Uncovering the history of Leura as recorded in local newspapers
The historical newspaper record opens in May 1889, with the fifth issue of The Katoomba Times being the earliest digitised issue. The Katoomba Times was published weekly; ownership changed during the year with little change to the format. In 1889 it was published as a four-page paper with a two-page general interest supplement, many of which are lost. Much of the content is advertising, accompanied by a few longer articles and, of most interest to me, 'Local Jottings', being a series of pithy observations on the week that was.
I make it a policy to base my own comments only on evidence found in the newspapers—after all, that's what the site is called—but I wish to touch briefly on the period of Leura's formation before the newspaper record begins and must use other sources.
Benjamin Backhouse, an architect and politician, appears to have subdivided his landholdings in the mountains in 1881 and sold to Frederick Clissold, an alderman from Ashfield with businesses in wool-washing and wholesaling. Clissold had close business dealings with two sheep stations in Queensland, named Leura and Lurline. He named the Leura Falls and set out the streets and allotments of the new Leura Estate in 1881 (Fox 2001).
At some point prior to 1889, William Eyre of Sydney took over sales—it's not clear from the newspapers whether he purchased the estate or is simply acting as an agent, but other sources report him as the owner.
Mr. William Eyre was by far the most prominent figure in Leura in 1889, and would make the top ten of Katoomba by a comfortable margin. Not a single issue of the Katoomba Times went out without Mr. Eyre's name in it somewhere—doubtless paid for—and he was involved in a great number of projects during the year.
The uncharitable would consider his relentless pursuit of commercial enterprise a naked bid to improve property values in his Leura Estate, which he advertised with more and more vigour each week.
By the end of the year, when Katoomba was gazetted a Municipality in its own right, Eyre put himself forward as a candidate for alderman in the new Council.
Interestingly, Eyre did not reside in the Blue Mountains, and it does not appear he visited more than once or twice in the year. He signed off each advertisement with his address—Midas Chambers, 112 King-street, Sydney—and even used it as an election strategy, suggesting that being based in Sydney would be a great advantage for a Katoomba councillor.
Overall, the impression I gain of Mr. William Eyre through his advertisements, his paid editorials, and a few unpaid remarks, is a bold, driven and particularly self-important salesman. He launched into projects with great fanfare and great expense, then abandoned them only weeks later, possibly to concentrate on interests out of the Mountains. He was focused on selling the Leura Estate, which could be understandable given it had been on the market since 1881 with little apparent progress.
Almost each week's edition of The Katoomba Times had a prominent advertisement placed by Eyre for land on sale in Leura, with the claims becoming more preposterous each month. In May, Eyre was using a recent sale in Katoomba to suggest Leura was a profitable investment; by November, he is throwing a "Grand Picnic" for the "Wealthy Squatters and their Ladies in the Far West" who upon buying land "may reasonably expect to see it advance from 60 to 100 per cent during the next six or nine months."
There is little evidence of any sales actually taking place. In August, a lady considered making a purchase, and Eyre was still using this as a selling point in his advertisements in October. The only direct mention of transactions was in September, with the Local Jottings section declaring "Mr. William Eyre is selling a lot of the Leura land." However, I am of the belief that many of the Jottings relating to Leura were inserted by Eyre himself, and considering his other claims I do not think we can trust this one.
While Eyre placed the lion's share of advertisements for Leura land, there is one other known vendor. Mr. O'Regan, owner of a poultry farm, placed his advertisement for "Young Poultry delivered to any place" every single week, always with the last line "Land on Leura on Easy Terms, or Katoomba Estate".
Much of the current south side of Leura appears to have been in place in 1889. To the west of the Mall, the area bounded by Cumberland Street (was Leichhardt Street), York Street and Railway Parade was all laid out and has changed little. To the east of the Mall, allotments were divided up all the way to Gladstone Road (was Government Road). However the area south of Craigend Street (was also Government Road) was largely unimproved with the exception of the Mall itself.
In September 1889 this area began to be cleared and put up for sale, starting with Tusculum Avenue, named after a Roman city, and then wisely renamed to Tennyson Avenue. Tusculum was a favoured location for wealthy Romans to set up country villas, including Cicero. One can see Eyre drawing the parallel between Tusculum and Leura in his mind, and then taking out an almost half-page advertisement to broadcast the fact.
Our first, and for 1889, only mention of any person actually living in Leura is Mr. John Duff who bought and operated a buggy business in Blackheath. Poor Mr. Duff's new buggy had an upholsterer's needle left in a cushion, and "the needle inflicted a painful puncture."
Mention is also made of the Gladstone Estate being built in May 1889—apparently local scoundrels had been making off with building materials. I do not believe the Estate was situated near Gladstone Road, but actually closer to the Cascades, in the area around what is now Peter Carroll Field.
However, we have one piece of evidence that a reasonable number of people did in fact live in Leura at this time. In June, mention was made of a Leura Brigade of old ladies, belonging to an as-yet-unknown religious group.
It is interesting that no other inhabitants of Leura were named, or even alluded to, over the course of the year. Without the report of the Brigade I would conclude Leura a ghost town, however, it must be assumed there was at least some habitation.
One of Eyre's extravagant plans for the betterment of Leura was a magnificent hotel, a counterpart and competitor to Katoomba's Carrington. At the start of the newspaper record, a Burlington Palace Hotel Company was intending to be formed, and plans had been drawn up by the architect Charles Harding (who also designed the Norah Head Lighthouse) including a 2,000 square foot "Grand Palatial Dining Room" and an "exceedingly handsome" main staircase.
After much advertising in May, it was mentioned in July and then not referred to again for at least the rest of 1889.
William Eyre also championed the creation of a racecourse in Leura, to draw wealthy gentlemen from Sydney and west of the Mountains up to spend their money on entertainment in Katoomba, and presumably to purchase land in Leura at the same time.
First announced in June, a Jockey Club was immediately inaugurated, and chaired by Katoomba legend and keen sportsman Frederick Charles Goyder of Carrington Hotel fame. Eyre offered to sell or lease land to the Club in order to situate the course, and after a brief tussle with Mr. O'Regan (of the poultry farm) who offered his own land in Katoomba, was victorious.
Two weeks later, though, the Club Committee met for the second, and last time; while Eyre mentioned the racecourse in most of his advertising for the rest of the year, they would not meet again. In late December, Eyre began to once again try to pull together support for the racecourse.
The last of Eyre's projects, and his most successful, was the construction of a rail platform for passengers and a siding for goods at Leura. He first reported the plan in a September advertisement, with the Railway Commissioners agreeing a month later to undertake the construction "if the applicants will pay £469, half of the estimated cost". Eyre did make this payment (very roughly $70,000 today) and the project was due for completion in December. However, the completion date kept slipping and as of the end of 1889, it did not appear to have been finished.
The only honest anecdote about Mr. Eyre comes about in December in relation to the construction of the platform, and illuminates his character somewhat:
A [?] visitor inspected the work and said to the men, "Do you know who I am?" "No," was the reply. "I am the gentleman who is paying for this." "Oh, are you?" replied one of [the] men; "well, we are the gentlemen what's doing the job."
In January, the elections for first Mayor and aldermen of Katoomba, contested by Eyre, will take place.
Eyre's attempted revitalisation of the Leura Racecourse in December may bear fruit in 1890.
The Burlington Palace Hotel will return, but in a different shape.
The Leura Platform and Siding will shortly be completed, with Eyre planning a grand picnic to celebrate the event.
Mr O'Regan will probably still be selling poultry and land in Leura.