Susannah Place is a small early Victorian terrace row of four dwellings which includes a former corner shop.
It is bounded on the north by a row of terraces built In 1912, on the west by Gloucester Street, on the east by Cambridge Street and on the south by Cumberland Place. The present level of Gloucester Street is four steps higher than the area immediately in front of Susannah Place and the ground floor level in the houses is another step below this.
The site is sloping, and therefore, Susannah Place presents a two storey brick facade to Gloucester Street and three storeys to Cambridge Street and Cumberland Place. There is an inscription on the Gloucester Street (western) elevation which reads 'Susannah Place Anno Domini 1844'.
Susannah Place is built of colonial bond brickwork an a rock-faced sandstone site. The basements are cut into the bedrock of the sloping site, The brickwork to the Cumberland Place elevation and the splay to the south western corner have been rendered. However, there is evidence of painted shop signs below the base coat of render. All other brickwork is face brickwork and painted. Window sills, parapet copings and upstands are of dressed sandstone. The main internal traverse walls are brick nogged; subsidiary walls are boarded with wider cedar lining boards of irregular widths.
Susannah Place is irregularly shaped with a kink at the junction of numbers 58 and 60. The northern wall is angled.
The building is simply proportioned. The doors to Gloucester Street are six-panelled while the internal doors and external doors to the rear are ledged and sheeted. The original shingle roof was replaced with corrugated iron in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century.
Timber ground floor additions at the back are of Oregon, Baltic Pine and Redwood. (Moore 1989: 1 & 16)
c1885: Running water connected
c1858: Connection to sewer line
c1880: Timber addition to rear of numbers 62 & 64.
c1877-1900: Shingle roofing replaced by CGI
c1911-12: Rear yards of numbers 58-62 extended across what had been Cambridge Street.
c1920s: Partly open laundry and corrugated iron bathroom facilities built
c1940s: Basement kitchens in 62 and 64 relocated to timber addition
c1945-1950: Chip heaters installed
(Moore 1989: 13-18)
Decayed but stabilised.
Archaeology Assessment Condition: Partly disturbed. Assessment Basis: Terraced into hill slope. Archaeological excavation in 1992 concentrated mainly on No 60, consisting of small trenches in the basement, a trench in the rear yard and another at the Gloucester St footpath, all sited according to the schedule of conservation works. In the final stages of conservation works, staff of the Historic Houses Trust removed sub-floor deposits from some areas in the upper floor. It is believed these were later replaced "in situ". The archaeological investigations have further identified the extent of the resource on the site. Investigation: Conservation Plan, Watching Brief
The early site ownership is confused by a convoluted set of claims and counter claims from the 1830s tracing back to 1816 and two men; William Walsh and Dennis Conway, each of whom owned a building on the site. In 1815 Walsh acquired a publican’s license and the Memorials allude to an inn called The Duke Wellington on the site. Not long after, Walsh succeeded in securing an indenture in which Dennis Conway 'did assign bargain transfer and make over to the said William Walsh...all that dwelling house situate lying and being No. 6 Gloucester Street, Sydney'.
In May 1834, long after the death of both men, Conway’s grandson, John Norman, disputed William Walsh Junior’s ownership of the site. After obtaining evidence from witnesses about the event of 15 years earlier, the Commissioner for Claims found in favour of Norman. After the claim had been settled, the site was purchased by Walsh Jnr’s widow, Harriet Walsh, however, by December 1835, the Sheriff forced her to sell her property due to financial difficulties. The purchaser was ex-convict James Byrne who acquired the land and buildings for £220.
A map of Section 76 by Robert Russell dated 3 January 1838 indicates the presence of two structures on the site. The larger of the two structures occupies the northern section of the site. The building is constructed to the Gloucester Street boundary and to the slightly kinked northern site boundary. Annotations on the plan note 'James Byrne, claimant Harriet Walsh'.
Details on a map held at the Land Titles Office also confirms Harriet Walsh’s claim to this land located in City Section 76. Both Byrne and Walsh owned land on the other side of Gloucester Street. Byrne, a licensed victualler, died in 1838 and left all his property to his wife.
In 1842 Sarah Byrne was forced to sell most of the land she inherited including St Patrick’s Inn and the Gloucester Street site by public auction. In July of the same year Edward Riley purchased land in The Rocks that one source notes included a 'six-room cottage with a yard' for £450. Another source notes that Susannah Place replaced a semi-detached pair of single storey cottages constructed in the rock ledge above Cambridge Street.
However, by 1844 the building(s) had been demolished and four houses constructed. The 1845 City Council Rate Assessment Book notes the new buildings 'with basement kitchens' owned by Edward Reilly (sic) and occupied by John Munro (shop), Thomas Hall, Francis Cunningham and James Macknell. It is not clear who the actual builder of the terrace was, although it is thought to have been Riley, He owned the building when it was completed and tenanted but when he acquired the land is unknown.
