Remembering the Past Australia

Rambles Through Sydney 1864

Part IV — Woolloomooloo, cont.

As published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 May 1864.

Part four of an eight-part series published in the Sydney Morning Herald between 12 May 1864 and 15 July 1864. In this series the authors take the readers on a journey through the streets of Sydney “beyond the line of handsomely built houses, and off the well kept streets, to show them the nooks and crannies into which they themselves have never penetrated, to make them acquainted with the abodes of poverty, of misfortune, or of crime.”

To the eastward of Victoria-street, and of that pleasant winding road which turns out of Victoria-street near its junction with William-street, is the inchoate, suburban district of Darlinghurst which it may be not improper here to speak of as an offshoot of Woolloomooloo proper, although it is now obviously not without pretensions to a more distinct classification. In this pretty hamlet, which stands on a rocky eminence-extending, for the most part, from the precincts of Darlinghurst Gaol to hilly ground in the immediate neighbourhood of Rushcutters Bay, in a north-easterly direction-anything like a rigid, mathematical regularity in the lines of the streets has, from the nature of the locality been impossible, so that sweeping curves, sharp corners, and mysteriously obtuse angles, here appear to be the rule instead of the exception. In one short street the pedestrian’s eyes and feet are gladdened by a well-kept road and commodious footpath, but, on turning the next corner, he finds himself in a Slough of Despond, or compelled to clamber over rocks or hillocks by some narrow, well-worn track. Darlinghurst, on the whole, is in a transition state, and of course shares in all the drawbacks incidental to such a state, but the progress which has been here made within the last few years is /very gratifying to witness, and the beauty of the situation is such that it bears its necessary transmutations bravely, and is, under every temporary disadvantage a very agreeable place for a ramble or a residence.

There are few views near Sydney that are to be preferred to that which is spread before the visitor as he stands amid masses of rock on the hill near Craigend, and looks down on the country in the vicinity of Darling Point, on the waving woods of Barcom Glen, the bright green gardens in the valley of La Croza and the villa residences ornamenting the sinuous course of the Glenmore Road, connecting the aristocratic village of Darling Point with the less rural and more town-like hamlet of Paddington. In the immediate neighbourhood of Craigend, are several other fine mansions with gardens and pleasure grounds of a similar character, where the comfort and privacy of old country habits appear to have been consulted more than is usual in the mansions of the wealthy in this part of the world. Here on these heights were the three windmills which, according to some, gave occasion to the supposed native name of Wulla Mulla that being the nearest approximation that the untaught Bungelas of earlier times could make to the difficult appellation of ” Windmill Hill.” However that may be we shall not pretend to determine, – some future topographer may, perhaps, unravel the knotty question, and to him, we shall leave it. The material subsidiary proofs of the ” Windmill Hill” theory are, however, rapidly passing away, for the two mills near Roslyn Hall have vanished within the last two or three years, and the Craigend mill is also disappearing. In the interest of the picturesque and of the useful the rambler will not find it difficult to console himself for the disappearance of such unsightly, slow-grinding nuisances.

There is no want of stone hereabouts, and, par consequence, most of the buildings are erected of that material; nay, in some streets (like the northern end of Surry-street, for example) the very roadway has been hewn, as it were, out of the bed of the rock with a diligent industry that cannot be sufficiently commended. The south-western extremity of Surry-street, however, is not yet so solidly constructed and opens into Victoria-street with a degree of indistinctness which is not so commendable. Near this point is the handsome stone church of St. John the Evangelist – the parochial church of Darlinghurst, – with its adjacent schoolhouse. From Surry-street as far as the gaol several streets will be found, either tolerably well built or in the course of erection. It is a quiet and comfortable quarter, inhabited, for the most part, by persons in easy circumstances. In Darlinghurst there is, almost everywhere, a fine fall in the direction of Rushcutters Bay and Barcom Glen, so that drainage will be easily effected if the matter be but taken up in time. As yet the evil is not felt, but it is to be hoped that timely measures may ere long be taken to avert any such inconveniences as are now felt elsewhere in Sydney.


Bent St. Sydney (1859) [Hand coloured view from Phillip Street looking west down Bent Street, past the three storey Pulteney Hotel on left to the Macquarie fountain, demolished]; William Hetzer, fl. 1850-1867. 

State Library of New South Wales.

