Eton College Strathfield

A school called ‘Eton College’ was once located in Redmyre Road Strathfield.  It was operated by Dr J. David Sly from 1888 to 1892.  This newsletter discusses the rise and fall of Strathfield’s own Eton College. This is an excerpt written by Cathy Jones:

Dr. Sly's New School Premises — Eton College, Homebush." The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912) 8 December 1888
Dr. Sly’s New School Premises — Eton College, Homebush.” The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912) 8 December 1888

“Helped by his father’s legacy, Dr J. David Sly in 1888 opened Eton College in Redmyre Road Strathfield (often referred to as Homebush). An advertisement for Eton College on 10th November 1888 states:

‘Eton College, Homebush – Headmaster J David Sly. This Collage has been recently erected on the most modern design. It stands in an elevated position. The rooms are spacious and there is an ample supply of water. A COTTAGE HOSPITAL has been added. The PLAYGROUND contains an asphalt tennis court, weather shed, summer house and gymnasium. There will be vacancies for Day and Resident pupils in January next, for which early application is requested’.

Eton College commenced its school activities on Monday 28th January 1889.  As Hall (1985) writes “it was not intended as a purely local school, though it certainly catered for local day pupils and was typical of the many schools set up to cater for the sons of well-to-do folk who could pay for bard and tuition”.

At this stage the school appeared to be well established and was advertised as:

“Eton College, Homebush. Headmaster J. David Sly, MA LLD; second master C.E, Robin BA.  Homebush ls one of the healthy suburbs of Sydney and is eminently suitable as a residence for boarders, for whom special provision has been made.  Pupils are prepared for the University or mercantile pursuits. There is also a Preparatory Class for young boys.  The College was specifically designed by the Headmaster.”

On 5th January 1892, Strathfield Council wrote to Sly stating that his house was now the only house in the Municipality on which the rates remained unpaid and asked him to send the balance or action would be taken (Hall 1985). Payment of the rates was one of the obligations accepted by Sly when he occupied the Collage.

The College advertisement in January 1892 gave no hint of its financial distress:

“Eton College, Homebush. Headmaster J David Sly MA LLD; Assistant, Teachers W.B. Scott; Trinity College Dublin, Miss Hewison, Miss Read, F.A. Price, G.H. D’Arcourt. The buildings stand in an elevated position and ware specially erected for school purposes. There is a Preparatory Department for young boys. Boarders 13 to 16 guineas per quarter; day pupils 2 to 4 guineas per quarter”.

On 22nd June 1892 Dr Sly, being unable to pay his debts, petitioned to be made bankrupt.  He had a wife and six children to support, and no way of paying his debts. He blamed his financial failure on the competition between schools and the high rent he had to pay for the College premises and bad debts. 

Its final demise came on 23rd July 1892, when an auction sale was held of J.D. Sly’s school fittings and equipment. His main creditors were his brothers and sister. He attributed his failure to high rents and, ironically, competition among schools. Economic conditions may have played a part but the depression did not generally affect enrolments in private schools. He was discharged from bankruptcy in October 1892.

On 24 August 1895 Sly was admitted as a solicitor and practiced in Pitt Street Sydney until 1933. He died of heart failure and nephritis at Neutral Bay on 7 December 1934 at the age of 91 year, having outlived his brothers and practiced law for about 38 years (SMH 1934).  He was buried in the Anglican section of the Northern Suburbs cemetery. He was survived by two sons and three daughters Mrs M Walcott, Mrs N Royle, Mrs N Davies of his wife Annie, née Macalister, whom he had married at Pitt Town in 1875 (Mitchell 1976, SMH 1934).

For many years there has been discussion as to where Eton College was located and whether it is still standing.  Hall (1985) suggested that Eton College was located at Redmyre Lodge, 89 Redmyre Road, rather than ‘Allerton’’  91 Redmyre Road. 

The confusion existed because all uncertainty lies in the fact that both houses stand on land originally designated as Lots 26, 25, 24; both were owned by Allan Maclean and rented out by him and all had the same lot numbers in various records.  Redmyre Lodge, which has since been demolished, may have been Eton College.  Based on the published sketch of Eton College, the building is clearly not ‘Allerton’, which is still standing.

The full essay is contained in SHDHS Newsletter Vol.2 No.5 September-October 2020 Eton College