MILLERS POINT WALKING TOUR – John Dunn
Here is the route of the Walking Tour of The Rocks and Millers Point on Saturday 1 September, and information about people and places along the route. Guiding us along the way are ex-residents Maureen Hansen, Flo Seckold and Myra Demetriou.
Maureen Hansen was a resident of Sirius. Her family lived in The Rocks for five generations. She believes she walked in the shadows of her fifth-generation ancestor, Mary Ann Curry, who was convicted at sixteen for stealing and transported to New South Wales where she later met and married a boatman, former marine David Davis who had fought alongside Nelson.
Flo Seckold: “My father was English, came out here in the Depression years when I was born, or earlier than that I suppose, and he was a seaman. When mum and dad got married he was a coal lumper and that is what you had to be to live in this area in those times, anything associated with the waterfront. Then he joined the Army and went to the war, came back and went back to the waterfront. He died as a result of an accident on the wharves back in 1953.”
Myra Demetriou was the last resident forced to leave Sirius. For three years SOS lights shone from her tenth-floor unit over The Rocks, and more than 2000 people were able to tour Sirius because they were visiting Myra in her apartment. Myra continues to campaign to Save Our Sirius and for social housing in the city.
A MARITIME COMMUNITY
Millers Point is an isolated community. It has been this way since the 1820s when it was home to the Colony’s maritime trade. Throughout the nineteenth century it developed into a lively and chaotic collection of wharves, ship building, repair and maintenance shops, warehouses and bond stores. Millers Point was home to the working harbour and home to traders, sailors, wharf owners, waterside workers and their families.
On this tour visiting Dawes Point, The Rocks and Millers Point visitors will see some of the history and the people who have lived here for the past 200 years and more.
We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and pay respects to their elders. Also we pay our respects to the maritime community that lived here for 200 years, and to those associated with The Rocks Green Bans, which not only saved a community, but also saved this historic precinct, was responsible for building the Sirius apartments, and introduced community input to planning decisions. Many people may have been forced from this area, but their stories and their legacy remain.
If we stood on Dawes Point and travelled back to the 18th century, we might meet William Dawes – astronomer, engineer, botanist, surveyor, explorer and abolitionist who arrived in the Colony aboard Sirius on the First Fleet. Lieutenant Dawes worked in a small observatory on what is now known as Dawes Point, where he established a relationship with fifteen-year-old Patyegarang (Grey Kangaroo) and provided the first record of an Aboriginal language.
79 apartments: 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedrooms, some split level, some for families, others for single pensioners – a mixed community from the start. Common rooms, courtyards, public and private areas. Level access to the central tower and to the upper level apartments left and right from the tower. Unanimously recommended for State Heritage Listing by the Heritage Council. Winner of the Enduring Architecture Award for NSW for 2018. The first Australian building to be included on the World Monuments Watch list. Demolition of Sirius recommended by the NSW Government to give back the skyline to Sydney – is this for people crossing the Bridge? We will return to Sirius soon.
George Cribb operated a butchery and a pub, The Whalers Arms, on the corner of Gloucester Street and Cribbs Lane from 1808. At the other end of Cribbs Lane was Berry’s Bakery, where local families brought their Sunday dinner to be cooked. In 1915, the building that had been Berry’s Bakery was the last to be demolished in this neighbourhood, and an area that had been home to about 200 people was mostly covered in bitumen and left for most of the rest of the century until redeveloped by YHA.
The State Government recently sold the intact four-storey workers flats of Gloucester Street that were built in the early 20th century (see more here). Many of the other old buildings here are facades only, with open-plan offices behind, and Susannah Place is a terrace of four houses built by Irish immigrants in 1844 and now a museum.
Argyle Cut first designed by Edward Hallen in 1834, begun in 1843, completed 1859. Some of the stone excavated was used to build the Church of the Holy Trinity. Overhead bridges were built for Gloucester Street in 1862, Cumberland Street in 1864 and Princes Street in 1868 (and demolished in the 1920s for the Bradfield Highway).
SIRIUS – EASTERN SIDE
In the 1960s, the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority proposed demolishing The Rocks for high-rise office buildings, but the plans were thwarted by the unions and the community. This was the Green Bans Era.
Nita McCrae and Jack Mundey are the two people most responsible for saving The Rocks and Millers Point from destruction in the 1970s. It was Nita McCrae who contacted unions and anyone she thought might lend support to save The Rocks, but no-one responded until she wrote to the Secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation. Jack Mundey replied and together the unions and the community placed a Green Ban on The Rocks and changed forever the way urban design occurs in our city.
