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Friday, 13 October 2017

Pyrmont sandstone is still being cut out

The photo below shows the construction site on Harris Street, Pyrmont, where they are building new townhouses. You can see they have sliced through the sandstone to make room for the new dwellings. Pyrmont was from 1853 the site of the Saunders and Company quarry. These days, Saunders Street is very close to Quarry Master Drive on the Anzac Bridge side of the peninsula. In his book Pyrmont and Ultimo: A History (1982), Michael R. Matthews writes:
The peninsula rose steeply out of the clear waters of Sydney Harbour and fortunately for the architectural history of Sydney it comprised some of the best sandstone in the world. Between 1880 and 1893 Pyrmont sandstone won first prize at building exhibitions in Melbourne, Amsterdam, India and Chicago. It was tested as withstanding a pressure of 100,000 lbs. per square inch. 
Charles Saunders, a stone mason from Devonshire, was 28 years old when he arrived in Sydney on 9 April 1852. With him was his five year old son, Robert and his wife Emily. 
Charles leased land from the Harris family in 1853 and established a quarry on the north west of Pyrmont where there were already minor ballast quarries operating and where there was also a sizeable population of Scottish stonemasons brought out by the Rev. Dunmore Lang from Clyde in 1831. 
Robert finished his schooling at Sydney Grammar and joined his father in the business. He became the driving force behind the expansion of the quarries. The streets and tracks of the peninsula became rutted as the bullock and Clydesdale teams carried sandstone blocks to the building sites of Sydney University, the Colonial Secretary's Office, the Department of Lands, the Australian Mutual Provident Society and the Australian Joint Stock Bank. As well as these, St. Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne and public buildings in New Zealand, Fiji and Canada arose as Pyrmont was levelled. 
One of the major constructions was the Sydney Post Office in 1885. The keystone block for the main arch  in George Street measured 13 feet by 4 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 6 inches. This weighed over 25 tons and was delivered using a specially constructed wagon pulled by a team of 26 of the finest and strongest Clydesdales.


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