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Taylor, John (1827–1905)

from Cumberland Argus (Parramatta, Sydney)

The old Parramatta veteran, Mr. John Taylor, died at his residence, Wentworth street, on Wednesday night, about half past 12 o'clock, His medical attendant, Dr. Waugh, became anxious about the case the day after the seizure, and advised his friends that the end of the long life was not far off.

A week ago, from the time this notice was written. Mr. Taylor was in The Argus office, and remained for a long time discussing suggestions for the improvement of things in Parramatta. In fact, his mission was to communicate his thoughts to the public. He was up late the previous night pencilling his suggestions, and in the morning had given his notes to his clerk to copy. It was that 'copy' that Mr. Taylor was anxious to see printed in the columns of The Argus. It is no breach of confidence to say now this is how he headed his notes:

'ALAS! OLD PARRAMATTA!
'WHERE ARE WE DRIFTING TO?'

His nom-de-plume was 'Old Parramatta.' While conversing in the office, he let his memory travel over the scenes of his boyhood, and his talk became reminiscent of the old days when he ran over the lanes and grass-grown tracks of Parramatta, now dignified by the names of streets. His mind was keenly agitated for the betterment of Parramatta. Could nothing be done to revive the Progress Association? he asked. Before he left, as we referred to his value as the local historian, he said with a sigh, alas how prophetic, 'It won't be long now before I go hence and am heard no more.' In less than twenty-four hours he had an apoplectic seizure in his office, and his death occurred within six days.

It was well known that for years past Mr. Taylor had suffered from a weak heart, which occasionally prostrated him, but recently he had appeared to be a good deal improved in health.

Mr. Taylor will be much missed by the old hands, and those who delighted to talk and read about the old days in Parramatta. For some years past the Christmas number of The Argus has contained most interesting interviews with Mr. Taylor. It was his intention, he informed us only a few days before his death, to commit to paper his recollections of the old days. He was the last remaining link of the first Parramatta Council, in which he served as alderman when quite a young man, being returned at the first election after the town was incorporated. He leaves five sons ,including Rev. Hugh Walker Taylor, Mr. Walter Taylor, and Mr. E. Taylor (supposed to be in America), and one daughter. He is survived by his sisters, Mrs. Rutter, Mrs. Gould, and Miss Taylor.

An account of Mr. Taylor's life is best supplied in an interview which The Argus had with him in 1902: —

'I was born on the 8th December, 1827, in Macquarie-street, Parramatta, in a cottage owned by my father, the late Hugh Taylor. The old cottage was lately pulled down, and it stood where Mr. Alfred Barry's residence now stands. The whole of our family were born there, Father was an active man, and took a big part in all that concerned Parramatta, and always had a hand in the politics of the day. He was one of the old district councillors, and one of the market com-missioners. He was also the representative of the Sydney Herald, and the principal agent for all the papers. The news of the day filtered through very slowly in those days, and the letters came along very slowly, too. Old Mr. Denning was the local postman, and some times it was very late at night when he came along. There were no stamps on the letters, but each one had marked on it how much there was to pay. My father was on very intimate terms with the late Mr. John Fairfax, so much so that that gentleman made the promise, "As long as ever the Sydney Morning Herald is in existence, there will be a free copy for Mr. Hugh Taylor and his family.

'The first school I went to was Mr. Daniel Thurston's, in Phillip Street. The old cottage still stands on the left hand side, looking east, just past Elijah Brown's. The Thomas, the Paytens, the Martins (Sir James, John and Thomas) — and my later brother Hugh, also went there. From there I went to Mr. John Hare's school, which stood where St. John's Grammar School now stands. My mother went to this school before me. I was a boarder there for three years, and my schoolmates were the Shellys, Byrnes, Rouses, Lawsons, Blaxlands, and the Wentworths. I then was sent to the Sydney College, the headmaster being Mr T. W. Cape. The school was in College street on the site where the Museum now stands. The late Rev. Dr. Woolls went there as a tutor, at the same time. This was the highest school we could possibly get to in those days.

