The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a moment in time. Little Riley Street, in the image above classified as part of Redfern, but today part of Surry Hills, is a street which Sydneysiders may be familiar with, but few will recognise from the image above. Today, Little Riley Street is still narrow , but the streetscape itself has changed dramatically, to the point that the image above is unrecognisable as todays LittleRiley Street at the Albion Street entrance
Little Riley Street, has a fascinating history, linked to the Riley Estate and the personage of Edward Riley. Edward Riley was a merchant who found great success in India, before deciding to settle himself and his family in Sydney. In the 1820s, he brought up lots of small land grants in the area between Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills. Riley’s land, called the Riley Estate, quickly grew, becoming not just a series of small land grants, but a vast estate. Despite his wealth, he was not a happy man though and in 1825 he committed suicide, leaving behind a legal debacle. He had left two wills, and the contents of the wills conflicted which led to years of legal battle between his seven heirs.
The Government eventually appointed a commission to guide and control the division of the estate. The estate was broken into seven parcels of land, and these were then raffled amongst his heirs. Roads were built to separate the seven different land areas, and both Little Riley Street and Riley Street itself are examples of these roads, named for Edward Riley and an echo of the vast estate he had built. However, these new roads simply marked out the Riley Estate, as it had been divided up. Roads in the area had been formally laid out on a grid system in 1814 by James Meehan, then the surveyor-general. Yet the roads of the Riley Estate did not match up with this grid system at all. They met up with Meehan’s roads, but often to join them to the existing grid there had to be some deviation or bend put in place. This is what led to the unusual and often difficult to understand bends which are so common in the Surry Hills area.