William Williamson was born in 1825 on June 1 in Belfast, Ireland, to Michael and Anne (nee Owens) Williamson. In 1840 his family migrated to Australia, arriving in December. In 1852 he married Anna Maria Annesley at St Matthews Catholic Church in Windsor. The couple had four children, one of whom died in infancy. Anna Maria died in 1862, leaving William to care for three young sons aged 8,6, and 4. He never remarried.
William Williamson died in office in 1881 on December 16, at his home in Botany Road, Redfern. Redfern Council was due to meet on the day of his death, but closed as a mark of respect.
Occupation & interests
On his arrival in Australia, William Williamson was a typesetter, possibly connected with one of Sydney’s earliest newspapers, the People’s Advocate, since an article published at the time of his death described his lengthy connection with a certain Mr Oxley ‘in the management of one of the first newspapers published in the colony.’
In 1856 Williamson’s father Michael Williamson transferred to him the license of the Belfast Wine Vaults, located on the corner of Boundary and Regent Streets in Redfern. Williamson rented out rooms and sold wholesale and retail ‘wine, spirits and porter’ by the case, or more commonly by the gallon (about 4.5 litres). The pub was also a popular venue for public gatherings, with crowds spilling onto the footpaths when meeting rooms were full. The Belfast Wine Vaults was pulled down in the early 1880s when the railway tunnel was built at Cleveland and Redfern streets.
Williamson also inherited significant property on the death of his father, and owned many properties in Sydney.
According to an obituary published in the Evening News on the day following his death, William Williamson had always taken an active interest in all local issues.
Local government service
William Williamson was elected in 1863 as an alderman for the Municipality of Redfern, and served as mayor in 1866. He continued as an alderman and served as mayor on several occasions.
Williamson was the second of three generations to serve on Redfern Council. His father Michael Williamson was an inaugural alderman and his son, Thomas Michael Williamson, would also follow in his footsteps. There is some suggestion that William entered local government at around the same time as his father Michael Williamson, since he is mentioned in the early Redfern Minute Books.
During his time on Redfern Council, William continued to work for the same kinds of improvements his father Michael had been involved in. He pursued errant ratepayers, dealt with individual complaints about property issues, and worked hard to improve the local road and sewer systems. He was particularly involved in local road and bridge repairs, and was instrumental in improvements to Marian Street. He presented a petition from residents and ratepayers of Rosehill Street, in 1863, asking for repairs to the street. On another occasion, he was one of several council members selected to present a petition to the government to consider the subdivision of the Municipality into three wards, each returning three members of Council.
The Williamsons were an influential family and some ten Williamsons served in local government across Sydney. William Williamson was returned at each election by a substantial majority, and was clearly a popular alderman. The Council was due to meet on the day of his death, but adjourned the meeting and closed the chambers as a mark of respect.
Biography researched and written by Marian Lorrison, November 2015.
‘Death of Mr. W. Williamson’ Evening News, October 8, 1881, p.4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article107228825
Series: VPRS 7666; Series Title: Inward Overseas Passenger Lists (British Ports) [Microfiche Copy of VPRS 947] (Immigration Record)
Ancestry.com. Australia, Marriage Index, 1788-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
State Archives NSW; Series: 14403; Item: [7/1505-1506]; Reel: 1238 (Application for Publican’s License)
City of Sydney Assessment Books http://photosau.com.au/CosRates/scripts/home.asp
William Williamson, Williamson Family History, City of Sydney Archives, TRIM 2013/39690
‘The Redfern Tunnel’, The Evening News, September 25, 1885, p.4 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/111341749