6 Martinsville Road, Cooranbong

National Trust Heritage Listed 1982






This 3 acre block was originally part of a 2,000 acre Land Grant made to Lieutenant  Percy Simpson in  1826. Surrounded by abundant native forests, and close to the then,  permanent fording place over Dora Creek,  Simpson  cleared  this north eastern corner using six assigned convicts, and established a farm.


Over the next 30 years or so, a thriving village community grew associated with the timber industry, the majority being Roman Catholics who banded together and in 1861 built a humble weatherboard church.  In 1906 a more substantial brick building was erected and dedicated by The Most Rev Dr Kelly, Coadjutor Archbishop of Sydney.



155 burials during the 1800s

5 of those buried here having been born in the 1700s



1861 July 1st known burial, Mary Blackford   14 years,   killed by a falling tree
1861  Nov   timber church built, also used as Non Vested National School
1862 June  2nd known burial, Annie Malone 13 years, domestic fire accident
1895 April & May Mother Mary MacKillop visited the ‘Brown Joey’ teachers
1895 19 May Mother Mary McKillop went to mass in the timber church
1906  St Patrick’s and St Brigid’s brick church built  –  Cletus Taylor
1982  Cemetery - National Trust listed
2006 Columbarium built
2011  150th Celebrations
2015 May Celebrations for Saint Mary of the Cross, 120 years since her visit  



Parish Office:      
60 Yambo Street,  Morisset  POB 87  NSW 2265  

Booklets Available to purchase from Parish Office:
1861 - 2011 Church and Cemetery History – produced for the 150th commemoration of the earliest recorded burial.
1861 - 2011 Parish and School History

The Cooranbong Cemetery Team is ever interested in collecting related historical information - documents, photos,  birth or death certificates.   
Information with contact details for future acknowledgment may be left with Parish Office. 

  • INFORMATIVE TRAIL + DIRECTIONS  AND NOTES                    …   Frances Dunn  2011
  • SCHEMATIC DIAGRAM +  WITH DOTTED TRAIL                         …   Denis Lyons    2018


The TRAIL -   dotted line on the schematic diagram below -   has been designed as a circular walk passing many of the early graves, with 11 in particular chosen to give an interesting overview at the early history around Cooranbong.



~ stand between the stone columns, marking the early Cemetery gate entrance, now with a National Trust Plaque denoting it’s 1982 listing as a Nationally Significant Site

By following the dotted trail on the schematic diagram, you will proceed to the right in a roughly wide, anti-clockwise circle returning to this entry point.

You will pass by many interesting and early headstones in the older and more randomly aligned section.  The following notes refer in particular to only 11 sites, all but one being burials during the 1800s, and all chosen for the stories they tell, giving a snap shot view of the early pioneering days of community life that was Cooranbong

The 11 sites are listed below with ROW references and accompanying notes :-


~ 1     Memorial plaque
BLACKFORD Mary           died 1861

Source:   Gosford Court of petty Sessions   Deposition Book 1855- 1872
This Memorial Plaque has been erected to the right of the entrance stone columns, and commemorates the earliest recorded burial, site unknown, of Mary Blackford.     The incident has been well documented “At the end of July 1861”.  Mary aged 14, was accidently killed by the branches of a falling tree watched by the family and her aunts and cousins in the Malone family. Sophie Deaves comforted the strickenfamily.

In row K position 7 other family members are buried.  Mary’s father, Ambrose was an English convict transported for life in 1828, who gained his ticket of leave in 1836 and married Winifred.  Winifred’s parents, Winifred and Ambrose Cudmore, are also buried in K7, along with Ambrose aged 19 years, possibly her brother.  The Blackfords were one of the earliest families to settle in the district after the 1861 NSW Land Act made small holdings possible.  The name of Mary’s brother, John is found as signature on letters to the National Board of Education highlighting the education needs of the early community. 

