Monday, December 6, 2010

Dr. William Balmain - The man behind the suburb

It's been brought to my attention that I have not yet written about Dr. William Balmain, the man the suburb of "Balmain" was named after.

Born over nearly 250 years ago in 1762, William Balmain was a Scottish surgeon. At the age of 18, he was appointed the assistant surgeon of the First Fleet. He sailed on the First Fleet ship "Alexander". There, served as Civil Magistrate of Norfolk Island where he met his wife, a convict, Margaret Dawson. Balmain then returned to Sydney where he was appointed the Chief Surgeon of the Colony of New South Wales.
Dr. Balmain was intrically involved in a number of Sydney's early conflicts including the Irish rebellion in Castle Hill and the Rum Rebellion of which, Balmain blasted John Macarthur, the rebllion's leader, as "a base rascal and an atrocious liar and villan."

On 26th April 1800, the NSW Governor John Hunter granted Dr. Balmain 223 hectares of land, what is now know as "Balmain". Back then, the wild bush area was known as "Ross's Farm". Dr. Balmain only held the land for fifteen months before his failing health forced him to return to England. Before his departure in 1801, he quietly sold the land to John Gilchrist, a scolar residing in Calcutta, India, for just 5 shillings. Such a nominal sum is ludicous when we consider today's Balmain property prices! Gilchrist wished the area to be known as "Gilchrist Place" but the legalities of the sale had been so quiet that it had not become public knowledge until 20 years later. By that time, the suburb name of "Balmain" had rooted itself on the area.

In 1801, Dr. Balmain's health had failed and he returned to England where he died a year later due to kidney failure. His kin returned to Sydney where they fought to reclaim the land, refuting the transaction that had taken place between Dr. Balmain & Gilchrist. They're attempts were ultimately futile and Gilchrist sold the first plots of land at auction in 1836.

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