Macquarie Street is a grand place for a stroll if you like history. The street is lined with buildings that date back to the era when Sydney was becoming more than a penal colony, thanks in large part to Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who felt the new land had the potential of becoming something special. In fact, Macquarie’s impact on the colony is such that his grave stone bears the inscription “The Father of Australia.” When he arrived in 1810, there wasn’t much to suggest that Sydney had the potential of being anything grand, but Macquarie began to lay out street plans, get exploration under way, and look among the convicts for talent to help carry out his vision.
One of the first things he wanted to do was build a hospital. Britain was not interested in funding Macquarie’s grand plan to create decent facilities for a convict colony, so Macquarie approached a group of businessmen. In exchange for a three-year monopoly on importing rum, would they bankroll the hospital? They said yes, and as a result, the sprawling medical complex that was constructed between 1811 and 1816 was nicknamed the Rum Hospital.
While the central section of the hospital has not survived, two wings of the original building can still be seen on Macquarie St. The building shown below is one of those wings—the wing now known as the Sydney Mint. In 1854, this wing was in fact transformed into an outpost of the Royal Mint. Medical equipment was replaced by machinery for minting coins. It was the first branch of the Royal Mint ever established outside of London. However, the Australian gold rush (which commenced in in 1851) made having a mint handy seem like a grand idea. (Amazing how the discovery of gold got Britain interested in Australia.)
In 1927, the official money-making operation moved to the federal capital in Canberra. The Sydney Mint was fixed up and served as a museum for the next several decades. During my first trip to Australia, it was operated as a Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. If you’re reading my book, you’ll know that I loved this museum. However, the admirable collection has now been moved to the Powerhouse Museum (another museum I very much liked). In 1998, the Sydney Mint was turned over to the Historic Houses Trust. It is still open to the public, but now only offers a café and a display about the history of the site—though that is certainly worth learning about.