Surry Hills Academy, Bourke Street, Surry Hills, NSW

This history was originally written in 1995 as part of a heritage assessment of a building for which considerable change, possibly demolition, was planned as part of the redevelopment of the site.  The format follows that often found in heritage assessments in New South Wales of the period, and is drawn from an analysis of the documentary evidence and of the evidence of the fabric of the building.


1.1 Original Land Grant and subdivisions including the site, 1790s-1840s

In 1794, Commissary John Palmer received a Crown Grant of 28.3 hectares on the hills to the east of Sydney town that he named “George Farm”. By 1800, Palmer had acquired an 81 hectare estate in Surry Hills and a 40 hectare estate in Woolloomooloo. In 1808, he lost his public offices because of his support for Governor Bligh during the Rum Rebellion, and then spent several years in England giving evidence to inquiries regarding the coup. Palmer’s business activities were severely hampered, and in 1814 the Sheriff ordered that the Surry Hills estate be auctioned to settle his debts. Surveyor-General Meehan planned the estate subdivision, but few of the streets had been established before the sale took place. Twenty seven lots were sold, including the triangular, 2.42 hectare Block No. 7, to Joseph Underwood, which he in turn sold in 1819 to Edward Riley. This block was bounded by what became known as Bourke Street on the west, Botany Road on the north-east, and blocks 19 and 20 to the south, which were purchased by Captain Richard Brooks and Isaac Nichols respectively. In 1825, Riley suicided, leaving two conflicting wills. Nearly two decades of litigation followed, preventing much further development of the Riley Estate, as the contested land became known .

In 1831, Surveyor-General Mitchell re-planned the Surry Hills street pattern so that it aligned with the city grid pattern, but these new road alignments were contested by many of the land owners, and often ignored in their subdivision patterns. In 1832, a Select Committee of the Legislative Council inquired into and reported upon the “…projected formation of lines of streets on the Surry Hills” in order to divide the estate evenly between the seven Riley legatees. The alignment of Bourke Street followed Mitchell’s plan, and became one of the main north-south boundaries within the estate. Six smaller streets were created as east-west boundary lines, including Short Street .

English: Portrait of Major Sir Thomas Livingst...

Major Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792–1855), Surveyor General of NSW and surveyor of the Surry Hills street pattern in 1831. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brooks subdivided his block in 1831, and Nichols his in 1833. Wealthy Sydney merchant George Hill built his stone mansion “Durham Hall” on a Nichols lot in Albion Street, while another wealthy Sydney businessman, Lancelot Iredale, had his John Verge-designed “Auburn Cottage” built in Bourke Street on a Brooks lot. Both mansions had extensive gardens and summerhouses, adding to the gentry atmosphere of this part of Surry Hills at the time. Kass described this Brooks and Nichols subdivision area as a “nest of gentry” during the 1830s-1860s.

English: durham hall, surry hills, sydney

Durham Hall, Albion Street, Surry Hills, Sydney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1841, one of the wills was proven in the Supreme Court, and control of the Estate passed to trustees to dispose of in order to fund several annuities for the Riley legatees. The trustees had the estate surveyed for subdivision, and began selling off the blocks from 1845.

The Wedge Darke map of 1847 shows Short Street, joining Bourke Street and Botany Street, with its east-west alignment and dotted projection eastwards to South Dowling Street indicating that it is a Mitchell-planned street. The map also indicates a building on the site in Short Street, but no building facing Bourke Street. The Woolcott & Clarke map of 1854 indicates an additional building on the site apparently facing Bourke Street, but the two structures remain separated by a yard. The Bourke Street building also appears to be set back from the building line.

1.2 Development of Allotment 14, Block E 7, Riley Estate, 1849-1995

1.2.1 “Surrey Hills Academy and the ladies seminary”, 1847-1871

In 1849, Allotment 14, Block E 7 of the Riley Estate of 341.4m2, and described as a “…parcel of land and premesis…”, bounded by Bourke and Short Streets, a lane, and another allotment, was sold by the trustees to Thomas Lawrence Dodd of Bourke Street, schoolmaster, for £109 7s 6d . Unlike the time-payment system described by Kass that was developed by the trustees to sell the lots and encourage their development, Mr (later Reverend) Dodd paid the full amount in cash at the time of the sale . The price of the lot indicates that a building of some sort was already standing on the site at the time of the sale, and Dodd’s address indicates that he may have already been living in the building, while his occupation indicates that he was operating the building as a school.

