This week, with the weather being wild and woolly, the Past Present is focussing on one of the most spectacular areas of Sydney in which to watch waves, but also one which is associated with shipwrecks. Although many know this view as ‘The Gap’ as you can see from this postcard, the area has also been known as Dunbar Rock and is associated with the shipwreck of the Dunbar.
The Dunbar was completed in 1854 and arrived in Sydney in 1856. It was built at the Sunderland Shipyard in England and was, at the time, said to be the largest ship they had ever built. The grand ship was to have a short but dramatic life.
Just a year after the Dunbar first arrived in Sydney, on the night of the 20th of August 1857, the Dunbar arrived off Sydney Heads. It had on this occasion been at sea for 81 days and was in the charge of Captain James Green. He had already made eight voyages to Sydney, including that of the Dunbar in 1856. That night though the weather was treacherous with heavy rain obscuring the view of the coast.
Nobody is entirely certain why the Dunbar was wrecked off the Gap, though there are two main theories. One is that Captain Green believed he had overshot the entrance to the harbour and tried to turn around while the other suggests that those on watch, with their vision obscured by the weather, mistook The Gap as the harbour entrance. Whatever the case, the impact of the Dunbar against the rocks shattered the ship and it began to break up very quickly. The lifeboats were destroyed in the pounding seas and the bodies of the hapless passengers and sailors were thrown against the cliffs. Just one of the 122 people on board survived, James Johnson, a crew member who survived by climbing the cliff to a relatively safe ledge. The wreck, along with the loss of the Catherine Adamson just nine weeks later, was the catalyst for the construction of another lighthouse which marked the true entrance to the harbour – the Hornby Light on the tip of South Head.
This week, with the weather being rather dreary in Sydney, the Past Present decided to cheer things up with a lively shot of Sydney Harbour. The image above, from a postcard dating to circa 1910, shows one of Sydneysiders favoured pastimes, getting out and about on the water. What’s more, it shows the competitive side of the sport, with people gathered to partake in or watch a race.
Recreational sailing in Sydney was very much a product of the nature of Sydney itself. Sydney was a seaport and early colonists settled along and around the coastline. Where in England sailing and racing of boats was very much an activity enjoyed by the upper classes, in Sydney it was almost an extension of many peoples daily work. In the early history of racing on Sydney Harbour captains of visiting ships would organise races between their crews using the smaller ships which were carried on their decks. In fact some ships even carried a specific, modified racing boat! Soon enough these races were becoming a public event. These regattas were even seen as an appropriate celebration of holidays. Of course they were also accompanied by plenty of drinking and gambling. As early as 1828 an annual ‘Anniversary Regatta’ was organised to celebrate the foundation day of the colony.
Many races in the later 19th century and into the 20th century featured the ‘great Sydney type’ boat as it was known – an open boat with as much sail as could possibly be crammed into the space allowed. These boats developed from the working boats of Sydney Harbour – skiffs, fishing boats, ships boats and the like. They had no keel to stop them capsizing so they also required large crews who acted as a live ballast to stabilise the boat. Such boats were relatively inexpensive, making them popular with the working classes and in the working class suburbs such as Balmain and Pyrmont. The racing of these open boats was also very popular as a spectator sport as these races offered an element of spectacle missing from yacht races. Mishaps such as capsizing were not uncommon. By the 1930s open boat racing, like that shown in the image above, had become an incredibly popular Sydney pastime with thousands of spectators following the weekly race, some from aboard special steamers which were hired by the various open boat clubs. The crews of these boats were often professional crews and many played rugby in the winter months when sailing was less popular.
The image above shows a view which many Sydneysiders are not only familiar with, but which many enjoy on special occasions like New Years Eve. Lavender Bay is a popular foreshore area, not least for its historic fun park, Luna Park. However it is the train in this image which is of particular significance.
Construction on the Milsons Point extension to the existing railway began in 1890, with the track running between Milsons Point and St Leonards. The extension would complete the North Shore Link, finally connecting the harbour to Hornsby. The Milsons Point station itself was a transport hub, connecting trains, ferries and trams, but it stood near to where the Northern Pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge now stands. In 1924, planning for the construction of Sydneys famous bridge meant that the station needed to be relocated. A site was chosen in Lavender Bay, down at water level below Glen Street.
This was not the first time this site had been used as a station though. In 1915 the Station was first opened to the public with plans for it to replace Milsons Point Station. Passengers did not approve though, refusing to leave the train and demanding the trains continue to and stop at Milsons Point. The walk to the trams in Glen Street on the escarpment above was steep and the ferry company were unhappy with servicing two wharves when one would suffice. The Lavender Bay Station only lasted for a total of seven weeks before the original service resumed to Milsons Point.
The remodelled station avoided these problems though, with long escalators taking commuters from water level to Glen Street where the commuters could connect with the tram network. A new ferry wharf was also built to connect the station to the ferry network. The escalators were actually the first in Australia and were relocated to Wynyard Station when Lavender Bay Station closed in 1932 (following the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the new Milsons Point Station). They are apparently still in use today.
This week, with a number of military anniversaries being celebrated all around the world, not least the start of the First World War, it seemed the perfect time to look Neutral Bay. There are many places in and around Sydney which have played a role during times of war and in the defence of the city, but Neutral Bay is rather special being, as the name suggests, an historic neutral harbour.
Neutral Bay was named and given a function very early in the history of European settlement in Australia. Just a year after the fleet first arrived, in 1789 Governor Phillip decreed the bay was to be the place of anchor for all non British, ‘neutral’ ships visiting Port Jackson. He called the area Neutral Bay. The ships which anchored in the area could use a small, unnamed creek to replenish their stores of fresh water, though they had to pay for the privilege throughout the 19th century. Neutral Bay was chosen as the site for foreign vessels to rest because it was seen as far enough from Sydney Cove itself to discourage convicts from attempting to escape and make their way home on a foreign ship. In addition, it kept any enemy ships at a safe distance from the settlement itself.
There are a number of images of Neutral Bay in the Past Present collection, so check back to see more at a future time!
The image above, taken from a postcard dated to circa 1910, reveals a Darling Harbour which is very different to the one we are all familiar with today. In our modern Sydney, Darling Harbour is a tourist hub full of restaurants and tourist attractions, but once it was at the heart of the working harbour.
One of Darling Harbours original European names was Cockle Bay, referencing the remains of shellfish which were scattered along the shore, remnants of many feasts held by Aboriginal people in the place they knew as Tumbalong. These middens provided a valuable source of lime for the Europeans and the area soon became the domain of the lime burners who provided the much needed resource for making mortar.
The valuable harbour area was quickly recognised though and by 1815 Australias first steam engine was hard at work and by the 1820s shipyards, wharves, warehouses and factories were being built along the foreshore. In 1826 the name of the area also changed with Governor Darling naming the cove after none other than himself. Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th Darling Harbour saw wool, wheat, coal and timber come and go from its wharves and warehouses. In fact by 1900 shipping was the main focus of the area with a multitude of wharves and warehouses replacing many of the small scale industries and factories. In 1900 the Government resumed Darling Harbour and assumed control of the many wharves but the working harbour continued to thrive with ships coming and going full of goods for import and export. By the end of the Second World War though coastal shipping was declining and Darling Harbour was seeing less trade. In 1984 the industrial history of the harbour concluded, with the area being returned to the people of Sydney and in 1988, just in time for the Bicentennial celebrations the new Darling Harbour was opened to the public.