This week, The Past Present turns its attention to one of the many beautiful and somewhat iconic buildings around Sydney. Sydney has spectacular architecture displayed in many of our old buildings. One of the most spectacular, with its beautiful facades and imposing columns, is the Art Gallery of New South Wales, pictured above on a postcard from the early 20th century. Intriguingly, note the building work going on, indicating that, at the time of the postcard, the Art Gallery was yet to be completed!
The Art Gallery of New South Wales has its inception in the 1870s,when an Academy of Art was established to promote fine arts in Sydney. With funds contributed by the Government of the time, the Academy purchased the first works to be held in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Over the next decade the collection developed and grew, and a permanent home to house the collection quickly became a necessity and John Horbury Hunt was asked to submit plans for the gallery. This original building, which became known as ’the Art Barn’ was not much more than a series of thick walls, but provided a temporary home until funds for a more appropriate building could be obtained. In 1889 Hunt was asked to complete a further set of plans for the gallery, and in total he submitted three designs. However, none were viewed as appropriate, being too large, too grand, and too much a hybrid of architectural styles.
The trustees of the gallery really wanted a Classic Ionic design, a temple to art in the Greek style, and they looked to Walter Vernon to provide it. At the time, this was quite different to the type of architecture Vernon was known for, but his design certainly met with the demands of the trustees, though what we see today is a little more austere and less ornamented than Vernon envisaged. The building was completed in four stages and by 1901 the southern half of the building had been completed and in 1909 the front of the gallery was complete. However, nothing further of Vernons designs was built, despite plans to do so during the 1930s. Further extensions to the building were completed in time for the 1988 Bicentenary, and there have been many additions and alterations since.
Last week, we left off with the destruction of the original St Mary’s Cathedral. The Cathedral, complete with Pugin designed additions, had been burned to the ground on June 29, 1865, leaving behind just one building intact, the Chapter Hall which had been built in 1844. Yet this was not the end for St Mary’s Cathedral.
Almost immediately after the destruction of the Cathedral, plans were made to build a new, bigger and grander Cathedral in its place. Later in 1865, Bishop Polding approached William Wardell, an architect and friend of Polding, to design the new building. Wardell had arrived in 1858 and had created a formidable reputation for grand, Gothic revival buildings, and it was this style which he planned to use for the new St Mary’s Cathedral.
The foundation stone was laid on December 8, 1868 and while building was going on mass was held in two temporary timber buildings. In 1869 a brick ‘pro-Cathedral’ was built in place of these temporary timber structures, and then in 1882, with the consecration of the first stage of the Cathedral , services were transferred to St Mary’s itself. The Cathedral continued to be built, in stages, until 1928, when the final southern section was completed. This section included the two towers, whose original design included grand spires. However, these spires were actually only added in 2000 – over 130 years after the building of the grand Cathedral commenced.
This week, with Christmas upon us, it seems the perfect time to share the beautiful image above. The image, which was published as a postcard, shows St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, a central part in the Christmas traditions of many Catholic Sydney families for well over 100 years.
St Mary’s Cathedral is the oldest continuously used site of Catholic worship in the whole of Australia, though the Cathedral we see today is not the first religious building to occupy the site. The land where St Mary’s stands today was given to the Church in 1820 by Governor Macquarie. Macquarie had been petitioned by Father John Joseph Therry for a site to build a Catholic Chapel and the site was selected due to its location near the edge of town, the convict barracks and the convict garden. In 1821 Macquarie laid the foundation stone for the Cathedral and between 1822 and 1828 the first stage of St Mary’s Cathedral took shape. At this time, the site was more a religious complex than a single religious building, made up of St Joseph’s Chapel, two presbyteries and a school. The chapel was used to hold services while the main Church was built, and when St Mary’s itself opened, the chapel was converted to be part of a Benedictine seminary.
St Mary’s was an ongoing project of a sort for much of the early to mid 19th century. Although the first mass was celebrated in 1833, it was not until 1835, when Bishop Polding arrived that the Church was raised to the rank of a Cathedral. In the 1840s, famous architect Augustus Pugin designed a belltower for the Cathedral, which was built in 1843. Eight bells were installed in this tower. In 1844, a Chapter Hall, also designed by Pugin, was built, replacing the earlier school building. Today this Chapter Hall remains the oldest building on the site. In 1847, the original site was extended with the addition of two extra land grants (one to the North and one to the East), which allowed a new facade and bell tower to be built, again to designs created by Pugin. Then, on the night of June 29, 1865, it was all lost, when fire decimated the Cathedral.
Come back next week to find out about the history of the St Mary’s we are familiar with today!
