It would be involving too much danger to invite readers to take a stand in the centre of the intersection of George and King streets, but if they will imagine themselves standing there we shall be able to view some interesting parts of Old Sydney.
GEORGE STREET IN 1882, LOOKING TOWARDS KING STREET
On the right is the Royal Hotel as it was before the shops were added. Adjoining that is the row of
shops known as Macdonald buildings, one of which is the White Horse Hotel, afterward kept by Larry Foley.
First we shall take the corner now occupied by Messrs. W. T. Waters and Company. In the very early days of the State the officers of the New South Wales Corps were presented with tracts of land, either by grant or by lease. Amongst these, Captain Kemp, in 1799, selected about an acre on the fringe of the town. The captain ran a store, and his method of transacting business was decidedly profitable to himself, if not satisfactory to his customers. He would draw from the Government store the goods in large quantities, and with them pay the soldiers under his command, simply adding 100 per centum profit for himself.
If a soldier dared to remonstrate he was met with threats of the guard-room for mutiny. If the soldier persisted, a storm of words would break about his ears, and the unfortunate man was glad to escape without the flogging that he was promised.
The captain took some part in opposing Bligh, in consequence of which he lost his lease. He was followed in occupation by William Henry Moore, the Crown Solicitor, who received on June 30, 1823, a grant of 2 roods 13 perches, with a frontage of 144 feet to George street and 165 to King street, for a quitrent of 9d. per rod which was to cease on payment of £63.
Mr. Moore had on the site a two-storied stone house with an “old English garden” and the inevitable brick wall. It was a pleasant town this Sydney of the ‘twenties, when life moved evenly along, with time for Bill the bullock driver to stop his team at the intersection of George and King streets and have a yarn with a mate, or drop over to the “Blackboy” for a drop of “she-oak ; ” a time when Mr. Henry Bayley could bring his celebrated horse Whisker, during race times, and stable him at Mr. Moore’s stables. A grand old horse this Whisker (a gift to Mr. Bayley from a relative, Lord Paget), who left a still more celebrated descendant in the shape of Jorrocks.
Mr. Moore’s land was cut up and sold by auction on May 28, 1834. Lot 1, the corner, with a frontage of 25 feet 6 inches to George street and 86 feet to King street, realised £55/10/- per foot. This tremendous price so astonished Sydney that it was immediately christened the golden corner.
The other lots realised from £45/10/- to £34/10/- per foot. By the next year shops had been erected on these sites. Amongst others, the corner has been occupied by the Union Bank, in 1837; Irving and Lamb, jewellers; Henry Fisher, a wine and spirit merchant; then the fate that seems to overtake every site in Sydney at least once in its career overtook this, and it became the site of a hotel. The Golden Fleece Inn was its name, and it was kept by Mr. William Knight. He was succeeded by Mr. William Toogood, who gave place to Mr Stephen Butt. In 1863 we find the City Bank in possession; ten years later Mr. E. R. Cole, the bookseller, is the tenant, followed by Nicholson’s well-known music store, and in 1895 the present tenants entered into occupation.
The corner has thus been the cradle of two banks, and two doors away, that is, where Sargent’s premises now stand, was the birthplace of the Commercial Bank.
The premises in George street next to the corner have had a variety of occupants, and have witnessed the sale of a diversity of goods, ranging from fancy goods to beer. The building was opened as the Garden Palace Hotel by Mr. Charles Kelsey, in 1879. On one of the allotments purchased by Mr. W. C. Wentworth at the sale in 1834 were the auction rooms of Mr. T. W. Smart, who became Colonial Treasurer and Minister for Works.
This corner of our city would provide an admirable “horrible example” of the unearned increment. In 1823 Mr. Moore acquired 144 feet frontage to George street and 165 feet to King street for £63. Today, 95 years later, the block purchased by Mr. Moore is valued at £198,698, or if we include Bank Court, which is on the site of Mr. Moore’s grant, well over £200,000.
From the northern boundary of the original Moore grant to the General Post Office, an area of 2 roods 33 perches, was a grant to John Macarthur, and although he did not receive his grant until December 3, 1836, he sold the land on January 1, 1827 to Mrs. Mary Reibey, of whom we have spoken in a previous chapter, for the sum of £1000. The whole area, therefore, between King Street and the Post Office was at one time in the possession of two people. Adjoining the Post Office Mrs. Reibey erected a cottage in 1827, and on April 28, 1829, she made a marriage settlement of part of the property on her daughter Elizabeth Ann, and Joseph Long Innes on the eve of their marriage.
In 1834 the shops which stood for a number of years on the George Street frontage were built. In one of the shops was the jewellery establishment of Mr. Delarue, in front of which, over the awning, for many
year was a blackfellow striking the hours on a huge gong.
