Statement of SignificanceThe Merchant's House is of historical, social, archaeological and aesthetic significance to the history of The Rocks and of NSW generally. The Merchant's House is of outstanding significance on a State level as a rare example of an archetypal townhouse/store building of the pre-gold rush era. It makes an important contribution to the historical character of SHFA's George Street North Metcalfe Heritage Precinct and provides evidence of commercial development in George Street, Sydney's first street and the centre of colonial activity for the greater part of the 19th century. The Merchant's House has associational significance for its strong historical connection with the well-known 19th- and early 20th-century pharmaceutical manufacturing firm of Edward Row & Co. The building is significant for its ability to illustrate the planning of Sydney's early commercial-cum residential buildings, as well as the layout, design and methods of construction of high-quality commercial and residential accommodation of the period. Continuously occupied for small-scale commercial use from the time of its construction up to the 1980s, the Merchant's House offers a valuable glimpse into the nature of business in this area across nearly 150 years. As much of the original building fabric survives and the building retains its essential architectural character, the Merchant's House is of archaeological and aesthetic significance, offering an important material and visual resource for investigating and understanding the past.
Education Centre and Offices
Museum, Boarding House, Residence, Offices
Residential buildings (private)
Construction Years: 1848 - 1848
Physical Description: 1848 merchant's town house and office.; Built By: 1840'sThe Merchants House consists of five levels including basement kitchen, ground floor dining room, first floor drawing room, bedrooms and servants quarters. The planning is typical of a late Georgian period townhouse with kitchen, scullery, and cellars in the basement; ground floor dining room, parlour, and entrance hall; first floor drawing room with french doors onto a cantilevered balcony, and bedrooms on the upper two floors. The style is Greek Revival. Typical details include the water leafs motifs on the stone brackets supporting the first floor window cornices, front door fanlight, heavy cornice, stone architrave mouldings to the upper windows, the fine timber geometric staircase and other interior details.Style: Greek Revival; Storeys: 3 plus basement & attic; Side Rear Walls: Stone; Roof Cladding: Galvanised steel; Floor Frame: Timber; Ceilings: Lath and plaster
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Historic Notes and Themes
Historical notes: The first buildings in the vicinity were the hospital and the houses of the surgeons. The hospital was immediately to the south of the Merchant's House. By 1802 Nicholas Bayly built a substantial house with a distinctive mansard roof for himself on the eastern side of High Street more or less in front of the site. This was followed shortly by the house of Robert Campbell, also on the eastern side of the road.The first documented occupation of the site of the Merchant's House following European arrival was the leasing of the land by Captain Waterhouse. His lease, shown on Grimes' map of 1800, occupies both sides of the alignment of the High Street. Waterhouse was a naval captain, having served on the First Fleet ship Sirius as midshipman. He returned to England and took part in naval actions but was encouraged to return to the colony, importing the first merino sheep. His grants included land at Liberty Plains and Parramatta, and leases within Sydney at The Rocks and Garden Island. He returned to England for the last time in 1800. No permanent structures can be seen in paintings or drawings that show his land.Robert Campbell arrived in Sydney in 1798 from India where he worked as a merchant and trader in a family business. His arrival and enthusiasm to become established as a resident trader gave him strong support from Governor Hunter. Buying land at Dawes Point, he began to erect warehouses, wharves and a home for himself, and began to develop importing lines that were still the only source of some essential supplies. To provide for paying return cargoes, he encouraged the sealing industry. He also took over Captain Waterhouse's leases, eventually converting them into freehold granted land, which resulted in him controlling a substantial part of Dawes Point, with Campbell's Cove becoming part of the named harbour landscape. The focus of Campbell's activities was on the water's edge, with facilities for ships and warehousing. The landscape of the peninsula included a substantial brick wall that surrounded his land from George Street to Gloucester Street. The land within it appears to have been cleared but remained the original rocky slope.Detailed maps of 1822, 1831 and 1836 do not show any structures on the land, but by 1843 the effects of subdivision by Campbell are shown with houses dotting the periphery of his land. The Merchant's House land was granted to Robert Campbell on 16 October 1834, following a long period as Campbell's lease. By this time Campbell had expanded his business greatly, starting grazing stock in the Monaro and Western Plains. He was also an original shareholder of the Bank of New South Wales. Campbell is remembered positively by history, with a reputation for fairness in trade and not using his power as one of the major merchants to unduly influence the political landscape. Campbell died in 1846. The early 1840s were an economic depression in NSW, resulting from the gradual cessation of transportation and consequent rise in labour costs, severe repeated droughts and especially the pain of transforming from a state-subsidised to a mercantile economy. Although Campbell is recorded as having weathered the depression better than most of the bigger traders, he still chose to subdivide his land. While Campbell owned the area back from Campbell's Cove, its use and ultimate value were restricted to a narrow maritime trading function. Selective subdivision