History of Old George Street
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON in addressing the chiefs of Samoa at the opening of the "Road of Gratitude,"
which the chiefs had built for him, told them that one way to defend Samoa was to build roads, and in concluding he
said, "Chiefs, our road is not built to last a thousand years, yet in a sense it is. When a road is once built it
is a strange thing how it collects traffic; how every year as it goes on, more and more people are found to walk
thereon, and others are raised up to repair and perpetuate it and keep it alive."
One wonders if there was among the officers and men of the First Fleet, a man who could
'dip into the future Far as human eye can see,
and see the track, which they hewed out of the bush on the shores of Circular Quay in the year
1788, grow into a road, each year collecting to itself traffic with more and more people walking thereon until it
became the main artery of a great city?
I have endeavoured in the chapters which follow to trace the growth of this, the oldest road in
Australasia, to speak of the men who walked thereon and of the buildings they erected along its course.
THE FIRST PICTURE OF SYDNEY IN
This is a reproduction of what was probably the
first sketch ever made of Circular Quay and the beginning of the city of Sydney. It was drawn by
Captain John Hunter on August 20, 1788, seven months after the first landing here. The path on the
right is the George street North of to-day. The building close to the fence behind the trees on the
right is the first hospital. The path ended about what is now the intersection of George and Essex
streets. The flagstaff on the left stood where Loftus street now joins Circular Quay. On the left of
the flagstaff is the canvas
hut of Governor Philip, the first Government House.
Before we proceed on our way along George street, let us briefly glance at an interesting
question—the site of the first landing on that fateful morning of January 26th, 1788.
Governor Phillip on the "Supply" arrived in Sydney Cove with portion of the First Fleet on the evening of the
25th. Next morning the landing was made, and in the evening a flag was hoisted where they landed and a simple
ceremony held. Where that landing-place was is a question that has brought out two sets of advocates —those for the
east and those for the west side of the Cove.
For the west side we have the evidence recently discovered by the Mitchell Librarian, Mr. Hugh Wright, which
sets out that the landing took place on the north side of the dockyard, and corroboration of this is to be found in
an old number of the "Sydney Mail."
In the issue of January 16th, 1888, an old gentleman's reminiscences may be found. He states that he arrived in
Sydney in 1821, and a large she-oak tree stood about two feet from the north wall of the dockyard, "Where it was
said the first flag was hoisted when the country was taken possession of." In Hunter's sketch (above) on the
right-hand side entering the Cove two trees are seen near the water's edge. One of these was probably the she-oak
referred to. A point is to be seen jutting out opposite the trees, and it would be upon this that the landing was
Later on we shall attempt to locate this point; meantime I shall ask my readers to remember the two little bays
on the right hand side of the point with the little protuberance between them. For those who believe the original
landing place to have been on the east side we have the evidence of the flagstaff to be seen in the picture. This
stood in the vicinity of the junction of Loftus street and the Quay—i.e., between the Custom House and the hotel
opposite. The Governor's canvas house was probably one of the two buildings just to the left of the flagstaff. If
the landing took place on this side the projecting tongue of land near the flagstaff would provide the means. A
committee of the Royal Australian Historical Society is now weighing the pros and cons of this question, and we
must wait to see if the result of its research and deliberation inclines the scales to east or west.
SYDNEY COVE -Clearing a path
It has been said that the streets of Sydney were laid out by the bullock waggons of the early
settlers. This is not correct as in the first place there were no bullock waggons in the First Fleet, and such was
the primeval condition of the shores of Sydney Cove then that, even if there had been waggons, the contour of the
ground itself prescribed where the main roads must run. Let us glance for a moment at the shores as Governor
Phillip saw them when he first rowed into the Cove. We are able to do this because Captain Hunter very kindly drew
a sketch of the settlement in August, 1788, i.e., seven months after its establishment, and that sketch is
reproduced on page 4. Contemporary records and a study of the configuration of the ground to-day will assist
On his right hand as he entered the cove, Phillip saw a steep, rocky hill extending from what came
to be known as Dawes Battery to Grosvenor street; thence the hill continued southwards, but with a less rocky and
rugged contour. On his left arose another hill, at first with an abrupt rise from the water, then changing to a
gentler slope as it reached the vicinity where the Custom House now stands, and matching the opposite hill as it
ran to the south. In the hollow between these hills ran a little purling brook—"a run of fresh water which stole
silently along through a very thick wood, the stillness of which had then for the first time since the creation
been interrupted by the rude sound of the labourer's axe, and the downfall of its ancient inhabitants; a stillness
and tranquility which from that day were to give place to the voice of labour, the confusion of camps and towns,
and, the busy hum of its new possessors." Thus wrote a man—David Collins—who landed from the First Fleet and saw in
its pristine beauty what was afterwards known as the Tank Stream. Collins refers to a "thick wood," and Hunter's
drawing, although the ground was cleared in part when he drew his sketch, shows us that the slopes of the hills
were thickly wooded.
In the woods must have grown some giant trees, for in the "Sydney Gazette" of August 7th, 1803, it
is announced that "the military have completed the streets in their respective districts. They have removed from
their places of nativity thirty-two stumps of trees, many of which were of monstrous bulk. One in particular
deserves remark. Its circumference measured nine yards, and employed 16 men six days to loosen and bury it in a
gulph that was necessarily prepared close to the spot on which it grew." The tree required 90 men to roll it into
the "gulph." This giant stood in the vicinity of the George street of today.