The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

James Waugh's Stranger's Guide to Sydney

The Stranger's guide to Sydney : arranged in a series of walks , title page of 1861 edition, courtesy Mitchell Library, State LIbrary of NSW (DSM/981.1/W) The Stranger's Guide to Sydney,, courtesy Mitchell Library, State LIbrary of NSW (DSM/981.1/W)
We've all used a tourist guide when we've visited a new city. They can help us orientate ourselves, to find the landmarks we want to see, and understand the locals. But have you ever wondered about Sydney's first tourist guides? I recently had the joy of delving into James Waugh's The Stranger's Guide to Sydney that offered visitors walking tours of Sydney in the mid 19th century.

Listen to Lisa and Sean on 2SER here

James Waugh was a stationer and bookseller who migrated to Australia in 1840 and by 1851 had set up his own bookselling business. He soon realised there was a market for guides of the city and published the first edition of the The Stranger's Guide to Sydney in 1858, and then a second edition in 1861. The guidebook could be bought from Waugh's bookshop at 286 George Street, on the corner of Robin Hood Lane, for the price of 2s 6d. He wrote in his preface that he was inspired to write the guide because of a gap in the market: 'The want of a cheap and portable Guide, for the use of strangers visiting Sydney, induced the Publisher to get up this little work'. These historic tourist guides contain all sorts of observations about Sydney, its buildings and how locals lived. Unusually, he arranged all the key information into a series of four walks. He included a map of the city and a directory of the various streets and public building. They are an amazing source for the urban historian. Waugh's second edition almost doubled in size, and as well as the walks included a listing of favourite pleasure excursions in the neighbourhood, and some practical timetables for coach and steam transport. Can you believe it? Walking tours of Sydney from 1858 and 1861. Waugh deliberately arrange his guide with a series of walks 'in order that those who have but a short time to spend in town, may have an opportunity of seeing as much of it as possible'. I believe these are among the first self-guided walking tours to be published in Sydney. Waugh's guide presents a landscape that is at once familiar to the contemporary reader and oddly different. And it was this sense of the strangely familiar - the discordant memory of the city - that inspired me to re-present Waugh's walk for a 21st century audience. We wanted to re-envision Sydney through Waugh's eyes. The result is a new walk devised for smartphones on the City of Sydney's Sydney Culture Walks app for mobile devices: The Stranger's Guide: Sydney 1861.
A spot of cricket in Hyde Park, Hyde Park, Museum, Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney Grammar School, Burdekin's and Lyons' Terraces, 1842 by John Rae, Dixson Galleries, State Library of NSW (DG SV*/Sp Coll /Rae/19) A spot of cricket in Hyde Park, Hyde Park, Museum, Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney Grammar School, Burdekin's and Lyons' Terraces, 1842 by John Rae, Dixson Galleries, State Library of NSW (DG SV*/Sp Coll /Rae/19)
Here are some of the acute observations that Waugh made about Sydney in 1861:
  • he notes the protracted construction of St Andrew's Cathedral (doesn't every big build run over time?): 'When finished St Andrew’s Cathedral will be an imposing structure. The patience of many has been wearied out from the length of time it has been in building. Of late, however, it has gradually been verging towards completion.'
  • there were once three mail deliveries a day!: 'There is a delivery three times a day, viz at 9am, 1 and 4pm; but on extraordinary occasions such as the arrival of an English Mail, a delivery takes place as soon after as possible.'
  • when young Sydneysiders were after a spot of cricket, they descended upon Hyde Park: 'It is now the resort of the youthful inhabitants for the favourite and healthy game of cricket, and the number who may be seen engaged in this sport, on a pleasant day, is truly astounding.'
  • inebriated Sydneysiders kept the courts busy. Waugh noted of the George Street Police Office and Courthouse: 'A court is held daily, and were it not for drunkenness, the parent of every vice, we venture to affirm there would be little to be brought before its jurisdiction.'
  • parliamentarians grandstanded and waffled on, even in 1861. Waugh recommended: 'the stranger should by no means leave Sydney without visiting this House of Representatives, and listening to the specimens of colonial eloquence which it nightly pours forth'.
Let James Waugh be your guide as you travel back in time to 1861 and be a stranger in your own city. Our modern version of his walk starts at present-day Sydney Town Hall and ends at Customs House, but all the landmarks along the way are from 1861, illustrated with contemporary watercolours, etchings and photographs. It's Sydney like you've never seen it before. You can download the Sydney Culture Walks app for free here:  
Map from the 1861 edition of The Stranger's Guide to Sydney, courtesy State LIbrary of NSW (DSM/981.1/W) Map from the 1861 edition of The Stranger's Guide to Sydney, courtesy State LIbrary of NSW (DSM/981.1/W)
  Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of New South Wales and the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Lisa, for ten years of unstinting support of the Dictionary!  You can follow her on Twitter here: @sydneyclio Listen to Lisa & Sean here, and tune in to 2SER Breakfast on 107.3 every Wednesday morning at 8:15-8:20 am to hear more from the Dictionary of Sydney.                           
Blog 2SER Breakfast app City of Sydney Culture Walks Lisa Murray Sean Britten Strangers Guide to Sydney walking tours