The development of The Sebel Pier One at Walsh Bay has seen the restoration and preservation of one of Sydney’s better known landmarks. Our history in pictures…
The Dawes Point area where Pier One stands was used primarily for military purposes after Australia’s colonization by the British. A feature of the point was the country’s first observatory built by William Dawes, a soldier who sailed to Australia with the First Fleet.
By 1882, the early wharves had become increasingly congested, new stores were needed and improvements were planned. The final impetus for redevelopment may have been an outbreak of plague in 1900, which led to the closure of the old wharves and their subsequent acquisition by the government.
In the late 19th century, the British Government had begun to reassess the military use of Dawes Point and a decision was made to allow public access along the waterfront. In 1902 Dawes Point became a public recreation ground for the people of New South Wales. Pressure for state ownership of wharfage led to the formation in 1901- the year of Australian Federation- of the Sydney Harbour trust with responsibility for the management of the port of Sydney. It planned a major scheme of channel dredging, new wharves and reconstructed roadways in Walsh Bay, Darling Harbour, Circular Quay and Woolloomooloo Bay.
Work on the construction of Pier One commenced in August 1910. The construction necessitated the demolition of Ives’ Baths, the Artillery Barracks and portions of Walkers Wharf. Opened in 1912 as a shipping wharf, Pier One was joined by four other finger wharves over the next decade, replacing mostly privately owned wharves that had dated from the 1830s onwards. The wharf area became known as Walsh bay, after the Engineer-in-Chief to the Sydney Harbour Trust- H. D. Walsh- who supervised the wharves’ construction.
The Pier One wharf was initially designed to provide a berth of 540ft long, with a 30ft width of wharf in front of two double decked cargo sheds, 190ft x 70ft in dimension. By 1913 plans had been amended to provide 620ft wharf in length, featuring a two-story Federation style timber longshore shed 421ft x 70ft in dimension.
The wharf was designed for both cargo and passenger traffic. The upper floor of the shore shed was connected to George Street North by a bridge over Hickson Road. It featured two electric travelling cranes, which were the first of their type. Other machinery included an elevated passenger gangway and hand-powered travelling gantries.
The large pavilion provided convenience for people waiting for vessels while its gallery and balcony, offering glorious harbour views, were reserved exclusively for passengers.
From the beginning, Pier One and its neighbouring wharves were upheld for their design and technological advancement. A key feature was the fact that they could be accessed at two levels- one of the first examples of major road separation planning in Sydney.
After its construction, Pier One was used regularly by the Orient Steam Navigation Company, and P&O Steam Navigation Company, although other lines also used the facility. The Royal Military Service New Zealand also used Pier One for some time, from 1913. From 1923 a permanent arrangement was made for the berthing of large P&O and Orient liners that had moved from Circular Quay due to their increased size.
Pier One served as a P&O passenger terminal until 1963, then as a cargo wharf until 1977 when work began on redevelopment for commercial use. It continued to be a popular attraction offering restaurants. Amusements and retail until it was restored and redeveloped as the innovative Hotel, opening in Spring 1999.