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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Politicians - Sir Henry Parkes

Henry Parkes at his home at Faulconbridge

Funeral Procession at Central Railway Station

Henry Parkes Grave in Faulconbridge Cemetery

Clarinda Parkes
Although Sir Henry Parkes spent a comparatively short time in the Springwood district, his connection with the area was and still is a matter of pride to the residents. That his love of the place was also very deep is shown by his desire to have his beloved Clarinda and other members of his family buried in the little Faulconbridge Cemetery, even though he had had to give up his home, Faulconbridge House, prior to Clarinda’s death because of his ever present financial difficulties.

Sir Henry acquired large areas of land in North Springwood but did not appear to develop them in any way and they were probably sold or given in settlement of his debts. However in 1876 he bought 400 acres of land for £400 to the east of the Great Western Railway line in what is now the village of Faulconbridge. Here he built 4 houses: Stonehurst thought to have been named for his birthplace, Stoneleigh in England, Faulconbridge House named for his mother, Martha Faulconbridge, Moseley Cottage built for his sister Maria and Fern Dell, probably built to house an employee.

The life and achievements of Sir Henry Parkes have been well documented by so many historians that it seems redundant and presumptuous to write it all again. However, we feel that it is necessary to include some information about his life. He was born in England in 1815, the youngest of 7 children, to a farmer who fell on hard times and was forced to move to the city. Henry received only a very basic education and began labouring work as a small boy. He later became apprenticed to a bone and ivory turner. On the completion of his apprenticeship he set up in business for himself but was not successful. He had married Clarinda Varney and their first 2 children sadly died. They moved to London in hope of finding work but eventually decided to immigrate to NSW.
They set sail on the bounty ship, the Strathfieldsaye, in March 1839, arriving in Sydney in July. Clarinda’s third baby was born on the ship a few days prior to arrival. Conditions on the ship were very unpleasant but Sydney was not much better. They had precious little money, Henry had no job prospects and he was forced to accept a position working as a labourer on Sir John Jamieson’s farm at Regentville. After 6 months of this they moved back to Sydney, Henry finally taking the position of tide waiter with the Customs Department. He saved to buy the necessary tools and began a bone and ivory turning business in Sydney. He attempted to expand too rapidly and once again he was beset by failure.
Sir Henry had always been fond of books and writing and particularly loved writing poetry. His other passion was politics, and he was especially enthusiastic for social reform. He was a fine looking man and a forceful and persuasive orator. Feeling the lack of formal education himself he wanted to do his utmost to see that it was possible for every child to go to school. He wrote articles for newspapers, displaying remarkable journalistic skills despite this lack of education, and he involved himself in various political movements of the time. He established his own newspaper, the Empire, in 1850, becoming bankrupt in 1858.
He entered Parliament in 1856 and was Premier of NSW five times. His political life was as tumultuous as his business life but he achieved a great deal. He is now affectionately known as the Father of Federation as well as the Father of State Education. He was a great believer in rail transport and was one of those who fought to end the transportation of convicts to NSW.
When Henry, Clarinda and their family moved to Faulconbridge it was in response to a need for their own peaceful home. They had rented houses prior to this. Clarinda, a quiet woman who was more content in her home than in the arena of public life, was worn out from many years of child bearing and they settled happily into the loveliness of the Blue Mountains bush. Sir Henry invited many important people to their home, including the Princes Edward and George (later King George V) who were on a trip up to the Lithgow Zig Zag with a large party. They were given breakfast on the veranda overlooking the valley. The Princes are said to have planted a tree each but there is some confusion about the variety of the trees.
Sir Henry had a great deal of landscaping done on his property, making roads, planting trees and mounting statues on pedestals. He also had seating placed strategically to allow for the utmost enjoyment of the grounds.
When the Parkes family moved to Faulconbridge in 1877 Sir Henry asked that his official correspondence be sent there and, as there was no railway platform, he requested that it be put in a bag and thrown off close to his house. He later felt that a platform should be established there to deliver goods and to take up and set down passengers. He also had a Morse telegraph instrument installed in his house with at first a telegraphist and then his daughter Annie to operate it.
Clarinda’s health was poor during the years they lived in Faulconbridge and their two unmarried daughters, Annie and Lily, stayed with her during their father’s frequent absences. Clarinda, the first born, and affectionately known as Menie, had married a Presbyterian minister. He was tragically killed in a fall from a horse and Menie and her children moved from Victoria to Carlyle in Mt Victoria. She wrote many letters to her father and during the period of her widowhood made frequent requests for financial assistance which he must have been hard pressed to satisfy. During 1885 she thought she would move to Faulconbridge House and set up a school. However her brother Varney, who was training as an architect in Sydney, told her that the house would have to be sold. Their father was again in debt. Henry was supporting his wife and unmarried daughters, helping Menie and also maintaining another domestic ménage in Sydney. Like other men of the time he had a mistress. Eleanor Dixon, a young Redfern woman, had given birth to two children and was pregnant with a third prior to the death of Clarinda. Faulconbridge House was sold and the family moved back to Sydney.
In 1889, Henry shocked society and his family by marrying Eleanor. Annie and Lily moved out of his house in protest. Menie was horrified that he had married a girl younger than she was, but promised to try to love her as a sister. As family historians we are impressed by the fact that Eleanor’s three children, Sydney, Kenilworth and Aurora, born out of wedlock, were registered with the Parkes name and Henry named as father. This was so often not the case. Henry and Cobden were born after they were married. Eleanor died aged 38 in 1895 leaving Henry alone again. Julia Lynch, an Irish girl from County Cavan, had nursed Henry’s ‘sweet Nellie’ through her last painful illness and acted as governess to the small children and, at the age of 23, married Sir Henry in 1895. Henry himself died on 27 April 1896.