There is a plaque on the 1870s terrace where Nita lived. Nita McCrae’s family lived in The Rocks from 1805 until she died in 1995. Last year residents successfully campaigned to have a park named after her. We will get to that later.
What was Nita McCrae like? There was very little trace of her, except in the collective memory of the community. There are a few scraps of information, including a letter she wrote in March 1978 after the National Trust announced it was taking a stand to protect The Rocks:
The National Trust are to be congratulated for speaking out at last.
The Rocks Residents Group, (RRG), formed in 1970, have been going it alone, so to speak. Since our formation, we have been saying many of the same things that appeared in the article. Unfortunately, we do not enjoy the same respectability as the National Trust.
For our efforts to ‘Save The Rocks’ (our motto), members of the group have been given such titles as communists, ratbags, people with vested interests, low rent payers trying to preserve the status quo, trouble-makers and many other paranoid statements.
In 1973 we were literally at war with the Askin government and the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority (SCRA), with green bans, confrontation, arrests … THE LOT. Residents with unblemished characters are now convicted persons because they dared fight to save their heritage and try to save their community which is their heritage.
The National Trust has our respect for classifying the many historical buildings in the area … residents do live in some of them, but the sad part is that SCRA was formed in 1968, and in ten years a lot of damage can be done.
In 1968 the residential population was approximately 200 families, in 1978 less than 70 families, brought about by such processes as eviction, natural deaths and ‘encouragement’ “You would be so much better off, dear, in a Housing Commission unit” – and then their homes are turned into offices, shops and bistros.
The Residents Group have also protested to the present state government in respect to the demolition of the George Street Edwardian Era shops and hotels.
The state cabinet set up a three man inquiry and the cabinet made the decision to demolish these buildings … without any consultation or participation of the local community. We have lodged further protests to the Premier and his ministers, Mr. Jensen and Mr. Landa. We have requested that no further decisions of this type be made without public scrutiny.
No replies yet.
The Director of SCRA, Mr Magee, was quoted as saying that SCRA had consulted with the National Trust and that SCRA had no plans for the buildings listed – it should be clearly spelled out SCRA have NO PLANS for anything except to demolish.
For the past 6–9 months that is all the RRG have been told, “We intend to demolish”; we have lodged our protests to the Premier and his ministers, to protest to SCRA is like belting your head against a brick wall… “We are the experts, dear, you’re wrong.”
Since its formation SCRA have borrowed $44 million, more than enough to buy back the few freehold properties and rehabilitate the whole East and West Rocks Area – this is Public Property; the $44 million is Public Money a but the Public have NO SAY.
So, Royal Naval House is to be saved. Where are the sailors who stayed at John… Where are the police from the vacant George Street station? We could use them to control the pub crawlers on Friday and Saturday nights. And what about the Sydney Sailors Home, founded in 1863? SCRA, by law, resumed the building for $1.3 million. The 40 residents of the Home have received their marching orders from the Sydney Sailors Home Council – although some are old and in ill health – but I suppose they could be carried out.
What are SCRA plans for the site? To demolish? What are the Sydney Sailors Home Council plans for the 1.3 million dollars? Who knows?
In 1972 the Residents Group, with voluntary academic assistance, prepared a ‘People’s Plan’ for The Rocks. It simply said: leave it alone; restore, retain and rebuild on the vacant sites.
The state government should call a Public Inquiry and not a three-man inquiry that makes secret decisions to demolish history.
I was always taught ‘It’s never too late’.
Nita McCrae, Chairperson, RRG, letter to Sydney Morning Herald (unpublished).
Across the road from Dawes Point is Milton Terrace, which was a boarding house in the 1930s when a young Flo Seckold lived there with her parents, but the history of Milton Terrace stretches back more than a century earlier.
In the 1820s William Walker constructed a wharf on the western side of Dawes Point, and a villa on the slopes above, where Milton Terrace now stands.
“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.”
“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.” (Isabel Silva)
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the government took over the private wharves of Millers Point to embark on a rebuilding program to create some of the most modern and efficient wharves anywhere in the world. At the same time, larger warehouses were needed to cope with the demands of the wool trade, and a harbour crossing was planned (and realised more than thirty years later when the Harbour Bridge was opened). An outbreak of the Plague provided an opportunity. The government declared that it had to clean up the area and resumed every house, shop, warehouse and wharf in Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks. Whole streets were demolished. New government-owned finger wharves were erected along the waterfront from Cockle Bay to Dawes Point. Rows of modern terrace houses and flats were built for maritime workers, and the grand old houses of Millers Point and Dawes Point were converted into ‘residentials’.