allowed him to raise capital without compromising the way his trading base operated. In 1841 he subdivided and placed for sale blocks of land bounded by George Street, Atherton Place and Gloucester Street. One allotment, No.4, was conveyed to John Martyn and James Combes for £825 in June 1841. This was the southeastern corner block of Campbell's land and located on the northern corner of George Street and a small lane, initially called Union Lane. Martyn and Combes erected a three storey building on the corner, with a matching partner for it being erected at about the same time on the opposite corner of the lane. The north corner building of George Street and Atherton Place became No.47 George Street. The matched buildings were designed by John Bibb. Martyn and Combes operated as plumbers, painters and glaziers in a building only 500 metres down George Street on the corner of Jamison Street, but clearly had enough capital to invest in a substantial construction. Several years later, after Campbell's death in 1846, his son George sold the neighbouring allotment No.5 to Martyn and Combes as well, for the sum of £300. Allotment 5 became Nos 43-45 George Street [although different numbering was used during the later 19th century]. Martyn and Combes erected the Merchant's House by September 1848. They were described as 'newly erected stone built premises, situate in George-street North, opposite Messrs. Campbell's, consisting of a commodious dwelling house and spacious stores, replete with every convenience'. It was noted as having stone walls, three floors, a slate roof and a 33 feet frontage onto George Street.Both No.47 and Nos.43-45 had been built with the intention of being leased or let to other users. Sydney Cove became busier during the 1840s as the success of the wool industry brought wealth, trade goods and encouraged immigration. Investing in the infrastructure of trade may have been a gamble in 1841 but would have been proven a safe bet seven years later. The first known occupants of 43-45 were Lawrence and Steven Spyers, operating as merchants and commission agents, occupying both the house and the store in 1850. Two years later the residence was occupied by Archibald Walker, a merchant, and Martyn and Combes occupied the store. Martyn occupied the residence from 1859 until his death in 1864, and the store by Martyn and Combes. The two buildings Nos.43-45 and No.47 appear to have been treated as a single entity by Martyn and Combes as is shown in detailed plans which begin to appear in this period. The death of John Martyn signals the start of a rapid turnover of tenants and occupants. After John Martyn's death, his son William ran the business in the store, but the residence was occupied by William Rielly in 1865-1867.The Merchant's House itself was suitable as a residence for respectable business men. The succession of soap manufacturer and manufacturing chemist suggests that the place with the adjoining store was also suited for that type of light industry, even though it did not directly reflect The Rocks' maritime or mercantile character, unlike the wool brokers and merchants who needed to be near the port. That these presumably aromatic trades could be carried out next to residences suggests that the expectations of tenants were not too high.Edward Row and Co. initially occupied No.47, and then expanded into No.45 in 1876, and by 1882 they had also taken over the residence. Row is listed as a wholesaling and manufacturing chemist. Little is known of the firm Edward Row apart from their products. Their earlier offices mentioned in advertisements are in King Street and Bank Court, Sydney, and the proprietors were John and Edward Row. One advertisement quotes them as being established in 1820. As a wholesaling and manufacturing chemist it is likely that Row produced their own and on-sold other manufacturers' products, possibly taking in bulk volumes and packaging it for the colonial market. Row's Embrocation was probably their major product, judging by its appearance as a large lettered sign on the northern face of No.43 in the later 19th century. It was a dressing for cuts and abrasions to animals, but humans also used it. They are recorded as having bought the patent for Josephson's Australian Ointment in about 1870 and continued producing it under its original name. They are also advertised as manufacturers of cordial, soap powder and vinegar as well as pharmaceuticals.As manufacturing and importing chemists Row and Co. can be expected to have bought chemical supplies in bulk and possibly already packaged for sale through pharmacists and agricultural suppliers. They would probably have repackaged bulk materials into containers for sale, and are likely to have conducted their own manufacturing on the site. This would have therefore required storage for bulk imported chemicals, for the packaging into which it would have been then distributed, an assortment of machinery for their own production, including mixers, blenders and pill machines. These could have been hand operated or connected to a small steam engine that would have provided sufficient motive power. Edward Row and co occupied the property until 1921, at which point they shared with another occupant for three years, and ceased occupation in 1924 after a total tenancy of 48 years. During these last few years electrical engineer Cecil Row, probably related to the Edward Row family, also occupied the residence. A box manufacturing company, Lawley and Co. occupied the store in 1925. In 1902 the buildings were resumed by The Rocks Resumption Board. Lots 4 and 5 were sold to the Board for £4,420 3s 9d. The Board had been established to acquire privately owned property in The Rocks for redevelopment, because the 1900 bubonic plague outbreak had proven to some that the old and poorly planned residential area provided a ready reception for disease-bearing rats from the equally old and poorly planned wharf facilities. While this was partially true, the inadequacies of the existing port facilities were recognised and plans were drawn up for a modern port, which required the Government's acquisition and