The Sydney Harbour Trust’s 1918 rendering of the Walsh Bay redevelopment, Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia, MAP F, 273/3.
Walsh Bay came to be in 1919. That is, 100 years ago, a busy area of the beautiful Sydney harbourfront was officially named Walsh Bay.
Before that, this little corner of Sydney Cove served as home, meeting place and workplace to many different people. Thousands of years before British settlement, the area was already home to the Gadigal clan of the Eora nation, one of seven clans living along the coast, their lives entwined with the bushland, wildlife and harbour. Between 1788 and 1900, the area developed from a dock for cargo and large ships, into a hub of commercial wharves servicing international markets. This thriving industry was hard hit by the Plague of 1900, when health concerns led to government resumptions of land. The subsequent modernisation of the wharves would give an industry struggling under the expectation of industrialisation a few last decades of vitality.
Over the past century Walsh Bay's commercial focused waned, and the area transformed into our cherished arts precinct.
So how did the name come about?
In 1901 there was a major scheme to modernise Sydney’s docks. The wharves needed to be updated so they could handle the steam ships and motor vehicles that were becoming essential to the rapidly growing city. These works were overseen by the Engineer-in-Chief of the Sydney Harbour Trust – Henry Deane Walsh.
Henry Deane Walsh with wife Lucy, surrounded by four of his six children, 1892. Image courtesy of Susan Rowe’s family collection.
Known for his excellence in hydraulic engineering and management of complex projects, Irishman Henry Walsh was a gregario
us and good-natured figure around the waterfront. He designed and oversaw construction of a new system of wharves, stores and associated roads, including the hydraulic systems to service them. His remodelling of the area also included a ‘rat proof’ Monier pre-cast concrete seawall to combat the outbreak of bubonic plague of 1900. The design prevented rats from living in the sea wall and infecting surrounding residents.
Upon his retirement in 1919, a bustling and picturesque area of the shore front was carved off and named after Mr Walsh in recognition of his renowned expertise and popularity. And so became Walsh Bay.
Japanese steamer ship Aki Maru and the smaller passenger steamer Hunter berthed at Walsh Bay, 1919. Image courtesy of NSW State Archives and Records.
The Sydney Morning Herald carried this snippet of news on 17 November 1919: "The new wharfs are 130ft in width, and extend to an average length of 660ft, and the little bay which they occupy has been named Walsh’s Bay, after Mr. H. D. Walsh, one of the commissioners, and the engineer-in-chief, who retired a month or two ago." The newly anointed Walsh Bay encompassed the docks zone at the northern end of Millers Point, including the western headland of Sydney Cove facing the main stream of Sydney Harbour. The first published mention of Walsh Bay was in the Sydney Harbour Trust’s Annual Report in 1919 – 100 years ago this year. Happy Birthday Walsh Bay.
Fun fact: Walsh Island, an isle in the midst of Newcastle's Hunter River used as the New South Wales dockyards until 1933, was also named after Henry Deane Walsh. He must have been quite a guy.
Walsh Bay looking at Wharf 4/5. Image by Hugh Hamilton, 2018.