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The Birth of a Suburb, Newtown

The early land grands that led to the establishment of Newtown and Enmore.

painting of establishment of Newtown

Establishment of Newtown

The earliest land grants in the area date from 1793 when Lieutenant Thomas Rowley was granted 100 acres bordered to the east by what is now Australia Street. To the west of Rowley’s grant was a further 40 acres issued to Jane Codd. In 1794 four 30-acre and two 25-acre grants that covered the area between what is now south King Street and Edgeware Road were issued to some NSW Corps privates and emancipists.

Superintendent of convicts Nicholas Devine was granted 90 acres on the east of south King Street in 1799 which bordered a grant he received in 1794 of 120 acres. Union Street is the border separating these two grants and is still the border between Newtown and Erskineville.

The north of the suburb, on both sides of King Street, was issued as a 240-acre grant to incoming Governor William Bligh in 1806 as a gift from outgoing Governor King, after whom King Street would later be named. King granted Bligh the land to compensate for the low pay the role of governor received. However, King did not know Bligh was being paid more than double what he received. Bligh named his estate ‘Camperdown’ after a naval battle he fought off the Dutch coast in 1797.

Much of the land in these early estates, particularly to the north, was not considered good for farming and was soon subdivided and sold by their owners to house country villas or, particularly along the main street, to tradesmen or merchants. Near the corner of what is now Missenden Road and King Street a small village emerged, O’Connelltown, named after Bligh’s son-in-law who inherited the property.

First Newtown map at establishment
First map of Newtown

Newtown Map and Layout Starting Out

Further south of the bridge over a deep but dry creek at what is now the junction of King St and Enmore Rd, another village was forming. The Sydney Gazette editorialised on 24 November 1832 ‘the neighbourhood about the spot known as Devine’s farm has obtained the name of Newtown’.

However, there are references to the area being called ‘New Town’ from at least 1827. Local legend has it that the suburb was unintentionally named by John Webster when he opened a store in the new village and named it the ‘New Town Store’ to differentiate it from his former shop though this has since been disproved as Webster was not a landowner in the area until 1843, and was still a convict until 1836. It is more likely that the name was bestowed owing to the area being the first ‘new’ commercial centre away from the city.

The council tried to change the suburb's name to South Sydney in 1893, and to Newton in 1901, to avoid confusion with New Town in Tasmania, but met strong resistance from ratepayers.

Enmore was named after Enmore House which was built by Captain Sylvester Brown in 1835. In 1842 it was purchased by Joshua Frey Josephson who in 1848 was the Lord Mayor of Sydney. The house was demolished in 1883.

More detailed map of establishment of Newtown

Newtown Council Formed in 1862

Newtown Council, which included Enmore as one of its wards, was established in December 1862. The council was absorbed into the Sydney Council in 1948. Nowadays Newtown straddles two council areas; Sydney and the newly amalgamated Inner West Council. All of Enmore is in the Inner West Council’s area.

The area now known as Erskineville was also considered part of Newtown Council until it formed its own council in 1872. The new suburb was originally known as Macdonaldtown but the locals never took to it.

Despite the area being called Macdonaldtown, establishments like the school and hotel used the name Erskineville, taking their name from ‘Erskinevilla’ the homestead built by Reverend George Erskine in 1832 which was demolished in 1961. The suburb’s name was officially changed to Erskineville in 1893. Like Newtown and many other small inner-city councils, Erskineville Council was absorbed into Sydney Council in 1948.


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