The Campbells of Cromla
Copyright Carol Baxter 2012
Prepared for Campbell descendant Jeanette Bradley
John Campbell (c1835-1907) and Elizabeth Peat (1840-1925)
John Campbell was born in the Isle of Skye, Scotland around the year 1835, the son of Donald Campbell and his wife Mary Bethune. He arrived in Sydney with his parents and siblings on board the Midlothian on 12 December 1837.
He presumably resided with his parents at Andrew Lang’s property after their arrival and, by 1852, at their small farm in Morpeth. He had relocated to Sydney by the mid-1850s and was described as a merchant in Sydney at the time of his marriage in 1858.
John married Elizabeth Peat on 4 May 1858 in a Presbyterian ceremony apparently performed at Elizabeth’s home in Kent Street, Sydney. Those attending the ceremony included Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, William N. Palmer, and youngest sister, Annie Peat, who signed the register.
Elizabeth was the daughter of George Peat and his wife Frances Ternen and was born on 25 February 1840 at the Hawkesbury River, north-west of Sydney, NSW. She was baptised in April 1840 at St Philips Church of England, Sydney (see Peat of Peats Ferry).
John commenced his business activities in the 1850s, initially as Anderson, Campbell & Co. in Bourke Street and recorded there as early as 1858. By 1866, the business John Campbell & Co. was based at Commercial Wharf, 3 King Street and in 1870 at 5 King Street, although the Campbell family was residing at Little Coogee Bay. By the mid-1880s the business was at 39 Sussex Street and the family residing at Neutral Bay. The business was at 51 Sussex Street in the 1890s and at 101 Sussex Street from 1903. While these address changes might indicate business relocations, they could also merely reflect street numbering changes.
John’s flourishing business led contemporaries to nickname him the “flour and offal king” of Sussex Street. He called himself a grain merchant in 1901. His obituaries described him as ‘one of Sydney’s oldest commercial men’.
The Men of Mark wrote of John Campbell in 1892:
John Campbell was born in Scotland in 1835 and at the early age of two years, he was taken by his parents to Australia. All the influences outside himself which have helped to mould his character have been purely Australian. No doubt his breeding must be a factor to be considered in his career, and to hereditary influences much of the success which he has made is to be attributed. His education was obtained in his adopted country and he was reared a true son of this Southern land. After leaving school he gained a wide knowledge of agricultural affairs and became closely familiar with the grain trade, with which for many years he has been associated. In this colony the growth of grain has been on the average yield greater than that of any other colony … For the past thirty-six years Mr Campbell has been a wholesale grain merchant, and has succeeded in doing well at that business. He is a magistrate of the colony, having been appointed in 1866. He is also a Fellow of St Andrew’s College within the University of Sydney, having been elected one of the first counselors.
An undated newspaper cutting with the title "The Ways of Sussex Street", records John’s account of the Sussex Street business district:
Mr John Campbell on the Produce Trade, Past and Present
One of the best known and most respected men in Sussex-street is the veteran Mr John Campbell. He has been in business there since 1853 and he has done some very big business in the interval. Sussex-street is a part of Sydney that the ordinary visitor sees little of. He crosses it coming from the intercolonial boats and perhaps reviles the block of drays which obstructs his cab, but it is a street that anyone interested in industrial development should not miss seeing for round Sussex-street and Darling Harbour pulse and throb great arteries of Sydney trade which is not to be judged from George and Pitt Streets. Go down Sussex street at any time, and one is almost sure to meet a great double stream of drays and lorries going up one side and down the other, and at the Market Wharf he will find as like as not hundreds of drays patiently awaiting their turn to unload. While on the other side of the city the great wool stores congregate and serve the pastoralist, Sussex Street is essentially the street of the agriculturalist. It is the centre to which the produce of the farmer comes for sale and it is a hive of business with its comparatively small business places, with their fronts entirely open to the street and their throngs of men who seem to be chronically chewing the oats or the wheat which is exposed for sale. “The street,” as it is called by its habitués, with the ascent on the article, has a life and traditions entirely its own, and distinct from any other portion of the city. And one of the embodiments of this life and those traditions is Mr John Campbell.
