Two days before Christmas 1927, an article appeared in NSW newspapers entitled ‘Santa Claus at Tahlee House’. It was a story set on Christmas Eve 1832 during the time when Lady Isabella and her husband Sir Edward Parry, commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company (1830-1834), resided at Tahlee House.2 Lady Isabella was reportedly a kind and benevolent soul.3
The story described a convict servant called Robins who was found in the bush without permission. Soldiers arrested him and brought him before the commissioner. It was at this time that Sir Edward’s toddler son asked Robins if Santa Claus was going to bring him pretty things. Hearing this interaction Sir Edward asked Robins if he had committed the heinous crime of talking to his son. When Robins admitted he had he was taken to the prison to await his punishment of 50 lashes on Christmas morning. Just as the flogging was to begin Lady Isabella ran to the scene calling for the proceedings to stop. She had just learned from her nurse the story of why Robins was in the bush. The nurse had taken the toddler to the dock where Robins, the most skilful shipwright in the company, promised that Santa should bring the toddler a toy yacht to play with. Robins had made the vessel in secret and had hidden it in the bush. When Robins was asked why he hadn’t spoken up yesterday he replied that the toddler would have known Santa didn’t exist and he couldn’t do that. Robins was spared the lashes and proclaimed a ‘real gentleman’.4
The author of this heartfelt story, Gordon Bennett, was a ‘bush yarner’ and had spent many years near Port Stephens.5 Nearly a century later, he used the people’s love of Lady Isabella to create a Christmas story.
Author: Janine Roberts
1 Conrad Martens, ‘View from Lady Parry’s seat, Tahlee’, Album of cloud studies, mountain, bush and harbour scenes, co. 1841-1850. State Library New South Wales Mitchell Library.
2 The Farmer and Settler, 23 December 1927, 7; Carolyn Theobold, A Place Called Tahlee, Tahlee Ministries Inc: 2004.
3 National Portrait Gallery, Lady Isabella Louisa Parry, https://www.portrait.gov.au/people/isabella-louisa-parry-1801
4 The Farmer and Settler, 23 December 1927, 7.
5 Daily Telegraph, 13 November 1922, 4.