When we think of the Nepean River and Penrith area today, our minds may not turn immediately to industrial processes, yet once the Nepean River was home to many factories producing a range of materials. The postcard above shows just one of these factories, ‘The Old Factory’ which was situated on the river at Regentville.
Regentville itself has a fascinating history, with the name of the suburb coming from a once famous mansion built in 1824 by Sir John Jamison. It is believed that he named the mansion Regentville in honour of the Prince Regent of the time, who later became King George IV. Jamison owned a huge property, which included land inherited from his father and various other estates which he had acquired, and his land was very productive. He established vineyard and orchards, as well as running livestock and even a horse stud on his estate, with many of the farmers working the land being of Irish descent.
Of course, the factory was something a little different from these more agricultural pursuits. In the 1830s many Sydney businessmen became interested in investing money in what they assumed would be highly profitable industries, and Jamison was interested in textiles. He established a cloth mill on his estate in about 1835, using a steam engine imported for the milling of flour to run the mill machinery. In 1841 he employed Abraham and John Rayner, who were experts in the cloth trade having been born into and brought up in the industry. Sadly Jamison was in poor health and the 1840s Depression nearly ruined him, leaving him with a lack of funds to support his mill. He died in 1844 and the partnership with the Rayner brothers was dissolved. The mill continued to operated with various different managers until 1850 and in 1849 alone produced 11,500 yards of high quality tweed. The mill continued to be a picturesque building standing on the shores of the Nepean River for many years, eventually being known to tourists who passed in boating parties as simply ‘The Old Factory’.
This week, The Past Present is sharing a photo of a place which residents and visitors to Sydney alike are often familiar with – Sydney Airport at Mascot. Yet as this postcard image reveals, this is not Sydney Airport as we know it today!
Sydney Airport is actually very significant, being one of the oldest continually operating airports not just in Australia, but in the world! The first plane to leave the airport at Mascot, piloted by J.J. Hammond, took fight in April 1911 and eight years later, just after the end of World War One, the site was selected by Nigel B. Love as an aircraft manufacturing facility. In 1920 the Mascot Aerodrome was officially named and opened, but soon after that the federal government acquired the site, transforming it into a national airport.
At this early time, the airport was nothing like the large passenger terminal buildings filled with shops, restaurants and amenities which we see today. In fact, it wasn’t until after World War Two that a true passenger terminal building was constructed!
Milsons Point is an area which Sydneysiders and visitors alike are very familiar with. As the place where the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge connects to Sydney Harbours north shore, it is a place which most of us pass through at the very least, on a regular basis. Yet the postcard above shows a very different view of the area to that we are familiar with today.
Even before the famous bridge was built, Milsons Point was an important area for travellers wishing to cross the beautiful harbour. From Milsons Point to the opposite shore was the smallest distance of water, so it was naturally the place where many early ferry services developed. The first ferry services were offered by local residents, the most famous of whom was Billy Blue (whose full name was William). Regular services soon followed, and they increased in frequency dramatically between the 1830s and the 1860s.
Then, in the early 1860s James Milson junior and some of his colleagues formed the North Shore Ferry Company, which was also known as the North Shore Steam Ferry Company and later as simply Sydney Ferries. They ran ferries between Milsons Point and Circular Quay and were licensed to carry up to 60 people at a time. In fact, the steam ferries were able to carry more than simply human passengers – they also ferried horses and carts! When cable trams began to run to and from the Milsons Point Ferry Terminus, the future of Milsons Point as a transport hub was assured. A grand ferry arcade (also known as the North Shore Ferry Company Building) was also constructed at this time, a building which dominated the Milson Point area until 1924 when it was demolished to allow the Sydney Harbour Bridge to be built.
This week, with the weather so cold and unpleasant, The Past Present is turning our attention to warmer and perhaps more pleasant times. In warm weather, many Sydneysiders and visitors to the city flock to the beautiful beaches, yet in the past there was far more to some of these beaches than simply sand and sea. Coogee Beach is but one example.
Coogee as a word appears to come from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘bad smell’, which may well refer to the decaying seaweed which is to occasionally be found washed up on the beach. Yet despite the perhaps less than flattering name, Coogee has long been a popular Sydney beach. As far back as 1832, European colonists were coming to the beach, and before then Aboriginals were very familiar with the area. In 1838 the village of Coogee was gazetted, and the future of the beach seemed assured and as surf bathing began to rise in popularity, Coogee became a popular destination.
Yet beaches were not just a place to laze on the sand, build castles, swim or catch a wave. In 1928 an amusement pier was even opened, as seen in the image above. The amusement pier was similar to amusement piers in England, and it actually reached out 180 metres into the sea itself. The pier, while it was still in operation, offered a large theatre and a ballroom with room for 600 dancers as well as a restaurant for up to 400 people. In addition, there were a number of smaller shops and even a penny arcade. Sydney seas are not so forgiving apparently as English seas though, and in 1934, only six years after it was opened, the pier was demolished due to safety concerns.