The Genesis of the Street
Of the beginnings of Sussex-street, Mr Campbell says that in the early days of Sydney’s existence nearly all the produce came from the Hunter River. Wheat, fowls, potatoes, oats and hay all came by the Hunter River steamers and landed the produce at the wharfs at the foot of Market-street. Hence, those who had to deal in produce tried to get places handy to these wharfs and hence Sussex-street. When Mr Campbell commenced business the street presented a very different appearance to that of the present day. There were comparatively few houses in it, but there were several large flour-mills. These mills for a long time shipped very large quantities of flour to Melbourne. Maize, too, both whole and ground, was largely exported to Victoria. The produce was brought down in a number of small vessels which ran to the Hawkesbury as well as in the Hunter River steamers; but the Hunter River was the great source of supply, and a failure of crops in the Hunter then was as a failure in the whole colony would be now. Lucerne, butter and pigs were other great products of the Hunter, as well as potatoes, but the choicest potatoes of the past came from Browlee down the South Coast and about this time butter began to come in considerable quantities from the South Coast.
Early Business Methods
Amongst the large buyers of the time was John Pemell, still living. He is the veteran of the milling trade, and his wont it was to buy large quantities, pay immediate cash, require the seller to give him a receipt, and then immediately tear up the receipt and cast it into the waste basket – that was where he kept his books in those days. Walker and Son, Robert Guy (still living), J.R. Linsley were big figures when Mr Campbell entered the street. In those pre-railway days the appearance of Sussex-street was even more animated than it is [……] bullock drays [……] in the days before the elaborate weighing- […] of the present, and each dealer had to [….] on his scales and weigh the enormous […] of maize which came in two bags at a […] the time it took may be imagined. The […] slaughter yards, too, then added to the constant [noise?] of the street for they were situated [at the?] foot of Druitt-street to their [?] to Balmain. The mills were, of course, all stone mills, as the roller mill was […] later development. As settlement proceeded and the country was opened up the business of Sussex-street expanded, and new elements and new sources of supply were continually introduced. Between 1865 and 1870 the increase was very great, and a new generation of dealers came [in?]. Mr Campbell says that few today realise the large quantities of produce that were sent to Victoria from Sussex-street in the 60s, chiefly butter and flour, for the export of wheat to Melbourne was practically unknown in the street.
The Trade of Today
Of the produce export of today, the chief item is bran to Western Australia, together with small quantities of maize to the same place, and during one season of the year a good deal of maize, flour and potatoes goes to Queensland. About this time of year the Queenslanders will begin returning the compliment by sending their maize down here. This cross trade is necessary because the Queensland maize will not keep long in the hot climate. The fruit-trade does not trouble Sussex-street which keeps close to its special lines. Fruit centres in Liverpool-street, from which there is quite a large export trade. The northern rivers which presently became such prolific sources of supply were not known in the street in the days of which Mr Campbell has been speaking. It took a long time to get rid of old-fashioned notions as to the limitation of supply, and to this day old folk about Maitland consider that if maize is scarce there, the price must necessarily go up in Sydney, forgetting the Clarence, Richmond, Nambucca, Manning, Bellinger, Macleay and Port Macquarie. Forgetting too that maize comes along the railway from Tumut, Wellington and Yass. Shoalhaven is also a contributor, although the supplies from the latter district are not as large as they used to be.
There are fashions in the street as well as in the more frivolous thoroughfares of George and Pitt streets and on “the Block”. The fashion of late has run to maize, and enormous quantities of maize are now used for all sorts of purposes in Sydney, largely replacing oats as horse feed, used too largely as dairy feed, and ground up in great quantities as cow meal. The lowness of price has led to maize thus going into general consumption. As to oats, New Zealand has been a large source of supply in the past, especially during dry seasons. Oats come, too, from along the western railway lines. At the present time potatoes come in large quantities from Tasmania, with some from Victoria, and others from New Zealand. The southern railway districts send considerable quantities, and the Clarence and the Hunter supply their quota.
