Tag Archives: Queen Victoria Building

Sydney in 1841: a directory [instalment 2]

The ‘Directory of the Public Institutions and Government Offices in Sydney’ published in the Sydney Herald on 5 July 1841 (see yesterday’s entry for further details) includes (3) educational establishments, (4) places of resort and (5) public wharfs (so spelled) and markets.

(3) The directory lists nine educational establishments located in public buildings (or two or three more if primary and infant schools are counted separately): the Australian College, in Jamison Street beside the Scotch Church; the Sydney College, on the east side of Hyde Park; the Female School of Industry, at the lower end of Macquarie Street; the Kent-street Primary and Infant Schools, between King and Market Streets; St. Philip’s Primary and Infant School, next to St. Philip’s Church; St. James’ Grammar School, nearly completed, at the southern end of Phillip Street, with classes temporarily held in the Old Court House (next to St. James’ Church); St. James’ Primary Male and Female Schools, in the Old Court House; the Roman Catholic School, also in the Old Court House; and the New Roman Catholic School-house, at the northern end of Kent Street. There are also ‘upwards of sixty private seminaries.’

(4) The term ‘places of resort’ evidently means places for serious and civilised recreation and amusement. Four places are listed: the Royal Exchange and Subscription Rooms, temporarily in the nearest house to Sydney Cove, on the east side of Macquarie Place; the Australian Club-house, on the corner of O’Connell and Bent Streets (not far from Macquarie Place); the Australian Museum, but this is closed at the moment and temporary premises are being used next to St. James’s Parsonage at the southern end of Macquarie Street; and the Sydney Botanical [sic] Gardens (part of the Government Domain).

(5) Three wharves are listed: the Queen’s Wharf, near the northern end of George Street, i.e. at Sydney Cove, and two at Darling Harbour: the Market Wharf in Sussex Street, between Market and King, and the Commercial Wharf at the end of King Street.

Of the markets, the Sydney Market Sheds are where the Queen Victoria Building stands now, surrounded by George, York, Market and Druitt Streets. The other three markets are side by side at the southern end of the town, on the southern side of Campbell Street: the Corn Market (at the end of George Street) and on the eastern side of that the Hay Market and then the Cattle Market, which includes the Sydney Pound.

A note on two of the institutions mentioned: The Australian College (1831-1854) was founded by Sydney’s first Presbyterian minister, John Dunmore Lang (1799-1878), minister of the Scotch Church and principal of the College. The College lasted longer than his short-lived Caledonian Academy, announced in 1826, the year the Scotch (or Scots) Church was completed (cf. the announcement in The Monitor 2/6/1826, p. 8, which states that any funds which Dr. Lang may derive from his connection with the Academy will be used to pay off the church debt). The State Library of NSW holds a number of images of the three-storey building with verandahs on the corner of O’Connell and Bent Streets used by the Australian Club until 1892.

[To be continued.]

Photographs of the Australian Club House: e.g. Australian Club [ca. 1863-65], Dalton’s, Royal Photographic Gallery, 320, George Street, Sydney, Dalton’s Royal Photographic Establishment (Sydney, N.S.W.) (Ref. SPF/101), Aggregated Collection, State Library of NSW.

Father Pigot and the geogyrogram

Rev. Father Edward Francis Pigot (1858-1929) was well known for his scientific interests and accomplishments. One of his innovations was the installation of seismographs at St. Ignatius’ College, a Roman Catholic boys’ school in the Sydney suburb of Riverview, where seismological observations have been made from 1909 to the present day. In 1919, when Queensland was considering establishing an astronomical observatory and his advice was sought, he was described as ‘probably the most knowledgable person on astronomical matters in the whole of Australia.’

On 25 April 1916 at Riverview College, in the presence of dignitaries from education, academia and politics, Father Pigot gave a demonstration of the pendulum apparatus first demonstrated by Léon Foucault in Paris in 1851. As the pendulum swings, over a period of several hours, it apparently changes direction with the rotation of the earth, describing an increasing ellipse, differently in the southern hemisphere from in the northern. Not content with visual observation, Father Pigot had devised a method of producing a photographic record, which he called a geogyrogram, by placing a battery-powered lamp inside the ball of the pendulum. This shone through a lens on to sensitised paper and a record could be obtained by taking a photograph every five minutes. The Sydney Morning Herald reported the Riverview event in between a report on donations for the war effort and news from London that on 24 April the New Zealand football team had beaten Bath 9-8.

