Milsons Point And The Horse Ferry

Milsons Point Horse Ferry Sydney Harbour Front

The image above is a stunning snapshot of a piece of Sydney history many are unfamiliar with. Today, we are all familiar with the Harbour Bridge, and take for granted the fact that we can easily cross the harbour by car, train, bike or bus. Many of us are familiar too with the history of the stunning bridge itself, yet we little think of what came before and how people, let alone vehicles, crossed the harbour before the bridge was built.

Before the Harbour Bridge, there were only two ways for people to move vehicles like horses and carts, or later, cars, from one side of the harbour to the other. The first was to travel to Bedlam Point and use the punt which crossed the relatively small distance of water. This was a little inconvenient for many, as it involved travelling quite a distance. The other option was to use one of the horse ferries operating on the harbour itself, like the one shown in this postcard.

When we think of a vehicular ferry today, we tend to think of cables pulling the ferry across the span of water. Yet this was completely impractical for the harbour itself, as the span of water was much too great and there were many ships which needed to move beyond the ferry point. A cable would have prevented this. Instead, steam ferries like the one in the postcard were used, transporting everything from passengers to horses, carts and produce between Dawes Point, Blues Point and Bennelong Point. There was, of course, a fee involved and each different type of passenger and vehicle was charged differently. The fees were so specific that there was even one for a ‘Chinaman with two baskets’

When the Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932 there was no longer any need for the ferries and the wharves were demolished and the boats put to other use. The remains of only one of the horse ferry wharves can still be seen, off Hickson Road in the Rocks.


Circular Quay Shipping

Shipping Circular Quay Sydney front

The image above is a stunning view which shows the vast alterations which some of Sydney’s most famous places have undergone in the last century. Circular Quay is a place which Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike are usually familiar with. Being a hub of ferry traffic, and of course, so close to the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House, today Circular Quay is a popular place for people to visit and explore. Yet once, as the image above shows, it was a very different area, thriving with a different sort of activity.

The Circular Quay which we see today is substantially different to the foreshore which greeted the First Fleet when they made landfall in the area in 1788. Circular Quay, was we now know it, was constructed between 1837 and 1844, in order to create an artificial shoreline which would be appropriate to accomodate shipping. Wharves were built on the southern shoreline and, in order to reflect the importance of the new harbour as the hub of Sydney’s shipping, a Customs House was constructed in 1844. The Governor’s Residence, which had been located closer to the shoreline at Circular Quay was relocated to Government House in the 1840s and Macquarie Street was extended to Fort Macquarie at Bennelong Point (where the Opera House is today).

These changes allowed Circular Quay to quickly develop into a commercial working wharf, covering the area between the extended Macquarie Street and the shoreline. The shipping industry was mainly dominated by the wool trade, which in Australia was thriving. Warehouses, wool stores and bond stores began to be constructed and by the 1860s, the entirety of the Circular Quay foreshore was dedicated to commercial shipping. By the 1870s though, the artificial harbour at Circular Quay was too small to accomodate the growing number of ships and Darling Harbour began to take over as the hub of trade, while ferry services began to dominate Circular Quay. As the image above shows though, Circular Quay remained a working harbour into the 20th century.

Queens Square

Queens Square Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a place which many Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike are familiar with, yet little think about. Queens Square is today simply a public square and many Sydneysiders may not even be aware that it has a name.

Queens Square is found at the place where King Street, Phillip Street and Macquarie Street come together. In 1810, when Governor Macquarie arrived in Sydney, he began the process of transforming the fledgling penal colony into a township.  He oversaw the reorganisation of streets, and the establishment of public spaces and parks in line with British town planning. He established a town common in the form of Hyde Park and saw that the key civic features of a township, including Churches, schools, a hospital and a courthouse, were built near this common.

The centre of the township, the civic square, was established just by the town common, and this civic centre was called Queens Square. The square is bounded by some of Sydney’s most important buildings, including The Sydney Mint, the Law Courts, Hyde Park Barracks, and St James Church (which was originally to be the courthouse). Even today, it is still considered by many to be the centre of the city of Sydney.

Captain Cook Memorial Hyde Park

Captain Cooks Memorial Hyde Park Front

With Australia Day upon us, and many people either celebrating or commiserating the colonisation of Australia by Europeans, it seemed the ideal time to share the image above. Captain Cook, who is commemorated by the statue shown above, was one of those responsible for the British claiming Australia and for the eventual colonisation. Yet he was far from the first to discover Australia, as the statue claims.

In 1770, Captain James Cook, accompanied by his crew and Dr Solander and Joseph Banks, sailed into Botany Bay on board his ship, The Endeavour. For many years, this visit was lauded as the ‘discovery of Australia’, and indeed the statue in the image above does just this, and has recently become somewhat controversial as a result. Yet, although Captain Cooks visit was the first step towards European colonisation, he did not discover Australia.

The discovery of Australia is actually a long and somewhat convoluted story. Of course, the Aboriginal People of Australia should be credited with the discovery, as they inhabited this land long before any subsequent discoveries took place. Yet Captain Cook was not even the first European to discover Australia! There are some who suggest that as early as the 1500s, the Portuguese had sighted, and perhaps even set foot on Australian soil. They point to early maps which hint at Australia as evidence. Whether this is true or not, by the early 1600s the Dutch had certainly located Australia.

