History of Kearns

The suburb of Kearns gets its name from a local farmer who was involved in a scandalous court case which rocked the morals of the early colony.

In 1824, William Kearns - who owned a large property on the fringe of the Scenic Hills - was sued for damages after he seduced a 14 year old girl.

The girl was the daughter of Joseph Ward, caretaker of the nearby St Andrews estate. The year before, Ward had left for England, leaving behind his wife and children.

On his return, Ward found his daughter, Mary Ann, was pregnant to Kearns. Yet just two months before the baby was due to be born, Kearns had married another woman.

However, that was not the scandal. Behaviour of this type was all too common in early New South Wales.

The legal case sparked by the drama only achieved notoriety when it was discovered that Ward had returned to Sydney with an English wife, bluntly disowned his Australian wife, and had tried to sell his English-born daughter to an American ship's captain. This behaviour was described by the Chief Justice as "inhuman".

In the end, Kearns was found guilty, but ordered to pay damages of only £17 - well below the £1000 claimed by Ward.

The farmer survived the scandal and he and his wife, Elizabeth, went on to become prosperous farmers and prominent citizens of the area.

Kearns' property had originally been held by his two brothers, Matthew and John, who had each been granted 100 acres off Raby Road in the 1820s. The headwaters of the Bunbury Curran Creek flowed through the undulating site, so it was called River Hill.

By the time of the 1828 census, William was listed as holder of the property, and it eventually expanded - by the purchase of adjoining grants - to 360 acres (144ha). As well as a dairy, the estate boasted grain crops and an orchard.

Over half the land was still forested at the time, which accounts for the name that William gave to his holdings - Epping Forest(PDF, 219KB).

Frances Pollon of the Royal Australian Historical Society has suggested "Epping" means "people of the look-out place", possibly referring to an ancient hill fort on a ridge in Epping Forest, England. It certainly seems an apt name for the local farm, established on the high ridges on what was then a heavily timbered countryside.

It is worth noting that private tutor to the Kearns children was William Francis King - who went on to achieve fame as the colourful "flying pieman".

Bedecked in open shirt, blue jacket, reddish breeches, white stockings and shoes, wearing a top hat and coloured streamers, he was a legendary street character of Sydney in the 1840s, wandering about selling pies.

He wagered many bets on bizarre walking feats, one of which was walking from the Kearns residence to Sydney carrying a large dog.

When William Kearns died in 1880, he left the farm to his children, John and Elizabeth, who continued its operation. But when John died in 1896, Epping Forest was inherited by his nephew, John Clark.

Epping Forest, Raby Road, Kearns in 2014.

"Epping Forest", Raby Road, Kearns in 2014. Photo A. Allen

Clark's knowledge of breeding cattle was second to none and his advice was often sought by locals until his death in 1933. The property remained in the hands of the Clark family until 1978.

Three years earlier, Campbelltown Council had been busy preparing for the urban growth that was predicted to hit the area. It suggested any new suburb developed on Clark land should be called "Bunbury", in honour of the Bunbury-Curran Creek. (Sir Henry Bunbury had been Under Secretary of War from 1809-16, and was a regular correspondent of Macquarie.)

But there were objections to this name, amid claims it would be far more appropriate to call the suburb "Epping Forest". This proved a popular choice with everyone bar the Geographical Names Board, which rejected it. The GNB claimed the address may be confused with the Sydney suburb of Epping.

As a compromise, the name "Kearns Forest" began to be mooted, but this was a streamlined to "Kearns" and approved in 1976. (The main roads through the suburb have since been named Kearns Avenue and Epping Forest Drive to recall the pioneers and estate name.)

Housing development in the area didn't start until the mid 1980s, but Council decided to choose a "theme" for street names in October 1980. Capital cities of the World was initially offered as an idea, but it failed to impress many aldermen and was dumped.

The suggestion eventually backed by Council was "Saints", with Kearns street names to recall not just famous names like St Peter, but also more obscure men of God like St Perpetua, St Ploycarp and St Sylvester.

But West Coast Developments, which by April 1983 was buy planning homes for the new suburb, did not share Council's enthusiasm. West Coast asked Council to change the theme to "International Rivers", possibly with the early property name of River Hill in mind.

Council agreed, hence today's maze of 50-odd streets boasting names such as Mississippi Crescent, Danube Crescent, Yangtze Place, St Lawrence Avenue, Euphrates Place, Thames Place, Columbia Street, Loire Place, Amazon Place and Gambia Street.

It is interesting to note that some river names offended the alderman and were deliberately left out, such as Po and Snake.

June 1985 saw the launch of the "prestige" Macarthur Park housing estate at Kearns.

"Substantial areas of open space and a seven acre school site have been set aside for the estate," the Macarthur Advertiser reported.

Kearns Public School was opened in June 1992 next to the shopping centre.

Clarke Reserve recalls the family who had once farmed the area, while Jemima Jenkins Reserve is named after the woman who once owned nearby Eschol Park House(PDF, 197KB).

"Campbelltown's Streets and Suburbs - How and why they got their names" written by Jeff McGill, Verlie Fowler and Keith Richardson, 1995, published by Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society.

Reproduced with permission of the authors.