1902 Encyclopedia > Sydney

New South Wales, Australia

SYDNEY, the capital of New South Wales, and the oldest city in Australia, is situated on the east coast of that island-continent in 33° 51´ 42" S. lat. and 151° 12´ 23" 25 (10h. 4m. 49 55s.) E. long. It lies on the southern shore of the magnificent harbour of Port Jackson., which in 1770 was named, though not discovered, by Captain Cook. He anchored and landed in Botany Bay, about 6 miles to the south, and on afterwards coasting to the north noted, what looked like an inlet, to which he gave the name of Port Jackson, after George Jackson, one of the secretaries to the admiralty. It may seem strange that so careful an observer as Cook should have passed close to one of the finest harbours in the worlf without recognizing its capacity; but the cliffs which guard the entrance are 300 feet in height, and no view of the landlocked basin can be seen from the masthead. Middle Head, which is posted right opposite the entrance, closes it in, and it is necessary to enter, turn to the couth, and then to the west before the best part of the harbour disclose itself. This topographical peculiarity gives to the port its great shelter. When in 1788 Captain Philip arrived at Botany Bay with the first convict fleet, he found its swallow waters and flat shores unsuited for the purposes of a settlement. Strangely enough he was also deterred by the want of waters; yet it is on that very shore that the pumping-engine is situated by which Sydney has been supplied for many years. Going northwards, he turned in to examine Port Jackson inlet. Thither the fleet was instantly removed; and Sydney was founded, and Australian colonization started, on 26th January 1788. Captain Philip’s choice of a site was determined by the existence of fresh water in a small stream running into Sydney Cove.

Map of Sydney Harbour and Environs

Fig. 1 -- Harbour and Environs of Sydney
(Date: circa 1887)

The port is flanked on both sides by a number of promontories – its characteristic feature – so that in addition to a broad central channel with deep water there is both on the north and the south side a serried of sheltered lays with good anchorage. The entrance is a mile wide, with a minimum depth of 15 fathoms. Some little distance inside is a rock awash, known as the Sow and Pigs, between which and the nearest headlands on either side is an inner bar, with 20 feet of water at low tide; through this bar on the southern side a ship channel has been dredged giving 27 feet of water at neap tide. On the southern side there occur in succession Watson’s Bay, Rose Bay, Double Bay, Rushcutter’s Bay, Woolloomooloo Bay, Farm Cove, Sydney Cove, Darling Harbour, Johnstone’s Bay, Blackwattle Bay, Iron Cove, Five Dock Bay, Hen and Chickens Bay, besides smaller inlets. On the northern side, beginning again at the Heads, there are North Harbour, Middle Harbour (with many subsidiary inlets), Chowder Bay, Sirius Cove, Mossman’s Bay, Shell Cove, Neutral Bay, Ball’s Head Bay, Lane Cove, Tarban Creek, and other small bays. All these promontories and cove give a length of water frontage which is estimated at not less than 110 miles. Besides these, Botany Bay, though shallow and exposed and destitute of promontories, has a coast line of about 18 miles. Into it George’s river, the east to the head of Blackwattle Bay on the west, giving a shore-line of 8 miles, of which 1 5/8 are the frontage of the Domain and Botanic Gardens. The remainder is occupied for commercial purposes, and is held partly by the Government and partly by private owners. There are three large public wharfs—one, known as Circular Quay, embracing the greater part of Sydney Cove, seveneighths of a mile in length, the second on the head of Darlong Harbour, a quarter of a mile in extent, and the third at the head of Woolloomooloo Bay. The rest is occupied by private wharfs, the principal of which are on the east shore of Darling Harbour. A project is on foot for the resumption of the whole by the Government, and making of a uniform quay, with a railway and a new street. The area of the city is 2670 acres, of which no part is more than a mile and a quarter distant from the water, whilst the average distant is three-quarters of a mile. The surface contour is undulating, the maximum which is navigable to Liverpool, a distance of 14 miles from the mouth, and in which are several capacious bays.

The metropolitan area of Sydney really consists of a peninsula about 13 miles in length, lying between Parramata and George’s rivers. The sea frontage of this area, from the South Head of Port Jackson to the North Head of Botany Bay, is 12 mile in length, and consists alternately of bold cliffs and beautiful beaches. Two of the latter—Bondi and Coogee—are connected with the city by tramways, and are favourite places of holiday resort. Sydney occupies, therefore, a position enjoying singular natural advantages.