The Dutch East India Company was formed in 1602 and was soon doing extensive trade with islands which are now part of Indonesia. In 1606, William Janszoon, on board his ship the Duyfken, made charts of the western coast of Australia, and also made landfall and interacted with Aboriginal people. The same year, a Spanish expedition led by Pedro Fernandez de Quiros explored the area and his deputy Luis Vaez de Torres traversed the Torres Strait and sighted the northern part of Australia. Many more sightings of Australia, and particularly the western coast, were made in the 1600s and into the 1700s. In 1642, Abel Tasman sighted what he named Van Diemens Land, but which we know as Tasmania. In 1644 he returned and charted much of the northern coast of Australia, naming the area New Holland. Then, in 1688, William Dampier, who was searching for the Tryall, a ship which had been wrecked nearly 70 years earlier, became the first Englishman to set foot on the continent of Australia. He careened his ship in the area of King Sound on the west coast.

In the 1700s, more voyages still were made to Australia, and more of the map of the Great Southern Land was filled in. Indeed, by the time Captain Cook arrived in 1770, much of Australia had been charted, and featured on maps! Captain Cook did not discover the Great Southern Land, but did find an area heretofore unexplored and unknown. However, Captain Cook should be remembered for his efforts, for although the claims that he discovered Australia may be false, his voyages (there were more than one) to the Pacific were very significant. He was the first to chart the coastline of Eastern Australia, and did indeed ‘discover’ New South Wales, enabling future European colonisation. He also charted the Great Barrier Reef, ‘discovered’ New Zealand and made more accurate charts of the Pacific than any who had come before him.

Sydney Ferries

Sydney Ferries Limited Athol Gardens Front

The image above provides not just one, but several fascinating glimpses into the history of an area of Sydney which was long known to locals and visitors alike as a pleasure ground. Today, Athol Bay continues to be a popular place for picnicking, walking and even getting married, but once there was far more to the area.

European use of the area now known as Athol Bay began in 1831 when Robert Mllard and Richard Linley were given permission to use four acres of waterfront land as a shipyard. Although they were officially issued a deed to the land eight years later, they actually never built any boats! In 1837 though, the Ferrier family were also given a grant in the area, and it is this family and their home which gave the area its name. The family soon built a stone house, which they named Athol, as well as constructing a wharf and establishing an orchard and gardens. The Ferrier family owned the area until 1904, but after 1853, they let it out to various tenants.

During this time, the area around Athol Bay became a popular pleasure garden, with Athol Gardens Hotel being built by 1863. The hotel, and later dance hall, provided amenities and entertainment for the many picnickers who visited the area. Sydney Ferries purchased the popular Athol Gardens in 1906, and two years later a new dance hall was opened. Then, in 1912, an area on Athol Bay was dedicated for use as Zoological Gardens, and in 1916, Taronga Zoo opened. Soon after, Sydney Ferries opened a new wharf at Athol Bay, for use by visitors to the Zoo and Athol Gardens alike. By the mid 1900s, the popularity of pleasure grounds was waning, and fewer people were visiting the Athol Gardens themselves. However, even today, the area remains a popular place for picnicking, walking and taking in the spectacular harbour views.

Circular Quay Shipping And Ferries

The ferry boats and shipping circular quay sydney front.jpg

The image above is a remarkable view of a place which most Sydneysiders and visitors alike will be very familiar with – Circular Quay. The Circular Quay of today is a popular place with tourists, yet before it took on its current role, the area was a hive of a different type of activity entirely. Indeed, although ferry services have long departed from and arrived at Circular Quay, the area was once also a busy working harbour.

When the European colonists arrived in Australia in 1788, they found a natural harbour, and landed at Sydney Cove itself, a large area of which came to be known as Semi-Circular Quay and then simply Circular Quay. The Quay itself was constructed between 1837 and 1844 by creating an artificial shoreline at the southern end of Sydney Cove itself. Wharves were quickly constructed and, reflecting the status of Circular Quay as the centre of commerce and shipping, in 1844 Customs House was built. At first, the wharves were mainly clustered at the southern end of Circular Quay, but by the 1860s, Circular Quay was dominated by the infrastructure of trade and shipping – wharves and warehouses.

By the 1870s though, commercial shipping was moving away from Circular Quay. The ships were becoming to big and Darling Harbour, with its added advantage of a railway line was more attractive as a commercial harbour. As the commercial shipping moved out though, passenger services began to take over the wharves at Circular Quay. In 1879 the first ferry wharf was constructed and by the 1890s ferry services were beginning to dominate the harbour. By 1900, Circular Quay, which now also had a tram station, was the centre of the ferry service. Today, these ferry services continue to be a focal point of Circular Quay.

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Lady Macquarie's Chair Front

This week, with New Year just around the corner, it seemed the perfect time to share this image taken in the vicinity of a prime location for watching fire works. Yet although Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is well known as a tourist destination, many people little spare a thought for the history of this iconic location.

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, which is also sometimes known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair, is the site of one of the best vantage points of the harbour. In fact, it is renowned as one of the best views in Sydney. The extraordinary view down the harbour is indeed the reason behind the historic background to the area. In 1810, convict labour was used to carve a solid rock outcrop into a chair for, as the name suggests, Lady Elizabeth Macquarie.

Elizabeth Macquarie was the wife of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the governor of the colony between 1810 and 1821. According to local folklore Lady Macquarie enjoyed watching the busy harbour and the ships coming and going. Reputably, her favourite vantage site was what became known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair, and the chair itself was carved to provide her a more comfortable place to watch the goings on of the busy harbour.