21–43 LOWER FORT STREET
Durham Cottage, the home of Captain John Nicholson once stood in the yards of 17–19 Lower Fort Street. Some foundations remain, along with the stone entrance path and a pair of cottages built in 1832 on the corner of his land (now 21–23 Lower Fort Street). In 1840, these two cottages on the corner of Nicholson’s allotment sold to John Foster Church and the remainder of his allotment, including Durham Cottage was sold to William Walker, later to become part of the site of Milton Terrace.
The next houses to be built on Fort Street were divided by a lane from Nicholson’s cottages. In early 1833, 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, and he was recorded as the owner when these properties were resumed in 1900.
The next allotment to the south was offered for sale in June 1833…
Number 37 Lower Fort Street was part of this allotment. Documents indicate number 37 was built in late 1833 for Thomas Dyer Edwards and Matthew Dysart Hunter, two young merchants in partnership and recently arrived from China.
It seems Edwards and Hunter were responsible for building the houses on number 37 and number 35, and both houses were designed by Edward Hallen (who also designed Argyle Cut, Lindesay at Darling Point and Sydney Grammar). In March 1834, Edwards and 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.
Thomas Dyer Edwards began life in Shoreham on the southern coast of England. He was orphaned at the age of 12 after which he wrote, “I took to the sea, but the sea did not take to me.” He travelled to America, then to work on a sugar plantation in Jamaica during the worst days of slavery, thence to China in 1827 at the age of eighteen to work for a company that became Jardine & Matheson, a company still amongst the 200 largest publicly traded companies in the world, its early years fictionalised in Taipan (in which Dirk Struan is loosely based on William Jardine while Robb Struan is loosely based on James Matheson).
Thomas Dyer Edwards visited Australia during 1827–31.
Jardine & Matheson was established in mid-1832 and an announcement appeared in the Sydney Gazette on 3 January 1833 immediately above a notice by Thomas D. Edwards that he had formed a partnership with Matthew Dysart Hunter. William Jardine had recommended Edwards form a partnership. When Edwards and Hunter arrived in the Colony on board Jardine & Matheson’s ship, the Agnes, they sold it and its cargo for a good profit, establishing a trading relationship that would see them control most of the trade with China for the next decade.
Thomas Dyer Edwards history continues, including being shipwrecked on the Clonmel and his return to England, then his son was on the Titanic and granddaughter the Countess Noelle famously rowed a group of survivors from the Titanic.
DEATH OF AN OLD COLONIST.
Sydney Morning Herald 3 March 1885
On the 5th of January last, at his residence, Kensington, London, passed away, in his 77th year. Thomas Dyer Edwardes, once merchant in Sydney, in partnership with Matthew Dysert Hunter, who predeceased him. The subject of this notice afforded an example of the rewards which patient industry often achieves for its possessors. Mr. Edwardes, left an orphan at an early age, quitted his native town, Shoreham, in Sussex, when only 13, and went to the West Indies, intending to follow the sea, but abandoning this intention, proceeded in 1827 to China, where he entered the house of Jardine, Matheson, and Co., in whose service ho remained till 1832. In the course of this employment he visited Sydney in 1829, to open an agency, which done he returned to China, revisiting Sydney in 1833 with Mr. Hunter. The house then established, continued under various changes of style arising from retirements and death, in the names of Edwardes and Hunter, M.D. Hunter and Co., John Thacker and Co., Thacker, Daniell, and Co., Daniell, King, and Co., now George King and Co., to hold prominent position in the mercantile ranks. On his retirement from the firm of Edwardes and Hunter, Mr. Edwardes went to England and became one of the founders ot the London Chartered Bank of Australia, taking large interest also in the Australian Agricultural Company, and in various other Australian land companies, and in the National Bank of Ireland. Devoting his latter years to philanthropy and art, he enriched many hospitals and charities, notably the Chelsea Hospital for Women; and the South Kensington Museum had the free use of many of his art treasures; nor did our old fellow-colonist forget the land where his wealth’s foundation was laid, giving the site of St. Mary’s Church, Waverley, and parsonage, and contributing to beautify the interior of the church. Mr. Edwardes revisited Australia in 1844, and again in 1873, to superintend the realisation of his Melbourne property, since which time he resided in Europe. The liberalities of Mr. Edwardes, public und private, still admitted of his leaving a fortune of £230,000 among his children. Mr. Edwardes remains were interred in Broadwater Churchyard, near Worthing, beside those of his wife, who predeceased him in 1851.