Dodd’s Bourke Street address indicates that he was already living in one of the buildings, and this is confirmed by Directory entries. In 1845, he is listed at a “classical and commercial school, Hutcheson’s street, Surry Hills”. In 1847, he is listed at the “academy” in Bourke and South Streets, Surry Hills. Other entries in this directory indicate that ‘South’ street is a misprint for Short street. At the same time, Miss Dodd is listed at the “ladies day and boarding school, Bourke Street”. In 1851, Thomas Dodd is listed as a schoolmaster, of Bourke Street, along with the Misses Dodd at the ladies seminary in Bourke Street. By 1855, the Misses Dodd are listed at the ladies seminary in Bourke Street, next to the Wesleyan Chapel, with the Reverend James Huston the master at “Surry Hills Grammar School” in Short Street. Two years later, things remained the same, although John Gardener, schoolteacher, is also listed living in Short Street next to the Surry Hills Grammar School.

Thus it appears that the Short Street building was built between 1845 and 1847, and the Bourke Street building between 1847 and perhaps 1849.

The Short Street building was the Surry Hills Grammar School or Academy, and the Bourke Street building the ladies seminary.

In 1861, The Reverend Thomas Dodd, by then of Dungog, mortgaged the buildings to the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle for a loan of £1,250 at 8% p.a . In the same year, The Reverend James Huston was listed as the Principal of the “Surrey Hills Academy” at both 388 Bourke Street and the south side of Short Street . The use of the old spelling ‘Surrey’ associates the school with the earliest days of gentry settlement in the area. The spelling ‘Surry’ only became the standard form during the 1840s . In 1863 the Reverend Huston was listed at 388 Bourke Street, with James Rutledge, schoolmaster, listed at the school, 1 Short Street. In 1864, the Reverend Huston was listed at “Surry Hills Academy”, Short Street, and in 1864 and 1865 James Rutledge was listed as schoolmaster of Short Street. In 1865, the first trigonometrical survey of the city was carried out, and the individual buildings on the site were clearly mapped. The academy or grammar school and ladies seminary is shown as a single brick structure with timber verandahs and a fence dividing the yard. The structure is clearly divided between the Short Street building, the two halves of the Bourke Street building, and a structure joining the Short and Bourke Street wings .

Between 1866 and 1871, Miss Dodd, teacher, and William Bailey, professor of music and dancing, are alternatively listed as occupying the school building in Short Street. Between the late-1850s and mid-1860s, the Misses Dodd’s ladies seminary was operating from “Gayndah Cottage”, in Underwood Street, Paddington, but by 1866 at least one Miss Dodd had returned to Short Street

Thus between 1861 and 1871 both Bourke Street and Short Street were being listed as the site of the Surrey Hills Academy or school. The listings and the trig survey indicate that the two buildings had now been connected and were regarded as one structure. The school appears to have changed its focus in 1865/66 with changes from teachers with religious affiliations to perhaps a more social syllabus – and perhaps also a change from schooling boys and girls to girls only. The school is not listed in the grants made to denominational schools during the 1850s, and appears to have always been a private school, teaching secondary subjects of some kind, without any public funding .

The closure of the school in 1871 is most likely associated with the changing social character of this part of Surry Hills. As the gentry were moving out, lower middle class tradesmen and artisans were moving in. The local environment changed as villa estates such as “Auburn Cottage” were subdivided for terrace housing. It appears that the new residents of the area initiated the demand for the public schools in Surry Hills that developed during the 1870s and 1880s, although by 1871, only one public school was operating in the area from temporary premesis in Bourke Street .