consolidation of land several blocks from the waterfront. While many houses within The Rocks were demolished, the use of the Merchant's House for manufacturing, business and residential occupation continued relatively unaffected. The Sydney Harbour Trust (SHT) gained control of the property from The Rocks Resumption Board in 1927. This was part of a continuing process of acquisition of properties within The Rocks and Millers Point that had begun when the SHT was established in 1900. Although its main purpose was not to manage properties it took on this role because of a lack of strategic direction followingWorld War 1 (1914-1918). The first boarding house lease was issued to Mary Grady [or O'Grady] for the combined Nos 43-45 in 1928. Some modifications were required to permit the new form of use, and these are probably the reason for partitioning, and access being pushed through between the residence and store at each level. A bathroom was added on Level 1 at the stair landing. Further modifications are recorded in 1934, including a new kitchen and improvements in water supply and toilet, as well as further improvements in access between the two buildings. Mary Grady's grand-daughter Joan Cubis was interviewed in the house in 1993 before the most recent conservation works took place. Joan lived with her grandmother in the house from 1928. Her grandmother had moved from Fort Street because of construction of the Harbour Bridge. Mary Grady was replaced as lessee by Haigh Zlotkowtski in 1935 who remained until 1941. The access points from No.45 to No.47, which had been closed off, presumably when the SHT took over, were re-opened. It is also known that the Indian Navy used the premises for accommodation during 1941-1942 and possibly after. Searches of Australian Archives have not found relevant files relating to this but these may appear in the future. The Indian sailors were billeted while the corvettes they were to sail home were readied. From 1943 Mrs Alice Auguston commenced another boarding house lease. Modifications included gas supplies to kitchen areas and enclosing some of the rear openings in No.45. The Auguston family retained the lease until 1985.Information about the building in the period from the end of World War II to the end of last century is sparse. The Auguston family continued to hold the lease. The Maritime Services Board [successor to the Sydney Harbour Trust] remained in ownership until the mid 1980s, when the property was transferred to the Sydney Cove Authority. The Merchant's House and its adjoining buildings were considered to be important parts of the historic fabric that would be conserved in the process of developing new office precincts. As is well known, a combination of green bans and political reality prevented particular schemes from proceeding as originally planned. The end result was that Nos 43-45 were retained, eventually coming into the ownership of the Sydney Cove Authority [later the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority SHFA]. The building on the southern side of the lane, corner George Street, that matched Martyn and Combes' building at No.47, was demolished in the 1920s and replaced by another larger building, now known as the Old Sydney Holiday Inn., built in 1923-26. This larger building reflected a 20th century scale of construction that demarcated it from 19th century low-rise commercial architecture in The Rocks. The building that was situated in the rear yard of Nos.43-45 and built c.1882, fronting Atherden Place was occupied by Bushells in the mid 1930's. Their main office and coffee roasting operation was in Harrington Street. It was later used as a store by Howard O'Farrells, an import-export firm located on Cumberland Street, until its demolition in the 1980's. From 1985 Merchant's House has been used for a number of different purposes. In c. 1995 the Westpac Museum of banking was extended to occupy the area behind Nos.43-45 which covers the footprint of the c. 1882 shed. No records have been found of what was removed by the works, and it is assumed that all earlier archaeological evidence has been destroyed. From 1991 to 1994 SHFA undertook a comprehensive program of internal and external conservation works to Merchant's House. This included some archaeological monitoring work inside and in front of the building. The archaeologist, Jane Lydon, reported that as the structure had been cut into bedrock it had limited archaeological potential, and so she examined built up debris that had accumulated in the basement area. This revealed that the basement floor may originally have been timbered, as the deposit of bitumen, dark brown fill and recent dumping sat over natural excavated bedrock. Josephsons Australian Ointment and Rows Embrocation bottles were found in the fill of the footing trench in the south wall of the room, confirming that these openings had been added during the period of their occupation. Material from sub-floor deposits in the attic level of the residence is most likely associated with the occupancy by Thomas Gainsford, the Minister of the Mariner's Church or Charles Smith, listed in different Sands Directories as both an accountant and confectioner. The place was generally conserved to its c.1840's form with some lesser rooms being restored to their c.1940's state. Work proceeded on the understanding that the place would be handed over to the National Trust at a peppercorn rental, in return for ongoing management as a museum. Several conserved spaces, including the first floor parlour, basement kitchen and several attic rooms were presented in a house museum context. In 1994 the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, opened the National Trust Toy Museum comprising the James Hardie Toy Collection. The toy museum closed in about 1995, and the National Trust vacated the place. The building remained vacant until 1999. The SHFA Education Unit then occupied Merchant's House and operated its 'Children Stepping Back in Time' program. From 2000 SHFA's Sydney Learning Adventures program has operated out of the place and use it for interpretation of historical education programs.
