|On 1 June 1916 the Sydney City Council resumed ninety-four propertieson the south-side of William Street. City of Sydney. Fifty-five of these buildings were shops and small businesses and a further twenty-eight were boarding houses. There was also the New Zealand Hotel, the Prince Albert Hotel, the Strand Hotel , the Gladstone Hotel, the Royal Hotel, a post office, a bank, a school, a factory, a hall, and a commercial stable. William Street was about to be widenedand these ninety-four buildings were in the way. This book offers a recreation of the street before the demolishers moved in. Each building will be shown as it was when the Council;'s acquisition order was made and an attempt will be made to suggest something of the lives - the occupations and preoccupations -= of those Sydney citizens living and working in the street. Other citizens, living lives remote from the day to day activities of the street, but with a specific and oftenfprceful say in the workings of it, will be introduced. In this way, a kaleidoscopic pattern of William Street, 1916, may emerge. Turn the tube a notch and a new set of figures may appear. |
William Street was no ordinary street. It had always been a problem. It was as much a problem for the Surveyor-General, Major Thomas L. Mitchell, in the 1830s as it was in 1916 for for Alderman R. D. Meagher, Lord Mayor, and those twelve Labor politicians in the City Council who had supported hoim in his resolution, only narrowly realised, to have the street widened. Mitchell, like Meagher, had great hopes for William Street, and it was Mitchell who first advanced the visionarynotion that the straggling track from Park Street across the racecourse (later Hyde Park) and thence through Woolloomooloo Estate and onto Woolloomooloo Heights (later Queen's and then, owing to death, King's Cross) should from the outset be made as a grand and noble thoroughfare, a radial spine sufficiently strong to support ambitions of a town already showing that it was no mere urchin off-spring of the mighty Empire. That Mitchell saw the future William Street as a grand street, built in the grand manner, is indicated by his letter to the Colonial Secretary on 10 December 1830:
... I have the honour to transmit a plan of the ground adjoining the Race Course on the east ... I have the honour to state, for the consideration of His Excellency the Governor, that the hollow and lowest part of this ground is nearly in the prolongation of Park Street, across the Race Course; thus admittingof the easiest ascent to the Woolloomooloo Estate, which is likely to become, at noremote period, a part of the town. Such a street prolonged would also ascend between Judge Dowling's and Mr Laidley;'s allotments ... to the new road [New South Head Road] on the opposite side: this great street. at right angles to George Street would form a very important line in the plan of the town. I would therefore honour it with the name of his present Majesty.Five years later, in a similar letter to the Colonial Secretary, Mitchell inytroduces the notion of "the cross", thereby bequeathing for the use of generations to come a name as well as an invocation. In this letter of 15 November 1835, Mitchell remarks that
William Street forms with George Street a great cross. conformably to the directions of the regular streets. The principal outlets from Sydney form the four points of the cross two of these terminate on the water, westward at the Market Wharf, and northward at the King's Wharf; two towards the land, southward at the turnpike and eastward at the road [New South Head Road] in question.Mitchell could see, in his mind's eye, what a glorious avenue William Street could be. The street, as he planned it, was to embody thoseGeorgian concepts of balance and space which, properly applied, would provide the town with a practical yet handsome route, to its eastern region. He, like Macquarie before him, was a planner, and what he saw in his mind's eye was never mean.
Erasmus Darwinwho, in his richly optimistic poem Visit of Hope to Sydney Cove 1789, has envisioned such grandiose streets new city in the Antipodes, would have been delighted to know that Thomas Mitchell was his on-site representative. But grand schemes based upon the best of civic intentiuons and with a mind for the well-being, both practical as well as aesthetic, of the citizenry, can founder when confronted with a more potent adversary. In the case of William Street and, indeed, of Sydney throughout its white history, that adversary has been the power of private property. In fact, the real history of William Street lies within the complex history of private ownership of land and buildings within the area, for it was the acquiring and subsequent transfer of property which, more than anything else, dictated not only the shape of the street itself, but also the very lives of the people living there.
Even as Surveyor General, Mitchell was beseeching His Excellency Governor Darling, in December 1830, to "admit the propriety of keeping in view a plan for the future general extension of the townwith regard to William Street, the Governor as titular owner of allland was continuing to grant land in Woolloomooloo, an area originally spreading from Woolloomooloo Bay to Surry Hills and on its east and west sides from Forbes Sytreet to Hyde Park. By the early 1830s, the eastern, and most elevated portions, previosly referred to as Woolloomooloo Heights had become known as Darlinghurst, a tribute to the largesse shown by the incumbent Governor towards the favoured public official and the politically useful merchant "The hill of Woolloomooloo", wrote the Sydney Gazette in April 1833, "formerly a frightful picture for the eye to rest upon from Sydney, is at length strippe of its sombre covering and begins to present to the viewview the most pleasing prospect, from the number of gentleman's seats and tastefully laid out gardenswhich appear scattered over it". Elevenmonths later the Gazette noted that "it is not generally known that the neighbourhood commonly called Woolloomooloo has received the name Darlinghurst. Mr Thomas Barker is erecting a residence there."
Thomas Barker was soon to illustrate