OPINION: Yesterday Today with Alan McRae

BRANCHING OUT: The Bank of New South Wales staff at the Bathurst Branch in 1956. The decision to open a Bathurst Branch of the bank came in late June, 1856.
BRANCHING OUT: The Bank of New South Wales staff at the Bathurst Branch in 1956. The decision to open a Bathurst Branch of the bank came in late June, 1856.

THIS week’s historic photo shows the Bank of New South Wales staff at the Bathurst Branch in William Street in 1956.

Most of the staff have been identified: (back) Barry Grainger, John Mills, Jack Bryant, Dick Franklyn, David Cowen, Harry Grigg, Bill Roach, John Witenden, (front) Maureen Toole, Audrey Chew, Col ? , A.W. Clarke - Bathurst manager, Kathie Smith and Barbara Underhill. Absent were Marion Stewart and Jennie Ward. A.W. Clarke was the manager from 1953 to 1960.

The bank has the honour of being Australia’s first and oldest bank. It was established in 1817 as the Bank of New South Wales under a charter of incorporation provided by Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

The first board of directors was elected on February 7, 1817 before leasing premises in Macquarie Place in Sydney. The building belonged to Mary Reiley, who had been a convict, and opened for business on April 8, 1817.

The bank relocated to more respectable premises in George Street in 1822. This building was owned by James Chisholm.

Though Governor Macquarie had granted the charter for the bank, as the Governor of New South Wales, England ruled that he did not have the authority to do so.

Despite the initial protest from England, Governor Brisbane decided to grant the bank a further seven-year extension from July 24, 1823.

It was the discovery of payable gold that led to massive growth for all banks. From a solitary office in Sydney in 1850, the bank had sprouted 37 branches in Australia and New Zealand by 1861.

With cautious management during the troublesome times from the early 1860s until the early 1890s, the bank generally prospered.

The Bank of New South Wales, along with numerous other banks formed in the early Australian colonies, allowed capital and investment to flow in from Britain to help the local economy. Like all banks, the Bank of New South Wales issued its own private banknotes.

In the early 1850s, the Bathurst Free Press newspaper was pressing for the establishment of more banks in Bathurst.

At a public meeting in Bathurst on May 8, 1851, Edward Hargraves announced ‘his’ discovery of gold (in fact, John Lister and William Tom found the four ounces of gold near Yorkey’s Corner). 

The two men had made no public announcements, but sent word to Hargraves, who came to corroborate the find.

When they met, the two gave the gold to Hargraves, who left for Sydney to show it to the Colonial Secretary and pursue his claim for the reward for discovering gold.

On Thursday, May 8, Hargraves invited some gentlemen to meet him at Mr Arthur’s Carrier’s Arms Hotel in William Street where he announced his gold find.

The Carrier’s Arms Hotel was later demolished to build the City Bank, which was later taken over by the Bank of New South Wales.

A week later, on May 14, the Colonial Government officially, but reluctantly, announced that payable gold had been found.

The bank’s board gave the authority to set up an agency on the Turon goldfield. This, however, had not been followed up in 1853.

The decision to open the Bathurst Branch came in late June, 1856.

A small cottage in George Street was leased from Nicolas Reid and the local branch opened in September.

Even before they opened, the board decided to buy a block of land from Thomas Kite on the corner of George and Russell streets and build their own bank building.

The new two-storey building was 56 feet square and designed by well-known Sydney architect, Edmund Blackett, at a cost of £10,400.

A small advertisement informed the citizens of Bathurst that: “A Branch of this bank had been opened in Bathurst, for the transaction of general Banking Business. Discount days, Tuesday and Friday. Bathurst, September 15th, 1856.”