The image above, which shows Dawes Point in the early years of the 20th century. The image is a glimpse into the past history the area which today, for many Sydneysiders, is firmly associated with the 20th century and The Sydney Harbour Bridge. Yet Dawes Point is one of those extraordinary places in Sydney history which has layered history, dating right back to the earliest years of the colony, and before.
Dawes Point is so named because of its association with Lt William Dawes, who established an observatory on the point. He recorded meteorological observations and was the official time keeper for the colony, as well as observing the nighttime sky. His scientific records are incredibly significant records of early colonial history, and are even important to the international scientific community. Yet Dawes Point did not remain a scientific institution for long.
Dawes Point is able to supply excellent views up and down the harbour, and it wasn’t long before the strategic possibilities of the area were recognised. Even during the years of Dawes Observatory, there was a signal station and powder magazine located on the site. The signal station was built on the site to allow the communication of messages from The Gap at Watsons Bay, to Sydney, and from there up the Parramatta River, to the Governors residence. Even the first proper road was built from Dawes Point to Sydney’s Government House to enable quick communication between the leader of the colony and the signal station. When news came of conflict between England and Spain, the basic defences at Dawes Point were formalised. The observatory buildings, which were made of wood, were demolished in 1791 and permanent fortifications were built on the site to defend the new colony from other European powers. Dawes Point Battery, as it was known had armaments, powder magazines, guardhouses and officers quarters. Even the guns from the ship Sirius were relocated to the point to enable defence of the new colony.
The Dawes Point Battery continued to be an important part of Sydney’s defences over the next years. Come back next week to find out more.
Sydney is an amazing city, with a stunningly beautiful harbour. It also conceals layer upon layer of history, from pre-European colonisation Aboriginal history through to the relatively modern. Sometimes, this history is even disguised, hidden under famous landmarks which dominate our minds, and hide the history of the place before their time. Dawes Point is one such place. This week, we begin the first in a series of posts uncovering these amazing layers of history.
Dawes Point is steeped in history. Today, it is firmly associated with The Sydney Harbour Bridge, whose southern Piers and Abutment Tower can be found on the point. Yet there is a wealth of history which predates the bridge. Before European colonisation, the Aboriginal people of the Eora nation called Dawes Point Tarra and the point itself was part of the land belonging to the Cadigal people. After European colonisation, Dawes Point was first associated with Lt William Dawes who in 1788 established a hut and observatory on the site. He named the point Point Maskelyn, after the Astronomer Royal, but the point soon became more commonly known as Dawes Point.
Yet it was not just Dawes work as a scientist which is significant. Dawes Point, and Dawes himself are associated with one of the earliest recorded cultural exchanges between the British colonists and the Eora people. A young Cameral woman, Patyegarang, had become friends with Dawes and the pair learned to communicate. Dawes recorded many of the Eora words and their English translations in his notebooks. This is one of the first recorded friendly interchanges between the colonists and the traditional owners of the land they had colonised.
Come back next week to discover the next layer of history to be discovered at Dawes Point
This week, The Past Present turns its attention to one of the important areas in Sydney’s transport history. Many Sydneysiders head north during their holidays, or even just for a day out and about. On reaching the Hawkesbury River, they cross the bridge, either by car or by train, little thinking of how different this trip must have been before the bridges were built! The photo above shows Mullet Creek, and important are in the train journey, both before and after the Railway Bridge over the Hawkesbury River was installed.
The Hawkesbury River is a beautiful waterway which today is a popular place for people to visit and even holiday. Yet once, this beautiful waterway was also a major barrier to travel. It was also a lucrative opportunity for George Peat, who in 1840 established Peats Ferry, a service which allowed people to cross the river by boat, between Kangaroo Point and Mooney Mooney Point. Peat even built a hotel at Peats Bight to allow people to break their trip!
Then, in 1887, a single line railway track was opened between Hornsby and the Hawkesbury River at Brooklyn. People could now travel and move goods by rail, but still, the river was a barrier. Passengers and goods who were travelling north had to be unloaded at the River Wharf Platform at the eastern end of Long Island. From there, they would board the double decker paddle steamer, The General Gordon. At first, they would then have a three hour trip, as the steamer transferred the passengers and goods along the waterways, out to Broken Bay, up the Brisbane Water and to Gosford, where everybody could reboard the train. Then, Woy Woy Tunnel was opened in early 1888, and the journey by steamer shortened – travellers just had to cross the river and travel the lower branches of Mullet Creek, until they reached Mullet Creek Station (about 400 metres from todays Wondabyne Railway Station). The image above shows a section of the railway along Mullet Creek, a section of the journey which even today is viewed as particularly beautiful!
