Monday, November 22, 2010
Balmain has always had an affiliation with the sea and the working class. It’s perfect ports were once described as “…a good landing for boats in every situation where the water touches” (Sydney Gazette 29 July ,1837). It comes as no surprise then that the peninsular was utilized as a major hub for shipping in Sydney. Mort’s Dock is probably to most famous dock in Balmain. It was built by Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, an entrepreneur in not only land development but land sale.
By 1850, Thomas Mort was known as Sydney’s leading auctioneer of land and wool. His expertise in area planning recognized the need for a dry dock in Balmain and he attracted workers by offering them incentives to stay in Balmain, promising on completion, blocks of land in the area. As a result, people flocked to the suburb with businesses to support the hundreds of dock workers. By 1855, when Mort’s Dock opened, land value in the area had risen from 5 shillings to 6 pounds per foot!
By 1887, 80% of the population around the dry dock was owned and settled by the working class. Thomas Mort himself became very wealthy from subdividing the land and selling it off in parts to new settlers. His vision in the dry dock did much to personify Balmain’s “working class” persona that the local residents still hold today.
Thomas Mort was not a resident of Balmain, despite the dock and a street being named in his honour. He lived between his homes in Bodalla in Syndey’s South and his Gothic mansion “Greenoaks” in Darling Point. On his death, a statue was dedicated to him by his workers and erected in Sydney’s Macquarie Place where it still stands.
Mort’s legacy of a working class suburb lived on long after the dock closed, when the land was broken up by the Government in 1986 and now houses 211 Housing Commision units and parks.