As European settlement began to urbanise Sydney, the development of infrastructure in several suburbs, particularly The Rocks, paved the way for the modern Sydney of today. The land at 42–52 Harrington Street, in the heart of The Rocks, was a key part of this modernisation.
Sydney’s very first hospital was located in The Rocks, with its premises taking up the block cornered by Globe, George, Argyle and Harrington streets. A mere seven months after the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove, a hospital structure was erected, and the land that would later be intersected by the four streets was purchased for future developments. The need for a larger and more contemporary building quickly became apparent as more British settlers came to Australia. To accommodate a growing population, the hospital relocated to Macquarie Street in 1816.
After the relocation, the former hospital site had been promised to David Smith by New South Wales Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Smith then sold the land to Thomas Middleton and, after Middleton’s death in 1828, the site was inherited by his young son Charles – who was still a minor at the time. In 1842, 22-year-old Charles subdivided the property and decided to auction it off to the public. William Adnum purchased Lot 1, and the rest remained unsold until Charles’s mother, Eliza, purchased the remaining allotments. In 1846, William Riley purchased all the land from both Adnum and Eliza Middleton, and then constructed 10 houses of stone and brick.
For the next 30-odd years, the houses were inhabited by long-term tenants, and owned by several different individuals. Eventually, the 10 properties were purchased by Sydney solicitors Richard Holdsworth and George Evans, with Holdsworth later selling his share to Evans in 1885.
Evans demolished the houses during 1885 and 1886, making way for a new building in 1887 that would become a store. The four-storey dwelling was divided into four equal sections that would be leased out to multiple commercial tenants. The building became known as Evans Stores, and its ideal location in the heart of The Rocks saw a plethora of businesses and operations call the site home over the decades to come.
As Sydney continued to expand during the 20th century, several other key locations began to take business away from The Rocks, leaving Evans Stores to not only decline as a popular location, but also to fall into some serious disrepair. The Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority was set up in 1970 to give Th e Rocks area a revamp. The building was set to be demolished, but this was later halted due to green bans placed on the site by the Builders Labourers Federation.
In 1973, a local art collective known as the John Ogburn Studio Club requested to take up residence on the building’s first floor, turning it into the Harrington Street Gallery where local creatives displayed their artworks. By 1983, the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority decided that the best outcome for the building – which was costing more to maintain than the income generated by current occupants was providing – was to give local developers a chance to take over the building. An expression of interest was put out in 1986, and five submissions were received, with the Tara Hotel Group winning the site.
Originally called the Tara Hotel upon construction in 1988, the dwelling opened to the public in 1989 as The Harbour Rocks Hotel. Since opening, the building has undergone extensive restoration works to peel back the hotel’s 1980s design, which covered much of the building’s incredible architecture. Today, The Harbour Rocks Hotel is both a boutique stay and a gourmet dining destination, servicing both travellers and locals alike.
Cover image: 22 Harrington Street, The Rocks, New South Wales. Image courtesy of New South Wales State Archives