This week, with the weather warming up, just a little, many Sydneysiders may be beginning to think longingly of warm days at the beach. Sydney has many beautiful beaches, but one of the most famous is Manly. The postcard above, which dates from circa 1906 shows just one of the features of Manly which has been popular with visitors for over a century – The Corso.
In the mid 1800s, Manly was home to Henry Gilbert Smith, a very successful businessman in Sydney. He lived at Firelight, which was built on a huge area near what is today Ocean Beach. While he was living there, he saw the possibility of creating at Manly a seaside resort, which he envisaged calling Ellensville, after his first wife. He built the facilities needed to create such a resort, including cottages, hotels, gardens, baths and, of course, The Corso itself.
The Corso, which may have followed the path of an earlier Aboriginal trackway, was planned in 1854-1855 by Smith himself. The first time it was formally recorded was in 1855, in official plans for the resort. The Corso of the time was very different to what we see today though – a boardwalk across the sand spit between the harbour pier and Ocean Beach. It was named after the Via del Corso in Rome, and was the focal point of Smiths new resort. One of the features of The Corso was a central avenue of trees, the earliest of which were Morton Bay Figs planted by Smith in the 1860s. The Manly council added the now famous Norfolk Pines in the late 1870s.
Over the last two weeks, The Past Present has been focussing on the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, one of Sydney’s best known and most iconic green spaces. As we have discovered, the gardens are 200 years old this year, making them one of the oldest Botanic Gardens in the Southern Hemisphere – older even than the famous Kew Gardens in England. During this time many people have been associated with the gardens, but one of the most well known was Charles Moore.
Charles Moore was born in Scotland in 1820 and grew up to become a very promising botanist. In the mid 1840s the Sydney Botanic Gardens was in need of a new director and his excellent reputation led to two of Moore’s professors, Lindley and Henslow, recommending him as the new director of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Sadly, there was some confusion and two men were appointed to the post, Charles Moore and John Bidwell. Bidwell stepped aside and in 1848 Moore arrived in Sydney and took up his posting. On arrival, Moore found a botanic garden which was badly neglected. He soon set about restoring the gardens, creating a combined scientific institution and recreational reserve – just as the Botanic Gardens continue to be today.
During his tenure, Moore improved and expanded on the gardens and their function. He became an avid collector of plants and seeds, corresponding with other collectors and also mounting his own expeditions, including one in1850 to the New Hebrides, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia. He established new facilities and gardens including a medicinal plant garden, a herbarium, a library and a lecture room where he lectured until 1882. In addition to his career at the Botanic Gardens, Moore served as commissioner for the Paris, Philadelphia and Melbourne Exhibitions, was a member of the Hyde Park Improvement Committee, a trustee of various parks around Sydney, and was even one of the founding trustees of the Royal National Park. He was also instrumental in planning Centennial Park in 1887 and provided the landscaping for the famous Garden Palace which hosted the Sydney International Exhibition. In 1896 Moore was succeeded as director of the Botanic Gardens by J. H. Maiden who was himself a great admirer of Moore. Moore died soon after.
Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens are an iconic green space, a place to relax and retreat from busy city life. This week, The Past Present is again celebrating the history of this beautiful Sydney space, examining the story of the gardens after their accepted Foundation Date of June 13, 1816.
Having been formally established as a parkland, the area were in need of men who could shape and design the gardens themselves. The earliest botanist associated with the gardens was Allan Cunningham who arrived in the colony in 1816, just as the roads of the gardens were completed. He was soon after appointed the ‘Kings Botanist’. Yet it was Charles Fraser, who was formally appointed to the role of Government Colonial Botanist and superintendent of the Botanic Gardens in 1821, who had the most influence. His work on the gardens began in 1817, and by 1820 had established a what was officially described as a ‘botanic garden’ separate from the Governors Kitchen Garden.
The fledgling gardens were, in these early times, very much the domain of the Governor and the ‘respectable classes’. In fact, there were originally punishments in place for those deemed unsuitable who entered the area! It was not until September of 1831 that the Domain area was opened to the general public, though much of the gardens themselves were still reserved for the upper echelons of Sydney society. In December, Fraser died at just 43 years of age. For the next almost two decades many different men acted as superintendent for the gardens, though they usually served for relatively short periods. Some of these men resigned their posts, but several also died while in office. Then, in 1848 Charles Moore, one of the men most famously associated with the gardens, took over the position.
