ASLC holds four
meetings a year at historic Don Bank Cottage Museum, 6 Napier Street, North
Sydney (pictured below). These are held on the third Saturday each February (the Society's
AGM), May, August and November. Meetings commence at 1.00pm and a Guest
Speaker addresses most meetings. Those with an interest in the lacemakers
are welcome to attend as a guest on their first occasion.
The Guest Speaker at our August 2014
meeting was Laila Ellmoos, an historian with the City of Sydney's
History Program. She is the author of three books including Our Island
Home: a history of Peat Island. Laila is a member of the Professional
Historians Association of NSW and is a regular presenter on Fbi Radio's
Scratching Sydney's Surface, a segment which explores the history of
Sydney. Laila's talk is titled Eat Street: Sydney's fruit and nut stalls.
Roadside stalls selling food items including fruit, vegetables, seafood and
peanuts, have been part of the fabric of Sydney's streetscape since the 19th
century. In this talk, Laila took us back in time to take a look at the
fruit and nut stalls that used to occupy the streets of Sydney.
Our May 2014 meeting was an
opportunity for members to tell of recent discoveries about their
families. Our President, Stephen Black, started off this segment with a
tale about his research into a family member who was a veteran of the Battle
of Trafalgar and who had a distant link with a lacemaker family on the
The Guest Speaker at our November 2013
meeting was Mr Ian Hoskins, the Council Historian at North Sydney, based
at the Stanton Library, where he writes about local history and helps manage
two small museums, a heritage centre, archives and a historic cemetery. Ian
has a PhD from the University of Sydney. His latest book, Sydney Harbour:
A History, was published in 2009 and it went on to to win the Queensland
Premierís Literary Award in 2010. Ian provided a fascinating account of
the history of Don Bank Cottage (where our Society meets) and of the
development of North Sydney and the harbour precincts.
The Guest Speaker at our
August 2013 meeting continued this yearís connection with the sea. The
Sydney Heritage Fleet, which is based in Sydney restores and maintains
vessels with a heritage connection to Sydney. Bruce Shying, a member of the
Fleet presented a light-hearted and amusing talk called "Women and the Sea".
It covered the history of women including their role as patron saints of
seafarers, through the early days of sail, up to and including women who are
still setting World records. The talk also included words which sailors
brought ashore with them and which we have absorbed into our everyday speech.
The Guest Speaker at our May 2013
Meeting was Mr Kieran Hosty, the Australian National Maritime Museum's
Curator of Maritime Archaeology and Ship Technology. Apart from his official
responsibilities, Kieran's research interests extend to historical
archaeology and the archaeology of Australian colonialism. Kieran, as usual,
was a Guest
Speaker not to be missed.
Don Bank Cottage Historical Background
Don Bank is an early 19th century vernacular timber slab cottage and the
only one of its type open to the public in the inner city.
Originally a four room cottage, it is not known when the oldest parts of the
house were first built. However there is some evidence which suggests that a
house may have existed on the site before 1854. Records do reveal that by
1854 the land was occupied by a four-roomed cottage with detached iron
outbuildings, known as "St Leonards Cottage". It was located on a new
subdivision of the Wollstonecraft estate, a large area of land granted to
Edward Wollstonecraft in 1825, extending from what is now the suburb of St.
Leonards to the harbour foreshores.
From 1854 until the early 20th century the house underwent many extensions
and renovations. The iron buildings were incorporated into the house and
later removed. An iron roof was placed over the timber shingles. Rooms were
added on either side of the older four roomed cottage. The cottage was
transformed through these changes into a substantial house and by the turn
of the 20th century it had acquired a form similar to the one it has today.
Don Bank's Interior
Interior decoration and building fabric also changed as the house expanded
during the 19th and 20th centuries. These changes, determined by the needs
and tastes of its different owners and residents, used several period styles
ranging from the late Victorian to the Edwardian to the 1930s. Through its
changing history the house reflected the growing prosperity of the region
and its inhabitants, and the development of the north shore as a rural
retreat from Sydney to a distinctive suburban area.
The name of the house also changed over time from St. Leonards to Don Bank.
It appears this change took place sometime around the turn of the 20th
century for reasons which still remain unclear today but may relate to the
White family's time of ownership.
The changing styles and fabrics of the house are illustrated in the
permanent display panel in the Don Bank room. In other parts of the house,
particularly the two rear bedrooms and the hallway, they are evidenced by
the original floors, fabric on the walls and the ceilings, the timber slab
construction of the walls and by interior fittings such as windows and
The colour scheme for the drawing, dining room, kitchen and hallway has been
designed on paint scrapes and interpretation returning Don Bank to the
transitional period between late Victorian and early Edwardian. Different
colours for the drawing and dining rooms were chosen to demonstrate a time
when these rooms had distinct uses. The drawing room, as the entrance to the
house, is a warm Allendale Brown and represents a softer informal feminine
approach whilst the dining room, finished in Apple Green, is the stronger,
more formal colour. The light fittings throughout were chosen to match the
rooms they illuminate. In the drawing and dining rooms the lights are
replicas of gaslight fittings. During the process of electrification of
lighting in the early 1920s many homes economised and used their gas
fittings to house the new electric light. The lower level of light from
these pendants reflect the way homes used to he lit as opposed to our
brighter approach today. In the hallway, paint scrape evidence revealed the
original colour on the walls and the colour is based on this evidence. The
kitchen features traditional colours complete with a dado line and lime wash
around the old fuel stove.
