Paradise, Purgatory and Hellhole: a history of Pyrmont and Ultimo

Early Pyrmont

A pure and unadulterated spring
Detail of aquatint, 'Panorama of Port Jackson....' by Major James Taylor, 1824. In 1806 John Macarthur brought a boatload of ladies and gentlemen from Cockle Bay for a picnic. One of the ladies remarked that the natural beauty of the peninsula reminded her of a spa in Germany, Bad Pyrmont.

Originally bought by John Macarthur in 1799 for a gallon of rum, the deep-water access and proximity to the city meant the land was soon subdivided.

Australia's first steam-powered mill was established in Darling Harbour in 1815. Wharves, warehouses and factories quickly followed. The northern end of the peninsula had a history quite distinct from Harris's Ultimo which remained farming land well into the 1800s.

The last refuge of the wretched or a place of ferny gullies?
Photograph of Anna Maria Bunn, 1884 (the year she died). Reproduced courtesy of the Bunn family.Few accounts survive of Pyrmont's early years, however the suburb was home to the colony's first female novelist, Anna Maria Bunn (1799–1884). Author of The guardian: a tale by an Australian (1838) she was married to Captain George Bunn. They built Newstead House (also known as Bunn Cottage) on the peninsula.

Photograph, taken from Sydney, showing Newstead House at the upper right.Although she did not write specifically about Pyrmont, her protagonist's misgivings about leaving Ireland for Australia suggest she may have been unimpressed by her surroundings, having described New South Wales as 'the last refuge of the wretched'.

This contrasts with an earlier description of the area as being a 'place of ferny gullies and many creeks. Birds abounded there, such parrots as you have ever seen and cascades of rock lilies on what seemed ruined villages of outcropping sandstone'.