Royal Reels: Gambling


Every now and then a postcard speaks to our family personally. It was late1950’s and we bought our first home. One of our 3 sons was born whilst we lived there. It was a bungalow built on rock with 8 inches of sandy topsoil. Its address was 8 Marne Street, Vaucluse, but the locals called it Diamond Bay. It was perched high on a massive rock formation with glorious views of the Pacific. Within 10 years the back gardens of homes across the road subsided and the homes were evacuated. Another battle of the Marne. Our close neighbours slept in a historic cemetery. The milkman from Peel’s Dairy, on his horse-drawn cart delivered bottles of cream-laden milk. His horse made valuable deliveries at our curb. We had no inkling of Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm.

The postcard showed a flock of ostriches and the print below described ‘Ostriches at the Farm’, ‘Feathers, Boas &c., at Lowest Prices’, and ‘Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm, South Head, Sydney’. The red 1d ‘Shield’ stamp of New South Wales was cancelled with SYDNEY/ 11 JU 08- 6.30 PM/ 43. The card was sent to London and there was a manuscript “we are able to buy nice cheap feathers from the farm 10/6/08″ (Figure 1).

The derivation of the name Diamond Bay is obscure, named after an early landowner or for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1896. The latter is not correct for it was officially known by that name on 3 January 1863. In the late 19th and early 20th century it was a remote area, with few landmarks except Peel’s Dairy and Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm. Peel’s Dairy had no cows, but was a distribution point for country milk brought into Sydney by train and then trucked to Diamond Bay. It was reloaded onto horse-drawn carts, and later trucks, for distribution to Rose Bay and Vaucluse. The dairy had stables on site, the milkman called “milko” at time of delivery, and the dairy closed 1958. From 1889 to 1918 the Diamond Bay area also housed exotic residents at Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm, where two prize ostriches named Duke and Duchess ruled the roost.

Joseph Barracluff was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire in 1861 and died at his ostrich farm on 23 November 1918 aged 57 years. On his death he was survived by his wife Jane Barracluff (nee Kibbler) and sons Joseph jnr and William Robert. In 1884 he and his wife immigrated to Australia, settling in Sydney. He established himself in business, selling feathers in a small shop in Elizabeth Street Sydney. In 1889 Joseph and Jane Barracluff purchased a property at South Head to commence their own feather business, one of the earliest of these businesses in Australia. Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm was for many years Australia’s show ostrich farm, with a high profile in business circles and in the media. Some reports claim the Barracluff’s ostriches were imported from Port Elizabeth, South Africa and that as the business developed he sent his eldest son, Joseph jnr, to South Africa to select birds to replenish the stock and to select ostrich eggs for hatching locally. By 1902 the farm had a flock of approximately 100 ostriches, the largest living species of bird. Ostriches and chicks at Barracluff’s farm are seen in Figure 2.

The business’s high profile meant it attracted a lot of attention and interest, culminating in a visit to the farm in 1901 from His Royal Highness, the Duke of Cornwall and York, (later King George V) and Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cornwall and York (later Queen Mary). The Duchess was presented with an ostrich feather fan with a gold base. After that visit Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm was permitted to use the words ‘Under Royal Patronage’ and this appears on their stationery from this date. In honour of their visit two of the pride of the flock were renamed ‘Duke’ and ‘Duchess’ and photos of these two ostriches appear on the farm’s promotional postcards. Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm also carried the insignia of the Commonwealth of Australia and the words ‘By Special Appointment to His Excellency the Governor-General and His Excellency the Governor of New South Wales’ on its letterhead. The farm’s slogan was ‘Fine Feathers for Fine Ladies’.

There are a number of theories about the 10-acre ostrich farm’s exact location. At Joseph Barracluff’s death his home address was listed as ‘Ostrich Farm, South Head, Watson’s Bay’. A park on the corner of Old South Head Road and Warners Avenue is named in his memory, however, this was not the location of the ostrich farm as is sometimes assumed. According to a 1926 Water Board map, the farm was bounded by Kimberley Street in the north, County Street in the east and Kobada Street in the south. Other references have the farm located between Elvina Street and Norton Avenue, or between Military Road, Old South Head Road and Ocean View Avenue running down to the cliff edge. Another reference has the entrance to the farm at the south end of Norton Avenue, on the left-hand side of the road. During its operation locals often referred to the farm’s location as ‘Barracluff’s Hill’, however the farm was located in the suburb we now know as Dover Heights.

The farm was commercially successful, catering to the high demand for extravagant feathers for ladies hats, boas, fans and necklets. A small number of female staff were employed at the farm, under the direction of Jane Barracluff, to create the feather products. The ostrich eggs, because of their size and beauty, were prized as ornaments and were finely carved in great detail; the most elaborate of these were mounted in silver settings and proudly displayed as household decorative pieces. The farm was open 7 days per week, including public holidays and it was possible to purchase ostrich feathers directly from them, with some advertisements claiming that patrons could even pluck their own feathers (Figure 3).

The farm advertised that it had ‘the most beautiful feathers in the world, at the lowest cost, for sale at the farm only’. An ad for the farm appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald 10 January 1919 ‘We grow our own feathers, we pluck the plumes, dry, curl, finish them on the farm and trade direct with the public’. In later years Joseph and Jane Barracluff set up a retail outlet for their feathers on the second floor of the Strand Arcade Sydney. Following Joseph Barracluff’s death in 1918 the ostrich farm folded, with the land subdivided and sold in 1925. Ostriches and chicks at Barracluff’s farm are seen in figure 2 above.

Joseph Barracluff also had a career in local government, being an Alderman on Waverley Council from 21 October 1909 until his death. He was Mayor of Waverley, 1914-1915. Prior to election to Waverley Council he was an Alderman for Watson’s Bay which came under Woollahra Council. He was also the founder and captain of the Waverley Rifle Club.

In an up-to-date photo (2007) of Diamond Bay, our house now a block of flats, is to the left and below the bottom left hand corner, a short block away (Figure 4).

Addendum (November 2010):  A non Postal History Item! (Figure 5).

I am indebted to two papers published on the Waverley N.S.W. Library site for most of the contents of this paper.

Categories: Mining, Postcards