Mapping the peninsula

First charts 1788–1800

Map of Sydney (detail) by William Henry Wells, published 1843 (SLNSW).

Physical development of our headland is best understood by looking at key maps and birdseye views of this area, in chronological order.

Three First Fleet artists produced the first European maps of Sydney Cove, all showing its west headland, with varying degrees of accuracy.

These 1788 maps, by William Bradley, Francis Fowkes and William Dawes, showed the relative positions of new buildings and communal areas around the cove, and shorelines at high and low water. The maps by Bradley and Dawes also included Capt. John Hunter’s soundings of water depths.

In 1800, Chief Surveyor Charles Grimes provided a new plan of Sydney, showing where its leading residents owned properties.

Surveys 1801–1850

Maps of Sydney became more detailed, and some more accurate and proficient, during the early 19th century.  The main streets were now well-defined and many new roads, lanes, paths, places and features were recorded, although not always named. For example the bay on the north shore of the west headland of Sydney Cove was shown only as part of Port Jackson—or in proximity to Cockle Bay/Darling Harbour. It was not named Walsh Bay until 1918.

The most expertly drawn and informative map of this half-century was the ‘Plan de la Ville de Sydney’ drawn by Charles Alexandre Lesueur, an artist aboard one of two French research ships which anchored in Sydney Cove in 1802. These corvettes were L’Naturaliste and L’Géographe, both commanded (ineptly) by Nicolas Baudin, who had been commissioned by Napoléon Bonaparte to survey and map new South Pacific territories that France might colonise.*

Lesueur’s map of Sydney Cove’s west headland (detail), 1802 (APMR).

Lesueur’s 1802 plan located basic land contours, streams, shoreline tide depths, the street layout, many buildings and labels for 38 places that would be strategically significant to enemy invaders. Dawes Battery was named and five buildings were marked, not identified, near the shore of today’s Walsh Bay.

No wharves were shown on Walsh Bay maps until the 1840s, but Lesueur’s map (and its numerous European reprints, copies and successors) showed a road curving around the shoreline of that time, almost certainly incorporating today’s Windmill Street. This thoroughfare was inland from today’s Hickson Road, but it showed a basic need to move people, horses and goods east-west across the headland. Later, the government forced convicts to pick-and-shovel another east-west road (Argyle Street) through the sandstone of Flagstaff/Observatory Hill; this tunnel was named the Argyle Cut.

Town plans 1851–1900

During the mid-1800s, some Sydney printers began commercial production of town plans and street maps. These were international exemplars of cartographic art and colour printing. In terms of graphical communication of data, they were far superior to the government’s survey (cadastral) diagrams recording legal owners and boundaries of properties.

Some early commercial maps were published by Smith & Hinton in 1854, Woolcott and Clarke in 1854, Smith & Gardiner in 1855, Sands and Kenny in 1858 and Sands Directory in 1887. Trigonomical survey plans were produced by the city surveyors in 1845 (Sheilds), 1865 and 1880 (Percy Dove). These showed new wharves, streets and privately owned properties forming the dockland area north of Windmill Street.

Birdseye perspectives 1875–1940

The advent of photography catalysed a new wave of ‘birdseye’ city maps, which showed buildings and landscapes in three-dimensions from aerial viewpoints. They were colour illustrations drawn from black and white photographs that were captured with new, relatively lightweight, roll film cameras flown by kites. A photographer on the ground would need to remotely guess when to release the camera shutter by pulling a string attached to the camera button. In the late 1800s, the birdseye maps usually were printed on high-quality, gloss paper as advertisements for printing companies, and were often published as poster supplements to newspapers and magazines.

In the early 20th century, the Sydney Harbour Trust’s engineering department used the birdseye (isometric) perspective drawing technique to illustrate its designs for the new docks precinct at Walsh Bay. These pre-construction perspectives could not be produced from photographs.

