Continuing an alphabetical look at Sydney’s suburbs . . .
Camperdown is an inner western suburb of Sydney, located 4 kilometres south-west of the Sydney central business district. It is part of the City of Sydney and Inner West Council.
- Camperdown is named after the 240 acre estate granted to Governor Bligh (he of Mutiny on the Bounty and Rum Rebellion fame) in 1806.
- Bligh called his land Camperdown in memory of a naval battle in which he took part in 1797.
- It was fought off the Dutch coast near the town of Camperdown, 50 kilometres north of Amsterdam. This was a definitive battle in the French Revolutionary Wars between the British and Napoleon's Dutch allies. During the battle, the British succeeded in capturing nearly a dozen Dutch ships without suffering any significant losses of their own.
The Battle of Camperdown, 11 October 1797, by Thomas Whitcombe, 1798,. The painting shows the British flagship Venerable engaged with the Dutch flagship Vrijheid.
- Ordered by his superiors to clean up widespread corruption in the newly formed colony, Governor Bligh proceeded to make numerous changes in Sydney in order to improve Sydney and ensure the colony's success. He developed a model farm on the Hawkesbury to promote more efficient farming methods, and he provided flood relief for the farmers. He destroyed illicit stills, legislated the purchase of alcohol and severely restricted the practice of bartering for alcohol. This triggered Australia's only armed military takeover in history: the Rum Rebellion. Camperdown was put up for auction several months later.
- The estate became a largely residential area and was primarily rural, but it developed over time.
- The University of Sydney and the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital were built in the 1800s.
- The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital was a small 146-bed hospital originally, but, like Camperdown, grew to meet the needs of the surrounding community. Today, it is one of the largest teaching facilities in the state and remains at the cutting edge of medical research.
- The University of Sydney was incorporated in 1850 and its first buildings were designed by Edmund Blacket (1817–1883). In 1859, Blacket's Great Hall was opened at the university.
- In common with neighbouring inner city suburbs such as Newtown and Enmore, Camperdown has large areas of Victorian terraced housing, including many examples of single storey terraces. There are several examples of semi-detached houses which became popular around the time of Australia's Federation at the turn of the 20th century. With the advent of gentrification, from the late 20th century, modern infill development now tends to be sympathetic with the traditional Victorian and Edwardian streetscapes.
- One of the oldest industrial suburban hamlets in Sydney, Camperdown at one time boasted a foundry, a soap and candle makers, a coach works, a cordial factory, a tannery, a glassworks, two biscuit factories, and a prosperous pottery works.
Part of the University of Sydney
MacLaurin Hall, University of Sydney (I did some of my exams here)
Front entry, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (I have been a patient here)
Boy on a bike, Australia Street, Camperdown, date unknown
A drinking trough commemorating James Sullivan, who lost his life in 1924 whilst saving horses in a fire in a stable in a lane behind where the Children’s Hospital used to be. It was dedicated in 1925 and is located in Fowler Street, Camperdown Park, Camperdown.
While many of the narrow streets and lanes in Camperdown are named in memory of mayors and councillors who performed their elected functions, it is rare for a memorial to be erected to a working man. According to the academic Chilla Bulbeck, ‘memorials to workers are marginalised both in form and location… more likely to be a drinking than a decorative fountain, they are rarely grand or in the form of statues’ (Bulbeck 1990). Sullivan’s memorial trough is certainly not grand. The 59-year-old left no descendants, only his name inscribed on a concrete filled tub. We know nothing else about this Camperdown Hero, as the Herald called him, other than that he lived locally and was an employee of Mr. W.E. Budd, who paid for his burial at Rookwood cemetery. How many other stories of blue-collar workers deserving of recognition have been forgotten?
