A Walking Tour of O’Connell Town & parts of Bligh’s Terrace, (now all now called Newtown), in the inner-west of Sydney, New South Wales.
Begin at the corner of Church Street and Federation Street, Newtown, then follow Church Street, Raper Street, Hordern Street, Chalder Street, Egan Street and Prospect Street, in O’Connell Town, then cross over O’Connell Street into Campbell Street, Susan Street, Stephen Street and Victoria Street, back across O’Connell Street again to leave Bligh’s Terrace and return to O’Connell Town along Victoria Street, Egan Street, Mechanic Street and Victoria Street again to the junction with Church Street, and end at the gates of Camperdown Cemetery and St. Stephen’s Anglican Church.
about 1 – 2 hours, depending on time available, the weather, your interest, and so on.
Look at any street directory of the Camperdown and Newtown area and the neat little patchwork of squares between Church Street, King Street, Missenden Road and Carillon Avenue stand out among the jumble of surrounding roadways. This street pattern reflects the historical development of Newtown from farms to villa estates, each then subdivided with little regard for neighbouring subdivisions. This tour focuses on the patchwork exception.
In the beginning . . .
The tour area covers the centre of Governor William Bligh’s Camperdown Estate, granted to him in 1806 by his outgoing predecessor, Governor King. He named it Camperdown after the site of a naval battle he had fought in off the Dutch coast. By the 1840s the Estate has passed into the hands of Sir Maurice O’Connell.
Maurice O’Connell arrived in Sydney with the 73rd Regiment of Foot in 1809, and the next year he married Mary Putland, widowed daughter of Governor Bligh. Mary was a headstrong woman, with an open hostility to her father’s enemies and a sense of dress that shocked many of her contemporaries. On one occasion she was laughed at by soldiers when she wore a diaphanous gown to church. By 1813, Governor Macquarie wanted the 73rd removed from the colony because Mary
…naturally enough, has imbibed strong feelings of resentment and hatred against all those Persons and their Families, who were in the least inimical to her Father’s Government … tho’ Lieut. Colonel O’Connell is naturally a very well disposed Man, he allows himself to be a good deal influenced by his Wife’s strong rooted Prejudices against the old Inhabitants of this country who took any active part against Governor Bligh.
The regiment sailed for Ceylon the next year.
In 1838, the O’Connell’s returned to Sydney, with the now Sir Maurice in command of the military forces in the colony. Lady Mary O’Connell soon made her presence felt when she had ejection notice served upon most of the residents and institutions in Parramatta claiming that the land was part of her inheritance. Eventually, a settlement was reached whereby the Parramatta land was forfeited but her ownership of all the other estates were confirmed. These included Camperdown Estate. In 1842, this estate was subdivided and sales began to be made, with the huge sum of £25,000 being eventually received. Most of the blocks were villa allotments between 800m2 and 2 hectares in size, but around this area smaller residential lots and streets were marked out.
It is interesting to note that O’Connell Town, as the village became known, was strategically sited on the highest part of the estate, and designed to a tight grid plan, with views over the surrounding countryside and main roads (hence Prospect Street) – this probably suggests Sir Maurice’s military background. The village was presumably also intended as a service centre for the surrounding villa estates, hence Mechanic Street and Brick Street (now Victoria Street), with the colony’s first modern cemetery bounding the west. To the east of O’Connell Town two further urban subdivisions named Bligh’s Terrace and Camperdown Terrace stretched along the north side of King Street with a more middle class ambience. A ‘terrace’, in this sense, meant a row of houses on the top or face of a slope, and the streets are all long and follow the contour of the Orphan School Creek catchment. Graceful feminine names such as Susan, Isabella and Elizabeth replaced the utilitarian street names of O’Connell Town, and two squares, one for the Church of England and the other (Sarah Square) for recreation, provided more salubrious open space than the burial ground.
During the winter of 1846, Sir Maurice was Acting Governor, and Lady Mary was again resident in Government House. The symbolism of such a return to the scene of her father’s ousting must have been greatly pleasing to Mary. In 1848, the O’Connell’s were preparing to return to England when Sir Maurice suddenly died at their Potts Point mansion, ‘Tarmons’. The body was interred in the Devonshire Street cemetery (now the site of Central Station), but was soon after shifted to Camperdown Cemetery as the first burial in the new graveyard. Lady Mary then spent some years in Paris before retiring to Gloucester, where she died in 1863.
On tour . . .
- Vista from the corner of Church Street and Federation Street. The view from this corner encompasses the greensward of Camperdown Memorial Rest Park and the landmark of St. Stephen’s church spire and the enclosing sandstone wall on one side, and the village of terraces and cottages gathered around the base of the church on the other.
