LOWER FORT STREET – John Dunn
In the early years of the Colony, Millers Point was isolated from the settlement that had grown up around the Tank Stream. Dotted along the shores of Millers Point and Dawes Point were marine villas that faced out towards the harbour, and a track ran along the ridge line from Dawes Point to Millers Point. From this track, paths ran down to these villas and a few smaller cottages.
By the 1840s the track from Dawes Point towards Fort Phillip had become Fort Street, the street that runs down the middle of Joseph Fowles’ 1840s watercolour. The Fort Street that Fowles shows us is wide and well maintained. Fowles includes details such as a contingent of redcoats marching down the street, and the 20-foot wide sandstone footpath fronting the allotments of Edwards & Hunter and George Morris. In barely a decade a track had been transformed into a fine street lined with substantial homes.
The first houses built close to the street alignment were a pair of cottages on a corner of the block on which Captain Nicholson had built Durham Cottage to face the harbour. Across a laneway and within a year, on almost the same alignment four terrace houses had been erected for publican George Morris, and China traders Edwards & Hunter were building Dawesleigh and Custom House. A couple of years later, John Verge would design a pair of townhouses on the remaining street frontage of their allotment.
On this page are histories of these and other houses in Lower Fort Street, with links to longer stories about some of the houses which have been written by local residents and others interested in this area. More links are planned to be added over time.
Above is an 1834 plan of part of Fort Street. In the centre and close to the alignment of Fort Street are Nicholson’s pair of cottages, flanked by the path that led down to Durham Cottage on one side, and the roadway down to Pitman’s Wharf on the other. Beside the roadway is Morris’s terrace, and next are the two houses built by Edwards & Hunter.
1–19 LOWER FORT STREET
Milton Terrace (1–19 Lower Fort Street) was considered by many to be the finest terrace in Sydney when it was completed in the late in the 19th century. During the 20th century, it was turned into ‘residentials’ that were home to maritime workers and their families. It was well maintained by the government and the residents until its transfer from Maritime Services to Housing NSW, after which it was severely neglected by the government and fell into disrepair (except for some of its tenants who looked after the interiors). Between 2014 and 2016 the tenants were displaced and the individual houses sold. Between 2016 and 2019 each of the houses in Milton Terrace has been undergoing extensive restoration and renovation under the guidance of its new owners who are embracing the history of this extraordinary terrace. There is more to this history than most people realise.
Milton Terrace was the site of an earlier house, built for William Walker in the 1820s. This was when William Walker constructed a wharf at Dawes Point and a villa on the slopes above. Isabel Silva, now a resident of Milton Terrace, describes how Walker’s Villa survived and how it was transformed into Milton Terrace.
Walker’s Villa (now numbers 7–9 Lower Fort Street) and the harbour beyond are shown in the watercolour above.
21–41 LOWER FORT STREET
After Walker’s Villa, the next oldest surviving residences are the pair of cottages at numbers 21–23 Lower Fort Street, built in 1832 in a corner of the site of Durham Cottage, the home of Captain John Nicholson. (Durham Cottage stood in the yards of 17–19 Lower Fort Street and faced out to the harbour.) Captain Nicholson had been a whaling captain, Governor Macquarie’s Harbour Master and father to eleven children. Only the foundations of Nicholson’s home remain, along with the stone entrance path between the surviving pair of cottages and Milton Terrace. The cottages survived when in 1840 they were subdivided from the remainder of Nicholson’s allotment. The cottages sold to John Foster Church. Durham Cottage sold to William Walker, soon to be demolished to build Milton Terrace.
In early 1833, the next houses built on Fort Street appeared across the lane from Nicholson’s cottages. Publican George Morris purchased this allotment and built a terrace of four houses (now 25–33 Lower Fort Street), and with his family moved into the largest house at the northern end. Within a decade this house was divided in two and the smaller half became the counting house for the merchants Thacker, Mason and Co. Later, the terrace group became known as Linsley Terrace, named after John Richard Linsley who resided there from 1869. Linsley added the Victorian verandahs at the front and the back of this terrace, and was still recorded as the owner when these properties were resumed in 1900.
