The Historic Rocks area

The Historic Rocks area, Sydney, Australia (A)

A historical walking tour through Sydney's Rocks area, site of the initial European settlement of Australia in 1788. Along this tour you will visit many convict built buildings and other sites of early European historical significance whilst taking in breathtaking views of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
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Walk Route

Guide Name: The Historic Rocks area
Guide Location: Australia » Sydney
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 3.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: Paul Alexander
Author Bio: Born and bred Sydneyite who loves the city of my birth for it's vitality, multiculturalism, nightlife and awesome places to eat and drink. A career banker and financier, I love history and travel and have three times visited the home of my ancestors at Keiss, near John-o-Groats, Scotland.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Macquarie Place
  • 'Lilyvale'
  • Cribbs Lane
  • Argyle Stores
  • Playfair Street Terraces
  • Suez Canal
  • Cadman's Cottage
  • Campbell's Stores
  • Clyde Bank
  • Holy Trinity Anglican Church (The Garrison Church)
  • Argyle Cut
  • Sydney Observatory
  • Fort Street School
Macquarie Place

1) Macquarie Place

Macquarie Place represents one of the most historically significant urban spaces in Sydney and Australia, and was first established less than 25 years after the arrival of the First Fleet. Here you will find the obelisk erected by order of Governor Macquarie in 1818 to mark the geographic centre of the colony, from which all roads in NSW are measured. The first Government House of Sydney was built here but sadly it has since been demolished. The first town square to be designated in the new colony of New South Wales, Macquarie Place remains to this day as a public place as has been its role since the early 1800’s. Also on this site are an anchor and canon from the HMS Sirius flagship of the First Fleet and a statue commemorating Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, renown as an early industrialist responsible for major improvements in refrigeration of meat, especially for transportation to England.

2) 'Lilyvale'

Lilyvale was built in 1845 for the innkeeper Michael Farrell on land which he had purchased in 1838. Lilyvale has been used as a tavern and a guest house and it is not known if it was ever used as originally intended as a gentleman’s residence. The Crown purchased the property in 1903 from the Farrell family and it was restored in 1991 as part of the ANA hotel redevelopment. Lilyvale is not open to the public but you can wander around the back of the building to gain an understanding of the Colonial Regency style architecture used in its design
Cribbs Lane

3) Cribbs Lane

This laneway is named after George Cribb, convict butcher who lived on this site in the 1820’s. Cribb arrived in the penal colony in 1808 on board the convict ship, Admiral Gambier and he owned a pub, a house and a butcher shop here. This area is significant due to the archaeological diggings which give a glimpse of how the early settlers were able to build into the sandstone outcrops which gave The Rocks its name. Here you will be able to view the footings of many of these houses as well as relics, some dating from 1795, which were dug up whilst the Youth Hostel, which now resides here, was being built. Take you time to read the story of this historical site and view the relics which are housed in glass viewing containers.
Argyle Stores

4) Argyle Stores

The Argyle Stores group of buildings are unique in Sydney in their ability to demonstrate changing warehouse design and construction from the early 19th to the early 20th century and, despite numerous alterations, the buildings still retain much of the fabric of their major phases of development and use as commercial stores. These buildings represent an important landmark in the history of conservation as they provide clear evidence of early conservation practice and philosophy. The first European development of the site was associated with the extension of Sydney's first Hospital. The first building was a house commenced by Captain John Piper in 1826 at what became the east wing of the current stores. Captain Piper sold the house before completion to pardoned convict Mary Reiby in 1828. Reiby had been transported for seven years in 1791 for horse stealing, aged 14, a crime she committed whilst dressed as a man. Mary Reiby was to become a rich retailer and landowner in the early days of the Sydney colony which is of great significance as she was able to build her wealth whilst raising seven children on her own following the death of her husband Thomas in 1811.
Playfair Street Terraces

5) Playfair Street Terraces

The row of terrace houses in Playfair Street are a fine example of the typical workers housing being built for the rental market during the mid-Victorian period in Sydney. They demonstrate the subdivision patterns which occurred during the period 1875-1883 and are an integral part of the diverse residential/commercial character of the Rocks. These interiors would have coped with quite large and often extended families. The Playfair Street Terraces were the first residential restoration/ revitalization project undertaken by the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority in the 1970s. Due to this conservation work, the public can now appreciate the early style of housing which have now been transformed into offices, galleries and restaurants.
Suez Canal

6) Suez Canal

Harrington Lane, now commonly known as the Suez Canal, is one of the few remaining alleyways that came about as a result of irregular construction of early Sydney residences and commercial buildings built into the sandstone rocks around Sydney Cove. This alleyway was renown as a haunt of the Rocks Push, a larrikin gang who dominated the Rocks Area for twenty years from the 1870’s. Female members of the Push would entice drunken sailors into the lane before they were assaulted and robbed by the gang. It is reported that it once was inhabited by a half savage woman who would rip the clothes off the backs and the gold from the teeth of any unsuspecting passer by.
Cadman's Cottage

