Humble To Handsome – Balmain Architecture 1840-1860s

Balmain East, NSW, Australia; Sydney, NSW, Australia; Balmain, NSW, Australia
Est. 1.9km / 1 hr 14 mins / Map

Arriving by ferry at East Balmain wharf is the best possible introduction to Balmain. From the water, you can see the jumble of architectural styles from every decade since the 1840s. Austere Post-Regency stone buildings stand beside ornate late Victorian stucco terraces, 1960’s brick walk-up apartment blocks, and 21st century concrete and glass boxes. Balmain’s diverse buildings reflect its diverse population: it is home to bikers and barristers, movie stars and public housing tenants.

Humble To Handsome – Balmain Architecture 1840-1860s - Cya On The Road

The ferry trip is a reminder of the importance of water transport to Balmain, especially in early colonial days when road transport was slow and hazardous. A steam ferry service from Balmain to the city began in 1844.


Many of the buildings you will see on this walk reflect the simple styles favoured by the earlier Georgian and Regency architects, who emphasized beauty of proportion, clean lines and an elegant simplicity inspired by ancient Greek and Roman buildings. Apart from its aesthetic appeal, simplicity was also well suited to early colonial life, when decorative materials and skilled artisans would have been relatively scarce.

On this walk, you will see the transition from the plain style of the 1840s to the ornate grandeur of the 1860s, reflecting both changing architectural fashion and the growing prosperity of the colony.


In their seminal work on Sydney architecture, Bernard and Kate Smith identified Balmain, together with Glebe, Hunters Hill and Paddington, as among the historic areas of Sydney which require the safeguards of special State legislation in order to preserve them as an historic heritage for a future and more civilized Australia.

This is based on the information on Balmain Association's website.

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