A brief history of Mosman

Aborigines are known to have occupied the Australian continent for at least 40,000 years. The Borogegal tribe inhabited the Mosman area. The best known Aborigine in Mosman’s history was Bungaree. Bungaree (c1775-1830) grew up in the traditional Aboriginal environment which his people had enjoyed for many thousands of years. With the coming of the European settlement his life became dramatically different. By the time he was 20 most of his tribe had died of smallpox. By the time he was 26 he had joined British explorers on voyages to the far north and had circumnavigated Australia with Matthew Flinders.

He became leader of his tribe, was given land at Georges Head and enjoyed the patronage of Governor Macquarie. He greeted newcomers as their ships entered Sydney Harbour and became friends with the Russian explorers and acquainted with the French. During his whole life he lived in the traditional Aboriginal way. He hunted and fished and provided for his family. He was a well-known identity in Sydney and his activities were often reported in the newspapers of the day. His exploits and descriptions of his way of life were recorded in the formal records of the European leaders and in their diaries and published works. His image was painted many times and shown in London, Paris and Moscow. Throughout his life he retained the respect of the people of his own world and earned the respect of the newcomers from the European world. He was the first individual known to have been called an “Australian”.

HMS Sirius, flagship of the First Fleet, was careened in 1789 at what is now known as Mosman Bay or Great Sirius Cove. The site chosen was described as a “… convenient retired cove on the north shore …”. Less than six months later the ship was wrecked in the rough waters off Norfolk Island. From as early as 1801 Mosman has been synonymous with Sydney’s maritime and defence installations, when a battery was constructed at George’s Head. In 1811-1813 Thomas O’Neil cultivated land at Balmoral and in c1823 Captain John Edwards settled in the area. Later Barney Kearns plied a ferryboat across Middle Harbour.

The late 1820s brought the whaling industry to Chowder Bay which was used as an anchorage for visiting American whalers. In 1831 Archibald Mosman and John Bell were allotted grants of land in Mosman Bay to establish a whaling station. Two years later it was completed and Mosman’s first grand home, The Nest, was built. The whaling industry flourished and Archibald Mosman sold the business at its height in 1838 and moved to Glen Innes. Thereafter, in the 1840s, whaling declined and for the next 10 years, Mosman Bay was used for overhauling ships.

Following this early grant others were taken up, although little settlement spread due to Mosman’s rugged terrain and inaccessibility. A foot track ran from North Sydney to Middle Head in the 1840s, but it was not until 1860 that the first proper road in Mosman was constructed. This was Avenue Road which ran from Mosman Bay to Mosman Junction. Military, Middle Head and Bradleys Head Roads were constructed 10 years later. A notable early resident was Oswald Bloxsome who built The Rangers in 1844, a mansion on 40 acres overlooking Mosman Bay.

Richard Hayes Harnett Senior was a major influence in Mosman, as was his son, Richard Harnett Junior. The elder Richard began by purchasing Archibald Mosman’s original 108 acres in 1859. Over the next 30 years he was responsible for the building of many roads, a horse drawn bus service and ferry services linking the city to Mosman. Pleasure grounds and picnic resorts sprang up around the foreshore to cater for the visitors who consequently flocked here.

In 1878 Harnett established a sandstone quarry at Mosman Bay, producing first class quality sandstone which was used in historic buildings throughout Australia. The 1880s and 1890s were a great boom era of achievements; Mosman Public School opened, the Congregational Church held its first service, postal and telegraph services began, the water supply commenced and an electric tram service was established in 1893. In 1893, the 1,600 residents of Mosman became part of a new and separate municipality. The first Mayor elected was Richard Hayes Harnett Junior. The boundaries of Mosman set out in 1893 remain unaltered to this day.

At the turn of the century, Mosman prospered as building activity intensified. Rows of shops and magnificent federation style homes were built by the increasing population, attracted to the natural charm and vistas of the unique bushland and water surrounds. New residents created and maintained the social character of Mosman. It drew artists, writers, intellectuals, businessmen and professionals who strongly rejected proposals which may be likely to undermine the residential nature of their home. Council policies zealously maintained parks and reserves with constant effort to enhance the beauty of the natural landscape.

Electric light cables were extended to Mosman from 1915, Taronga Park Zoo opened in 1916, and a bridge replaced the steam punt at The Spit in 1925. The Amphitheatre, an open-air temple, was constructed at Balmoral in 1924 by The Order of the Star of the East, a branch of the Theosophist Society. it was demolished in 1951. During the Depression and the War years, development slowed in the private building sector, however, a number of public works, such as the Band Rotunda and Balmoral Promenade were constructed.

