Monday, 16 February 2015

Brickfield Hill (1) - The Hill

George St from Bathurst St, c, 1890 (SL-NSW)

Brick-making commenced in Sydney within weeks of the arrival of the First Fleet. James Bloodworth, a brick-maker in England before being transported, stumbled upon a usuable clay, and once this proved hard to retrieve, he worked his way further up the slope, away from the creek, and lucked upon a goodly supply of better quality clay. Of course, this was some distance from the small colony on the harbour. The creek became Cockle Creek, the brick-field became enclosed by George Street, Liverpool Street, Castlereagh Street, and Campbell Street. All to the east of George Street.

George St from Bathurst St last week

This area was mined for its clay from 1788 until 1841. Brick-making then moved slightly further afield to places lke Newtowm, Camperdown, and Pyrmont. By 1841 the colony was expanding rapidly. The Old Burial Ground had already been closed in 1820 and a new one commenced in Devonshire Street on the other side of Cockle Creek. George Street was teaming with industry and bullock wagons hauling timber, and fleece.

Sketched 1796 by Edward Dayes, purporting to be of the brick field hill on the way to Parramatta (NLA)

The original boundary of the colony was deemed to be the current location of Bathurst Street. But there was an issue with the intersection of George Street - the main artery from the harbour - and Bathurst Street. After, a long, steady incline up from Cockle Creek, there was a sudden increase in gradient, before steadying to travel past the ex-burial ground. This was the brick field hill. The bullock teams and sulkies struggled.

In 1838 a major piece of public works saw the brick field hill up George St, reduced 15 feet in height between Bathurst and Liverpool Streets, and made more gradual in gradient, with the millions of tons of spoil (mostly sandstone) being used to reclaim the southern end of Cockle Bay and to elevate the southern part of George Street. Convict labour was plentiful, what with teams of men hauling bricks from the brick fields to the government buildings around the cove, from dawn to dusk already. These teams came either from the Carters' Barracks - on one edge of the Devonshire Burial Ground, now Central Station - or, from the hulk "Phoenix" anchored out in Sydney Cove.

They simply chopped the top off the hill. Yep, that sort of behaviour is still in our genes.

Looking across George St, and down Bathurst St to the west (2015). About 15 feet of rock has been removed.


Denton Harryman said...

interesting history .. love the sketch from 1788 .. so Australia has a history of hill top removal .. hopefully not as bad as the mining practice in the US known as mountain topping ... it seems to me that the hill top removal you described served a public service.

William Kendall said...

Quite a change on George Street!

Joe said...

We have certainly left our footprint on this terrain Julie.

Joan Elizabeth said...

The modern street is not a pretty building-wise but is greener which is a plus.

Alain said...

J'adore les vieilles photos. Cela ressemble vraiment au far west américain.

Julie said...

Joan, that stretch of Sydney is truly an abomination. Down closer to Central is fine, up close to Town Hall and the Cathedral is fine. Just the 250m of "Brickfield Hill" which covers what is loosely termed "the entertainment precinct" is terrible. Bars, takeaways, cheap jewellery, pinball parlors, pubs ... not me at all.

Julie said...

Alain, yes, I like the style of the opening image, too. I can see why it reminds you of the wild west of America. However, there are no lone cowboys astride thgeir horse, and definitely no-one toting "heat".