21 December 2007

The Obelisk's sesquicentennial

The Obelisk in Hyde Park at the intersection of Elizabeth and Bathurst Streets is 150 years old this month.

I thought it was just an odd Victorian monument, but it turns out that it’s actually a sewer vent. That explains the filagreed finial. It's not solid – it's a chimney.

It was built to protect sewage workers from the accumulation of poisonous gases. From an 1894 council report: "The Obelisk causes a splendid draft in Pitt Street sewer – the foreman reports it is difficult to keep a candle alight when working in same."

It was unveiled in December 1857 by the then Lord Mayor, George Thornton. Soon after it became known around town as “Thornton’s Scent Bottle”.

Photo taken in 1954 – note the overhead tram wiring. Click to enlarge it.

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