This week, the Past Present turns its attention to Martin Place. With plans to redevelop the ‘heart of the city’ featuring on local news programs recently, it appeared the perfect time to more closely investigate past changes to this iconic Sydney location.
The history of Martin place is full of change and redevelopment. In its earliest incarnation, Martin Place was a far cry from the grand pedestrian precinct we recognise today, instead being a narrow lane which connected Moore Street to Pitt Street. Despite plans to open up the Northern Frontage of the newly built GPO, the narrow lane way remained until fire destroyed many of the properties along the lane. Following the fire a widened street was created, called Martin Place after Sir James Martin. The street was still relatively short though, until in 1921 Moore Street was widened and also renamed Martin Place, extending the street quite significantly. Further extensions were made over the following years, and eventually, when these were completed in 1935, Martin Place ran the full length between Castlereagh Street and Macquarie Street.
Martin Place of this era, though a much grander street than the early lane way, was still a long way from being the area we recognise today. At this time, the street was promoted as the financial and insurance centre of the city, and it was full of not only thriving businesses, but also cars, as the image above shows. In fact, the famous Cenotaph, which had been completed in 1927, was almost a median strip, separating the busy traffic which traversed the street. Then, in the late 1960s, proposals to close Martin Place to traffic began to become increasingly popular. The first stage of the new pedestrian plaza was opened in 1971, with the entire plaza completed in 1979.
This week, The Past Present is once again turning attention to one of the area of Sydney which so many of us know, but so few of us know the history of, Potts Point.
Potts Point has long been popular with the wealthy and well to do, and indeed this was true even of the first Europeans to colonise the area. Potts Point was not however always known by the name we recognise today. Originally, the area was known as Woolloomooloo Hill and the suburb sits on a ridge immediately east of Woollomooloo which, presumably, explains the name. Originally, the Potts Point area was part of two large parcels of land granted to well known Sydney colonists, Judge Wylde and Alexander Macleay. Then, self made man Joseph Hyde Potts purchased a harbour side section of the land and renamed his new property in honour of himself – Potts Point was born.
In the 19th century the two main land grants were further divided and many grand houses and even mansions were built along the ridge line. In fact, the land was given to the most powerful men in the colony on the proviso that they establish grand and elaborate residences. This was the first deliberately designed suburb, known colloquially by other locals as Hob Nobs Ville. Many of these early mansions survive today and are recognised as important parts of Sydney’s history, listed on the Register of the National Estate.
It wasn’t only early architecture which made history in Potts Point though – the suburb is also the site of some of the earliest blocks of flats to be built in Australia. The earliest of these was built in the earliest part of the 20th century, but most date from between the 1920s and the Second World War. Today the suburb has the highest concentration of beautiful Art Deco buildings in the whole of Australia, many of them apartments!
This week, with the flu season well and truly upon us, it seemed the perfect time for The Past Present to examine the history of medical care, particularly the establishment of hospitals.
When the First Fleet arrived in Australia, it brought with it the naval surgeon John White, who was to be the head of the medical services in the new colony. He and his medical assistants set up tents at Dawes Point, which became Australia’s first ‘hospital’. Not long after, the tents were replaced with a more permanent building, and in 1790 this was again replaced with a prefabricated wood and copper hospital building which was brought to Australia with the Second Fleet. The hospital building wasn’t the only thing which the Second Fleet brought though. There were so many sick convicts newly arrived in the colony that tents (some accounts say up to 100 of them) needed to be set up, in addition to the existing hospital, to look after them.
As the colony extended beyond Sydney itself, hospitals were built in other areas of settlement, at Parramatta, Windsor and Liverpool. Sydney itself though was struggling to deal with epidemics and emergencies. In 1810, when Governor Macquarie arrived, he quickly recognised the urgent need for new hospitals. The question was, how to fund the desperately needed general hospital. Macquarie came upon an ingenious solution, given three colonists a short term monopoly on bringing spirits (including the all important rum) into the colony, in exchange for the three constructing a general hospital on Macquarie Street. The hospital, which was opened in 1816 was officially called the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary (and in 1881 this changed to Sydney Hospital) but it was popularly known in the colony as The Rum Hospital. Yet the foundations were substandard and the walls themselves were built from rubble which made an ideal home for pests like rats and bedbugs. The hospital was also too big for the Sydney population, and eventually some wings were transferred for other uses. Today, the Northern Wing of the original hospital houses NSW Parliament while the Southern Wing is The Mint.