Dyson’s Corner (the First)

As a would-be historian, I am always torn between my desire to share the information I have collected and the desire to find that one final piece of the puzzle that will complete the story I want to tell. Most of the time, that final piece is not— and may never be— there, but what to do then? Should I hoard away what I have so far, or publish and be damned?

If this is not your first reading of this page and what you are reading is different to what you recall, it means I have found some new evidence and re-written accordingly. It is why I chose a weblog to write up my material in the first place.

If the original Dyson family in Western Australia was associated with any one place in Western Australia (other than the eponymous swamp in present-day Shenton Park) it was with Dyson’s Corner, in the town of Perth. One slight problem: there were two Dyson’s Corners, and the only element they possessed in common (apart from the residency of a family called Dyson) was that they were both located (but on different street-corners) in Murray Street, on the unfashionable northern side of the town.

The first Dyson’s Corner from an old title deed. The measurement numbers are in “chains.”

The first Dyson’s Corner was a parcel of land on the south side of Murray Street and the east of King street.

James Dyson,  sawyer and timber merchant, finally came into formal ownership of the land on 24 January 1848, but he might have been in occupation much earlier than this, as a renter, possibly since his arrival in the colony back in 1841.

The first European “owner” of this land was a mysterious figure called Charles Brown. He was allocated these blocks in 1840, but only the following year he announced he was planning to leave the colony. As I can find nothing further about him (other than that he was possibly a member of the Methodist congregation, was known for his fruit trees, and owned other parcels of land in the city) I assume he left some time after that.

Inquirer (Perth, WA : 1840 – 1855) Wednesday 24 November 1841 p2

James Dyson paid the sum of £12 for the property in 1848. His neighbours were William Ward, a brick-maker, (and foundation member of the Sons of Australia Benefit Society) also John Chipper, the town bailiff. The deed of transfer was witnessed by the colonial chaplain, the Rev. F. B. Wittenoom, who was also Justice of the Peace. But who did he buy the property from?  There in lies the question.

Tracing early title deeds in Western Australia is difficult and expensive. Far be it for me to begrudge a professional historian being paid a very large sum of money to look up a private database for five minutes, but the resultant digital copies you receive, also at great cost for each document you request, were obviously made years ago on very sub-standard equipment. Here is the name of the person Dyson bought the “corner” from as it appears in my document:

Can you decipher this name?

John ? was a sawyer, as was Dyson. Were they business partners? When did John ? buy the property, was it from good ole Charlie Brown? Is that surname Stafford, Hollands, Hutton, or something else entirely?

Its not Stanton, which is a shame, as  John Stanton (1797-1877), an early councillor on the Perth town trust, a prominent papist, retired soldier, policeman and barrel-maker would have a documented altercation with Dyson in a couple of years time.

The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News (WA : 1848-1864) Friday 30 September 1853

It would be wonderful to know exactly what the argument was about. Stanton grazed cattle within the Perth jurisdiction. Dyson provided pasturage and water for the Perth herd on his property at Dyson’s swamp. But by this date Dyson’s first wife had died and he was engaged in a (presumably) public and scandalous affair with a married woman.

A year before Dyson threatened Stanton, on the night of 2nd August 1852— a Monday evening— Dyson created some sort of disturbance in the street that also ended up in court. Again, the precise details I know not, not even if the street in question was in fact his own; but what is not in dispute is that a month later, his close neighbours right across the road, Stephen Hyde and wife Hannah decided to sell up. If the two events are linked, this was a sad ending to a long association. This couple had been witnesses at Dyson’s first marriage ten years before. Maybe they did not approve of poor Fanny’s replacement? Just to add a little spice to the mix, in September, Mrs Hyde was convicted and fined for assaulting a Mrs Staunton. Was this Staunton the mis-spelled wife of John? When John Stanton died in 1877, Dyson’s probable business rival Benjamin Mason (whose son had been shot by Dyson’s son) was one of his executors.

Hyde (then a bricklayer) had tried to sell up previously in September 1850 (not long after the first convicts arrived). Then he applied for the licence to turn his premises into a tavern, which he called “The Vine“.  Hyde eventually sold up to a man named Henry Alexander Towton, a former Parkhurst boy (forerunner to the convicts) who had well and truly made good. After the Hyde family had departed for South Australia in early October, Towton re-named the establishment the “No-Place Inn“. Towton’s son was born there the very same month. George Towton grew to be a famous horse trainer in the colony. He was present when one of Dyson’s own grand-children was killed in a racing accident in 1901. After George Towton died in 1906, Dyson’s son Septimus married his widow, but it was not a successful union.

This is the No Place Inn, as seen from across the road from Dyson’s Corner [SLWA Collection]
There are no contemporary images (that I know of) of Dyson’s Corner, but there is of the No Place Inn. They were probably the same style of building. Dyson’s main dwelling had two stories:

“A first class 2-storey House, containing Shop and good Cellerage, Bakehouse and Oven ; also a 4-roomed Cottage, good Stable and Kitchen, and Shed to stable 4 horses ; fine Well of Water and a trellis.”

The Western Australian Times (Perth, WA : 1874-1879) Tuesday 27 March 1877 page 3

…was how it was described when it finally went up for sale in March 1877.

The four-roomed cottage was associated with some additional land adjacent to Dyson’s corner and was purchased at some stage after 1869.

By 1874 as far as James Dyson’s finances were concerned the rot was setting in. That year, the whole property was re-mortgaged to the sum of £500 advanced to him by members of the Stone family through the Western Australian Bank. What ever scheme this money was required for did not pay off, for the sale of the Corner and most of his other assets, including Dyson’s Swamp, occurred three years later. He had finally married Mrs Jane Edwards in February 1861. As his finances crumbled, so did his second marriage.  In 1874, she was witness to the mortgage of their home. In late 1879, no longer owning a home, their last child was born, but died six months later.

By 1883 James Dyson was living in the house of his son Joseph and his marriage was over. Whether he kicked her out, her step-son refused to receive her, or she left the lot of them, is not clear, but John Liddelow, the general dealer and butcher she moved in with as a housekeeper only a short walk further down Murray Street was a social acquaintance if not a friend of her second husband. They were bretheren together in the Sons of Australia Benefit Society. Liddelow might have felt he was doing old James a favour.

The house and compound of Joseph Dyson on the corner of Murray and Barrack Street, where his father James lived out his final years was not owned by the family, nevertheless it still became known as Dyson’s Corner, long after the original had been forgotten.

But that original site on the corner of Murray and King Street, post-Dyson ownership, still continued had a strange connection with the family’s fortune. That will be the subject of part two.

…continue.

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