What was it Like Living in 1869? Part 1

What happened in Sydney, Australia and in Epernay, France around this time?

This was a time before many technological advancements – no Harbour Bridge or Opera House in sight. However, this was the year that Moet Imperial Champagne began production in Epernay, France. Fast forward to the 21st century and the Moet & Chandon cellars now make up the largest vineyard area in the Champagne region.

What did Sydney look like 150 years ago? In 1869, Australia was in the midst of the famous “gold rush”, an era spanning about 30 years. This period saw people internationally flock to New South Wales to find their slice of fortune. Sydney was entering an era of prosperity, reflected in the grand and ornate architecture of the city. Civic buildings were being built, infrastructure flourishing and public transportation developing as the Sydney population boomed towards 200,000. Similarly, the nineteenth century saw explosive growth in Champagne production going from a regional production of 300,000 bottles a year in 1800 to 20 million bottles in 1850.

Many global immigrants soon called Australia home, and in turn, changed the landscape of Sydney (and Australia overall), bringing architectural, economic and cultural influences, specifically from Europe and Asia. Before the time of landmarks such as Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, let’s take a step back in time to the Sydney we aren’t so familiar with, a stark contrast to what we know today.

The Sydney Morning Herald building (site of Radisson Blu Sydney), looking north up Hunter St, circa 1870. Source: Financial Review

Site of Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney

The building which previously occupied our hotel was erected in 1856; the original home of the Fairfax newspaper empire. This building was not demolished until 1924, when the current building our hotel resides in, was built by Manson and Pickering. This is a fine example of inter-war Commercial Palazzo style architecture, in which the Fairfax newspaper printing press and offices were located until they moved to a new site in Broadway in 1954.

Our hotel building, known formally as Wales House, was then the site of the first Bank of Australia (Westpac), which occupied the building until 1999 when Radisson Blu took occupancy. Since the hotel opening, we have undergone one major interior refurbishment in 2015, with consideration for another in the future.

Horse and Cart for the GPO transporting mail and goods to surrounds in Sydney (Circa 1860s), source: SLNSW

Horse and cart

Car? What is a car? – This is what someone on the street would have said to you in 1859. The first gasoline car was not built until 1870 in Germany, so the main transportation at this time in Australia was horse and cart, or by train for longer commutes. The first true cars built in Australia were steam cars, which were not in development until 1896. The Pitt Street horse-car tramway opened in 1861, serving as a popular transport system, carting commuters, and goods from Circular Quay to the old Redfern railway station. Horses and wagons were used to carry food, books clothing, newspapers and other items through to the 1900s. Fast forward to 2019 and we have a new light rail service from Circular Quay to Randwick!

This period is also where private motor vehicles were becoming more prevalent in the middle to upper classes and saw the rise of taxi cabs. Soon, all middle-class Sydneysiders were buying their own motor vehicles, however, with one thing never changing through the ages, Sydney traffic (which is said to have been as hazardous then as it is now!).

Ferries were hugely popular in Sydney up until the use of motor cars, with people travelling from Glebe, North Sydney and Balmain to Sydney Harbour via boat, until the introduction of buses later contributed to a decline in ferry use by the public. For an indication of how popular travel via ferry was by 1896, it is said that annually, it’s estimated up to 25 million passenger journeys were recorded.

Stay tuned for Part two of our step back into the past… coming soon!


(By Emma Hedges)

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