Sydney Snippets – Some Historic Facts About Sydney You Might Not Know!

Cities are mysterious places, full of hidden secrets, concealed niches, rickety alleyways full of history and forgotten people and events. No matter how long you live in a city for, you will never know all its secrets, all its snippets of fascinating history.

These are some fascinating snippets about Sydney that I discovered and compiled some time back, intending to use them in a story that never happened. A couple of things I knew, most I didn’t. Hope you are as intrigued by these as I was.

Circular Quay:

•The Tank Stream ran from what were the marshes of Hyde Park, between Market and Park Streets. It followed a course roughly parallel to Pitt Street.

•A wooden bridge was originally built across the stream at the current Bridge Street. A stone bridge replaced it 15 years later.

•It got its name from 3 ‘tanks’ that were hacked into it.

•In 1795, an order was issued forbidding pollution by washing, cleaning and emptying chamber pots into it, as the stream was becoming so polluted it was almost unusable.

•Sydney’s alternate water supply from the Lachlan Swamp Scheme in Centennial Park was completed in 1867.

•By 1860, the Tank Stream stretch from Hunter to Bridge Streets was filled in, and pipes were used to carry the stream underground. It was forgotten about until torrential rain caused basements in Pitt Street to float.

•Originally, only Pitt Street ran right down to Circular Quay. Phillip, Elizabeth and Castlereagh never made it due to the costs involved.

•There was a half-penny toll to use a footbridge that ran over the mud flats of Circular Quay to George Street. When Circular Quay was completed in 1855 (the last of the convict-built enterprises), it totally buried the Tank Stream.

•Point Piper was named after a former Captain in the NSW Corp called John Piper. It was originally called Eliza Point. John Piper built Henrietta Villa.

•First Customs House was completed in 1845, and was a simple, somber two storey structure. The current classic – Revival style building, incorporating the original building, was built in 1885. Other additions were made in 1916-1917.

•The Water Police Court was built in 1853. Designed by Edmund Blackett. An extension was added at the rear in 1885 by Colonial Architect James Barnet. This is now the Justice and Police Museum.

•The Mariners Church was built in The Rocks in 1856, and has a pulpit shaped like the prow of a ship.


•The Rocks originally covered the slopes to the West of Sydney Cove. Those lower down were inundated with sewerage from those higher up. They dug trenches around their homes to prevent it running through them, but this just caused a build-up, which would fester in the heat and humidity.

•The Argyle Cut was originally started by convicts in 1843, but was finished by free labour 16 years later.

•The Chinese had a colony in Lower George Street in the 1870’s, but due to local resentment, moved to the Campbell Street Market area.

•Princes Street, The Rocks main thoroughfare, disappeared in 1926 when the bridge was built, along with 300 homes.

•The bubonic plague started in 1900. It was restricted to the area around the wharves, Millers Point and The Rocks. 303 people contracted it, and 103 died.

•The bridge over Cumberland St was finished in 1864, and in 1868 a bridge linking the north and south ends of Princes Street was finished. This disappeared with the street when the bridge happened along.

•Suez Canal is Sydney’s narrowest street, and was home to the notorious gang known as The Rock’s Push.

•MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) was originally the Commissariat Stores, this building being demolished in 1940. The Maritime Services Headquarters, which now houses the MCA, was then built.

•The Sydney Observatory on Observatory Hill, was n built in 1858. Its copper-sheathed domes still rotate on the original bearings made from cannon balls.

•Dawes Point Park was named after Lieutenant William Dawes, an astronomer with the First Fleet. He supervised the construction of the Dawes Point Battery, of which only ruins remain.

•Some of the Argyle Stores date back to the time of the first settlement, and were constructed from sandstone and brick. The granite cobblestones in the courtyard were originally brought out to Australia as ship’s ballast in the 1840’s. There are also the remnants of a water hydraulic lift.

•Garrison Church, on the corner of Argyle and Lower Fort Street, was originally called Holy Trinity Church.


•Started on 28th July, 1923.

•Opened 19th March, 1932

•Arches met at 4.15 pm, 19th August 1930.

•Architect was J.J.C. Bradfield (Bradfield Highway), Chief Engineer of Sydney Harbour.


•Named Bennelong Point after an Aborigine befriended by Govenor Phillip.

•Cattle originally used the site, then a storehouse. 2 brass cannons were in place before being sent to Dawes Point.

