The image above provides a very different view of Woolloomooloo, which as we discovered last week, was once (and is again today) an affluent and gentrified area of Sydney. Under Governor Darling, the area had become one where the well to do lived and tended grand houses and gardens, but this wasn’t to last.
Even whilst the more grandiose houses were still being built, lowly workers cottages began to appear on the swampy areas of the Woolloomooloo Valley. By the 1850s, less than 30 years after Governor Darling transformed the area into a fashionable and well to do place, Woolloomooloo was in the throws of more change. The swamp areas had been drained and an increasing number of homes were being built for the growing working class who worked in the various maritime industries along the water front. The grand Woolloomooloo House was demolished and replaced by smaller houses while other grand estate houses were being altered to become boarding houses. Then, in 1866 the wharves were extensively expanded requiring ever more workers in the area. Pubs, brothels and of course ever more dwellings appeared, crowding the once grand Woolloomooloo area. In 1855 the Plunkett Street School was opened to cater for the growing number of working class children in the area.
Then, in 1876, authorities conducted a survey of the worst housing in Sydney. They had not planned to spend much time in Woolloomooloo, and were surprised by what they found – a proliferation of unsanitary and dilapidated houses in the area, inhabited by maritime workers and their families. By the late 1800s, any semblance of gentrification had gone from Woolloomooloo and the reputation of the area was one of squalid housing, rough working class families, and criminals, many of whom were part of the Plunkett Street Push.
Freighter unloading Canadian logs and lumber in Snails Bay. log raft and tug at left of freighter. Get around tariff against lumber
This week, there have been a number of news reports around possible changes to trade agreements between various countries. With so much interest in trade, it seemed the ideal time to share this fascinating glimpse into the history of trade in Sydney, and in Australia more generally.
The image above, showing Snails Bay in Birchgrove, provides an amazing glimpse into the history of Australian tariff policy. The image, which shows a freighter unloading Canadian lumber offshore in order to avoid the tariff on Canadian lumber, particularly highlights the lengths that some importers were willing to go to in order to avoid paying the import tariffs on various products, in this case, Canadian wood.
In the 1930s tariffs on goods imported to Australia were substantially increased in order to protect Australian industry and employment. This was the time of the Great Depression, and the tariffs were an attempt to not only protect Australian industries and workers, but also to deal with various problems associated with international payments. Many of these tariffs remained unchanged until the 1970s, and the tariffs on imported wood still appear to be debated today.
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.
Over time, Sydney and the surrounding areas have been host to a range of businesses, from the large industrial to the smaller and perhaps quirkier. In fact, once Sydney even had it’s own ostrich farm!
Joseph Barracluff was born in Lincolnshire and in 1884 he and his wife Jane immigrated to Australia. He soon established a business selling feathers in Elizabeth Street, opposite the Devonshire Street Cemetery (now Central Station). In 1889 the Barracluff’s purchased a property in South Head in order to start producing their own feathers for hats, boas, fans and other ladies fashion. Feathers were not their only product though. Ostrich eggs were also highly prized and many were finely carved and mounted in silver to be used as beautiful home ornaments.
Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm was one of the earliest feather producing businesses in Australia, and was Australia’s ‘show ostrich farm’ for many years. In fact, so high profile was the business that in 1901 the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and Work (who became King George V and Queen Mary) visited during their royal tour of Australia. The duchess was presented with a grand ostrich feather fan with a gold base and enormous ostrich feathers (up to 68 centimetres long it is reported) and after the visit the farm was even allowed to use the words ‘Under Royal Patronage’ to describe the business. They also advertised their feathers as ‘By Special Appointment To His Excellency The Governor General and His Excellency The Governor Of New South Wales’.
Joseph Barracluff died in 1918, and following his death the business slowly declined. The land where the ostrich farm once thrived was subdivided and sold in 1925.
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, with what would once have been Commonwealth and Empire Day nearly upon us, The Past Present decided it was a perfect opportunity to examine one of the buildings in Sydney once firmly associated with Colonial industry – the building of the Colonial Sugar Company. The building featured in the image above once stood in O’Connell Street, but was demolished in 1962.
The Colonial Sugar Company, also known as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (or CSR as we know it today) has its roots back in 1855, when the company was founded by Sir Edward Knox. Knox had come to Australia in 1840 and tried his hands at a number of different industries before purchasing a sugar refinery and distillery in 1843. He leased this to the Australasian Sugar Company but, when that company failed in 1854, he decided to found a new company, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. CSR began its life in Canterbury at a refinery originally owned by the Australasian Sugar Company, but moved many of its operations to Chippendale within just a few years as there was a better labour source. Water supplies to the refinery were a matter of considerable consternation though, both for the sugar refinery itself and for locals living in the area and in 1875 the company began to build a new refinery at Pyrmont, where industry thrived and there were less residents to complain about water and pollution. Eventually, CSR became so successful that not only did they own an enormous area in Pyrmont, but they had set up refineries in other Australian colonies, and also in New Zealand and Fiji.
The image above is a glimpse into the past of Sydney, and at a building which today looks vastly different to the one which once stood proudly at the heart of Sydney’s commercial district. The Royal Exchange may still have a building, and even stand in the same position, yet nothing remains of the original sandstone building – today we see a modern construction like so many others of Sydney’s buildings.
The Royal Exchange building, as seen in the image above, was officially opened in 1853. It stood on the corners of Gresham, Pitt and Bridge streets (where the new Royal Exchange Building still stands today) and was just one of the buildings which demarked this areas as the financial heart of Sydney in the 19th century. The Royal Exchange was an important building, acting as Sydney’s first stock and wool exchanges.
The Royal Exchange was also the first building in Australia to set up a ‘Telephone Bureau’, installing Australia’s first switchboard in 1881. Subscribers to the service had to pay for everything from the poles, to maintenance, but the system was a success and just a year later there were 30 telephone lines linked to the switchboard. However, not long after this sign of success, and less than five years after the switchboard was installed, an electrical short circuit burned out the original switchboard during a thunderstorm. The Royal Exchange decided against installing a new switchboard, handing the business over to the General Post Office instead. None the less, the Royal Exchange remains Sydney’s and indeed Australia’s first real telephone bureau!