Saddler and harness maker James Rothwell had moved into this post-Regency stone cottage by 1856. The property, which included a bathing house, sat isolated on the Johnston’s Bay foreshore until the early 1870s when Ambrose Thornley jnr erected Florence Villa next door. Both houses had addresses on Kennedy Street before it was absorbed into an extended Leichhardt Street (like nearby Oxley Street, thoroughfares named for explorers).
Rothwell won several government contracts, had hotel interests and speculated in land at St Leonards and Gordon. By 1865 he and his family had left Glebe for their city business address.
Next known occupier was widowed pioneer settler Ann Maria Smith née Bowman who moved there from nearby Guildford Lodge. After her death at The Retreat in 1880 her possessions were auctioned: a double-barrelled shotgun, Cossack-bred horse, Newfoundland dog and “canaries in full song”.
Colonial treasury registrar Joseph Sparke Walford lived at The Retreat for most of the 1880s, followed by a series of residents including surgeon John Alfred Pybus who exhibited Scottish collies and Andrew Brownless who kept poultry and carrier pigeons. Brownless, a prominent Sydney medico and a mining speculator, divorced his wife after she tried to shoot him at Coolgardie.
In 1901 used furniture dealer Walter Frank Hosking bought The Retreat which he renamed Homecroft. The Hoskings lived there until 1918. The next occupants worked with boats: lighterman Edward Alexander Lamb and master mariner James Francis Kenny. In the mid 1920s numbers 49-53 Leichhardt Street became part of Sylvester Benedict Stride’s shipbreaking yards where coastal vessels were dismantled and salvaged parts sold.
Like its near-neighbour Bellevue, The Retreat was saved from demolition by community activism and occupancy by squatters. In 1992 it was restored by heritage architect Clive Lucas.