John Francis Tabrett was born in Ashford, Kent, England in 1849, as the son of John Tabrett. Tall and handsome, he married Fanny Elizabeth Andrew in Canterbury, Kent, in 1872. The following year, he sailed to New Zealand at the age of 25, joined by his wife and two children not long after. Later moving to Sydney, the couple had another seven children born between 1879 and 1889. They lived in Newtown during that time, but after Tabrett’s bankruptcy in 1889 the family relocated to Mount York Farm, Hartley Vale and later to Katoomba, where they briefly ran the ‘Montrose’ boarding house. John Francis Tabrett died on 1 November 1919 at Cambewarra Hospital in Leura, after suffering from a serious illness that had lasted about three years. He was survived by his wife Fanny and nine children – six sons and three daughters – and was buried at the Church of England Cemetery at Katoomba.
Occupation & interests
Tabrett was a timber merchant, builder, contractor, publican, tour operator, auctioneer, estate agent, coach proprietor and businessman. In England, he was apprenticed to the building trade and worked as a joiner in the Government Railway Workshops. After migrating to Sydney, he established himself as a timber merchant, contractor and builder in Newtown in c1876. From the late 1870s, he owned a timber yard on the corner of Hordern and Victoria Streets, and from c1882 to 1885 he also had a timber yard in Church Street. Entering a partnership with William Patrick Draper in 1882, he co-owned the Tabrett & Draper steam sawmill near St Peters Station in the 1880s.
He and Draper were also in the building trade and together they constructed the Commercial Bank of Australia at Newtown and the Leichhardt Town Hall, and the company became one of the most successful contracting businesses in Sydney. A keen roller skater himself, Tabrett’s company also erected ‘Her Majesty’s Skating Rink’ on King Street in 1888, which in summer was converted into ‘monster’ swimming baths. The company ran into financial difficulties in 1889 and was declared bankrupt. Tabrett subsequently worked as an auctioneer in Hartley Vale, with an office in Lithgow. He was also briefly the publican of the Imperial Hotel at Mount Victoria during the early 1890s, establishing a coach service to the Jenolan caves. Moving to Katoomba in the later 1890s, he worked as an estate agent and auctioneer and established a successful tourist coach and motor service. He was managing director of a company known as Tabrett and Co., later Tabretts Ltd, motor importers, of Clarence Street, Sydney.
Tabrett was captain of the Newtown Voluntary Reserve and a member of the Sydney Lancers. He was a founding member of the Lodge Kilwinning in Newtown and one of the pioneers of the Lodge in the Blue Mountains. He was a justice of the peace (JP) and Commissioner for Affidavits for NSW. In the Blue Mountains, he was one of the founders and first president of the Katoomba Progress Association, representative of the Government Tourist Bureau, and a strong supporter of the Katoomba Boys’ Association.
Tabrett ran for parliament several times but was never successful. He was not selected for nomination when he offered to stand as a free trader for Newtown in 1888. Standing for the seat of Hartley in 1891, he described himself as a freetrader, single taxer, local optionist, labour candidate, and supporter of the Parkes Government. Another campaign in 1898, as candidate of the National Federal Party for the seat of Hartley, was also unsuccessful, as was his 1901 campaign as an independent candidate.
Local government service
John Francis Tabrett was an alderman on Newtown Council in 1886-87, representing O’Connell Ward. He was later one of the first aldermen on Katoomba Council, serving many years.
Biographical information for this alderman was originally researched by Mark Matheson for the Newtown Project Website. Additional research was carried out by Dr Martina Muller in 2022.
‘The Newtown Election’, Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 18 February 1888, 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article98449955
‘In Bankruptcy’, New South Wales Government Gazette, 5 July 1889, 4677, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article222182582
‘Imperial Hotel’, Katoomba Times, 14 February 1891, 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article194115209
‘Political Meeting at Albury’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 June 1891, 6, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13827262
‘Mr Brown at Paterson’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 1898, 7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14148727
‘State Elections’, Evening News, 20 June 1901, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article112561243
‘Death of Mr. J. F. Tabrett’, The Daily Telegraph, 4 November 1919, 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239654494
‘Mr J F Tabrett’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 November 1919, 12, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28097400
‘Death of Mountain Pioneer’, Lithgow Mercury, 5 November 1919, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218616424
‘Death of Mr J F Tabrett, JP’, The Blue Mountain Echo, 7 November 1919, 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article108243451
‘Glimpses of the Past’, The Blue Mountain Echo, 21 November 1919, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article108246573