Historical significance: The history of the Merchant's House and the land on which it stands reflects a number of major themes in the history of New South Wales. The granting of land encompassing the subject site to Captain Henry Waterhouse and later to Robert Campbell reflects the way that land was used to encourage the work of important individuals in the colony. In Waterhouse's case the grant was a reward for his role in bringing the first Merino sheep into the colony (although there is no evidence of the land being further developed for that purpose), while Campbell was granted substantial valuable to encourage the development of his trading activities. The subdivision of Campbell's land and subsequent construction, by Martyn and Combes, of a building combining a gentleman's townhouse residence and a warehouse or store is representative of one aspect of the 19th century residential character of the The Rocks, where merchants lived in or near the commercial district. The construction of the Merchant's House is also an example of speculative development, along with Martyn and Combes' other extant building, No. 47 George Street, to which the subject building is joined. The changing occupancy of the buildings gives evidence of the changing character of life and work in The Rocks through the 19th and 20th centuries. Initially occupied by Martyn & Combes, the residence was early occupied respectable men such as the Reverend Thomas Gainsford, while the store was used for light industry, namely the manufacture of soap and pharmaceutical chemicals, and eventually the manufacturers also occupied the residence. Following Government resumption, the early- to mid-20th century saw a resurgence in demand for temporary accommodation in The Rocks, and the Merchant's House was put to this use. Boarding house culture developed in The Rocks during the 19th century to accommodate mariners, and continued throughout the first half of the 20th century, providing housing for transient workers and local residents displaced by the government resumptions. By the late 20th century the Merchant's House, like so many early buildings in The Rocks, was occupied in the service of heritage tourism, as a museum. The Merchant's House meets this criterion on a State level.many places within The Rocks, Millers Point, and elsewhere in Sydney town. The Rocks community included many seafarers and people who had been dispossessed from their own homes by resumptions and the boarding house culture developed, although it had been present from early in The Rocks' and Sydney town history. A brief interlude with associated adaptation work to the house during World War II between 1941 and 1942, saw Indian Navy personnel billeted in the building, while assisting on the construction of corvettes - and then the boarding house role continued. The most recent chapter of the building's history began with the creation of the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority. Recognised as one of the genuinely historic buildings within SCRA's control, it was probably never under threat in the same way that other parts of The Rocks were. From 1985, after it finally ceased to be a boarding house, it became a heritage property with all of the difficulties of finding viable uses and making acceptable intervention in fabric that this entails.
Historical association: The Merchant's House is associated with merchants and businesspeople of note in the history of The Rocks, New South Wales. These include:· Martyn and Combes, who were responsible for the erection of the place, and were well-known 19th century Sydney plumbers, painters, glaziers and merchants. The business operated in Sydney for 30 years. The success of the firm in the early to mid 1840s is witnessed by the capital investment in the Merchant's House and the buildings at No. 47 and No. 49 (now demolished) George Street.· The firm of Edward Row & Co., wholesale and manufacturing chemists, who were long term tenants of Merchant's House. The business had occupied the premises at 47 George Street from 1875, which was used as a laboratory, their retail outlet being 219 Pitt Street. By the end of the 19th century the company was well known throughout NSW for its medication 'Row's Embrocation'.The Merchant's House meets the above criterion at a State level for its association with Edward Row & Co.
