Beecroft-Cheltenham History Group

Hooker, Sir Leslie Joseph

L J Hooker was arguably Australia’s most successful real estate agent. He spent a decade of his youth in Beecroft.

He was born in Charles Street, Canterbury on 18 August 1903. His mother was Ellen Tingyou (1885-1911) the daughter of Rosanna “Rose” Dillon (1857- 1900) and James Tingyou (1844-1907). There is no record of Rose’s parents (David and Bridget Dillon) having any contact with their daughter after her underage marriage to an arrival from Canton China who was 13 years older than his bride. [1] Rose and James had four children of whom Ellen (or Nellie) was the youngest. She was born at home in Canterbury Road, Petersham on 18 November 1894. Rose died in 1900 of tuberculosis at the family home in Close Street Canterbury.

Leslie was born at the Tingyou family home in Close Street. At this time the home housed as adults his mother, his grandfather James, aunts Mary Quan (and husband Chun) and Rosanna Davis (and her husband John) together with uncle James. It also housed the Davis children Sylvia (aged 6) and Ivy Rose called Biddy (also born in 1903) together with the Quan children William Cecil Chun (aged 3) and Percy Norman (aged 1). His aunt Rosanna Davis died of tuberculosis the year after Leslie was born.

No father is recorded on Leslie’s birth certificate but Leslie and his family accepted [2] that his father was Howe Hook Yin (also known as Harry Hookin). Harry was born in Canton in 1887 and arrived in Sydney in 1900 to join his father, who ran a cabinet maker business at 1-7 Albion Place Sydney called Sing War & Sons. Following his arrival Harry went to the Boys Private High School in Glebe and the Commercial School Stanley Street Darlinghurst. Finishing his education, in 1903, Harry returned to China for two years to live with his mother and brothers. He returned to Sydney in 1905 and then successfully ran his father’s business for 6 years while his father returned to China. According to Nellie’s death certificate she and Harry married in 1910 (although no marriage certificate has been located) and in March 1911 he again returned to China. This time he rapidly returned to Sydney in July of that same year.

Around 1910, and following the death of James Tingyou, the Quan extended family moved to the eastern end of Copeland Road East, Beecroft. In 1910 police records state that Beecroft had a population of 1836 Europeans, 1 Chinese and 3 “other aliens.” [3] Because market gardeners lived in the houses at the eastern end of Copeland Road East it was known by local residents as “China Town.” [4] On 30 August 1911, just a short time after Harry had so quickly returned from China, Nellie died of tuberculosis. Her death certificate was signed by the local Beecroft doctor, Charles Rygate. 

It is possible that the move to Beecroft, where Chun Quan continued his occupation as market gardener, was in an effort to get to a healthier climate for Nellie. [5]

Leslie attended Beecroft Primary School and was a contemporary of other well known Beecroft children like David Byles, Gertrude Byrne, Alison Moore and Russell Martin. He was enrolled under the name of Leslie Hookin. Prizes or exams that he won were published in the Cumberland Argus. [6]

Leslie left school at the age of 14 years and went to work as a clerk in the Japanese firm Mitsui & Co Importers and Exporters of Bridge Street Sydney and he remained there for 4 years. During this time he bought his first two blocks of land at Blacktown - at the age of 16 years. They cost him 60 pound each. In 1921 he joined the crew of S S Mataram which was a cargo ship owned by Burns Philp & Co and sailed the Pacific.

In 1918 the family was involved in a drug bust which is described elsewhere.[7]

In 1918 his aunt Mary Alice died. The funeral notice confirms that they were still living in Copeland Road East at this stage. [8] Memorial notices were placed in the Sydney Morning Herald every year until 1924. Initially they included notices from her brother Jim but throughout there was a separate one from the cousins, Sylvia, Biddy and Leslie. [9] This memorial notice from Chun is the last record in NSW that can be found for him. He may have died in 1926. [10] The role of mother in the household, following Mary Alice’s death, passed to Leslie’s cousin Sylvia Davis who went on to marry Stanley Pemberton in 1932. [11] At some stage following the death of Mary Alice his cousins left Beecroft and moved to Bondi and the family recollection is that they commenced speaking solely English at home. On 19 February 1925 he changed his name by deed poll from Leslie Joseph Tingyou to Leslie Joseph Hooker.  

Between 1924 and 1927, Leslie went into a number of business ventures with his uncle – now no longer called James Tingyou, but James Law. [12] James had bought a grocery store with a liquor licence attached in the Crescent Homebush. Together they converted it into a wine bar and Lesley lived on the premises. They then bought a second grocery shop with liquor licence on the corner of Illawarra and Warren Roads Marrickville. They converted this into a licensed hotel. Then in April 1927 Lesley opened his first real estate agency in Martin Place Sydney. His uncle James died of tuberculosis in September of that same year leaving a widow but no known children. James Law was 47 at his death. [13] Later in 1927 Leslie went into partnership with a friend, Kenneth Smith and entered into a real estate development company called Hooker & Smith. The capital Leslie put in came from his uncle James Law. [14] As a result of the failure of the development company he and Smith each went bankrupt in November 1928. However his incipient real estate business remained afloat. From this small new beginning L J Hooker went on to become what Nation described as “the most efficient selling agent of urban real estate in Australian history.”[15]

L J lived with his wife and family in Mosman until his death on 29 April 1976. He suffered a stroke and cardiac arrest as he was entering the Mandarin Club for dinner. While he was an agnostic he was, like his mother and Mary Alice, buried as a Catholic. Unlike them, he received a requiem mass in St Mary’s Cathedral. He was also the basis of a character in Frank Hardy’s Outcasts of Foolgarah (1971) called L J Hookem  who was a self-made man described as “the greatest single cause of inflated land prices in the South.”[16]

“The name of LJ Hooker is synonymous with real estate. He made a great contribution to the industry – and was recognised as a leader in his field. Sir Leslie took a personal interest in employees, their careers and their welfare. He was a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management and the Institute of Directors and was a vice President of Sydney Hospital and a director of the Council for Integrated Deaf Education.”[17]

 

 

[1] N Hooker L J Hooker the Man (Natalie Hooker, Sydney, 2010) p 20  

[2] N Hooker L J Hooker the Man (Natalie Hooker, Sydney, 2010) p 38

[3] Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate 5 March 1910

[4] conversation between Mary Vernon and Roderick Best in 2012

[5  LINK     Health in Early Settlement

[6] Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate 26 December 1914 and 12 February 1916

[7] LINK     Beecroft opium bust

[8] Sydney Morning Herald 7 November 1918 p5

[9] Sydney Morning Herald 5 November 1924 p 12

[10] There is a death certificate for a Chan (rather than Chun) Quan: NSW Registrar of BDM 20/1926

[11] Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol 14 p 487. 

[12] N Hooker L J Hooker the Man (Natalie Hooker, Sydney, 2010) p 57

[13] N Hooker L J Hooker the Man (Natalie Hooker, Sydney, 2010) p 13. His death certificate records him as James Harlet. 

[14] N Hooker L J Hooker the Man (Natalie Hooker, Sydney, 2010) p 71

[15] Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol 14 p 487

[16] quoted in Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol 14 p 487

[17] obituary in Hooker Corporation Annual Report 1976

Go to top