•In 1817, Governor Macquarie laid the foundation for a fort, which would, naturally, bear his name. It was completed in 1819. It was originally four square walls, and entered by a drawbridge. It had 10 24-pounder cannon, and 5 6-pounders. There was a two-storey stone tower for 12 artillerymen to live in.

•The fort’s sea wall was removed in 1890 as part of wharf improvements.

•The fort was demolished in 1903, and replaced by a tram terminal with a fortress-like design.

•This was demolished in 1961 to make way for the Opera House.

•Opera House designed by Joern Utzon. It took 15 years to build, and cost, instead of the estimated $7 million, $102 million. The Queen officially opened it on 20th October, 1973.

•Ben Blakeney, an Aboriginal actor, played a digeridoo from the top of the sails at the opening, in memory of Bennelong and his people.


•The first was built in George Street in 1797. It was 80 feet long, made from logs and thatch, with a clay floor. It had 22 cells. It was set alight by an arsonist.

•A new ‘handsome and commodious’ prison with 6 cells stood behind a high wall in Lower George Street in 1801. Its southern wall ran up Essex Street, where its gallows presented a spectacle for residents of The Rocks. By the 1820’s, it was full.

•In 1826, the disabled vessel ‘Phoenix’ was set up at Lavender Bay for use as a prison.

•Governor Bourke (Bourke Street) ordered the Colonial Architect to design a new gaol on Darlinghurst Hill (Now Eastern Suburbs TAFE, in Forbes Street). It was opened in 1841, when the George Street prisoners were transferred to the new gaol.


•Until 1840, a 10-foot high, 2-foot thick stone wall ran along George street, and separated the commercial centre from the military centre.

•Within the walls were three double storey blockhouses, which made it the largest military barracks in the British Empire. Governor Macquarie had the wall built to restrain possible intercourse between the citizens and the military.

•The barracks wall began just north of present Margaret Street, and extended to Barrack Street, entirely occupying the area between George and Clarence Streets. The buildings stood between York and Clarence. The main gate, with a guardhouse, was in George Street, close to the present Wynyard Station ramp. In 1826, there was a guardhouse on the corner of Grosvenor and George Streets. There was a Male Orphan Asylum opposite it. The Regent Hotel now occupies much of this site, its restaurant named after early gaoler Henry Kable.

•The George Street Barracks Square became known as Wynyard Square.

•In the tradition of the Royal Navy, a tot of rum was issued to the troops at lunchtime. In 1845, Colonel Maurice O’Connell reduced the rum issue, and the entire regiment refused to attend parade. O’Connell ordered the 11th Regiment up from Tasmania to crush the mutiny. By the time they arrived, it was all over.

•In 1847 the 11th North Devonshire regiment marched out of the George Street barracks to take up billets in Victoria Barracks (Oxford Street, Paddington).

•Original graves were in paddocks on the edge of the settlement, in the ‘lines’. The ‘lines’ were four rows of convict tents between Essex and Grosvenor Streets.

•The original Barracks Square was sub-divided, and coffins were dug up in the vicinity of Clarence and Margaret Streets.

•By 1815, Market Street was the towns perimeter, and the cemetary was situated on the site of the Town Hall. Bodies were often not buried very deep, and during wet weather, the smell could be quite offensive. Over 2000 bodies were placed there over 27 years. During Macquarie’s Governorship, land was set aside one mile west of the town, and was officially called The Sandhills Cemetery, though better known as the Old Devonshire Street Ground. First interment here was in 1819, being the remains of Quartermaster Hugh McDonald of the 46th Regiment. The cemetery was badly neglected, with graves being opened, and the area used as a toilet. One of the oldest graves was of Jane Dundas, a housemaid at Government House during the time of Governor Arthur Phillip. Several vaults, one containing a coffin, were discovered during excavations for a shopping arcade during the 1970’s. Between 1819 and 1968, it is estimated that 5000 were buried in the Sandhills Cemetery. The cemetery was closed when ground was consecrated at Botany. When the Old Devonshire Street Ground was resumed for the building of Central Station, people were invited to relocate the remains of ancestors, and in 1910 they were conveyed to Botany Cemetery, and other suburban cemeteries.

•The original Sydney building allotments, as decided by Governor Phillip, were 60’ x 150’. He also planned, before returning to England, that city streets were to be 200’ wide. This, of cause, never eventuated.

•The second cove to the right of the Opera House (facing North) was originally called Garden Cove.

