Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When Places Change... The Search for a Hotel in Sussex Street.

When Places and Place-Names Change - Finding the Homes of ancestors.

I have been very fortunate when looking for ancestral places. Most of the places my ancestors came from have not changed enough to prevent me from finding the place where they lived. Buildings may have changed but the streets and street numbers have remained relatively the same. If you visit Main Street in Cumbernauld, Glasgow, where my paternal grandfather was born, you will find it much the same as it was when he left Scotland in 1923. My paternal great grandfather's flax farm in Brookend, County Tyrone remains quite undeveloped and so I can see it much as it was when the family lived and farmed there until 1911.  My Swiss ancestors who arrived in Australia in 1873, came from Ottenbach near Zurich. In 1850, the population of Ottenbach was 1,169 and by the year 2000 the number had only increased to 2164 and the town hasn't changed much since my Häberling family  lived there.

Main Street, Cumbernauld. Copyright Texas Radio and the Big Beat. Licensed for reuse under ©©
Brookend, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Photo courtesy Pat Grimes ©

The tiny town of Ottenbach has not changed much. Image ©©.

When places change significantly, and when land, buildings and entire areas are resumed for new use, whether it be for redevelopment for industrial purpuses or for the construction of new housing, or office developments, or for freeways to be built, when houses, buildings and streets disappear, it can present a significant challenge to family historians when attempting to locate the places where ancestors lived. 

Darling Harbour 1900. Image licensed for reuse under ©©

Darling Harbour 2015 Image SharnWhite ©©

I was confrontedwith a situation of this kind last week when I set off in search of the location of a hotel owned in the mid nineteenth century, by the ancestors of Linda Seaver, wife of my genea-friend Randy Seaver (author of the well known blog Genea Musings ). 

I met fellow blogger and american genealogist, Randy Seaver and his wife Linda in person for the first time, while attending the Rootstech 2015 Conference in Salt Lake City in February this year, although we had known each other through social media for some time. Randy mentioned to me that Linda's ancestor, Alexander Whittle, had been the licencee of a hotel in Sussex Street, Sydney, prior to his departing Australia and heading to the Californian Gold Rush. On hearing this, and having a particular interest in early Australian history, I offered to take photographs of the location of the hotel, which had been known as the Lancashire Arms.

I knew that much of the land in this part of Sydney had been resumed yearsago for  redevelopment, for the construction of the exciting Darling Harbour precinct, so I did not expect that the original building would be still standing, however, I did not realise that the significant changes to the streets and general area surrounding Sussex Street near Darling Harbour, would proffer such an enthralling challenge when it came to finding the mid 19th century location of the Lancashire Arms. I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey on which this search has taken me. I have learned much more about life in this wharfside area of Sydney and crucially this excercise has encouraged me look at alternative ways to find an address when an entire precinct has been altered and streets completely vanished. I have written a number of house histories, so I am very familiar with tracking down altered street numbers,  but this was my first intriguing case of a missing street.

Sussex Street shown on Google Maps
Below is a description of the location of Sussex Street in Sydney's CBD.
  1. Sussex Street, Sydney
  2. Sussex Street is a street in the CBD of Sydney, Australia. It runs north-south along the western side of the city, between Hickson Road and Hay Street. It is in the local government area of the City of Sydney. The street is 1.7 km long. Wikipedia

Sussex Street runs right behind Darling Harbour, Sydney,  to the left of this photo. Image SharnWhite ©©

From information given to me by Randy Seaver, I knew that Alexander Whittle was granted  his Publican's Licence for the Lancashire Arms hotel, on June 21, 1848. The document shows the address of the hotel to be Sussex Street and Union Lane, Sydney. Finding the location of the hotel at first looked to be a simple matter ... until I struck a problem...  when I searched Google maps, no Union Lane existed anywhere near Sussex Street. When I went into the city and walked along Sussex Street, my walk confirmed that indeed Union Lane no longer exists. I realised that if the information on the Publican's Licence record was correct and if in the mid 1800's a Union Lane had run off Sussex Street I needed to find where it had been in order to pinpoint the location of the Lancashire Arms.

