Sydney is home to many beautifully crafted and highly significant statues, which many Sydneysiders walk past on a regular basis. Most spare little thought for these works of historic art, but many of these statues have a fascinating story to tell. The statue commemorating Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, which is pictured on the postcard above, is one of these.
Thomas Sutcliffe Mort was a very important Australian. He was born in 1816 in Lancashire, England and grew up in Manchester. In the late 1830s, Thomas was acting as a clerk when he was offered a position in Sydney. He saw this as an excellent opportunity to improve the family fortune, arriving in Sydney in 1838 and taking up a position as a clerk in Aspinall, Browne & Co. In 1843, he struck out alone, setting up as an auctioneer and becoming a pioneer of Australian trade. Although Mort was not the first to sell Australian wool by auction, he innovated a new system of regular, specialised wool auctions which brought together wool sellers and buyers in a much more ordered manner. The auctions were highly successful, and by the late 1840s he was also auctioning livestock and property in similarly specialised auctions. In the 1850s he was providing facilities for growers of sheep to consign their wool, through him, for sale in London, completing the fulling integrated system which would go on to underpin wool sales.
Mort wasn’t just a pioneer of wool sales though. By the 1850s he was the most popular auctioneer in Sydney, and had amassed a huge fortune which continued to grow. He was involved in forming the Australian Mutual Provident Society, was instrumental in promoting sugar growing at Morton Bay, and became a director of the Sydney Railway Co, amongst other things. He opened dry docks and wharves to enable shipping of Australian products to London and supported Sydney business in a range of ways. He even built a tin smelting works at Balmain! In the mid 1960s, he turned his attention to refrigeration, financing the experiments of E. D. Nicolle who was looking to design and produce machinery which could be used in ships, on trains and in cold storage depots. In 1875 he established the New South Wales Fresh Food and Ice company, which later became Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. Sadly, Mort never saw frozen meat shipped from Australia – the first consignments were made in 1879, a year after his death. The Mort Statue was erected after a meeting of working men was held on May 14, 1874, just 5 days after his death. The statue, sculpted by Pierce Connolly, today stands in Macquarie Place.
This week, The Past Present is sharing a postcard image of a place in Sydney which has undergone vast changes over the history of European colonisation – Balmain. The area is one which many Sydneysiders would be familiar with, yet the postcard view above is remarkably different to the Balmain we see today.
Grants in the Balmain area began quite quickly after European colonisation, with the first being given in 1800 to the colonial surgeon, William Balmain, after whom the area is still named today. Yet true settlement of the area was much slower, as Balmain was difficult to access, with no transport to the area. When ferry services began to the area (with Henry Perdriau establishing a steam ferry service in 1842), it became much easier to access the area, and the suburb really began to thrive. At this time, people were reliant on ferries, steamers and other ships for travel, and a thriving community of ship builders soon moved into the area too, bringing not only work, but workers who wished to live near the shipyards. With new families moving to the area, services were needed to support the growing community, and soon enough shops, churches, schools, police services, and even a hospital were established. In 1860, Balmain Council was even opened.
By the 1880s many claimed that Balmain was the leading social suburb in Sydney, complete with clubs such as those catering for rowers and cricketers, and institutes such as the Balmain School Of Arts. Yet it was also this same suburb that was, in the 1880s, increasingly overcrowded and poorly organised. Soon enough the suburb went into decline, businesses and industries closed down and people moved out, being replaced by younger, poorer families. By 1933 nearly 40 percent of workers living in Balmain were actually out of work. It would not be until the 1970s that the gentrification of Balmain began to occur, leading to the affluent and popular foreshore suburb we see today.
Over the course of the last two weeks I have heard many stories of wonderful holiday trips. Today, most of these trips are so called ‘road trips’, carried out by car, yet in the past, many holiday makers would have travelled by train. One of the most popular routes was that between Sydney and Newcastle, a route with a fascinating history. This week, the past present focusses on the history of just one section – the Woy Woy Tunel.
When the Sydney to Newcastle railway line was opened in 1888 and at the time was a major feat of engineering in and of itself, being a line built through difficult and often extremely rugged terrain. Yet the line also contained two specific feats of engineering – the Hawkesbury Railway Bridge and the tunnel at Woy Woy. The tunnel, which is a horseshoe shaped brick construction, was at the time the longest railway tunnel built anywhere in Australia at 1.79 km in length. In addition to the brick, the tunnel was of course cut through bedrock and required massive excavation works, especially as it was built to allow line duplication – despite a second line not being put in on this section of the railway for another 20 years! The construction of the tunnel took four years and required a huge number of workers, who lived in a camp on site. In fact, so many railway workers and their families were housed in the camp that in 1884, the year construction began, a school was even established at the site to cater for the children of the workers. The tunnel was officially opened in 1886, a full 18 months before it was required for the line, but basic works continued at the site until 1888, when the line itself opened.