“Milton Terrace”, 1–19 Lower Fort Street, Dawes Point, is a significant row of ten terraces built between 1879 and 1880 in the Victorian Classical Style. But within the walls of numbers 7 and 9 Lower Fort Street there exists a rare surviving 1820s gentleman’s villa. It is the only 1820s Colonial townhouse of its form and date still surviving in inner Sydney and was originally built for William Walker (1787–1854), a Scottish merchant involved in coastal shipping, South Sea whaling and the trade of Merino wool from his wharf at the rear of this property (later to become Pier 1 in Walsh Bay). He was also one of the first directors of the Bank of New South Wales. The construction of the Walker house with its clear visibility to and from the main commercial centre of Sydney Cove clearly demonstrates William Walker’s importance in the life of early commercial and colonial Sydney.
Although William Walker was the original owner and occupant, the Walker Villa was occupied be various individuals prior to it being subsumed within Milton Terrace. These include:
- Captain Jospeph Moore in the late 1820s
- James Hartwell Williams, first consul for the USA to the Colony, from 1858 to 1864
- single gentlemen during its time as a boarding house managed by Mrs Eliza Farley mid-1860s
- James Devlin, produce and wool auctioneer, in 1871 till the time it was redeveloped into what is now “Milton Terrace”.
By the late 1870s the foreshore land of the Millers Point area was being used for warehousing so the redevelopment of the Walker Villa into such grand Victorian terraces is unusual. The terraces were built in two stages, the first in 1879 to the south, adding numbers 11, 13, 15, 17 and 19 Lower Fort Street, and then in 1880 to the north adding numbers 5, 3 and 1. There is specualtion that Donald Lanarch, William Walker’s son-in-law, built the terraces to accommodate the gentry that would visit the International Exhibition in Sydney in 1879. This exhibition had its main focus on the Garden Palace built in the Royal Botanical Gardens which was perfectly visible from the upper floors of the terraces. Although the true raison d’étre of Milton Terrace is unable to be confirmed it is certainly known that the Italian composer Paolo Giorza, the Exhibition’s director of music, lived in Milton Terrace (number 15) during his visit to Sydney. Another tenant of note in Milton Terrace during this early period was George L. Goodman, the manager of the Theatre Royal (number 1). By 1887 the terraces were gradually becoming boarding houses which was reflective of the broader changes happening in the Millers Point precinct. By late 1900 Milton Terrace was under public ownership and thus cemented its role as boarding houses.
Isabel and her family are restoring and living in Milton Terrace in what was part of Walker’s original villa.
above top – photo c.1900 from City of Sydney Archives
above – watercolour 1873 from State Library of NSW
below – Dove’s 1880 Plan of Sydney (before construction of numbers 1, 3 and 5) from City of Sydney Historical Atlas of Sydney (click on map to enlarge)