With concerns about the health and environmental impacts of coal seam gas running at fever pitch over the past few years, what better time to think about Sydney’s original gas works.

The Australian Gas Light Company was formed in 1837. Sydney’s first gas works were established at Darling Harbour within a few years (near today’s Baranagroo development site). Gas was primarily produced and used for street lighting.

Australian Gas Light Company gasworks at Darling Harbour, late 19th century (State Library of NSW, ON 4 Box 58 No 284)
Australian Gas Light Company gasworks at Darling Harbour, late 19th century (State Library of NSW, ON 4 Box 58 No 284)

By the late 19th century, AGL moved to a larger site at Mortlake and the Darling Harbour land was sold.

Gas was originally extracted from coal and later, coke. But in the 1970s technology changed and gas production moved offshore with the introduction of liquid ‘natural gas’ and in more recent times, natural gas is extracted from coal seams.

 Watercolour by Samuel Elyard showing the gas works, Millers Point. 1873 (State Library of NSW, Digital Order No. a2085014, Call No. DGD 5)

Watercolour by Samuel Elyard showing the gas works, Millers Point. 1873 (State Library of NSW, Digital Order No. a2085014, Call No. DGD 5)

The effects of the gas works then and now at Darling Harbour (and no doubt at Mortlake) have been detrimental for Sydneysiders – for example, in the 1850s, a resident of The Rocks, George Puzey worked as a gas purifier at the Darling Harbour works. He started having fits and was sent to a mental asylum and died, leaving behind a wife and lots of children. It’s thought that his workplace was the cause of his illness and subsequent death. And the negative environmental impacts of the historical gas production at this site continue to this day, and have been hampering development in more recent times.

AGL has a birthday this year – it’s 175 years old. Here is a timeline with some nice pictures but not a lot of information: http://175.agl.com.au

Further reading: Broomham, Rosemary 1987,  First light : 150 years of gas, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney

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