The sources of wheat supply have opened up very much and given a good season, we should not, Mr Campbell considers, have to import any this year. The expansion of wheat-growing has been claimed as having a political significance in New South Wales, but Mr Campbell says that it was simply that wool went down so low that landholders cast about for something more profitable, and put down great areas of wheat. Thus, it was the price of wool in London, not the war of tariffs here, which led to the wheat development. Another great item in Sussex-street is chaff, and of this large supplies come in from Victoria and South Australia. Last year an average of 30,000 bags of chaff a week came to the street from these sources.
The change in business methods
The chief difference between the business methods of the street now, and in the past is, Mr Campbell says, that much longer terms are given to buyers. This is the result of competition, and is a decidedly dangerous element in the business. Prompt payment is still required by the farmers, but the buyers want longer and longer terms, and so comes the chance of the dishonest man who can play one dealer off against another, and finally make jaunty “composition” with his creditors. The unpleasant consequence is the large element of bad debts which many dealers have to face.
An off-shoot of the street in the pre-railway days was the Haymarket. It was a large open area in those days, much of which has since been built over, and the country carts came in in shoals and drew up on the market space to sell their loads. The railway put an end to that era by creating new conditions. The George-street markets of the old days were great centres for the barter of vegetables and fruit, the drays coming in to them from the country. Then the old buildings were removed, and what was regarded at the time as a remarkably fine market erected. This was the building pulled down to make place for the palatial markets now approaching completion.
Another element of the street in the pre-railway days was the vast number of wood carts which came in from all round to supply the city with fuel. After delivering their wood, the carts thronged the Street to procure fodder. Wool, too, then came down in drays and wagons, and the teams pulled up to the street for fodder and flour and supplies to take back with them. It can be imagined from all this that, busy as the Street seems now, and difficult as sometimes it would appear […] for say more heavy traffic in it, it prompted [……].
Financial success in 1888 allowed John to purchase an estate in Roseville on the north shore of Sydney – Lot 107 of the Parish of Gordon for the sum of £320. The family continued to reside in Ben Boyd Road, Neutral Bay until the mid-1890s when they moved to the newly-erected “Cromla” in Roseville.
The Roseville area was originally traversed by a party of marine explorers in 1788, with land being granted to settlers a few decades later. Of its history, Margaret Wyatt in her history of the Ku-ring-gai district writes:
After the timber was removed from the land and taken to the Lane Cove River for transport to Sydney Town, Roseville remained a rural community until 1890, settled predominantly by orchardists and market gardeners. Its most famous buildings from that period … [include] “Cromla”, a Scottish styled stone cottage, originally home to the Campbell family.
Residential development of the 1890s and beyond brought many changes to Roseville: initially, the break-up of large estates and a consequent population influx resulted in the development of a shopping community, the establishment of schools and churches, and the designation of parkland along the Middle Harbour foreshores.
A file in the Ku-ring-gai Municipal Library Local History Collection included the following information about John Campbell:
Having made his fortune as a grain merchant in Sussex Street, he chose land at Roseville, close to Middle Harbour, in what is now the Kingsway, to build his home, because the aspect reminded him of Skye. His estate, in antipodean Scots baronial style, was built in the 1880s, and was called “Cromla”, the gaelic word for Altar. Here was ample accommodation for his seven sons and three daughters and domestic servants. The outbuildings included stables, carriage house and a little house for possums on top of a crenelated tower which remains today. The estate has become four homes, and parts of the original wall and gateposts may be seen in Ormonde Parade and the Kingsway.
Another early observer wrote:
When Mr Campbell build his house he had in mind the fortalice of some Scottish chieftain, for it is unlike anything else in the district … it has an old-world look partly of a small fortress, and partly of a monastery. The main building is like a keep; it has no pretension of any kind of elegance or ornament, standing four-square and strong against all the winds and rain of heaven.
