Sir James Martin, the Knight of Numantia

Irish-born, 18-months old James Martin and family arrived in Parramatta, November 6, 1821. At Dame School he shone. For two years he walked daily to Sydney Grammar, often hitching, until his father left Governor Brisbane's service for a closer position at Grose Farm.

Leaving school at 16, Martin became a journalist before embracing the law. By 1848 he entered politics, excelling again.

The first non-English Chief Justice of NSW, Martin is unique in NSW history, having held all three roles - Attorney-General, three-times Premier and Chief Justice (1873 to his 1886 death). He was knighted in 1869.

In January 1853, Martin married Isabella, daughter of wealthy ex-convict wine merchant, William Long.

Martin prized the Blue Mountains and its country gentleman lifestyle, purchasing land in Faulconbridge in 1876.

By 1877, Martin owned 954 acres, stretching north from Sir Henry Parkes' boundary to 17-Mile Hollow (Linden).

"Numantia" was 51 miles from Sydney, three hours by train from Redfern train station. Chief Justice Martin had his own railway platform. He relished "Numantia" weekends.

Former Chief Justice, Sir Alfred Stephen, and Professor of Classics and Logic at Sydney University, Charles Badham, built weekenders there on land Martin gifted them. It was to be an intellectual enclave.

Martin's first house was wood, a brick wall along the railway line. He planned a grand mansion atop the hill, hopeful Isabella would prefer it to "Clarens", their Sydney home too small for their eight sons and seven daughters.

There Martin dug wells, planted vegetables and fruit-trees, developed flower-gardens, constructed stables, a duck pond, fowl yards and a pig-sty, aiming at self-sufficiency. Recreational paths led into bush and gullies.

Unfortunately, Isabella disliked the bush. The typhoid death of Eleanor, their second daughter, in 1880, at "Numantia", devastated her. She demanded Martin stop using her money to build his mansion.

The already-constructed stone foundations were soon called "Martin's Folly" and the large water tank excavated, "Lady Martin's Bath". Rumours that she swam there, or walked naked to the pool, are untrue.

Isabella left Martin, returning to Sydney, living in Vaucluse. What part the 1879 passage of the Married Women's Property Act played in all this is not clear.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September 1884, ran Martin's "Numantia" advertisement.

Lot A was "the land on which VERY SOLID FOUNDATIONS have been built, suitable for a LARGE MANSION."

Lot B, facing Bathurst Road, was suitable for a first-class hotel. Sassafras Gully was offered in Lot C. There were also "indications of kerosene shale". If the beauty of the area didn't sell, Martin could appeal to purchasers seeking fortunes.

His Blue Mountains dream dead, Martin reconciled with Isabella in 1885, but died in 1886.

  • Robyne Ridge, publicity officer, Blue Mountains Historical Society