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.

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.

Pyrmont Bridge

Pyrmont Bridge Open Sydney Front

The image above is a stunning view of an famous part of Sydney’s history. Pyrmont Bridge is well known to Sydneysiders and visitors alike, being at the heart of Darling Harbour and its famous tourist district. Yet the view above is also a view which many will never have seen – the amazing bridge open, and viewed from the water.

Pyrmont Bridge is an amazing structure, and today has the honour of being one of the worlds oldest electrically operated swing bridges, having been built in 1902. Yet the bridge we see today is not the original bridge at all. Pyrmont Bridge has, since the mid 1800s, provided a vital transport link between the city itself and the growing western suburbs. Yet the bridge spanned Darling Harbour, which was then an important working harbour, with many wharves and warehouses. Tall ships needed to be able to enter the harbour and so the bridge needed to be designed in such a way that it opened to allow these ships to access the wharves. A wooden swing bridge was the answer and the first Pyrmont Bridge opened in 1857.

Then, in the late 1800s, it was decided a new bridge was needed. In 1891 a competition was held to design the new bridge, but the winning entry would never be built. It was a design for a bridge built entirely of metal and deemed to be far to expensive to actually construct. Instead, the design by Robert Hickson, the Commissioner and Engineer in Chief of the Department for Public Works, was chosen. His bridge was built mainly of timber, with just a the central swing span being metal. Construction on the new bridge began in 1899 and the beautiful swing bridge we see today was opened in 1902.

As the 1900s wore on, the type of ship bringing goods and visitors to Sydney changed, and the larger container ships no longer used the Cockle Bay end of Darling Harbour. By 1981 the Pyrmont Bridge was no longer in use, falling into disrepair and in danger of being demolished. Thanks to a public campaign though, the bridge was saved and restored as part of the redevelopment of Darling Harbour. The bridge, and Darling Harbour itself were reopened in 1988.

South Head And The Hornby Lighthouse

South Head Sydney with lighthouse front

The image above is a stunning glimpse across the water and towards South Head and its cheerfully painted lighthouse, a place which holds an important place in the history of Sydney, and the colony of NSW. Yet for many Sydneysiders, the lighthouse is simply a picturesque attraction.

The Hornby Lighthouse at South Head was constructed in 1858, but the story of the lighthouse itself begins a year earlier. In 1857, two ship wrecks caused a tragic loss of life for people travelling to Sydney Harbour. The first wreck, that of the Dunbar, occurred in August just off South Head and resulted in the loss of over 100 lives. Then, just two months later, the Catherine Adamson was lost, this time off North Head, resulting in the loss of twenty one lives. The public recognised that the entrance to Sydney Harbour, although seemingly a good, broad entrance, was a dangerous one. Ships could easily miss it, or mistake other rock formations as the entrance, resulting in terrible loss of life. Thus the public quickly began to agitate for a lighthouse which would denote the actual entrance to the harbour, eliminating a great deal of the danger involved in sailing to Sydney.

The Hornby Lighthouse is quite a small lighthouse, built on the extreme point of Inner South Head. It was constructed in 1858 and opened by Sir William Denison, the then Governor of NSW and named after the family of his wife, the Hornby Family. The light was usually known by the alternative name though, the Lower Light, which was used to distinguish it from the Macquarie Lighthouse, which was not far away along South Head Road. The Hornby lighthouse, which has long been recognised by its cheerful red and white painted exterior was designed by the Colonel architect, Alexander Dawson, and is actually built of beautifully dressed, curved sandstone blocks. The light itself stands 9 metres above the ground level.

Sirius Cove – Part 1

The image above is a beautiful, peaceful glimpse into the history of one of Australia’s significant cultural sites. Sirius Cove, and the nearby Little Sirius Cove, are significant areas to Sydney’s history, and the greater history of Australia in general. Yet so many who visit the area have no idea of the extent of history contained in these beautiful foreshore areas.

Before European colonisation of Australia, the protected and beautiful foreshore areas of Sirius Cove and Little Sirius Cove were the traditional lands of the Borogegal People. The most famous of these Borogegal People was Bungaree, who grew up in the traditional lands of his people and would have been very familiar with Sirius Cove.

Yet it wasn’t long after European colonisation that European history began to be linked to the beautiful Sirius Cove. In fact, the name of the cove itself reflects its first role in European history. In 1789, just a year after European colonisation, HMS Sirius was careened at Sirius Cove. Sirius Cove was perfect for careening (or learning away barnacles etc from the ships hull) as it was a convenient cove, and relatively sheltered. The ship, which was the flagship of the First Fleet, was wrecked less than six months later.

Of course, the most famous episode in the history of Sirius Cove is the artists camp which was established in 1890 at Little Sirius Cove. Come back next week to find out about the history of Curlew Camp.

The Spit Middle Harbour

The Spit Middle Harbour Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse into the history of place which many Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike will be familiar with – The Spit in Middle Harbour. Today, The Spit is often associated with traffic jams and frustration, yet the crossing over Middle Harbour may once have been slower still, when ferries plied the route, instead of a bridge.

The area around The Spit, which was itself originally known as the Sand-Spit, was first settled in 1846, when John Burton purchased 30 acres at Seaforth. Peter Ellery soon followed when in 1849 he began to farm land also in the Seaforth area, opposite The Spit itself. He formally purchased the land in 1855. Often people would request Ellery to take them across Middle Harbour and so in the early 1850s, he began a ferry service, using a row boat. In 1862 though, a road to The Spit was built, and more passengers for his ferry began to arrive. Soon he changed to using a hand operated punt.

In 1871 though, the government of the day took over the ferry service, introducing a steam punt which was operated and manned by Public Works Department employees. These employees were vital to the crossing of the harbour, and to ensure that they were close by, stone cottages were constructed on the Mosman side of the Spit (the direction from which the postcard above is looking) and given to the employees and their families. It appears that you can see two of these cottages in the left foreground of the postcard. The ferry service continued to be the only crossing of Middle Harbour until the first Spit Bridge was opened in 1824.