Abbotsford House was built in 1877-78 for Sir Arthur Renwick (1837-1908) at a cost of £11,000. Renwick was born in Scotland and emigrated to Australia with his parents in 1841. He was a medical practitioner and businessman who served as a member of the NSW Parliament and was the first President of the NSW Medical Board.
The house was named after Abbotsford in Scotland, the home of author Sir Walter Scott. In turn Abbotsford House gave the suburb of Abbotsford its name. Montrose, Rokeby and Marmion Roads in Abbotsford are named after works by Sir Walter Scott.
In 1904 Renwick suffered heavy financial losses and he was forced to sell his property, which was subdivided and sold by auction in 1905. Peter McIntosh purchased the property in 1906 and sold it the following year to Albert Edward Grace, one of the founders of Grace Bros. In 1917 the property was sold to Nestlé.
The photograph shows Abbotsford House in 1917 when building of the Nestlé factory had just commenced.
Nestlé, then known as the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company, purchased Abbotsford House and its grounds in 1917 to build the ‘largest chocolate factory in the Southern Hemisphere’. Abbotsford House was retained for use as offices, while the factory was constructed on three sides of the house. Nestlé commenced production in 1918.
It was regarded as a model factory with excellent staff amenities. Over the next seventy years Nestlé was a major employer in the area and it was not unusual for several generations of the same family to work for the company.
In 1927 the grounds and foreshore of the Nestlé site were used in the filming of For the Term of His Natural Life. During World War II the factory packed supply rations for soldiers on the Kokoda Track.
Following the closure of the factory on 18 December 1991 the site was redeveloped for medium density housing. Abbotsford House was preserved and once again became a private home.
In the photograph, the word Nestlé’s is spelt out by the factory workers standing in formation.
The Nestlé company prided itself in providing social and sporting activities for their employees. There were cricket, baseball, basketball, bowling and physical culture teams.
The Drummoyne Examiner in 1929 reported glowingly, ‘Girls start work at 12 years of age, wages are good and the environment is delightful, hours are not long, there are welfare and other health preserving, aye, the health giving comforts.’
The photographs above shows the Nestlé Ladies’ Physical Culture group in action in 1925. It is one of many photographs from Canada Bay Connections used by Joanne Saad in the creation of her mural I remember in Fred Kelly Place.