Letters of complaint to the City

Step back in time to 19th and early 20th century Sydney

Letters of complaint are one of the most evocative glimpses into our city’s history.

If you lived in Sydney around 1880 and had a problem with your neighbour, you’d compose a letter of complaint to the mayor. The Nuisance Inspector would then be tasked to investigate, overseeing a range of regulations from markets to kite flying and house-to-house inspections.

Our history team found these gems in the archives for a special Late Night Library event. We’ve collected some of the best here from merry-go-rounds to goats and street lamps.

City of Sydney Archives 1913/4785

1. The merry-go-round

Grace P. Hume, of Bourke Street Surry Hills, is concerned by the “nuisance caused by you [Council] letting the vacant ground adjoining my premises to proprietors of merry go rounds”.

Full transcript:

580 Bourke Street
Surry Hills 20th October 1913
The Lord Mayor & Aldermen
Sydney
Sirs,
I have to complain of the nuisance caused by you letting the vacant ground adjoining my premises to proprietors of merry go rounds, Swinging Boats, &c. as apart from the frightful monotonous music about 100 times a day, it is the cause of all the children of the surrounding district congregating there until about 9.30pm & the noise they keep up is deafening & the language of the elder ones or some of them horrible, but the worst evil of all is the damage they do to my property, but throwing stones at my wall & outer roof, which they do almost hourly and I hope that although I have suffered for years through this land being open to everyone & an annoyance to the neighbourhood & especially to myself that you will not continue to aggravate the nuisance by letting it again for this purpose.
Thanking you in anticipation
Yours faithfully
Grace P. Hume.

See this letter in City of Sydney Archives.

City of Sydney Archives 26/229/1056

2. The goats

James McVey, of Woolloomooloo, took exception to the “abbominable [sic] smells” and bleating of his neighbour’s goats.

Full transcript:

June 13 / 1888 70 Brougham Street Woolloomooloo To His Worship the Mayor, I beg to draw your attention to the nuisance of the goats that are allowed to roam at large in and around Brougham Street Woolloomooloo. The residents complain of the abbominable [sic] smells, and cannot get rest at night from the bleating of those animals. They are most disgusting where children are. Hoping you will find some plan to get rid of them as I have been to the police and complained by to no avail. I am Yours Respectfully James McVey

See this letter in City of Sydney Archives.

City of Sydney Archives 26/166/1193

3. The morgue

Poor Edward Justelius was charged with selling the estate of a deceased Mr Boles. Mr Boles owned 6 houses behind the morgue, which Mr Justelius believes to be “detrimental both to the value of property in the neighbourhood and to the health of people living there”.

Full transcript:

86 Pitt Street Sydney 1st July 1880 To The Right Worshipful The Mayor and Aldermen City Council Sydney Gentlemen! We the undersigned Executors and Trustees in the estate of W. Boles, Architect, deceased, beg to lay before you the following statement: The late Mr Boles build a Terrace of six houses in West street at the rear of St Vincent Hospital. These Houses are to be sold in accordance with the terms of Mr Boles’s will. We have tried at auction and otherwise to sell the houses but every interesting purchaser object to the dead house [morgue] situated in front of the houses, and also to the open drainage, as nearly, at all times there is an offensive smell caused by fluid matter running from the Hospital, and passing into the open drain in front of the houses. In fact, we have no hesitation in saying that the repulsive sight of the dead house in front of respectable habitations is in our humble opinion a nuisance which should not exist, and seriously detrimental both to the value of property in the neighbourhood and to the health of people living there. - & we pray you may take such steps to remove such nuisance as you in your wisdom may deem necessary. We have the honor to be Gentlemen, Your obedient Servants Edward Justelius Executors, Estate to Boles, deceased.

See this letter in City of Sydney Archives.

City of Sydney Archives 26/202/245

4. The street lamps

Robert Sheridan was concerned that the City still didn’t light street lamps during the full moon – a practice which dated back to 1842 and was totally out of step with a bustling commercial city.

Full transcript:

12 Sir John Young Crescent Sydney 3rd July 1885 The Right Worshipful T. Playfair Mayor of Sydney Sir, There is a matter concerning the credit of your Council which I wish to bring under your notice. I refer to the Practise of not lighting the Street lamps for a few nights each month at full of moon. I have remarked on several occasions lately that these nights are about our darkest, notably last Saturday night when you could scarcely see your hand in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park. I cannot imagine anything more likely to give a stranger a bad impression of our city and the only excuse that presence could be offered is the cost. As you are evidently a man of Progress I am sure you will take steps to remove this disgrace and add another claim to our gratitude. Yours truly, Robert Sheridan

See this letter in City of Sydney Archives.

Explore more

These letters are part of a podcast, Letters of Complaint.

See more letters of complaint on our specially curated list on Trove.

And if you have your own letter of complaint, here’s how to go about it.

Posted . Last updated .

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