It appears most likely that Edward Hallen designed 35 and 37 Lower Fort Street according to documentary and physical evidence.
John Verge designed the pair of townhouses 39–41 LFS. Greatly altered.
43 LFS Clydebank or Bligh House? Formerly the Caroline Simpson Museum.
57–61 LOWER FORT STREET
Flo Seckhold joins our story once more. Flo was born in Millers Point 84 years ago. At first she lived with her parents in one of the “residentials” in Milton Terrace. When she was about five, her family moved into rooms in 57 Lower Fort Street, about the time Charles Walton took this photo…
The family moved to Cambridge Street when she was a teenager, and when her mother was older, she moved into Sirius, where Flo took a hot meal to her every night.
Flo met her future husband Teddy when they both worked at Bushells, and when Jack Mundey was carried off by the police in the 1970s, Teddy was one of the first arrested.
Towards the end of the twentieth century, waterside activity moved to Botany Bay and Maritime NSW transferred ownership of its buildings to Housing NSW. The community had a new landlord, but Housing’s stewardship of Millers Point has not been good, and it has looked after neither the buildings nor the community of Millers Point.
The Gadigal people were the first to be pushed out of this area almost 200 years ago. Next to be forced from their homes were many residents of Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks following the resumptions of 1900. More were forced out during the 1970s Green Ban Era. More again when the government wanted to evict residents in the late 1980s. In 2014, the government was yet again forcing people from their homes in Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks.
The terrace at 57–61 Lower Fort Street was built by the Flavelle brothers (John & Henry) in 1855. No 57 was the largest of the three houses, with its rear stable block, coach house and Ionic portico, and was the new home of John’s family. The other two houses were advertised to let.
“TO BE LET Two of these newly erected handsome family residences, in Lower Fort Street, adjoining Mr Campbell’s garden. Each house contains seven rooms, spacious entrance-hall, servant’s room, kitchen, wash house, verandahs at rear to parlours and drawing rooms, commanding extensive views of the Harbour and North Shore, large yard, &c., water laid on. They are finished in the best and most modern style, and fit for immediate occupation by respectable families. For terms, &c. Apply to FLAVELLE BROTHERS, 203 George Street.” (information from John Bulford)
Across the road are the Workmen’s Flats are an integral part of the early 20th-century redevelopment of the waterfront in this area, that is still largely intact. Such an integrated development of workers’ housing, wharves and stores from the early 20th century appears to survive here and nowhere else in the world. Since this development overlaid an existing maritime development, but did not entirely erase it, Millers Point became a place where both the community and buildings were able to tell the stories that explain how our city developed from its beginnings until now. These flats, many others in the area, the wharves of Walsh Bay and thousands of other civic buildings around the state were designed under the direction of Walter Liberty Vernon, the Government Architect, who fostered high quality design and innovation, and was one of a handful of architects who introduced an Arts and Crafts style to New South Wales.
In the 1830s Ferry Lane ran down to a wharf from which Billy Blue ferried people to the north shore. Billy Blue was a black Jamaican sailor, transported from London for stealing sugar, released in 1803 and living in The Rocks in 1805. He married Elizabeth Williams and they had six children. Governor Macquarie appointed him harbour watchman in 1811 and granted him 80 acres of land on the north shore in 1817. This became known as Blues Point. Billy’s fleet of ferries grew so large that Macquarie said in jest he should be called commodore and thereafter he was known as the Old Commodore. Billy Blue was a familiar figure on the harbour in his top hat and coat. He died in 1834.
A photo taken at the corner of Windmill Street and Ferry Lane at the turn of last century shows a group of people who would not imagine the transformation about to overtake them. The houses to the left survived government plans for Millers Point, but few other houses in Windmill Street or elsewhere in this area were left standing.
Ferry Lane was the location in 1900 of the first diagnosed case of the Plague. It was unlikely the disease was transmitted in the houses of Millers Point, and during the outbreak only three cases were diagnosed in the area, but this was a convenient opportunity for the government to resume the properties of 1000 residents, to label many homes as slums, move people out and demolish houses to make way for high-density workers tenements and wool stores along with the redevelopment of the wharves that were in need of renewal.
During the decades that followed, Millers Point was transformed but its maritime ties remained strong and it became what some have described as a ‘company town’ where not only did everyone work locally on the wharves or in industries associated with maritime industries, their homes, shops and hotels were owned by Sydney Harbour Trust, later to become the MSB and known as ‘the Maritime’.