•Until reclamation, the harbour ran up as far as Hunter Street.

•By 1807, Garden Cove had become Walloomooloo Bay.

•On James Meehans 1807 map for The Plan for The Town of Sydney, land for Government House and what will become the Botanical Gardens is clearly marked as land set aside as ‘Crown Land’.

•The towns earliest breweries were at Kissing Point (North Shore), and what was to become Castlereagh Street.

•The brewery and the Wilshire Tannery at Brickfield Hill were heavily polluting the Tank Stream.

•In the same map, an area near the current MCA is called Market Place. Pitt Street is clearly marked, Castlereagh Street is called Camden Sntreet, and Elizabeth Street is called Mulgrave Street.

•By the time of an 1832 map, street names had become George, Pitt, Castlereagh, Elizabeth, Philip, Macquarie and King, and are clearly marked as such. In this map, Woolloomooloo Bay is called Palmers Cove, and the estate of Palmer runs up to its edge. The street terminology ‘Row’ had become ‘Street’.

•By 1821, the population was 12,000.

•The hospital appears on an 1822 map, as do Barracks and Macquarie Place, with its obelisk from which all distances from the city were marked. Pyrmont is named Piermont. There is something called Rope Walk near Macquarie Place.
•Market street ran from the Market Wharf in Cockle Bay. Parramatta and South Head Road are built, and had tollgates. The Domain is marked, originally called ‘Government Domain’. Government House was still in Bridge St. There was a windmill on the site of The Domain which was removed in 1814. Hyde Park was laid out as a racecourse. The areas of Moore Park and Centennial Park is evident. There is a house called ‘Ultimo House’, which the suburb of Ultimo would obviously have been named after.

•By 1831, the population was 16,000.

•By 1836, Sussex St is one of the cities busiest thoroughfares. On a map, Dr Harris’s Estate is clearly marked, also the suburb of Lyndhurst. As well as Ultimo House, there is an Ultimo Cottage marked. Pyrmont Bay (current spelling) Darling Point and Macquarie Point are named. Woolloomooloo is spelt ‘Wolomoloo’

•In an 1843 map, the city is divided into Wards and Parishes, including Bourke Ward, Macquarie Ward, Phillip Ward (with two’l’s’), the Parish of Alexandria, Parish of St Andrews, Parish of St Lawrence, Parish of St James, Cook Ward, Gipps Ward, and Parish of St Phillip. Balmain is named. Woolloomooloo is still spelt ‘Wolomoloo’

•The population by this time is 35,000.

•The Chippendale Estate was sub-divided in 1838. St Leonards (North Shore) had a population of 412.

•Busby’s Bore was completed in 1837. Gas lighting was introduced, and there was a gas works on the east side of Darling Harbour.


:•Redfern was named after an estate granted to naval surgeon Thomas Redfern.

•Paddington was, prior to 1850, sandhills.

•The Brickfields became Brickfield Village, then Brickfield Hill.


:Clarence Street was originally called Middle Soldiers’ Row until 1810, and Kent Street was originally Back Soldiers’ Row.

•York St was originally Barracks Row, and Church Street (probably named after the Garrison Church, and running from The Rocks) ran into it.

•In 1788, George Street was called Main Street, and was probably originally the route walked by people carrying water from the mouth of the Tank Stream to the settlement.

•Oxford Street, from the junction with Liverpool St in Darlinghurst to Bondi Junction, was the original Old South Head Road (and before that, just South Head Road).

•Jersey Road, Woollahra was originally Point Piper Road.

•Palmer Street Darlinghurst was named after Commissary General Palmer.

•Windmill Street in The Rocks was originally named for two windmills (two of five that functioned around the settlement) that operated there.

•Dickson Street was named after John Dickson, who began to grind wheat using a steam driven mill.

Always something new to learn. Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.



4 thoughts on “Sydney Snippets – Some Historic Facts About Sydney You Might Not Know!

  1. Thank you for some other excellent article.
    Where else may just anybody get that kind of info in such an ideal method
    of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.

  2. Pretty component of content. I simply stumbled upon your web site and in accession capital to
    say that I acquire in fact loved account your weblog posts.

    Anyway I’ll be subscribing in your feeds and even I achievement you get right of entry to consistently rapidly.

  3. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I
    encounter a blog that’s both educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    The problem is something too few men and women are speaking
    intelligently about. I’m very happy that I found this during my search for something regarding

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s