1.2.2 A private townhouse 1871-1895

In 1869, Mrs Florabelle Warren, widow and Hugh MacMaster, builder, purchased the property from the Bishop of Newcastle for £1,210 and seem to have begun renting the Bourke Street (boarding school) building and the Short Street (academy) building separately. The academy was tenanted by the school until 1871, while the seminary was occupied by Mrs Warren and Mr MacMaster, and the boarding school by Mrs Mary Ann Thompson from 1865

It appears that, internally, the whole building could now function as three separate units – with the school facing Short Street, Mrs Warren and Mr MacMaster in the Short Street/Bourke Street (seminary) corner and Mary Ann Thompson in the other Bourke Street section (the boarding school) next to the chapel.

In 1880, Mrs Warren is listed as living at both 1 Short Street and 444 Bourke Street, with Mrs Mary Ann Thompson at 446 Bourke Street, next to the Wesleyan Chapel . It appears that the building was now functioning as two dwellings, with the former academy and seminary as one unit, and the boarding school next to the chapel as the other unit. The Water Board Detail Plan of 1883, updated in 1892 and 1896, shows a building essentially unchanged since 1865 except for the addition of further wooden structures at the back of the academy building, presumably cooking and washing areas and a toilet, and a small wooden building behind the boarding school building that was probably a toilet .

In 1890, Mrs Warren is listed at 346 Bourke Street on the corner of Short Street. There is no separate listing for 1 Short Street or the part of the Bourke Street building next to the Wesleyan Chapel, and the whole structure may then have been regarded as one building or house . Hugh MacMaster passed away in 1882, and Mrs Warren appears to have lived alone in the academy building until 1895, when she sold the site to William Cary, a Sydney businessman and resident of Glebe Point .

1.2.3 Rented premesis 1895 – 1990s

In 1895, Mr AW Cleary was living at 346 Bourke Street (on the corner with Short Street – the former seminary) and operating a dental surgery from the premesis, and a Mrs Molloy was living in 348 Bourke Street (the former boarding school). In 1897, 1 Short Street (the former academy) was occupied by Samuel Parr, accountant, and the following year by a Mr Hood, piano tuner, and these tenants the remained unchanged for nearly a decade. Thus, during the 1890s the whole building became rented residential and commercial premises .

William Cary died in 1906, and the property passed to his heirs Richard and Sydney Herbert Cary, and within a few months they sold the “…land and dwellings known as 346 and 348 Bourke Street and 1 Short Street…” to Emily Baxter of Sydney . Miss Baxter described herself on the land documents as a ‘spinster’, but since 1872 she had run a fashionable ladies college, the “Argyle School”, in Albion Street . Whether she intended this property to become part of the school, or to keep it as an income producing rental property is not clear. The “Argyle School” closed in 1912, and when Miss Baxter had the site brought under the Torrens Title system in 1918, the dwellings were all rented

In 1918 the whole building was valued at £2,000. The deposited plan shows the outline of a single building on the site that appears to be similar to that today . At that time Mr A. Cleary occupied 346 Bourke Street, Mrs A.F. Stanton occupied 348 Bourke Street and Peter Mullin occupied 1 Short Street. All were weekly tenants . Since at least 1910, 348 Bourke Street was operating as a boarding house, firstly under Mrs Hill, then later Mrs Stanton, Mrs Duke and Mrs Taylor, with perhaps Mrs Molloy also operating a boarding house during the 1890s, and possibly even Mrs Thompson since 1865 .

This early and continuous use of No 348 as a boarding house may indicate that this building had enough rooms for this purpose because of an earlier use as the boarding school section of the Misses Dodd’s ladies seminary.

In 1924, the Permanent Trustee Company acquired ownership of the site . In the 1930s, George Gellin and then Mr J. Aguggar continued to operate 348 Bourke Street as a boarding house, while Mr Cleary continued to operate his dental surgery until the late 1930s . Peter Mullin’s tenancy of 1 Short Street had been replaced by 1920 by John McGrath, and by 1925 by Mrs Leslie McGrath, possibly the widow of John. Mrs McGrath occupied the building until the late 1940s . Presumably a succession of tenants occupied the old academy and seminary buildings, and No. 348 continued to operate as a boarding house, until the recent past. However, the lack of directories for this more recent period has limited research on this matter.