In 1875, Ambrose and James, son of John, were on the wages list of King and Company, probably receiving payment for the number of logs delivered to the nearby steam mill.   John owned a store in Cooranbong, and with his brother Adolphus, owned one or two ketches engaged in the timber trade.  One was the ‘Seagull’ which in 1876, while waiting outside the bar entrance at Swansea Heads for the high tide, was stricken by a gale and wrecked on rocks with all aboard drowned.   Another of their ketches, built in 1877 was named ‘Emily and Mary’ – possibly in memory of Mary. James was killed by a falling tree in 1897.  John successfully tendered to rebuild the timber Cooranbong Public School, after white ant decay some 30 years after construction, for the sum of ”three shillings and threepence per rod.”.


~ 2   ROW M     CHILDREN’S SITE              c. 1920s

This stone bounded area is believed to contain a number of unmarked graves of infants who died in the 1920’s flu epidemic.

This new virus had spread globally as a result of the scope and intensity of World War 1, which, combined with the efficiency of more modern transport, steamship and railways, carried the virus across oceans and deep into continents.


~ 3   ROW M  POSITION  9         CRAFT William            died 1896

Source:    Iron Horse and Iron Bark     Beryl Mullard

Within the bounded area are the graves of William and Edgar, children of W and M Craft. It is believed that William died at birth, and this burial is the earliest of the 18 Craft graves found in the cemetery.

Eileen and Harry Craft moved to Morisset in 1906, where Harry opened a Blacksmith shop located on the present site of Morisset Library.  They had a large family, with Harry’s  brother Jack, becoming K A Craft, early undertakers during times when graves were dug with pick and shovel.

One early story recounted by Merle, daughter of Jack Craft, tells of her displeasure at having to get into the hearse, when it was needed for a funeral, to clean out all the evidence of roosting fowls which made their home in it every night! 

Many of the Craft headstones are different, a likely showcase for the available range of headstone and grave styles of their day.  A descendant, Darby Craft had stables in Morisset, and also worked as a timber cutter.  His daughter Yvonne, clearly remembers visiting the Cemetery with her father and being really scared as they trampled a track through the overgrown blackberry vines to place just one flower on a child’s grave.  Whose grave it was, she is now unsure.


~ 4 ROW    M  POSITION  16         OWENS  Catherine          died  1886

Source:                       Barry Sylvester

Catherine was the wife of Patrick Owens who, after the opening of the Post Office at Catherine Hill Bay in 1874, collected mail for Cooranbong twice weekly on horseback.  This service was temporarily discontinued when the cargo steamer ‘Susannah Cuthbert’ owned by the New Wallsend Company, was wrecked on Long Reef in 1875 while transporting coal from Catherine Hill Bay to Sydney.

Patrick continued his horseback postal service, with deliveries from Wallsend through Cooranbong to Catherine Hill Bay, receiving in 1874 30 pounds per annum, increased the following year to 50 pounds.  In 1878 the Telegraph line was extended from Wallsend to Cooranbong and then to Gosford.

Patrick was a native of Kilcare Ireland, arriving in Australia in 1839.  Their son John, worked for King and Company steam saw millers of Cooranbong in 1875, when he would have been around 16 years old.  Their daughter Rose Ann married Edward Silas Taylor, the builder of the original timber church in 1861.


~ 5   ROW L   POSITION 8       MALONE  Annie         13years         died 1862

Source:  Reid’s Mistake   Keith Clouten

Another telling incident in the perilous lives of these early pioneering families was in 1862 when Annie was burnt in a domestic fire accident dying the next day, while parents Michael and Bridget were away in Sydney.  Catherine the oldest at 17 years, and John had been looking after their many brothers and sisters.  Tragically, it had been John, who only one year before had been felling trees in the accident resulting in the death of cousin Mary Blackford.  The youngest child of the family James Malone, a one year old at the time of the accident, erected the present headstone in 1912.  Other siblings also buried here are Mary Ann and BridgetPatrick Malone, a convict with ‘ticket of leave’ was the first of Malone family to arrive in the 1830s and by the 1860s, the families of Blackford, Condren and Malone were related by marriage.