On the site of Mrs. Reibey’s cottage, Mr. Robert Sands built a factory in the year 1849 and moved his business which was started in 1837, from a shop lately No. 442, four doors north from the corner of George and Market streets, to the present site. An old ironbark pump was discovered when erecting the factory, and Mr. Sands had a number of walking sticks made from the timber. The firm of John Sands is probably the oldest Australian business extant under the same surname.
Black Boy Hotel
Diagonally across the road from Waters’ we have the ground now occupied by the Australian Bank of Commerce. In the 1840’s a small one-storied house occupied the front of this site, with a two-storied building in the rear. This was the well-known Black Boy Hotel, the chief house of call for country folk. The late Charles MacAlister, in his “Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South,” referring to this inn, writes: “A kind of theatre or people’s music hall was kept in connection with this hotel, where the leading comedians and singers were Jim Brown and ‘Micky’ Drew; but as the platform of the Black Boy Theatre was somewhat free and easy, sometimes a strong sailor man, just off a six months’ cruise, would favour us with `Nancy Lee’ or other jolly sea songs, or an ambitious carrier or drover would `rouse the possum’ by giving some long-winded ditty of the time.”
The corner of King and George streets, where Belfield’s hotel now stands, and as far south as the Sydney Arcade, is associated with the name of William Hutchinson; in fact, it passed out of his descendants’ hands-only recently. On the corner, Mr. Hutchinson built himself a fine mansion. In the mid-thirties shops were built in front of this, and in one of these, on the George Street frontage, Mr. T. Woolley had his ironmongery establishment. Mr. William Hutchinson was appointed Chief Superintendent of Convicts
on April 9th, 1814. In this position, he had control of the Lumber Yard, which was referred to in the last chapter, and to him was entrusted the work of assigning to settlers convicts on their arrival.
Mr. Commissioner Bigge, in his report on the administration of Governor Macquarie, makes reference to the formation of a savings bank in Sydney to encourage the convicts on arrival to deposit any money they had in safekeeping. It was found, however, that the convicts preferred to deposit their money either in the Bank of New South Wales or in the hands of individuals, whence they could easily and immediately draw it.
It somewhat shocked Mr. Commissioner Bigge to find that amongst the individuals who would become depositories of the convicts’ money was no less a person than Mr. William Hutchinson himself.
On the site of the present entrance to the Sydney Arcade, Peek and Company had their grocer’s shop, which “like Mr. Woolley’s,” says Fowles in his “Sydney of 1848,” “must be examined to discover its vast extent.”
White Horse Tavern and the Boxing Saloon
A few doors south of Peek and Company in the year named was the White Horse Tavern, kept by J. Holman. Prior to this gentleman, one Watkins was the landlord. The fame of the White Horse Tavern, however, is due to a more modern character, Mr. Larry Foley, who died in 1917. It was in these premises
that Mr. Foley had his boxing saloon where young Sydney learnt the mysteries of the noble art. Peter Jackson was at one time an instructor in the saloon, and he was followed by Jim Hall, who had his great fight with Fitzsimmons there. Larry Foley himself first came into prominence in 1871, when he fought Sandy Ross on the southern bank of the George’s River. The battle lasted 140 rounds, and when one reads that it was a very hot day, one can only admire the super-endurance of these gladiators.
The result of this fight was a draw, but later on the two met again at Port Hacking. Ross had comfortable quarters near the field of battle, but Foley was nearly swamped in crossing Botany Bay in a small boat on the morning of the fight, and had to walk a long distance after he landed, wet through and chilled to the bone. Despite this handicap, he beat his man in six rounds.
In 1883, Foley had a great battle with Professor William Miller. The fight lasted 40 rounds and ended in a draw.
The range of buildings extending from the vicinity of the Strand to the old Royal Hotel, prior to the erection of the modern buildings, was known as MacDonald’s Buildings, and was erected in 1833. One of them provides an instance of the celerity with which a name can be forgotten. The building which stood on the site now occupied by Messrs. Hordern Brothers was once known as Crampton’s Hotel.
An effort was made recently to find someone who could vouch that it was once Crampton’s Hotel, but not one person could be found. The Royal Hotel, now doing such noble duty as the Soldiers’ Club, can thank the unspeakable Hun for a few added years of life. Its destruction was ordered when the War Lord of Potsdam interfered, and the hotel’s wide balconies and old-world air still ornament George street.
The building is not the first on the site. Mr. Barnett Levey erected the first Royal in 1827, and in 1832, he converted, with the Governor’s permission, a portion of the premises into a theatre. But before he could produce plays two essential things had to be found—players and plays. How these were obtained a paragraph in the “Sydney Gazette” tells.