In 1951, the Permanent Trustee Company sold the property to Thomas Edward Evans of Darlinghurst, retired. Mr Evans was declared a bankrupt in 1953, and control passed to the Receiver of his estate, who within a few months had sold it to Hepple Harry Clark of Darlinghurst, a garage proprietor

1.2.4 Recent

In 1985, ownership passed to Eileen Clark, presumably a legatee of Hepple Harry Clark, who in 1988 sold the property to Mars Australian Developments No. 2 Pty. Ltd. . The building presently (October 1995) appears to be unoccupied.

Short St_01

Harry Hepple Clark’s Motor Garage, corner of Short and Bourke Streets opposite the Academy buildings, Surry Hills (Photo credit: dck)

South Sydney Council lists the site in its rate records as 348 Bourke Street, but not as 346 Bourke Street or as 1 Short Street . The part of the building facing Short Street still has its street address – 1 Short Street – written in metal figures near the front door. Officially, there is only one building on the site, a situation that has not existed since the 1850s.

060422_DarlinghurstSite_ 022

1 Short Street (grey building, left-hand side), c2010 (Photo credit: dck)

1.2.5. Surveys of the Property

  1. Wedge Darke, Survey of the South Eastern Suburbs of the City of Sydney, Archives Office NSW Map No. 5687, 1847 reproduced in draft South Sydney Heritage Study, Volume 2, p.39n.
    This map shows a structure in Short Street on the site of the academy building. It appears to be that building.
  2. Woolcott & Clarke, Map of the City of Sydney, 1854, reproduced in draft South Sydney Heritage Study, Volume 2.
    This map shows a structure in Short Street on the site of the academy building, and another structure in Bourke Street on the site of the seminary building. The two buildings are not joined, with the present courtyard an open yard between the buildings with access directrly from Short Street.
  3. Trigonometrical Survey of Sydney, 1865, frame F1-K2, Sydney Water Historical Records Unit.
    This map shows the present external structure almost wholly in existence by this time, with the two separate buildings now joined by a brick section, and with timber balconies facing Bourke Street and the now internal courtyard. A fence divides the yard, presumably separating the boarding section from the school section. This is also the only map that names the laneway at the back of the buildings as ‘Sarah Ann Lane’.
  4. Water Board Detail Plans, 1883, with additional information in 1892 and 1896, Sheet 1-64, frame 80064, Sydney Water Historical Records Unit.
    This map shows the building hardly changed since 1865. The only notable changes seem to have been the construction of several small timber outbuildings attached to the back of the academy building, and another wooden outbuilding at the rear of the boarding school building’s yard.
  5. Deposited Plan No. 71388, dated December 1917
    This plan indicates a shaded outline of the buildings that appears to be identical to that shown on the 1883 Detail Plan. The shape of the timber additions to the back of the academy buildings is slightly different, and they are clearly stated as being of weatherboard construction.
  6. Superceded Sewer Detail Sheets (Blackwattle Series), 1931-1939, Sheet Y1, 2nd Edition, frame 3819.
    This map differs from the 1883 Detail Plan only in that the Bourke Street balconies are clearly indicated, and part of a verandah behind No. 348 has been removed.


2.1 Stylistic Analysis

2.2 Interpretation of the Characteristics of the Old Colonial Picturesque Gothick and Old Colonial Regency styles

The picturesque gothick style used in the academy building conveys both religiosity and venerability on a site that, when first built upon the then open heights of Surry Hills, also provided a certain picturesque landscape quality. These characteristics were presumably associated with the literary and aristocratic pretensions of both the school principals and the parents of the boys enrolled at the academy, as well as notable colonial public buildings of the time such as Government House (1834). It was a style suited to preparing the sons of the colonial gentry for a future in public office and commerce.


Government House Sydney, the epitome of Picturesque Gothick in the colony (Photo credit: frizzetta)

The regency style used in the seminary and boarding school building conveys qualities of subtlety and classicism that associated the seminary with the ideals of femininity and beauty prevailing in the gentry classes at the time. Some of the largest mansions in the colony, such as Elizabeth Bay House (1832-38) and Camden Park House (1831+), as well as early terraces in areas such as Darlinghurst and Windsor, were built in this style, emphasising its suitability to ‘home’ making and the proper role that the seminary ‘ladies’ would one day fulfil.