In an advertisement appearing in 1854, St. Leonards Cottage is described as
having "grounds in front of the cottage which are delightfully laid out and
planted with the choicest fruit and shrubs." During the 19th century the
garden was extended from the area in front of the house to include the
ground next door on the southern boundary. The garden now occupies the site
in front of the house and the southern side has been built over with a modem
office complex and car park.
Only a few of the original plantings survive today. The most outstanding
feature is the fine magnolia grandiflora which dominates the garden directly
in front of the house. Due to the surrounding large-scale developments the
garden is constantly under pressure, but with careful tending and plant
selection it has been maintained as a Victorian-style garden. The grounds are
open daily from 7:00am to 7:00pm and are used regularly as a place of rest and
relaxation in an otherwise busy and crowded central business district.
Who Lived in the House?
The White Family
A house's history cannot be told without telling the story of who lived
within its walls. Don Bank has been home to mainly middle class and working
class people since the mid-19th century. Some of its residents only lived in
the house for a year or two; others spent most of their lives at Don Bank.
It is due to the long ownership and occupation by the White family that Don
Bank remains standing and not another redeveloped site. According to Mrs.
Helen (Nell) McDermott (granddaughter to James White, who bought the
property in 1903) "before James White married Joanne Grotty they used to
walk around North Sydney and go past Don Bank... Grandmother really loved
the place and Grandfather said when we are married I am going to save up and
buy that place for you". James White did eventually purchase Don Bank but at
that stage Mrs. Joanne White felt she was too old and frail to move from
their James Street address. Mr. James White let the house until 1914 when
his son, Thomas and his wife, Catherine White, took up residence. The Whites
raised three daughters at Don Bank. After Thomas died, and after two of the
daughters, Gwendoline and Helen (Nell) subsequently married, Catherine and
her other daughter, Kathleen, lived at Don Bank until Catherine's death in
Captain Benjamin Jenkins
Captain Jenkins bought the house after he retired from sea life in the
1870s. For a short time he lived in the house with his wife; but after her
death he shared the house with his niece, Ethel, and her husband, Albert
Lester, a dentist. Following his retirement from the sea, Jenkins worked as
a marine surveyor and became a Mayor of the Borough of St. Leonards between
1886 and 1889.
Robert Thomson came to live in the house with his wife Mary in the late
1850s. He was prominent in the establishment of the insurance industry in
Australia and was instrumental in the drawing up of the A.M.P. Act. Their
first child, Anna, was born in the house.
Without historical evidence it is difficult to piece more together about the
lives of the people who lived at Don Bank. It is apparent that most of the
men who lived there were either professionals, public servants or
businessmen. The women residents were listed as domestics or housewives and
much less is known about their working lives except for their domestic
chores and responsibilities.
From Cottage to Museum
After the death of Mrs. White in 1974, negotiations began with the family to
purchase Don Bank and open it to the public. In 1977, following a public
meeting, the Don Bank Trust was formed. Combined with the efforts of the
North Shore Historical Society and the Don Bank Trust, North Sydney Council
set out to purchase Don Bank and preserve it as one of North Sydney's
earliest surviving buildings. In the initial stages of the discussions on
the best way to save Don Bank, there was talk of re-erecting it at another
site in North Sydney due to the pressure on the site for redevelopment.
However, this proposal did not proceed and North Sydney Council purchased
the whole site and conserved the building with assistance from the newly
formed Heritage Council of NSW (1977) and the North Shore Historical
Society. The Council's purchase of the site was made possible by the sale of
air space rights above Don Bank being transferred to other sites in the
central business district. The site is listed on North Sydney Council's
Heritage Inventory and is classified by the National Trust.
Don Bank Museum
Don Bank is a community museum managed by North Sydney Council's Historical
Services Department. Apart from the material fabric display telling the
story of the construction of the house and its period styles and
furnishings, the Museum features changing exhibitions and displays depicting
a social history theme.
Volunteers assist with guiding and other tasks associated with the
management and promotion of Don Bank and its activities. If you are
interested in becoming a volunteer please contact the Historical Services
Department at Stanton Library.
Monday: 1:00 - 4:00pm
Wednesday: 1:00 - 4:00pm
Other Times: By Appointment (Phone Stanton Library 9936 8400)
The garden is open 7 days a week from 7:00am - 7:00pm.
Appointments outside these hours can be made for group tours and class
Minimal fee and concession prices available.
DON BANK AS A FUNCTION VENUE
Don Bank and its garden setting is an ideal venue for group meetings and
special functions such as wedding ceremonies and receptions, book launches,
small seminars and cocktail parties. For function hire charges and further
enquiries please contact the Historical Services Department at Stanton
DON BANK MUSEUM
6 Napier Street
North Sydney NSW 2060
Telephone: 02 9955 6279
HISTORICAL SERVICES DEPARTMENT
234 Miller Street
North Sydney NSW 2060
Telephone: 02 9936 8400