In the late 1950s public concern focused on the number and type of flat developments occurring, i.e. multi-storey blocks on prominent sites. Population rose in the 1960s so new flats were built to cope with housing shortages throughout Sydney. At the end of the 1960s, Council introduced controls and restrictions and by 1973 high-rise development was banned. Throughout the 1990s, Council continued to take up the challenge of blending urban conservation with aesthetic, progressive development whilst retaining those natural elements of the environment which have attracted people to Mosman’s shores for 200 years and more.

This brief history is extracted from records held in the Mosman Library Local Studies Collection.

Chronology of Mosman

1789 HMS Sirius careened at Great Sirius Cove (now known as Mosman Bay) whilst attempting to obtain food supplies for the new settlement.

1801 A battery for shore based artillery was under construction at Georges Head.

1820s Whaling ships were using Chowder Bay for anchorage.

1829 Thomas Graham (Assistant Superintendent of Botanical Gardens) established a cottage and gardens on 15 acres at Chowder Bay.

1831 Grants of land for whaling purposes were made to John Bell and Archibald Mosman at Great Sirius Cove.

1833 Mosman established whaling station at Great Sirius Cove (now known as Mosman Bay).

1839 James King purchased 150 acres which he named Silex Estate. 200 acre grant of Joseph Newton subdivided as Park Gate Estate in 19 marine plots.

Early 1840s A foot track established from North Sydney to Middle Head, later known as Military Road.

1844 Oswald Bloxsome built The Rangers on Joseph Moore’s 40 acre grant.

1849 A crossing of The Spit by punt started by Peter Ellery.

1853 Archibald Mosman sold his property to John Stirling. The Silex Estate was subdivided into 25 allotments of from four to seven acres. Initially 18 lots were sold and sites were set aside for a school, church, school of arts and a library.

1890s Active subdivision of the suburb continued including upper Spit Road Estate and Clifford Estate, Nathan Grants Subdivision, parts of the Silex Estate and Grimley’s subdivision.

1893 The Municipality of Mosman was formed and Richard Harnett was elected first Mayor. The first tram service from Mosman to North Sydney commenced.

1900 E.S. and A. Bank opened at Spit Junction. Police station opened on Bradleys Head Road.

1901 Council Chambers opened, designed by James Peddle.

1908 Sewerage disposal commenced operation at Middle Head.

1922 Intermediate High School opened. First concrete road constructed by a Municipal Council in Sydney at Mosman, named Dalton Road.

1925 First Mosman Scout Troop purchased The Barn, the only building still standing that had been built by Archibald Mosman as part of the whaling station at Mosman Bay. Mosman Council took over the Ashton Park Trust as its first move to beautify 10 acres of natural bushland.

1929 Bathers Pavilion at Balmoral is opened.

1930 Mosman Council undertook the construction of the Esplanade, Promenade and Rotunda at Balmoral as part of community employment policy during the Depression.

1945 Mosman Council opened Sydney’s second Municipal Library. Originally used as a children’s library, an adult section was opened the following year.

1947 First annual Mosman Art Prize competition.

1952 Boronia at 624-632 Military Road was opened as a Library after being purchased by Mosman Council.

1966 Flat buildings on sites intended for single houses were limited to two or three storeys.

1973 High rise development banned.

1981 First Festival of Mosman held.

1988 Opening of Mosman Square, including new Town Hall on site of the old.

1993 Mosman celebrates its municipal centenary.

1998 Opening of the Mosman Art Gallery, Community and Cultural Centre by His Excellency the G.G. Sir William Deane.

1999 Unveiling of the Lucinda monument by His Excellency the G.G., Sir William Deane. This sculpture by Hadyn Wilson, located at the Spit, commemorates the 2001 Centenary of Federation. The final revision of the Australian Constitution Bill was made on board paddlewheel steam yacht the Lucinda in 1891 as she cruised the waters of Pittwater and Middle Harbour.

2000 Inaugural Two Sailors Biathlon- re-enactment of the 1789 trek, by two sailors from the HMS Sirius, across Middle Harbour to the Spit and Mosman Bay.

2001 A time capsule was placed in the Mosman Civic Centre foyer to celebrate the Centenary of Federation.

2002 Commencement of Save the Barn Campaign by local residents.

2003 Opening of Mosman Swim Centre and unveiling of the Mosman Sporting Wall of Fame.

2004 The Principality of Wy, after Wyargine Reserve, proclaimed by local resident Paul Delprat.

2005 Skate Park opened at Balmoral. Mosman Ecological Footprint project commenced.

2006 Plaque commemorating the Japanese midget submarine attack during the Second World War, unveiled at Georges Head. Mosman Library celebrates 60 Years of Service. Taronga Zoo celebrates 90th birthday.