~ 6   ROW K  POSITION 5          O’LEARY  Margaret          died 1867

Source:   Shirley Yates, great-great-grand daughter of Michael and Margaret O’Leary

Margaret is the earliest burial in this Cemetery of the O’Leary clan, with two of her children marrying into the O’Neill family – fifth child Michael was to marry Mary O’Neill, and Jane a tenth child was to marry James O’Neill.  Jane’s grave is a short walk to the left, following the trail – photo at end of text.

Both families forged similar business interests in the early settlement of Cooranbong, with their names now found on many petitions relating to the growing community needs around Church, schools (both Catholic and State), and road maintenance.  The O’Leary and O’Neill names were to be found as members of school boards, licensees of inns/hotels, store owners, and hosts of the ever popular local cricket club and race track.

Michael and Margaret O’Leary at ages 37 and 35 respectively, migrated from Ireland aboard the Mary Anne sponsored by a businessman, Mr Marshall, accompanied by 4 sons and 2 daughters arriving in Sydney in 1840, with another of their children emigrating later.  The family first settled in Kincumber, then moved to Cooranbong, where another four children were born.

James O’Neill owned the first hotel in Cooranbong in 1865 called the ‘Cricketers Arms Inn’, later sold to John O’Leary. Re named the ‘The Welcome Inn’, this establishment provided accommodation for travellers between Sydney, Newcastle and Wallis Plains (Hunter).  In 1874, with the town in a state of great community excitement, a festive evening banquet was hosted at the Inn.  John had “to knock two rooms into one“ in order to house 100 people, and the local member was “cajoled into action over much needed road improvements for the area.”

One of the Police reports notes that there was “a great deal of sly-grog selling in the district with a small sailing vessel landing spirits whenever it likes, and Police are perfectly incapable of directing (sic) the sly-grog sellers.” The racecourse, believed to be on Patrick O’Leary’s 46 acres, held a well advertised race meeting in 1875 with 400 spectators, followed by a horse and cattle auction at ‘The Cricketers Arms Hotel’ owned by James O’Neill.

In 1881, records show that John was an innkeeper, Michael (snr) a storekeeper, Patrick a storekeeper in Dora Creek, William in Mandalong and Michael a junior sawyer.  Patrick also owned 40 acres bordering on Dora Creek, which was sold during depression times for less than one pound per square acre to the Seventh-day Adventists, adding to their earlier purchase of the Campbell / Brett Estate.

In 1906, it is recorded that Mr O’Leary gave the vote of thanks to Archbishop Dr Kelly after the laying of the foundation stone for the opening of the new brick Church, St Patrick’s and St Brigid’s.

Some interesting stories have been passed down about old Frank O’Leary, the local coach driver around the 1920s. He is reported to have given 6 foot 3 inches tall Bill Martin and his petite wife a fare from Morisset to Cooranbong.  Upon alighting, Martin asked the fare, to which O’Leary replied :-    “one shilling for you and sixpence for the girl.”


~ 6     ROW K     POSITION 2                0’NEILL  Jane        died 1881     (story in above notes )


~ 7    ROW J   POSITION 8        MARTIN  Jeremiah              died   1866

Sources: Pat Martin – great, great, grandson of William Martin.    Barry Sylvester

Jeremiah, buried at age 21, was the fifth of eight children born to William and Sarah Martin, the patriarchs of the large Martin family, with William 1873 buried alongside in J 7. An Irishman, (strong evidence suggesting convict origins), William (snr) settled first in the Brisbane Water District, but sometime prior to 1866, brought his wife Sarah and young family to make their permanent home in the heart of what we now know as Martinsville.  They purchased a large tract of land from the Crown, and established themselves as true pioneers in the fledgling timber industry.

Other settlers followed the Martins into The Brush (an early name implying its rather inhospitable nature), spreading the Cooranbong settlement well along the valley, clearing large areas of forest for farming and penetrating far into the heavily timbered forests with huge teams of bullock wagons in search of valuable timber.  With the timber industry entering upon a period of rapid expansion, King and Company opened a sawmill at Cooranbong in 1875, on a site just opposite the present Martinsville Cemetery, and when a Provisional School opened at ‘Deep Creek’ in 1878, the scattered community began to see itself as a more distinct entity.

