Tuesday 29 March 2016

Press' Boatshed

Looking SE into the bay from The Domain, From just above the Boy Charlton Pool.
Credit: Julie Storry
Woolloomooloo Bay is a most complicated shoreline, littered with wharves, baths, boatsheds, rowing sheds, and jetties, which metamorphosed remarkably over the time between 1860 and 1968. Understandably.

The seawall - also known as Cowper's Wharf - was completed between 1861 and 1863.

There were jetties out into the bay prior to the reclamation, but the water was too shallow for anything other than small craft. There were boat-builders, like Dan Sheehy. There were timber mills like Fairfax. There was a boatshed, like Punch and MGrath's. But the water was too shallow, and the unloading process too precipitous.
Robinson's Aerial Map of Sydney 1909
Credit: Library of Congress
There is a myriad of maps available to befuddle the enthusiast; hardly any of them agree, with many trying to show changes over time to the one site. I have chosen to use this map for its clarity even though it labels Wharf 11 as "W.A. McArthur" instead of Brown's Wharf. Brown (and his brother) built the wharf, whereas McArthur was a shipping agent. More on that in a separate post on Wharf 11.
Left: Jem Punch's boatshed, just beyond the nearly completed seawall - Credit: Sydney Illustrated News (15 Oct 1864)
Right: A hive of activity 8 years on (1872)- Credit: SL-NSW
Between 1863 and 1872, the scene was set for expansion. The seawall went in. The land behind the wall was reclaimed, partially using the immense rocks that created a barrier between the wall and what today is the Art Gallery of NSW. Punch's boatshed, and his hotel took pride of place, even though Jem was too busy with his sculling, his international competitions, and his hotel in Pitt Street to spend much time there, leaving it to his brothers. (Jem died an early death in 1880, aged just 40).
Left: Construction of Ladies' Corporation Baths (1902-3)- Credit: State Records NSW & City of Sydney Archives
Right: Western shore of Woolloomooloo Bay in foreground (1902)- Credit: City of Sydney Archives
Where the legendary Jem Punch constructed his boatshed when the seawall was being constructed, is very close to the site where Hy Press sited his own boatshed, sometime prior to 1892. It, too, was a victim of the descration 0f the suburb of Woolloomooloo in the 1960s and 1970s.
Left: Inquest into boating deaths (1892)- Credit: SMH 28 Dec 1892 (retrieved via Trove (NLA))
Right: Bombo adrift 1934)- Credit: SMH Tues 9 Oct 1934
Heinreich Christian Press arrived in Sydney on the "Iserbrook" on 28th February, 1874 at the age of 24 from his native Germany, having been born 17th May, 1850 in Frefel, Freiensfeld, Fehmarn. He served as cook for the journey and had already anglicised his name to Henry. (He was naturalised in 1893.)
Left: Portrait which accompanied the Obituary in the SMH - Credit: Dennis Smith
Right: H. C. Press Deceased Estate tax (June 1925)- Credit: State Records NSW
He had few financial resources, but made up for that with resourcefulness of character. According to Gavin Souter, Henry scooted up to the Palmer River goldfields in Queensland, making himself a small fortune. Sufficient to return to Sydney in 1884, marry Annie Kenny, and for their first child (Carl Henry) to be born in 1886 in Potts Point. HCP was now aged 36. The first reference to the H.C. Press boatshed on the western shore of Woolloomooloo Bay was in 1892, but it was not not good publicity for the venture. Some yahoos hired a boat, got into difficulty, and two of them drowned. Did HCP ensure they were capable? Did he ensure they were sober? Did he excercise "Duty of Care" prior to that term being devised. He wasn't tarred and feathered over the incident, but rules were tightened.
Ladies' Corporation Baths in use (nd)(post 1903)- Credit: Collection of Dennis Smith
By the turn of the century, Henry and Annie had five children: Carl 1886, Wilhelmina 1987, George 1889, Sydney 1890, and Annie 1891. HCP was living at 11 Grantham Lane, Potts Point when his second child was born in 1887. A year of immense change for the bay, Garden Island being leased to the Royal Navy, and construction work beginning.
Between the turn of the century and his death in June 1925, HCP continued to show his resourcefulness. He developed another boatshed (this time together with picnic ground) down at Audley. He developed a picnic ground and dance hall, called Palmer Pleasure Grounds, on the tip of the Castle Cove peninsula and a wharf on the southern shore around 1910. People came from all over the city for a day's outing there, especially on Sundays. He tried to convince Annie to move there, but he died in Sutherland, so that obviously went over like a lead balloon.
Audley Weir boatsheds (before WW1 on left; after WW2 on right
Credit: Powerhouse Museum (Tyrrell Collection)
Come the end of "The Great War", HCP was aged 68, with three sons hovering around thirty years of age. By the time of their father's death in 1925, the sons (especially Carl) were steering the family concern in different directions. They diversified (slightly) into boat building and racing, with a legendary series of yachts named after HCP: H.C. Press I, H.C. Press II, and H.C. Press III. They continued to prosecute their father's entrepreneurial skill and mindset with hard headed bargaining with governments with regard to leases and businesses at both Audley and Middle Cove.
A crop from a panorama of the Bay showing an intact western shore (1962)
Credit: Horatio J. Kookaburra's Flikr Stream)
Come the 1960s, the "white shoe brigade" blew their whistle, and the walls came tumbling down.

Out with the old; in with the new. Bulldoze a Cahill Expressway here. Shaft through an Eastern Suburbs railway there. Stick it right to the inhabitants of this most treasured of suburbs, by using their streets, their house-blocks, their parks, to distribute traffic to the east.

They only live there - like their parents before them; and THEIR parents before them.


State Library of NSW
City of Sydney Archives
State Records NSW
Powerhouse Museum (Tyrrell Collection
Personal Postcard Collection of Dennis Smith
Trove (National Library of Australia
Willoughby District Historical Society
Souter, Gavin "Times & Tides: a Middle Harbour Memoir", Simon & Schuster (2004)

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