Darling Harbour as it exists now, is a busy waterfront leisure area and a popular place for tourists to visit, with its many restaurants, the Maritime Museum, Sydney Aquarium and Chinese Gardens among its attractions. In the 1800's, Darling Harbour (first named by English settlers as Cockle Bay for its abundant source of seafood) was the main wharf and port for shipping in Sydney. Market Street Wharf (on which the Sydney Aquarium now sits), was built in 1826 and the harbour flourished and grew to be a bustling convergence of industry, trade and shipping. 

Darling Harbour in the vicinity of the Lancashire Arms. Image SharnWhite ©©

Randy Seaver's information showed that amidst the hive of wharfside acitivity around Sussex Street in June of 1848 Alexander Whittle was granted the Publican's Licence for the Lancashire Arms. This hotel was one of a number of hotels in Sussex and surrounding streets which were an important hub of social life for the workers, sailors and inhabitants of Sydney's wharf area.

A list of Publican's licences in 1849, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Monday April 9, shows the names of licencees for 26 hotels in Sussex Street, including Alexander Whittle and the Lancashire Arms with the address given as Sussex Street but with no number.

Darling Harbour Wharves c 1900 looking across Darling Harbour from Pyrmont. North to South is from left to right. Image Wikipedia ©©


In order to compile as much information as possible about the location of all hotels in Sussex Street, I decided to look at the lists of all Publicans' Licences granted for hotels in Sussex Street in the years before and after 1849 to see if this provided any information about the locations of the hotels. State Records NSW has a searchable online index of Publican's Licences, 1830-61. The citation for finding this record at State Records is NRS 14401 [4/82]; Reel 5062. An image of the 1849 Publican's Licence for Alexander Whittle can be found on Ancestry.com cited as Butts of publicans’ licences, 1830-1849. NRS 14401, reels 5049-5062, 1236. State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia.

In the nineteenth century, The Sydney Morning Herald and other newspapers, were in the practice of publishing lists of Publicans' Licences. I was familiar with  this because I had discovered that one of my convict ancestors was granted a publican's licence in Singleton in 1864, through newspaper searches. As I searched available lists of Publicans' Licences  around the time that Alexander Whittle had the Lancashire Armsa distinct pattern began to emerge. Comparing the 1849, 1851 and 1853 list of Publicans' Licences in the Sydney Morning Herald on the Trove website I noted excitedly, that the hotels were listed in the same particular order in each year in Sussex Street. The street names in the lists were oredered alphabetically but no street numbers were provided. Interestingly,  I observed that the hotels were listed in the exact same order on each list, give or take a few hotels appearing or disappearing. Hotels which were located on the corners of two main streets were listed under both streets as, for example, Darling Harbour Inn - Sussex Street and Market Street (1849 list). It became apparent as I perused the lists, that although no street numbers were given, the hotels were listed in order of their location in each street.

In Sussex Street, the hotels that were listed on corner addresses of streets adjoining Sussex, were listed from Erskine Street through King Street, Market Street, Market Wharf, Liverpool Street, Druitt, Bathurst, Dickson, to Goulbourne. In every list despite hotel and licencee names changing and new hotels appearing, this street order was the same. By following the corner streets on a map, I was able to see that the hotels in Sussex Street were listed from the Nothern end to the Southern end. This was  a significant breakthrough in determining the location of the Lancashire Arms by looking at where it was placed in the list of Sussex Street hotels in the Publicans' Licence lists published in the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Following the hotels that were listed on corner streets.. a pattern emerged.
 In the 1849 Publicans' Licence List, the Lancashire Arms hotel was the sixteenth hotel recorded on Sussex Street and was shown to be between the Governor Bourke hotel on the corner of Market Street, and The Hope and Anchor hotel  on the corner of Sussex and Druitt Street. This suggested that to me, that the hotel was possibly situated between Market Street and Druitt Street. Taking into account that odd and even numbers are not necessarily opposite each other in any street, I still had a hunch that the hotel would be not far from my pinpointed bearing.