Sydney Harbour and Environs map

Fig. 2 -- Map of Sydney
(Date: circa 1887)

The city proper, as subsequently determined, takes the water frontage from the head of Rushcutter’s Bay on elevation between 230 feet and the average 120. The soil is sandstone, covered more or less with shaly clay. Of the city area about 800 acres are devoted to public use. The largest reserve is Moore Park, lying to the south-east of the city, nearly 500 acres in extent—originally a waste of sandhills. On it are the rifle range, the Agricultural Society’s showground, and the principal cricket ground. The Inner and Outer Domains on the shore of the harbour contain about 130 acres. The former contains Government House, with its private gardens and paddocks; the Outer Domain is a public park. The beautiful botanic gardens occupy the shore-line of Farm Cove, commanding the man-of-war anchorage. Hyde Park, the original race-course of the city, is about 49 acres in extent. At the north entrance is a statue of Prince Albert, and on its most elevated part is one of Captain Cook. Prince Alfred Park, on the southern boundary of the city, originally called Cleveland Paddocks, occupies nearly 18 acres, and in it is the original exhibition building, now much used for concerts and festive gatherings. Belmore Park occupies 10 acres, and Cook and Phillip Park each about the same area. The Fort Phillip reserve is a sort of acropolis, two of its rocky sides being escarped. Here, at an elevation of 146 feet, stands the astronomical observatory. Grose farm, on the south-west of the city, was the cite of one of the earliest attempts at Government farming. It is an undulating and elevated piece of land, and its divided amongst the university and the affiliated colleges of Saint Paul, Saint John, and Saint Andrew, the Prince Alfred Hospital, and Victoria Park.

The city started from the banks of the Tank stream at the head of Sydney Cove, and the chief business part is still in the limited area lying between Darling Harbour and the Domain and the Hyde Park. The streets are irregular in width, some of them narrow and close together, while those leading down the Darling Harbour have a steep incline. Sydney has consequently more the look of an Old-World city than any other in Australia, and in its lack of spacious promenades and open squares and places, and in its poor opportunity for displaying its public buildings, it contrasts unfavourably with the more symmetrically planned sister cities of Australia. On the other hand, it has a charm which is all its own, as the glimpses of the harbour and the shipping obtainable from so many points give a delightful variety to the street vistas. The principal business street is George Street, 2 miles long, flanked with handsome commercial buildings. In this street are the post-office, the town-hall, and cathedral, and the main railway station. Only second in importance is Pitt Street, which runs nearly parallel with it as far as the railway station.

The public and private buildings of Old Sydney are of a primitive order of architecture, but they are rapidly disappearing as the city is being rebuilt. With the exception of Government House, the university and affiliated colleges, and the registrar-general’s office, all the non-ecclesiastical public buildings are in a classical style. Of the modern public buildings the museum, the post-office, the offices for the colonial secretary, the minister for public works and the minister for lands, and the custom-house are the finest. The town-hall is a fine building, but a little too florid; the great hall, when finished, will be the largest in Australia. The Anglican cathedral in George Street is small. A Roman Catholic Cathedral, on the east-side of Hyde Park, replaces an earlier one that was burnt down, and will, when completed, be the finest ecclesiastical edifice in the city. The mint (an adaptation of an old hospital) is an imperial establishment, the cost of which is defrayed by the colonists. The annual value of the coinage from local gold is about £500,000, and this coinage has imperial currency. All the large public buildings are constructed of Sydney sandstone, which is abundant in quantity, though variable in quality. The best comes from the quarries of Pyrmont.

The length of streets, lanes, and public ways is about 100 miles. There are mostly macadamized, but wood paving has lately come much into favour. The saleyards for cattle and sheep (area 40 acres) are 7 miles off, at Homebush. The gross city revenue from all sources is about £376,000. For municipal purposes the city is divided into eight wards, each returning three alderman, and for parliamentary purposes into three electorates—east, west, and south—each returning four members. In 1881 the city population was 105,000. It was in 1882 officially estimated at 125,000. The population of the suburbs was officially estimated in 1884 at 150,000 making a total metropolitan population of 275,000. Communication with the suburbs is maintained to a large extent by steam tramways, entirely in the hands of the Government. The whole district between Sydney and Parramatta is practically suburban for 2 miles on each side of the railway. The fashionable suburbs lie to the east of Sydney, the business extension of the city being more to the westward. The southern side is largely devoted to manufacturing operations, and population is rapidly extending in the direction of Botany Bay. The north shore of the harbour is outside the city limits, and the communication is by steam ferries. The north shore has deep water close in shore, but little level ground, the land rising rapidly to an elevation of 300 feet. Up this ascent the Government has constructed a cable tramway, and from the railway between Newcastle and Sydney, which crosses the Parramatta river miles below the head of the navigation, there is to be a branch line of railway to the north shore, opposite the city.