Cromla was valued at £3000 when a pen portrait of the property was documented. The 6¼ acre property fronting Ormond Road and Gordon Parade (as it was described then) included a carriage drive, lawn, tennis lawn, orchard, shade trees and paddocks, was surrounded by stone walls and was ornamented with two cannons from the ship “Ethiopian” and a sun dial. Water was laid on from a reservoir twenty feet square, worked by a hydraulic pump. The house, built of stone, contained a porch entrance, 2 tiled entrance halls, 11 rooms, a kitchen, washhouse and adjoining room, 3 bathrooms with fitted leaden baths and water screen, a lavatory connected to a septic tank, 3 galvanised iron tanks, and outside shutters and venetian blinds. Outbuildings situated on the property included a small feed-room, fowl-houses, 3 servants rooms, a large covered shed, water and feed boxes, a bench, cow shed, a bail (probably a portable dairy house), stable and cellar.
A recent newspaper articles reported that John used to ride his horse to the harbour’s edge where he joined the punt which delivered him to his place of business in Sussex Street.
Cromla was among a number of properties John purchased over the years in different parts of Sydney, and was still holding in 1907. Some were of little value: a block of land in Longfield Street, Cabramatta (£15), two lots in Lawrence Street, Alexandria (£25), a block in Gunn Street, Manly containing some old wooden sheds used as cart sheds (£25), a block in Albert Street, Roseville (£35) and two fenced blocks near Cromla (£90 and £200).
Questions were soon raised about the low valuation for the Alexandria property, and received in response the following justification: "The land at Alexandria has a frontage to a street which is neither formed, curbed nor guttered – a very poor street and very poor property all around it. The ground in front falls away, in fact the land, in our opinion, will be very difficult to sell at the price we put on it, it being in the vicinity of chinamen’s gardens, having a bad outlook and a bad approach."
The low value for the £90 block near Cromla was explained by the fact that the block was rough and had no road leading up to it, and was over 2 miles from the station.
John also owned some tenanted houses: a semi-detached cottage at 36 Excelsior Street, Leichhardt leased out at 7 shillings 6 pence a week (valued at £175); three stone houses with iron roofs described as Numbers 9, 11 and 13 Weedon Lane, Paddington, each leased at 8 shipping per week (£250); an iron-roofed stone cottage known as “Broadview” in Griffiths Street, Manly, leased at 6 shillings 6 pence per week (£125); an old weatherboard cottage known as “Courtland Cottage” at 550 Miller Street, North Sydney leased at 8 shillings per week (£100). The latter had a low valuation because it was situated about a quarter of an hour’s walk from the tram, near the Suspension Bridge, and the building was in such a state of disrepair that it would be difficult to re-let at the same value without a considerable amount of repair.
His property portfolio also included commercial real estate: a block of land on Parramatta Road, Petersham containing a brick-built, iron-roofed produce store, weatherboard shop and wooden sheds used for stabling which was leased out at £52 per annum (£550), and a weatherboard shop on Willoughby Road, North Sydney leased at 14 shillings per week (£250). The latter valuation, evidently considered too low by the Commissioner for Stamps, was explained as follows:
This is a block of land which is covered at present by an old weatherboard building, of practically no value whatever, occupied by a Chinaman who is paying 14 shillings per week. It is some distance from the corners where at present the chief trade is done and is likely to be done, as the important business sites cannot, in our opinion, expand and extend to this block of land for some time.
John’s total real estate holdings were valued in 1907 at £4690, and formed a large proportion of his assets.
While John was reportedly residing at Cromla at the time of his death in 1907, the valuation for the furniture and other sundries in the house was surprisingly low (only £26) as compared with the valuation for the same at Glenshiels in Centennial Ave, Chatswood (£250), a property that John did not apparently own. In fact, the value of the furniture and books in the library at Glenshiels was more than the sum total of the furniture and goods at Cromla. And if John was indeed residing at Cromla, where was he sleeping? Cromla’s furniture included a wooden bedstead – but it had no accompanying mattress – whereas Glenshiels had six bedrooms full of furniture. It appears that the Campbells were, in truth, living at Glenshiels rather than Cromla.