After alluding to the proposed theatre, the paragraph continues: “Aspiring genius desiring of gathering laurels in Mr. Levey’s corps dramatique should lose no time in applying for admission ‘ere the muster roll be filled up. Several talented individuals have already been enlisted, and we are informed that Mr. L., anxious to maintain the respectability of his establishment, has been most careful in his selection. There is, however, a temporary difficulty to be got over, which, we are sure, the public will, as far as possible, endeavour to obviate–we allude to the scarcity of dramatic works in the colony. Persons in possession of volumes of plays, farces, etc., would confer an obligation on the manager by lending them.”
Another “temporary difficulty” of the day is disclosed in a cutting following the above in my scrapbook. An author in advertising his book for sale plaintively remarks:
“The author is under the unfortunate necessity of craving the indulgence of the public to make allowance for an immensity of typographical errors which the printer attributes, together with a week’s delay, to the festivity of the season.”
Let us hope that Mr. Levey’s programmes were not printed in the festive season. The theatre was opened on December 26th, 1832, when Douglas Jerrold’s “Black-Eyed Susan” was performed, followed, as was the custom of the day, by a farce, in this case, “Monsieur Tonson.” The theatre was closed when the Royal Victoria Theatre in Pitt street was built, and from 1836-40, under the management of Mr. Sparkes, the Royal was one of the leading hotels of Sydney. On March 17th, 1840 a drunken carter was smoking his pipe in an adjoining stable when he set fire to some straw.
In a few minutes, the stable was on fire, and in a short time the Royal Hotel was in flames and was soon burnt to the ground. On the site arose the building that we see to-day, altered, however, by the conversion of the ground floor into shops. Up an archway, a little south of the Royal Hotel, was situated for a number of years the foundry of Mr. P. N. Russell, a man whose name will be ever remembered as the donor of a large sum of money to the Sydney University. It was here that Mr. Russell commenced business in 1842 on his own account by purchasing the foundry of the late James Blanch.
On an old plan of the city, I came across a note, written on the present site of the Crown Studios, that the building then standing on the spot had been hauled there by bullock teams. Next door to this was Robert’s Hotel, with the Hon. C. J. Roberts as proprietor. This corner had in the ‘thirties an occupant in the person of John Thomas Wilson, who was the occasion of a “certain liveliness” in the Sydney of his day. He had here an ironmongery establishment and a lurid past that, unfortunately, Sydney only heard of afterwards. His exit was dramatic. He obtained on credit goods from merchants to the value of £30,000, loaded these on the brig “Nereus,” and when she was clear of the Heads he joined her by means of the steamship “Sophia Jane,” and was seen no more. In the late ‘thirties, Mr. Thomas Baker erected the sign of the Crown and Anchor on the premises. On his departure, Mr. Henry Roberts became the landlord. The corner remained in the possession of the Roberts family for about seventy years, until 1919, when a fire destroyed the adjoining premises and damaged the hotel.
The owners of the freehold, Farmers’ Ltd., thereupon bought the remainder of Mr. Robert’s lease and the latter removed to the S.W. corner of Market and Pitt street.
On the other side of George Street, near King Street, adjoining the site of the Australian Bank of Commerce, was Mr. Robey’s ironmongery establishment. A few doors south of Robey’s, Tucker, Lingard, and Company (afterwards Tucker and Company), wine and spirit merchants, had their offices for a large number of years.
Still further south, in 1855, at number 314, Michael Farrell was the landlord of the Farriers’ Arms. On the site of the shop tenanted at one time by Cowles and Dunn, now part of Messrs. F. Lassetter and Company’s premises, the White Horse Tavern stood till it was removed across the road. Alongside it was a blacksmith’s shop. The firm now known as F. Lassetter and Company, Limited, was established in 1820 by Mr. Lancelot Iredale in premises on the other side of George street opposite the markets.
Mr. Frederic Lassetter came to Tasmania as a child with his father, the Rev. M. Lassetter, a Methodist clergyman. When little more than a boy Mr. Lassetter made his way to Melbourne and obtained employment in the auction rooms of Mr. Easy. In a little booklet issued by his firm in T910, Mr. Lassetter relates an incident that illustrates the gulf separating working conditions of 70 years ago and today. While in Mr. Easy’s employment, “I used to make,” he says “my luncheon on a penny biscuit more often than otherwise, and I used to eat it when I could during temporary lulls in the work.”
One day Mr. Easy caught him partaking of—one can scarcely say enjoying—this frugal meal, and demanded to know what he was doing. “I am at lunch sir,” was the respectful reply, made quite innocently of any wrongdoing. “At lunch, Lassetter. Never you dare to eat luncheon again while you are in my employ,” was the astonishing reply of the employer, “and,” adds Mr. Lassetter, “I never did.”
In 1850, with a nephew of the proprietor, Mr. Lassetter took over the hardware business of Lancelot Iredale; in 1860 he succeeded to the business, and in 1863 the name of Iredale and Company was dropped, and that of Frederic Lassetter substituted. It was in December of that year that the present premises of the firm were occupied.