Central Station

Unique city stories

This gallery draws from the extensive photographic collections of the NSW State Archives to highlight the transformation of Central Railway Station from its opening in 1855 to 1921, when the landmark Central Station Clock Tower was completed.

The first ‘Sydney’ station, 1855-1874

The first railway line in Sydney opened in 1855 and operated between Sydney and Parramatta. The Sydney terminal station was built in September 1855 on traditional Gadigal land of the Eora Nation.

The site was also known as the ‘Cleveland Paddock’, situated between Devonshire and Cleveland streets. The station was commonly referred to as Redfern Station as it was located close to Redfern. The station was a single 30m long wooden platform in a corrugated iron shed, described by some as a “temporary tin shed”. In 1856 additional railway sheds and yards were added to the site but by the early 1870s the station was unable to meet the demands of the rapidly growing Sydney railway network.

  • Colour map.

    Sydney as it was in 1849, prior to the construction of the major railway terminus. The maps shows the proposed grounds (part of the present Central Railway) in green, with the grounds remaining in the possession of the Crown in yellow. SR Map 6408.

  • Black and white photo of landscape.

    Sydney, 1850, from Government Paddock, now occupied by Railway Station Yards. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001374

  • Black and white photo looking towards buildings.

    First Sydney Railway Station, 1871, showing the remains of the old tramway tracks (where the man is sitting). The Goods Shed is on the far left and the platform on the right side became the George St Platform (No. 11). Digital ID 17420_a014_a0140000245

  • Black and white map.

    Sydney Terminal Map, 1855. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001376

The second ‘Sydney’ station, 1874-1906

The second terminal station was designed by the Railways Chief Engineer John Whitton. It opened in 1874 on the same site as the first station and continued to be known as Redfern. The station was constructed to allow for the future expansion of the railways. While the brick and stone building was impressive when first built, by the 1880s platforms (up to 13 in total) had spread to the forecourt area. In 1899 there were 25 million passenger visits to the terminal station and the site was simply too restrictive and congested for any more development.

  • Black and white view across station and tracks.

    Second Sydney Railway Stations, 1879. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001380

  • Black and white photo of exterior of arched facade of building.

    Eastern side of second Sydney Railway Stations, c. 1879. The eastern side was also known as the departure side. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014000249

  • Black and white photo of exterior of building.

    Timetables at second Sydney Railway Station, no date. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001381

  • Black and white photo looking down onto railway tracks.

    View of second Sydney Railway Station, c. 1884. Note the Darling Harbour railway line disappears into the cutting beneath the Christ Church St Laurence spire. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014000256

  • Black and white photo looking down onto railway station.

    Second Sydney Railway Station on corner of Devonshire and George Streets, c. 1900. Note the boarded up Devonshire Cemetery, ready for work to being on the new station. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014000252

  • Black and white photo of interior of shed.

    Interior of second Sydney Railway Station, c. 1880. The old station included only two tracks and two platforms. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014000246

  • Black and white photo of workshops and machinery.

    Goods yard, depot and machine shop at Second Railway Station, c. 1874. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014000260

The third ‘Sydney’ station – Central Railway Station

The plan to shift the Sydney terminal station to the north side of Devonshire Street was proposed by the Minister for Public Works, E.W. O’Sullivan. Government Architect W.L. Vernon designed a 15 platform steel-framed and concrete station. Parliament approved the Act for its construction on 11 December 1900 at an estimated cost of £561,000. The design for the station included a large arched roof to cover the main concourse area, with covered platforms and pedestrian access through subways between George St West and Strawberry Hills. Railway Square became a major tram interchange point. The sandstone used in the construction came from the Pyrmont Quarry, the decorative marble from Borenore, near Orange and the ticket office was made of Tasmanian blackwood.

Before construction could begin the site had to be cleared of the rail sheds and yards. Property resumption included the Benevolent Asylum, Devonshire Street Cemetery, Christ Church Parsonage, Police Barracks, Sydney Female Refuge, Convent of the Good Samaritan and the South Sydney Morgue. At the Devonshire Street Cemetery site, £27, 890 was spent on relocating the remains and headstones to a new cemetery site at Botany and around Sydney.

  • Black and white detailed plan.

    Plan of the extension of the railway terminus to the Devonshire Street Cemetery, recommended by the Public Works Committee, 1900. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001382

  • Black and white photo of group of men in shirtsleeves and waistcoats in outdoor setting.

    Surveying Devonshire Cemetery, c. 1900. Surveyor George Melrose and his team surveying the cemetery site. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014000263

  • Black and white view of cemetery.

    Devonshire Street Cemetery, 1902. All these graves had to be relocated to allow for the expansion of the Sydney Railway Station. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014000258

  • Black and white view of arched facade.

    Construction work on new Central Railway Station, c. 1905. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014000267

  • Black and white view of tracks leading into station buildings.

    First railway track connecting old and new stations, 1906. Note the second Sydney Railway Station in the background. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014000259

  • Black and white photo of crowd at work site.

    Laying the foundation stone for Central Railway Station, Sept. 1906. Digital ID 4481_a026_000943

  • Black and white view of site with roof to right.

    Construction work at the Devonshire St end, c. 1902. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014000265

  • Black and white photo of station and tracks.

    Breakthrough of old platforms for the opening of the new Sydney Railway Station, c. 1906. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014000262

The Central Station Clock Tower

Construction of the Central Station Clock Tower began in 1915. It was completed in 1921, and loomed so large over the city that it became colloquially known as ‘the working man’s watch’. 

Man standing between two giant clock hands that are taller than him.
Sydney Station clock hands, 1919. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001402 NSW State Archives

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