1840s watercolour of Millers Point

Joseph Fowles, 1840s watercolour of Millers Point in the State Library of NSW

Millers Point is elevated, especially as you move towards the west of it, and the first windmill I think was actually put on Observatory Hill, it wasn’t called Observatory Hill then it was called Windmill Hill. Jack Leyton was given a land grant to the west of Millers Point, the western part of what we now call Millers Point, land in fact that has been levelled and turned into wharves now. He had, I think three mills, those old wooden mills with the huge sails, so it became known as Millers Point and everybody knew that the miller was Jack. In 1826 I think it was he climbed up to adjust the sails on one of the windmills on a stormy night, but I think he’d had a little bit too much to drink and fell to his death. Not unusual in the early days of the colony, I think, a lot of people coped with a fairly harsh life by turning to the bottle.

Shirley Fitzgerald, interviewed in 2005 for The Millers Point Oral History Project


Joseph Fowles, 1840s watercolour of Millers Point in the State Library of NSW

This view from Observatory Hill has changed a lot in 170 years. The buildings and land on the right-hand side of the picture have disappeared beneath the approaches to the Harbour Bridge. Lower Fort Street, seen here from the corner of Windmill Street to Dawes Point at the centre of the picture, survives along with most of the buildings in picture. At the time there were warehouses and wharves behind the buildings on the left-hand side of Lower Fort Street, but these also disappeared early last century to make way for the Walsh Bay wharves and stores. Marching down Lower Fort Street as they did every day for most of the 19th century, were the Redcoats who attended the Holy Trinity Church when it was built a few years later on the grassy land in the centre of this image. They provided the informal name by which this church is still commonly known, The Garrison Church.

By the 1840s, Millers Point had developed into a substantial community which was separated from the settlement that had grown up around the Tank Stream. Millers Point was not physically connected until the construction of the Argyle Cut, which began in 1843 and was not completed until 1859, and even after then, residents continued to feel they were not entirely part of Sydney. The long physical separation amplified the social separation of Millers Point. The people of Millers Point were a maritime community in which rich and poor mixed more than elsewhere in Sydney. Wharf owners and traders lived and worked beside those who worked on the wharves and bond stores, as well as those who arrived and left on ships.

The fortunes of Millers Point and Dawes Point fluctuated more than elsewhere in Sydney. Mostly prosperous in its early years, the area was less desirable by the 1890s, and in 1900 there was a catastrophic event that led to a complete reshaping of Millers Point.

In 1845 a general survey of the City was completed – “minutely and accurately taken” in order to facilitate the reforming and repairing of streets. It shows streets, names of public places, and the locations and footprints of buildings. Prominent buildings are also named. A colour legend distinguishes public and private buildings, and the construction materials used. Click on the map to enlarge, or download Shield’s Map of Sydney from the Historical Atlas of Sydney which is maintained by the City of Sydney.