Sunday, July 12, 2009

Defending the colony (1)

This drawing jumps ahead a bit and shows Dawes Point and its battery in 1825. However, it also shows the height of the ridge and the slope to the waters' edge.

Consider the southern approach to the harbour bridge akin to a long, red, fake nail that has been slipped over a finger. I am interested in the finger underneath: what was it like before being graced with the nail; and, how the nail has changed the finger since.

Left: the slope down to The Rocks showing all that is left of the original promontory.
Right: The slope down to Millers Point and Dawes Point. You can see the plateau that is now occupied by the Sydney Observatory.

The finger consists of a ridge running out along a promontory and gently sloping down to the water on both sides and around the finger tip. The ridge itself used to be York Street which extended well nigh to the finger pad but which during the late 1920s was dramatically redecorated and aligned to form the southern abuttment of the Harbour Bridge and to be renamed as the Bradfield Highway.

Imagine yourself standing at the point where York St morphs into this highway (facing north): face toward the bridge. To the right of you - to the East - the land gently slopes down from the ridge to the edge of Sydney Cove. This slope is now the inner city suburb known as The Rocks. To the left of you - to the West - the land plateaus for maybe 200 metres before gently sloping down to the edge of Walsh Bay and Darling Harbour. This slope is now the inner city suburb of Millers Point. At the front of the finger - underneath the fake nail to extend the metaphor - the land dramatically slopes down to the harbour waters. This land is known as Dawes Point. It is not a suburb. No-one lives in Dawes Point.

The middle photo was taken in April 1925 and looks down what is left of York St North. The photo on the left, was taken under the bridge showing well-nigh that same view today. Both these photos are facing north. The photo on the right is facing south and shooting along the Mlllers Point side of the bridge approaches. Now see those terraces there that appear to be white? Look in the 1925 photo on the LHS. The same row of terraces.

Governor Arthur Philip granted Lieutenant William Dawes' request to locate an observatory on this high point. Dawes named the northern most extent of the ridge Point Maskelyne after his benefactor, the Astronomer Royal. A roughly housed observatory was constructed but did not long survive the return to England of Dawes - in 1792 - and Philip in December 1791. Dawes' observatory is not the Observatory that we have today.

This high ridge was an ideal vantage point from which to defend the early colony and that is pretty much the role it played from 1792 until about 1920.


Joan Elizabeth said...

Despite your best efforts to make it all clear, I find it near impossible to reconcile the top shot with what we see today. Then again, I'm not much of a historian of locations.

They are currently ripping up Lawson. Someone sometime in the future will have to do the type of thing you have just done to get people to figure out how it looked just a few weeks ago compared to what it will be by the end of the year.

Julie said...

It is a challenge to be able to see the then in the now, I agree. I have reconciled that by thinking that the sizes of the buildings in the drawing are out of proportion - especially the one at the bottom of the ridge!

I look at the shape and height of the Sydney Observatory and consider that shape all along to Dawes Point. This means that a helluva lot of rock/soil has been "manicured".

When I come to detail what Fort Philip and the Dawes Battery really looked like, you will also realise that the castle struture in this drawing was more wishful-thinking than reality.