The Macdonaldtown Toll-bar

The Macdonaldtown Toll Bar

THE Municipal Council of Macdonaldtown are about to put into force the 179th section of the Municipalities Act of 1867, which regulates the collection of tolls, by the erection of a toll-bar on the Erskineville-road, and the collection of tolls thereat. This is a means of raising revenue not generally resorted to by the municipalities. The bylaw containing the schedule of tolls to be levied having been confirmed by his Excellency the Governor, with the advice of the Executive Council, is published in a supplement to the Government Gazette issued yesterday.

The Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday, 18 October 1881

Amongst numerous paragraphs detailing Assessments, Rates and Accounts the Municipalities Act of 1867 permitted councils to establish tolls:

179. The Council may also establish tolls rates and dues upon road street market bridge ferry wharf or jetty within and belonging to the Municipality and erect toll-gates toll bars or other works necessary for the collection of such tolls rates and dues and may make by-laws for the proper collection and management of such tolls rates and dues.

The by-law made by the Council of the Municipal District of Macdonald Town setting out the schedule of tolls was published in the Government Gazette on 17 October 1881:

Macdonaldtown Council By-Law Toll Bar 1881.png

Supplement to the New South Wales Government Gazette Monday 17 October 1881

In 1881 Erskineville Road continued along what is today known as Railway Parade. The presence of the toll-bar on Erskineville Road near the Alexandria boundary is recorded in this map published in around 1886-1888:

Macdonaldtown, Parish of Petersham – Higinbotham, Robinson and Harrison, c. 1886-1888

In the Saturday edition of the Evening News that followed the announcements and gazettal of the by-law establishing the Macdonaldtown toll-bar the motivation for the imposition of toll became clear. Not only were the brick carts cutting up the roads of Macdonaldtown in their efforts to avoid the Newtown toll, but traffic continuing along Erskineville Road and into Alexandria along Henderson Road were passing through the Alexandria Municipal Council toll bar, and, well, that seemed a bit unfair…

The Rival Toll-bars.

Some months ago the borough of Alexandria spent a considerable sum of money in ballasting and forming Henderson and Mitchell roads. In order to recoup the outlay, toll-bars were placed on each of the roads, under the 179th section of the Municipalities Act of 1867, and the by-laws for that purpose were passed by the Executive Councils. The toll-bars were duly opened and continued in full operation for a few months, when the Macdonaldtown Council took umbrage at the Alexandria Council monopolising the tolls received from the brick-carts &c., that had travelled over Macdonaldtown roads into Alexandria, and cut them up, without any hope of compensation for the damage done. It was then suggested that the two boroughs should share and share alike in the tolls, but this not being acquiesced in, the Macdonaldtown Council determined to erect a tollbar on the Erskineville-road. Accordingly, by-laws were formed, and receiving the sanction of the Executive Council, were published in last Tuesday’s “Gazette.” Finding that the tollbars were not remunerative and obnoxious, the Alexandria Council about six weeks ago abolished theirs on the Henderson and Mitchell roads, and on hearing this the Macdonaldtown Council refrained from imposing their toll-bar on the Erskineville Road. It now appears that the roads of both boroughs are much used by drivers of brick-carts, who evade the Newtown tolls; therefore it is in contemplation by the Macdonaldtown Council to place a toll-bar on the Erskineville-road. It is expected that the tolls will be equitably divided between both councils.

Evening News (Sydney) Saturday 22 October 1881

So, with that all sorted the Macdonaldtown Council proceeded to construct a toll-bar, and within a month of the gazettal of the by-law the toll-bar was complete:

Macdonaldtown Lease of toll-bar 1881.png

Sydney Morning Herald Friday, 11 November 1881

This proliferation of toll-bars in the locality did not go unnoticed by the incumbent leaseholders of the Newtown-road toll-bar, and so they approached the Newtown Council with a plan:

Another Toll-bar for Newtown 1882.pngEvening News (Sydney) Monday 27 February 1882

It would seem any agreement between the Alexandria and Macdonaldtown Councils to operate a single toll-bar along Erskineville and Henderson Roads, and to share the income equitably had come to nothing, and that two tolls operated on what was effectively the same stretch of road. The operation of these two toll-bars would come in for a mention several months later in a series of damning articles covering the ‘Suburban Municipalities:’

On wending our way for the more modern part of this modern Alexandria by continuing on from Raglan-street west, we observed sundry drains across the road, not one of which is anything more than a receptacle for filth, for which there is next to no outlet… It may be here said that there is one of those antiquated institutions called “turnpike gates,” and yet there is no gate, at which a man stands demanding toll from the owners or guides of quadrupeds going to and fro. A little further on, but in the borough of Macdonaldtown, we observe another of these, which “Rebecca and her daughters,” of some 40 years ago, would have removed with perfect ease. What a villainous thing, to collect toll for passing a few hundred yards of a quagmire!

Evening News (Sydney) Saturday 19 August 1882

On leaving the borough of Alexandria for Macdonaldtown by the main artery of communication, we pass from bad to worse in respect of the drainage and the general state of the road; but to mend matters, there is a veritable toll-gate. Shame! Yes, a thousand shames on the man who proposed such a thing in such a place, and the same number on each of the persons who approved it.

Evening News (Sydney) Wednesday 23 August 1882

By 1883 the Alexandria and Macdonaldtown Councils appear to have reached an agreement whereby the Macdonaldtown Council ran the toll-bar on Erskineville Road, and shared the proceeds with the Alexandria Council. Council reports from this time onwards evidence the splitting of payments between the two councils.

The arrangement between the two councils continued for several years. Early on however there was some concern on the part of the Alexandria Council when the lessee of the Macdonaldtown toll-bar, Mr. Thomas Turtle had to give up his lease on account of ill-health:

Extract Alexandria Borough Council Meeting Report  30.08.1883.png

Sydney Morning Herald Thursday, 30 August 1883

It might just have been Mr. Turtle’s letter of resignation discovered amongst council papers from the 1880’s ‘unearthed at the Erskineville Council Chambers’ in 1936 ‘hidden away, dust covered, in all sorts of nooks, crannies and cupboards in the building:’

Macdonaldtown toll-bar 1936.png

The Labor Daily (Sydney) Monday, 13 January 1936

In 1887 the Alexandria Council passed a by-law that would allow for the installation of a toll-bar on Mitchell Road. The toll-bar it seems would become a source of renewed disquiet between the councils:

Alexandria Toll-bar Sparke's Bridge 1888.png

Supplement to the New South Wales Government Gazette Saturday 13 August 1887

(Sparke’s Bridge crossed a drain that ran in a southerly direction from the northern side of Copeland Street, placing the bridge in the vicinity of the intersection of Mitchell Road and Huntley Streets and the toll bar just within the Municipality of Alexandria).

The Copeland Street catch-bar appears to not have been erected at this time. Subsequent advertising of the toll-bar mentions Mitchell Road only:

Tenders for Alexandria and Macdonaldtown Tollbars 1887.png

Tenders for the lease of Alexandria and Macdonaldtown tollbars
Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday, 5 October 1887

The operation of the Macdonaldtown and Alexandria toll bars might have continued to provide the councils with an income for some time into the future, given it would seem they both acted to capture much of the traffic passing through the respective boroughs.

However, this would prove to be short-lived, as a new route intersecting the boroughs opened up within a few months, providing the public with a means to evade both tolls. The leaseholders of the toll-bars were quick to make their grievances known to the Macdonaldtown and Alexandria Councils:

Macdonaldtown Toll Bar 1888.png

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) Thursday, 15 March 1888


Alexandria Council Toll Bar1888.png

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) Friday, 30 March 1888

The Alexandria Council also appears to have been keen on establishing a catch-bar on the east side of the bridge at Henderson Road, and reported its intention to do so in correspondence tabled at a meeting of the Macdonaldtown Council the following month. Ultimately however the Alexandria Council appears to have only proceeded in establishing the Copeland Street toll bar, as shown in this map published between 1886 and 1888:

Alexandria, Parishes of Alexandria and Petersham – Higinbotham, Robinson & Harrison c. 1886-88

In October 1888 the Macdonaldtown Council sought the co-operation of the Alexandria Council by encouraging the Council to lease the Copeland Street and Erskineville Road toll bars together (most likely as this would allow The Macdonaldtown Council a share of the income). The Alexandria Council were not in a mood for sharing, so the Macdonaldtown Council looked to take drastic measures:

Erskineville toll Swanson Street 1888.png

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) Saturday, 10 November 1888

So they did! The notice of the Macdonaldtown Council’s intention to ‘carry on the tollbar, Erskineville Road, on their own account’ and ‘notice of their intention to terminate the agreement at present existing between the councils as regards the revenue derived from the tollbar’ was received by the Alexandria Council on November 7, 1888.

A meeting held between the councils in December 1888 to settle the question of the control of the toll bars came to nothing.

At the first meeting of the Macdonaldtown Council in January 1889 a motion was put to the Council proposing that the Swanson Street tollbar be erected:

Macdonaldtown Toll bar Park Street Swanson Street 1889.png

The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday, 9 January 1889

Thankfully for the travelling public this retaliatory toll bar does not appear to have been established, and there is a suggestion that the two councils did eventually come to an arrangement over the proceeds of the Copeland Street toll bar.

In December 1889 the Macdonaldtown Council passed a motion that would see the toll bar on Erskineville Road abolished:

Macdonaldtown Council Meeting 24.12.1889.png

Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday, 24 December 1889

In correspondence subsequently forwarded to the Alexandria Council, the Macdonaldtown Council sought to apply a condition to the abolition of the toll-bar:

Alexandria Council meeting 16.01.1890.png

The Evening News (Sydney) Thursday, 16 January 1890

In April, three months later correspondence was received from the Alexandria Council stating they were now prepared to join the Macdonaldtown Council in abolishing the toll-bar on the Erskineville Road. The following month the Macdonaldtown Council offered the Alexandria Council one half of the receipts of the toll-bar from the time of the expiration of the lease up to the date of its abolition, and stated the toll-house would become the property of the Macdonaldtown Council.

This map published a few years later in 1894 shows a small structure in the roadway on Erskineville Road, close to the Macdonaldtown-Alexandria Council boundary (indicated by the dashed line running north-south). It seems this might be the toll-house referred to:

City of Sydney Section Alexandria – Sheet 10, 1894

The Erskineville Road toll-bar was finally abolished in May 1890, but not before the Macdonaldtown Council had obtained one more undertaking from the Alexandria Council:

Councils undertake not to re-establish toll-bars 1890.png

The Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, 24 May 1890

Ah, but wouldn’t you know it, just two years later…

Alexandria Council Meeting October 1892.png

The Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, 8 October 1892

The Macdonaldtown Council were quick to seek an opinion from the Municipal Association, and sought counsel to legally restrain the Alexandria Council from placing a toll bar on the Henderson Road. On 14 November 1892 a motion was presented to the Macdonaldtown Council to erect a toll-bar on the Erskineville Road. The motion was withdrawn, owing to the removal of the newly established toll-bar by the Alexandria Council, little more than a month after it had been erected.



This entry was posted in 1880-1889, 1890-1899, Erskineville Road, Railway Parade, Swanson Street and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Macdonaldtown Toll-bar

  1. suecartledge says:

    I remember the remains of the old toll bar in Newtown at the start of City Road, just before Gould’s wonderful bookshop. The bar was no longer there, but the wooden upright was still in place. This was in 1997. Not sure when the post disappeared, after 2001, I think.


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