Water was at first obtained from the so-called Tank stream; afterwards recourse was had to a lagoon on the southern slope of the dividing ridge between Port Jackson and Botany Bay, from which an artificial tunnel, known as Busby’s Bore, brought the water into the city at the level of Hyde Park. When a further supply was wanted the same watercourse was utilized, the works being constructed at the point where it flowed into Botany Bay. A scheme is now (1886) in course of execution to bring water from the Upper Nepean, at a point 63 miles from Sydney. Two streams runjing in deep sandstone gorges are connected by a tunnel, and their united waters are brought in an open conduit. From the nature of the ground no large reservoir its possible near its source; but about 15 miles from Sydney, at Prospect, near Parramatta, a dam thrown across a valley makes a storage reservoir that will hold a year’s supply. From the point the water is taken by open canal and piping to the existing reservoir in Crown Street, the limited area at a higher level being supplied by pumping. The delivery into the city will be over 150,000,000 gallons daily, and the cost of the whole works will exceed h £1,500,000.

The old system of sewerage having several outfalls along the city front proved so objectionable that a new system has been signed, and in course of execution, whereby the harbour will be preserved from all pollution. A great drain is carried from the city to the ocean at a projecting headland north of Bondi Bay known as Ben Buckler, where the sewage will go at once into deep water with a southerly current. The mouth of the sewer, though exposed to the beat of the ocean in very heavy weather, is 6 feet above high-water mark, and from that point it rises with a uniform inclination of 1 in 109, and in nearly straight line, from a distance of 4 miles 25 chains. This main sewer, which throughout is one continous monolith in concrete, passes in tunnels under the rocky ridges, and on concrete arches across the intervening flats. It diminishes in size from 8 _ by 7 _ feet to five feet in inch by 4 feet I inch, and at the upper end it bifurcates to accommodate two separate distracts. It is of an oblate, oviform section, as nearly circular as is consistent with a minimum velocity of 2 _ feet a second. It drains an area of 4282 acres, and is calculated to discharge all the sewage when this area is populated as thickly as London, together with half an inch or rain per day. The bulk of the storm water is to pass off by surface drains. The sewage of the zone of land along the foreshore is to be lifted into the main sewer. From the southern slope of Sydney another large sewer runs southwards, and, crossing the mouth of Cook’s River by a siphon, discharges its contents upon a sandy peninsula well situated for the purpose of a sewage farm.

The jurisdiction of the port of Sydney is in the hands of a marine board, of which three members are nominated by the Government. They have the control of the pilot service, which is entirely a Government department. A new lighthouse has recently been erected on the South Head cliff, fitted with a powerful electric light, which is visible 27 miles off. The quarantine ground on North Head is isolated from the adjacent watering-place of Manly Beach by a fence and a broad belt of unoccupied land. Ships in quarantine anchor in sheltered position off the beach, where a hospital ship is also stationed.

Port Jackson being the chief naval depot of Australasia and the headquarters of the admiral’s station, the fortifications of the harbour have engaged the attention of successive Governments. The inner line of defence constructed by Sir William Denison has been superseded by more elaborate works. On the north side of the harbour Middle Head, George’s Head, and Bradley’s Head have powerful guns which cross fire with those on the South Head, completely commanding the entrance to the channel. There is also a very effective torpedo service. Garden Island, off the mouth of Woolloomooloo Bay, has been handed over the imperial Government as a naval depot; the man-of-war anchorage is close under its lee, and the colonoial Government has constructed all necessary wharfs and store-houses. There is a Government dock at Cockatoo Island capable of accommodating the largest vessels, with a machine-shop, close by. Adjoining this a new dock is being hewn out of the sandstone 600 feet in length and 108 feet wide; the depth of water over the sill at spring tide is to be 32 feet, and at neap tide 29 feet 6 inches, and the width at the entrance 84 feet. Mort’s Dock engineering Company have a large dock at Waterview Bay capable of taking all the ordinary mail streamers. There is also a patent slip, which can take up vessels of 1000 tons, and a second is in course of construction for vessels of 1500 tons. The graving-dock is 410 feet long. Besides this, there are other smaller patent slips, and a floating for the accommodation of smaller craft. Sydney is in the center of a great coal-basin, the eastern part of which is supposed to be under the sea; whether a workable seam exists under the city itself, and, if so, at what depth, is at present undetermined, borings of 2000 feet having as yet failed to strike the coal. The seams crop out at Lake Macquarie, north of Sydney, and dip to the south; they also rise to the surface at the south of Sydney, where they dip to the north. Twenty-four miles south of Sydney the seam has been found at a depth of 850 feet, and at about the same distance to the north at a depth of 600 feet. Coal is also brought into the city by railway from the Blue Mountains and from the Mittagong district, but it is inferior in quality to that mined on the coast.