Edward Riley and his wife Mary were assisted immigrants who arrived in Sydney in 1838. They were accompanied by their nineteen year old niece, Susannah Sterne (also referred to as Susannah Stere or Sterne). The shipping list described Edward as a thirty year old farmer from Wexford and his wife, aged thirty-one, as a nursery governess. Their niece was described as a milliner from County Carlow. All three were sponsored by Mr John Marshall, who also sponsored most of the other 245 passengers aboard the Amelia Thompson.
Little is known about the family’s life in the colony. Edward Riley’s transition from assisted immigrant to owner of four houses in six years and in a depressed economy is intriguing. Edward Riley died in 1853 and Mary became the owner of the terraces. As owner and occupant of the place for nearly thirty years, Mary would have provided a constant and stable presence, contrary to the absentee landlords, common in The Rocks during this period. Tenants in the other houses left and returned regularly in the period up until 1874. Apparently people who lived elsewhere in the street moved in when there was a vacancy.
It is thought that Susannah Place was connected to the water supply and sewer during Mary Riley's ownership.
On her death Mary Riley left the shop and adjacent terrace to her 'grand-daughter' Mary Ann Hensley and the other two houses to the Anglican Church. Mary Ann was in fact the daughter of Mary's niece, Susannah.
Mary Ann married John Finnegan In October 1874 and the Finnegan's ran the grocers shop between 1876 and 1877. By 1886 they had moved to Granville. All four houses were then tenanted.
Susannah Place did not change hands again until after it was resumed by the government under the Darling Harbour Wharves Resumption Act in 1900, after the outbreak of plague. The resumption does not appear to have altered the tenancy pattern.
Cumberland Street and Gloucester Street were realigned during the early 1900s and the level of Gloucester Street was raised. This resulted in changes to Cumberland Place, and Cambridge Street virtually disappearing. The rear yards of numbers 58-62 were extended across what had been that street,
Around 1911 and 1912 terraces were built around Susannah Place and the Australian Hotel was rebuilt on the corner of Cumberland Place and Cumberland Street.
In the 1930s the Maritime Services Board became the landlords for the area. Again there appears to have been no change in the tenancy pattern.
When the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority (SCRA) took control of the property only three of the four residences were occupied. All the residents received notification that their houses would be affected by the Authority's redevelopment scheme in November 1971 and that they would be relocated to neighbouring Housing Commission developments or other properties under the Authority's control. One family, the Andersens (No 58), remained until 1974, Mr R.W. Smith who had been at number 64 since 1955 stayed until 1976. The Marshalls in number 62 remained at Susannah Place until 1990 and took on the role of unofficial caretakers,
Agreement between the Rocks Resident Action Group and the Builders' Labourers Federation saw the imposition of a 'Green Ban' on the area - the third in Sydney, but the first in a working class neighbourhood and the first with the State government as opponent.
In January 1978 the SCRA received a quote to demolish Susannah Place as it was one of a group of buildings to be demolished having been perceived as being at the end of their "economic lives and standing on sites required for redevelopment". In 1986 the Historic Houses Trust of NSW became interested in Susannah Place and the NSW Premier, Neville Wran reaffirmed that the Trust should acquire the property as a matter of "critical significance to the State's heritage". Negotiations began to lease the property as the freehold could not be transferred.
Conservation work began on the site in 1987 as a joint project between the SCRA and the Trust. In 1988 the SCRA became the Sydney Cove Authority, signifying shifts away from the push towards maximum redevelopment of The Rocks, although not a halt to development. The Clock Tower development has obliterated the views of the harbour from Susannah Place, an important feature of the property.
Major conservation and repair works carried out by SCA in 1992. When restoration works commenced, the primary tasks involved the stabilisation of the plasterwork, repair of leaking parapets and guttering, the removal and replacement of white ant infested timber and the upgrading of the drainage services. Restoration works were completed in 1992 at a total cost of $250,000. Susannah Place was then handed over to the Historic Houses Trust of NSW, who undertook an interpretive fitout and opened it as a house museum. The museum included the recreation of the corner shop to the 1910-1920s.
[Archaeological History - Granted as Lot 1, Section 76 of 10 perches to James Byrne. Susannah Place is a row of four terrace house, one also serving as a shop, constructed in 1844. Harpers map of 1823 indicates structures here by that date although their history has not been fully researched. The conservation works were part of a stabilisation program whereby the terrace was handed over to the Historic Houses Trust for use as a house-museum. The terrace has been interpreted as an archaeological resource in itself, revealing to visitors the changes that have occurred to its fabric over its lifetime.]