Cumbrae, Burnside, Parramatta. Digital Order Number: a106154

The opening of Cumbrae, No. 2 Cottage and second of the Burnside Presbyterian Orphan Homes

Lady Gertrude Denman, affectionately as Trudie, arrived in Australia in July 1912, alongside her husband and newly appointed Governor General, Lord Denman. The daughter of feminist Annie Pearson, and Executive of the Women’s Liberal Federation herself, Denman took up where her predecessor Lady Dudley had left off in her support of progressive movements, particularly those focused on public health and child welfare. Denman, a vocal activist for women’s rights, endeavoured to extend the work begun by Dudley in schemes such as the establishment of the Bush Nursing Service, which placed “self-reliant, resourceful” women, “equal to any emergency” in remote locations to provide frontline medical care. On Saturday, 21st September, 1912, Denman again followed in the footsteps of Lady Dudley, arriving at James Burns’ Gowan Brae estate before travelling to the opening of the second Burnside Home.

The weather, as it has been for the opening of Blairgowrie, was fine, although squally winds and heavy rain had been present in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. Indeed, the poor weather had prompted Sir James Burns to approach Parramatta Council for assistance:

From James Burns, chairman of work committee, Burnside Homes, stating that owing to the recent heavy and continuous rains there were so many holes in the road between Church Street and the Parramatta boundary on the Pennant Hills Road. As it was anticipated that some hundreds of visitors would be attending the opening of the second Cottage Home at Burnside of Saturday, 21st inst., the directorate of the Homes would feel greatly obliged if the council could fill up the holes and improve the section named in anticipation of the extra traffic.

The anticipated arrival of a “large number of guests” again prompted the organising committee to ask “friends in the district” to “provide their own means of transit out to the Homes”. This assistance would “greatly help the work of the committee”.

Lady Denman lunched with James Burns at Gowan Brae before setting out to the Cottage Homes. She was accompanied by Lady Barttelot (Gladys St. Aubyn Angove) and Captain Sir Walter Barttelot (Military Secretary to Lord Denman and a “nice, pleasant, not particularly brilliant British landowner”). The party was again accompanied by an escort of Lancers, this time let by Captain Stowe. The grounds had been “specially prepared” and “looked their best”, Scots’ Pipers and the Lancers’ Band played, contributing to the “cheerful, neat appearance” of the grounds that “seemed to quite charm all the visitors”.

Lady Denman arrived at the site dressed in “black ninon [lightweight sheer fabric] over satin, trimmed with point lace … a white fur coat, white hat trimmed with white ostrich feathers”. She was received by the chairman of the Board and co-directors. As she was escorted to the cottage, the band played “The National Anthem”. The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate reported that Psalm 100, “All people that on earth do dwell” was sung, after which the Rev. J. Kemp Bruce, acting on behalf of the Moderator and described as a “genial man” whose “outlook on life was broad and intensely human and sympathetic”, offered a dedication prayer. Lady Denman was then welcomed by the chairman, who handed her a golden key, much in the same way Lady Dudley had received a golden key for the opening of Blairgowrie.

Lady Denman responded with the following speech:

I am very glad that one of the last functions I shall be able to perform in this part of Australia is in connection with these Orphans Homes which are erected and maintained by the members of the Presbyterian Church. It is pleasing to find the good work done by the Presbyterian Church in Scotland being reproduced in this State. I should also like to congratulate the government of these homes on the manner in which the atmosphere of home has been maintained in the institution. From what I have seen, it seems to me they really are homes for the children.[Applause].  And before formally opening this new building, I should like to thank the directors for the charming key which they have given me; and with these few words I will declare now the No. 2 Cottage open [Cheers].

The children of the Home answered this declaration with a performance of “Joy Bells”, a “homely little musical item” sung “most creditably” by the children.

Lady Denman had a second role to play – that of laying the foundation stone of No. 3 Cottage (Dunkeld). It, like Blairgowrie and Cumbrae, was designed by the architects McCredie and Anderson. Rev. Professor Macintyre offered a dedication prayer, followed by a short address made by Colonel Burns. The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate reported his speech:

When all the cottages had been erected they would be in a position to provide accommodation for 150 children. When it was considered what the future of this country would be – that in the city of Sydney in a few years there would be over a million people – the great opportunity that was afforded for work such as these Homes stood for could not fail to be recognised. He felt sure that everyone present that afternoon was anxious that every poor Australian child should have a chance in this world. [Applause]. They, who were connected with the Homes, had put their hand to the plough, and intended to go on with the matter. [Cheers]. He hopes all the children in the Burnside Homes would prove a credit to New South Wales, and in asking Lady Denman to lay the foundation-stone of the No. 3 Cottage, he would like to express the hope also that it would not be long before they had another visit from her Excellency. [Applause].

Colonel Burns then handed Lady Denman a silver trowel. Lady Denman trowelled the mortar, and when the stone was lowered, declared “this stone to be well and truly laid”.

The Hon. Dugald Thomson, a merchant and politician, and a man “respected for his ‘strong convictions and eminent fairness’”, and known as “too good-natured and straightforward to seek or exploit political advantage” then proposed a vote of thanks to Lady Denman, before declaring:

I am sorry indeed that her Excellency should have to say today that this may be one of the last functions in which she may take part in New South Wales. It there is any shut door, any closed gate, it is not the gate nor the door of the heart of the people of New South Wales. That door is as open today as it has ever been to their Excellencies. [Applause]. We have had a reputation as a State and as a people of being hospitable; and I say this most emphatically, that if there is any difference today it is not the people who have changed.

Dugald Thomson was referring to Lady Denman’s earlier comments about the opening of Cumbrae being the last occasion she was likely to preside over in New South Wales. This was in reference to the “Government House Eviction”, and was to dominate the reporting of the opening of Cumbrae.

Lord Denman, upon leaving Sydney for Melbourne by the evening train on 7th October, 1912, explained the controversy:

Lord Denman, in reply, said he and Lady Denman were deeply touched by this expression of goodwill on the part of the people of Sydney. Before his departure from England, and after his appointment as Governor-General, which he had accepted on the clear understanding that he had a residence in Sydney as well as in Melbourne, he learnt that notice had been given of the New South Wales Government’s intention to resume possession of Sydney Government House. High authorities in England and his Ministers at Melbourne had come here, and tried to effect an amicable settlement, but their efforts had been in vain. The regret which he held on account of this failure was softened by the marks of goodwill and kindness which he had received from the people of Sydney. He then wished good-bye and good luck.

The afternoon opening of Cumbrae concluded with the vice-regal party returning to Gowan Brae. Lady Denman was reported to have inspected the escort, expressing pleasure at the “fine appearance of the men and animals” and “seeing such a smart turnout”, with particular reference to “the excellent stamp of horses in the detachment”. After this inspection and praise, the party returned to the city.


[Her Excellency Lady Denman, 1912 / photographer unknown; Call Number: P1 / 2070; Digital Order No. a4447070]


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Bonnie Wildie, Research Assistant, City Of Parramatta, Parramatta Heritage Centre 2016