The furniture and chattals at Glenshiels reveal a well-to-do family. A Bechstein piano, the most valuable piece of furniture in the house (£15), sat in the drawing room along with numerous chairs, tables, easels, ornaments, a nude figure (with broken arm), photographs and pictures – including a coloured photo of a Highland Officer, “First Aid to the Wounded” and the “Sacrifice of Iphigenia”. The dining room had a marble-topped cedar dinner wagon, a table with ten chairs, ornaments, vases, cheese dishes, and a bronze lion and two dogs. The hall included a case with two swords and a dirk, two door weights (highland figures) and a rosewood-framed picture, “Disruption in Scotland”. The library stocked over 700 books, a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica and a clock. Even the staircase had furniture. The only other highly valued article was John’s gold watch and chain also valued at £15. (For the full inventory of the furniture &c in Cromla and Glenshiels, see Appendix 1).
John was a committed member of St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney and was inducted as a deacon in 1863 and as an elder in 1887. An obituary noted that "He was well known in religious circles and was for many years a member of the Young Men’s Christian Association, also of the Presbyterian Church, having had a long connection with St Stephen’s. Mr Campbell was a councillor of St Andrew’s College (within the University) from its establishment."
Descendants hold a business-type card noting "Captain John Campbell, Highland Brigade", which reflects John’s interest in the military volunteers. An obituary adds: "[John Campbell] was one of the originators of the Duke of Edinburgh Highland volunteers when the Duke of Edinburgh visited Australia, and for many years he served in the regiment as captain."
John Campbell died from pneumonia on 7 June 1907 at his home in Ormond Road, Roseville. He had been suffering for two days. He was buried on the 8th in the Presbyterian section at Rookwood Cemetery, with his son John Campbell and W. Lloyd acting as witnesses. John Campbell jnr also acted as the informant for the death certificate.
Newspapers cuttings retained by the family include three obituaries for John Campbell. One reported:
Regret was expressed this morning in Sussex-street at the announcement of the death on Friday of Mr John Campbell at his residence, “Cromla”, Roseville, in his 73rd year. Mr Campbell was highly respected as a Sussex-street merchant. He started the business in 1853 and gradually extended it to its present dimensions. His fellow merchants in “the street” all respected Mr Campbell, who for 54 years upheld the best principles of business dealing. Many gentlemen who now occupy high positions owe success to Mr Campbell’s advice and assistance.
Another mentioned his funeral:
The funeral of the late Mr John Campbell, who died on Friday last, in his 73rd year, at his residence “Cromla”, Roseville, was largely attended. The deceased, whose remains were interred at Rookwood, was a native of Skye, and came to the colonies as a child. He was one of Sydney’s oldest commercial men, having started in business as a grain merchant in the fifties. For many years he was a member of the Y.M.C.A. and St Stephen’s (Presbyterian) Church. He was, however, a man of broad religious views. Mr Campbell was a councillor of St Andrew’s College, within the University, from its establishment. In the old days he was a captain of one of the local Highland volunteer companies. At the graveside Rev. J. Ferguson, assisted by Revs R. Steel, MacIntyre, and Howe, officiated.
John had signed his last will on 16 October 1901, effectively appointing his wife as executor and trustee of his will although this was not stated explicitly - “upon trust during her life to apply the same for the use and benefit of herself and my children in such manner and in such shares as she shall in her absolute discretion think fit and at her death the residue of such estate then remaining in her hands undisposed of shall be divided amongst all my children in equal shares as tenants in common”.
John’s business was not a separate entity and his personal and business assets were all valued for his inventory. His assets were valued at over £27500, his debts at over £20000, leaving him with an estate of £7170, upon which the family had to pay death duties 
The fact that John was his business created problems both in valuing the “goodwill” after his death, and in naming his wife as executor. John’s solicitor wrote to the Commissioner of Stamps in November 1907:
The business is making a profit of something like £6000 per annum but I would point out that this is an exceptional state of things arising from the extraordinary advance in the value of fodder at the present time. The value of the goodwill for the business can hardly be taken from the figures showing the profit in the business as the business is mostly of a speculative character and does not depend upon agencies. I would also point out that the business was carried on by deceased with the help of several of his sons and there is nothing to prevent 1 or more of them starting in opposition and soliciting persons who dealt with deceased.
