Unwin's Stores | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Unwin's Stores

Item details

Name of item: Unwin's Stores
Other name/s: ( Unwins )
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Retail and Wholesale
Category: Other - Retail & Wholesale
Location: Lat: -33.8588552001 Long: 151.2087032320
Primary address: 77-85 George Street, The Rocks, NSW 2000
Parish: St Philip
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PART LOT3 DP790998
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
77-85 George StreetThe RocksSydneySt PhilipCumberlandPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Sydney Harbour Foreshore AuthorityState Government 

Statement of significance:

The Unwin's Stores and site are of State heritage significance for their historical and scientific cultural values. The site and building are also of State heritage significance for their contribution to The Rocks area which is of State Heritage significance in its own right.

The row of buildings known as Unwin's Stores makes an important contribution to the outstandingly well-preserved group of nineteenth century shops which comprise the George Street North streetscape. They provide evidence of the city's maritime and business development on Sydney's main thoroughfare in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century, and had a central location and role in this development. Their uses include a mixture of storage and the operation of a range of maritime businesses, residences, public houses and other small businesses characteristics of the area. The buildings illustrate the layout and nature of the early commercial area in terms of form, scale, materials and detailing. Despite modification, the buildings demonstrate the early subdivision in 1841 by Frederic Unwin, and the use of space demanded by urbanization. They demonstrate the scale and use of the city in the 19th century. A great deal of the original 1840s fabric survives and the surviving structures above and to a lesser extent, below ground offer physical evidence of more than a century and a half of use.

Unwin's Stores constitute a continuing resource for investigation and public interpretation, demonstrating the 'realities of inner-city working class life in the 19th century'. The buildings and associated garden walls demonstrate construction methods used in the 1840s. The site offers evidence which potentially contributes to a range of research themes, particularly the economic, political, social and physical development of the first urban settlement in Australia.

The Unwin’s Stores should be considered of high local significance in regards to Chinese Australian heritage as it has had long-term Chinese occupation since 1861. The location of the stores, being situated within the vicinity of Circular Quay and The Rock’s Chinatown, has made it to be considered by Chinese merchants as a prime position for conducting business. One of the businesses to occupy a building of the Unwin’s Stores was Tin War & Co. from 1877 to 1897. Tin War’s manager, Jasper Ung Quoy, was one of the witnesses called upon in the Royal Commission against Chinese Gambling and Immorality. Another well-known business was King Nam Jang, which was owned and run by the Cumines family, who at present day have up to five generations that has lived in Australia.

The buildings' associations with the first hospital and the Surgeon-General's Residence, with F W Unwin, with the Chinese community, with the early development of Sydney Cove and the development of Sydney's first commercial area are all significant. The continuity of small-scale commercial use up to the present day is significant.
Date significance updated: 01 Apr 11
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Builder/Maker: Frederick Wright Unwin (built for)
Construction years: 1843-1846
Physical description: Unwin's Stores comprise a row of sandstone commercial buildings, originally with residences over, fronting George Street. These five sandstone buildings, originally built as shops and dwellings, were erected by Frederic Wright Unwin between 1843 and 1846. They were constructed during a depression in the Colony's economy, in the decade prior to the discovery of gold. Thus, their architectural style reflects not only the prevailing style, Colonial Georgian, but also the relative austerity of the area during this period. (See also: 4500096).
Style: Georgian; Storeys: Three plus basement; Facade: Sandstone; Roof Cladding: Corrugated iron (Coachhouse [south section]: slate roof); Shingles (originally); Floor Frame: Timber (hardwood).

Archaeology notes: Three storey sandstone warehouse and shops, 1844-1845. Part of the neighbouring warehouse, 1853-1854, on Kendall Lane. Vestiges of former buildings in courtyard, below level of Kendall Lane.; Built By: 1840's
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Archaeology Assessment Condition: Partly disturbed. Assessment Basis: Basements under building on George Street. Level of courtyard below Kendall Lane, but surviving vestiges of former buildings. Although not a comprehensive archaeological excavation, the monitoring identified the site as having a high archaeological potential; particularly in the form of rubbish pits in the rear yards. Refurbishment works in the Coach House required a watching brief for ground disturbance. The Excavation Director was Damaris Bairstow. Simultaneously Carl Doring was commissioned to conduct an industrial archaeological study of the machinery still in situ. Investigation: Archaeological Excavation, Industrial Study.

