Settlement in this area began as early as 1795 with land grants made by Governor Arthur Phillip to John Doody (with Ann Benson), and in 1798 to James Everard and Thomas Jones. John Glade, after whom Gladesville is named, purchased land in 1817 from Doody, but a deed was not issued until 1836.
Batemans Road is in an area granted to James Devlin in 1844, but appears to have been settled earlier. The area provided good farming land, relatively fertile when compared with many other stony areas around the harbour. Orchards, dairies and vineyards were established and for a long period the locality supplied a large part of Sydney’s fruit and vegetables. A punt was provided in 1829 linking Bedlam Point with Abbotsford across the Parramatta River. This area was further developed with the establishment of the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum, now Gladesville Hospital, in 1835. A little hamlet sprang up at Tarban Creek and some of the inhabitants of Batemans Road were later employed at the Asylum.
On an 1841 map Bateman’s Hut is marked on land still held by the Crown, and the hut is also marked on a map of 1857. Bateman paid rates in 1861, the first year of the Municipality, of £4 10s. In 1862 Robert ‘Batman’ sold one acre of land to Ono Earnshaw, stonemason, for £25. However the exact location of the hut has not been identified, if indeed the hut still exists. Several houses along the road appear to be old enough and there are reports of demolished outbuildings which could have been the hut. Municipal records listed houses, cottages and huts, but none of the huts seem to have survived, suggesting a primitive structure.
Several separate sources link Bateman with John Batman, Melbourne’s founder. If this is so, then Batman’s father was a convict, transported to Port Jackson in 1797. Later as a ‘ticket of leave’ man, he became a timber cutter with his sons and set up a timber yard at Parramatta, where he had settled earlier. Whitham’s ‘Book of the North Shore’, an unpublished manuscript of 1927, states that they were related and also mentions Bateman as the lessee of the punt. Colliss’ 1938 ‘History of Gladesville’ says ‘moreover Bateman, the punt man, lived first on Bedlam Point and later in a cottage on the Great North Road (Victoria Road), and the road made by the side of his cottage was named after him’. The use of the name Batemans Road was not official until 1891, it was listed earlier in Sands’ Directory as Earnshaw Road and before that as Gladesville Road.
One of the earliest settlers was John Reeves, a stonemason who came out from Cornwall in 1850 and was employed to build a substantial sandstone wall around the asylum from Bedlam Point to Henley. Reeves built himself the stone cottage (above) in 1857, and the date is inscribed at the back of the house. In 1859 he married Ruth Buscombe, originally from Cornwall, at Scotts Church. Reeves established orchards, a vineyard and a dairy on his estate of 69 acres and leased from Miss Isler an area bordered by Sunnyside, Hillcrest and Isler Streets, then known as Isler Park. The dairy was later relocated in Batemans Road in Reeves’ Paddock (now a town house development). At that time Batemans Road was only as wide as a lane and deeply rutted by the many carts using it. One of Reeves’ grandsons recalled that the lane was extremely steep and rocky going down to the small bridge and that on milk runs the horses and carts were walked for fear of accident. Reeves later donated ten feet of his land to the Council when the road was built to ensure that ‘a footpath be provided’.
Pilkington’s Bridge was built c1886 at the start of Batemans Road. It was named after William Pilkington, a quarryman, who built a two room cottage ‘Woodville’ at 5 Martin St, Hunters Hill. Pilkington’s Bridge is listed on the Heritage Register and is one of three bridges crossing Tarban Creek. The bridge today is a composite bridge with the original walls still in use.
The area remained as farming and orchard land, with denser settlement along the major roads until well into the beginning of the 20th century. A photograph taken in 1894 from the tower of St Joseph’s College shows the Batemans Road area as being very heavily wooded, with small cottages just visible among the trees.