Oldest Road In Australia
George Street North
THE FIRST PICTURE OF GEORGE STREET DRAWN ABOUT
The first row of cottages is George street
extending from Hunter street (to be seen running up the hill on left) towards King street. The two
behind George street is Pitt Street. At the top of Hunter street on the left the Rev. Richard Johnson's
church is visible.
Fortunately for the comfort of the future city, the rocks on the right hand as Philip entered (that
is, the western side of the Cove) did not extend right to the water's edge. A fairly level ledge of land, averaging
perhaps 200ft. wide, ran alongside the water, and it was on this ledge that Governor Philip planted some of his
public buildings. In the illustration below of the sketch plan of the settlement, drawn in July, 1788, the
figures 8 and 9 are upon this ledge. A path was soon worn along this strip, and if you look at Hunter's sketch you
will see this track on the right-hand side of the picture. That path is the George street North of today.
SYDNEY COVE IN JULY, 1788.
Where the figures 8 and 9 appear on the left-hand side was a level strip of land, upon
which Governor Phillip planted some of his public buildings. The building just below 9 was the first
hospital, which stood in what is now George street, near Globe
street. On the lower 8 the storehouses were built. The figure 4 shows the line of what was to be the
principal street, which was to be 200 feet wide. All the Cove from the head near the letter B to the
figure 4 1/2 has been filled up, and the end of Pitt street is now close to that
It needed no bullock waggon to define its course; nature had ordained it within that 200 feet
ledge. The somewhat crooked course of George Street North as far as Grosvenor street is simply the result of man
seeking the easiest way in a circumscribed area.
The slight turn from Essex street to Grosvenor street is due to the fact that Phillip's
Lieutenant-Governor selected as the site of his house the south corner of George and Grosvenor streets, and to the
south of it barracks had been erected. At the end of the path in Hunter's sketch on the right-hand side two
buildings may be seen. These were storehouses, which stood in the vicinity of Nock and Kirby's premises and Essex
Street. The path, it will be noticed, turns abruptly to the left at the end.
Today the street turns very slightly. At least as late as 1792 the street cut through the site of
Nock and Kirby's, and, running lower down the slope of the hill than the present roadway, reached Bridge street
about midway between the present Pitt and George streets. The reason for this is not hard to discover. Philip had
his headquarters on the other side of the Cove.
In October, 1788, he employed a gang of convicts to roll timber together to form a bridge over the
Tank Stream at the intersection of Pitt and Bridge streets. In travelling from the east to the west side, naturally
the shortest track was taken, and as the traveller had a hill in front of him when he crossed the Tank Stream he
turned off as soon as possible to avoid climbing it. It was not until that part of the city south of Grosvenor
street had developed into importance and grants had been made that closed the track, that George street, as we know
it, became the only road to Bridge street. The reason for the acute turn in the line of George street close to the
Sailors' Institute—i.e., north of Argyle street—is made plain by a glance at the sketch plan of 1788. An escarpment
of rock may be seen running almost to the water's edge. Our forefathers had little time, few implements, and no
inclination to quarry a road through this barrier: so they walked round it, and as the land to the north of it fell
abruptly to the Cove the track turned sharply to save a descent and a subsequent ascent.
Construction of George Street
The first reference we get in the early annals to the construction of George street is in Collins'
"Account of New South Wales," published in 1798, where, under the month of March, 1788, he writes that the
principal street of the intended town was marked out at the head of the Cove. This was a noble street 200ft.
wide, which, alas! never materialised. In May of the same year there is an entry that, "the large storehouse being
completed," a road was made to it from the wharf on the west side. In April, 1789, Collins writes that the convicts
were then employed in forming a convenient road on the west side from the hospital landing-
place to the storehouses. This would be, roughly, from Globe street, opposite the fire station, to Essex
George street has rejoiced in four names. At first it was known as Sergeant-major's Row or Spring
Row; then it became High street, a name it retained until 1810, when Macquarie gave the street its present title in
honour of his majesty, King George.