Picture: Looking north from Smiths Hill (undated). In 1879, the Smith Estate was subdivided and sold at auction, opening up north Wollongong to residential development. Credit: From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society.
In the history of land development in the Illawarra, none was more unprecedented than the sale of the Smith Estate in 1879.
Within the space of five hours, 125 allotments in north Wollongong were sold, removing a barrier to public development which had existed since the town's formation.
The preceding 12 months had represented a momentous period all round, with Illawarra MP Samuel W Gray in February 1878 announcing his decision to sell 48 acres of the Garden Hill Estate (today's Wollongong Hospital and surrounds) and subdivide it into building allotments.
Three months later, he added another 40 acres with the purchase of land from Mr T. A. Reddall on the same estate.
But the greatest excitement was saved for the decision by Mr C. F. Smith, son of the late Charles Throsby Smith, to sell off the Smith Estate.
The Mercury announced in November 1878 that Surveyor Parrott was measuring the estate for building allotments, with a view to their sale. In the lead-up to the January 16 auction, the Mercury said that an event of its character had "never before occurred in connection with Wollongong and such can scarcely occur ever again".
"From the commencement of the town of Wollongong, its expansion in a northerly direction . . . has been completely impeded by the Smith Estate, with land beyond Smith St being closed to public purchase, and utilised only as grazing paddocks."
More than 200 building allotments ranging from a quarter-acre to an acre were scheduled for sale, together with a six-acre allotment containing Bustle Hall, the home of the late Mr C. T. Smith.
Also included were 37 allotments facing Smith Street, and 33 along the Bulli Road, from the corner of Smith and Keira streets to Para Creek. Corrimal, Kembla, Church and Keira streets were to be continued through to Bourke Street, the northern-most street.
Auction day arrived with guests treated to a "sumptuous luncheon" in the School of Arts Hall before the sale began at noon, with the landowner, Mr C. F. Smith, auctioneer. The auction ended at 5pm with 125 lots sold, the balance withheld for sale at a later date.
The 125 lots fell into the hands of 47 people, all of whom, with the exception of one, were local buyers. Bustle Hall was bought by Mr Franklin of the Bulli and Mt Keira Railway Works for £830. Allotments in Smith Street ranged in price from £27 to £70, which were considered reasonable prices at the time.
The Mercury said Wollongong Council would have "a considerable amount of fresh responsibility cast upon it" with the addition of two or three miles of new streets to be made and maintained.
State Records holds many tens of thousands of photographic images from the late 19th century. Go to investigator.records.nsw.gov.au.