Oxley, Samuel

Samuel James Oxley (1859-1952) [1]  the son of English-born Owen Oxley who had arrived in the colony, on board the ‘Roxburgh Castle’ with his family, in 1839.  Samuel was born in Richmond, New South Wales, and grew up in Mudgee,  Rylstone, Orange and Coonabarabran. As well as learning the flour-milling trade in his uncle’s mill in Orange, Samuel received a good education from the Church of England Rector in that town. The Rector needed  help to look after his horse and baggage while on his regular parish visiting which often lasted up to three months. While riding along he would teach Samuel mental arithmetic, French, German and Italian, the last of which Samuel enjoyed speaking until the end of his days.

Quite early in life Samuel became a prosperous city merchant. At the age of 19 he had moved to Sydney and by 1882, aged 23 years, already owned a warehouse in Sussex Street. In 1904 he was appointed Manager of the Farmers’ and Settlers’ Co-operative Society. [2]

In the course of his business career Samuel owned a factory in Bega producing ‘Oxley’s Butter’, a cheese factory in Wagga Wagga and a store in Peak Hill. He engaged in exporting a variety of foodstuffs to India and China and importing tea, rice and broken eggs from there.

His family has stories of how Samuel’s trade in butter and in broken eggs showed ingenuity. He was the first to export butter from Australia to Europe, devising a successful method of packing butter and salt in alternate layers in wooden casks. He also experimented with making egg-powder and was the first person in Sydney to market it. He first used eggs from the north coast of New South Wales, but when these became expensive, he began to import eggs from China. However, because of the high import duty on whole eggs, he imported, free of duty, sealed tins of broken eggs from Shanghai and Hong Kong. The Australian Customs, in due course, found a way to impose a duty on this trade. [3]

According to his family the trade with China flourished for a decade, but the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 placed it in jeopardy. Samuel’s younger brother in China just escaped, but the manager of another branch was killed. In one year, Samuel lost £40,000 when two of his ships laden with foodstuffs, and uninsured, sank on the way to China. During the First World War few ships were sunk on their way to Europe.

In 1905 Samuel purchased, from the Allsop family, ‘Camerton’, a house built 1855-1860 (but with some rooms dating from1830s) on about 18 acres of land on Pennant Hills Road on the eastern side of Thompsons Corner.The core of the house was said to have been built around the manager’s cottage from when the property formed part of a larger Mount Wilberforce estate. Here there was already an orchard, to which he added cows, several sheep and a pig. Seven men were employed in the orchard, and two women helped Grace Oxley in the house. Samuel drove daily to Pennant Hills station in a dog cart or a double-seater buggy.

Samuel Oxley and his wife Grace Selina (nee Purcel )l had four children: Samuel Jr, Alice, Grace and Edith, who were taught at home by a governess and who delighted in being driven around in their imported surrey of blue kid pulled by a pair of Shetland ponies. The tea that the family drank was imported from India and China. At times visiting Indian traders dressed in their colourful traditional robes were entertained at ‘Camerton’ and later at Katoomba.

Worsening finances forced the Oxleys to lease ‘Camerton’ in 1913 and move into a small brick cottage in Cardinal Avenue and Church Street, Pennant Hills. Samuel had earlier purchased this cottage as a home for his mother and two sisters. There was an orchard of apricots, plums and apples attached [4]  Ill health in the children brought a further move to Katoomba where the mountain air improved their health.

In 1927 when the children were adults and in need of city employment, the Oxleys returned to ‘Camerton’. They found that the house was much broken down by the tenant, that garden trees had been cut down for firewood and that roaming horses from the nearby saw-mill had broken veranda timbers. In addition, the rent was in arrears. It took two years of hard work to repair the house and make it habitable again.

In 1936 Grace Oxley died. In a later subdivision of the property Grace Avenue was put in and named after her. The subdivision was hampered by road widening.  Samuel Oxley’s eyesight failed in his declining years and Alice left her nursing profession to look after her father. He died in 1952 at the age of 94 years.[5]

The family donated the land that is now called Mary Gilmore Park.  Much later another park, on the corner of Cardinal and Boyd Avenues,  was named after Samuel Oxley.

[1] NSW birth registrations 12122/1859 ;death registrations 8285/1952
 [2] Mudgee Guardian 5 May 1890 and q7 October 1901
 [3] The Queenslander; 29 July 1905 p29 as his evidence before a Parliamentry Commitee on the dairy industry
 [4] Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate 14 September 1918 p5.
 [5] Information from Alice Oxley of Pennant Hills, 1986.