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St Ives History and How Rosedale Became St Ives

The area now known as St Ives was originally - towards the end of the 19th century - called Rosedale, named after a prominent estate established by the first European to be granted land in the district, David Matthew. Here's a little St Ives history.


St Ives history headmasters house

The original Headmaster's Cottage from the first school in St Ives. Photo: Alec Smart

However, the region of Roseville, 8km to the south-east, which was first settled in 1814, had a very similar-sounding name and town planners realised there was a strong likelihood mail would get mixed-up between the geographically close neighbourhoods. So, a name change was inevitable.

There is a direct historical link between the two suburbs and how they developed from land grants to prominent European settlers, who extracted the timber and cleared them for orchards and farms until, finally, they were subdivided into residential zones, businesses and infrastructure.

St Ives History Starts With Timber

St Ives’ origins as a settlement began when the region was identified as a source of prime timber, known as blue gum high forest because it featured the tall, straight and highly sought-after Sydney blue gum.

Throughout the 1790s and well into the late 1800s, the tallest trees, which can reach over 30 metres in height and spread 8 metres across their base, were felled for houses, wharves, bridges, fence posts and rail and tram sleepers.

The wood, which is hard, even-textured and easy to shape, was also highly prized for boatbuilding, wall panelling, flooring and furniture production because of its rich dark honey colouring.

Once the trees were felled – much of it by unregulated lumber traders who carted it down dirt tracks to boats waiting in Pittwater and Middle Harbour Creek - the prime soil was cultivated for growing fruits, and orchards sprung up in orderly rows.

These replaced the diversity of the native forests and dispersed the wildlife, and set the course for an agriculture-based economy to sustain the ever-expanding British colony. Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Australia’s third-oldest national park that eventually enclosed and protected the region, was not declared until 1894.

Until then, there was little regulation of timber felling – which led to the current critically endangered status of blue gum high forest, once dominant across the Sydney region, as well as the similarly endangered turpentine ironbark forest.

Timber at origins of St Ives

Dalrymple Hay - the last of the critically endangered blue gum high forest. Photo: Alec Smart

First St Ives Settlers

The first four of the most prominent European settlers on the Upper North Shore, who felled the forests then cleared the ground for agriculture, were Michael Fitzgerald, William Henry, David Matthew and Richard Archbold.

Archbold (who would later purchase Fitzgerald’s estate in 1857), farmed alongside Matthew, a timber merchant and magistrate.

Matthew extracted timber from a 400 acre plot of land he was granted in 1819 and named Clanville Estate. Archbold operated from a neighbouring 600 acre estate. Archbold’s son-in-law lived on their property in a stone cottage called Rosa Villa, from which the suburb ultimately derived its name.

In 1819, St Ives history started in earnest. Matthew returned to England, purchased saw milling machinery, and imported it back to Sydney. In 1823 he was granted an additional 800 acre plot of land 8km further north from Clanville, in a forested region that encompassed present-day east Pymble and central St Ives, which he named Rosedale.

He was the first European to settle in this area. (Rosedale Rd now runs through his former estate, from Mona Vale Rd at St Ives Village Shopping Centre south towards Gordon Station.)

Historical St Ives picture

Junction of Cowan Rd and Pittwater Rd (now Mona Vale Road), St. Ives, circa 1909.

Image courtesy Ku-Ring-Gai Historical Society.

In 1824 Matthew set up his saw mill on the junction between a dirt track – Cowan Rd – and a cross-street known as Stoney Creek Rd (later renamed Pittwater Rd, then Mona Vale Rd) that he cut into the forest to enable carriage of his timber to the city.

A water trough was established near here for the teams of horses deployed to haul the timber south to Sydney Harbour or north to Pittwater, for transportation via sea to the rapidly expanding British colony.

In 1830, David Matthew sold Clanville further south to his neighbour, Richard Archbold (who cleared the remaining trees and planted orchards), and focused on felling the trees around Rosedale.

Rosedale Farm

By the 1860s, after most of the timber in the region was extracted and the ground levelled for agriculture, Matthew and the other major landholder, John Ayres, subdivided and sold off their estates – the latter’s named Rosedale Farm.

A network of orchardists developed and the community of Rosedale became renowned for its fruit, whilst Chinese market gardeners cultivated vegetables in the area around what is now St Ives Village Green.

The history of St Ives records that some of the major landowners gave their names to streets or neighbouring suburbs, such as George Mudie (Mudies Rd), John Ayres (Ayres Rd) and James Terrey (Terrey Hills).

In the 1880s the population of Rosedale expanded further as the estates were subdivided into smallholdings with resident market gardeners and a small dairy.

However, because Rosedale was isolated from the railway, it was not connected to the Sydney grid of electricity until 1914 so the region consisted primarily of orchard growers and tenant farmers (the area was not rezoned from ‘rural’ to ‘residential’ until 1959, when new streets and houses contributed to a massive population influx).

Meanwhile, Rosa Villa cottage was demolished circa 1895 to make way for the North Shore Line railway between St Leonards and Hornsby (completed May 1899 and opened on 1 January 1890. The line was then extended south to Milsons Point to link up with a jetty for ferries crossing Sydney Harbour. This latter section opened on 1 May 1893). Archbold’s land was subdivided and sold for residential development and infrastructure.

St Ives Cornwall

St Ives, Cornwall, UK - an unlikely inspiration for the Sydney suburb. Photo: Alec Smart

Origin of St Ives Name

On 10 November 1885, Rosedale Post Office opened, followed a few years later by Rosedale Public school on 6 May 1889. It was another 11 years before the suburb was renamed St Ives.

Some people think St Ives was named after the historic fishing village in Cornwall, south-western England. That town was named after the Irish Saint Ia, whom, legend has it, touched a floating leaf with a rod after praying for transport to England, and it enlarged into a vessel strong enough to carry her across the Irish Sea and deposit her on the Cornish shoreline.

However, St Ives history of the name suggest that it was most likely named after Isaac Ellis Ives who arrived in Sydney in 1857, aged 17, and managed warehouses for Tooth & Co brewery before becoming a politician.

In 1885 he was elected to represent the ward of St Leonards in the NSW Legislative Assembly (Lower House), which encompassed the Rosedale and Roseville districts, serving until 1889 when he retired.

During that time, he successfully petitioned the Postmaster General to approve the 1885 construction of the post office in Rosedale, and later lobbied for the public school. The original Headmaster’s Cottage still stands at the corner of Rosedale Rd and Porter’s Lane, now a restaurant (for years inside the grounds of the former St Ives Central Public School).

Ives then became a City of Sydney Councillor, serving from 1893-98, during which time he was Mayor of Sydney from 1896-97.

Ives used to row back and forth across the harbour between The Rocks and his home in Mosman, and Watermen’s Steps, the point from which he departed on the city side, were renamed Ives Steps Wharf in 1896, during his term as Mayor.

Renaming of Rosedale

The rural community of Rosedale was renamed St Ives in approximately 1900, most likely in Ives’ honour, a year or so after he retired from politics. Ives himself died in 1906, aged 66.

Isaac Ives origins of St ives

Isaac Ives, Sydney Mayor 1896-97, the most likely candidate who inspired

the Sydney suburb named St Ives. Photo: Wikimedia/Sydney Council



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