Thursday, March 12, 2009

The White Cross at Mt 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

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



Doug said...

As a young child in the 60s I used to see the cross on journeys to Orange. Dad told us a young boy had fallen off a cliff there and he was right!
I must admit I thought he was telling his four lads that to scare them away from cliffs

Somniator Moon said...

As a child I would always look up to the hill to see the cross as we drove through the pass. I also was told that a little boy had fallen off there. I used to find it intruiging this white cross up on the edge surrounded by trees. Wish it was still there so I could've handed the story on to my children. There could have been a memorial story put at little hartley on the white cross to deter visitors to the cross. People probably just wanted to know the story.

Roberto said...

I also remember, as a child, being told by my father about Byron Clark's fatal fall from the cliff near the family home. It all seemed so sad and poignant...70 years after the event and yet the memorial was still there. It's such a pity that the new owners of the property have removed the cross.

jaf66 said...

I remember seeing the cross while on a primary school excursion from Wollongong to the Blue Mountains and will never forget the eerie feeling as we were drove past slowly with the bus driver telling us about it, glimpsing it through the mist on a dark and drizzling day. It was quite scary. I have often thought about it, that poor little boy and his family.

Brona said...

I wondered what happened to the cross over the years. I had just thought the bushland had grown around it so we couldn't see it anymore.

I was first told this story (over 30 yrs ago) when my 5th class at Ettalong PS had a school excursion out west. The driver told us the sad tale as we drove through the mountains. I have never forgotten it.

Unknown said...

I also remember the cross when we drove back and forward to Cowra from Penshurst, Sydney, to visit our grandparents and cousins every school holidays. Mum would tell us the story of the little boy who fell off the cliff not far from his home and often wondered why anyone would live so close to a cliff like that. I have told my own children the story when we drive out to Cowra now, still to visit relatives, but it does
Not have the significance without the visible position and the actual sight of the cross . I really think it should be replaced as it is a landmark and a traditional story in Australian history.

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