At the turn of the twentieth century in Sydney, not only were there no Wharf Theatres, there was not even an area called Walsh Bay; what we now know as Walsh Bay was simply a part of Millers Point, with no specific name.
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.
Known for his excellence in hydraulic engineering and management of complex projects, Irishman Henry Walsh was a gregarious 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.
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.