7) Cadman's Cottage

Cadman's Cottage is widely recognised to be the oldest standing residence in Australia although the cottage at Salter's Dairy in Parramatta, dating back to 1796 and not as well known, could easily lay claim to this distinction. Cadman's Cottage was built between 1815 and 1816 as a coxswain's barracks, it's most notable resident being John Cadman, who lived in this house for 19 years from 1827 before moving to Raymond Terrace in the Hunter Valley where he passed away in 1848. Cadman was a convict who was transported for life in 1788 on the charge of horse stealing. Cadman received a full pardon in 1821 and was granted permission from the government to marry Elizabeth Mortimer in 1830. Cadman’s Cottage has since housed the headquarters of the Sydney Water Police and thence became the residence of the Superintendent of the Sailors Home which is situated next door.
Campbell's Stores

8) Campbell's Stores

These bond stores, dating from 1838, are what remains of the business empire built by Robert Campbell, the son of John Campbell the ninth Laird of Ashfield, who came to these shores from Scotland via Calcutta and built Australia’s first merchant empire. Campbell made a fortune with his trading empire and he was one of the first landowners in the Canberra district, where he built his estate, Duntroon, which now forms part of the Australian Royal Military College. Campbell is widely regarded as the father of Australian Commerce and these gabled storehouses survive as a testament to the legacy that Campbell’s business acumen played in the early days of the penal colony. As you can see they are now tenanted by art galleries, offices and some fashionable restaurants which have spectacular views of the Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay.
Clyde Bank

9) Clyde Bank

Built in 1824 for Robert Crawford who was at the time Principal Clerk to the Colonial Secretary, Clyde Bank is a fine example of an early colonial Georgian villa. It is one of the earliest surviving villas in Australia and was at one stage owned by Robert Campbell, son of the aforementioned Robert Campbell, The Father of Australian Commerce. Another owner of this beautiful villa was Captain Joseph Moore, who owned commercial wharves in Cockle Bay from where the first shipment of Australian gold was loaded for London in 1851.

The Building is now a private residence and is not open to the public.
Holy Trinity Anglican Church (The Garrison Church)

10) Holy Trinity Anglican Church (The Garrison Church)

Holy Trinity Anglican Church is a unique complex of church and former school hall in Sydney which is rare in New South Wales in regard to its age, architecture, and historic associations. The construction of the church and adjoining school was initiated by the Church Act of 1836; the church being completed in stages between 1840 and 1878 to designs prepared by Henry Ginn and Edmund T. Blacket in the archaeologically correct Gothic Revival style. The church is one of the earliest extant ecclesiastical structures in the state. Consciously sited against the rock scarp and fronting the public reserve of Argyle Place, the mid-nineteenth century setting of the church is unique. The church and its contents demonstrate the nineteenth commercial importance of the harbourside suburb, and the political and social status of the parish.

The strong support for the establishment of the church by Bishop Broughton, Rev. Cowper and George Barney, was sustained by prominent local families such as the Scotts, Merrimans and Atherdens. Parishioner’s endowments have included the unique east window (1861) imported from the workshop of Charles Clutterbuck of London, and the locally produced Lyon and Cottier windows (1878).

It is commonly known as The Garrison Church simply because the regiments of soldiers from the nearby garrison worshiped here.
Argyle Cut

11) Argyle Cut

Begun in 1843 with convict labour and finished in 1859 with the aid of municipal labour and explosives, the Argyle Cut was hewn out the local sandstone to provide a more direct route for transport between Circular Quay and Millers Point and its commercial wharves. The sandstone cut from here was dumped in the mangrove swamp at the head of the Tank Stream which now forms part of Circular Quay. Just down Argyle Street on the Northern side are the Argyle Stairs which date from Lachlan Macquarie’s time as Governor of the colony, and if you climb these stairs to the top to Cumberland St you a provided with a bird’s-eye view of the cut and the bridge which now traverses it for the Bradfield Highway and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Sydney Observatory

12) Sydney Observatory

Built in 1857 the main building in the Sydney Observatory complex is a fine and rare example of a purpose built Observatory building with attached residential wing. It has significance for the integrity of the original fabric and detailing, the asymmetrically form of its main facade, and the prominent siting in one of the most spectacular locations in the city. Constructed for scientific purposes it has historic significance as it demonstrates colonial progress through the provision of education and science. The building is significant for its association with a number of historically important persons and has social and educational association with Sydney University. The Observatory is significant for its long and continued use as well as the retention of original astronomical equipment, equatorial dome and time ball apparatus which, as well as providing the time for the colony, played a necessary role in the development of the Harbour as a shipping port. The largely intact interior, including original joinery, plasterwork and fireplaces and equipment ensures that the Observatory remains the most intact and longest serving early scientific building in the state. It is significant as a fine rare example externally and internally, of a building used for observatory purposes. Open almost everyday of the year between 10am and 5 pm and also for night sessions, there is a charge for entering the Observatory for the telescope and 3-D movie sessions, admission to the grounds is free.
Fort Street School

13) Fort Street School

Fort Street High School (National Trust Centre, S H Ervin Gallery), the major part of these structures are fine examples of mid-nineteenth century buildings constructed in the Victorian Free Classical and Victorian Regency styles. The buildings have a prominent position and an important visual and contextual relationship with the former Military Hospital building. These buildings are part of the largest national school to be established in the colony during the mid 1850's. They have had a lengthy association with a variety of historically important persons and organisations and are significant as a design of the colony's first Schools Architect, Henry Robertson. The buildings have social significance for their association with the change from denominational to government schooling and for their association with community functions since their construction. The buildings now house the National Trust Centre.

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