A Foucault’s pendulum experiment had been conducted in Rio de Janeiro in 1852 with a pendulum 15 feet long. At Riverview Father Pigot used a 45 foot pendulum. The next day, at a meeting of the New South Wales branch of the British Astronomical Association, he gave a demonstration at the Queen Victoria Markets in the city using a pendulum with a length of 85 feet and a bob weighing 60 pounds, but without the photographic accompaniment.

On 6 December 1916 Father Pigot presented a paper on the ‘Foucault Pendulum’ at a meeting of the Royal Society of New South Wales, describing his experiment at the Queen Victoria Markets and reporting a new and very accurate visual method of observation of the pendulum which he had also developed.

Queensland advice: The Queenslander 15/3/1919, p. 36. Riverview demonstration: ‘Geogyrograms: Photographing earth’s motion’, Sydney Morning Herald 26/4/1916, p. 12. Markets: ‘Foucault’s pendulum’, Sydney Morning Herald 27/4/1916, p. 10. December meeting: ‘Marvels of wireless’, Sydney Morning Herald 7/12/1916, p. 6. Cf. L.A. Drake [former director of the Riverview Observatory], ‘Pigot, Edward Francis (1858-1929)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 11, 1988, pp. 230-231, and online; D.J.K. O’Connell [Director of the Vatican Observatory], ‘Father Edward Francis Pigot, S.J.’, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 41, 1952, 189-196, 323-332. According to the Saint Ignatius’ College website, the pendulum bob used by Father Pigot and one of the records are now in the museum of the Vatican Observatory. Details of how to construct a pendulum are given by Stephen Stoot, ‘Experiments with a Foucault Pendulum’, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 26, 1932, 241-246 (reference to Father Pigot on p. 242; full article available online).

The Queen Victoria Building

Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building is undeniably an imposing structure. Nowadays the casual visitor could scarcely realise its main original purpose, which was to provide better accommodation for the city’s produce markets.

The old markets had occupied the northern part of the same block, surrounded by George, Market and York Streets. At the southern end was a police station and courts on Crown land. The City Council bought this land so that the whole block would be available for the new building.

The City Architect, George M‘Rae, produced four designs, each of which allowed for a basement for the fruit and vegetable markets, a ground floor for retail shops accessible from the street and from a central arcade, and upper floors. Of the four designs – called Romanesque, Italian, Gothic and Queen Anne – the architect preferred the Romanesque. A sub-committee discarded the Queen Anne (which may have been the prettiest), the finance committee decided to recommend the Romanesque, and the Council concurred with this preference.

Following the Council’s announcement of its decision, there was great controversy among architects about the merits of the design. There had been no public competition, a circumstance which added to the suspicion that the Council did not want a building that would outshine the nearby Town Hall. Given the architectural limitations of that structure, there was indeed a danger that the markets might put the hall of the city fathers to shame.

Architects of the day quarrelled over the term ‘Romanesque’ and the place of the style in the history of architecture. According to an evaluation of the building in 1898, ‘The design is a modified form of the modern Romanesque in which the massiveness which gives the American Romanesque style so much of its effective force has been subdued.’

One hears that a key motivation for deciding on such an elaborate construction was to generate employment at a time of economic depression. It is odd, then, to find that in the middle of 1893, at the time the Council decided on the plans, there was optimism that the economy would improve. The architect J. Horbury Hunt wanted an even better building: ‘We are now on the return tide to prosperity; then let us be up and moving in the direction of true and healthy reform in civic matters.’  When the Mayor, W.P. Manning, laid the five-ton foundation-stone of Bowral trachyte for the Central Markets in December 1893, he said to the applause of the audience that, ‘He looked forward to the early return of prosperity, and his personal opinion was that the wave of depression would not long continue.’ A few years later Hunt’s own architectural business fell victim to worsening economic conditions, but the dominant mood appears to have been otherwise when work on the building began.

It seems that the architectural controversy faded as the building took shape. In June 1898, with completion imminent, the Herald reported that criticism of the Queen Victoria Market building was not of the structure but about whether it would pay. And after all the talk of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, modern American and so on, the reporter found that, ‘the building altogether imparts to the city a suggestion of the Oriental which is decidedly effective.’

1898 evaluation: Sydney Morning Herald 21/7/1898, p. 3. Comment by J. Horbury Hunt: Sydney Morning Herald 18/8/1893, p. 6. Mayor’s comment at the laying of the foundation-stone: Sydney Morning Herald 9/12/1893, p. 7. A ‘suggestion of the Oriental’: Sydney Morning Herald 15/6/1898, p. 5. Cf. J.M. Freeland, ‘Hunt, John Horbury (1838-1904)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 4, 1972, p. 447, and online.