Dragon boat racing on Darling Habour, now a recreational area, near the location of the Lancashire Arms hotel. Image Sharn White


Whenever I am looking for information regarding ancestors or the community in which they lived, I always to look beyond my own family and investigate the community they were a social, religious and economic part of, for clues about them or their lives. Following this same procedure, I looked for information regarding the hotels and other  notable buildings which had been close to the Lancashire Arms hotel on the 1849, 1851 and 1853 list of Publicans' Licences. Searching newspapers of the time, I discovered street numbers for some of these hotels. Numbers for some of the hotels confirmed my theory that the hotels were recorded by name from the northern end of Sussex Street to the southern end in the Publicans' Licences Lists. Charlton's Hotel on the corner of Sussex and Market Wharf was number 116 Sussex Street. The Labour In Vain hotel (possibly the best hotel name ever!) was number 181/189 (both numbers appeared in news accounts). The Lancashire Arms hotel had appeared in the Publicans's Licences List between these two hotels, so I felt that I was getting closer to finding a more accurate location.

One of the last surviving old sandstone hotels in Sussex Street, The Dundee Arms, 171 Sussex Street ( c1860) Image Sadarka ©©

I searched for information in newspapers about Sussex Street hotel owners themselves. Family notices such as obituaries and marriages can often include addresses and other evidence relevant to a search for ancestors. I unearthed fascinating anecdotes about political getherings and coronial inquests that were held in hotels in Sussex Street, and discovered murders that were committed outside several others. Some of the news items, however were most helpful in providing me with street addresses and I began to map out where a number of the Sussex Street hotels and other buildings had been situated. Unfortunately (or fortunately) there appeared to be little in the way of grizzly murders, coronial inquests or political happenings at the Lancashire Arms, however, I did allow myself to think that I was getting closer to finding out where Alexander Whittle's hotel would have been. 

Further confirming my theory that the Lancashire Arms was on the southern end of Sussex Street was information included in a news article in an 1849 edition of the  Sydney Morning Herald, which stated that the Draper's Hall hotel was 'situated in Sussex Street south". Drapers Hall was listed immediately after the Lancashire Arms hotel in the 1849 list of Publicans' Licences.

I found that the former Commercial Stores, now heritage listed, which still exist in Sussex Street today, were numbered 121-127 in the 1850's. These buildings are located at the northern end of Sussex Street close to King Street and so at the opposite end to where I placed the Lancashire Arms.

 'Sussex Street at Grafton Wharf', original image produced by Kerry and Co studios, Sydney, c. 1884-1917. Powerhouse Museum Collection, No Known Copyright.

I consulted a number of websites, which I will list at the end of this blog, to research changes to street names in this area. A significant discovery was that in 1875, a street named Union Street had been changed to the name of Fowler Street. Now, at last, I had found evidence of the existence of a Union Street (not Lane). No reference was made regarding its location, other than it ran between Sussex and Kent Streets. I believed this to be a significant find, however, as the address was given in 1849 for the Lancashire Arms as Sussex Street and Union Lane.  Since most hotels which graced the corner of two streets at the time Alexander Whittle and his family were at the Lancashire Arms  gave their address using two streets, I felt that the Union Lane in the 1849 Licence document was very likely to have been Union Street. Now I just needed to find out where Union Street was located before the Darling Harbour Resumption of land began in 1900, which transformed, over time, a busy working wharfside area into an iconic leisure precinct which attracts many tourists to Sydney.

My research into the Darling Harbour resumption of land led me to a website where I found maps of the area from 1900. This was  an exciting find, because right there on Map K was Union Street running off Sussex Street just near Druitt Street. This was almost exactly where I had thought the hotel to be located, albeit it slightly further south than I had imagined. The map actually shows the location of the Hope and Anchor hotel which I had established as being near the Lancashire Arms.

Sussex Street in 1900 

The Hope and Anchor Hotel  on the corner of Sussex and Druitt Streets and Union Street off Sussex Street 

The conclusion I have reached, in the lack of any further evidence, and reliant upon the address of Sussex Street and Union Street being correct on the 1849 Publican's Licence, is that the Lancashire Arms was located in the block on Sussex Street between Druitt Street and Bathurst Street which puts its original location at around number 270-284 Sussex Street, or close to those numbers.  If you walk along Sussex Street just past the intersection of Sussex and Druitt Street and after number 284 Sussex you will find a lane called Druitt Lane. Druitt Lane is not registered as an historically significant laneway in the City of Sydney Management of Laneways Policy  , and there are no buildings historical consequence nearby so I have not been able to ascertain whether this may have been Union Lane originally. Certainly. I am convinced that it is very near the location of the Union Street or Union Lane mentioned in Alexander Whittle's Publican's Licence of June 21, 1848. 

