought, while in a good season a glut could mean leaving the fruit on the trees to rot. Gardening brought in extra income and Ernest was also curator of the three grass tennis courts on the Village Green.

‘My father used to pray a lot and I think he must have been asking God to help him provide for his family’, wrote his son Spencer of the time when an eighth child was expected in 1913. Ernest Martin then decided to sell his property and buy a larger one, with his sons to help run it. A buyer came along, gave Ernest £40 as deposit and agreed to pay the remainder in a month. This buyer was unable to borrow the money and by law Ernest could retain the deposit. His son later saw this as an answer to his father’s prayer, as the £40 enabled the purchase of a horse and dray, which became eventually seven horses and drays and later a trucking company.

This first horse and dray were used to take the fruit to Pennant Hills station, then to cart topsoil from the Martin land to local gardens and later to carry bricks on contract from the Thornleigh brickworks. Ernest also began a greengrocery business, buying extra produce at a Chinese market garden in Thornleigh to supplement what he grew himself and delivering it to homes in Beecroft. The sons performed various jobs before and after school as well as working in their own vegetable garden. Boxes of groceries for the family’s own use were purchased from an Indian storekeeper, Mr Singh, in Church Street, Parramatta, yet another task to the sons.

Despite the constant hard work, all the Martin children did well at Beecroft Public School, with the unusual record of all fifteen having the one teacher, Miss Reid, in fourth grade. ‘A nice old lady’ was their judgement. At least eight of the boys attended high schools after their primary years.

After some years of selling soil and sand from his land near the creek which crossed Midson Road, Ernest Martin found beneath his land a large sandstone outcrop which he commenced to quarry. This brought in a good income and meant an end to the struggle to feed and clothe the family. At this time there was local demand for large dressed sandstone blocks for use as foundations in many homes in the district as well as for veranda trims and the front walls of properties. In 1914 a contract from Hornsby Council was obtained to supply ballast as road base. He also supplied sandstone flagging, flakes about six inches thick in popular use for paving and flakes three inches thick used by the Department of Main Roads for edging roads.

Ernest Martin appeared in Ryde Court in 1915 for an alleged assault on his neighbour Thomas Bellamy. (The Martins and Bellamys were related by marriage in several generations). They came to blows after an argument about a third man, Lutherborough, digging holes in a right of way they shared. Each accused the other of using, in the ensuing fight, implements which they happened to be holding – Bellamy secateurs and Martin a mattock. Dr. Rygate had to be summoned to treat Bellamy for cuts and bruises and a broken little finger.[3]

Catherine Martin led the life of a farmer’s wife, housekeeping and sewing for her very large family and working as hard as her menfolk. When one of them was late home from an errand she usually waited up. Spencer, when only a boy, had been on a long trip to the Sydney Showground delivering a brand’s honey and he recalled:

‘I remember my Mum meeting me about a quarter of a mile from home, carrying a hurricane lamp. She said she heard the rattle of the cart miles away, and she came out to meet me and see that I was all right. She hopped up on the cart and rode home with me, helped me tend to the horse and took me inside, for my tea which she had kept warm in the oven. Dear Mum. She had attended to my Dad and seen that nine others were washed and fed and then sat up waiting and praying to hear the noise of the cart coming down the hill with her tenth …it was 10.30 p.m. Ernest Martin became a fervent Seventh Day Adventist. He and his wife and family attended services at Epping and then in the School of Arts, Thornleigh, before the Thornleigh church was built. Although he later severed his connections with the church he remained a religious man and regularly read the Bible.

The only daughter, Jean, born in 1909, helped her mother with the household work, staying at home until her brothers left on their various careers. She then took a position in a house in Epping, caring for an elderly couple and she did not marry. Music filled a large part of her life, and after being taught to play her mother’s piano by a Beecroft teacher, Jean played in an Epping jazz band. Later she became organist in the Epping Baptist Church and continued there for 17 years.

The quarrying of stone continued to be profitable, and in 1921 Ernest purchased his first motor truck, an International three tonner with solid tyres, which elder sons Russell and Bert drove. One by one trucks replaced the horses. The quarrying later ceased when Ernest realised that the land would be more valuable as housing lots. Bingara Avenue was later put through between the boys’ room and the stables. The Beecroft Squash Centre was built in the old quarry, and was later replaced by a SEPP 5 development with more than sixty units.

Ernest Martin died in 1951 at the age of 70 years and Catherine Martin in 1965 aged 82 years. They were buried in the Field of Mars Cemetery.[4]




[1] T.J. McCaskill, A sure foundation, the early years of the Anglican community in Beecroft and St John’s Church, Beecroft, 1890-1896, Beecroft, 1990, p. 8.

[2] Cumberland Argus, 18 January 1896, 14 March 1896.

[3] Cumberland Argus, 4 September 1915.

[4] Information from Spencer, Dan and Paul Martin of Epping and Beecroft, 1986 and 1992.