'After a term at the school it was my father's desire that I should be articled to a personal friend of his, George Robert Nicholls the most brilliant lawyer of the day. He was Auditor-General in the Stewart A. Donaldson Ministry— the first Ministry under Responsible Government. My inclinations, however, were quite opposite, for while at Hare's school I had formed a big opinion of the coach-building business. Mr. Urquhart's coach-building factory was opposite the school, near where The Argus shop now stands. Well, I entered as a bound apprentice to Mr. James Urquhart for six years, and served my full time. Father then desired to set me up in business, but I was intent on seeing a bit of the world, as I had not at that time been outside of Sydney Heads. Being acquainted with some nautical men, I was induced to accept a position of under-supercargo on a brig called the Mount Stuart Elphinstone. We took to New Zealand 1500 sheep, 6 horses, and a mule, shipped by Mr. Clifford, an Englishman, who started one of the first sheep stations in New Zealand. That was 54 years ago. I was 21 years of age. We landed the stock at Cloudy Bay (now called Picton). Those were stirring times in New Zealand, and the Honi Heki war was on. I saw at Port Nicholson (now Wellington) the great fighting chief, Ranga Bulla put on board the warship Calliope as a prisoner. On my return to New South Wales I determined upon seeing something of my own native land, and visited Bathurst, Maitland, and other places. The travelling fever was on me, and next venture was to California. The gold rush was then on. I landed there in 1851. Lots of other Parramatta boys went over— Jesse Hack, John McRoberts, and others. San Francisco was a very little place then, built on the beach, with the mountains at the back. The Rev. William Taylor, the great missioner, had a mission chapel on an old hulk, moored in the bay. Five years after that, before I left, the bay had been reclaimed; and the town was built on it. I did not stay at San Francisco, but went 30 miles up the Sacramento River to Benecia. Here I secured a bit of land and put up a waggon and carriage factory. Benecia afterwards became the capital of the State. I had a number of Sydney natives working for me, and had a good business. It was while in business here that I determined to settle down in life, and I got married and endeavored to make myself useful. Here I joined in with others in establishing an Episcopalian service in the city of Benecia, which proved a very successful movement. Before I left there was a large established church there, and, along with Dr. Tripler (an officer in the U.S. Army) I was elected to represent the Church in the first Episcopal Conference held in the State of California. I gave a report of the proceedings to the late Dr. Breenup, who was the representative for St. John's at the first Episcopal Conference held in Sydney.

'While carrying on business I got a letter containing the news of my mother's death, and this unsettled me greatly, and shortly afterwards I received the news of my father's death. California could hold me no longer, and I determined to sell out at any cost, and return home. My wife acquiesced, and we landed in Sydney in 1855, and came back to Parramatta. I then resolved to try my fortune at the auctioneering and commission business, and held my first sale in the old Red Cow Yards, on the site where now stands the Commercial Bank. Then I took premises at the corner of Phillip- and Church-streets. The old cottage had previously been the residence of Lieutenant-Governor King. I converted it into a saleroom, and there the first sale of land by the foot frontage was held by me in that old room. The property consisted of a block of land extending from where Mrs Gallagher's shop now stands to the White Horse Hotel. It was in the Thorne Estate.

'Of course I could not keep out of public life. It was so interesting. In 1856 I was a candidate for one of the vacancies in the Market Commission. I was elected at the top of the poll, and held the position until the town was incorporated when the markets fell into the hands of the municipality.

'At this time the volunteer movement was started, and I was one of the first to enrol. I was elected a lieutenant, and the late Dr. Brown was our Captain. I held my commission till I found that to do my duty efficiently as an officer, I would have to neglect my business, so I resigned.

'Then the first municipal elections arose. The law then was that if any person was nominated and elected, and refused to act, he was fined £50. I had no desire to enter municipal life, but the late Edmund Mason and John Donnelly nominated me. I protested, but the returning-officer, Mr. C. B. Lyons, said he had no power to put aside any nomination, and I had to face the inevitable. Nine aldermen were to be elected, and the voting was by the whole of the electors on the Parliamentary Electoral Roll. There were 22 candidates, and the following were elected: James Byrnes, James Howieson, James Pye, John Neale, John Trott, Henry Harvey, John Taylor, and John Williams. I am the only one living now— all the rest have gone, even the town clerk and other officials. I am the only remnant left.

'At the second election, party feeling ran high, and in consequence of my supporting the parliamentary candidature of the late Hon. James Byrnes, the opposite side induced the sitting member (the Hon. Sir John Lackey) to oppose me in the municipal contest. I was elected by a majority of 67.

'Finding municipal life not pleasing— it was about the same then as it is now— I left it. There was a tendency to make principal subservient to personal advantage. For the same reason, in later years, I handed in my commission as a Justice of Peace and a Licensing Magistrate. Years of experience showed me that to retain the friendship of some people, I would have to sacrifice principle and conscience, so I decided, after years of service, to retire from the Bench.

'I have been engaged in the auctioneering business in Parramatta for 47 years, and I claim to be the oldest licensed auctioneer in the Commonwealth, holding a license continually for a period of 47 years. For years I have been manager of the Parramatta branch of the Savings Bank of New South Wales, and now, in consequence of its becoming a daily bank, I am glad of the opportunity of retiring from the service. I have seen poor old Parramatta from a very straggling village rise to be an improved city, and it now only wants good Local Government, backed up by consistency of character in its guidance, to make it what it is entitled to be — the second town in New South Wales."

Original publication

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Citation details

'Taylor, John (1827–1905)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/taylor-john-28761/text36197, accessed 17 October 2019.

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