Macquarie St. mystery

Posted by Karen Myers, Curator, on December 30, 2022

Prior to the College's purchase in 1938, one of the most famous tenants of 145 Macquarie St. Sydney was the Warrigal Club, a club for pastoralist gentlemen that provided refuge, accommodation and entertainment in the heart of the Sydney from 1890 to 1931. The Club did major works on the building during its lease including adding two stories in 1909

I had assumed that the Warrigal Club had gone bust during the Great Depression and was no longer able to afford the rental of the building, forced out by this circumstance in 1931. However, reading through the archives recently a different story emerged. I came across a reference to the purchase of the building in 1929 by 'Dennis Brennan of Rose Bay, gentleman, and Margaret Williamson, wife of William B. Williamson for £25000/-/-'. The reference was part of the 'Conservation Analysis' prepared by Honorary Architect Clive Lucas in 1992. This document provided a comprehensive list of all owners and tenants of College owned properties at 145 and 147 Macquarie St. The listing was notated with the following comment:

"Nothing is currently known to the authors about Brennan and Williamson"

This intriguing comment sent me down a rabbit hole to discover who the unknown buyers were and why they were purchasing a property together. Were they siblings? cousins? business partners? Three years later they failed to make payment on the mortgage, transferring it back to the previous owner, Stirling House, in 1932. (Stirling House purchased the building from the Fairfax family in 1921 for £14000). I went in search of further information.

A quick look on Trove turned up another interested entity, the 'Macquarie Club', who had negotiated an option on the property for £40000 in 1927 and planned to take possession on the expiration of the lease of the Warrigal Club in 1931. I'd not heard of the Macquarie Club in relation to 145 Macquarie St. and it was not listed in Lucas' Conservation Analysis. This article seems to indicate that the Crash of the late 1920's prevented the Club from going through with the purchase. A comment in this piece confirms that the Warrigal Club made an offer on the property, but why did our mystery buyers win out?

It seems that the aforementioned William B. Williamson was a partner in the real estate firm of the negotiating agents, Marshall and Dempster. Williamson got into a little hot water with money matters relating to his employment. As a result, he went to jail for three years in October 1931. Nine months later the buyers of 145 Macquarie St. defaulted on their mortgage. Were these two things related? Further investigation is required but it seems that Stirling House remained keen to sell off the property and five years later trustees purchased the property on behalf of the future College.