The Glebe Road House and The Harpurs

Where it Began:  363-365 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, NSW

This was the building occupied for many years by James Bentley Corbin and family (363) and Josiah Harpur and family together with Miss Harpur’s High School & Kindergarten (365).

The Corbin half was called Alresford, and the Harpur part, Brisbane House.

The name Alresford, you know about. Brisbane House recalls an earlier Harpur house/shop and land near Bathurst called Brisbane Grove. The original owner was Rev. William Walker, a friend of Governor Thomas Brisbane, hence the name.

The Glebe building is of two storeys, constructed of brick and stone and consists of two semi-detached town houses. It was probably built about 1880, on land granted to William Dumaresq in 1840. It still exists, but is hidden behind two-storied shops/flats built in the 1920s in the front gardens of the original dwellings.

There were four of these buildings (8 dwellings) built between the Bidura property (State owned) and Forsyth Street, on the corner of which is presently a pharmacy. They can be viewed from the rear in Arden Lane.

Fortunately, one of the four (359-361) is free standing (without shops) so we know what the others looked like. The main supporting evidence for this is a photograph of No.365 (and a small part of 363) taken in the early 1890s. The photo shows two grand nieces of Josiah and Eliza Caroline Harpur standing in front of No.365. Two of the girls’ descendants each separately provided an identical copy of the old photo to Ken Harpur. Further evidence came from satellite photos, and the existing identical, very ornate chimneys on all four buildings. By combining elements of the old photo, and a photo of the remaining visible building, Ken Harpur has done a digital reconstruction of 363-365, as it would have looked in the early 1890s with identical buildings on either side.

The Corbin and Harpur ownerships, and the location of the land, has been proved by searches of title deeds and deposited plans at the Lands Office. The buildings were first located by searching the annual Sands’ Directory of Sydney, which listed streets and building occupancies. These, as well as the title searches, revealed that members of both the Corbin and Harpur families retained ownership or occupancy into the 1920s.

Josiah Harpur was born in Keady, Co. Armagh, Ireland in 1825, and died at Brisbane House on 23 August 1898, leaving a widow, two sons and two daughters. There were no grandchildren.

He and his older brother Henry Kidd Harpur (Ken's great grandfather) had arrived in Sydney in March 1841. Josiah's career was in commerce - at various times a wholesale merchant and retailer. In the 1850s he had spent time at the Bendigo and Turon goldfields.

There is every reason to believe James Corbin and Josiah Harpur were friends. The Corbins sent both of their daughters next door to Miss Harpur's school. When James was bankrupted by the depression of the 1890s, there was a debt for school fees outstanding - at the meeting of creditors the Harpurs were among those who proposed that James be allowed to retain his personal effects, stock in trade and Hunter St premises.

A newspaper report of Josiah’s funeral noted that amongst those who attended were “A.Corbin and B.Corbin”. Amongst those who sent “handsome floral tributes” was listed Mr J.B. Corbin.

Renewals of Contact

1.  Contact between the two families had probably ended before about 1930, but was resumed in the late 1950s. This came about when David Wilson Corbin (1907-1986) and his wife Jean moved from Newcastle to Wagga Wagga sometime after WWII, where David took up the position of Secretary/Manager of that city’s Country Golf Club, and resided on the course. Through golf they met Ken Harpur’s older sister, Pauline Lisle, and her husband Graham. The two families became close friends. However, neither the Corbins nor the Lisles knew at first of any past connection. In the mid 1970s, when David was visiting the Lisles and he was shown some research by Ken Harpur - including the abovementioned newspaper funeral report - he immediately said “that is my family!”

2.  Upon moving to Cowra in 2001, Ken Harpur joined the Cowra Family History Group, which has its room in the same building as the Shire Library. At the main library’s counter one day (about 2003) he was making enquiries about where he might find old pictures of Glebe Point Road, Glebe. The assistant, only known to him as Cath, mentioned her family had lived in that road in the 1800s, and her brother, Steve, was trying to find the building. At some point, her surname, Corbin, was mentioned, so, taking a bit of a punt, Ken said “your family and mine lived in the same building!” And so it proved. Steve Corbin and Ken Harpur had been researching the same property at the same time unknown to each other.