The Atlas of the Suburbs of Sydney is a series of late-nineteenth-century commercial maps that provides a portrait of the city during a period of rapid growth and suburbanisation.

It was created by Higinbotham, Robinson and Harrison, map publishers and lithographers, established in 1882 with premises in Macquarie Place. They had obtained permission to produce maps from government survey information and were able to advertise maps that had been ‘compiled from official plans in the Surveyor-General and Registrar-General’s offices’.

On 22 December 1885 the publication of the Atlas was announced in the Sydney Morning Herald:   Messrs Higinbotham, Robinson and Harrison, map publishers, of 99 Pitt Street, have just issued ‘Part 1’ of an Atlas of the suburbs of Sydney, containing maps of the boroughs of Ashfield, Balmain, Leichhardt, Marrickville, Petersham, and St Peters, printed in colours, distinctly showing the wards within each. Taking the map of Balmain as an example, all the streets and lanes are shown, also public buildings, reserves, wharves, and public baths, names of bays and points, connecting bridges, adjacent islands, and adjoining boroughs. Upon the front cover appear views of four suburban town halls. The inner side contains a calendar of 1886, and upon the next page ‘municipal statistics’ are given in a tabulated form, comprising the date of incorporation, area, miles of streets opened to traffic, the number of buildings and ratepayers, amount of rates for 1885, annual value of rateable property, population, number of alderman in each borough, council meetings, etc. . . . Additionalar [sic] parts are to be published until the remainder of the suburbs have been completed. They are contemporaneous with a very large map which is being prepared of the city and suburbs, extending to Georges River, Homebush, Hunters Hill, and Manly, as rapidly as private and official surveys will permit.

In 1887 Harrison withdrew from the partnership and, in 1888, Higinbotham and Robinson was declared bankrupt. Among the assets listed for sale were a stock of maps and the rights to 21 real estate maps of municipalities, which presumably represents the firm’s output to this time.

After being discharged from bankruptcy Higinbotham and Robinson continued in business together until 1895 when Herbert Robinson set up on his own, operating as HEC Robinson, and developed a very successful business publishing maps and directories until his death in 1933.

Examples of the Atlas maps survive in several collections. Surviving copies show that the 1885 maps were originally bound in a folder with rigid covers. The elaborate decoration of these covers expresses the exuberant style associated with the 1880s boom period that was soon to be cut short by the economic depression of the early 1890s. In addition to the title and other details, the cover is adorned with four insets showing Ashfield School of Arts and Council Chambers, Marrickville Town Hall, Burwood School of Arts and Council Chambers and Petersham Town Hall. The inside back cover displayed a list of maps published by Higginbotham, Robinson and Harrison. At the base of the page the firm declares: We are in readiness to receive orders from suburban municipal councils for maps of their respective boroughs.

The maps that the company had produced between 1882 and 1885, listed inside the back cover, are substantial undertakings containing a wealth of information about streets and localities as well as the complex detail needed to record land ownership and subdivisions.

Part one of the Atlas, containing six small municipal maps, cost seven shillings and sixpence whereas a basic copy of the municipality of Canterbury map cost 34 shillings and sixpence, more than four times as much

This is an extract from an article, Atlas of the Suburbs of Sydney, written by Andrew Wilson in 2012 for the Dictionary of Sydney. If you go to you can see digitised copies of the suburban maps.


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