On my next visit to NSW State Records, I plan to see if I can find more information with regard to the Lancashire Arms through a search of old maps or records, now that I have narrowed the paramiters for my search. 

A google search of the numbers 270-284 Sussex Street will allow you to 'walk' the section of Sussex Street where I believe Alexander Whittle's hotel was located.  On my next visit to the CBD in Sydney I will photograph the buildings in the area. Alexander Whittle and his family left Sydney for the lure of the Californian Gold Rush. In doing so his descendants, who might have continued to live in or around Sussex Street, avoided the outbreak of bubonic plague in the wharfside Sussex Street area in 1900. 

223-225 Sussex Street  and Druitt Lane during the bubonic plague outbreak 1900 Image ©©

Places change for a a variety of reasons. Buildings are transformed through change of ownership, entire precincts may be redeveloped and adapted for new use. Change can be instagated for economic or political reasons, as they were after WW1, when many German street and placenames were replaced by non German names. Change inevitably impacts present day searches into the past and family historians often need to think outside of the box when researching places where ancestors lived. Researching the community your ancestors lived in, investigating the lives of the people who lived near your ancestors, and exploring the history of change in the community can all help in your search for places where your forebears lived.

Below are some resources for assisting you to locate places in Sydney in precincts or streets which have changed or been redeveloped. I am certain that similar websites and sources are available for other cities, towns, suburbs and rural areas. Local history groups and libraries are an excellent place of reference for information about localities and the change that has taken place in them.



www.photosau.com.au/cosmaps/scripts/displayindex.asp?Index=AS  (Atlas of the suburbs of Sydney)
www.utube.com/watch?v=9ZFKkK2fw      (History of Sydney Street)
www.ga.gov.au/place-names/index.html       ( Geoscience Australia - Placename Search)


  1. Great research Sharn...I'm sure Randy and Linda must be thrilled! you've shown just how complex it can be to track down the precise location of a house/building when a city is revamped. Look forward to hearing the outcome

  2. You are nothing if not tenacious, Sharn.. well done. I'm waiting with Pauleen, if anyone can find the exact spot, you will.

  3. I'm GENEA-SMACKED!!! Just WOW! Thank you so much for all the hard work you've done on this. This is worthy of a periodical article or a monograph, and a presentation at a society and conference (or cruise!). I can see we will have to return to Sydney sometime to walk where Linda's great-grandmother was born and her second great-grandparents walked.

    I'm looking forward to what else you can find out.

  4. Wow, this is an amazing piece of research. No wonder Randy is geneasmacked. Hopefully another outcome is that Randy and Linda will visit and we can show them our town.

  5. What a fun post Sharn - I felt I was with you every step of the way. Darling Harbour is such an interesting area and soooo much history. Good luck with the rest of your research.

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  8. Just stumbled across this post yesterday. What a great detective story. Well done. May I suggest also the use of the Trigonometric survey of Sydney, carried out by Sydney Council and finished in 1865. It is all digitised (yay!) and can be found at their Historical Atlas site (http://atlas.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/), along with a stack of other useful maps.

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  10. Wow….!!! Such a nice place. Very impressive post. Thank you for sharing.
    Cheap Hotels in Lancashire

  11. You have the right location. If you go to the online archives of Sydney City Council and download the 1854 map of Sydney, you will find Union Street, connecting Sussex to Kent, between (as you said) Druitt and Bathurst. On the 1880 map, it is shown as Fowler Street, with the Shamrock hotel on the corner with Sussex. On the 1833 map, there is no street or lane at all. Hope this helps (I stumbled across this while researching 357 Sussex for a friend and am trying to sort out if there was a street number change). The SCC archives also have Sand's directories, that list each street number and the usage. It shows 258 Sussex (cnr Union Lane) as James Smith's Wheelwrights Arms with George O Lenter a builder on the other corner. Hope this helps.

  12. Sorry - the Sands Directory is the 1858 edition.