Archaeology Assessment Condition: Partly disturbed. Assessment Basis: Basements under buildings on George Street. Investigation: Watching brief.
Date condition updated:03 May 01
Modifications and dates: No. 81: c.1910.
Current use: Shops
Former use: Shops and residences


Historical notes: Frederic Wright Unwin constructed this building between 1843-46. Each tenement of three stories contained dwelling, kitchen and shop. The land on which Unwin's stores now stands was originally part of Sydney's first hospital and gardens. The site of 77 George Street was originally granted to William Carr and George John Rogers by Sir George Gipps in 1838. Land occupied by 79-85 George Street had been granted to John Piper in June 1828 by the Governor of the Colony. See separate listing for the Coachhouse at the rear of 77-81 George Street.

Pre-1869 occupants were Raphael (clothier and outfitter), Nom Hing & Co. (merchants), Sun Kung Wor (merchants); 1869 - 'Brecknock Arms' hotel; 1881 - 'Steam Packet Hotel'; 1889 - 'Pacific Hotel'. 79 George Street: 1855 - the 'American Hotel'; 1860 - doctors surgery, surgeons Frederick McKeller, Egan Myles, George Hamilton and William Shaw; 1879-98 - Tin War & Co., importers, managed by Tin War and Chin Fook. 81 George Street: 1857 - hairdressers and boarding house; 1867-74 - the 'Steam Tug and Manly Beach Steamers' office; 1880 - 'Plimsoll Hotel'; 1887 - 'Phoenix Hotel'. 83 George Street: 1855 - Brockstein & Cohen, watchmakers, jewellers, opticians; 1871-82 - tenants included Mark Burge and Neil Quinn, bootmakers, and the pawnbroker, Duffey; 1887-95 - Post & Telegraph Office (C. L. Tucker, postmaster); 1895-1910 - restaurant managed by Mrs M. A. Dutton. 85 George Street: 1855 - Theodore Matthews, nautical instrument maker; 1861-76 - George Costin, hairdresser and tobacconist; 1876-1900 - tenants included an oilskin maker, outfitter, bootmaker, importers, Sun Yee Lee & Co. and Gee Ick, and restaurateurs F. P. Warner and Mrs E. Archdeacon.

The earliest Chinese tenants to lease one of the buildings of the Unwin’s Stores were Chinese merchants, Nom, Hing & Co (1861 - 63); Nom, Woh & Co (1864 - 66) and Sun Kung Wor (1867 -68) who all leased 81 George Street (equivalent to present day 77 George Street).

The next Chinese occupant was Tin War & Co. who leased 79 George Street from 1877 to 1897. In the Sands Directory, they are recorded as 'Tin War & Co., merchants' (1877 - 82) and as 'Tin War and Chin Fook, store keepers' (1883 - 97). The manager of Tin War & Co., Jasper Ung Quoy, was questioned at the Royal Commission into Chinese Gambling and Immorality. (Gambling Commission: 103ff.) A self-proclaimed respectable businessman, Ung Quoy, had being living in Australia up to 21 years and was the secretary of the Chinese society, Pow on Tong. He claimed to be against gambling and 15 years prior to the Commission’s inquiry, he was elected by other respectable businessmen to investigate Chinese gambling in Sydney. However, Quong Tart’s clansmen halted his investigations. When questioned about his business, Ung Quoy informed the Commission that Tin War & Co. were importers and acted as agents for the shipping firm E. And A. Company. Tin War & Co. also sold opium without a licence, even though it was illegal for Chinese to sell or import opium. Ung Quoy claimed that all the custom collectors and police knew about it and that Tin War only sold the item in bulk. When questioned whether Tin War & Co. conducted any gambling within its cellar, Ung Quoy responded: ' What do you ask me that for? I am as good as a European' (Gambling Commission: 106) and denied any gambling activity when asked again.