After a history of confusing names for the district, The Brush, Deep Creek, Brushgrove and even Dora Creek, resolution was needed and came three years after the official opening of the Post Office in 1889, with the district thereafter officially Martinsville, the name by which the area is known today.

It is said that when William died in 1873 aged 65, his son Patrick ‘Paddy’ was already an experienced bushman at 16 years old!  Patrick went on to marry Mary Ann Graves and had eleven children to add to the already large clan. Certainly his sons stayed to work on the properties, with the Cemetery listing 22 Martin burials, though not all directly related.  Many Martin descendants are still to be found living today around Lake Macquarie.


~ 8  ROW J    POSITION 9           GORMON  Mary        died 1881

Source: Reid’s Mistake Keith Clouten

Mary Carroll married Richard Gormon and four of their children are buried here – John aged 21, with Moses, Margaret and Mary Jane close by.  Richard, probably with the influence of his father-in-law Moses Carroll, was appointed Constable in the Brisbane Water District, stationed at Mangrove, Gosford and other locations, and was also on the wages list for King and Company, steam saw millers, as a likely supplier of timber from the 55 acres of land he purchased in 1858 on ‘Dorah’ Creek (sic).  He is recorded as being the secretary of the organizing committee for the 1877 Gosford Jockey Club annual races at Cooranbong Racecourse. Mary was the daughter of Moses Carroll.

Moses Carroll, an Irish convict, was one of the original assigned servants to Percy Simpson, and remained as overseer when Simpson and his family left within two years for a work position at Wollombi.  Moses was made Constable in 1834, when a ‘lock up’ was built close to Simpson’s homestead. This building became redundant in 1873 with the building of the timber Court House and Police Station, now no longer standing.  In one reported incident, Moses Carroll came across stolen cattle from Cooranbong Station, reported the sighting to Richard Gorman who was sent to arrest and charge John Moore, and have his assigned servant, Joseph Frost flogged.  Moses came out in 1825 on the Regalia, later joined by wife Sarah, and children, Mary
12, James 7 and Peter 5.  Moses remained at the homestead for the rest of his life, date of death yet to be found, but almost certainly a burial within the cemetery, location unknown.


~ 9   ROW G   POSITION 14       SYLVESTER      Aileen 3years 9months    died    1917

Source: Barry Sylvester, great grandson of Thomas and Mary Sylvester

Aileen is the earliest burial in this Cemetery of the large Sylvester clan.  In fact, 17 headstones with Sylvester are to be found here, with many other early pioneering family names of Martin, Taylor, Burgess and Moffitt connected by marriage.  The most recent burial is that of James Charles Sylvester in 2004, aged 80.

The Sylvesters of Martinsville, including Louise Mary Martin, were the children of Thomas and Mary Sylvester. Six of their children would have lived at one time or another in the valley of Martinsville.  Three of the children, Thomas John, Louise Mary, and Charles Alfred, would live permanently at Martinsville right up until the time of their deaths.  Thomas John, brother Charles, and their brother-in-law William Martin, were men of the bush each with their own bullock teams delving heavily into timber getting, sleeper cutting, breeding and dealing in cattle. The three would work together at times driving cattle through the mountains to the property of Thomas John’s at Stockyard Creek, with Thomas often aided by the eldest of his daughters.

Thomas John came to Martinsville around 1913 some years after Robert, Louise, and Charles, but it was Charles and wife Evelyn, who would establish their business interest owning and running a butcher shop at Cooranbong in the 1920s on Babers Road, serving the local community and having a contract to supply the ‘Morisset Mental Hospital’.  Cattle for the butcher shop were butchered on Thomas’ property at Martinsville and transported to the shop at Cooranbong.

Thomas John was the eldest child of Thomas and Mary Sylvester.  He was born in 1875 at Branxton, and died at the home of his sister Louise Martin in 1958.  He married Evelyn May Burgess in 1906.  Their daughter married Cletus Taylor whose forebears had built the original timber church and school in 1861, and later the brick Church in 1904, the building we know today as St Patrick’s and St Brigid’s.

