Ian Dodd outlines a walking tour around Sydney, that follows in the footsteps of the nineteenth century working-class man. Images by Chloe Cann
START POINT: YHA Hostel, 110 Cumberland Street, The Rocks
END POINT: The Lord Nelson Hotel, Argyle and Kent Street, The Rocks. Ph: 9251 4044
COST OF A NIP OF RUM: (Lord Nelson) $8 or $9 for the special blend; (Hero of Waterloo) $8.
Let’s start the tour at the YHA Hostel, 110 Cumberland Street in The Rocks. It is built on a site that extends through to Gloucester Street.
Although it is a new building, you’ll immediately notice that it is awkwardly raised, exposing around a quarter of an acre of foundations. But don’t be fooled this building has been designed not to damage the archaeological treasures underneath. In fact, they’ve just picked up the UNESCO Asia Pacific World Heritage Jury Award of Commendation for Innovation. The exterior of the modern building also has silhouettes of the buildings that graced the site one hundred and twenty years ago.
These foundations represent the slums of old Sydney. Through the maze of foundations, you can clearly see building outlines of single room cottages, some dating back to the 1795.
It is estimated that during the nineteenth century, 1000 people lived in the 30 houses and shops that once stood on this site. And when the archaeological dig took place in 1994, three quarters of a million artefacts were uncovered. Not bad for an area the size of a postage stamp and demolished in 1900.
Between Gloucester and Cumberland Streets, is a clearly visible stone Lane. It’s called Cribbs Lane and predates the two streets it connects. It was in use well before 1810.
And, on the Australia Hotel side of the Gloucester Street corner, lie the remains of the oldest home on the site. It was that of Ann Armsden and her First Fleeter husband George Legg, dating from 1795. Unfortunately, George died in a boating accident, so Ann remarried the baker next door. Together in 1807 they rebuilt the building in stone.
Behind them, facing Cumberland Street was the home of Irish rebel Richard Bryne. Byrne was a stone mason and constructed a cottage in 1805.
Next to the Byrne house, there are steps down to an old well, cut into the rock. It was here in 1810, tragedy struck, when records show a young child drowned.
On the other side of Cribbs Lane, during this time, and opposite the Legg and Byrne properties was a slaughterhouse. It was owned by convict George Cribb, convict and butcher.
Cribb was a character suspected of selling illegal alcohol, arrested, but never convicted through lack of evidence. In the archaeological digs, evidence of a still was found discarded at the bottom of a well. Must have been chucked down there during a raid! Sly grog aside, he built a substantial house at the corner of Cribb and Gloucester Streets.
By the 1830s Cribb needed money, so his corner house was expanded and converted into the Whalers Arms Hotel. While running parallel between Gloucester and Cumberland Streets, Carahers Lane was constructed. Six, two-storey terraces were built. A further three were squeezed along Cribbs Lane itself.
Byrnes property would in time become the Plymouth Arms the forerunner to the Australia Hotel next door. A cellar from the old pub was uncovered during archaeological excavations.
The properties remained in tact until 1901 when they were bought by the government and demolished. The reason fear of bubonic plague. In all, three people died in The Rocks from the plague, and one of them was 15 year old paperboy James Foy. He lived in a terrace on Cribbs Lane and the government stepped in out of fear of an epidemic.
Since then, the site remained pretty much vacant, preserving the remains that lay underneath.
Once you’ve finished there, follow Gloucester Street onto Cumberland Street and cross Argyle Cut. Immediately across the bridge and to the right is Gloucester Walk, which follows a cliff face.
Soon, on the edge of the cliff you’ll come to the outlines of more buildings and Foundation Park. This is another archaeological site depicting a row of eight terraces, perched on the cliff face.
Much of the site has been well preserved and in the interpretive park, houses have been re-equipped with furniture to give you an idea of the buildings that once stood here.
The site was developed late around 1875, because the land was steep and building needed to be cheap. The main property was originally owned by John Nicholson. While beside him two terraces were built by Bartholomew Higgins and John Kearney both members of the Rocks Police.
But, by the 1890s Higgins and Kearney were in a little trouble being implicated in an 1890s inquiry into Chinese Gambling. From humble beginnings, the two officers amassed some extensive property holdings and the investigators smelt a rat. In the end, they were considered steady quiet men and the mystery of the property holdings were never adequately resolved.
At the same time as the fear of the plague spread, the houses were resumed by the State Government in 1901. However, they were let into the 1930s, when damp issues from the adjacent cliff finally saw them demolished.
In the mid 1990s the current park was built around the ruins that clearly show the buildings that once graced the site.
From here, follow Gloucester Walk to George Street and into Dawes Point Park, below the Harbour Bridge.There, near the southern pylon is the Remnants of Dawes Point Battery.
Dawes was an engineer and in this area constructed an observatory before going on to build the battery. The earliest part of the site is the floor of the powder magazine, which dates back to 1789.
Dawes had the chance to be the colony’s engineer, but he had a number of run-ins with Governor Arthur Phillip for which he refused to apologise, which saw him shipped back to England in 1791.
The most substantial footings though are those of colonial architect Francis Greenway They date back to 1819.
Preserved at the site are bomb stores, substantial footings, gun emplacements and six mid nineteenth century cannons. The site was excavated in the mid 1990s, after being demolished and covered over, in the 1920s, in preparation for building the Harbour Bridge above.
Absorbed all that? Time now for a drink!
Follow Lower Fort Street up until Windmill Street, and there on the corner is the Hero of Waterloo Hotel (phone 9252 4553).
It’s a classic pub with solid sandstone walls that dates from 1843. Downstairs are tunnels, that were used to transport drunk patrons back down to the wharves. The stonework in the building is believed to have come from Sydney’s first quarry, that was located in Kent Street.
But don’t get too drunk! There’s one more pub to come.
Follow Lower Fort Street to Argyle Place Park and there at the other end, on the corner of Kent and Argyle Streets is the Lord Nelson Hotel.
The history of the pub dates from 1831 when the Shipwright Arms was established. Over the next decade, it was rebadged The Sailors Return, The Quarryman’s Arms and in 1841, The Lord Nelson. The pub’s original licence still graces the wall and I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to end this tour.