The Wheeler Family moves to Beecroft in 1894
Originally written by the late Roy Wheeler 1924-2008
My grandfather, Charles Walter Wheeler, was born on 9th July 1848 in Southampton, England. Charles was a plasterer and tiler by trade, as was his father before him, who was also Charles Wheeler.
He married Alice Greenhead in England and in 1884 they set sail with their two year old daughter Mabel for Australia on the steamship ‘Warwick,’ of Bristol. Mabel became very ill on the journey. Alice had taken her to the ship’s doctor and he’d dismissed the symptoms, saying she was only sunburnt. Apparently she had diphtheria and on February 26th 1884 at 11.30pm she died and was buried at sea, Lat 41.45 Long 74.35E.
On arrival in Sydney they lived first at 7 Turner Street Redfern. It was a small, pokey, terrace house near the police station. The house no longer exists as it was demolished under slum clearance and the area was redeveloped. It was while they lived there that the rest of the children were born. George Walter was born in1884, Sydney in 1885, May in 1887, Charles ( who was my father) in 1889, and Annie (aka as Tot or Tottie) in 1891.
In 1894 when my father, Charles, ( who I will now refer to as Chas to avoid confusion) was 5 years old, the family moved to a block of land at Beecroft. It cost 9 pounds and encompassed an area of one and a quarter acres. The block sold for 200 pounds in about 1925. Who knows what it would be worth today.
It was a natural bush area with a steep drop down to a creek. There were big rocks above the ground, full-grown trees, with an undergrowth of scrub. The soil was poor. My grandad called the place „The Bourn.‟
On the day of the move, Grandad Charles took a one-horse cartload of possessions and the rest of the family caught the train. The first night they slept under a rocky ledge which was almost like a small cave. They then slept in a tent until they built the hut.
The location was on the east side of the railway line on Copeland Road. The hut they lived in had no number and was made of saplings with a stone floor and a bark roof. Water was carried by bucket from the creek and light was from kerosene lanterns and candles. In those days the creek would have been unpolluted. Apparently they shifted a few rocks here and there to make a little swimming pool and that’s where my father and his siblings learnt to swim.
When the boys were much older they built the old couple a more substantial home. In this second house Grandad Charles must have used his expertise as a plasterer and tiler to tile the floor.
Sometime In the 1960‟s I went with my brother John, my sons and my parents, Susan and Chas, to the site of the Wheeler home. The land had long since been subdivided and built on but Chas worked out where the house had stood. The people who then owned the land showed us an ornamentally tiled area of their garden. This was part of the floor of the Wheelers’ second house. The first roughly built house that Chas grew up in was a slab hut with a bark roof.
Grandad Charles was not a good provider for his wife and children, so Grandma Wheeler (Alice) used to have to take in washing. Chas could remember walking around Beecroft collecting washing. His mother would boil it up in the outside copper and then iron it on a table inside the house using flat irons heated on the stove.
He would then take the washed and ironed garments and deliver them around Beecroft. Tottie (Annie) always said the reason she could never have children was that she spent all her young life sitting in a high chair so her mother could get on with the washing and ironing. She felt she didn’t develop like other kids who were able to run around.
The Wheeler family in the late 1890’s showing from left to right May, Charles, Alice, Sydney, Charles W(senior), Annie and George Wheeler.
Grandfather Charles was an accomplished poet and referred to himself as “The Bard from the Bourn.”
Below is a poem Charles Walter wrote about Federation in 1901. It is in the Australian National Library.
Chas Wheeler’s (1889-1982) recollections from a taped interview in 1962
I attended Beecroft School which was a two teacher school in those days. At the school when I was about 10 years of age we were playing a game called „bobbies and bushies‟ or policemen and bushrangers.
On this particular day I was a bushranger sitting on the top of a post of a six foot paling fence round the school ground watching a „bobby‟ arrest a „bushie‟ in the playground.
Another bushranger, Joe Bellamy, seeing me seated on the top of the post, crept along underneath me, rose and lifted me off the post. My heels caught in the top rail and I went down head-first landing on the palm of the right hand snapping both bones of the wrist and pushing the hand in an „s‟ shape back towards the elbow.
That happened in the lunch hour at one o‟clock. The nearest doctor to Beecroft in those days was a Dr Foster at Wahroonga. The headmaster took me across the playground supporting my broken arm, to his own residence on the other side of the playground. They got in touch with a mother of two other boys in the school, a lady called Mrs Meadmore.
She had a bay pony and one of those little basket types of shay buggies. They had first to send someone to the paddock to get the horse then time was taken to give it a feed. Then Mrs Meadmore took me and my mother in this little buggy up through Pennant Hills, Thornleigh, to Pierce‟s Corner and round to Wahroonga. It was 4 o‟clock when we reached Dr Foster‟s surgery. “Oh” he said, “the boy‟s arm is broken”.
I was sat in a chair and my mother stood behind me holding me with both hands by both my shoulders. The doctor took my elbow with his left hand and linked his fingers into my right hand and with a terrific physical effort, pulled the arm straight. No anaesthetic was used.
On each successive visit to the doctor my mother took me by train from Beecroft to Thornleigh and down to Wahroonga. In those days there was a single line between Hornsby and Milson‟s Point. The Wahroonga Railway Station was made out of disused railway sleepers and on the station platform also was the district telephone exchange. Big changes since then.
The time came to leave school and look for work when I was 14. At that time my eldest brother George was 21 and desperately ill with pneumonia. He was attended to by a Dr Clay who came from Hornsby and had about 20 visits. He was very, very ill. All my time was taken up at home helping, running messages, carrying logs from the bush, sawing and splitting up wood to keep the fire going night and day.
When he was finally better I looked for a position. To take a position in the city would have necessitated railway fares. The local storekeeper, Mr Sam Higgins wanted a junior in his grocery store. I applied for this position and was accepted. I began at 7/6 a week. I had to walk from home, over the hill, down across the bush track and over the railway line night and morning.
My work at the store was to groom the horses and wash the vehicles and cart produce, including wood and coal and coke. I had to weigh up everything in the produce shed for the fulfilment of the orders and then do the delivery as far down as Cheltenham and out towards Carlingford and Pennant Hills.
I was on this work for two years, from 15 to 17 years of age. I was 15 in 1904. I can remember seeing the first car that came to Beecroft. It was owned by Dr Lidwell. It looked a remarkable vehicle at that time but of course it would be regarded as an oddity now.
When I was 17 I left Higgins and went with my brother George. After his serious illness when he was 21 he was not able to continue with his secretarial work with Perdrio and Co and he opened up in business on his own account as a draper and clothier in a small shop at Carlingford. He married Edith Way shortly after I went with him. With horse and sulky I travelled all over that district with samples of clothing and drapery collecting and delivering orders. I was with him for 4 years and during that period he transferred from Carlingford to a larger place at Epping.
The late John Wheeler, Chas’s other son, added,
“George owned a draper’s shop at Epping quite near the Epping Station on the high side of the road at the top of the main shopping centre. It’s been demolished now but I can still remember the store with “Wheeler’s Drapery” written across the top.
Later on Dad was accepted as a home missionary with the Methodist Church and was sent up to Urbenville which is 50 miles NW from Kyogle. He left Sydney in July 1911 and would have been 21 by my reckoning