Number 37 was built as a merchant house and residence by Thomas Dyer Edwards and Matthew Dysart Hunter who were both in their early twenties at the time. Thomas had been an orphan in the southern English port town of Shoreham, so before his teens he sailed off for a life of adventure as a seaman, but later wrote ‘I took to the sea but the sea did not take to me.’ So he worked briefly on a Jamaican plantation but was dismayed by the colonial life there before heading to China where he hoped to stay, but he was not suited to the climate.
In 1833, slavery was abolished in the British Empire, the East India Company lost its trading monopoly over China, Edwards and Hunter arrived in Sydney from Canton to set up their trading company which soon controlled most of the China trade, and they built this house as their residence and headquarters. Their company which they named Edwards & Hunter, was closely aligned with China trading company Jardine, Matheson and Co., perhaps the most famous trading company in China at the time.
Throughout the 1830s, Edwards & Hunter flourished and new partners joined the firm and lived in Lower Fort Street, mostly in nearby houses. These new partners included Mashfield Mason, William Fane De Salis and John Thacker. By the early 1840s, Edwards had retired and returned with his family to England and Hunter returned to Scotland.
In 1855 the Campbell family purchased number 37. In 1858 it was rented to the Reverend Alexander Salmon who famously built a prefabricated iron church in Macquarie Street; in 1861 it was rented to the merchant Edward Frank; and in 1890 the tenants are wool sorter Philip Lee and newsagent W. B. Lee.
An outbreak of the Plague in 1903 provided a pretext for the government to resume the houses of Lower Fort Street and indeed the whole of Dawes Point, Millers Point and The Rocks. There were plans for new wharves and bond stores to the west of Lower Fort Street and a harbour crossing to the east. Some houses were demolished, flats were built for workers on some of the now-vacant land, and the houses that remained were rented out. Initially number 37 was rented to John Haroldson, and by 1910 to Alfred S. Carpenter.
From soon after the end of World War I number 37 became a ‘residential’ run by a succession of landladies who included Ethel Wilson (1925), Rose Shackel (1936), Florence Ann Dee (1956) and France Barwyck from 1957 to 1975, when it was extensively remodelled for the Royal Australasian College of Radiologists. The Radiologists left in the early 1990s and squatters moved in. The house was almost derelict when the government chose to sell rather than repair it. The current owners purchased it in 2009 and have begun restoration work.
RESTORING 37 LOWER FORT STREET
During 2010–16 restoration has been underway at 37 Lower Fort Street, and it is hoped work will conclude in 2017. Similar work has been undertaken throughout Dawes Point and Millers Point, as new owners repair the heritage houses that were neglected by the government for decades. Described below are a few of the more interesting features of number 37 that have been restored. Other restoration projects in Dawes Point and Millers Point will be added to this site over time, along with further progress at number 37 as it occurs.
The entrance hall at number 37 included two original cedar fanlights. Both had suffered extensive damage, especially to the delicate glazing bars which are only 12mm wide. These are as fine as any made in the 19th century, and restoration was a slow and careful process.
The serpentine staircase on the ground floor had partially collapsed and needed major repairs to its supporting structure. Many of the treads and other details had been replaced with pine and even plywood. The original materials were reinstated and the staircase was put back together following traditional techniques.
Curves are a feature of this house. There are curved walls and doors, and these will be presented following their restoration.
In the basement, bulkheads covered air conditioning ducts, cement render covered half the walls, and a cement topping covered what was hoped were the original flagstones. Removing these recent renovations to the house filled the backyard several times over.
There were flagstones under the cement floor of the basement, but most needed redressing before being reinstated in their original positions. The cement render on the walls was removed, the bulkheads and the ducting were taken out, and the stone walls were repaired before being repointed with soft lime mortar. Now these preliminary works are complete, the rooms are ready to be fitted out.