- Raper Street timber houses Almost all of the remaining 19th century timber buildings (workers and artisan housing) in Newtown are located on the fringes of O’Connell Town (Hordern, Raper, northern O’Connell and Susan Streets). Virtually all of the 29 identified timber houses in Newtown are located within this area. The clustering of timber houses on the fringes of O’Connell Town contrasts with the brick houses of the same period in the centre of the village, and indicates that the social strata within the village were clearly marked out. These timber houses are a combination of refurbished older buildings and sensitively designed infill buildings of the 1980s.
- The street marks the centre of Raper’s Paddock. This followed the northern boundary of O’Connell Town, and was used at various times as a cattleyard and a dairy. In 1877 the paddock was subdivided and ‘joined’ to O’Connell Town by extending Hordern and O’Connell Streets and creating Chalder Street.
- Federation terraces, 50-74 Egan Street. ‘Raper House’ once occupied this site looking northwards over Rapers Paddock. Canon Taylor, minister at St. Stephen’s between 1868 and 1907, apparently used the house for many years as a parsonage. In 1910 a new Rectory was built in Church Street, next to the church, and soon after Raper House was demolished and replaced by this row of 13 single storey terraces. This is the longest single terrace row in this part of Newtown. It is built in the Queen Anne style – note the coloured lights in the windows, the filigree workwork and the tuck-pointed, polychrome face bricks. The houses remain in remarkably intact condition – note that none of the brickwork has been painted, and few alterations seem to have been made to the facades. Building such long rows of terrace housing was uncommon by 1911, and only seventeen other terraces from this period have been identified in the whole of South Sydney.
- 1960s walk-ups, Prospect Street. These red brick ‘walk-ups’ date from the 1960s, and are so-named because the upper levels are only accessible by stairs, not lifts. They are illustrative of public housing built throughout the inner city and elsewhere during that period, and were portrayed at the time as the modern answer to the ‘slum’ housing said to characterise the inner city.
- old civic area, corner Longdown Street and Missenden Road. The first Post Office in present-day Newtown operated from a building in Bligh’s Terrace somewhere between Missenden Road and Stephen Street from the early 1850s until 1882. The Municipality of Newtown was proclaimed in December 1862, and the building was also used for Council meetings between 1863 and 1866. In 1866 the town clerk, Mr W Mackay, was committed on forgery charges. As well as the Post Office and Council Chambers, the Anglican Church contributed to the civic nature of this precinct.
- Creating a civic space here, however, was subverted almost from the beginning when the Newtown Railway Station was opened in 1855 in Station Street, a kilometre to the west on the other side of the cemetery. This lead the centre of the area away from O’Connell Town and Bligh’s Terrace towards the present civic hub around the Newtown railway bridge.
- 1850s sandstock terraces, 5-9 Longdown Street. This plain little Victorian Georgian terrace, built in the late 1850s or early 1860s, is an earlier version of the cast iron lace or filigree style, only with the filigree of wood – note the diamond lattice work, wooden columns, frieze and railing, and the wooden bay partitions. The pink bricks are sandstocks that would have been locally made, although no other examples have been found in the area of such soft colours.
- William Mitchell Activity Centre, Longdown Street. This site was one of the two ‘squares’ in Bligh’s Terrace, and the surrounding streetnames were originally Longdown, Rose, Isabella and Ann Streets. The first St. Stephen’s Church of England was built in the square in 1844, with the entrance facing Isabella (now Victoria) Street with a view along Stephen Street to New Town Road (now King Street). Designed by Edmund Blackett, the foundation stone was laid on Boxing Day (St. Stephen’s Day) by Bishop Broughton, and the completed brick church was consecrated in 1845 at a service attended by colonial dignitaries such as the Governor, the Mayor of Sydney, and the O’Connell family.
- The church was at first a branch of St. Peter’s Cook’s River, but in 1846 a separate Parish of Camperdown was created. In 1862 this became the Parish of Newtown. By this time the church was becoming to small for the growing local population, and fundraising began in 1866 to build the present St. Stephen’s. The last service was held in early 1874, after which the building became the Parish Hall. The hall was extensively remodelled in 1907, and continued to be used until 1938 when it was destroyed in a fire.The square was acquired by the Council, and by 1951 Sydney City Council’s Longdown Street Cleansing Depot was operating from the site. The walls along Victoria and Rose Streets exhibit elements of a 1940s modernist style. In 1968 the South Sydney Municipal Council was formed, and the depot converted to the No 3 Victoria Street Welfare Centre by enclosing and refurbishing the garage and planting lawn and trees. The building currently houses the William Mitchell Activity Centre and the Jane Evans Day Centre run by South Sydney City Council.
