Wind Power

Sydney was an early adopter of steam power, with the first steam engine being installed at Dickson’s Darling Harbour mill in 1813, but for many years wind power was used by industrialists in places where wind was plentiful.

1796 - 1860

On either side of Sydney Cove the land rises to high ridges, one running through The Rocks, and the other, known as the Darlinghurst Heights, was east of the original settlement. Both ridges were attractive for installing windmills and by the 1830s they could be seen from just about anywhere in the town, their sails turning in the breeze, cranking the stones that ground the flour for Sydney’s bread.

As the early colonists battled hard to grow grain, their hand-grinding methods for making flour were not nearly sufficient to meet demand - so much so, that many settlers were forced to eat unground wheat and maize.

The erection of the first windmill on Observatory Hill (then known as Flagstaff Hill) in 1796, and its ability to grind vast quantities of flour, was naturally hailed by the colony.

Newspaper reports document many accidents involving windmills. The most famous story is of John Leighton, known to everyone as Jack the Miller. He owned three wooden mills perched high on a knoll at the termination of Windmill Street, on the western side of The Rocks. It was these mills that have bequeathed the name Miller’s Point to the area. On a cold wintery evening in June 1826, Leighton clambered up the ladder to reset the sails on one of the mills:

Barnett Levey c1825
Barnett Levey c1825
George St near the Wharf, 1803-1857
George St near the Wharf, 1803-1857
A Coroner's inquest was held on Thursday last, on the body of Mr. Leighton, the proprietor of a flour-mill in Cockle-bay, who came by his death in consequence of a fall, of upwards of 20 feet, from a ladder whilst in a state of intoxication. Verdict, Accidental Death. Sydney Gazette, 24 June 1826
View of Sydney, 1825.
View of Sydney in c1825. The skyline is dotted with windmills. Artist: Joseph Lycett.

Apart from food production, owning a windmill could provide supplementary income as well.

Perhaps one of the most spectacular windmills in Sydney was that constructed in 1826-7 by Barnett Levey (1798-1837) who arrived in Sydney from London in 1821 to join his ex-convict brother, prosperous merchant Solomon Levey.

Barnett built the Colchester Warehouse (designed by convict architect Francis Greenway) behind a shopfront located on George Street, just north of The Rocks, midway between King and Market Streets on the east side. He also built a wheat store and windmill for grinding grain on the site, making allowance in the centre for a performance space.

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