Lost Words Unearthed

City of Sydney Archives, what a fantastic resource


The Assessment Books and ArchivePix collections have provided me with invaluable information on the Nicoll, Skinner and Blackwood family histories so far and then yesterday it just provided again.

I hadn’t used the Archives Investigator before and threw in Nicoll to see what would come up, now knowing, as my last post showed, that George Robertson Nicoll had the row of terraces in the Rocks and look what came up. A list of correspondence.


And to my amazement all the letters from George R have been digitised. Just like the Manuscript, this is an amazing opportunity to hear George in his own words. Of all the letters, this one below is my favorite, apart from the subject matter, the information contained on this as a copy of an original source document is gold.


First off, the syntax George uses, it reads for me like something from a Dickens novel, “…roaming at their own servant with tyranny over dust” I mean come on, that is a lost art isn’t it? and then “…manuring the newly cleaned door steps.” Shitting all over the friggin clean step, just doesn’t come anywhere near it.

Now to the other golden info, check out the address. Gowrie Terrace, that is the first time I have seen that written. 96 is the final terrace in the row from my previous post so we now know that George was living there for a time as well as no 84 as mentioned in the Sands directory and that the building had a title. Found a couple of entries in Trove for Gowrie Terrace.


The other thing to note is that George is using letterhead from his Son Bruce Baird Nicoll and not his own which is fantastic because I didn’t know anything about the Warehouse and Office at 171 Kent St. This is how the story grows most of the time, from the most interesting small morsels of information. You’ll notice the same thing from the following letters.


Here we learn that George owns 70 Gloucester Street as well and has done so for 25 years, since 1856. He penned this letter in 1881 and it looks like he might be staying with my 2x Great Grandfather who had his property in Canterbury at that stage.


Again, more new info. Hadn’t seen anything about George residing in Chandos Street North Sydney. The Hart’s Stairs he is referring to is depicted in one of the photo’s of my last post. I can understand his frustration, it would have been a phenomenal view of late 19th century Circular Quay.


The above photo is believed to have been taken between 1860-1880 and would be very close to the vantage point of the Terrace’s. A view that George and the family would have been very familiar with having been in the area since the early 1850’s.


This final letter again is brimming over with information. George is alluding to the fact that he is the one responsible for building the terraces as he mentions that he has only just finished them. This time he is using the letterhead of my 2x Great Grandfather, George W, which brilliantly confirms where his business was operating from and the ships that he was still running at that time.

The stamp in the top right hand corner is very interesting. I have never come across the Tirzah Steam Saw Mill in Tweed River, so looking forward to chasing that up.

I definitely hear George’s voice coming through loud and clear from his letters which is such a gift when you consider that he put pen to paper nearly 130 years ago.

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