History of De Mestre Place, George Street, Sydney

Written by Shirley O’Donovan

In July 2021, Shirley O’Donovan brought to the attention of the RAHS the demolition of Nos. 300 and 312-318 George Street for the proposed new Sydney CBD metro station. Bisecting the two buildings is De Mestre Place, one of the oldest laneways in Sydney and named after Prosper de Mestre who operated his stores on the site from 1821 to 1844.

Under no illusion that the site will be lost to make way for the new metro station, Shirley’s intention is ‘that the heritage of the site be recognised, perhaps in the Entrance Hall of the building. This could encompass a mural of the colonial stores and perhaps a renewed De Mestre Place somewhere in the building.’

Below are extracts from Shirley’s history of De Metre Place:

De Metre Place, taken from Block Plan City of Sydney / Fire & Accident Association of N. S. Wales [State Library of NSW]

On the 22 March 1799, Governor John Hunter granted a lease of land ‘to Mr. John Black, late purser of the Lady Shore transport’. This allotment is shown on surveyor James Meehan’s map of Sydney on the eastern side of George Street between Hunter Street and Martin Place. John Black established a house and store on the land and sailed in and out of Sydney on whaling voyages.

Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson, Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales, acknowledged in a document dated 30 May 1809 that the land situated as adjoining the land of Robert Turnbull and granted to John Black (deceased) be leased to Simeon Lord for the use and benefit of John Henry Black (b.1799) and Mary Ann Black (b.1801), children of the said John Black (deceased). Simeon Lord was to become stepfather to the two Black children.

On the 1 March 1821, Mary Ann Black married Prosper de Mestre, the ceremony taking place at St. Phillip’s Church of England, Sydney. Prosper de Mestre arrived in Sydney on the 6 April 1818 as supercargo on board the schooner Magnet which sailed from Calcutta via Mauritius. Prosper established a business as a merchant importing goods from China in association with Captain Vine of the Magnet. Although Prosper was forced to submit to a legal challenge against his trading due to being a foreigner in a British colony, he continued to enlarge his profitable business. Mary Ann Black brought her portion of deceased father’s land in George Street as her dower and Prosper purchased the adjacent block of land from her brother for 500 pounds. In June 1822 an advertisement appeared in the Sydney Gazette detailing the items that were being offered for sale at the Stores of P. de Mestre, George Street.

Ten years after Prosper’s arrival in the colony, he had established himself as a merchant with stores in George Street, shipping agent, landowner, Director of the Bank of New South Wales, committee member of the Agricultural Society, stockbreeder, wool-exporter, whaler and shipowner. The business interests of Prosper de Mestre continued to expand, and he built a series of elegant stores, three storeys plus an attic high with large, multi-paned windows to display the wares on sale. A laneway was created to provide access for goods being transported to the stores. This is now De Mestre Place.

De Mestre Place is an important element of the small remnant of colonial features which are left in the city of Sydney, and it is important that existence be acknowledged to preserve our history.

If you would like to get involved in this project, contact Shirley O’Donovan