The Village Green is “an excellent example of early civic park planning with its enclosure formed by buildings and natural land forms. It contains major remnants of Victorian street furniture. The Park forms part of Argyle square area which is significant as the core of the Millers Point precinct. The unique form of the central park flanked by early houses and the church, the Argyle cut and the landscape of Observatory Hill provide one of the iconic heritage sites in the city.” (Heritage listing – NSW Government)
The Church of the Holy Trinity faces one side of the Village Green. It was built in part from stone quarried from the Argyle Cut. The Church of the Holy Trinity is commonly known as the Garrison Church, and it has always had a close connection to the military since it was constructed in the 1840s. Myra Demetriou ran the Historical and Military Museum for 30 years and she lived with her family in Trinity Avenue before moving to Sirius. She still attends church here every Sunday.
The second side facing the Village Green is Observatory Hill, beneath it was the Coal Lumpers Hall, and opposite are early houses dating from the 1820s to the 1840s, and some Victorian houses dating from the 1880s.
Grimes Cottage at number 50 was built in 1830–31 by Australian born whaling captain, Captain George Grimes, who married Mary Underwood in 1834. During the next 20 years they had ten children, and George was responsible for building five adjoining houses (52–60 Argyle Place) between 1842 and 1846. One was the home of John Fairfax.
An early sketch shows two houses fronting what would become Argyle Place – Grimes Cottage, and beside it a house of three stories and attic, described in an 1826 advertisement as “a very commodious and newly finished HOUSE, situated in Darling Harbour, and fronting the Road leading from the Miller’s Point to Dawes’ Battery.” This house was built by Thomas Newman who lived next door in another house built below the road level. The lower house is just visible in the sketch and mentioned at the end of the advertisement below. There were other buildings on this site, including the Newman bakery.
Sydney Gazette,13 December 1826
In the 1880s the Newman house below the road level became the site of Wentworth Terrace (36–44 Argyle Place). Michel Reymond has produced an extraordinary timeline for Argyle Place. (Link to the timeline here.) It notes the Cole Buildings, a terrace of five homes, was built for publican William Cole along 24–32 Argyle Place. At number 34 Osborne House was built for Cole and his family.
Coles Buildings and other property in Argyle Place were owned and inhabited by three generations of the Merriman family between the 1860s and 1880s, and they were responsible for constructing Wentworth Terrace and modernising the Georgian terrace 52–60 Argyle Place, adding fashionable Victorian two-storey verandahs and single-pane sash windows. Only number 60 in this terrace was not owned by them and consequently retained its original form.
The following is part of the summary prepared by M B Reymond as appendices to his ‘Brief History of 44 Argyle Place, Millers Point’ which is soon to be published in the Millers Point Community Newsletter.
Argyle Place, Millers Point
24-34 Argyle Place, date c1846-47
36-44 Argyle Place, date 1886
46-48 Argyle Place, date 1825-26
50 Argyle Place, date c1832-33
52, 54, 56 Argyle Place, date c1841-42
58, 60 Argyle Place, date c1845-47
62, 64 Argyle Place, date c1866
Nos. 24-34, c1845-47
A group of six two-storey townhouses built for William Cole; for their position see Plans “D”, “E”, “F” and “G”, completed between 1846 and early 1847, attributed to the architect John Stafford. The date is determined from Sydney City Council Rate Assessments Books for 1845 and 1848 where William Cole is listed in 1848 as the owner of seven stone houses (including no. 22) in Argyle Street (Place), whereas in 1845 he is recorded as the owner of a stone (no. 22) and wood building, and advertisement by Cole in Sydney Morning Herald 29 March 1847.
Nos. 36-44, 1886
A group of five three-storey terraces built in 1886 for Ann Merriman wife of James Merriman, see her probated will dated 28 June 1886 which refers to these terraces in the course of construction as at the date of her will. The site of these terraces is edged green on Plan “K”.
Nos. 46-48, 1825-1826
A free-standing two-storey house originally built as a single dwelling and subsequently converted/divided into 2 separate dwellings post-1900.
50, 52-60 Argyle Place, Millers Point
50 Argyle Place
Originally known as “Grimes Cottage”, this single-storey dwelling was built for George Grimes, a seafaring captain between 1832-33.
52-60 Argyle Place
George Grimes built this group of terraces originally known as Grimes Buildings, and after his death as “Trinity Place” and later as “Undercliff Terrace”.