Dockside: Sydney's working harbour, 1840-1875

Work on Sydney’s wharves in the mid-nineteenth century was gruelling and insecure. Casual labourers, often staying in squalid inns and boarding houses behind the docks, formed the backbone of the import and export trade that built economic prosperity in New South Wales from the 1840s.

As the primary ocean-going port, Sydney became the nucleus of the colony’s growth. Goods such as wool, timber and tallow arrived from inland regions for export. Immigrants crossed the docks seeking new opportunities. And imports met the settlement’s growing demand for the necessities of life.

Now that trade on Sydney Harbour has almost disappeared, a sense of the early foreshore is difficult to grasp. Paintings and watercolours offer a romanticised vision, and photographs show only a single moment in time, but together the images in this exhibition capture the pace and toil of the colonial city’s working harbour.

Open: 5 May 2008 – 10 August 2008
Picture Gallery
State Library opening hours
Admission: Free