Come back next week to find out about the next era in the Botanic Gardens history
This week, with the Royal Botanic Gardens celebrating their bicentenary over the recent June long weekend, it seemed the perfect time to share an image of the iconic Sydney green space. Over the course of its history, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney have been a popular subject for artists ranging from colonial watercolorists to postcard makers. The image above, which shows the Botanic Gardens in circa 1907, is from a postcard and is just one of the many postcards in the collection which showcase our beautiful Botanic Gardens.
Before European colonists arrived in Australia, the area which includes what is now known as the Royal Botanic Gardens was known as Woccanmagully, and used as an initiation ground by the Cadigal people. When Europeans arrived though, a small farm growing much needed grain for the new colony was established on the site. By 1802, the old Government House (which is now the site of the Museum of Sydney) had a fine garden, which would have included land around what is now the Botanic Garden. Records show the garden contained a mix of exotic and native plants, just as the Botanic Garden does today!
In 1807 Governor Bligh attempted to reclaim the Demesne (or Domain), but it was Governor Macquarie who actually succeeded in doing this in 1810, building walls around the area and removing the remaining buildings. Bligh had also begun to build roads in the Domain area, but these were finished between 1813 and 1816 by Governor Macquarie, and today one of these loops, completed in 1816, is known as Mrs Macquaries Road. Macquarie was informed that the road was complete on June 13, 1816, and this is traditionally seen as the foundation day for our beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens. At 200 years old, they are one of the oldest Botanic Gardens in the Southern Hemisphere, and in fact are older than the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, which opened to the public over 20 years later, in 1841.
Come back next week to find out more about the creation of the Royal Botanic Gardens, one of Sydney’s best beloved green spaces.
This week, The Past Present shares a beautiful, vintage image of one of the delights of Sydney, the Harbour City. Many Sydneysiders will agree that one of the wonderful aspects of a city complete with Harbour and river tributaries is the ferries which ply the waters, offering a special kind of public transport. The image above shows one of the old Lane Cove River ferries, part of a service which continues today.
In the history of early European colonisation, the land along the Lane Cove River was widely used for farming and many orchards were established. Soon after, a thriving river trade was established, with boats used to transport goods to and produce from the properties established along the river. Some of the families, including the Jenkins who established the orchard Millwood in 1852 and whose kitchen still stands in Lane Cove National Park, even had their own steamers and wharves! As time went on, public services on the river were established, with 17 ferries operating on the Lane Cove and Parramatta Rivers between 1885 and 1920.
After 1900, orcharding on the Lane Cove River went into sharp decline for a number of reasons, and river traffic no longer needed to carry produce to the Sydney markets. Yet the river remained an important mode of transport for the local residents, and visitors alike. In 1908 the local residents formed their own ferry company, the Upper Lane Cove Ferry Co, which carried passengers, along with mail, merchandise and even animals! The ferries operated between Killara (in an area known as Fidden’s Wharf) and Figtree. The company operated two boats until 1918, when the service ceased and the ferries were sold to the Swan Family. From this time on, the focus of the service was very much pleasure, with the boats carrying picnickers to the Swan family pleasure grounds, Fairyland.
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.
This week, The Past Present is sharing a postcard image of a place in Sydney which has undergone vast changes over the history of European colonisation – Balmain. The area is one which many Sydneysiders would be familiar with, yet the postcard view above is remarkably different to the Balmain we see today.
Grants in the Balmain area began quite quickly after European colonisation, with the first being given in 1800 to the colonial surgeon, William Balmain, after whom the area is still named today. Yet true settlement of the area was much slower, as Balmain was difficult to access, with no transport to the area. When ferry services began to the area (with Henry Perdriau establishing a steam ferry service in 1842), it became much easier to access the area, and the suburb really began to thrive. At this time, people were reliant on ferries, steamers and other ships for travel, and a thriving community of ship builders soon moved into the area too, bringing not only work, but workers who wished to live near the shipyards. With new families moving to the area, services were needed to support the growing community, and soon enough shops, churches, schools, police services, and even a hospital were established. In 1860, Balmain Council was even opened.
By the 1880s many claimed that Balmain was the leading social suburb in Sydney, complete with clubs such as those catering for rowers and cricketers, and institutes such as the Balmain School Of Arts. Yet it was also this same suburb that was, in the 1880s, increasingly overcrowded and poorly organised. Soon enough the suburb went into decline, businesses and industries closed down and people moved out, being replaced by younger, poorer families. By 1933 nearly 40 percent of workers living in Balmain were actually out of work. It would not be until the 1970s that the gentrification of Balmain began to occur, leading to the affluent and popular foreshore suburb we see today.