The Argyle Cut

Argyle Cut Front

Today, as so many of us move around the city, following overpasses, and taking tunnels, we little think about the hardships of times gone by, not just for those traversing the city, but for those building some of our iconic roads. The Argyle Cut is the major road link connecting Darling Harbour and Sydney Cove. Today, many of us pass through this amazing, short tunnel, but few of us spare a thought to the great amount of time, expense and risk which went into building it.

Argyle Street has, in some form, existed for more than two centuries. The road was officially built in 1810, leading from George Street towards Millers Point, but it came to an abrupt halt at a sheer rock face. A set of stairs was carved into the rock face at this point, which people could use to reach Cumberland Street and from there reach Millers Point and Darling Harbour, but they had to do it on foot. As a result it was impossible to move carts, vehicles and cargo directly between Sydney Cove and Darling Harbour.

Yet both Darling Harbour (then Darling Island) and Sydney Cove were major hubs of activity, and a more efficient way of moving between the two soon became a priority. A plan for the Argyle Cut was drawn up by Edward Hallen in 1832 and work began in 1843. The initial work was completed by convicts in chain gangs, under overseer Tim Lane, who was renowned for his cruelty and love of flogging. Yet transportation of Convicts to NSW had officially ceased in 1840, and residents were unhappy with seeing convicts working in full chains, no matter how important the work they were completing. Work on the Argyle Cut was eventually abandoned by the government, only to be recommenced with paid labour and gunpowder by the Sydney Municipal Council. Work on the Argyle Cut was completed in 1859.

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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.

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.

Queen Victoria Markets

Queen Victoria Market (QVB) Sydney Front

This week, with Christmas fast approaching and many people visiting various shopping centres and more exclusive stores in search of that perfect gift, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share this amazing image of the Queen Victoria Markets. The Queen Victoria Markets, which are more commonly known as the QVB, are one of Sydney’s more exclusive shopping precincts, and also one of Sydney’s most iconic buildings. Yet this amazing building was almost lost!

Before the QVB which we see today, there was an older produce market on the site, but in the 1890s, Sydney was suffering from an economic depression. Many people were without work, and the Government was looking for a project to employ out of work craftsmen and labourers alike. The elaborate new market design provided the perfect opportunity. With its beautiful stonework, glass roof areas, large copper domes, stunning stained glass windows, ornate wrought iron balustrades, patterned floor tiles and even statues, there was work for huge numbers of people, both skilled and unskilled.

The completed building was not always a shopping precinct though. Over the ensuing decades it saw many different occupants, including commercial stores, but also a library, concert hall and once, it was even used a municipal offices! By the 1950s though, the building was in need of restoration, and the government planned to replace the grand old building with a carpark! In 1982 though, after much public debate and campaigning,  the building was saved with the council agreeing to lease the building for 99 years to Malaysian company, Ipoh Garden Berhad. The company restored the beautiful building and today it is a popular and exclusive shopping centre.

The Sydney Mint

The Mint Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a building which has long been a vital part of Sydney’s history – The Sydney Mint. In fact, this is one of the few images in the Past Present collection to have hardly changed as the past century has gone by! Yet it is also a building many Sydneysiders know little about.

Although today, the building in the image above is known simply as ‘The Mint’, the building was constructed for a very different reason. In 1810, when Governor Macquarie was appointed, he very quickly realised a new hospital was needed as the original portable canvas building was vastly inadequate for the task. Yet the British Government were staunchly refusing to fund any public building works. Macquarie was determined to have a new hospital built for the colony, and came to an arrangement with Alexander Riley, Garnham Blaxcell and D’Arcy Wentworth. He granted them a three year monopoly on the import of rum, and in exchange they were to build the hospital.

When the hospital was completed in 1816 it was made up of three buildings. What is now The Mint was the southern wing, which housed the two assistant surgeons. The northern wing is now Parliament House while the central wing, which actually housed the patients, has long been demolished. The new hospital was not all that Macquarie had hoped for though. Within just a few years the buildings needed massive repairs, and the entire hospital had become known as the Sidney Slaughter House due to rampant dysentery, poor ventilation and overcrowding.

Despite the problems inherent in the building, its excellent location meant that by the 1820s it was actually in demand for other uses. In 1823 the wing now known as The Mint was transformed into a military hospital and in 1842 it became the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary, which provided help to Sydney’s poor. Then, in 1851, gold was discovered in NSW and massive amounts of raw gold began to circulate, putting the colony’s economy out of the hands of the government. In order to regain control, in 1853the colony was granted permission to create a Sydney branch of The Royal Mint. The southern wing of the hospital was chosen as the site for the new Sydney Mint and opened in 1855, the first overseas branch of the London Royal Mint.

Luna Park Workshops For The Harbour Bridge

Milsons Point possibly showing Luna Park site front

The image above is a stunning and vastly different view of an area of Sydney residents and visitors alike know well. Luna Park is a popular and iconic part of Sydney’s foreshore, yet as this image shows, it was not always so.

In the 1920s, when the Harbour Bridge was under construction, the site now occupied by Luna Park was a very different place. The construction of the enormous and extraordinary bridge required not only a huge amount of man power, but also workshops and railway sidings. The steel required to build the arch and approach spans was mainly imported from England, with just over 20% being imported from Newcastle. The steel was then fabricated into the steel girders and other required parts for the bridge in two workshops. These workshops were located on the site of Luna Park, and can be seen in the image above.

In 1932 when the Harbour Bridge was completed, North Sydney Council invited people to submit tenders for a new development of the site. At the same time, the personalities behind Luna Park at Glenelg in South Australia were looking for a new site for Luna Park to be relocated to.

Come back next week to discover how Luna Park developed.