Other Chinese businesses also leased buildings of the Unwin’s Stores while Tin War & Co. operated at 79 George Street for 20 years. Sun, Yee, Lee & Co. leased 85 George Street from 1882 to 1886, except in 1884 when they occupied 83 George Street and 85 George Street was leased to Yee Sung Loong & Co. for one year. Gee Ick & Co., importers, leased 85 George Street from 1888 to 1895 and also opened other branches in Wexford Street, Campbell Street and Hay Street.

From 1898 to 1905, there are no listed Chinese occupants in the Unwin’s Stores. In 1906, 83 George Street was leased for two years to On War Jang, grocers, and in 1909 the same store was leased to Ping Fong & Co., grocers. In 1913, King Nam Jang, grocers, leased 85 George Street. King Nam Jang was started by Lo King Nam, who as a 16-year-old migrant arrived in NSW from South-east China in 1877. Under the name of Young Cumines, he was one of the earliest successful applicants for naturalisation in 1882, supported by his employers, the Cumines family. His adopted European surname is a family name still used by his descendants today. In the 1880’s, Lo King Nam moved to The Rocks and established a providoring business and guesthouse. (Lydon 1991: 17; SMH 2002; 30) He raised seven children in The Rocks and at least one of his grandchildren was born in 85 George Street. Lo King Nam returned to China in 1921 and died there in 1939.

The well-known business created by Lo King Nam provided fresh food and supplies to ships that were trading between Australia and China. (Lydon 1991: 17) It was a business that involved the whole family and they became well known in the Rocks. Dolly Bonnette, a resident in The Rocks since the 1920’s, remembers the proprietors as 'Mr and Mrs King' and they were a store that served only to a Chinese clientele. She claimed to often visit the back of the store in Kendall Lane to play with their daughters and their sons would assist the customers. (Iacono 1991)

Dolly also recalls that King Nam Jang provided temporary accommodation for 'Anybody that had nowhere to go... or that they were drunk or anything... a shilling a bed for the night'. (Iacono 1991) She also mentions that at King Nam Jang, they housed newly arrived Chinese men (only men according to Dolly) until they could be sent further inlands to their relatives and usually to work in the market gardens. The men who stayed for a night or for a while longer would walk around the back to Kendall Lane in order to access their accommodation in the basement via ladders. (Iacono 1991) Lydon describes the alterations as 'The basements were closed in and outbuildings were constructed in the rear yards to provide more space' (Lydon 1999: 73) Lydon suggests that the act of enclosing themselves and 'manipulation of their environment' was response against white hostility that judged their lifestyle and customs and attempted to assimilate them into European society. (Lydon 1999: 73)

Workers of King Nam Jang also had occasional interaction with the Australian government. They were often used as interpreters by the Department of Immigration and during World War II; the Government paid the Cumines family to house Chinese refugees from New Guinea at King Nam Jang. (Fitzgerald 1996: 44, 138) However, they were not always seen in a positive light. During World War I, King Nam Jang was suspected of harbouring deserters and stowaways. (Fitzgerald 1996: 138) In 1924, Dick King, manager of King Nam Jang, was involved in a suspicious incident of custom officers rivalry. Senior Boarding Officer L.L. Clifford suspended Inspector Donohoe from duty because a packet of electrotype was apparently recovered from one of Donohoe’s drawers. In Clifford’s report to his superiors, he claimed that the packet read 'Lam Kee Macao Opium' and that it was addressed to 'King, Nam, Jang, 85 George Street, North'. Clifford insinuated in his report that Donohoe and King were conspiring to smuggle opium into the country. However a recent translation of the Chinese Characters on the packet indicate that 'opium' is not mentioned at all.

King Nam Jang was in business for nearly 90 years when it first began in 1913. Lo King Nam’s descendants are involved and well known within the Australian Chinese community. Henry Cumines, Lo King Nam’s grandson, was born in 85 George Street in 1921 and would help out in the store. (Smith 1990: 14 - 15) He went on to become a successful businessman and ran an export company in the Pacific Islands. Henry died in 2002.

