Until the early twentieth century a journey to NSW involved a sea voyage.
The glass negatives record the construction of wharves and adjoining facilities in Sydney Harbour; ferry wharves and passenger amenities; views of Port Jackson; various types of ships and vessels; diagrams of technical systems; shipping movements; navigational aids such as buoys and beacons; rail work, tenements; roadways, housing and buildings in the harbour area including warehouses and boatsheds; road construction; reclamation works; equipment; damaged vessels (including on slipways); harbour-side pools; and demolition sites (including wharves to combat rats and the plague).
In this gallery:
Circular Quay was built between 1837 and 1855. It was originally known as Semi-circular Quay because of the shape of the stoneworks built with convict labour to stabilise the new shoreline reclaimed from mudflats. The quay was constructed in phases from the 1830s until the 1860s to allow for commercial shipping to berth alongside wharves and warehouses that once dominated all three sides.
From the late 1890s and after the formation of the Sydney Harbour Trust in 1901, ferry commuter wharves came to dominate. From this time Circular Quay grew as a commuting hub, with both ferries and trams terminating at the site.
The former Maritime Services Board (MSB) building is located on the western side of Circular Quay, in an area identified as the site of the First Fleet landing. It was also the site of several early colonial-era buildings, as well as the first government dockyard. Designed by William Henry Wither in 1939, the MSB Building was not completed until 1952. The project was impacted by wartime labour and materials shortages.
The MSB operated from this site until that late 1980s, when they relocated to the city centre. The former MSB building currently houses the Museum of Contemporary Art.
A key element in the project was the creation of a new road that followed the shoreline linking Circular Quay to Walsh Bay and Darling Harbour, which would be the new freight thoroughfare around this headland and named in honour of Robert Rowan Purdon Hickson, appointed first president of the Sydney Harbour Trust in 1901. Hickson Road is one of the youngest streets in The Rocks area.
With rejuvenation and development, the area is now a residential, entertainment and arts precinct.
On 7 August 1939, a fire broke out in a milk bar on the main wharf and spread throughout the wooden structure, causing £10,000 worth of damage. The wharf had to be rebuilt. In 1940 the Maritime Services Board engaged modernist architect Arthur Baldwinson, recently returned from working in England, to design major reconstructions of the ferry wharves at Manly and Circular Quay. The clean lines of these cream-painted, timber-clad structure were both 'modern' and 'maritime’. The basic form remains today.
In 1886 the Government built the cargo wharf, adjacent to the passenger wharf. A cargo service was run to Manly until the 1928 opening of the Spit Bridge.
In 1929 the Port Jackson and Manly Steam Ship Company, leased the cargo wharf from the Sydney Harbour Trust for an amusement pier. In 1931 the fun pier was extended and over the next few years included Pierrot shows, dances, vaudeville shows, dodgem cars, amusement machines, a Ferris wheel, mini-golf, a merry-go-round, and scooter-boats.
The Manly Fun Pier closed in 1989 when Manly Wharf was again renovated.
When the renovated Manly Wharf was reopened, a carousel and a ferris wheel were erected but their presence was short-lived, mainly due to complaints from residents. Manly ferry wharf was added to the NSW State Heritage Register on 18 April 2000.
The Manly Harbour Pool was constructed in 1931 by the Port Jackson Steamship Company. At its peak, over 250,000 visitors came to the pool every year. A severe storm in 1974 destroyed the boardwalk and the pool closed.
Pyrmont Bridge is a heritage listed swing bridge in Darling Harbour that crosses Cockle Bay. The swingspan weighs 1,000 tonnes (1,100 short tons) with a base of concrete and Hawkesbury sandstone weighing 6,800 tonnes (7,500 short tons). The swingspan is 13 metres (43 feet) in diameter and 19 metres (62 feet) deep.
It took 33 months to build and was designed by the NSW Department of Public Works under Percy Allen, Engineer-in-Chief of bridge design.
When it opened on 28 June 1902, Pyrmont Bridge was one of the largest swing span bridges in the world and one of the first to be powered by electricity. It can be opened or closed in under a minute.
