Site of the northern section of the Wattle Street quarry

Wattle Street Quarry

Wattle Street Quarry - Wattle Street (northern side) between Quarry and Macarthur Streets, Ultimo
The appointment of John Barnet to the post of Colonial Architect heralded the start of a boom era in public building construction in Sydney in which Pyrmont sandstone was to feature prominently. Builder John Young, hired by Barnet to supervise construction of many of the projects, took out a quarrying lease on the escarpment just north of Fig Street so that he could supply the stone for Barnet's projects. Young quickly found himself out of his depth and turned to neighbouring lessee, Charles Saunders, for assistance. Saunders established a dominance that the family business was to hold over the quarrying industry for a number of decades and extended their operations from his original Wattle Street site up to Miller Street and in future decades around the peninsula to Johnston Bay.

Over a 50 year period, Saunders had 300 men in his employ and enjoyed such financial success he was able to retire early. He passed the business over to son Robert. John, Robert and Thomas McCredie enjoyed similar success though, being builders first and foremost, they had a knowledge to succeed in doing what Young had failed to do.

When, in 1855, the Colonial Architect Edmund Blackett insisted that the stone for the replacement steps and entrance to the Australian Museum had to come from the 'best bed of the Pyrmont quarries', its quarries were placed 'on the map'. Blackett gave up his job to build Sydney's new university at Grose Farm. Over half of the 44 quarry men registered as working the Pyrmont sandstone were kept busy for the best part of the decade supplying stone for the Great Hall, Library, Lecture block and early colleges of the University.

Devonshire born Charles Saunders had married his boss' daughter when he was a stone mason's labourer before he migrated to Australia with his family in 1852, age 28. At the time, there were 15 quarries operating on the Pyrmont Peninsula, most of which were supplying ballast for ships and the new railway being built between Sydney to Parramatta. Saunders began working the cliffs above what is now Wentworth Park, supplying railway ballast as a supplement to his income from the Quarryman's Arms, an inn which he operated with his wife.

Buildings made from its sandstone

Treasury Building, Macquarie Street, Sydney (1849): One of the first of a number of Government buildings on Bridge Street built of Pyrmont sandstone. This two storey example of the Classical Revival style was designed by Mortimer Lewis. Adjoining it is the Premier's Office, another imposing sandstone building. It was designed by Colonial Architect Walter L Vernon and completed in 1896. Both buildings were cleverly incorporated into the 28 level, 530 room Intercontinental Hotel which was completed in 1986.

Australian Museum, 8 College Street, Sydney : Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis designed this impressive sandstone building, however its rising cost to a level well above its budget led to his resignation both as Colonial Architect and as supervisor of this building project. His resignation led to years of delay in the building's completion, James Barnet finally finished the task in 1868.

Colonial Secretary's Office, 121 Macquarie Street, Sydney (1869): Lavish, extravagant creation of architect James Barnet who also designed the General Post Office. Built of golden Pyrmont Sandstone in Victorian Italianate style, it features elaborately carved interior woodwork and its exterior is dominated by the iron-crested mansard roofs and the pavilion dome. The building served as the workplace of the majority of NSW's public servants for almost 100 years. Six statues of women carved in golden Pyrmont sandstone adorn the building. They depict Wisdom, Justice and Mercy which are mounted in alcoves on the corner of Macquarie Street, Labour, Art and Science are in alcoves on the corner of Phillip Street.

University of Sydney Great Hall and Main Quadrangle, Library and Lecture Block, Parramatta Road, Darlington (1855-59): The University of Sydney is the oldest university in Australia, was inaugurated on Monday 11th October 1852 in the hall of what is now Sydney Grammar School in College Street. In 1854 Colonial Architect Edmund Thomas Blacket (1817-1883) was engaged as University Architect. In June 1854 Blacket presented plans and designs for the University buildings before the Senate. Following the clearing of the ground and laying of part of the foundations, the stone walls of the Great Hall were completed to a height of 6 metres in 1855. At the commencement of Trinity Term in 1859 work on the Great Hall was sufficiently completed for it to be used in the Annual Commemoration.

Great attention was paid to detail, with each building carefully decorated inside with carved cedar and outside with towers and spires decorated with crockets and gargoyles, and finely detailed hand carved embellishments including statuettes, finials and crests. The perfectly proportioned Great Hall, modelled on Westminster Abbey in London, features stained glass windows, a marble statue of the University's chief founder and benefactor, WC Wentworth, and a statue of the Angel of Knowledge on the top.

Sydney to Parramatta Railway (1849-54): Sandstone rubble left over from quarrying was used as ballast on the Sydney to Parramatta Railway. It was the first public railway to be constructed in Sydney and roughly followed the route of the first rural road built in the colony 60 years previous, linking Sydney and Parramatta. It was a single track line, built by a private company which went bankrupt 23 days before the inaugural train journey was scheduled to be made. The Government stepped in, enabling the project to be completed on time and the line to begin taking traffic in 1855. From thereon, the railway was to play a significant role in suburban development in Sydney's inner and outer west, and later the south and north. Today's Parramatta line uses the same corridor as the original train line.

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