The Burnside Homes were established by Scotsman Sir James Burns, the founder of Burns, Philp & Co. In 1877 he purchased a large block of land at North Parramatta, on which he built a 'fine mansion-house' - Gowan Brae - where he lived until his death in 1923. From the date of its founding in 1910, until his death, Burns gave his life to the service of the Burnside homes for orphan and destitute children.

In about 1907, Burns "was travelling by train from Katoomba to Sydney and noted several Roman Catholic schools and homes or convents for children. He thought of it allthe rest of the journey, and by the time he reached Sydney he had come to the conclusion that there ought to be such a home, though on a larger scale, for Protestant boys..." (Macintyre, p.9)

Burns donated 45 acres near Gowan Brae to the Presbyterian Church for the purpose of forming a boys home. It was established along revolutionary ideas (for the time), and the Board were careful not to develop a "charitable institution in the objectionable sense of the term" (Macintyre, p.16). Instead, they took the view that "Australian youth does not want charity, but a chance in life, and that Burnside gives" (Macintyre p.16).

Over the 45 acres there developed a long line of magnificent buildings, forming a grand avenue on either side of Pennant Hills Road. In all, there were sixteen homes for children, each established through the benefaction of individuals or organisations, and a number of administrative residences, farm buildings, school and educational facilities, outbuildings, and a swimming pool.

During the 1930's, the Burnside homes accepted a number of Irish and Scottish orphan children with a view to 'rescuing' them from their plight and boosting immigration to Australia.

From February 1942, the homes were taken over by the Department of the Army, and the children moved to the Blue Mountains. They housed the Second Australian Division.

Further reading:
Macintyre, R.G., The story of Burnside
Keen, Susan., Burnside : 75 years of caring