Sydney Architecture Images- Gone but not forgotten

Boston's Windmill Plaque 54 of the Green Plaques




Royal Botanic Gardens.


Built-    Demolished-




Rendered brick Stone


Summary Three windmills once existed on the high ground in this area. The plaque near the Huntsman and Dogs statue indicates the position of a privately owned windmill built for John Boston in the late 1790s.
Artist Major James Taylor's painting “Panoramic Views of Port Jackson” circa 1821 offers a 360 degree view of Sydney from Observatory Hill. Picture: State Library of Nsw.
Convict artist Thomas Watling painted this scene of Sydney Cove looking east from The Rocks called “View of The Town of Sydney”. It was painted between 1799-1802. Picture: Supplied
The smock mill is a type of windmill that consists of a sloping, horizontally weatherboarded tower, usually with six or eight sides. It is topped with a roof or cap that rotates to bring the sails into the wind. This type of windmill got its name from its resemblance to smocks worn by farmers in an earlier period.[1]


‘Boston’s mill’ 1800

Between 1800 and 1807 three windmills appeared on the eastern ridge line of the town of Sydney,
between Sydney Cove and Farm Cove. An essential part of food processing, efficient windmills
were a commodity which the government was finding it very hard to supply. The first windmill, on
a site to the south-east of Government House, was identified on Surveyor Charles Grimes’ plan of
Sydney of May 1800 as ‘Boston’s mill’ (Figure 2.3).18 In the pictorial record, a windmill can first
be seen in this location in a painting entitled ‘View of the Town of Sydney’ attributed to Thomas
Watling and dated to about 1800 (Figure 2.4). Another view of Sydney Cove, datable by the
unfinished state of the drawing room extension to Government House added by Governor King to
c.1800-1801, also shows the mill and an adjacent building to the north, later identified as a
residence and bakehouse (Figure 2.5).19 Both buildings were conspicuous features of the skyline
behind Government House and continued to appear in subsequent illustrations of this part of the

The question of who built and owned this mill (built of timber), the first private windmill in
Sydney, is problematic.20 Grimes’ map links the mill with the name of John Boston who had been
recommended to Governor Hunter as a free settler with skills which could be of use to the
Colony.21 Boston’s various activities included salt making, brewing and soap making as well as
farming and trading, and Grimes’ map has been taken as evidence of yet another of Boston’s
entrepreneurial activities.22 In all other contemporary documentary references to both the mill and
its associated bakehouse and residence, including a voluminous and prolonged correspondence on
the matter of compensation for its removal by Governor Macquarie, the name associated with it is
that of Commissary John Palmer. The matter remains unresolved. The original of Grimes’ map of
1800 has been lost and so the details shown in the lithographed copy of 1897 cannot be checked.
Unlike the two government windmills on the western ridge of the town, shown by Grimes as
pictograms, ‘Boston’s mill’ was not, perhaps an indication of intention or site rather than a
completed structure. Other documentary evidence of Boston’s association with the site and mill is
lacking. From 1801 these were Palmer’s buildings. Not only was Palmer acknowledged as the
owner of the mill, bakehouse and residence but he was also credited with having spent a
considerable sum on their construction.23 As a man of wealth and position with a detailed
knowledge of local conditions, commercial expertise and a successful and innovative farmer, John
Palmer was a very likely candidate to introduce private enterprise into milling in Sydney.