Aesthetic significance: The design, configuration, detail and materials of Merchant's House and its store are excellent examples of the Greek Revival style in New South Wales.The facade displays typical yet fine Greek Revival details including water leaf motifs on the stone brackets supporting the first floor window cornices, front door fanlight, heavy cornice, stone architrave and mouldings to the upper windows. The interior has a fine timber geometric staircase, polished Cedar joinery, Australian sienna marble chimney piece in the drawing room and other original interior details.The layout of Merchant's House is a representative, yet now rare, exemplar of the late Georgian/early Victorian period townhouse which included kitchen, scullery and cellars in the basement; entrance hall, dining room and parlour on the ground floor; drawing room on the first floor with French doors onto a balcony; and bedrooms on the upper two floors. With its adjoining working store (now adapted) it is an excellent example of a townhouse with associated store from the 1840's.As a late Georgian/early Victorian period townhouse design, Merchant's House is unique in Sydney and probably throughout New South Wales for displaying the design qualities of that type.Due to its location in George Street, Merchant's House makes a valuable contribution to the evolution and streetscape of The Rocks.
Social significance: The Merchant's House is socially significant for its long history and for its contribution to The Rocks area, Australia's premier heritage precinct, as evidenced by its inclusion on a number of lists of buildings of heritage significance formulated by community groups such as the National Trust of Australia (NSW), and representative bodies such as the City of Sydney Council and the Heritage Council of NSW. As part of The Rocks area, and as an intact and rare example of its architectural type, the Merchant's House is likely to be held in some esteem by individuals and groups who are interested in Sydney's history and heritage.The Merchant's House meets this criterion on a State level.
Research significance: The Merchant's House is a unique reference building for a merchant's' residence and adjacent store of the early Victorian period in Sydney. The overall design, layout and materials, rarity, well-proportioned and detailed George Street elevation, elegant staircase and chimneypieces, and intact drawing room provide valuable information related to the development of the Greek Revival style and working Merchant's townhouse and store in New South Wales, and interpretation of the London townhouse in Sydney. Useful archaeological evidence surviving within and in front of the building has been previously investigated during conservation and adaptation work. Some evidence is expected to remain and any possible remaining resource is of high archaeological significance. The Merchant's House meets this criterion on a local level for its ability to further inform conservation decisions and illustrate historical use.
Rare assessment: The Merchant's House is the most intact example of a late Georgian/early Victorian period townhouse known to survive in Sydney, and probably New South Wales. The Merchant's House is a rare example of early Victorian period Merchant's' residence with attached adjacent store in Sydney, and probably New South Wales. No. 43 George Street contains a rare example in Sydney of an intact mid 19th century first floor townhouse drawing room complete with its original fabric including moulded plasterwork, chimneypiece and grate, joinery, French doors and balcony. No. 43 George Street contains a number of rare and excellently detailed elements including a timber geometric stair and cast iron cantilevered balcony.The Merchant's House meets this criterion on a State level.
Representative assessment: The Merchant's House forms part of a group of mid 19th century to early 20th century buildings in George Street North which collectively demonstrate the pattern, development and evolution of The Rocks, a highly valued tourist destination in Australia. No. 43 George Street is representative, outstanding and now rare example of a late Georgian/early Victorian period townhouse with its store, designed in the Greek Revival style in Sydney.The Merchant's House meets this criterion on a State level.
Intact assessment: Extremely intact fabric generally, with evidence of partitions from the boarding house period.Archaeology partly disturbed. Good interfloor deposits preserved in situ.
Physical condition: Archaeology Assessment Condition: Partly disturbed. Good underfloor deposits preserved in situ. Assessment Basis: Cellars. Floors level with George Street. Stone quarried out at rear in 1840s. Floorboards were lifted during final stages of conservation on the building and it was noted that the under floor deposits were fairly substantial. These have been retained for future investigation. Investigation: Watching Brief.
|Australian Theme||NSW Theme||Local Theme|
|Building settlements, towns and cities||Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation ? does not include architectural styles ? use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities.|
|Developing cultural institutions and ways of life||Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities.|
|Heritage Listing||Listing Title||Listing Number||Gazette Date||Gazette Number||Gazette Page|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0328||The Counting House||21/03/1978||2129|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0324||New Metcalfe Bond / George Street Precinct||21/03/1978||2125|
|National Trust of Australia Register||7715||05/04/1976|
|Heritage Act - State Heritage Register||01561||Merchants House||10/05/2002||2868||85|
|Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register||Place Management NSW|
|Within a National Trust conservation area||10499|
|National Trust of Australia Register||7582||Former Counting House||05/04/1976|