Archives Outside

For people who love, use and manage archives

Archives Outside - For people who love, use and manage archives

Can you date this photograph? [Sydney]

A moment in time…..

At first glance this looks like it could be an image of the first road works taking place in Sydney…perhaps works to install tram lines….maybe? It looks like all  the work is being done with hand held tools…..not a jackhammer in sight. This is a three part puzzle…what street is it, what time period is it, and for what  purpose is the work being done?

We apologise for the quality of the image but even with the best archival care glass negatives are very vulnerable to the ravages of time.

Larger version on Flickr

We have many other undated photographs in Photo Investigator and on our Flickr account. If you know the dates or any other interesting facts about these images please let us know.

  • Iain Stuart says:

    I can see a Burmah Tea Rooms, “Caledonia Hotel” and a W Huugget on the awning beyond that.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:36 am
  • pellethepoet says:

    [from Flickr post]:

    I’m almost 100% certain this was taken in 1900 – during the bubonic plague scare inspired cleanup of Sydney’s streets.

    Compare this one from the Plague Albums –
    55. Rubbish at foot of King-street [SLNSW: a147055]

    Quite possibly an unattributed John Degotardi, Jr. photograph?

    March 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm
  • Debbie says:

    I have a lot of information but am getting rejected as SPAM. Could someone please tell me why?

    March 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm
  • Fiona Sullivan says:

    @Debbie I’m sorry you’ve had trouble posting. I’m not sure what’s happening, in spite of the settings we’ve made the blog sometimes gets a bit twitchy about posts with more than one link.

    If you email your information to me I will post it on your behalf.

    March 18, 2011 at 8:07 am
  • Robert Mills says:

    I agree with Pelletthepoet – 1900 cleanup looks most likely.

    Its a photo in King St (Erskine St end) looking East up the grade as the cable tram lines are just visible in the road. Cable lines operated in King St from 19 Sept 1894 to 1905. Aside from telephone lines no electric span wires are present in the street. They arrive in 1905.


    March 18, 2011 at 9:32 am
  • Debbie says:

    I came to the same conclusion about the location as pellethepoet but from newspaper articles
    (TROVE) & a different photo.

    at a different time…
    Caledonian Hotel, King St, Darling Harbour

    The building with the tower in the centre (The City Bank of Sydney – Western Branch, & King St Post & Telegraph Office? as per Sands) is on the corner of King & Sussex, & still stands (can be seen on Google Streetview). The Caledonian Hotel was on King & Day Streets in 1922 however Struth’s Lane is listed next to it in earlier Sands listings:

    ‘Caledonian Hotel, King and Day streets’
    SMH 23 Dec 1922 pg 11

    A couple of interesting articles I came across re King Street for future

    ‘A line divided the Caledonian Hotel, on the eastern side, from the burning mass; and, as the roof of the hotel is shingled, great fears were entertained that it would get ignited, as the sparks were showering down upon it.’
    SMH 17 Jan 1881 pg 6

    ‘It is further intended to level the roadway, and add to its width, by doing away with the guttering, as has been done in King-street and a portion of George street.’
    SMH 2 May 1881 pg 5

    The King Street Cable Tramway was established in 1894

    The tea rooms on King Street I read as BURWAH Tea Rooms (not BURMAH) when I enlarge the photo. There was a well known steamer named Burwah (was being built 1878 for the Sydney, Brisbane, and Maryborough trade, 1st arrived 1883 & apparently sold to Japan in 1905). Could the tea rooms have been named after it? The owners Howard Smith Co. Ltd’s wharf office was just down the street (towards harbour). It seems to have had a lively history from the little I read – involvement in maritime strike 1890, a murder, accidents (TROVE). I didn’t have time to read many but here are a couple (just for interests sake).

