City of Sydney Historical Association
2nd March, 2013 - History of Surry Hills & Darlinghurst
9th February, 2013 - Chinese New Year
12th January, 2013 - Tour of St Barnabas Church, Broadway
8th December, 2012 - Colonial Land Use and the Coxes of Mulgoa Valley
7th November, 2012 - Guided Tour of the Town Hall Vaults
3rd November, 2012 - 1954 Royal Tour
13th October, 2012 - Rise of Sydney's Department Stores
14th July, 2012 - Life & Times of Tommy Townshend
9th June, 2012 - "Reynolds" Cottages
19th May, 2012 - St Paul's College Tour
14th April, 2012 - Motorised Mayhem
10th March, 2012 - The Flying Fruit Fly Circus
4th February, 2012 - Quong Tart: High Tea and Scottish Ditties
14th January 2012: Dictionary of Sydney
10th December 2011: Admiral Arthur Philip - The Man
12th November 2011: Glebe Walk
8th October 2011: Bob Carr at the Annual General Meeting
3rd September 2011: History Week
13th August 2011: Tom Wentworth Wills –Visionary Sportsman
9th July 2011: Henry L'Estrange - Funambulist and Aeronaut
11th June 2011: Afro-American Servicemen in WWII
14th May 2011: Government House Tour
9th April 2011: Amazing Stories from Randwick
19th March 2011: The Ones that Got Away
12 Feb 2011: Chinese Market Gardens of Sydney
8 Jan 2011: St Andews College Tour
11 Dec 2010: Garden Palace Scandal
13 Nov 2010: Cumberland Digs
9 Oct 2010: Painting the Rocks
4 Sep 2010: Celebrate History Week
14 Aug 2010: Whaling, Wool and Wealth
10 Jul 2010: The Ones that Got Away
12 Jun 10: Percy Lindsay
8 May 10: Sydney Tramway Museum
10 Apr 10: Making of our nation
13 Mar 10: Reading photographs
13 Feb 2010: Macquarie Place
9 Jan 10: Sydney's Astronomical History
12 Dec 09: The colony
14 Nov 09: Women of The Rocks
10 Oct 09: History of Kent Brewery
5 Sep 09: Scandal, Crime & Corruption
15 Aug 09: Walk-Darling Harbour
11 Jul 09: Redfern Alexandria & Waterloo
06 Jun 09: Pubs & Publicans of Sydney
09 May 09 : C19th Sydney Firemen
18 Apr 09 : History of Darling Harbour
14 Mar 09: Bewitched!
Annual General Meeting 2009
Jan 2009 - Trade Hall
9th July 2011: Henry L'Estrange - Funambulist and Aeronaut

On 9 July, Mark Dunn gave an entertaining talk about the various and ingenious forms of entertainment that made Henri L’Estrange popular in Sydney in the 19th century. Mark is a professional historian working in Sydney and is President of the History Council of NSW.

During the 1870s and 1880s, public entertainment in Sydney was a booming business. Theatres, sporting events, vaudeville, public speakers and adventurers all vied for the public’s precious spare time. My talk today is going to look at one such entertainer who specialised in dangerous stunts and spectacle, a form of entertainment that the Sydney crowds could hardly get enough of. Henri L'Estrange who performed in Sydney from 1877 until the later 1880s was a tight rope walker and aeronautical balloonist.  Modelling himself on the famous French wire walker Blondin, L'Estrange performed a number of wire walks in the 1870s, culminating in three walks across Sydney Harbour at Middle Harbour in 1877. As well as his wire acts, L’Estrange was an early balloonist and made a series of flights over Sydney in early 1880s, not all of which ended well.

The Harbour Crossing

L’Estrange knew the appetite of the public for spectacle was insatiable and the more dangerous the better. To this end he was planning an event that would outshine even his hero Blondin; a walk across the harbour. Preparations were soon underway for his proposed walk. Through the latter half of March, L’Estrange had his wire rigged across the waters of Willoughby Bay on Sydney’s north shore. Many thought him crazy, and indeed he may have been, but he was no fool.

At 1 o’clock on the sunny Saturday, the steamers began leaving Circular Quay taking over 8000 people up the harbour to Willoughby Bay. A further 2000 walked in, with countless others coming in on unauthorised boats. The small bay was chock full of steamers, yachts and row boats. High above, the wire was just visible stretching out from the aptly named Folly Point - it ran a total of 433 meters across the bay and was 104 meters above the water! He would be the highest point in Sydney if he succeeded, a full 50 meters higher than the top of Sydney’s tallest structure, the clock tower of the Sydney Town Hall. A fall would mean certain death.

At 4 o’clock, with the carnival in full swing L’Estrange appeared from his tent on Folly Point, dressed in a dark tunic, red cape and a turban. Without hesitation or delay he stepped off on to his lofty hempen pathway and began his journey. His causeway was in fact two ropes, spliced together to reach across the abyss. The weight causing it to bow in the middle, while sixteen wire guy ropes attached to rocks and sunk into the harbour, held it steady.

As the crowd hushed in anticipation, L’Estrange walked fearlessly and with steady purpose at a rate of 80 steps a minute with the sun full in his face down to the centre where he slowed, crossing the point where two ropes were joined. Past halfway he stopped and stood for a moment on one foot, resting his left foot against his right leg. From here he dropped to one knee and then sat down and waved his handkerchief to the crowd below. He then lay on his back on the rope, resting briefly before returning to the sitting position.

L’Estrange returned to his feet and took a few backward steps before proceeding up the incline to terra firma on the western headland. His last steps were taken at an increased pace, as he was keen to finish and bask in the glory he so richly deserved. It was estimated that he made over £10,000 on the day.