Lands Department Bldg.

Location: Central Business District
1877-1890 - Lands Department Building, Bridge Street, Sydney An extravagant Government building which originally featured four iron staircases and lifts operated by water power. Built to the design of Colonial Architect James Barnet, the three-storey Free Italian Renaissance style building was built around a framework of reinforced concrete and steel girders. Inside walls are brick, the floors and ceilings are concrete and the exterior is made from stone quarried at Pyrmont.

At the time of its completion, it was the largest of public buildings, boasting the latest in office technology at the time - speaking tubes, pneumatic bells  as well as the usual late 19th centuryİinclusions such as spiral stairs, and a mosaic of Queen Victoria's coat of arms at the entrance. Very aware of the 1882 Garden Palace fire which destroyed many government records, the architect made sure the plan room had a heavy, fireproof metal door. Beneath the room's domed ceiling, its walls were lined with thousands of cardboard tubes that would have once held plans and records. A Surveyor's Baseline was set into the marble floor of the hallway, where surveyors calibrated their equipment before setting out on a survey.

The central copper dome of the building, often called The Onion because of its shape, was designed to take a telescope though one was never installed. The domed roof can be revolved to aid celestial tracking. The telescope guide and window for the telescopic lens can be seen when the building is viewed from the corner of Bridge and Young Street.

On the Bridge Street facade of the Lands Department building there is the Lands Department Datum Bench Mark Plug which marks the mean sea level and mean high tide levels. It was set into position on the front of the building sometime between 1887 and 1894 and provided the origin of all levels in NSW under the Survey Co-ordination Act.

A clock was not installed when the building was completed and it was not until 1938 that one was finally placed in the recesses of the tower.



This Missing Statues

The building's facade features 48 niches, 12 on each side, whose sculpted occupants include explorers and legislators who made a major contribution to the opening up and settlement of the nation. Although 48 men were nominated by architect James Barnet as being suitable subjects, most were rejected as being 'hunters or excursionists'. Only 23 statues were commissioned, the last of them being added in 1901 leaving 25 niches unfilled. Those who made it include Hume and Hovell; Sir Thomas Mitchell; Blue Mountains pioneers Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth; George Bass; Matthew Flinders and Sir Joseph Banks. The niches on the Bridge Street frontage are all filled but 25 others were never filled. It is not known who if anyone at all was intended to fill these empty spaces, or whether Barnet left them empty on purpose so they could to be filled by future generations with statues of persons they deemed worthy of honouring.

The only new statue to be installed since was that of colonial surveyor James Meehan (1774-1826) was created and placed in an empty niche on cnr. Loftus/Bent Streets in 2010. Meehan was transported to NSW due to involvement in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. He arrived in Sydney in 1800 and, as a teacher and skilled surveyor, was assigned as a servant to Acting Surveyor-General, Charles Grimes. Within two years he had been on two major expeditions and, by 1806, had been conditionally pardoned. The early towns of Sydney, Parramatta, Bathurst, Port Macquarie and Hobart were all explored, laid out and measured by Meehan. The statue was commissioned by the Land & Property Management Authority.




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