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2.0 Historical Overview : Birchgrove Park
2.1 Pre-Settlement History
The area in which Birchgrove Park is located was inhabited by the Wangal band of the Dharug
(Eora) language group for at least 10,000 years before British settlement. ‘Wangal country’ was
known as wanne, and it originally extended from the suburbs of Balmain and Birchgrove in the east
to Silverwater and Auburn in the west. Unfortunately, smallpox ravaged the local aboriginal bands,
killing over half of them. Few remained living in the area after 1840. Although 16 midden sites
have been identified in the Leichhardt Municipality, none has been identified so far within the site
or environs of Birchgrove Park. Because the upper slopes of the Park were used for growing fruit
trees and dairying in the early 19th century, and the lower portion was originally mudflats which
were later covered over by land reclamation, these activities scattered or overlaid what Aboriginal
remains may have existed in this area. However, an interpretative sign is present at Yurulbin (Long
Nose) Point recognising the traditional owners of the Leichhardt area.
 
2.2 European Settlement
The land comprising Birchgrove Park comprises a portion of a 1796 grant to Private WHITFIELD (Whitefield) George   of the NSW Corps and an area of reclaimed land from as Snails Bay. Whitfield received a grant of land measuring thirty acres from Governor Hunter on 15th September 1796 
The original grant document states that the area was to be known as “Whitfield’s Farm”, although it
is uncertain how much of a farm was actually established during Whitfield’s relatively short
ownership. One source states that early manuscripts (not cited) refer to Whitfield’s Farm as one
“upon which dairying and fruit growing were profitably pursued”.
 
In 1800 Whitfield’s original grant was purchased by a KNIGHT , Richard  who subsequently
sold it to Captain E. Abbott of the NSW Corps in 1806. In 1810, Lieutenant John Birch, paymaster
of the 73rd Regiment, purchased the property. Birch was the first to build a permanent residence on
the site which he named Birch Grove reputedly because of the orange trees growing there at the
time.2 The original house (Figure H2) was constructed of stone, probably quarried on the estate. Its
roof was made from shingles split from casuarinas growing on the surrounding foreshore. In 1827,
Birch Grove was described in the Sydney press as having a garden of about three acres, secured by
a strong fence, and containing some five hundred fruit trees. The house was enlarged significantly
by subsequent owners, some of these enlargements occurring during the mid to late 1820s (Figure
H3 & H4). It was the only house on the estate until 1860 and the first built on the Balmain
Peninsula. The house was subsequently demolished in 1967, at which time it was thought to be the
second or third oldest residence still standing in Sydney.
Birch did not hold onto the property for long, selling the entire estate, house plus the surrounding
land grant, to Rowland W. Loane, merchant and settler, in March 1814. It would appear that Loane
unsuccessfully attempted a four- lot subdivision in 1833 before selling the property to
1 Winning, C. 1980. Cricket Balmainia. Official History of the Balmain District Cricket Club.
2 Presumably planted by Whitfield, but possibly by Knight or Abbott, the successive owners before 1810.
References
Military records  ,Pay rolls, Pay Musters, Cemetery Records, Church Records & General Muster Records, Mitchell Library ,Sydney Australia
The information is intended for short Historical value only,
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© Copyright B & M Chapman (QLD) Australia
Last revised: February 03, 2008.