Foreshore land grants in eastern Sydney

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I must first declare a personal land interest in this blog. The house where I have lived in Rose Bay and our current dwelling in Vaucluse, in eastern Sydney, were both the subject of 19th century land grants that have links to foreshore private and later public use.

The street in Rose Bay where I grew up is Roberts Street, named after William Roberts the original recipient of a land grant that covered parts of Bondi. That grant was made I believe in 1809 by Governor Bligh and confirmed by Governor Macquarie. Doug Booth from Otago University is researching in detail all this history and will be in a better position to provide details on the changes in tenure. However, the discussion below on Bondi based on discussions with him and with Caroline Ford points to some of the parallels with the history at Vaucluse.

I now reside in Village High Road, Vaucluse, some 50m above sea level by the way! The name of the street is indicative of the story of sub-division of the land grants of the area including that of William Charles Wentworth. The “village” that this “high road” was to access is at the harbour end of this street leading from the main access road to the east, Old South Head Road. Again we are talking about early land grants going back as far as 1795 to Thomas Laycock. Wentworth took over this and other grants and by 1827 had consolidated the estate to 515 acres that included our block. This is discussed in a booklet by Jane Britten and Caroline Yeh (“Parsley Bay, place of the heart”: Occasional Historical Paper, Woollahra Library, 2000).

My interest in the land titles of this area in Vaucluse was tweaked last year during the demolition of the house next door. A very kind worker called out to me one wet day that he had discovered a map roll under the house: was I interested? Yes, what was in it? We opened the partly sodden papers to find a previous occupant had assembled land title information going back to the Laycock grant with detailed descriptions of the land at the time Wentworth acquired our particular area noted as 27 August, 1827. Apparently, Wentworth began subdividing his estate in 1838 (hence the “village”), but until 1902 little of the property was sold.

What was of particular interest to me was the notation on a schedule to the title in Wentworth’s name with reference to the shoreline boundary. In lovely script it states from a Mr Allen’s property in Rose Bay the boundary is:

 “ … by High Water Mark of that Bay thence … to Shark Bay thence by the High Water Mark of that Bay to Vaucluse Bay… and thence by the High Water Mark  of Vaucluse, Parsley and Watsons Bays to the point of commencement”.

So our block was part of an estate whose foreshore boundary was defined by high water mark at the time, and presumably therefore subject to the ancient doctrine of erosion and accretion, which many will know remains a matter of debate today.

Now history of the estate gets interesting when one considers that large parts of it are now public reserve of some kind. Parsley Bay is one such location. How did this come about as during the 19th century into early years of the 20th century property owners strongly resisted land being transferred for public use (see Sydney Beaches, a History”, by Caroline Ford New South, 2014; Chapter 1, Battle for the Beach)? In 1899, William Notting wrote to the Daily Telegraph suggesting that the State Government purchase water frontages around Parsley Bay, a move supported in an editorial the following day (Britten and Yeh, p.11). The aquatic community were becoming very concerned about the lack of foreshore land for safe landing of sailing boats following some terrifying incidents when land owners were not inclined to offer assistance on their foreshore land.

Notting established the Harbour Foreshores Vigilance Committee in 1905 which commenced lobbying for foreshore land acquisition. On 7th March 1906 this Committee called a public meeting in the Hotel Australia chaired by the Lord Mayor to:

“Urge upon the Government, in the interests of the Aquatic Community and the General Public, the immediate necessity of resuming portions of the Foreshores of Vaucluse and Parsley Bays as a Waterside Park… so that due provisions shall be made for present and future requirements…prompt action is now imperative, as the question of the reservation of these foreshores is not only a matter of grave concern to the aquatic community, but to the prestige of our Harbour City”.

By 1908 eight acres and one rood of land had been acquired, not without some difficulties (Britten and Yeh, p.12). Vaucluse Council accepted responsibility for its care and management; it is now in the hands of Woollahra Council. As discussed by Ford (p. 44), such public pressures led to a funded Foreshores Resumption Scheme that enabled purchase of places like Nielsen Park (now part of the Harbour National Park) named in honour of the Minister for Lands credited with the scheme. Decades later in the 1970s another Minister for Lands was instrumental in establishing a similar scheme that continues to this day, the Coastal Lands Protection Scheme.

As noted above, there are similarities with these acquisitions and those of Bondi. The original land grant to Roberts and onto Francis O’Brien led to restricted access to this beach area. Ford (p.33) outlines how long and hard fought was the battle to acquire the 25 acre Bondi Park by the Parkes Government in 1881. It was purchased through compulsory acquisition for 6000 pounds despite the resistance of Mr O’Brien. This led to further reservations with then Government now recognising the value of public recreational use. This value remains an important object in the new Coastal Management Act 2016.


Bruce Thom

Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect the author's thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2019, for correspondence about this blog post please email