Holcombe, Harry

Harry Octavius Holcombe (born 1856) left the United Kingdom when aged 24 carrying a letter of introduction to Robert Tooth of the brewing company. Tooth gave Holcombe a position and he became private secretary to Robert Tooth, remaining with the company all his working life.

In 1884 Holcombe married Violet Isabel Young of Balmain, the 18-year-old daughter of an English-born father and the eldest child of ten. Violet’s paternal grandfather was the London Missionary Society’s lay preacher William Henry who had arrived in Sydney in the ill-fated ‘Duff’ expedition of 1799 and who spent his life in missionary service in Tahiti and later Ryde.[1]

Harry and Violet lived for ten years in Randwick but after the death of their first child from diphtheria and Violet’s recurring sore throats, they moved on doctor’s advice to the high and dry air of Beecroft in May 1894.[2]

In July 1894 Holcombe purchased two lots of land facing Beecroft Parade, on the northern corner of Copeland Street and six contiguous lots along Copeland Street, 3¼ acres in all.[3] This was a prime position, high land with a long view to the south-west and close to the station and was the proposed site of a hotel in the first auction in 1887.[4]

On the main road land, Holcombe soon built two houses, a small brick cottage later known as ‘Waveney’, and a two-storeyed residence which he leased to Thomas Skellett from 1895 to 1902 and where Miss Long later ran Beecroft College. The latter house was unusual in design in having the ground floor wholly for servants and the kitchen, while the upper floor was approached by a flight of steps leading to the front door and contained the spacious living areas and bedrooms for the family.[5]

In 1896 Holcombe built another brick house in Copeland Street where he lived until 1906 when he built ‘a fine modern villa residence’ nearby but close to the corner of Beecroft Parade. On the front door of the house the Holcombe family crest was displayed in leadlights. The design of this house was very modern with a wide and angled veranda on the southern and western sides and a floor plan around a right-angled hallway. All Holcombe’s homes were named ‘Highwick’ after a house in which he had lived in London. Further west of his Copeland Street land he built another small brick cottage, orchards surrounding these houses. At the far end of Copeland Road East he put up workmen’s cottages for letting.[6]

Harry Holcombe soon became involved in Beecroft civic affairs. In 1895 he was appointed one of the trustees of Beecroft Road and the following year was on the committee of the Progress Association. In 1897 he was a warden of St John’s Church of England, the first of many positions he held in the church. He was also on the Public School Board, on the committee of the Kennedya Tennis Club, the Literary and Debating Society, a foundation committeeman of the School of Arts, and a Justice of the Peace. He was a good cricketer and bowler and was the first president of the Beecroft Orpheus Choir, founded in 1914.[7]

In 1902 Holcombe took five months leave to travel to England and America with his family, returning a month ahead of them whilst they remained in London to see the Coronation of King Edward VII. He had a second trip to Europe in 1912. Harry Holcombe was remembered by his family as a pompous Englishman, arrogant, big, good-looking, wearing a bowler hat and carrying a walking stick. An injury to his leg after falling off his bike left him with a limp and the stick was more necessity than ornament.[8]

Violet Holcombe was a keen tennis player, a member of the local croquet club, at times having croquet socials on the lawn of her home. She was active in the local Red Cross (President in 1916) and in Twilight House after its inception in 1924. She was regarded with much fondness in Beecroft and remembered as a gracious and kind lady.[9]

Hilda attended Mrs Ogden’s school with her friend Doris Tucker and later travelled by train to the Presbyterian Ladies’ College at Croydon. When she was 26 years old, she married Eric Green, a dentist and close family friend and they made their home in Hornsby.

Although Harry Holcombe had attended the Presbyterian Church in Randwick before moving to Beecroft, his strong attachment to the Church of England was fostered by his wife who valued the missionary zeal of her grandfather William Henry. Violet Holcombe told her grandchildren about him and took them on an annual pilgrimage to St Anne’s Church of England, Ryde, where the old missionary had been buried in 1859.

In the late 1930s Holcombe built a brick cottage on the corner of Copeland Street and the Beecroft Parade on what had been the playground of the Beecroft College, and there he and Violet lived until his death in 1943 and hers in 1947.[10]



[1] Hornsby Shire Historical Society, Pioneers of Hornsby Shire, Sydney, 1979, pp. 65­-70.

[2] Cumberland Argus, 5 May 1894.

[3] Land Titles Office, 993/184, 185.

[4] Cumberland Argus, 7 September 1907.

[5] Cumberland Argus, 12 January 1895, 30 August 1902. These two houses are now Nos. 86 and 84 Beecroft Road.

[6] Cumberland Argus, 10 March 1906. This house is now No. 172 Copeland Road.

[7] Cumberland Argus, 15 July 1895, 2 May 1896, 24 April 1897, 3 May 1902, 13 July 1907, 19 April 1913, 21 April 1917, 14 August 1887, 3 September 1898, 11 August 1900, 1 November 1902, 27 September 1902, 1 January 1898, 17 November 1900, 25 April 1914.

[8] Cumberland Argus, 1 February 1902, 21 June 1902, 10 February 1912.

[9] Cumberland Argus, 17 June 1899, 27 September 1913, 26 August 1916.

[10] Information from Mrs Margaret Woodman and Mrs Joan Furze, both of Killara, 1989.