Thursday, March 12, 2009

The White Cross at Mt York



THE WHITE CROSS AT MOUNT YORK

For many years one of the Blue Mountains’ most distinctive landmarks was a large white cross on the cliff-edge at Mount York which could be glimpsed from the highway between Little Hartley and Victoria Pass. Although now removed, the cross has been a continuing source of speculation and enquiry since its erection early in the 20th century. It stood facing west, just off the Mount York road, some distance before the obelisk which marks the western descent of the explorers, Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson in 1813.

The cross was formed of a large upright and transverse steel girder bolted together, and was erected about 1911 by Henry Marcus Clark (1859-1913) who founded the business known as Marcus Clark & Co. Ltd. From a modest start in the Sydney suburb of Newtown in 1883, Marcus Clark & Co rose to become one of the city's largest department stores with a network of branches in towns and suburbs across Australia.

The cross commemorated the death, on April 1st 1899 of his son Byron Henry Clark at the site of their Mount York home known as "Drachenfels", which stood near the cliff edge facing Victoria Pass. The house and its extensive outbuildings, coach-house and orchard were lost in a bushfire in 1902.

On the day of the tragedy, Mr. Clark was in Sydney, while his second wife Georgina and several friends were staying at "Drachenfels". Two of the Clark children, Hazel, aged 14 and Roland, 10, and a couple of companions decided to visit a small cave on the cliff face about 15 metres below the top and some distance along a ledge.

The children were experienced in scrambling around the local rocks and cliffs and the descent presented no difficulties. However, on this occasion, just as they had almost reached the cave, it was noticed that their younger brother, Byron, aged 6, was following. He had already descended from the top of the cliff and was just commencing the traverse, when one of the girls, realising the danger, called to him to go back.

The words had hardly left her mouth when the ledge of rock on which he was standing broke and he fell about 50 metres to the foot of the cliff, striking a ledge about half way down in the course of his fall. Two of the girls and young Roland Clark climbed back to the top of the cliff and informed Georgina, who set off with her companions by a round-about route to the base of the cliff.

In the meantime, Hazel and Roland climbed down to the base of the cliff, where they found young Byron lying badly injured but scarcely marked amongst the fern and bracken. The women decided to carry him to the top but Byron died during the ascent. The family never again lived in "Drachenfels", which they placed in the care of Sam Wilson, a storekeeper at Mount Victoria, who made occasional visits to the property until the buildings were destroyed by bushfire. Byron is buried at Waverley Cemetery in the family plot.

The property has changed hands a number of times in recent years and the cross was removed from the cliff edge by the owners around 1989 to discourage sightseers. The site known as the Marcus Clark Cross received Blue Mountains City Council heritage listing in 1991. It is believed the White Cross remains on the site.

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
© 2012 Blue Mountains City Library


References:
* P.W. Spriggs, ‘Blue Mountains cross recalls tragedy´ Daily Telegraph, September 7,1964
* Local Studies research & clippings files.

Links:
* http://www.sydneyarchives.info/biographies?start=25
* http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clark-sir-reginald-marcus-5667