The solicitor’s advice as to goodwill came from an auctioneer who also worked in Sussex Street. A shipping and commission agent also advised: ‘For my opinion of the value of a goodwill of a Sussex-street business, I have to say that I consider same passes with the individual from whom it was inseparable. Further, it is doubtful if a trade name is of much value in Sussex Street, where competition is very keen.’
A grain merchant wrote to one of John’s sons, after he had also enquired about the goodwill:
I regret to point out what you must know yourself. In the produce business proper, goodwill has no value whatever. Of course, had you been dealing in butter, bacon and cheese with retail shops who were regular customers there might have been some small amount representing goodwill in the transference of such a business. The wharf section of the produce trade in which you were engaged has no value outside the personality carrying it on. When this partnership was dissolved recently, this matter of goodwill was gone into and nothing paid in respect of same by the remaining partner, as we both recognized that goodwill was a myth in this trade. If you get anyone to pay goodwill for your business, it will be a person who is not acquainted with the peculiarities of the trade.
Elizabeth survived for a further 24 years, before dying on 8 August 1925 at her residence “Ingleside” in Boundary Street, Roseville. Her cause of death was recorded as senility and myocardial (heart) failure. She was buried two days later in the Presbyterian Section of the Northern Suburbs cemetery. Her sons Donald and George Campbell served as witnesses. Her death notice reported:
Deaths: August 8 1925, at her residence, Ingleside, Boundary Street, Roseville, Elizabeth, relict of the late John Campbell of Cromla, Ormond-road, Roseville, in her 80th year. Interred Northern Suburbs Cemetery, August 10, 1925.
The Hornsby Advocate lamented:
We regret to report the death of one of Roseville’s identities – Mrs Campbell Snr of Boundary Road. The old stone house on the Roseville Chase was the original Campbell homestead, and one of the oldest buildings in Roseville. In later years the Campbells came nearer Roseville Station to live, and are one of the best known and most highly respected families of the district. The late Mrs Campbell passed away on Saturday last at the age of 85 years, and leaves a grown up family, most of whom live in the district, to mourn her loss. Her husband predeceased her some years ago.
Elizabeth had signed her last will and testament on 29 January 1925 some months prior to her death. She appointed her youngest son George Peat Campbell, with whom she had lived for some years prior to her death, as executor and trustee of her will, bequeathing to him all of her real and personal estate. This included her share of the land originally acquired by her father George Peat at Peat’s Ferry and transferred in trust to her late husband in 1867.
George made an inventory of Elizabeth’s estate in February 1926, reporting that her assets were valued at ₤1298 and debts at ₤100. Her assets included ₤959 in real estate (as shown in Table 1 below), £46 in rent due from the “Fairview Point” property, £18 due from her son Lorn’s estate, and £275 due from the estate of her late husband. Elizabeth’s debts comprised £33 in rates for her properties and £67 in household essentials.
The Probate Office was evidently dissatisfied with the valuation of Elizabeth’s property and placed the matter in the hands of a licenced real estate valuator. His valuations are also shown in Table 1 and indicate that George’s estimation was only 20% of their true value. In the final analysis, Elizabeth’s estate was considered to be worth £5030.
But further problems arose. On 14 February 1827, George Peat Campbell signed a deposition stating that, when he submitted details of his mother’s estate to the Probate Office and probate was granted in February 1826, he had believed that the Hawkesbury properties belonged to his mother, and that he accordingly paid £136 4s 11d in death duty. Since then, he reported, ‘I have found out that the lands did not belong to Elizabeth Campbell at all.’ He continued:
Elizabeth Campbell became entitled to the land in 1875 upon the death of her father George Peat and in 1908 mortgaged the same to John William Gillespie, George Gillespie and Robert Winton Gillespie, all of Sydney, flourmillers. Default having been made under the mortgage, the Gillespies sold the same as mortgagees acting under their power of sale on 20 May 1909 to Colin Archibald Campbell, Bruce Macgregor Campbell, and Lorn Lochiel Campbell trading as John Campbell & Coy of 195 Sussex Street, Grain and Produce Merchants. Elizabeth Campbell was not a member of the firm of John Campbell and Co. and never acquired any further interest in the land.