The choice of names for the separate institutions further emphasises the pedagogical roles of these architectural styles when used in this way. An academy is a secondary school or place of study and the cultivation of literature, science, art, etc. A seminary is a training college of place of education. The picturesque gothick academy educated its boys in the higher arts, while the regency seminary trained its girls for graceful domesticity.


  • Keating, C., Surry Hills: the city’s backyard, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney 1991:16-17.
  • ibid, 19; Kass, T., The Builders and Landlords of Surry Hills, 1830-1882, unpub. MA Thesis, University of Sydney 1984: 46 – Keating and Kass both claim that Short Street was gazetted in 1848 as part of this process, but reference to the proclamation cited in their works does not support this claim – see NSW Government Gazette, 8.12.1848, p. 1778.
  • Kass, op. cit., 58-59.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 16, No. 215.
  • Keating, op. cit., 27.
  • Wedge Darke, Survey of the South Eastern Suburbs of the City of Sydney, Archives Office NSW Map No. 5687, reproduced in draft South Sydney Heritage Study, Volume 2, p.39n.
  • Woolcott & Clarke, Map of the City of Sydney, reproduced in draft South Sydney Heritage Study, Volume 2.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 16, No. 215.
  • Kass, op. cit., 79-80, and Land Titles Office, Book 16, No. 215.
  • Low’s City of Sydney Directory for MDCCCXLIV-V. The exact location of this school is unclear, although the present Hutchinson Street is only about 200 metres south of Short Street, in the centre of Nichol’s subdivision. The Wedge Darke map of 1847 clearly shows the street, without a name, and with some five buildings facing the roadway. It is possible that the reference is to an earlier location of Dodd’s school teaching, rather than to a different school that continued to operate after Dodd had opened the academy and seminary.
  • Low’s City of Sydney Directory for 1847.
  • Ford’s Sydney Commercial Directory, 1851.
  • Waugh & Cox’s Directory of Sydney, 1855.
  • Cox & Co’s Sydney Post Office Directory, 1857.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 77, No. 130.
  • The street numbering of Bourke Street has changed several times over the years – No. 388 (1861), 392/394 (1865-6), 444/446/448 (1867-70s) and 346/348 (1890s +) all refer to the Bourke Street frontage of the subject site.
  • Keating, op. cit., 16, f17.
  • Trigonometrical Survey of Sydney, 1865, frame F1-K2, Sydney Water Historical Records Unit.
  • Sands Directory, 1861, 1864, 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1870, 1871.
  • Sands Directory, 1858/59, 1866.
  • Distribution of sums voted for denominational schools, and lists of local boards of denominational schools, NSW Government Gazette, 1850, p152; 1851, p29; 1852, p328; 1857, p1595 and 1861, p1440.
  • Keating, op. cit., 41-42.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 113, No. 97.
  • Sands Directory, 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1870, 1871.
  • ibid 1880.
  • Water Board Detail Plans, 1883, with additional information in 1892 and 1896, Sheet 1-64, frame 80064, Sydney Water Historical Records Unit.
  • Sands Directory 1890.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 568, No. 884 and Book 815, No. 815.
  • Sands Directory, 1894, 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1905.
  • Land Titles Office, Book 815, No. 815.
  • Keating, op. cit., 42
  • Land Titles Office, Primary Application No. 21388, dated 30.3.1918.
  • Land Titles Office, Deposited Plan 71388, dated December 1917.
  • Primary Application, op. cit.
  • Sands Directory, 1895-1905, 1910, 1915, 1920, 1925, 1930, 1932/33.
  • Land Titles Office, Volume 2896, Folio 104.
  • Sands Directory, 1930, 1932/33, Sydney Telephone Book, 1935, 1940.
  • Sands Directory, 1915, 1920, 1925, 1930, 1932/33, Sydney Telephone Book, 1935, 1940, 1945, 1950.
  • Land Titles Office, Volume 2896, Folio 104.
  • ibid.
  • South Sydney City Council, pers. comm., 9.10.1995.


The history was researched and written by Bruce Baskerville in 1995 as a component of a conservation plan for the site .

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.


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