Kong Chong, owner of a Chinese laundry, leased 81 George Street in 1917. The business was listed to the end of the Sand’s Directory except in 1923 where Abraham Chernow, a second hand dealer, was listed as the occupant.

[Archaeological History 77-79 - Lease to William Balmain (See also: AR033-036; AR044-045; AR145; AR149) by 1800. Lease to William Gaudry (See also: AR033-036; AR044), January 1810. Granted as Lot 2, Section 85 to William Carr and G.J. Rogers (See also: AR033-036; AR044; AR126), solicitors, as trustees for James Shepherd, Richard Wood, Nathaniel Dermot, James Webber and Edmund Pontifex, assignees of estate of John Plummer and William Wilson, formerly Fenchurch Street, London, merchants and bankrupts.]

[Archaeological History 81-85 - Grounds of original Sydney Hospital. Also included Surgeon's quarters nearby (See also: AR039; AR045; AR057-058; AR061-070; AR073-074; AR078-079; AR084-085; AR126; AR129; AR131-132; AR149). Granted to John Piper (See also: AR039; AR045; AR126) as 184 rods on 4 June 1828.]

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
This building is probably the longest continuously occupied row of shops in Australia. The yards portray the early subdivision in 1841 by F W Unwin. There is an important association with this very historic precinct of Sydney, in particular George Street, The Rocks.

The Unwin’s Stores should be considered to be of high historical significance in regards to Australian Chinese heritage. This is due to the long-term Chinese occupation recorded for different buildings of the Unwin’s Stores. The first Chinese tenants to lease one of the stores were in 1861. Its location near Circular Quay and The Rock’s Chinatown made the Unwin’s Stores a favourable position to conduct business to a Chinese clientele and ships docking in Sydney. While little is known about majority of the tenants, others such as Jasper Ung Quoy and the Cumines family are better known and documented.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Unwin’s Stores should be considered of high local significance in regards to Chinese Australian heritage as it has had long-term Chinese occupation since 1861. The location of the stores, being situated within the vicinity of Circular Quay and The Rock’s Chinatown, has made it to be considered by Chinese merchants as a prime position for conducting business. One of the businesses to occupy a building of the Unwin’s Stores was Tin War & Co. from 1877 to 1897. Tin War’s manager, Jasper Ung Quoy, was one of the witnesses called upon in the Royal Commission against Chinese Gambling and Immorality. Another well-known business was King Nam Jang, which was owned and run by the Cumines family, who at present day have up to five generations that has lived in Australia.

The Unwin’s Stores can be considered to have high historical association significance with Jasper Ung Quoy. Ung Quoy was the manager of Tin War & Chin Fook (79 George Street) and his testimony at the Royal Commission into Chinese Gambling and Immorality provides some insight into the Chinese - European relationship in Australia at the turn of the century. He was an advocate for the prohibition of gambling although when trying to fight it, he himself came across obstacles in his investigation. When questioned by the Royal Commission whether Tin War offered any gambling in its basements, his outburst about being 'as good as a European' demonstrates that it was not enough for Chinese to be honest and hard-working but also necessary for them to be assimilated into European culture to be consider of high moral standing.

85 George Street also has high historical association significance with the Cumines family. Lo King Nam began leasing the building in 1913 and King Nam Jang became the home and birthplace for family members. Older residents of The Rocks recalled their business and their services as either an interpreter or guesthouse was employed by the government. The enclosed nature of their basement and the decision to cater only to a Chinese clientele further demonstrate the hostility felt by the Chinese migrants from the European community.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The courtyards illustrate clearly the usage of the rear yards in connection with the early commercial buildings, ie the construction of cellars, fireplaces, stores, and covered ways. The treatment of the original and later fabric used in the construction, ie rough coursed stonework and stretcher bond brickwork. It conveys the typical spatial areas to the rear yards of the buildings in commercial precincts in terms of form, scale, materials and detailing.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The association with Frederic W Unwin and precinct of Surgeon General's residence c1800. The association with the early development of Sydney Cove.

