The stretch of George Street, roughly from Hay Street to Bathurst St, known for many years as Brickfield Hill, was named for the brickworks that were developed almost as soon as the white settlers arrived. By 1790, the master brickmaker, “was tasked to make and burn ready for use 30,000 tiles and bricks per month. He had twenty-one hands to assist him, who performed everything; cut wood, dug clay, etc.” [i]
A book of early maps shows Sydney erupt and spread, always subdividing and gridding, hacking off new portions of land and covering them with lines. The ‘Brick Field’ is shown on the very first map in the book, sketched by Francis Fowkes in April 1788. It is way off on the southern outskirts of the settlement, past the Saw Pits and the two ‘Shingling Parties’. There is a little cluster of camps, buildings and gardens on each side of a tapering line of water simply labelled ‘Cove’, with the ships of the First Fleet hovering on wavy lines at its mouth.[ii]The little colony had to make everything with what was to hand, and the earliest huts were made of the “soft wood of the cabbage palm”[iii].
In 1802 a map by Charles Alexander Lesueur has the brickfields marked as “Village de Brick-field où se trouvent plusieurs fabriques de Tuiles, de Poteries, de Faïances, &c.”[iv][Village of Brickfield where there are many manufacturers of tiles, pottery, crockery etc]. The brickfield is on a sizeable creek that runs down towards Cockle Bay, branching near the head of the bay, presumably into mangroves. There are three windmills shown, two on top of the cliffs west of Sydney Cove, and one where the Conservatorium now stands. (Sydney was to have 19 windmills, built and destroyed between 1797 and 1878.[v]) This map also shows two gallows. Even in 1802 one is marked as ‘disused’ as the streets have encroached on its privacy – this one must have been near the corner of present-day Park and Castlereagh Streets. The position of the second I calculate to be somewhere in Hyde Park, maybe near the War Memorial.
In the 1822 map the town is nearing the brickfields. The old cemetery, on the corner of George and Druitt Streets, is full. There is a building labelled ‘Market House’ on the adjacent block, with easy access from the Cockle Bay wharf, where produce from farms at Parramatta and the Hawkesbury was unloaded.[vi]The city is reaching out – a new cemetery is marked way out past the brickfields, near the “Turnpike [toll] Road to Parramatta and the interior”[vii]and the road to South Head is clearly marked.
By 1831 the map shows the site of the brickfield as a cattle market, but the name is retained on a nearby section of George Street – ‘Brickfield Hill’ is written between Liverpool and Goulburn Streets.[viii]There is a Benevolent Asylum near the turnpike, a Police Office next to the Market Place, steam engines and wharves on Darling Harbour and wharves and dockyards on Sydney Cove.
The Picture of Sydney and Strangers’ Guide in NSW for 1839describes Brickfield Hill as having been ‘not only steep and difficult, but actually dangerous’. However, in 1837-8 the incline was flattened, making it ‘easy for all kinds of drays, wagons and other carriages.’
The Town Hall would be built on the site of the original cemetery. The Queen Victoria building (QVB) would be built on the site of the Market House. But that’s all in the future.