Harrison, George

George Robert Harrison (1831-1914) was one of the first buyers of Beecroft Crown Land, purchasing 14 acres on Beecroft Road at an auction in 1887; here he soon erected a timber cottage as a temporary home. Within a few years he had built a large brick home in the early colonial style of Australian architecture, with rooms symmetrically placed on either side of a wide central hall, and deep verandas on the front, back and half the sides. The house is unique in the suburb.[1]

George Harrison had come to Australia with his parents and family in 1848 when he was 13 years old. He alone remained here, the others returning to London. After trying several jobs, including gold digging, he set himself up in the timber business, transporting locally cut timber to his mill on the Parramatta River. The timber was thence despatched to London in ships owned by his brother who had started the company of Harrison, Jones and Bevlin in that city.

In 1869, at the Pitt Street Congregational Church, George married Sophia Mary Gray who had emigrated from Scotland as a young girl. The couple had eight children between 1871 and 1889, three sons and three daughters living to adulthood.

The main interest of George Harrison’s life, apart from his business activities, was his involvement
with the Church of England, especially its evangelical party. He had earlier been converted by a visiting preacher to Australia, Dr. Stock who issued a challenge for commitment to work for the Church Missionary Society. George became a lay reader and took services in St John’s Beecroft from the time of its opening in 1891. Family members remember him preaching in a long black robe with his beard trailing over it. When visiting clergy came to Beecroft, they lunched on the veranda of the Harrison home, assured of a warm welcome. The family breakfast every day began with prayers and Bible readings.

George Harrison was an austere, conservative man in the Victorian tradition, and considered that his daughters should not work but stay at home and learn the genteel homemaking arts. However the eldest daughter, Mary (born in 1871) was permitted to train as a nurse at the Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney and, on graduating in 1898, she offered her services to the Church Missionary Society and was sent to Palestine, the society’s first woman missionary in that country. In 1902 she married Irish-born William Bradley, a fellow C.M.S. worker; their three children, born in Cairo, all later worked in the mission field.[2]

The Bradleys returned to Beecroft from time to time on furlough and on one such occasion, in 1906, William Bradley gave a lantern lecture to the children as the Public School on his work in Egypt.[3]

The eldest son, Arthur (born in 1877), married Hilda Seale, daughter of John Seale of Malton Road. A younger son, Edgar, whilst studying medicine at Sydney University, was sent down for the year 1903 for lampooning General Booth of the Salvation Army by wearing a chamber pot on his head. Edgar took the unplanned year off to work his passage on a sailing ship to North America. Whilst there he heard the name ‘Ramona’ and on his return it became the name of his family’s Beecroft home.[4]

In 1911, when George Harrison was 80 years old he sold his ‘Ramona’ estate, and with his wife went to live in Strathfield where he died three years later.[5]

[1] Land Titles Office, 895/225; Cumberland Argus, 5 January 1889.

[2] George Harrison’s commitment to missionary work spread from his daughter Mary to her three children who were missionaries in China, Africa and South America, and in a further generation, New Guinea. Mary and William Bradley, on their return from their post in Cairo, led United Intercessory Services in the Sydney Town Hall for 25 Years.

[3] Cumberland Argus, 30 June 1906.

[4] Sydney University Archives.

[5] Information from Lawrence Harrison of Brookvale and Mrs Robin Conway of Pennant Hills.