Walsh Bay

Location: Hickson Road, Millers Point
The rocky terrain of the Walsh Bay area limited its early use to fortifications (Dawes Point and Observatory Hill), an anchorage for whalers in Walsh Bay, and windmills. More intensive settlement began the 1820s and was extended by a number of Crown grants in the 1830s. During that decade the basis of the maritime industry that was to dominate the area was established and would continue to be developed until its completion the 1920s.

In the 1830s substantial merchants' residences were built in the along the ridge, together with a number of hotels - The Lord Nelson (1834) and Hero of Waterloo (1844) are the only ones which remain. Construction of shipping wharves at Millers Point began in the same decade and were scattered irregularly along the shoreline from Dawes Point to Darling Harbour. The north shore ferry began operating from Walsh Bay to Blues Point in the 1840s, the location of its wharf is indicated by Ferry Lane.

By the 1880s, many merchant's houses of Millers Point had been replaced by rows of terrace houses which were the homes of the local maritime workers. The still un-named bay housed the wharves of many major export companies such as Dalgetys, Towns', Moore's and Dalton's, but much of these facilities were now obsolete and access was both choked and difficult. The outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in 1900 in the area surrounding the bay led to the resumption of large portions of land for redevelopment. This pre-empted a total re-think of the use of the bay as part of the Port of Sydney.

The newly created Sydney Harbour Trust was given the task of redeveloping the area. The Trust's primary commercial aim was to redevelop the wharfage along modern lines. However, because of the quantity of housing under its control it became landlord for Millers Point and between 1900 and the 1920s effectively transformed the area into what could best be described as a company town. As well as the reconstruction of Walsh Bay, the Trust, together with the Government Housing Board, constructed workers' housing, shops, kindergartens, hotels and warehouses and also refurbished and reconstructed many existing buildings. In this way the population which serviced the port was accommodated nearby with all its community facilities.

The Engineer-in-Chief of the Trust was H.D. Walsh, the man after whom the bay was subsequently named. He oversaw the design and construction of a new system of wharves, stores and associated roads and hydraulic systems to service them. A wide service road, Hickson Road, was excavated around the foreshore and the steep topography was used ingeniously to service the wharves at two levels. Overpass Bridges above Hickson Road give access to the upper levels of each shore shed.

Construction of the whole complex took place between 1906 and 1922. Wharf 1 was completed in 1913. Wharf 2/3 and sheds were completed in 1920-1921. Wharf 4/5 and sheds completed in 1920-1921. Wharf 6/7 and sheds completed in 1918. Wharf 8 /9 and sheds completed in 1912. The Administrative Block was completed c1912. Wharf 10A /10B was completed in 1906-1908 and sheds altered in 1918-1921 but later demolished in 1976. Superseded by changing shipping technology in the 1970s, the Walsh Bay complex is believed to be the only one of its type surviving in the world.

The Walsh Bay Wharves
The wharves themselves were technologically advanced for their time, being constructed on a standard modular timber design but incorporating many innovations. These included the incorporation a rat proof sea wall in response to the Bubonic plague, the outbreak of which was attributed to the rats which infested previous wharf structures at Walsh Bay. Today the wharves and the Bond Stores contain many significant advanced technological and engineering artifacts of their time such as ladderways, a wool bale handling system of elevators, elevator platforms and bale stacking systems, trucking gangway, overhead pulley systems, floors hatches, wooden rollers, hydraulic operated overhead travelling cranes, electric lifts, a power system comprising accumulator, pump and electric motor, high pressure pipes, a 3-tonne hydraulic lift and two hydraulic hoists.

A standard modular timber design was developed for the construction of the wharves, wharf sheds and shore sheds so that they could easily be adapted to the requirements of individual sites. Some structures of the wharf area such as the remains of Towns Bond, Bond Stores Nos. 1 & 3 predate the Sydney Harbour Trust work.

The wharves were constructed of native turpentine piles spaced on a 3 metre grid which were spliced together to reach down through layers of silt and mud to the harbour floor bedrock some 45m below sea level. The end of the piers are equivalent to a 40 metre high building, which explains why they are felt to sway as the tide changes. The rows of piles were capped with an iron-bark headstock and tied together by iron-bark girders. The whole was covered with brush-box decking. Later this was covered with a concrete deck. The typically two storey wharf sheds are of simple post and beam construction. Oregon roof trusses forming a double gable are supported on hardwood storey posts. Ventilation and clerestory lighting are features of the wharf shed roof. Wall cladding consists of infill panels of hardwood weatherboards, sliding doors, glazed sashes or galvanised iron. Roofs are galvanised iron or asbestos cement. Travelling platforms run the full length of the wharf shed. Shore sheds are of similar construction and sit on solid fill retained by the precast concrete rat proof sea wall. The 'L' shaped wall is constructed of precast reinforced concrete trestles and erected at Walsh Bay between 1907 and 1910.

Shore Sheds run between and across the ends of the main finger Wharves or Piers. Small vessels would tie up close to shore between the piers to discharge and load cargo to and from the Shore-Sheds. The Sheds also contained the gatekeeper s office and at one time immigration facilities. The redevelopment of Walsh Bay has retained the original Shore-Sheds between Pier 2/3 and Pier 4/5 to demonstrate how a complete section of the original complex looked and worked for small and large cargo vessels. Teams of heavy horses were still being used to pull loaded wagons to and from the wharves when the Walsh Bay wharves were brought into service. Hitching rings remain in the Hickson Road facade of the Shore-Shed at the end of Pier 3 where horses were once tethered.

Piers 8 and 9 have the only three-level Pier-Shed, it having been designed specifically for handling wool. The design exploited gravity and technology to speed the movement of baled wool through the building and onto ships. Today the Pier-Shed is reused as office space. The overhead gantry crane once used to move wool bales can be seen in the centre foyer of Pier 8/9, along with marks made by wharfies' trolleys in the timber deck. Alongside the modern hydraulic passenger lift is the original electric elevator used to move baled wool between the upper levels of the Pier. The wharves were at their busiest between the wars but fell into gradual decline after World War II, eventually ceasing to function as part of Sydney harbour s docking facilities in 1977 by which time the advent of containerisation had sealed their fate. The whole wharf area has recently undergone major redevelopment.

Pier One
The first wharf around the corner from the Harbour Bridge, Pier One, is the only wharf in the Walsh Bay group to have been designed as a broadside wharf, meaning it is parallel to the shoreline. It is also the only wharf in the group designed primarily for passenger use. It featured two electric travelling cranes, which were the first of their type. Other machinery included an elevated passenger gangway and hand-powered travelling gantries. The large pavilion provided convenience for people waiting for vessels while its gallery and balcony, offering glorious harbour views, were reserved exclusively for passengers. A key feature was the fact that they could be accessed at two levels - one of the first examples of major road separation planning in Sydney. The upper floor of the shore shed was connected to George Street North by a bridge over Hickson Road.

The first ship to berth at Pier One was the Orient Line steamer SS Orontes, in January 1913.

The wharf at Pier One was converted into an exclusive passenger terminal in 1951 to cope with the increase in passenger ships which came with the post-war migrant boom. The Orient Line and Shaw Saville and Albion Line were its main users. In 1960, the opening of the Overseas Passenger Terminal on Circular Quay marked the beginning of the decline of Pier One as passenger ship berth. Within a decade, as less and less passenger ships carried people to and from Australia, the number of ships berthing at Pier One had fallen to below one a week. In the early 1980s, it was converted into a tourist-oriented shopping centre. Today it is a five star hotel.

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