At the Keel we love the history of the Sailors Home in which we reside. Below is some of the history of the building and what we have found from our research. We regularly host masterclasses on both the history of the area and the alcohol we drank at the time. Including the wild time of the Rum Rebellion in Australia.
In 1860, the Colonial Government decided to grant the Committee of the Sydney Sailors' Home a site at Circular Quay. The original site was once a series of sandstone ledges and a sandy beach. It extended both to the north and to the south of the present boundaries, to include Cadman's Cottage, and a portion of the land on which the former City Coroner's Court now stands. The location was considered suitable for the Home as it was on the waterfront of the Quay and close to the recently established Mariners Church.
The Home had its origins in a benevolent movement dedicated to the elevation of the Sailors' condition and character, and by the 1860s such institutions were considered essential to any sizeable British port. It provided clean, comfortable and inexpensive board and lodging for sailors and other persons of all nationalities employed in sea-going ships and vessels. Architects Messrs. Weaver and Kemp of 181 Pitt Street Sydney were appointed and by April 1860, Kemp had produced an extensive design, similar in form, scale and proportion to that of the Brunswick Maritime Establishment in London's Docklands.
The building stood four storeys high. The storeys above were brickwork with sandstone detailing to the window sills, corbels, arched heads and string courses. The sandstone basement contained kitchen and dining facilities. The provision for sailors arriving weary and malnutritioned from their time at sea as well as ensuring they leave well fed was of pamount importance to the Crown.
It provided clean, comfortable and inexpensive board and lodging for sailors and other persons of all nationalities employed in sea-going ships and vessels.
It is of historical significance as the first purpose built home for seamen in NSW and provides a record of the changing attitudes to social welfare in the 19th and 20th centuries. The building significantly continued its original functions for over 100 years and retains evidence of the original operation of the building and its simple, if minimal, land base for transiting sailors of all nationalities and subsequent phases of use. As with other benevolent institutions of the time, it was founded by public subscription, reflecting a new interest in the working class.
The Keel is currently housed in the wing added to the original building. Built in the 1860s, the wing highlighted an awareness of the growing importance of Sydney as a major port and city. It emphasised the continuing link with the '"mother country" by following a British model. A bequest in 1916 enabled the Karss Wing to be added to the Home, and in 1925 Sydney City Council approved plans for a major extension designed by Spain & Cosh. The original wing of the building significantly retains a visual relationship with the waterfront and due to its four storey facade and high parapet, has landmark qualities from this aspect.
The location of the building is significant with association and historical links with the development of Cadman's Cottage, Water Police, the former Mariner's Church, Circular Quay and the general fabric and development of The Rocks area in general. The building remains as a reminder of the thriving port activities in Sydney in the late 19th century. This collective of with buildings (including the Campbell's Store, ASN Building, and the Marnier's church) created a significant hub for sailor's on the west Circular Quay Rocks area and reflects the evolution of maritime buildings in The Rocks area.
Further back towards the Argyle cut it was rather interesting for a sailor. The Black Dog became just a renouned bar that even the corner at the time would attribute deaths to the existence of the bar. While the area has significantly improved in recent days, it is still an area that has a number of nightlife institutions.
The oldest surviving residence in Sydney, this four-room sandstone cottage (above) was built as offices for the Governor's 52-man boat crew. It was built as part of the Government Dockyard and was known as the Coxwain's Barracks. The cottage was built on a flat rock standing immediately above the high water mark at the head of a small beach on Circular Quay.
The Mariner’s Church was built in the 1850’s and served for the spiritual welfare of sailors on shore leave. Located close by The Sailors’ Home, the chapel of the Mariner’s Church was often used for the weddings of sailors and local women.
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