Although Sir Henry no longer had property in the Mountains, he had wanted Clarinda and himself to be buried at Faulconbridge Cemetery where he had set up a memorial to his parents. His son Robert who had died in 1880 and his sister Maria who died in 1891 were also buried there. Both Lily and Varney Parkes, daughter and son of Henry and Clarinda, were buried at Faulconbridge in 1929 and 1935 respectively. When Henry died, his remains were taken on a special train to Faulconbridge, accompanied by 200 people. Large crowds were there to hear the service and to say goodbye to a man whose greatness they respected. The Rev. J. Vaughan, at the conclusion of the burial service said:
       We are not called upon at this solemn moment, standing here around the open grave, to speak words of eulogy of the mighty dead. We are not here to speak of his public career, or the political institutions which he had founded, or the colossal part which he has taken in the public life of Australasia. All these things are written in this young nation’s history…
The attachment to Sir Henry felt by the local people has continued right up to the present day. In September 1882, after his return to Australia from a trip to England, he travelled up to Faulconbridge by train. All along the line he was ‘cordially received, and railway stations and bridges were decorated with bunting and ferns’. Upon his arrival in Springwood he paid a visit to the little school where a special address was read by a student. Unfortunately the lad had not been a student at Springwood for more than a year but had been brought up from Sydney. There were some very disgruntled parents who were not a bit pleased with the choice.
On Commonwealth Day 1901 wreaths were placed on the Parkes grave, the iron railings surrounding the grave painted and it was reported in the Nepean Times that the roses and other flowers within the enclosure were blooming beautifully. Michael Chapman, who had a house nearby, saw that his gardener kept the grave weeded and in order.
Early in June 1915 a special ceremony was held at the Faulconbridge Cemetery as a celebration of the centenary of Henry Parkes’s birth. It was attended by a number of dignitaries with the Hon. H. Hoyle, Minister for Railways, representing the Government. He read an inscription, which was to be carved on the tombstone:
       On this, the centenary of his birth, the Government and people of Australia remember, with feelings of gratitude and admiration, the patriotic example, and the enduring effects of the public labours in the interests of NSW, Australia, and the Empire, of Sir Henry Parkes, born May 27th, 1815, died April 27th, 1896.
In 1952 it was reported that the original plaque on the grave had been stolen during World War II and the Henry Parkes Cemetery Trust intended to ask the State Government to replace it.  On 27 January 2001 a special Centenary of Federation ceremony was held at the cemetery, attended by Gordon Samuels, Governor of NSW and his wife, descendants of the Parkes’ family and of other local families connected with him, and many local residents and visitors. This was organised by the Faulconbridge Residents’ Association and many fine speeches were made about Sir Henry and Federation. Later in the year, on 15 March, in a celebration of public education, local public school teachers met at the cemetery to celebrate Henry Parkes’s contributions to public education. A statement of appreciation to Henry Parkes was read on behalf of the teachers of the Blue Mountains.
In August 1902 The Mountaineer, arguing the case for a national monument to be erected at Sir Henry’s grave, said ‘Sir Henry Parkes loved his mountain home, where nature soothed him after many a time of turmoil and activity’. And in the same article, ‘We say that some national monument at his grave is due to Parkes. … True he was not perfect, but who is?’
Shirley Evans from The Making of A Mountain Community: A Biographical Dictionary of the Springwood District.

More on Parkes:
In 1887 Sir Henry Parkes was in debt to the amount of £50,000.  He was forced to hand his assets over to trustees so that they could satisfy his creditors.  His principal assets were:
 * Land at North Sydney valued at £20,000
* Property at Faulconbridge valued at £19,000
* Coal property at Jamberoo valued at £5,000
* Property at Jervis Bay valued at £4,000
* Property at Coleridge valued at £2,000
* Property at Lawson valued at £1,300
* Property on the Holt Sutherland Estate valued at £1,500
* Property at Jerilderie valued at £500
* Property at Ashfield valued at £1,287
* Property at Wentworth Falls valued at £3,000
* Property at the Valley (Valley Heights) valued at £1,020
* Two lots at Springwood valued at £600 and £1,600
* Property at Guilford valued at £150
* Property at Moama value at £300
* Property at Canley Vale £120
plus various merchandise etc.

All up his assets were estimated to be worth £65,831.  Parkes creditors were numerous and included men like Messrs John Sutherland, Clarke, Abigail and Roberts, members of the Government of the day.  There may have been a hint of doggy-doings but the four men assured everyone that they were members of some kind of syndicate.  Other creditors were Hon. F. Vickery MLC (Vickery & Sons); the Hon. Charles Moore (owner of Moorecourt Springwood); Sir Saul Samuel and the late Hon. John Frazer MLC; the Hon. J. B. Watt MLC; Mr. A. Dean; Sir Daniel Cooper; Mr. James Watson (Treasurer in Parkes Government); Mr. John Shepherd; the Hon. S.A. Stephen MLC; Mr. Hugh Taylor MLA; Mr. W.C. Proctor, Mr. Sydney Smith MLA; the Hon. W.H. Pigott MLC; the Hon. Henry Mort  MLC and Mr. Fraser-Martin.[1]


[1] The Brisbane Courier, 17th October, 1887, p. 3.

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