Before European settlement, what is now known as Central Sydney was part of Eora Country.
Locals referred to the area that encompasses the 2011 postcode as Curageen and Yarrandabbi.
Despite its rich Aboriginal past, many Potts Points landmarks have been named after the Europeans who settled there. Here is a brief history of some of those figures whose surnames have become synonymous with the suburb.
Before European settlement, what is now known as Central Sydney was part of Eora Country. The Eora Nation consisted of roughly 29 clan groups. The Cadical (or Gadigal) clan was based in Potts Point and their territory stretched from the southern side of Port Jackson to what is now known as Petersham. Locals referred to the area that encompasses the 2011 postcode as Curageen / Carraginn and Yarrandabbi. Potts Point itself was referred to as Derawun according to the Australian Museum’s chart of place names.
European Settlement and Paddy’s Point
The population of the Eora People was reduced dramatically after European arrival, thanks to smallpox, other diseases and the poor treatment of Indigenous Australians.
Potts Point was part of a 30-acre land grant from Colonel William Paterson to Patrick Walsh in 1809. If the grant remained in Walsh’s hands Potts Point would have still been called Paddy’s Point.
However, in 1810 Paterson, who was briefly a Governor of New South Wales was replaced by Lachlan Macquarie, who announced that all grants given by Paterson would be cancelled. Patrick Walsh stayed in Paddy’s Point until the early 1820s before his land grant was revoked.
Governor Macquarie and Elizabeth Town
While Walsh resided in Paddy’s Point waiting for Macquarie to decide whether to revoke his grant, Macquarie began to build huts for local Aboriginal People. He briefly granted the land to Frederick Drennan but asked for it back in exchange for another land parcel.
Macquarie continued with hut construction for the Aboriginal population with the idea of “civilising the adult natives.” He also established a cove by providing fishing equipment to the Indigenous Inhabitants. This cove was named Elizabeth Town after his wife. Today Elizabeth Bay House overlooks the former settlement.
Despite the bark huts and fishing boats the area had little appeal for the Aboriginal Population who had sustained themselves through fishing, long before Macquarie had arrived. In 1822, Macquarie left for London and by 1824 Elizabeth Town was abandoned.
The following Governor of New South Wales, Thomas Brisbane, attempted to turn the area into an asylum but this unraveled. Instead, it was decided that the land would be granted to public servants.
In 1822, 11 acres were granted to Judge Advocate John Wylde. Wylde built a palatial home on the land. He was a music lover and imported a piano, flute and century-old cell0 to his home in New South Wales. He was involved in philanthropy and became the President of the Benevolent Society. But in 1825, he sailed for England leaving behind three children and his heavily pregnant wife (whom he later divorced in 1836).
In 1830, Wylde sold six of his 11 acres to Joseph Hyde Potts after whom the suburb is named. He died in South Africa in 1859, but Wylde Street remains.
In 1826, Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay received 54 acres of land in the area, which was the most sizable of the land grants. In 1835 he began construction of the ultimate trophy home. It was designed by renowned architect John Verge in a Greek revival style not dissimilar to a Greek Temple. According to the Sydney Gazette Elizabeth Bay House had a garden that was “… filled with almost every variety of vegetable; a trellised vinery; a flower garden, rich in botanical curiosities, refreshed with ponds of pure water and overlooked by fanciful grottoes; a maze of gravel walks winding around the rugged hills in every direction…”
Macleay was not known for his financial acumen and as the rural recession hit Australia in the 1840s, he was forced to leave Elizabeth Bay House. His son remained in the house but Macleay’s estate was gradually subdivided.
Major subdivisions of Macleay’s Estate included:
- 1865 Elizabeth Bay Estate was subdivided allotments on Macleay Street
- 1882 Macleay’s Estate subdivided into Billyard Avenue and Onslow Avenue
- 1927 Elizabeth Bay House
- 1934 Onslow Place
Billyard and Onslow avenues dissected the extravagant garden when they were constructed in 1882 and eventually Macleay’s grand backyard was built over. The heart of Potts Point, Macleay Street, is named after him.
Joseph Hyde Potts
Potts was one of the first employees of the Bank of NSW when it opened in 1817. He started his career as a porter and servant but advanced to an accountant position and later became the secretary of the Bank of NSW (now Westpac).
In 1830 he purchased six-and-a-half acres at Potts Point from John Wylde and renamed the area Potts Point. Potts married in 1834 and had five children, two of whom died in childhood.
Potts acquired numerous land grants throughout his life including a portion of Rookwood Cemetery. He died in 1865.