Highlands History - Henry William Taylor, Part I

One of Moss Vale’s early residents was Henry William Taylor. From 1866 he was a major contributor to town growth and district development. 

TOWN ELDER: Henry William Taylor of Moss Vale at age 72. Photos: BDH&FHS

TOWN ELDER: Henry William Taylor of Moss Vale at age 72. Photos: BDH&FHS

An historical overview of his varied and fascinating life follows here. Details are drawn mostly from newspaper articles, reports and obituaries. Henry died in April 1923 and was greatly mourned. Obituaries described him as an active and public-spirited man, with ancestral connections to some of the earliest history of NSW.

Henry was a great grandson of James Ruse, the First Fleeter who in 1789 was the first in the colony to receive a land grant from Governor Phillip. At Windsor on the Hawkesbury River, the ex-convict Ruse grew wheat and proved himself an enlightened farmer. By 1791 he was able to support himself and wife Elizabeth, and was given title to the land.

Their daughter, Elizabeth, was the second white child born in the colony. She married Edward Armfield and they had eleven children. One of them, Annie, married Dr John Taylor who originated from Birmingham, England, and they lived at Richmond. Henry William was their son, born on 6 December 1838. Unfortunately a few weeks later his father drowned in the river.

In early 1839, widowed Annie brought her infant son to Berrima where her married older sister Rebecca had settled. She met Lewis Levy, a Jewish free emigrant from London who moved to Berrima around 1836, where his uncle Joseph had purchased land. 

Annie and Lewis married in 1840 at All Saints Anglican Church, Sutton Forest. Young Henry became Lewis Levy’s step-son. In the 1840s the family lived at Goulburn, where Lewis was licensee of the Victoria Inn. By 1850 they were back in Berrima, operating a merchandise store. Annie gave birth to twins, but they did not survive. Henry remained her only child.

Henry learnt to handle horses and became a bullock teamster. He travelled extensively, later following the gold rushes in the Monaro district. According to the Moss Vale Scrutineer, he occasionally encountered bushrangers. “He was stuck up at one time by Starlight, but that demon's search did not reveal the plunder expected, which was hidden in the grease box on the axle of Henry’s wagon”.

In 1866, at age 28, Henry Taylor married Jane Taylor at Christ Church, Bong Bong. She was born at Narellan, daughter of Amos and Mary Taylor, and at an early age came with her parents to Mereworth, a property near Berrima. Although of the same surname, the families were unrelated.

Once married, Henry and Jane moved to the new township that would become Moss Vale. They operated a store established by Lewis Levy who had realised that, when the railway station opened in December 1867, the area would flourish and Berrima decline. His store was located near the corner of what is now Waite St and Argyle Rd. Initially this corner was the town’s major intersection, where roads to Berrima and Sutton Forest met. It was only gradually that the railway station, to the north along Argyle St, became the town’s hub.

Henry was Moss Vale’s first postmaster. He ran an unofficial post office at the store until a postal service was established in 1871 at the railway station. Henry was the first contractor to carry mails by packhorse across the mountains to Kiama and via Kangaroo Valley to Nowra.

Two substantial buildings were erected near Henry’s store. Both two-storey, one became the Commercial Hotel in 1873 and is now the Jemmy Moss. The other was erected as a hotel but, as the owner was unable to obtain a license, was sold to the ES&A Bank.

Within a few years Henry Taylor purchased the Commercial Hotel and obtained its license. It provided accommodation, food and beverages and became a busy meeting place for many clubs and organisations which Henry founded and supported. These included jockey and race clubs, rifle and gun clubs, and numerous local football clubs. The premises were also Henry’s family home.

When the local Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society was formed in 1880, Henry became its inaugural secretary. Throughout his life he worked tirelessly for the welfare of town and district.

  • Part 1 of a 4-part series. Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton