New plaza to mark former convict’s military career

A new open space linking Barangaroo and Wynyard Station could soon be named Napoleon Plaza in recognition of a convict transported for stealing two watches.

Francis Girard (1793–1859) was one of Sydney’s first successful businesspeople, major employers and commercial developers, and helped shaped the area we know today as Darling Harbour.

In the early 1830s, the former convict reinvented himself as a prestigious flourmill owner, naming the road alongside his property Napoleon Street after his experiences in the Napoleonic Wars as an officer in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army.

The name remained and the street borders today’s new people-friendly plaza in the heart of Sydney’s business district.

City of Sydney CEO Monica Barone said it was fitting to remember the history of this bustling commercial area by drawing on a street named by one of the area’s earliest business leaders.

“This new plaza connects with Napoleon Street, and its history encourages us to take inspiration from one of Sydney’s earliest successful business stories,” said Ms Barone.

“The name Napoleon Plaza will help link this site to its heritage, and make it easier for local residents and visitors to find and enjoy.

“The new plaza will become a popular meeting place and city landmark, providing pedestrians with a safe and accessible route from Wynyard Station to Sydney’s western waterfront via Wynyard Walk.”

Napoleon Street, Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, courtesy of State Library of NSW
Napoleon Street during cleansing operations in 1900; courtesy of the collections of the State Library of NSW.

The street first appeared in newspaper advertisements in 1839, describing the sale of properties adjoining Girard’s Mills.

Following Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat in 1815, Girard left France and migrated to England, but was convicted for stealing two watches. As a result, he was transported to Sydney to serve a seven-year sentence, and stayed put after receiving a conditional pardon in 1825.

Napoleon Street connected Margaret Street to Girard’s flourmill and wharf, and other nearby properties located at Darling Harbour. Girard’s flourmill operated between 1832 and 1841.

Barangaroo heritage research reveals that the street was located on the original foreshore of Cockle Bay and initially occupied by George Johnstone before later being sold to Mr Girard in 1832 for a considerable sum of money. Girard substantially developed the area and constructed his large flour mill.

His building and property were quarried away during the road widening works in the early 20th century.

The plaza is expected to open to the public in the near future and is located to the south of Napoleon Street, between Kent and Sussex streets. It will link pedestrians from Wynyard Station to Barangaroo via Wynyard Walk and a pedestrian bridge over Sussex Street.

The naming proposal originated from a request by Transport for NSW. Under Geographic Names Board guidelines, the City of Sydney is the relevant roads authority responsible for naming the plaza.

The City’s historian, Transport for NSW, Barangaroo Development Authority and Lendlease all support the naming proposal. It will be on public exhibition in early September for 28 days and the City welcomes comment from the community.

The outcome of the community consultation will be reported to Council for final approval.

For media inquiries or images, contact City of Sydney Senior Media Advisor Keeley Irvin on [email protected] or 02 9265 9106.