Thomas John Sylvester owned many lots of land in the local area.  One of the more historical would have to be the block of land on which the Court House and Police Barracks at Cooranbong were built, now unfortunately long gone.  The land (Portion 52) was purchased at Government Auction at Morisset on the 21st February 1930 for the sum of sixty pounds.

Robert Patrick Sylvester the third child of Thomas and Mary, born in 1878, was the first of the children to take up residence at Martinsville.  In 1903 Robert married Grace Martin, the daughter of John Joseph Martin and Mary Kennedy of Martinsville.

Robert was a Government Contractor building roads and bridges in the Hunter Valley and as far south as Peats Ridge.  In 1934 and 1935 he was awarded contracts for the construction of the road to the ‘Wyee Criminal Mental Hospital Morisset’ and a bridge over Pourmalong Creek at Morisset Mental Hospital.  At the time of his death in 1957, he was living on Cooranbong Road, Morisset in a house built by him, still standing today.

Many of the descendants of Thomas, Louise, Charles and Robert live today in the wider Lake Macquarie and Newcastle area.


~ 10   ROW G POSITION 5       RUSSELL Thomas       aged 74       died 1914
Source: Reid’s Mistake   Keith Clouten

Thomas Russell was one of the most enterprising businessmen of the district, building up trade with the settlers around 1864 by bringing flour, tea, sugar etc. laden in one of the first ketches to ply the trade route.

He was owner and Master Mariner of ’The Village Maid’ which in 1876, at the notorious entrance to the Lake at Reid’s Mistake, Swansea Heads, was totally wrecked on rocks, with master and crew reportedly saved.

Russell was also believed to have written (author at the time was anonymous), some of the early articles advertising trade and settlement at Cooranbong in ‘The Newcastle Chronicle’.  He bought Humphries store and built up the business, “practically ran the whole town.”  also incorporating as a temporary measure, the duties of resident postmaster, and then confidently writing to the Superintendent of Telegraphs, asserting that the coming Telegraph line be directed to his proposed enlarged premises.  Dissension to this proposal eventually saw a purpose built Post Office erected using local stone, adjoining the timber built Court House, Police Station and Lock-up.

In 1877, while Secretary of the School Board which was petitioning for a purpose built State School, Russell offered his land as a potential site and the school was duly built there and completed in 1879.  Transport was predominantly by waterways, and in 1875, Russell introduced the first steam powered ferry, the ‘Pioneer’ with a draught of only ten feet able to carry 100.  Passengers were carried to and from Belmont Wharf and Newcastle, with a service to the Catherine Hill Mining Community.

Around 1885, a subdivision called Lilydale was proposed, but by then, the town’s growth was stalling with the uncertainty of the route of the proposed northern rail line.  The route did indeed by-pass Cooranbong heralding its eventual decline.  At the centre of early community dissension was a proposal for an “obscenely low bridge over Dora Creek – too far away and too low”, and later, a railway station originally called Cooranbong, but within the month, renamed Morisset.


~ 11  ROW G  POSITION 4         MCKINNON  Archibald Vincent  MBE      died  1985

Source:   Castle of Shadows   author AV Mc Kinnon

Archie McKinnon was born in Temora and educated at Waverley College Sydney, spent some time at farming pursuits before finding employment at Morisset Mental Hospital as an attendant then later began psychiatric nursing at Darlinghurst, before returning to eventually retire in Morisset.  Both he and his wife Dulcie became active in the Morisset parish.

During his career, Archie, non-alcoholic himself, became very interested in the patients as confined under the provisions of the Inebriate Act.  Building on earlier attempts by Fr Dunlea and  Dr Minogue in Sydney to form a group modelled on an overseas organization ‘ Alcoholics Anonymous ‘, these three motivated men came together and began the slow and steady growth of the movement we know today.       In 1969, Archie was awarded an MBE as co-founder of AA in Australia.