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What a stranger’s guide to Sydney looked like 160 years ago

James Waugh’s discerning descriptions provide a glimpse of Sydney life in 1861. Here are our favourite must-see sites from the city’s past.

  • Extraordinary occasions at the George Street General Post Office

    More than 150 years ago, James Waugh wrote a travel guide for visitors to our city.

    The Stranger’s Guide to Sydney is filled with insightful and sometimes funny descriptions of local life: “In order for those who have but a short time to spend in town, may have any opportunity of seeing as much of it as possible.”

    Experience the complete walk in the free Sydney Culture Walks app.

    In this point of interest he said: “There is a delivery three times a day, viz at 9am, 1 and 4pm; but on extraordinary occasions such as the arrival of an English Mail, a delivery takes place as soon after as possible.”

    Credit: New Post Office George Street. Sydney, 1846 by F G Lewis and E Winstanley (Dixson Galleries, State Library of NSW, DG SV1A/22)
  • Construction at St Andrews Cathedral

    “When finished St Andrew’s Cathedral will be an imposing structure. The patience of many has been wearied out from the length of time it has been in building. Of late, however, it has gradually been verging towards completion.”

    Credit: St Andrews Cathedral Corner of George and Bathurst Streets by H. Grant Lloyd, 1858 (Dixson Library, State Library of NSW, DL PX 42 f.22)
  • A spot of cricket in Hyde Park

    “It is now the resort of the youthful inhabitants for the favourite and healthy game of cricket, and the number who may be seen engaged in this sport, on a pleasant day, is truly astounding.”

    Credit: Hyde Park, windmills, Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst Gaol, Museum, Sir E. Deas Thomson's house, 1842 by John Rae (Dixson Galleries, State Library of NSW, DG SV*/Sp Coll/Rae/18)
  • The NBN of 1861: the Electric Telegraph Office

    “This valuable and instantaneous mode of communication has now become a necessary thing in the onward march of improvement.”

    Credit: Electric Telegraph Office and H. Savage (tailor), 355-357 George Street, March 1871 (State Library of NSW, SPF/326)
  • Customs House for the colony

    “It was built at a time when there were so many unemployed in Sydney and very much, for the sole purpose of keeping them from a state of starvation, the pecuniary condition of the colony at that time being very deplorable.”

    Credit: Custom House and Circular Quay, 1845 by G. E. Peacock (Dixson Galleries, State Library of NSW, DG 35)
  • Modern vices at the police office and court house

    “A court is held daily, and were it not for drunkenness, the parent of every vice, we venture to affirm there would be little to be brought before its jurisdiction.”

    Credit: An Old Sydney Building – The Central Police Court, George Street by Alfred Martin Ebsworth, 1888. Top: View from George Street Looking North West. Left: Frontage to Court Yard. Right: Police Court Offices (State Library of Victoria, A/S29/11/88/181)
  • Saturday night live at the George Street Markets

    “To view the markets aright, the stranger should visit them on a Saturday night; when the whole being brilliantly lighted … the business that is carried on and the succession of customers, form a fund of interest, to one visiting Sydney for the first time...”

    Credit: York Street, the Markets, Cathedral and Corporation Offices, 1842 by John Rae (City of Sydney Civic Collection 1989.112)

The Stranger’s Guide: Sydney 1861 has won a National Trust Heritage Award in the Heritage Events, Exhibitions and Tours category for 2020.

The judges said, “This tour takes the Sydney Culture Walks app to the next level, resulting in an absorbing and thought-provoking experience.”

Published 7 November 2019, updated 3 February 2022