Modern maps 1901–2004

After the death of Queen Victoria and declaration of the post-colonial Federation of Australian States in 1901, Australian governments and commercial printers gradually modernised mapping of the nation. In 1901, the main priority for mapping the west headland of Sydney Cove was to define the ‘Rocks Resumption Area’ of rat-infested wharves and properties. These were acquired from their private owners to allow chemical cleaning of streets, shops, warehouses and houses; demolition of shonky structures and redevelopment of the whole headland.

During its 1910–1924 development of new wharves around the entire shoreline of Darling Harbour, the Sydney Harbour Trust released two birdseye (aerial 3D) perspective maps showing its designs for Walsh Bay (see Birdseye images below). Then a new series of maps was needed to show where the Sydney Harbour Bridge would be constructed from McMahons Point to Dawes Point, between 1927 and 1932.

Most of these bridge maps were framed to show harbourside suburbs on both the north and south shores of Sydney; including the new wharves and Hickson Road around the headland just west of the bridge’s southern pylons. These bridge maps also clarified how the southern approach ramp now divided the historic Dawes Point ‘Observatory’ area (today’s Dawes Point Tar ra Park) from both the high ground areas of Millers Point and the newly extended (reclaimed) wharves and warehouses precinct of Walsh Bay, built at sea level.

After the Second World War, the most useful maps were street directories intended to help drivers navigate their vehicles from one address to another. While street maps of the central city were mainly published as folded posters, street directories of ‘Greater Sydney’ were formatted as books showing same-scale areas one per page. Cartographers of these maps gradually became more stylish and technically proficient; using increasingly consistent systems to show comparable areas and features with the same typefaces and point sizes.

As personal/desktop computers became widely affordable in the 1980s, maps were drawn increasingly with digital graphics programs that stacked different linework, labels and shading/colours in layers. This system is still widely popular (often using Adobe CC tools like Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign), because it allows different layers of work to be altered or deleted, to change labels of specific places, to add new roads and housing subdivisions and show new traffic barriers or direction restrictions.

At Walsh Bay today, for example, maps are needed regularly to show local residents the traffic restrictions that are necessary to allow thousands of joggers and cyclists to participate in public athletic races along different parts of Hickson Road. Local maps of Walsh Bay sometimes also show a traffic blockage at the Windmill Street junction with Pottinger Street.

Satellite mapping since 2005

Satellites have been used for several decades to watch global weather systems and provide satnav services for aeroplanes, ships and yachts. But since 2005, when the ‘virtual globe’ Google Earth was launched to public users (with Google Maps following in 2006), satellite technology has revolutionised mapping of cities. Walsh Bay is no exception—but different online satellite mapping services give different information about this area.

Apple Maps places its label for Walsh Bay off the north end of Pier 8-9 (one of numerous correct positions for the water area), while Google Maps labels Walsh Bay in the water immediately west of Blues Point/McMahons Point (incorrectly placed on the north rather than south shore of Sydney Harbour; within the area correctly named Berrys Bay).

The NSW Government’s Spatial Services group provides another online mapping site, SIX, which includes several tools that are useful for understanding geographical information about different areas of the state. It shows Walsh Bay as a government-declared heritage conservation precinct, but also offers ways to show the same precinct divided between two other suburbs: Dawes Point (east side of the bay) and Millers Point (west side)—with another suburb, Barangaroo, including the earliest Moore’s Wharf area of Millers Point/Walsh Bay.

In early 2018, Australia’s government data packaging agency, PSMA, agreed to include the place name Walsh Bay to its geodata packs, supplied to companies requiring up-to-date information for digital maps. In early 2019, the first example of Walsh Bay appearing as a locality label was screen-captured on a Fastway Couriers parcel delivery map.

More details

* Terry Smyth, 2018, Napoleon’s Australia: The Incredible Story of Bonaparte’s Secret Plan to Invade Australia, Sydney: Ebury Press (Penguin).