    The Burwah had a little accident departing Sydney:
    ‘The Burwah steamer, bound for Melbourne from here, struck on the Pyrmont Rocks, in Johnson’s Bay…’
    The Argus 30 Oct 1890

    Departure of the Burwah.
    ‘On that occasion there assembled the largest crowd that has been seen in the neighbourhood of any of the wharves since the strike commenced. It was estimated that fully 3000 persons were present, but the police found no difficulty in maintaining order.’
    The Queenslander 6 Sep 1890 pg 442
    full page picture from same pg 456

    Businesses seen on relevant stretch of the street (south side) & related entries in Sands directories:

    * Commercial Hotel building (on corner of Sussex across the road to The City Bank mentioned previously)

    * “Herald” sign on roof.
    The Herald sign would belong to newsagents appearing from 1898 (not listed in 1896 or before) until at least 1909 (not in 1910).

    * “W.Huggett” (side of roof of verandah), also “Herald” sign on roof.
    W./William Huggett, Tinsmith appears in 1900 to 1905 at least (not in 1907 or 1898).

    * Caledonian Hotel
    …is one of those longer term businesses – is in a SMH 1922 article.
    Earliest directory I checked was 1880 & it was there!

    * Printing sign in next window
    Bethel Henry & Co printers appears 1885 to 1905 (not 1883 or 1908)

    * Burwah Tea Room
    Can’t find a mention of “Burwah” however “refreshment rooms” start appearing in 1898 with “Mrs A. Thompson”, then from 1900 with “Charles W. Robinson”, disappearing in 1905 with “Oelrichs and Martin, merchants and brokers”. It is interesting that 1905 is the same year the steamer Burwah was sold to Japan… a coincidence?

    Looking at Sands I guess it has to be c1900 or shortly after so here is Sands Street Directory for that year:

    (KING STREET south side travelling from harbour)
    1 Struth s Wharf-W. Howard Smith and Sons Limited, lessees
    1-3 Smith W. Howard and Sons, Limited, wharfinger’s office-W. Gunter, wharfinger
    Fernandez Frederiick, storeman
    5 Sutherland, Son and Co., importers
    7 Smith W. Howard and Sons, wharf office
    9 Wiseman Bros. and Co., ticket writers
    9 Sullivan, Willis and Co., tea merchants and commission agents
    13 Robinson Charles W., refreshment rooms
    15 Bethel Henry and Co., printers
    Off—King street Bonded and Free Stores (leather/hide businesses I haven’t bothered to list)
    19 Caledonian hotel – Sarah Boshell
    21 Huggett William, tinsmith
    23 Ember Alexander, newsagent and fruiterer
    Commercial hotel – Frank H. Walters
    – Sussex street intersection-
    The City Bank of Sydney (Western branch) – M. A. Roberts, J.P., manager King Street Post and Telegraph Office – M. H. Kelly, postmaster
    27 Globe Hotel- Oscar Arkman
    King street Post and Telegraph Office

    If anyone would like me to transcribe a different year, I’d be happy to.

    [Edited to add bloggers note: Apologies to Debbie who seems to be stuck with my avatar due to the way I uploaded this comment. Hopefully it will disappear over the weekend!]

    March 18, 2011 at 2:57 pm
  • beachcomberaustralia says:

    Great post Debbie!
    I think the date is Thursday 5 April 1900 (about noon) – see comments on the Flickr page.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:55 am
  • Debbie says:


    re my post:
    Well, better late than never! 1st the email link wasn’t working, then when it was, I was rejected as spam :( but I never gave up :)

    Wow, a date – great work!!! I love that these pages & the impressive people involved are teaching me about history in an interesting and challenging way. Also, I realised a long time ago that by trying to help other people, in the process you learn alot yourself. Everyone wins.

    …and Fiona, it’s not such a bad avatar to be stuck with, you could have been a bearded male staff member (if there are any of those around) – that would have been strange [LOL].

    March 21, 2011 at 1:08 am
  • beachcomberaustralia says:

    Oops changed my mind! New evidence suggests it was Wednesday 4 April, the previous day. See post on Flickr.

    March 21, 2011 at 6:54 am
  • pellethepoet says:

    Oh, I think for you we can make an allowance of one day! :)

    March 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm
  • Rhonda says:

    Wow I can’t believe this image generated so much discussion…..and a discussion which covered many topics. Many thanks to everyone who contributed. A special thanks to Debbie for her history of King St and John Cowper for adding to our ever growing historical facts about trams. However, the chocolates go to beachcomberaustralia for finding the exact date of the image 4 April 1900.

    March 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm