Beecroft-Cheltenham History Group

Samuel Oxley

Samuel James Oxley (1869-1950) the son of English-born Owen Oxley had arrived in the colony in 1838 as a child. Samuel was born in Richmond, New South Wales, and grew up in Mudgee, Orange and Coonabarabran. As well as learning the flour-milling trade in his uncle’s mill in Orange, Samuel received a good education from the Church of England Rector in that town. The Rector needed to help to look after his horse and baggage while on his regular parish visiting which often lasted up to three months. While riding along he would teach Samuel mental arithmetic, French, German and Italian, the last of which Samuel enjoyed speaking until the end of his days.

Quite early in life Samuel became a prosperous city merchant. At the age of 19 he had moved to Sydney and by 1892, aged 23 years, already owned a warehouse in Sussex Street. In 1904 he was appointed Manager of the Farmers’ and Settlers’ Co-operative Society.

In the course of his business career Samuel owned a factory in Bega producing ‘Oxley’s Butter’, a cheese factory in Wagga Wagga and a store in Peak Hill. He engaged in exporting a variety of foodstuffs to India and China and importing tea, rice and broken eggs from there.

Samuel’s trade in butter and in broken eggs showed ingenuity. He was the first to export butter from Australia to Europe, devising a successful method of packing butter and salt in alternate layers in wooden casks. He also experimented with making egg-powder and was the first person in Sydney to market it. He first used eggs from the north coast of New South Wales, but when these became expensive, he began to import eggs from China. However, because of the high import duty on whole eggs, he imported, free of duty, sealed tins of broken eggs from Shanghai and Hong Kong. The Australian Customs in due course found a way to impose a duty on this trade.

The trade with China flourished for a decade, but the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 placed it in jeopardy. Samuel’s younger brother in China just escaped, but the manager of another branch was killed. In one year, Samuel lost £40,000 when two of his ships laden with foodstuffs, and uninsured, sank on the way to China.

In 1905 Samuel purchased from the Allsop family ‘Camerton’, an old house on about 18 acres of land on Pennant Hills Road on the eastern side of Thompsons Corner. Here there was already an orchard, to which he added cows, several sheep and a pig. Seven men were employed in the orchard, and two women helped Grace Oxley in the house. Samuel drove daily to Pennant Hills station in a dog cart or a double-seater buggy.

Samuel Oxley and his wife Grace had four children: Samuel Jr, Alice, Grace and Edith, who were taught at home by a governess and who delighted in being driven around in their imported surrey of blue kid pulled by a pair of Shetland ponies. The tea that the family drank was imported from India and China. At times visiting Indian traders dressed in their colourful traditional robes were entertained at ‘Camerton’ and later at Katoomba.

Worsening finances forced the Oxleys to lease ‘Camerton’ in 1913 and move into a small brick cottage in Cardinal Avenue and Church Street, Pennant Hills. Samuel had earlier purchased this cottage as a home for his mother and two sisters. Ill health in the children brought a further move to Katoomba where the mountain air improved their health.

In 1927 when the children were adults and in need of city employment, the Oxleys returned to ‘Camerton’. They found that the house was much broken down by the tenant, that garden trees had been cut down for firewood and that roaming horses from the nearby saw-mill had broken veranda timbers. In addition, the rent was in arrears. It took two years of hard work to repair the house and make it habitable again.

In 1936 Grace Oxley died. In a later subdivision of the property Grace Avenue was put in and named after her. Samuel Oxley’s eyesight failed in his declining
years and Alice left her nursing profession to look after her father. He died in 1950 at the age of 94 years.[1]



[1] Information from Alice Oxley of Pennant Hills, 1986.

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