Canterbury Sugarworks

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Some myths about this historic Canterbury building

“The Sugar Mill”:

It was a sugar refinery, not a sugar mill. There is an important difference. A sugar mill is located close to where the sugar cane is grown - the cane is crushed and pressed in rollers to extract the juice, which is filtered and boiled to remove the water, producing raw sugar. It is easier to transport raw sugar rather than sugar cane to the sugar refinery, where the raw sugar is used to produce refined sugar and other products for the retail market. The correct name for the building is “The Sugarworks”, the name used since the 1840s.

“The cane was brought up the Cooks River by barge”:

This was impossible because there was a dam across the river at Tempe. The raw sugar was imported from the Philippines and was brought from Sydney by cart.

“The boatharbour was where the barges tied up”:

The boatharbour wasn’t put in until 1963 (for the Sea Scouts)!

For the history of the Canterbury Sugarworks:

Brian Madden

Painting of the Sugarworks Canterbury (suburb), before 1900.
William Knox Child and Francis Kemble approached Robert Campbell in 1840, to sell them part of his land as a site for a sugar processing factory. They received the land in return for twenty-four shares in the Australian Sugar Company. Between 1840 and 1842, Scottish stonemasons built a sandstone factory on the banks of the Cooks River. The sandstone walls were one metre thick, and on one side, there was less than two metres between floor levels. The Australian Sugar Company intended to subdivide and sell the land around its factory to accomodate the workers and raise money to begin processing sugar. An exploratory coal shaft was sunk beside the factory, but, although the subdivider of the land promised a colliery and a railway within a short time, this venture came to nothing.

Canterbury Village became a small community after the factory began to process sugar in September 1842, but the limited opportunities for work made it a 'company town', dependent for its existence on the sugarworks. As a factory, the sugarworks was very efficient, and more workers settled in the village during the 1840's.

Sugarworks Canterbury (suburb),after a fire 1996.

Francis Kemble's eccentric behaviour eventually led to the dissolution of the partnership between him and Child and a new company was formed, the Australasian Sugar Company, managed from 1843 by Edward Knox. The sugarworks produced loaf and crushed sugar, as well as vinegar and molasses from raw sugar which was said to have been imported from the Philippine Islands in the Campbell family's ships.

The company took over two more refineries, one in Liverpool Street, Sydney and one in Chippendale. With the creation of Canterbury Road access to the factory was improved. The gold rush was the downfall of the factory as it took much of the workforce away from Sydney. Canterbury, the furthest from the port was chosen to be closed, and the doors were shut in September 1854. The sugarworks was to remain closed for thirty years.

In 1880, the sugarworks building was bought by Fredrick Clissold as an investment. In 1884, he sold it to Owen Blackett as a site for a heavy engineering works. Local agitation wanted a railway line which would take it though southern Canterbury but the delayed decision caused the Blackett company to go bankrupt. This meant that the factory was once more made empty. In 1900 the sugarworks was sold to the produce merchants Denham Brothers, who opened the Canterbury Bacon factory in the premises. In 1908, the building was sold again, this time to Huttons Pty Ltd, a Melbourne company, who continued in the business of smallgoods. They expanded on the site, creating a flourishing factory complex which was to provide work in the area for seventy-five years.

In 1983 Nick Scali, furniture retailers bought the Sugarworks. On 29 February 1996, a fire tore through the Georgian style works. The fire damaged the roof and internal floors but the sandstone walls have been declared structually sound. A new roof has recently been constructed.

Gold Abacus Developments began restoration work on the Sugarworks in 2000. The interior will be converted to 20 luxury apartments, the exterior cleaned and restored by stonemasons and the surrounding land excavated to its original levels. The apartments in the old Georgian building and the townhouses in the two other buildings to be constructed on the estate went on sale on 8th September, 2000.