Irish-born James Maher was a convict who arrived in the colony in 1816 on a seven-year term. He became a sawyer and farmer and lived at Pennant Hills. Mary Allen, wife of Robert Allen, came to live with him as his housekeeper after her husband was arrested in 1821 for aiding escaped convicts. Mary took her three sons by Allen with her, nd she bore James Maher two sons and two daughters before she married him in 1848, a year after her husband died.
In 1851 one of Mary’s sons, Edward James Maher (1830-1894) married 19-year-old Brigid Ellen Porter of Turramurra at All Saints’ Anglican Church, Parramatta. The previous year Edward had purchased for £363 a third portion of 34 acres of the Mount Wilberforce estate, but the young couple did not live there at first. Initially, they kept a small inn on Church Street, North Parramatta. They then lived and farmed on the old Murray Estate when it was owned by the Stewarts and eventually they went to live on their own land. The property lay between Pennant Hills Road, Copeland Road and Cardinal Avenue and on it stood a small brick cottage, reputedly used by the shepherds employed by Samuel Marsden, first owner of Mount Wilberforce.
Edward and Brigid had 14 children, the youngest born in 1877, when Brigid was 45 years of age. The little cottage was extended by the addition of a timber wing of five or six small bedrooms. Edward planted an orchard of various fruits, including apples, pears, apricots and peaches. He ran some sheep, had a cow and many horses. When they were not needed to help in the orchard, the children attended Pennant Hills Public School, now West Pennant Hills Public School.
In due course Edward purchased from William Mobbs the 32 acre Hollister's Farm which crossed North Rocks Road west of Pennant Hills Road. He was by then a prosperous fruit grower and a respected citizen. In 1882 he took part in an interesting land speculation in the Murray Farm Estate with William Paling, who had capital, and William Moseley, who had legal expertise, while he himself had farming experience. Fifteen lots in the western section of the estate which were not sold were retained by Edward Maher and passed down in time to his grandchildren.
Edward was a Catholic but an illegitimate child and seemingly frowned upon for that reason by his Church. His wife Brigid was also a Catholic although her father had been a Protestant, and, for reasons not altogether clear, they were married first in an Anglican church and then again, two years later, in St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Parramatta. When Edward’s granddaughter Eva died in 1888, he gave four acres of land at North Rocks to the Catholic Church for a cemetery. At that time he also gave land to the Sisters of Mercy Convent on Victoria Road, Parramatta. Edward had made his peace with his Church.
The children of Edward and Brigid married into local families including Mobbs, Lutherborough and Kenney, and the sons all remained in the district. Because his sons were given to spending sprees, Edward drew up a will in 1890 dividing all his land between his wife and their thirteen surviving children for their use and profits, but not for them to sell. The land was to be held in trust for his grandchildren. When Edward died in 1894, the Beecroft property, ‘Home Farm’, was divided into three portions, with sons James and Charles receiving a Pennant Hills Road block each and Arthur a block fronting onto Cardinal Avenue. James, who did not marry, lived in the old house with his mother Brigid until her death in 1905 at the age of 73 years.
Arthur Maher (born 1871) was in the local news in 1898 when he and his friend Thomas Bellamy won a large prize in Tattersall’s sweep. They had been sharing the cost of tickets on the understanding that if they won they would share the prize. When this happened, however, they both claimed the whole amount and the case ended up in court.
Another son of Edward, George Maher (born 1860) and his wife Emma were also in the news when their slab cottage on Pennant Hills Road, north of Murray Farm Road, was burnt down in 1909. A kerosene lantern exploded in Emma Maher’s bedroom and set fire to the bedclothes, Emma herself suffering burns to her face and hair and severe shock. When her husband returned late at night he could not find her until early next morning when she was discovered in a dazed condition wandering in the bush nearby. Edward’s grandchildren lived on the land they had inherited. James Kenneth, who served in World War I, was an orchardist, while Lionel, Alan and Robert were nurseryman, growing flowers in the area on Pennant Hills Road and Mahers Road. Larry was a carrier, taking the local fruit, vegetables and poultry to the city markets. Until he bought a Rio track about 1920, Larry took the produce by horse and wagon to Pennant Hills station but the truck made possible the direct journey to the city.
The Mahers were a large and well-known family in Pennant Hills and Beecroft and continued a semi-rural life in great contrast to the city commuters of the rest of Beecroft. In 1994 some of the family were still orchardists, by then of the fifth generation.