When he died in 1872 Michael Golden was a landholder of substance. He owned much of Leichhardt Street at Glebe Point, Sidcup, a seven bedroom mansion with a library and dining, smoking, breakfast and ironing rooms, stable and coach house on the corner of Cook Street and Glebe Point Road (now units) and eight houses in Duncan Street (now gone) off Bathurst Street.
An assisted immigrant, MichaelGolding landed in Sydney in January 1840 on board the Crusader from Dublin, accompanied by his parents, his wife Catherine and their three year old son Thomas. Michael was Roman Catholic, a carpenter and joiner. Within a few years he had modified his surname and his trade: by 1850 he was an ‘architect’. (Before the Institute of Architects was founded in 1971 speculative builders could arm themselves with J Fergusson’s Illustrated Handbook of Architecture and a couple of other textbooks and upgrade their status.)
The couple’s first home was in George Street, where their second child Maria, conceived on the voyage out, was born. By 1853 the family included James, Jane, Sarah and Mary Jane. In 1844 Thomas won a prize for grammar at Mr Steel’s Superior Infant Training School in Pitt Street. By 1842 Michael was on the electoral roll and by 1847 he had become sufficiently friendly with Thomas Barker (a miller and one of the richest men in Sydney; Michael bought part of Barker’s original land grant in Bathurst Street) and Donald Larnach (a director of the Bank of NSW, he moved to London in 1853 to set up a branch there) for them to act as sureties in his bid to become the City of Sydney’s first surveyor of buildings. In support of his application Michael offered, in lieu of qualifications or experience, acquaintance with some of the councillors.
He got the job and remained with the council until his position was abolished in 1858. It was during this period that Michael made his money, perhaps not always honestly.
It was said he did business on the side, including work on St Mary’s presbytery and chapel. John Davey, an architect who claimed the profession was degraded by ‘mechanics, engineers, pirates and burglars’, knew of a King Street property owner who had been told to demolish walls encroaching on the footpath but heard nothing more from Golden after enclosing five pounds in a letter of apology.
The City’s Finance Committee had problems with his sloppy bookkeeping, particularly fees paid but not accounted for. Golden maintained he was constantly out on the streets, beneath the burning sun, enforcing the Building Acts, collecting fees, giving receipts, serving notices, keeping an eye on drains and rock blasting, valuing additions and alterations. He had no time for paperwork and couldn’t be expected to compile weekly reports. Orders to employ a clerk were ignored. He did find time, however, to ask for a rise and to complain about his label ‘Town Surveyor of Buildings’. He always signed his correspondence ‘Surveyor of the City of Sydney’ although Francis Clarke was the official ‘City Surveyor’.
No doubt he had problems dealing with property owners who, avoiding fees, tried to hide any changes that they had made. Sometimes replaced fences strayed from their original positions. Samuel Holmes resisted directions to erect an iron roof, maintaining his shingles were of American oak, less flammable and superior to colonial wood. Golden said they were old flour casks cut in half.
In 1859 Michael was living in Woolloomooloo with a house and land at Glebe Point. During the next decade he acquired other houses in an area still fashionable despite the opening of the Glebe Island abattoir with its attendant smells, carcasses and manure washed ashore, and circling sharks feeding on offal in the bloodstained water. In 1860 he enrolled in the Volunteer Defence Movement – nicknamed the ‘Buffaloes’ after an encounter with the Governor’s bull in the Domain. For this he received further property: a grant of 50 acres at Glen Innes. ‘One of the oldest volunteers in the colony’ read his death notice, which also stated that he enrolled during the Crimean War, a flight of fancy as those battles were over by 1856.
What happened to Michael’s property after his death was complicated by his will which left everything to his elder son and any male heirs. In the event of his death without male issue, it was to go to the next son and his male heirs. For a time the unmarried Thomas, also styled an ‘architect’, and his widowed mother lived in Margaretta Cottage, Leichhardt Street, before he moved to Duncan Street in the city and she was pensioned off on a pound a week by family members. Thomas himself died in 1879. Michael’s wealth then passed to James, a ‘gentleman’ who lived in Dellwood (an eight-roomed stone cottage with servants’ quarters and stables – now a red brick block of units at 10 Leichhardt Street) with his wife and daughters ‘actress’ Lucie Eugenie and Florence.
The Golden estate was finally broken up with James’ death in 1907. His sisters and their spouses auctioned the land, subdivided into 22 allotments, together with Dellwood and Sidcup. The houses did not sell on that occasion but the land did, several lots being bought by real estate agent Joseph Simpson, then living in Venetia [Bellevue] on the waterfront.
Michael Golden is not commemorated in any local place name, but a son-inlaw is. Mary Jane married Horace Ricketts, hence Ricketts Avenue off Leichhardt Street