Blues Point, (demolished 1960)
Sometime between 1871 and 1873 Moses Bell bought a stone cottage on the rise at Blues Point.
Bell had partnered BO Holtermann in the Star of Hope goldmine and like Holtermann, who built the huge pile ‘The Towers’ with his share of the lucky strike, he put his windfall into real estate. The house he bought was recently built and originally called ‘Sunset Villa’. The former owner, William Prout Woolcott, had commissioned the architect Edmund Blackett, best known for his Gothic church designs, to plan a cedar and stone house. The curious result was a cottage that was as much Georgian, with its French doors and symmetry, as Gothic with its pitched side gabled roof.
Bell renamed the house ‘Bell’vue’, a reference to himself of course, and perhaps also the set of terraces that he then built directly in front of the cottage. This was ‘Bells Terrace’. The location of these four dwellings effectively blocked any southern view that Woolcott might have once enjoyed. Moses Bell could nonetheless enjoy the harbour from the verandah and doors on the east and west sides, happy in the knowledge that his children had a home nearby in the terrace. Moses died in 1891 but his wife lived at ‘Bell’vue’ well into the next century. ‘Bells Terrace’ accommodated members of the family until the 1950s.
In Moses’ time, Blues Point was a typically mixed precinct. The working foreshore with its ferries and coal depot was complemented by small cottages for working people back up along Blues Point Road Middle Street. These contrasted with larger dwellings. ‘Bell’vue’, with its garden and outlook, was a desirable address in the 1890s.
By 1950 the working waterfront was still busy but many of the grander homes had been divided into smaller flats. Blues Point and adjoining McMahons Point, like many other waterfront precincts in the western end of Sydney Harbour, were looking run down. It was this place that Lloyd Rees captured in sombre greys, greens and browns when he painted The Harbour from McMahons Point, which won the Wynne Prize for landscape in 1950.
In February 1958, Rees’s painting illustrated an article in the Sydney Morning Herald reporting the imminent demise of both 'Bell’vue' and 'Bells Terrace'. They were to be demolished to make way for ‘Blues Point Tower’ – part of the residential redevelopment of the area that some hoped would forestall further industrialisation. The only remaining resident was Mrs E Bell, widow of Moses Bell’s grandson who had grown up there. ‘Bell’vue’ was derelict and Mrs Bell herself was moving out of her terrace, resigned to the arrival of high-rise flats. ‘Sad isn’t it?’ she remarked to the reporter, ‘I’m just a newcomer... I’ve only been here 25 years but you get attached to the place, the big rooms, the view, the furniture... Its hard to leave but its no good crying about it. We’ve been compensated. And I’d rather see flats at McMahons Point than factories’.
The imminent demise of ‘Bell’vue’ brought together other locals concerned at the destruction of the built heritage of the area. So the North Shore Historical Society was established in 1958 – only the third such organisation on the north shore. In the days before the civil disobedience and ‘green bans’ that saved the Rocks precinct in the 1970s, the new Society negotiated with the developer to dismantle the cottage so that it might be rebuilt nearby. In 1960 an optimistic Society member, Irene Maher, declared ‘You just can’t pull down a piece of old Sydney as lovely as that’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 7 February 1960).
As agreed the stone blocks of old ‘Bell’vue’ were taken apart, numbered and set aside near the waterfront. And then, without the means to reassemble them, they disappeared and ‘Bell’vue’ joined the long list of lost houses. No one recalls when or how or why this happened, but it is possible that the stones ended up lining the gutters of streets in some other part of Sydney.
Having failed in this first attempt to save a piece of local history, the Society went on to play a pivotal role in documenting the local area and ultimately saving ‘Don Bank’ cottage for posterity.