Canterbury NSW (Suburb)

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Early History

SydneyNew South Wales
Population: 6,159 (2011 Census)
Postcode: 2193
LGA: City of Canterbury
State electorate: Canterbury
Federal Division: Grayndler, Watson
Portrait of the Reverend Richard Johnson, ca 1800.
The first grantee of the land of Canterbury was the Reverend Richard Johnson who was officially granted one hundred acres of land on May 28 1793, although there is evidence he was occupying the property before this time. This property was approximately one mile from the Cooks River and offered the essential requisite of fresh water by way of ponds. He named the property "Canterbury Vale" and by 1793-94 he had cultivated forty ares; sown fifteen acres of wheat; produced a first crop of about six hundred bushels of Indian Corn and; held a stock of fourteen sheep, eleven goats, a mare, some hogs and fowls. In fact, during 1793, Watkin Tench acknowledged Johnson's efforts by describing him as 'the best farmer in the colony'. At the time this was significant, as not only was food scarce in the young colony, but labour and tools were also, particularly as Canterbury Vale was located five miles from the closest main settlement in Sydney Cove.
Robert Campbell, Canterbury (suburb), ca 1810.

Robert Campbell in May 1803, brought the land that had by this time passed onto William Cox. Campbell bought the land from the bankrupt Cox for 525 pounds. By 1834 Robert Campbells Estate comprised 1242 acres, which comprises the current Canterbury and Hurlstone Park area. Robert Campbell's daughter Sarah Jeffrey's subdivided the land in 1865 "into allotments each containing several acres."

Three of these subdivisions, north of Canterbury Road, make up the present suburb of Canterbury. These sudivisions made way for the railway which was completed in 1895, going from Sydenham to Belmore. It was this railway which facilitated the suburban development which led to the area becoming heavily populated. The new public transport services made the land of Canterbury Estate more accessible, and more and more people came into the district. The railway as well as the racecourse and Cooks River helped to populate Canterbury.

The new settlers were mostly young families, whose children crowded into the existing schools, stretching the resources to breaking point. In 1912, Canterbury Superior Public School was divided into primary and secondary departments, then, in 1918, Canterbury Boys' Intermediate High School was created, and moved to new premises in Holden Street in 1924. In 1932, Canterbury Central Domestic Science School for Girls was opened as a "show-place", which provided education to Leaving Certificate level. The Intermediate School became Canterbury Boys High School and the Domestic School was renamed Canterbury Girls High School.

Sugar Works

Painting of the Sugar Mill Canterbury (suburb), before 1900.
William Knox Child and Francis Kemble approached Robert Campbell in 1840, to sell them part of his land as a site for a sugar processing factory. They received the land in return for twenty-four shares in the Australian Sugar Company. Between 1840 and 1842, Scottish stonemasons built a sandstone factory on the banks of the Cooks River. The sandstone walls were one metre thick, and on one side, there was less than two metres between floor levels. The Australian Sugar Company intended to subdivide and sell the land around its factory to accomodate the workers and raise money to begin processing sugar. An exploratory coal shaft was sunk beside the factory, but, although the subdivider of the land promised a colliery and a railway within a short time, this venture came to nothing.

Canterbury Village became a small community after the factory began to process sugar in September 1842, but the limited opportunities for work made it a 'company town', dependent for its existence on the sugarworks. As a factory, the sugarworks was very efficient, and more workers settled in the village during the 1840's.

Sugar Mill, built 1840 after a fire, Canterbury (suburb), 1996.

Francis Kemble's eccentric behaviour eventually led to the dissolution of the partnership between him and Child and a new company was formed, the Australasian Sugar Company, managed from 1843 by Edward Knox. The sugarworks produced loaf and crushed sugar, as well as vinegar and molasses from raw sugar which was said to have been imported from the Philippine Islands in the Campbell family's ships.

The company took over two more refineries, one in Liverpool Street, Sydney and one in Chippendale. With the creation of Canterbury Road access to the factory was improved. The gold rush was the downfall of the factory as it took much of the workforce away from Sydney. Canterbury, the furthest from the port was chosen to be closed, and the doors were shut in September 1854. The sugarworks was to remain closed for thirty years.

In 1880, the sugarworks building was bought by Fredrick Clissold as an investment. In 1884, he sold it to Owen Blackett as a site for a heavy engineering works. Local agitation wanted a railway line which would take it though southern Canterbury but the delayed decision caused the Blackett company to go bankrupt. This meant that the factory was once more made empty. In 1900 the sugarworks was sold to the produce merchants Denham Brothers, who opened the Canterbury Bacon factory in the premises. In 1908, the building was sold again, this time to Huttons Pty Ltd, a Melbourne company, who continued in the business of smallgoods. They expanded on the site, creating a flourishing factory complex which was to provide work in the area for seventy-five years.

In 1983 Nick Scali, furniture retailers bought the sugarworks. On 29 February 1996, a fire tore through the Georgian style works. The fire damaged the roof and internal floors but the sandstone walls have been declared structually sound. A new roof has recently been constructed.

Gold Abacus Developments began restoration work on the Old Sugar Mill in 2000. The interior will be converted to 20 luxury apartments, the exterior cleaned and restored by stonemasons and the surrounding land excavated to its original levels. The apartments in the old Georgian building and the townhouses in the two other buildings to be constructed on the estate went on sale on 8th September, 2000.

Canterbury Racecourse

The straight, Canterbury Park Racecourse, Canterbury (suburb), ca 1886.
Horse racing had been popular in Canterbury from the early days of the sugarworks village, and by 1871 meetings were held on a level paddock behind the houses. A crowd of 3000 attended a meeting there to celebrate Queen Victoria's Birthday in 1878, and by 1884 meetings were formalised on a seven-furlong course under the banner of the Canterbury Park Race Club. The Directors were Frederick Clissold and William Lovel Davis. In 1886, Davis visited Jeffreys, who had inherited the land from Campbell, and purchased almost 53 acres at 200 pounds per acre for the use of the club. Many horse and pony trainers moved in to large blocks of land surrounding Canterbury, and by the 1890's there was quite a flourishing network, especially in Minter, Church, King and Broughton Streets, and over the river in Northcote Street. Remnants of some of these stables can still be seen. For the first twenty years, George Monk was employed as caretaker of the racecourse, living in the Rustic Gothic gatehouse which had been built for Canterbury House near King Street. Jim Monk carried on the tradition in the early part of this century, running a small zoo for the entertainment of the patrons.
Bicycle race, [group portrait], Canterbury (suburb), ca 1931. Courtesy Peter Nixon and the City of Canterbury Local History Photograph Collection.

The Canterbury Velodrome, a highly banked board track for cycle racing, opened in 1928 at the end of Charles Street before the river was realigned. The Dobroyd Golf Club had a golf course in King Street in the early part of the century, but eventually the expansion of the race course swallowed up the greens and fairways.

Prepared by Canterbury City Library

Brian Madden, Lesley Muir and Canterbury City Council


MADDEN, Brian J and MUIR, Lesley. Canterbury Farm: 200 years. Earlwood, NSW: Canterbury & District Historical Society, 1993.