- Champion Textiles Building, 16-18 O’Connell Street. This building is the former NSW Railway & Tramway Recreation Club. In 1909 a Tramway Recreation Club was formed with premises in Enmore Road. In 1910 railway men were invited to join, and the NSW Railway & Tramway Club was formed. This site was purchased for £178 and the foundation stone was laid in 1911 by the Minister for Mines. The building cost £1,800 and was opened on 8 July 1911. The Club included a gymnasium (with boxing ring, wrestling mats and vapour baths) on the ground floor, and billiard tables, facilities for chess, draughts and so on on, and a reading room and library on the first floor. The flat roof was used as a miniature 25-yard rifle range. Alcohol and gambling were forbidden, and women were excluded from membership.
- This version of the ‘federation warehouse’ style is marked by the the plain red face brick, the large windows and the rectangular, symmetrical shapes. The site was previously occupied by a stonemason’s yard.
- warehouse conversion, 10 O’Connell Street. The site, occupied by several small cottages until 1910, now encompasses brick structures of varying ages that have been used for industrial purposes during most of the 20th century. Mostly built over 1911 and 1912, the buildings initially housed Short, Wand & Son, manufacturing chemists, Australian Eucalyptus Ltd., essential oil distillers, and an artificial flowers factory. Most recently it has been occupied by the Colonial Engineering Company. During 1997 the building was converted into apartments. The function of the place has obviously changed, but its contribution to the inner city streetscape has been maintained.
- old Sydney Confectionary Co., factory, 10-12 Egan Street.From the 1880s until the mid-1920s a bottle merchants and dealers yard occupied this site. In 1928 the Sydney Confectionary Company opened for business in the new factory building. The building is illustrative of the redevelopment of the area early this century. Factories were built on land occupied by sheds, stables and yards possibly to take advantage of the proximity to nearby working class housing as well as accessibility to rail and road transport.
- 1850s cottages, corner of Mechanic and Hordern Streets.Hordern Street was one of the more developed side-streets off King Street by the 1850s. The poet Henry Kendall moved with his mother, twin brother and sisters to Newtown in 1857, and in 1859 Mrs Kendall was living in Hordern Street. The exact location of this house has yet to be determined. Presumably Henry was living in the same house when in 1859 he began contributing poems to the literary journal Month. He later moved to Enmore Road.
- The group of single story, cottage-like terrace houses at 11-15 Hordern Street were built between the 1840s and 1860s Their steep gabled roofs, small paned windows, valance and smooth stuccoed walls are illustrative of artisan housing in the area. Being sited between Mechanic and Brick (now Victoria) Streets suggests the probability of locally made sandstock bricks and other local materials and craftsmanship contributing to their timeless vernacular charm. The building materials and location distinguish them from the timber cottages on the lower fringes of the village.The scale and arrangement of the small buildings on the corner of Hordern and Mechanic Streets is almost the same as that on the corner of Campbell and Little Queen Streets, indicating the similarity in time and style of these two spots, the one in O’Connell Town and the other in Camperdown Terrace. The single storey building with the double-hipped roof was built about 1841.The shop with an office or residence above at 20 Hordern Street was built in 1913 in a smaller version of the ‘federation warehouse’ style for Barker, Coutts & Co, auctioneers. It replaced an earlier building used as stables. Note the large Diocletian window motif, the brick piers that break up the front, and the parapet and cornice, and the contrasting timber half wall of the shop-front. The site was formerly occupied by Gummerson’s Stables.Narrow laneways run north-south through the area and date from the 1842 subdivision. These were formerly essential for the removal of nightsoil (i.e. toilet pans) and rubbish. There is a slab and corrugated iron building on the elbow of Crook Lane. This old shed or stable is the only wooden slab building known to exist in Newtown (and possibly the inner city). In the 1880s a builder named Mr Crook occupied this site, and he may have built the shed or perhaps extended an earlier structure.
- Victorian houses, corner of Victoria and Hordern Streets.The buildings around this intersection are larger and more impressive that at the previous intersection. They all post-date the opening of the new St. Stephen’s in 1874. This hints at a change in the area’s social standing associated with relocating the church from Bligh’s Terrace to O’Connell Town. This early ‘gentrification’ was marked not only by the re-naming of Brick Street as Victoria Street, but also the settling of the name Newtown over the whole area.
