The Quarries That Built Sydney - Pyrmont
By the 1850's the major quarries of Sydney from which stone was extracted had been built in and it was no longer possible to use them. Not only that, the sandstone now being extracted from Pyrmont, Glebe and Balmain was found to be far harder rock which did not erode and crumble as easily as stone from sites like Kent Street and Bennelong Point. 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 put Pyrmont's sandstone quarries well and truly 'on the map'. In that year there were already 22 listed quarries at Pyrmont supplying huge quantities of “yellowblock” sandstone.
Many of the quarry men were among the workers recruited from Clyde in Scotland by Presbyterian Minister Dr. John Dunmore Lang in 1831. Initially, he settled them in Millers Point where they worked the Kent Street Quarry, but as the superior Pyrmont stone became more widely known and the preferred choice of builders, they moved to Pyrmont. Their stone was to win 1st prize in exhibitions in Melbourne, Amsterdam, India and Chicago between 1880 and 1893. It was some of the best sandstone in the world, and was tested to withstand pressure of up to 100,00 pounds per square inch.
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.
The activities of Pyrmont's quarrymen began to lessen as steel and concrete became the preferred building materials and industry quickly enveloped Pyrmont. Of the rock extracted in the early 1900s, much was fashioned into kerbstones for Sydney's streets and for trimmings like window sills and doorsteps.
Most of the Pyrmony quarries were operated by the Saunders family, and were located on sites leased on a long-term basis by Charles Saunders from John Harris’s Ultimo Estate. Most of the 50 or so Pyrmont-Ultimo buildings erected or owned by the Saunders firm as contractors have been demolished in the process of 20th-century industrialisation and development. One that still survives is called Saunders Terrace, a three-storey terrace group on a prominent corner, comprising shops and a former bank at street level. Another Saunders building is the Quarryman’s Arms Hotel.
This tour covers the quarries of Pyrmont and the present day Sydney buildings constructed from their stone. A day is allocated for each quarry site, however they will not need a full day to complete each day's tour. Another tour - The Quarries That Built Sydney: inner City - covers the quarry sites in the Central Business District.
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