Bailey, George (Snr)

Spoke to Edric Chaffer (telephone 02 94172484) on 27/5/2003 (P.O. Box 462 Chatswood, 2067) regarding the tannery ownership of the Bailey family. He is a descendant of the Chaffer family who also owned tanneries in the Willoughby area.


He advised the following.


George Francis Bailey Snr. is reported to have served in the American Civil War that was between 1861 & 1865. (He married in Australia in 1854 shortly after coming to Australia after service with the 24th. Foot, Army of the Punjab in India & possibly a very short stint in the Crimean War. This means that he would have gone to America after arriving in Australia & given the DOB for his children it appears that this is highly unlikely.). He possibly had a farm near Berry.


George Francis Jnr. had an orchard at Ryde before moving to the South Coast (possibly Jamberoo). He went “off the rails” after his wife died & bought a boat & went up to near St. Albans where he bought land. He apparently spent quite a bit of money. He was a very close friend of Edric’s grandfather & during several problems with their respective tanneries they co-operated by sharing equipment, space etc. particularly when the Bailey tannery burnt down & rebuilt in 1902. The carpenter that did the work was Herbert’s & George Clarence’s (k/a Clarrie) brother James who did a great job. (James owned a house below Herbert in High St & his son George was the Town Clerk of Willoughby for a number of years.)  George Jnr. was the president of the Master Builders’ Association around 1904 as well as being Mayor of Willoughby.


When he started in tannery he was apprenticed to John Forsythe for a short time & then to James Forsythe before moving to Jamberoo.


Herbert Arthur Bailey (born at Jamberoo) worked at a tannery at Jamberoo in the early 1880s which was owned by George Birdsall & sold to the Chegwin family from Botany. Sometime after moving to Sydney (1928) they bought the Johnson Brother’s tannery in Willoughby.


There were 5 equal shares in the tannery between Herbert, Clarence & their other siblings. It was a profitable enterprise but Herbert & Clarence had a falling out. Clarence went to London & then to Leeds to study aspects of tanning under Professor Proctor. Unlike Herbert, he had no real experience with the hands on approach & conversely Herbert had not had an education in the trade other than hands on. Consequently there was a falling out. Clarence then went & worked with another tanner, Jerry Gearing, who had also been a student of the said Professor. (He apparently still took 1/5th of the profits of the Bailey tannery which Herbert had the sole responsibility of running). Herbert’s only takings were his wages whilst the others skimmed the dividends etc from the business. In the end, after the business had run down, he resorted to making welting leathers for shoes. They originally made leather from bull’s hide. (Herbert had his arm shredded & this was probably done on  a sole leather roller which according to Edric were very dangerous. From my recollection he had the first form of micro surgery on his arm & it was highly successful.)


Clarrie built a stone house near the Eastern Valley way (this may have been the house built of blue stone carted from Jamberoo) & it had a dam that was able to supply water to the tannery. The house or land at 297 High St. (Cnr. Mann St.) was sold to Herbert by Edric’s grandfather’s sister-in-law.


The original Johnson’s tannery was on Scott’s land and had been previously owned by Cunningham who had a tannery at Berry. (George Francis Snr. was a tenant farmer at Far Meadow just outside of Berry & George Francis Jnr. married a                                Louisa Caroline Williams at Broughton Creek which is now Berry.


Two of Herbert’s employees were 1) a chap named Benson (a foreman) who was very good at his trade & had 3 daughters one marrying a Muir whose husband was a currier. (A currier is a higher trade than a tanner. The Baileys were curriers & tanners I think) & 2) A Fred Huggins (Sugar Bill) who left the Chaffer tannery because of the hard work & went to work at the Baileys were he was employed in an even more physically demanding job.


The tannery was sold to the Chaffers & they in turn were to sell it to someone interested in wines. This was due to the pit storage but the sale fell through. (I do not know who bought the tannery in the end or what happened to the land.)


The ground floor of the new tannery built in 1902 had brick & other pits & drew water from the creek (name not known). It was 100 ft. long, two storied, 2 gabled, & had a 50ft span truss roof.





This is what I could put together from my conversation with you – it was great to speak to someone with such a wealth of knowledge. Perhaps you could edit my mistakes & add any other info


The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW Monday 22 November 1897




An extensive fire broke out at North Willoughby at an early hour on Saturday morning, resulting in the total destruction of Mr George F Bailey’s tannery works and valuable plant the tannery is far removed from the more thickly populated portion of the borough, and is situate on what is known as Scott’s Creek, near Gibbs Street, and for a major portion the approach is over a rough road The nearest fire station is the North Sydney branch of the MFB, distant about five miles from the scene of the conflagration Although the fire broke out about 10 at night was not until o 15 a m that the North Sydney Station received any information of the out-break, by which time the fire bad accomplished it’s work. It is not known how the fire originated, but the flames were soon beyond control, and within 20minutes nothing remained but the charred ruins of what was so recently the home of a flourishing industry The outbreak was first noticed by a Mr. Scott, who lives in close proximity to the tanner}

At once he gave the alarm to tho employees, most of whom were  within easy distance of their work. They soon got to work with a Bin and Iho c, but so fierce were the flames and so small the opposition offered from a garden hose that it soon got beyond control, resulting in the complete gutting of the budding and the destruction of its contents, comprising valuable machinery and leather in all stage» of manufacture The building was of weatherboard, two stones high, and measured about 103ft by 50ft Mr Bailey, the proprietor, arrived on the scene shortly after tho alarm was given, and had a somewhat miraculous escape from inj ury. He had been inside the burning building and had only just got out when the floor above gave way, bringing down with it a heavy rolling machine weighing several tons, and other burning debris. The willing efforts of the employees were negatived owing to the absence of anything approaching an inadequate supply of water. Consequently they made no bead way in their endeavours to arrest the progress of the flames It is astonishing the fire did not spread to tho adjoining premises, Chalmer’s Tannery, since it was fed by a strong wind that was blowing at the direction of Unity bauds were employed at tho tannery, and will in consequence of

the outbreak suffer enforced idleness.

Estimated damage is about £4000, only one-third being covered by Insurance in the Australian Mutual Fires. The esti-

Insurance Office.


Bailey’s Tannery George Bailey and his sons 1887-1940s Small tannery on Scotts Creek


The rural district of Willoughby on the north shore provided an attractive alternative forSydney’s tanners. It had creeks with a regular supply of water, wattlebark was readily available and there was plenty of cheap land in bushland that did not impinge on residential areas.

James Forsyth, a leather dresser and dyer by trade and proprietor of a leather business in the city, purchased land at Willoughby in 1869 and established the pioneer Willoughbytannery on Sugarloaf Creek in 1869. His sons, Thomas Todd Forsyth and Robert managed the business, which they called the Rosewall Tannery. It was the first of 16 tanneries, but the subsequent establishments were clustered in the area known as ‘The Hollow’ or ‘The Vale’ through which Scotts Creek flows.