Australian Gas Light Company

The Australian Gas Light Company ranks as one of the oldest and most important organisations of its kind in the Commonwealth.

This is situated on Breakfast Point where, on Tuesday, 5th February, 1788, two days before Philip formally assumed the office of Governor-in-Chief of the vast unknown colony of New South Wales, Captain John Hunter and William Bradley led the first major expedition westward along the river we now call the Parramatta River. In his journal, Bradley described how they established friendly contact with a group of Aborigines at Breakfast Point:

“At daylight, having a guard of marines, proceeded to the upper part of the harbour agaiin passed several natives in the coves as we went up and some on shore near the place where we left the beads and other things, who followed along the rocks calling to us. We landed to cook our breakfast on the opposite shore to them (Breakfast Point). We made signs to them to come over and waved green boughs. Soon after which 7 of them came over in 2 canoes and landed near our boats. They left their spears in the canoes and came to us. We tied beads, etc., about them and left them our fire to dress their muscles (sic) which they went about as soon as our boats put off”.

Hunter recorded that as they approached, he went up to them and held up both his hands to show he was unarmed, two officers advanced in the same manner, and they met and shook hands. Thus is recorded the first friendly handshake with the natives at Breakfast Point. This is the reason Concord Council chose the clasped hands as their emblem and we also use the clasped hands, one white and one black, in the badge for our Concord Heritage Society.

Australian Gas Light Company Mortlake gas holders
Australian Gas Light Company Mortlake gas holders

The Australian Gas Light Company ranks as one of the oldest and most important organisations of its kind in the Commonwealth. Its formation was authorised by a quaintly worded Royal Charter, dated September 7, 1837, for the purpose of “effectually lighting the said town of Sydney”, only twenty-five years after the world’s first gas company had been formed in England. It was also Concord’s most significant industrial complex and one of its earliest.

Less than four years after the granting of the Royal Charter, gas was supplied in Sydney for the first time – under somewhat auspicious circumstances – on May 24, 1841 – Queen Victoria’s birthday, beginning its task with 181 lights in central Sydney. In the 1830s the city of Sydney was lit by ineffective oil lamps. By the 1880s gas lighting had become established as the most effective method and suburban growth meant that gas consumption and demand were increasing at a rapid rate. To satisfy that demand, the Australian Gas Light Company purchased thirty-two hectares of land at Mortlake in 1884.

The development of a site as large as that at Mortlake represented a change in policy for the A.G.L. Company which had previously attempted to satisfy the ever-increasing demand for gas by building relatively small works at different parts of the metropolitan area. The original works at Darling Harbour had been supplemented by smaller works at Balmain and Five Dock.

By 1890, the ‘village’ at Mortlake was the most densely populated area of the municipality. As well as coal and coke handling, labouring and stoking work that were obviously necessary for the production of gas, the workshops at Mortlake, being almost self-sufficient, provided work for many tradesmen. In 1896 the Mortlake gasworks employed an assistant engineer and three clerks, sixty-three lamplighters, and 212 stokers, mechanics and yardmen – a total of 279 men.

By the time of establishment of the Mortlake works, gas production was a great industry. Water transport for coal deliveries was critical, and at Mortlake an enormous jetty into the Parramatta River had two landing stages, for high and low tides.

The original complex also included three holding tanks, steam cranes, locomotives to transport the coal to store, eight purifiers, a retort house, engineer’s office, governor’s house and general office, testing station and a 20 acre dam.

It had the largest gas holder in the world.

Like most industries in Concord, the A.G.L. has relocated and the area is now the new housing complex of Breakfast Point. The only original buildings still on site are the original office and laboratory complex, with its long verandahs and Edwardian detail, which can be seen through the main gate; the old retort blocks and blacksmith’s workshop, which are unique remnants of a past style of industrial architecture.

Australian Gas Light Company Mortlake office block
Australian Gas Light Company Mortlake office block
Australian Gas Light Company Mortlake blacksmith
Australian Gas Light Company Mortlake blacksmith

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