Thomas Higgins (1835 to 1914) and his wife Jane, née Lindsay (1843-1906) were married in Kilmarnock, Scotland, in 1875. It was Jane’s third marriage. She had two children, Harry and Chris McKinnon, by her second husband. The first child of Thomas and Jane was Samuel, born in Glasgow in 1876. Three years later the family, including Harry and Chris, sailed to New South Wales on the ‘Corona’ and lived for a time in Bathurst.
After serving with a Scottish regiment for some years and seeing service in the Crimea and at the
Indian Mutiny, Thomas Higgins had no particular training for life in Australia. He had a little capital however, and after moving to Goulburn he purchased a bakery business which he built up to be a large concern. Three more children were born: Jane (1880, Thomas (1882) and Olive (1884).
In Goulburn, the eldest son Samuel met Grace Brasnett, daughter of English-born Walter and Eliza Brasnett. Grace was one of the first boarders at the Methodist Ladies’ College, Burwood, while her parents lived in Goulburn. The Brasnetts moved to Sydney, purchasing the large home ‘Carbrook’ in Pymble where Samuel and Grace were married in 1903, Samuel being 27 and Grace 23 years old. The Rev Dr. Charles Prescott, a Methodist minister and Headmaster of Newington College, officiated at the service in the house and guests were entertained afterwards in a marquee on the lawns. Grace was a shy girl and chose a small wedding instead of a large one in a Pymble church to which many of her father’s business friends would have had to be invited. As it was, neighbours and passers-by lined the front fence of ‘Carbrook’ to watch the guests.
The newly married couple returned to Goulburn for a year before moving to Beecroft, where Samuel leased a small general store and a nearby residence on the corner of Beecroft Road and The Crescent. Their first child, Alan, was born there in 1905 and a daughter, Jean, was born in 1907. Also in 1907 Grace’s father purchased from Mrs Eliza Ogden a half-acre block of land on the corner of Beecroft Road and Mary Street on which, in 1908, Samuel built a large two-storeyed shop and residence. Walter Brasnett later made the property over to Grace. Here two more children were born, Marjorie in 1910 and Ian in 1916.
The store sold general groceries, patent medicines, drapery and produce and also operated an agency for the Commonwealth Bank and the Cumberland Argus. The produce, such as chaff, bran, pollard, wheat, corn, potatoes and onions, was stored in an old timber shed which had been Miss Ogden’s school and was close to the back of the residence. Grace Higgins was a keen gardener and created a lovely garden around a large lawn on one side of the house. A trellis was covered with pink ivy geranium and a Black Boy rose. Samuel built a brick seat around a large pittosporum tree and also made an ant-bed tennis court.
Behind the produce shed were stables for the three horses and two delivery carts used in the business. Two Pennant Hills men, Jack Small and Cecil Harvey, were employed as deliverymen.
Acetylene lamps lighted the store on Friday nights and when Samuel worked on the books in the evenings. When electricity came to Beecroft in the 1920s, the store was one of the first buildings to be connected.
The Higgins were foundation members of the Beecroft Presbyterian Church, with Alan christened by the Rev. Mr Dowd and Jean by the Rev. John Brotchie, before the church building was completed. When the Rev A.M. Ogilvie was appointed to Beecroft, and before his marriage, he lived for some time with the Higgins family. Alan and Ian Higgins attended Beecroft Public School at first, then Alan went to Fort Street Boys’ High School and Ian to Sydney Boys’ High School. Jean and Marjorie spent their primary days at Beecroft College and then followed in their mother’s
footsteps by attending Methodist Ladies’ College for their secondary years. Jean trained as a nurse at the War Memorial Hospital and Crown Street Hospital and Marjorie became General Secretary of the St John Ambulance Association for which work she was made a Dame of the Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem. She also received an MBE for her work with the Order.
Samuel and Grace Higgins found their social life in Beecroft limited because they were in ‘trade’ and therefore not acceptable to some local hosts (‘Beecroft was a very very snobbish place’ one family member recalled). As a result of their church activities, however, their friends were numerous. Samuel was an Elder of the Presbyterian Church for many years and later Session Clerk. He was also a Freemason.
In 1929, Samuel, then 53 years old, leased his Beecroft business and rented a house in Wandeen Avenue before moving to Manly in 1932. Samuel then worked as an insurance salesman on commission in the City but gained only a small income from this. His wife had a small legacy from her father. Samuel died in 1957 and Grace in 1964.
Samuel and Grace Higgins were remembered by their children as loving parents. Samuel himself is remembered as one of nature’s gentlemen, honest, upright, generous and with a sense of humour. He also had a feeling for his fellow men down on their luck, as a little tale shows. During the Depression, when he was working in the City, he was men going through street garbage bins looking for food. He divided his cut lunch into two packages and left them on a park bench for the searchers to find.