The Sands of time now online for armchair historians

The Sands of time now online for armchair historians

A turn-of-the-century treasure trove of archival information relating to NSW residents and businesses has been digitised and made available for free for the first time by the City of Sydney.

Professional and armchair historians worldwide can now search the complete set of Sands Sydney, Suburban and Country Commercial Directories, from 1858 to 1933, to help piece together the past.

The directories provide an invaluable insight into trades long gone, including curled hair manufacturers, curiosity dealers, feather cleaners, fellmongers, saddlers and salt merchants.

Little Devonshire Place, Ultimo, circa 1906, Courtesy City of Sydney Archives MUST CREDIT
Little Devonshire Place, Ultimo, circa 1906, Courtesy City of Sydney Archives MUST CREDIT

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the directories were a fascinating resource that allowed people to discover information about Sydney’s past, including who lived on their street and what businesses operated there.

“The Sands directories, along with the City’s own archives, are great resources for anyone who is curious about our city’s past,” the Lord Mayor said.

“The Sands were once only available to be viewed on microfiche at select libraries, so I’m delighted that we have now made this important source available online to be accessed anywhere around the world for free.”

Corner of Oxford and Crown streets, Surry Hills, 1908, Courtesy City of Sydney Archives
Corner of Oxford and Crown streets, Surry Hills, 1908, Courtesy City of Sydney Archives

 

The directories were published by John Sands Ltd (Printers and Stationers) each year from 1858 to 1933, except for 1872, 1874, 1878 and 1881.

Costing about 20 shillings each, they were divided into sections containing directories on city and suburban streets, trades, institutions and businesses, as well as private and professional people.

 

City archivist Mark Stevens with some Sands directories
City archivist Mark Stevens with some Sands directories

City Archivist, Mark Stevens, said the directories were mainly used by businesses and door-to-door salesmen.

“There was a ‘firms with fixed pay days’ section, so the salesmen could possibly check to find out when particular businesses had their pay days and then pay their workers a visit,” Mr Stevens said.

“The first editions were quite slim, but as the years went by they grew larger, reflecting the size of the city and the huge explosion in the urban population. The years between 1866 and 1890 were a major boom period for Sydney, which grew from a colonial outpost to a city comparable to some of England and Scotland’s large provincial cities.

“By looking through the Sands, you can see what industries had their peak and which no longer exist. You can also trace who lived in certain houses and when those houses were built. That’s not always easy to find from other sources. The Sands is one of the finest research tools that you could use.”

Sands directory
Sands directory

Royal Australian Historical Society President, Anne-Maree Whitaker, said searching the Sands online was much easier and more convenient than using rare hard copies or microfiche.

“Making this available online is very important because they are much easier to use and to search,” Ms Whitaker said.

“The City of Sydney Council rates books are also online and they’re an important resource, but they’re only useful for the city, whereas the Sands covered the suburbs too. Some of these suburbs don’t have any surviving rates books, so there’s no way of finding out who lived where without the Sands.”

To search the online Sands directories, visit cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/learn/history/search-our-collections/sands-directory

Rathbone Terrace, Flinders Street, Surry Hills, 1916, Courtesy of City of Sydney Archives MUST CREDIT
Rathbone Terrace, Flinders Street, Surry Hills, 1916, Courtesy of City of Sydney Archives MUST CREDIT

Did you know?

  • A quick look through the pages of the 1902 edition of the Sands shows how the north side of Devonshire Street in Surry Hills, between Waterloo Street and Harts Lane, was home to fruiterers, a joiner, baker, greengrocer, hairdresser, news agent, blacksmith, bootmaker, undertaker, dressmaker and confectioner;
  • The Sands can also be useful for identifying people in historic photographs. A 1916 City Archives photograph of Rathbone Terrace on Flinders Street, Surry Hills, features a row of sandstone houses with a woman standing on the doorstep of number 45. By consulting the Sands from that year, history detectives will learn that the house belonged to Lewis Mahoney, and the woman is possibly his wife;
  • The Sands can also shed light on when streets were named or suburbs divided, by looking up in which year the street first appeared in a Sands.
  • The Sands are an ideal resource for family history searches and can reveal where grandparents or great grandparents lived, who their neighbours were and what their occupation was;
  • The Sands covers all of NSW, so through its country commercial, country alphabetical and pastoral sections, one could find a draper in Broken Hill or a Mr Pickering in Currabubula;
  • Until now the Sands directories have been accessed through a microfiche edition available at many public libraries;
  • A number of commercial companies have made the Sands available online through a fee-paying subscription service, but the search functions are limited to name searches only;

 

For media inquiries or images, contact City of Sydney Senior Media Adviser Jodie Minus, phone 0467 803 815 or email jminus@cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au

For interviews with Lord Mayor Clover Moore, contact Jonathon Larkin on 0477 310 149 or email jlarkin@cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au

 

 

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