The next allotment to the south was offered for sale in June 1833…
Timothy Goodwin Pitman had been an American merchant trader associated with the Sturgis family of Boston. He arrived in the Colony in the 1820s, married, built a wharf and stores below Fort Street, developed a thriving business and was the first person in the Colony to be naturalised, but both he and his wife died young of consumption.
Thomas Dyer Edwards was 22 years old and working for the famous China trader William Jardine when he sailed from Canton to Sydney in 1829. The same year he returned to China, but with the backing of the newly formed company Jardine Matheson and Co., Edwards landed again in Sydney on 3 January 1833 with his partner Matthew Dysart Hunter. Together they acquired Pitman’s Wharf and took control of the China trade for the next decade and more. Above Pitman’s Wharf on Fort Street, they purchased the land on which the houses at 35–41 Lower Fort Street were built. In 1833 they commissioned Edward Hallen to design their own merchant house at number 37 (completed 1833) and Custom House at number 35 (completed 1834 and now known as Major House). Edward Hallen also designed Argyle Cut, Lindesay at Darling Point and Sydney Grammar School. In March 1834, Edwards & Hunter sold number 35 to Thomas Jeffrey. A party wall described in Morris’s land grant in 1834 indicates number 35 had been constructed by this date, and in 1835 Thomas Jeffery was listed as living at Custom House, Fort Street.
In the 1905 photo below, number 43 is on the left, next is the pair of John Verge designed townhouses built 1834–36 at 39–41 Lower Fort Street, then the two houses designed by Edward Hallen in 1833 for Edwards & Hunter.
43–61 LOWER FORT STREET
The 1834 map of Lower Fort Street shows the original Clyde Bank, built for Robert Crawford in 1825 and demolished 1865. The property changed hands several times before it was purchased by Captain Joseph Moore who built Bligh House.
Palermo Terrace (47–53 Lower Fort Street) was built as investment property in 1885 for Caroline and Joseph Nelson. The individual houses were later named Wallan-Billan, Irene, Wendovir and Indarra. Caroline Nelson and her son Joseph continued to own Palermo Terrace until it was resumed by the government in 1903. They lived next door at number 43 Lower Fort Street, then known as Bligh House.
The terrace at 57–61 Lower Fort Street was built in 1851 in the style of a London terrace for the Flavelle Brothers. Its history is described here by John Bulford, and at the bottom of John’s story are photos of the Flavelle Terrace during restoration.
EASTERN SIDE OF LOWER FORT STREET
Almost every building on the eastern side of Lower Fort Street was demolished after 1900. This side of the street is now dominated by the Workers Flats designed by Government Architect Walter Vernon (above) and the houses below.
LOWER FORT STREET 1961
Below are photos along the western side of Lower Fort Street in 1961. The first photo shows numbers 57–61 Lower Fort Street, then number 55, then 47–53.
Click on each photo in turn to imagine walking down the street at a time when people left their windows and doors open and had well-tended gardens. Click on the photo of numbers 37 and 35 or here to see photos and stories of the author’s home during restoration. Similar photos and stories of heritage restorations of other houses in the street will be added to this site as they become available.
Below are the five surviving Old Colonial Regency style houses of Lower Fort Street – Bligh House (number 43), the John Verge townhouses (number 39–41), Dawesleigh (number 37) and Major House (number 35).
Below are the surviving but modified Georgian style houses of Lower Fort Street – Morris’s terrace, 25–33 Lower Fort Street (left), the pair of cottages built on the corner of Nicholson’s allotment, 21–23 Lower Fort Street (centre), and Milton Terrace, 1–19 Lower Fort Street (right).
LOWER FORT STREET 2014