The bridge closed to motor traffic on 7 August 1981 and faced demolition. But it was restored in 1984 for pedestrians as part of the redevelopment of Darling Harbour. The bridge was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 28 June 2002, one hundred years after it opened.
The Sydney Heads form the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Although noted by Captain Cook as what ‘appeared to by safe anchorage’, it was Governor Arthur Phillip who sailed through the Heads into ‘without exception the finest Harbour in the World’.
The first photograph below features proudly in the Sydney Harbour Trust Commissioners’ 1919 Port of Sydney: Official Handbook. Port Jackson is described in this volume as a ‘a natural harbour in the complete sense of the word’. The Handbook goes on to state ‘the entrance, which lies between bluff headlands, is nearly a mile in width and clear of danger; its waters are deep; its steep foreshores provide good shelter for vessels at anchor; it is well lighted and ships of the heaviest draught can manoeuvre in it with ease and safety’.
North Head is located south-east of Manly, and is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park. It is home to the former Quarantine Station, and the site of former defence facilities.
South Head is to the north of Watsons Bay, and is also part of the Sydney Harbour National Park. The South Head Heritage Trail continues to provide spectacular views of the Harbour.
On 21 April 1928 it was one of the key organisations assisting the Great Public Schools Regatta on the Parramatta River. Schools such as Sydney Grammar School, St Ignatius College, Scots College, St Joseph’s College, King’s School, Newington College, and Sydney High School took part.
The Royal Easter Show was also held in April 1928, from 2 to 11 April. It is believed that this image shows the Trust’s exhibition at that show promoting the progress of Sydney Harbour over the previous 100 years.
Loading and unloading the ships visiting the wharves of Sydney Harbour relied on a casual workforce that needed to be available at odd hours with little notice. The workers lived or boarded close to the wharves and were employed by stevedore companies in a highly competitive labour market.
In the first image below the focus of this image is not the colourful paintwork on J Creedon Junior’s hairdressing shop at 31 Sussex Street. Instead the men are responding to the sign sticking out the window of the office of the Port Jackson Stevedoring Company Limited in Taylor’s Lane - stating simply ‘Now Picking Up’. The company formed in 1917 and centralised stevedoring labour in Sydney.
Cowper St Wharf was used as a depot for timber, coal and metal. In June 1868, the Sydney Morning Herald commented ‘Much of the timber from the coast districts being now landed there, cargoes of coal and blue metal are bought there and removed every week’. By the 1870s, local residents regularly wrote letters to the newspapers complaining about timber being dumped: ‘This beautiful wharf appears to be doomed to early dilapidation. From end to end, the wharf appears to be converted into a receptacle for every sort of dirty lumber’.
By 1899 Cowper St Wharf was accommodating ocean going vessels - both steam and sailing. Up until 1901 the wharves, with few exceptions, were practically in private hands and constructed to meet the requirements only of the individual owners. The Sydney Harbour Trust was established in 1901 to resume privately run properties all around Sydney's waterfront and to build modern facilities.
Between 1911 and 1915, the Trust built the Finger Wharf at Woolloomooloo that bisected the existing circular shore wharf.
The Sobraon was a nautical training school moored off Cockatoo Island, designed to rehabilitate destitute boys. It, and its predecessor ship Vernon, served as both Industrial School and Reformatory.
By 1911, however, shifting attitudes toward nautical training schools, combined with changes to juvenile probation laws, led to the abandonment of the system. The Sobraon was subsequently sold to the Australian Navy. Boys were discharged to family, guardians or apprenticeships, or sent to other State Homes.
The Lance Playground was constructed in 1912 by the Sydney Harbour Trust to provide a recreational space for Millers Point residents – ‘If the children of our tenants cannot have gardens or yards for their play, then assuredly we must give them a playground’. It was wedged between dwellings erected for waterside workers.
In 1916, at the behest of the Trust, the playground was taken over by the Kindergarten Union, who still manage the site as a kindergarten today. The City of Sydney purchased the kindergarten from the Maritime Services Board in 1991.