The Ferries

Hunters Hill, being a peninsula and waterside suburb, it is understandable that ferries, of a kind, were plying very early on both rivers, particularly the Parramatta River.

It has been claimed that the first ferry appeared on the Parramatta River in 1803. However, we do know that the first ferry of any consequence was the “Rosehill Rocket” which called regularly at Hunters Hill.

JMC Boult records that, “the year 1834 brought steam to Sydney. In that year Mr Edye Manning started the first regular ferry service catering for passengers on the Parramatta River with excellent paddle-wheel steamers – the “Emu”, “Black Swan” and “Pelican”. The full journey to Parramatta, weather permitting, took an hour and a half – refreshments were served and a bar was installed on these boats”.

One of the glasses used on this service was presented by an old resident many years ago and may be seen in the Museum.

On 7 March 1835, the Australian Steam Conveying Coy. was formed to take over Mr. Manning’s venture. Subsequently this service was taken over by CE Jeanneret who added the “Pheasant” to his fleet in order to compete with the Lane Cove River service, which had now been established by DN Joubert and was afterwards taken over by his son Numa.

Joubert’s ferries, subsequently included “Kirribilli”, “Wommerah” and “Aegeria”. Over the passage of years a great rivalry developed between the two French families (Joubert and Jeanneret) and their respective ferry services. This, of course, was to the obvious advantage of the growing number of commuters from Hunters Hill and Woolwich.

In the early part of the 20th century, there were no less than 12 ferry wharves on the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers for which the Council was responsible. In recent years the number has dwindled to two – Valentia Street, the main ferry terminal and Alexandra Street. All other wharves have been closed and demolished.

The advent of the motor car has very successfully and almost completely terminated the delightful ferries as known and experienced by the earlier residents, but the Valentia Street terminal on weekday peak hour periods still presents an extremely busy scene.

During the heyday of the ferries, particularly in the latter part of the 19th century, there were at various times many other attractively named ferries in use including “Rose”, “Shamrock”, “Pearl”, “Daphne”, “Lily”, “Iris”, “Lotus”, “Surprise” and “Sophia Jane”.

One of the oldest of the earlier wharves was Hunters Hill Wharf, situated on the Parramatta River at the bottom of Ferry Street and more generally referred to as “Ferry Street Wharf”. It was built about 1862, and for many years adjacent to it was established a coal loader for the use of the ferries. Because of complaints regarding its nuisance value, a special Ordinance (No. 36) under the Local Government Act, was proclaimed to give Council certain measures of control and such Ordinance was repealed many years later after removal of the coal loader. In later years, prior to its closure, the wharf was extensively used by employees from the Ryde, Gladesville and Hunters Hill areas travelling to Cockatoo Island Dockyard.

It is extremely interesting to record that the only “free” ferry service ever provided by Sydney Ferries Ltd., was that supplied by “Una” a small ferry which ran regularly as a feeder service from the bottom of De Milhau Road on Tarban Creek to Ferry Street Wharf, where its passengers transferred to the larger ferry to carry them to the Sydney Terminal. Enquiries show that this service was provided from 1898 to 1927, this small ferry berthing adjacent to the coal loader elsewhere referred to in this story.

Unfortunately “Una” was burnt out in 1927 and that apparently ended the “free service”. 


Compiled by Roy D. Stuckey, OBE, Hon. FIMA,
Town Clerk of the Municipality of Hunter’s Hill from
1935 to 1967
President, Hunters Hill Historical Society
1961–1968 and 1969-1978