So here is James Sullivan's sad but heroic story, from the same site:
According to the Sydney Morning Herald at seven pm on the 23rd July, 1924, a horse-driver spotted smoke coming from W.E. Budd’s stables at Camperdown. In the stables were 66 horses and as the animals smelled the smoke they became panic stricken (Sydney Morning Herald 24 July 1924. p.9). Nightwatchman Jack Sullivan was in the north-eastern corner of the stables where the fire had commenced and where the flames were the fiercest. Nearby residents saw Jack Sullivan leading a terrified horse to safety. He ran back into the stables and was in the process of saving another horse when he realised his escape route had been cut off by the seething flames. He climbed to a ventilator above the stall but could only fit his head through the narrow opening. A woman living opposite the stables heard his cries for help and witnessed his plight. She ran into the neighbouring houses yelling for help. Several young men ran to the footpath below the ventilator with a pole and tried desperately to widen the opening of the ventilator. Others grabbed a ladder and an axe and tried to hack their way through the galvanised iron wall. They could see that Sullivan’s face was blackened and his eyes were almost closed from the smoke rising around him. ‘Water, for God’s sake, get me water,’ he cried. The men hacked at the reinforced iron walls with tools and used a long pole as a battering ram. From inside the stables the screams and frantic kicks of the horses could be heard. ‘I’m burning alive, I’m burning alive,’ Jack Sullivan gasped and around him the galvanized iron walls glowed red from the intense heat. ‘I’m done’, Jack Sullivan cried and loosening his grip on the ventilator, he fell back into the flames. Moments later, fire brigades from Glebe, Annandale, George-street West and Newtown arrived and broke through the iron walls. They found the blackened remains of James Sullivan lying beside the body of the horse he had tried to save.
Twenty-one horses perished that Wednesday night in the great Camperdown fire while 50 more horses were saved (Sydney Morning Herald 6 August 1924, p. 14). The fire made such an impact on the newspaper’s readers and local residents that the RSPCA proposed in a letter to the editor to permanently honour the memory of Mr Jack Sullivan. A fund was set up to erect a handsome trachyte water trough to be called the ‘Jack Sullivan Memorial Trough’ at a cost of 200 pounds. On the following day, an unknown reader wrote to the Herald suggesting that the nightwatchman’s name and deed live on to inspire the lowly and the great. ‘Fearless of the horrors of that great stables’, he wrote, ‘where the menace of the cruel flames was intensified by the plungings of the maddened horses, ready in their terror to bite and kick their rescuers, Sullivan rushed in to save these good friends of man’. (Sydney Morning Herald 25 July 1924, p. 9) He enclosed a pound note for the fund and signed his letter: A Citizen.
The employees of W.E. Budd’s stable suggested that the memorial to their mate be erected at the corner of Pyrmont Bridge Road and Parramatta road close to where the fire occurred. For forty years the trough was used as a watering station by draymen, carters and horse-drawn lorries travelling along Parramatta road until it was shifted to its current site beneath two old fig trees at the entrance to Camperdown Park. No longer used by Clydesdales and other working horses the twin troughs filled with rainwater, figs and rubbish until local residents petitioned the council to have it removed. Marrickville council responded by filling the troughs with concrete. Today the rectangular structure stands in the shadows of the fig trees bearing a inscription at either end: To Honour James Sullivan who lost his life on 23rd July 1924 when trying to save his employer’s Horses from death by fire. People sometimes stop and peer at the brass inscriptions before they move on, but the stone and concrete sarcophagus serves mainly as a ledge on which passers by leave their drink cans.
For those interested in reading a detailed look at the death of James Sullivan and how the politics and society of the time is reflected in how he was honoured and remembered, click on the following link:
Remembering and forgetting James Sullivan, by Peter Harney, University of New England
The final paragraph of that article reads:
James Sullivan was the Camperdown Hero, but of a Camperdown no longer recognisable. His time and place seem to hold no relevance and have been forgotten. We do not remember James Sullivan because we hardly know who he was. The attempt to recover the past at the local level is increasingly a struggle to understand the story of an area via individual sites, objects, people and events. Just as more information becomes accessible in archives, the physical environment and objects it relates to continues to be modified or removed. The RSPCA spoke of a block of granite that would be imperishable, and its presence has indeed been maintained. But they left behind the person who gave it meaning. Because of this the memorial does not easily prompt remembrance to a hero and his time, but rather to a convoluted story in which he disappears.