Monday, 8 June 2009

A - Z of 2205: Esdaile Place

Esdaile Place is one of my favourite little pockets of Arncliffe. It was named after local resident Edward William Esdaile. He was an optical and precision instrument manufacturer. . Edward Esdaile married Caroline Anne Simpson. One of their sons, Sydney George (born in Arncliffe in 1895) was killed at Moquet Farm near Pozieres in the Somme on 29 August 1916. Other children survived them. More about the Esdailes can be found after the photos.

Below: One end of Esdaile Place

Below: The end at the edge of the cliff

The Esdailes from The Powerouse Museum, which has some Esdaile made instruments in their collection.

The firm was founded by William Edward Esdaile (1858/9-1947), who arrived in Sydney with his wife in 1883. At this time, Edward's occupation was listed as Mathematical Surveyor and Telegraphic Instrument Maker. By the time of his arrival in Australia, Edward, who was trained by, and worked for, his father had received a sound knowledge of the instrument making business.

Edward's first job upon arrival in Australia was in the workshops of the Post Master's General, and shortly thereafter he managed the instrument shop for the firm Favelle/Flavelle and Roberts, Sydney. Esdaile left this firm to start his own instrument manufacturing business in 1891. He advertised himself as E. Esdaile, Optician. At this time, Edward was established at 11 Hunter Street, Sydney, in a building known as Parkes House, which was formerly occupied by Sir Henry Parkes.

In 1894, the family took up residence in the city, and rented the residence on the top floor of 54 Hunter Street, which eventually became the firm's first (major) industrial premises. Business expanded rapidly, so the family returned the administrative section to Arncliffe, while the top floors at 54 Hunter Street were converted into instrument-making workshops, and remained there until 1919. One interesting characteristic of the firm's identification was that at this time the 'Sirius' trademark (named after the flag ship of the First Fleet) was adopted and placed on a range of instruments.

The business then moved to 42 Hunter Street in 1919. Esdaile House, as the building was known, was an early reinforced concrete building to be erected in Sydney. The building was erected in 1920 and opened for business. Edward Esdaile was joined in Business by his five sons and in 1924, the firm had changed name to E. Esdaile and Sons.

The Second World War kept the firm busy with orders for surveying equipment, ship's compasses, and gun sights. To keep production abreast of demand, the firm was sufficiently capitalised to employ 60 staff at this time.

When Edward Esdaile died in 1947, an application was made to make Esdailes a public company and was renamed E. Esdaile and Sons Pty Ltd. There was another name change in 1953 to Esdaile (Holdings) Limited. E. Esdaile and Sons Pty Ltd and Esadaile (Holdings) advertised surveying, drafting, scientific and industrial instruments as their core business. The traditional 'Sirius' trademark was retained by the firm.

About 1960, E. Esdailes and Sons (Esdaile Holdings) opened new facilities at 53 Flinders Street, Adelaide. There were three main sections, namely, surveying, scientific and industrial, and drawing office. Surveying included steel tapes, aneroid barometers, abney levels, levelling staves, optical squares, and stereoscopes. Scientific and industrial included anemometers, barographs, thermographs, industrial thermometers, binoculars, and stopwatches, while the drawing office section specialised in drawing instruments, scale rules, set-squares, protractors, T-squares, and drawing boards.

In 1962, Esdaile House was sold to an insurance company and the firm moved to premises at 31 Bay Street, Glebe.

Esdailes were commissioned to undertake important instrument work for a number of science and engineering projects. Edward (Jnr.) was a member of the Sydney Branch of the British Astronomical Association, through which he made contact with Father Edward Francis Pigot (1858-1929), founder and director of Riverview College Observatory, Sydney. Edward's first job for the College was to set up a small telescope at the Observatory, and later he fitted a large astrograph for photographing the stars to the seven-inch refractor telescope that was installed at the Riverview Observatory.

Edward also worked with William Cooke and James Nangle, Government Astronomers for New South Wales, especially in regard to the fitting of the automatic clockwork drive for the large refracting (11 1/2" or the astrograph?) telescope at Sydndey Observatory. In 1952, Edward presented a sun clock to the Observatory, which he made from Cooke's design. This item has been retained for the Museum's collection (H10258).

The firm were engaged for other major engineering projects. Esdailes were commissioned to supply the surveying instruments when the original survey contour maps for Canberra were being prepared. The firm also supplied specialist theodolites for the survey and construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and instruments for measuring the tension in wire (saddle) cables, which held the arch in place during its construction. Finally, the Snowy Mountains Scheme presented many challenges to engineers and surveyors. Esdailes supplied many of the survey instruments for the Scheme. Their instruments were used in ordinary survey work, and in more specialised aspects of surveying including magnetic, and photogrametric surveys. The firm also made instruments for gravimetric analysis.

More generally, Esdailes supplied and repaired surveying instruments to the New South Wales Lands Department, Sydney, established the 'world globe' that once adorned the rooftop on the Ashfield Council Chambers, and manufactured the turnstiles and counter registers for the Sydney Showground and Cricket Ground.

Oral history taken from descendants of Edward Esdaile.


R J ESDAILE said...

Thanks for the Esdaile summary and the history. As a fourth generation Esdaile I have found it very interesting.
However many years ago I forsook the world of instrument making to take up agriculture.
However I fondly remember the family gatherings at the Original Esdaile family home over 50 years ago.

Sally said...

Hi RJ - thanks so much for your comment. So great to make a connection with my area's people.

I think I feel a vague connection with the Esdailes because my surname is not dissimilar, and in fact I have on occasion been misspelled "Esdaile". Suspect it may be a variation with some common antecendent.

Anonymous said...

Hello Sally

I actually live at No2 Esdaile Place and my mother was born to Edward Esdaile Jnr who married Jean Parrington in 1908 (I think). The lovely old Edwardian home on the corner of Esdaile and Towers Places was where she grew up. Several years ago when I divorced I reverted to my maiden name, but added Esdaile as a rememberance to my mum who had died a few years before.

Sally said...

Hello! Thanks for dropping in and saying hello! If I see you on my walks I'll say g'day.

That gorgeous house must qualify as one of (if not the) favourites of mine in Arncliffe. Would love to have bought it some years ago when it was on the market (I went to an inspection), but, alas it was well beyond my means!

Boobook said...

Stumbled across your blog by accident. As a small child in the 1950's I used to live at 105 Forest Road, Arncliffe, in the Towers. At the back of the Towers is Towers Place, leading to the Esdaile house. I think the Esdailes used to own the Towers, which were subdivided into units. My mother and her mother rented the back portion, and every Saturday I would walk with my mother to Esdaile House, where mum would be greeted at the door by the butler who accepted the weekly rent.

I too looked at the house when it went on the market but alas, it was too expensive for me at the time. I still harbour a dream of buying it.

kristin said...

I have discovered this site out of desperation to save the Esdaile house you all speak off. Not common knowledge yet but it is going on the market again in the next few weeks without any heritage listing. There has already been an offer made by a developer and we have seen others looking. I am begging for anyone who can help in getting this house protected somehow from being demolished. I am a resident of Towers Place and love the history of our street and want to see it preserved. Any help would be appreciated. (22/9/2013) I am not sure how this blog works in terms of contacting me so if you could post your ideas to help it would be appreciated.