The abundance and cheapness of coal, as well as the natural and commercial advantages of Sydney, have been favourable to certain lines of manufacturing industry, notwithstanding the high price of labour. In addition to the industries connected with shipping, those connected with the pastoral industry have also been developed, such as tanning, glue-making, meat-preserving, &c. The large railway works have, under the patronage of the Government, led to the manufacture of locomotives, and nearly all the rolling stock is made in the colonies. Omnibuses, cabs, carriages, buggies, drays, and carts are made in every variety and of excellent quality, as is also harness. Bootmaking is an extensive business; there are also manufactories of tobacco, sugar, kerosene, spirits, beer, tweed, paper, furniture, glass, pottery, and stoves, as well as a great variety of minor industries.

Public schools abound, with merely nominal fees. There is a high school for boy and girls. The grammar-school, with an attendance of 400 boys, receives from Government £1500 a year, with the free use of the buildings. To the handsome university buildings and medical school is now being added. The great hall is the finest Gothic buildings in Australasia. The university is a teaching as well as examining institution, degrees being given in the four faculties of arts, medicine, law, and science. The university, which is governed by a senate elected by the graduates, has a Government endowment of £12,000 a year, and has been enriched by several donations and bequests (amounting to £250,000, of which about £180,000 by Mr Challis). To it are attached three denominational affiliated colleges, one belonging to the Anglican Church, one to the Roman Catholic, and one to the Presbyterian; to each the Government contributed the land, £10,000 towards the building fund, and an annual stipend of £500 a year for the principal. Technical education is conducted under the auspices of a board supported entirely at the cost of the Government. The pupils already number more than a thousand, and the attendance at the classes is steadily increasing. There is a good school of arts, with 400 members, and a good circulating library. The public free library is supported by the Government, and so to it is attached a lending branch. The Royal Society has a roll of 500 members, meets periodically for the reading and discussion of scientific papers, publishes its transactions, and has a small library. The Linnaen Society is also well supported, and a Geographical Society has lately been started. The museum, in College Street, is managed by trustees and supported wholly at the cost of the Government. There is a small museum attached to the university, to which Mr Macleay has bequeathed his collection, which is especially rich in natural history.

Sydney has many charitable institutions. It has three hospitals, the newest and largest, which is close to the university, having been built after the best European models. There are three large lunatic asylums in the suburbs; the latest is on the pavilion principle. The benevolent asylum, which is mainly supported by the Government, gives a large amount of outdoor assistance, takes in all waifs and strays, and acts as a lying-in hospital. Old men are provided for an institution at Liverpool. At Randwick is an asylum for destitute children, which receives a large amount of Government support; and three are two orphan asylums at Parramatta; but the state children are now being boarded out under the auspices of a Government board. There are two soup-kitchens and refuges, supported by private contributions, and also a charity organization society. There is a home visiting and relief society, intended principally for those who have known better days, and a prosoner’ aid society, besides numerous friendly societies. All the churches are well represented, and to each is attached one or more charitable agencies.

The climate of Sydney is mild and moderately equable. It resembles closely the climate of Toulon. The mean temperature is 62º 6 Fahr. and the extreme range of the shade thermometer is from 106º to 36º Fahr. The sea-breeze which prevails during the summer comes from the north-east, and, while it tempers the heat, makes the air moist and induces languor. In winter the prevailing wind is from the west, and the air is dry and bracing. The annual rainfall is 50 inches. The hot north-west wind of summer sometimes sends the humidity down below 30º, and once it has been as low as 16º. In the cool westerly winds of winter it seldom falls to 55º, and never below 45º. The average humidity for the year is 74º. The main tide is 3 feet 3 inches. (A. GA.)


(1) Paddington forms practically an eastern suburb of Sydney, with which there is constant omnibus communication. Victoria barracks are situated within its boundaries. Paddington is inhabited chiefly by the better classes, and possesses a number of public and private schools. A municipal constitution was granted it in April 1860. The population of the borough in 1881 was 9608.

The above article was written by: The Hon. Andrew Garran, M.A. (London), LL.D.; Member of the Legislative Council, N.S.W., 1887-92, and 1895; editor of South Australian Register, 1853-56; Sydney Morning Herald, 1856-85; President of the Council of Arbitration, 1892-94; and of the Royal Commission on Strikes, 1891.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries