Paying rent for over 100 years

This story was originally printed in The Peninsula Observer (year unknown). The author's permission is given to reprint here.

Cambridge Street in the 1970s

Whenever I walk down Cambridge Street, Rozelle, I recall being told about Great Granny Ryan. Great Granny Ryan loved a beautiful teaset which she had seen in a shop. She scrimped and saved until the day finally came, when she could buy that set. She carefully carried home her pride and joy but coming down the hill in Cambridge Street, she slipped and fell and her beautiful teaset rolled down the hill, ending in a broken heap at the bottom. I always felt so close to Great Granny when I looked down Cambridge Street.

Great Granny Ryan was born Mary O'Halloran (Halloran). She had arrived in Brisbane in the early 1860s from Roscrea in Ireland. She had two sisters and a brother John. Mary married John Charles Ryan in St Stephen's, Brisbane on 1st June 1864. Her husband was born in Portlaw, County Waterford, Ireland and he too arrived in Queensland in the 1860s.

Two sons, Michael and James and a daughter, Mary, were born and for sixteen years the family lived on the Darling downs where John Ryan was caretaker of a large property. Meanwhile John Ryan's brother-in-law, John O'Sullivan, the husband of Margaret O'Halloran, had been living at 23 Cambridge Street since 1882.

John O'Sullivan was a merchant for W H Ariel & Co., General Merchants of 335 Kent Street, Sydney. The O'Sullivan's had two daughters but no sons. Knowing that the two Ryan boys were looking for work, O'Sullivan invited the family to Sydney and offered jobs in the grocery business.

In 1883 the Ryan family took up residence at 23 Cambridge Street, while the O'Sullivans moved to 118 Terry Street. John Ryan continued to live there until his death on 15th November, 1910, Mary had died in 1895. The older son Michael Ryan married Sarah Ogden, of 21 Victoria Road, on 9th October, 1890. Michael and Sarah lived at 25 Cambridge Street, the other half of the semi-detached building.

John O'Sullivan continued to prosper. He owned a nice house in the 'country' at George Street (now Oxford Street), Smithfield. In 1906 this house was empty, so O'Sullivan invited Sarah and Michael with their growing family to live at Smithfield. Their youngest daughter Elsie was born there.

Next in line for 25 Cambridge Street, was James Ryan and wife Ellen, while his father and sister still lived at No. 23.

In 1916 the street numbers changed in Balmain/Rozelle so the building became No. 19 and 21.

James and Ellen Ryan's daughter Mabel Ellen married William Acheson in 1914 and continued to live at 21 Cambridge Street, until her death in 1964. Sons James (Jim) and William (Bill) Acheson continued to live there.

The families of the brothers, Michael and James Ryan, had no contact with my family since Michael's death in 1940. One day I being Michael's granddaughter, went in search of 'cousins' in Cambridge Street. A neighbour told me that Acheson's lived in 'that' house, but no one was at home. I quickly drew a family tree and pushed it under the  door.

Soon I received a lovely letter from James (Jim), so for the next few years I visited him often. We would sit and talk, remembering the old days and planning a tea party when the time came to celebrate one hundred years of paying rent. Sadly, Jim died in 1977, four years short of the planned centenary celebration, but his brother Bill continued to live there.

Soon afterwards I was transferred away from Sydney but on my return in 1997, I once again visited Cambridge Street. As I walked down the hill, I envisaged a short plump Irish woman, her face beaming with delight, carrying carefully something in her arms. I had a vision of her tripping and falling heavily to the ground as her precious tea-set, lay smashed on Cambridge Street. Poor Great Granny Ryan.

Coming back to the present, I hurried to No 21. I knocked on the door. It was opened by Bill who still lives there. Yes, the family is still in residence! John Ryan's family has been paying rent for 115 YEARS!

Claire Dawson

Family at the Cambridge Street houses in the 1970s.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Jill. I have number from the front door. But that is a story for another day.

  2. What an interesting story, thank you, Sharon.

    1. I have my aunt to thank for this one.

    2. Sharon, a little late, but I have included this post in Friday Fossicking, Interesting Blogs..

  3. I loved your description of Great Granny Ryan. How devastating for her to drop her beautiful tea set!


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