- Designed by Edmund Blackett and built 1871-74, St. Stephen’s is acclaimed as one of the finest colonial Gothic buildings in Sydney, and a Blackett masterpiece. Note the landmark quality of the spire, the steeply pitched roof, and the carved Pyrmont sandstone. The view line along Victoria Street leads directly through the cemetery gates and up to the tip of the spire, with the double-storied buildings around the intersection framing the perpendicular vista.The two-storey weatherboard terrace at 38-40 Hordern Street was built in the 1880s. Note the corrugated-iron ‘jerkin head’ roof and hipped verandah roof, the wide, timber framed french doors on the balcony and the cast iron filigree fences. In 1901, Signora Fabris, a teacher of singing, was living in No. 40.The two-storey terrace at 34-36 Hordern Street was built in the 1870s, and may be a local example of the ‘colonial Grecian’ style. Note the absence of windows in the front wall, the solid, symmetrical arrangement of doors and bays, the bracketed parapet, and the tiny french doors on the balconies, as well as the smooth, stuccoed walls.The two-storied terrace and corner shop at 23 Hordern Street dates from the 1870s. Note the unusual balcony above the shop shaped by the typical corner shop diagonal entrance.
- building site, corner of Victoria and Church Streets. The cemetery was originally a part of Bligh’s Camperdown Estate that came under the control of the Sydney Church of England Cemetery Company established in 1847. The company had been specifically formed to establish and maintain the cemetery. The church was not built for another two decades, and had to be designed to fit among the already existing graves.
- The five hectare cemetery was acquired by the Company in 1848 from Sir Maurice O’Connell. The ground was consecrated on 16 January 1849, and the remains of Sir Maurice were transferred from the old Devonshire Street cemetery to become the first burial in the new cemetery. By 1868, over 15 000 burials had taken place, and from then on, new burials were severely restricted. A further 2 000 occurred up to 1900, then only another 18 up to 1926, with the last burial being in 1949.Newtown Municipal Council gained control of the cemetery in 1912. In 1925 the original wooden fence was removed and parts donated to the Technological Museum (now The Powerhouse Museum). After much lobbying by Newtown Council, the State Government finally agreed to converting the cemetery to a park, and in 1948-49, headstones were relocated inside the new stone-walled enclosure, possibly designed by Morton Herman, that now marks the much reduced cemetery. The new Camperdown Memorial Rest Park then became only the second public park in Newtown.
The cemetery supported several service industries. This building site was the site of JR Andrews & Sons, monumental masons and lead cutters from 1849 until the 1870s. John Roote Andrews is reputed to be responsible for 90% of the headstones in the cemetery, including that of Nicholas Bochsa and the Dunbar tomb. Andrews was also an earthenware dealer and may have been involved in brickmaking. After the effective closure of the cemetery in 1868, the business shifted to Australia Street, with sons of JR Andrews establishing further operations at Enmore, Rookwood and in the city. Upon his death in 1881 John Roote Andrews was buried in Camperdown Cemetery. The widowed Mrs Andrews continued to live in a house on the site for some years after her husband’s death.
Leaving O’Connell Town . . .
This brief walk around the oldest part of Newtown has been a walk through a cultural landscape. Each stop on the route has simply exposed a tiny fragment of the many layers of history that make and remake the story of Newtown all the time.
In the 1840s an idealised, hierarchical village was planned centred upon middle class Bligh’s Terrace and artisan O’Connell Town that remains reflected in the street pattern. The location of the new railway station in 1855, however, drew the centre away to Newtown. In 1874 St. Stephen’s Church of England moved westwards to crown the skyline above Newtown. The first wave of redevelopment changed names attracted somewhat wealthier residents. By the 1910s the middle classes were moving to the new suburban fringes, and factories and their workers began to dominate. The slum clearance movement of the 1930s-1960s made some impact with the building of several ‘walk-up’ blocks. The return of local self-government in 1968 brought municipal welfare to the old St. Stephen’s site. In the 1980s and 1990s the social structure is again changing as young professionals and alternate lifestylers move into the area, mixing with older families. An appreciation of the character and built heritage of Newtown, long evident among local historians, has now become more widespread. Adaptations of older buildings to new uses or renovations and restorations of existing older houses have now begun to add their contribution to the complex historical development of Newtown.
Most of the former O’Connell Town-Bligh’s Terrace-Camperdown Terrace subdivision dating from 1842 forms a proposed heritage conservation area under South Sydney Council’s Heritage LEP, currently on public exhibition.
This tour was researched and compiled by Bruce Baskerville for the 1997 Royal Australian Historical Society’s Annual Conference with Affiliated Societies held at the University of Sydney, School of Nursing, Mallet Street, Camperdown, Sydney, over the 11th and 12th October 1997. South Sydney Heritage Society hosted the walking tour.
The right of Bruce Baskerville to be identified as the moral rights author of this work is hereby asserted in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968 of the Commonwealth of Australia.