Passing along George street, we now come to Argyle street, and across that road to the wall of the Commissariat Stores. It will be convenient to deal with the area between the old house and the Commissariat Stores as one. The reason for this is that for many years this area was the dockyard of Sydney.
The first attempt at boat building was made on the other, or east side of the Cove, when in December 1788, Mr. Reed, the carpenter of the “Supply,” set about the erection of a boat-house, in which to build a hoy to carry provisions to the new settlement at Parramatta. He certainly managed to build a boat but the opinion of the unfortunate convicts who had to row it was well expressed in the name they bestowed on the craft, “The Lump!”
In a short time however the area we are dealing with became the dockyard. The main dock occupied that part of Argyle Street between George street and the water, while smaller docks occupied the area to the south. The main dock held at least one distinguished boat. Peron, the French navigator, said that when he was in Sydney in 1802 a great honour was paid him in presenting him with a snuff-box made from the keel of the long-boat in which George Bass made his celebrated voyage which resulted in the discovery of Bass Strait.
In the pictures and plans published with the account of this voyage, the long-boat is shown in the dock. Today we are lamenting the slow progress of our ship-building. One hundred and sixteen years ago the early colonists had the same lament. The ship shown on the stocks in the illustration of “Sydney in 1803,” on page 10, was laid down in September 1802, and launched in January 1804! In 1858 Argyle street was extended over the site of this dock from George street to the Quay.
It was proposed at first to sell the lands north and south of this extension but Sir John Robertson decided to sell only those on the north side, and that is why you will find business premises on that side and Government premises on the south of Argyle Street.
Old Commissariat Stores
The old Commissariat Stores, opposite the Fire Station, when they were built one hundred and seven years ago by Governor Macquarie, did not mark the end of the Quay as they do today. Right down along what is now Pitt street, almost as far as Bridge-street, was regarded as a part of the Cove even as late as the ‘thirties, and it was upon the wharves south of the stores that the major part of the coastal boats were berthed. When the stores were built the tide almost lapped the seaward walls. On the southern end of the building may be seen a section of one of Macquarie’s famous walls. That estimable gentleman had an affection for a 12-foot wall. No building was complete in Macquarie’s eyes unless it was encompassed about with a stone or brick barricade.
This brings us to the end of the eastern, or Quay, side of George street. I shall now ask my readers to go with me to the other side for a brief space—but only as far as Argyle street, on the south-west corner of which, at one time, lived a man who, like Wren on London, has left his mark on Sydney with his churches. Mr. Francis Howard Greenway was an architect of some standing in London, but, unfortunately for his own peace of mind, and fortunately for the architecture of Sydney, he did “those things he ought not to have done,” and came to Sydney as the unwilling guest of the government. Macquarie employed him as the Colonial Architect, on a salary of 3/- per day.
When the Governor proposed an increase to 5/- the Home Secretary objected—alas, for eminence under a cloud! St. James’ Church, King street, is a dignified reminder of the presence in Sydney of Francis Greenway.
A little south of this corner, and now numbered 101, is a building with many pleasant recollections around it, particularly to the poor of thirty years ago. It was the butchering establishment of Thomas Playfair, that kindly-hearted alderman who was never seen without a cigar in his mouth, as often unlit as it was alight. It was said that when an employee felt that a cigar was necessary for his health he would engage Mr. Playfair in conversation, during the course of which the cigar would be laid down and forgotten.
William Bede Dailey
A few doors further south we arrive at No. 119, now in the occupation of Messrs. Fell and Company. Up a small passage on the side of these premises, at the rear of an added front, may be seen an old house that is worthy of Australia’s homage, for in it was born that brilliant Australian William Bede Dailey. A building off Princes Street is usually shown as the birthplace of Dailey, but Mr. J. M. Forde, the doyen of Old Sydney experts, has gathered evidence which points to this as the one to be honoured.
Mr. Forde quotes from the reminiscences of Captain Charles, who said:—”I remember, when I first came out, seeing two boys shooting marbles on the road. One was a pleasant, fair-haired boy; the other a bright, round-headed youngster. I accidentally scuffed one of the marbles, and recollect quite well putting my hand on the fair-haired boy’s head and asking him not to be vexed. He looked up and smiled, and said it was alright. He grew up to be the dark-visaged and notorious bushranger Frank Gardiner; the other boy was none other than the distinguished statesman William Bede Dailey,” In the eternal fitness of things Dailey defended Gardiner at the latter’s trial in May 1864.
Dailey was born in 1831, and in that year his father was in occupation of this house as a slop-seller, or, to be up to date, a draper.