Two weeks later, the Commissioner of Stamp Duties requested that the Crown Solicitor withhold authority for the payment of any resumption money regarding a number of Hawkesbury River blocks which had belonged to Elizabeth Campbell’s estate until the question of ownership of the land had been resolved. The land was being resumed for the New Great Northern Road. The Crown Solicitor reported that only three of the blocks mentioned in their communication had been resumed, and that a claim had been received from George Peat Campbell stating that he was entitled as an absolute owner in fee simple.
George signed another affidavit on 16 March 1827 providing details of his mother’s debts which amounted to about £105, and claiming that she had no personal effects except clothing of no value. The furniture which had belonged to her father was included in his estate and did not pass into her hands, he said. He referred to money owed to beneficiaries of his father’s estate, of which he was one, but claimed that an amount of £275 claimed as owing to the estate was nil because of the circumstances he had explained.
Five days later, George signed another affidavit claiming that his mother had no estate whatsoever at the time of her death, and that having ascertained that his mother had no interest in the lands, he had negotiated with the persons who were entitled to them and had purchased their interest solely for himself and not as executor of his mother’s will. The transaction had been finalised in October 1926, he reported. Another affidavit signed the following day referred to John Campbell’s furniture, mentioning that his mother had only a life interest with remainder to her children and that it had passed to them. He also mentioned sums owing from his brother Lorn’s estate and corrections to the balance of rent owed.
As executor of his mother’s estate, George Peat Campbell became by default the executor of his father’s estate. In 1933 he wrote to the Registrar of Probates in a futile attempt to alleviate the unfortunate consequences of his mother’s management of the Campbell estate:
I submit that there appears to be grave doubt whether probate herein should have been granted. Probate, I submit, should be granted only to a person empowered …[?] the testator’s estate. By my late Father’s will no one will ever have the power to legally transfer any of my late father’s estate. Did not my late Father in the absence of any other will die intestate? And if so, could probate be withdrawn owing to mistake.
Appended to George’s letter was the following memorandum:
Acknowledge and inform that [he] appears to be under a misapprehension in regard to the facts of the matter. The testator appointed his widow sole executrix of his will, probate thereof was duly granted to her. By virtue of the Conveyancing Act 1919-1930 she is empowered to sell and convey the property for the purposes therein mentioned. The fact that she is not the sole devisee but only the life tenant has, however, no bearing on her right to a grant of probate seeing that she was nominated by the testator as Executrix and accepted the office.
George responded with a lengthy letter summarising the problems relating to his father’s estate:
Under the will my mother held a power of sale over the real property, and if she did sell she was directed to hold the proceeds of sale therefrom in trust for testator’s children after her death … Anyway, my Mother did not sell any of the real property, but she mortgaged her interest therein, not for the purpose of paying my father’s debts, or any part of them. About twelve months after all my father’s debts were paid in full, and before the real property vested in my mother as executrix by transmission application, my mother mortgaged all the real property to J.W., R.W. and G. Gillespie for the purpose of Gillespie’s financing in business her three sons, namely C.A., B.M., and L.L. Campbell who traded in business under the name of John Campbell & Coy Grain Merchants, 195 Sussex Street, that business however did not have anything to do with the estate of my father. Before Gillespie’s accepted the mortgage from my mother, the children gave them notice in writing of the Trust, and warned them that our mother did not have power to mortgage the real property except of course her interest therein.
My mother died in August 1925, and as all the real property was unsold, it passed to all testator’s children in equal shares as tenants in common. Application was made to Gillespie by the children for all the deeds of their properties, but Gillespies refused to given them up, and they still refuse.
Soon after the mortgages were executed by my mother in favor of Gillespie, application was made to the Equity Court by the Children for the estate of John Campbell to be administered by the Court, and in May 1909 an order was made for the estate to be administered by the Court, and Mr Alfred Newmarch was appointed Receiver. Mr Newmarch collected a fair sum of money and paid it to the Master in Equity who holds it in trust for the children, but Newmarch has neglected to get in the deeds of the real property from Gillespies, notwithstanding all this real property is worth many thousands of pounds. I am the owner of two one-tenth shares which I value at least £4000 including interest.
After the estate was ordered to be administered by the Court my mother was made bankrupt, and the late Mr W.H. Palmer was appointed her Official Assignee. Mr Palmer then commenced a suit in Equity against the children of John Campbell but it was never gone on with, and now Mr Palmer (A.E. Campbell) is long since out of Court for want of prosecution, however Mr Palmer (A.E. Campbell) has agreed to withdraw from the Suit on payment of £10.10.0
Now the fact remains that my mother did not sell the properties, and at her death all our Father’s properties were unsold therefore they passed to the children in equal shares as tenants in common.
The mortgage to Gillespie is not valid so far as the fee-simple is concerned, because the children did not join in, and all that passed to Gillespie was my mother’s share of the rents and profits.
Mr Newmarch has neglected to get in the deeds from Gillespie, and through his neglect the children are deprived of their property. Mr Newmarch has been urged to apply to the Court for permission to use the money in Equity to take proceedings against Gillespie for the recovery of the deeds, but he has not done so. All the beneficiaries are poor, and some are being helped with food from the Government they therefore have no money to employ a solicitor, nor will any solicitor take the matter up because Newmarch is in the way; moreover the Legal Aid Office will not take the matter up because it is a matter for Newmarch. I intended to write to the Government for help, and advice in the matter, but I thought that you may be able to advise me what to do if you could, & would greatly appreciate your kindness.
Whether Gillespies are responsible to us for the deeds or their value of course I do not know, but as they took over the management of the estate I should think they would be responsible to the children for every [?], but then it may be that the Assurance Fund of the Registrar General would be responsible, because in fact the fault is with the Registrar General for allowing any dealings with the properties by Gillespie. Gillespie, I understand, has dealt with some of the properties but not all. The mortgages to Gillespie were executed long before my mother became the Registered Proprietor by transmission application. I say therefore perhaps the assurance fund would be liable.
The fact remains that my mother mortgaged to Gillespie all that she had in the properties and that was her share of the rents, and profits, and in support of this, I would say that in the 25th February 1925 my mother had an Equity Suit against the Public Trustee, and the whole of the facts relative to the estate were before the Court, and the Chief Judge in Equity said in open Court that the mortgage of the real estate of John Campbell by Elizabeth Campbell was a mortgage only of Elizabeth Campbell’s interest therein. The foregoing proves that the mortgage did not affect the children in any way.
I would greatly appreciate any advise you may be able to give me in the matter.
The Registrar of Probates replied:
Upon the facts as stated by you it would seem that your Mother by virtue of Section 154 of the Conveyancing Act 1919-30 could effectually mortgage the interest of the estate in the properties and that no person has the right to impeach the mortgage. Any action would appear to be only against the Executrix or her estate for breach of trust. I gather, however, that such action was taken and led to the appointment of a receiver and later to the bankruptcy of the Executrix. At the present time, on the above facts, you as Executor of your mother’s will seem to be the Executor of your fathers will also. Apart from recovery from your mother’s estate of the amount of any damage sustained by reason of her alleged breach of trust I cannot suggest any course of action.
George responded with the comment that the trust in the will was “a trust that infringes the rule regarding perpetuities” and therefore that it was “considered when writing to you as no trust at all”. He added details about the Court’s response to directions in deeds as compared with their response to directions in a will, however the Registrar of Probates obviously felt that he had covered the matter sufficiently as he refused to enter into any further correspondence.
Whatever complicated financial dealings underpinned the management of John Campbell’s estate after his death, it is clear that the Campbell family lost the Cromla estate.