Architectural element, datestone from Sydney Technical College, Pyrmont sandstone, maker unknown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1891
This datestone is an original component of a major Sydney building, bearing both architectural and social significance. From an architectural viewpoint, the datestone embodies the decorative character of major buildings of the late 1800s, expressed in the style of carved local sandstone, incorporating Australian flora in its design.
During the 1870s sandstone became established in Sydney as the preferred material for major public and private buildings. Sandstone remains in architectural favour, gracing even contemporary buildings as a cladding material. The sandstone comes from the Saunders run Pyrmont quarries, probably the Paradise quarry, as it produced stone with golden colouring.
'Strangers visiting Sydney are often struck by the magnificence of our public buildings, the richness of their ornamentation and the mellow tone of their colouring. This freestone of Sydney seems to absorb into itself some of the brightness of the sun.' (Robert Saunders Esquire, Australian men of mark, 1788-1888, Vol 2).
Sydney Technical College is an important part of the history of Ultimo and of the Powerhouse Museum's own history. Technical education flourished in the wake of the industrial revolution. Mechanics' institutes and museums were seen as ways of imparting education to the working classes. A Government push in the 1880s was to build a Workingman's College and Technological Museum together and the Board of Technical Education bought part of Shane Park, Ultimo, from John Harris in 1889 for this purpose. The Government Architect William E Kemp designed many of the Sydney Technical College buildings.
Sydney Technical College has two sandstone date stones, one on the Commercial High School building (1891) and one on Turner Hall (1911). This is from the Commercial High School and was removed and replaced during 2005, as part of the Department of Commerce stonework renewal program. The buildings, through their similar style and materials, complement one another and form a cohesive whole. They are an important element in the landscape of this part of Ultimo. The association of the buildings with education continues today, giving them considerable social significance for the community.
Australian men of mark, 1788-1888, Vol 2, C Maxwell, Sydney,1889
Fitzgerald, Shirley and Golder, Hilary, Pyrmont & Ultimo: under siege, Hale& Iremonger, Sydney, 1994.
Irving, Robert Paradise Purgatory and Hellhole:the story of the Saunders sandstone quarries Pyrmont media masters, Singapore, 2006.
McCaig, Ian The architecture of Pyrmont and Ultimo, Thesis 1980's.
Matthews, Michael Pyrmont and Ultimo:a history, Sydney privately published, 1982.
Neill, Norm Technically and further, Sydney Technical College 1891-1991, Hale& Iremonger, Sydney, 1991.
Anni Turnbull, 2008
The makers of this datestone are unknown, however the overall architect for Sydney Technical College, Ultimo was William E Kemp. The stone is dated 1891. It was sourced from local sandstone from one of the three Saunders Pyrmont quarries and may have been crafted by a local stone mason. The Saunders quarries employed over 300 men in the last decades of the 19th century. Work at the quarries is thought to have been done by local people in the trades of quarrymen, blacksmiths, engineers, farriers, wheelwrights and carpenters.
The three main Saunders quarry sites, said to be nicknamed by Scottish workmen in the 1860s, produced stone with distinctive qualities. Hellhole was located north-east of Wentworth Park on Wattle Street. It was a deep hole some six metres below street level which filled to the brim with every heavy downpour. Purgatory was adjacent and further north, producing a very hard stone with a grey streak which could crack. Paradise or Half Way was less than a kilometre north of Hellhole and produced the best stone, yellow block. This stone looks to be from the Paradise quarry.
Sydney Technical College was founded in 1889 and like many older Sydney buildings used Pyrmont yellow block sandstone in its construction and decoration. The NSW Department of Commerce now repairs old Sydney buildings using stone dug from the foundations of new Pyrmont developments. They replaced this datestone from the Commercial High School building with a new one in 2005.
In 1891 Sydney Technical College occupied only the northern half of the blocks bounded by Mary Ann, Jones, Thomas and Harris Sreets. The land was bought from the Harris family and Ultimo House remained on site until 1933. The main building, Building A, in Mary Ann Street has three stories plus a basement and was designed in the Romanesque Revival style by Government Architect W E Kemp. Built in 1892, it featured carvings of Australian flora and fauna, a vaulted ceiling on the top floor and several stained glass windows. William Kemp designed many of Sydney's Technical College and school buildings. There were two Technical High Schools built in 1891/1892, one at each end of the main building. They were designed as supplementary buildings at the same time as the main technical college (Building A) and are joined to the main building by archways.
Their style is different to the main style of the college being closer to 'Queen Anne revival' (Lee, Robyn, W E Kemps Sydney Technical College and the School and College Architecture of the New South Wales Department of Instruction 1890-1910. Thesis, Sydney University, 1972).
They are two storeys high and the staircases feature painted glass windows with representations of the Arts and Trades similar to those in the doorway of the main college. The building on the right (as seen from Mary-Ann St) was the only one used as a commercial high school, the other being taken over for College purposes.
This datestone comes from the southern side of the Commercial High School building, 1891.
Pyrmont 'yellow block' stone came from the Saunders quarries which were established in 1853 on the northwest side of the Pyrmont peninsula. Charles and Emily Saunders came to Sydney from England with their five-year-old son Robert in 1852. The following year Saunders leased land from the Harris family and established the quarries.
This datestone was on the southern side of the Commercial High School building, Mary Ann Street Ultimo, from 1891 to 2005. It was then taken to the NSW Department of Commerce Depot at Alexandria and then borrowed by the Museum and displayed in the Australian Communities Gallery exhibition 'Paradise, Purgatory and Hellhole: a history of Pyrmont and Ultimo'.