The Unwin’s Stores are of high social significance to the Australian Chinese community. Its buildings represent a long-term occupation by Chinese migrants since 1861. The alternations of 85 George Street’s rear yard remembered by Dolly Bonnette demonstrate the difficult process of social acceptance of the Chinese neighbour by the European community.

85 George Street hold high social significance for the Cumines Family and perhaps also to the Chinese migrants and World War II refugees who were housed at King Nam Jang temporarily.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The courtyards portray the early method of construction in stonework of cellars and boundary walls, and brickwork of stores, W.C. Later methods of alterations and additions are shown by building off the original walls, rather than rebuilding.

Jane Lydon conducted an archaeological investigation of the rear of the Unwin’s Stores in 1991, however, the rear yards of 83 and 85 George Street were not apart of the excavation. From the 1991 excavation, only a small amount of Chinese objects were recovered from the phases of Chinese occupation. Any possible future construction in the rear yards of the Unwin’s Stores, specifically 85 George Street has the potential to yield Chinese artefacts and to contribute to the current research on Chinese in the Rocks and NSW.

The Cumines Family, along with other member of the Australian Chinese community such as Allen Yip often do presentations on their predecessor’s experience of early Sydney and Australia. With the assistance from these members of Australian Chinese community there is potential for further and more intimate research to be conducted on the Chinese migratory experience to the existing body of work. Recent publication on Chinese within Sydney include Shirley Fitzgerald’s' Red Tape, Gold Scissors' and Jane Lydon’s 'Many Inventions: The Chinese in The Rocks 1890 -1930.'
SHR Criteria f)
The continual Chinese occupation of a building can be considered quite rare within Sydney, as witnessed in 85 George Street by King Nam Jang. Another site of continual Chinese occupation is 50 – 54 Dixon Street, Haymarket, which has been owned by Goon Yee Tong, Loon Yee Tong and Luen Fook Tong societies since 1917 and rooms of this building have been used as their clubrooms up to the present day.
SHR Criteria g)
The Unwin’s Stores can be considered to be representative of long-term occupation of a building or set of buildings for Chinese business.
Integrity/Intactness: Archaeology partly disturbed.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Above and below ground archaeological remains: An archaeological conservation plan is recommended. (See also: AR037)

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementUnwins Stores The Rocks, CMP, by Graham Brooks & Associates for SHFA, dated October 2003 Conservation Management Plan lodged with Heritage Office Library 22 February 2006 Feb 22 2006
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0161310 May 02 852865

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
SCA Register 1979-19981998B039, AR037Sydney Cove Authority (SCA)  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Management Plan  Grants index
Tourism 2007Rocks Self-Guided Tour View detail
Written  Doring, C. & M. J. (1990): Industrial Archaeological Study of the Coach House, Kendall Lane.
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Rocks Self-Guided Tour View detail
WrittenBairstow, D.1990The Coachhouse, 2-6 Kendall Lane, The Rocks. Sydney Cove Authority.
WrittenE C J Lydon Archaeological monitoring : Unwins Stores, 77-85 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney
WrittenE. C. J. Lydon1991Archaeological Monitoring, Unwin's Stores, 77-85 George Street, The Rocks
WrittenGraham Brooks & Associates2003Unwin's Stores, Conservation Management Plan
WrittenGraham Brooks & Associates2003Unwin's Store 77-85 George Street, The Rocks : Conservation management plan
WrittenJohn Sands Sands Directory
WrittenLester Tropman & Associates1989Conservation Analysis & Statement of Cultural Significance for the Ambulance Station, at 73 George Street & Coach House Precinct to Kendall Lane
WrittenNadia Iacono1991Oral History with Dolly, Edith & Kate
WrittenNSW Colonial Govt1891Royal Commission on Alleged Chinese Gambling and Immorality
WrittenSCRA1979Building Data Sheets KL/02-06
WrittenShirley Fitzgerald1996Red Tape, Gold Scissors

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5053230
File number: RE 0563.01

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