Near the corner of the Old South Head Road and Victoria-street, Darlinghurst stands the Darlinghurst gaol and Court-house – on a comparatively small flat at the top of the hill. Although still, unfinished Darlinghurst gaol is a fine building of its kind, and capable on its completion of being well adapted to the classification of the unfortunate beings for whom it has, in the interests of society, been designed. It is proposed still further to enlarge the premises of the building by taking in ” the triangular piece or portion of land” which lies in front of the north-west wall, between the present gaol and Burton-street. This work has accordingly been commenced, and an unsightly tract which has long been a wilderness of mud and stagnant water will thus be utilised and appropriated. The Court House -used for the trial of cases by the Supreme Court in its criminal jurisdiction – stands in an open grass plot on the south-west side of the gaol; a building supposed to be classic in the style of its architecture, – facing the bleak winds and pitiless storms of the south-west, without proper accommodation for the public, and preposterously deprived of the least shelter from the weather for those witnesses whose misfortune it may happen to be to have some evidence to offer at trials. High as is the situation of this Court, the water is, nevertheless, suffered to lodge on its north-east side in a way that is both troublesome and insalubrious; a good gutter would rectify this evil, and tons of water might thus readily be carried off by the Rushcutter’s Creek into the sea.

In the same direction, but a little higher up, were a sewer opened from the great cesspools of Darlinghurst gaol, might the contents of those places be effectually drained off, across Victoria-street into the adjacent valley, and there be deodorised and made serviceable. At present, not even the rigid cleanliness and other sanitary regulations which are enforced in the gaol by its excellent governor, Mr J. C. Read, can prevent the occasional generation of fever within the four walls of his penal territory. It follows, as a matter of course, that wherever the Stygian waters of the cesspools are, from any cause, disturbed, exhalations must there from arise which are fraught with disease and death. A competent system of drainage to Darlinghurst gaol is indispensably necessary, and there ought to be no delay about it. It seems desirable, for obvious reasons, that the sewer which we have suggested should be isolated, and were it made to run across to the head of the valley to the eastward this advantage would be sufficiently secured.

Leaving Darlinghurst gaol behind us, we proceed down South Head Road to its junction with Liverpool-street and College-street – thus following out a line which, for the purposes of these notes, may be taken as the southern boundary of the Woolloomooloo district, being the extreme limit of its watershed in this direction. Throughout the entire line, until you come down to the southern end of Riley-street North, there is an unbroken succession of houses and shops, such as the old resident wonders at as he saunters by. Behind these houses, however, all is not quite so pleasant. Narrow, queer-looking streets, which would, perhaps, better be qualified as lanes, run parallel with the main street, abutted, for the most part, with officina, unprovided with drains (except that afforded by the uneven surface of the street) and redolent of odours which are not to be described. The rambler passes through them naso adunco, and is looked upon with distrust as an Inquisitor-general might be regarded in a Huguenot village; he is not the water-rates, not the taxes, not the butcher or baker, not a summons-server, !and not the new inspector of nuisances. One of the inhabitants of the cottages opposite to the officino has apparently solved the question, but as she does so in terms that are not complementary to the taste or morality of the rambler, he deems it desirable to quicken his pace. A man, who is sweeping from the surface of the cross-street a greenish ammoniacal liquor away into a main-street running towards the Bay, is either unable or unwilling to give a local habitation and a name to the locality. Perhaps he is to be praised for his reticence in that respect and may have good reasons for such caution. Quien sabe?

All the streets on the north side of the South Head Road could easily be drained into a sewer, running from a point near the Station House at Darlinghurst, to a point near the corner of Yurong and Stanley streets, where the Stygian rivulet (previously mentioned) may now be considered to commence. Such a sewer would be effectual, because it would have the exact direction of the old water-course, and would thus be adapted to the natural level of the locality. From Stanley-street to the corner of Woolloomooloo and Riley streets the sewer might be made to supersede the present pestiferous ditch – thus deodorizing the lanes and streets that are in that vicinity. A central main sewer, wide and deep, seems also to be desiderated for Woolloomooloo – to commence somewhere about the head of Crown-street, Woolloomooloo, and run northerly – across several of the principal streets, until it shall emerge from the northern extremity of Forbes-street and be carried, through the newly formed ground there, right out into the waters of the bay. The western sewer, which we have ventured to propose, should be deflected from its termination near the Lower Domain Gate into the main sewer before that outlet disembogues into the bay. A similar and smaller sewer to the “western” one might also be constructed for the eastern side of the district, and be, in a similar manner, joined to the main sewer in the tract now in the process of formation. This would obviate much of what has been unfavourably commented upon in the Woolloomooloo district, a beautiful and populous locality, which, without such a general system of underground drainage, must every year, become increasingly unhealthy. It is also suggested that the orifice of the main sewer to the seaward ought not only to be out in deep water but to be provided with strong flood gates, opening outwardly, otherwise during high tides and concurrent stormy weather the lower parts of Woolloomooloo would be liable to all the mischances of a disastrous flood; for it must be remembered that a large portion of Woolloomooloo as at present built upon, is only reclaimed from the waves.

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