I do try to eke out the unusual when I visit somewhere but I must say that I did not expect to come across a Victorian filigree, cast iron, pissoir in Sydney. For those unfamiliar with the French term ‘pissoir’ it translates to a men’s urinal – though I do feel that when you translate it you somewhat vulgarise the artistic nature of the object.
Following concerns about public respectability and undesirable street behaviour – men urinating in public – Sydney’s first public toilets appeared in 1880. These early toilets were exclusively for men – presumably respectable ladies did not stoop to urinating in public. Women had to wait until 1910 when the first public lavatory for them was opened in Hyde Park.
The early (male) pissoirs took the form of ornate cast iron urinals of the type pictured. Indeed this one is the last remaining cast iron pissoir in Sydney, moved to its current location in 1971 from nearby Observatory Hill. Being the last one in Sydney it has now become something of a tourist attraction.
While still in active service, based on the cleanliness of the facility in January 2016, I suggest you use the larger and more modern (though not much cleaner) facility for gentlemen located about 20 metres from the pissoir.
Sydney’s first pissoirs were supplied by George Jennings who exhibited at the 1879 International Exhibition in Sydney and took the liberty of introducing himself to a Mr Roberts on the City Council thus:
I take the liberty of sending you an illustrated price-list of Public Conveniences manufactured by our firm and supplied to most of the Corporations and Sanitary Authorities throughout England and in many towns on the Continent and America. As they have given such great satisfaction wherever they have been fixed I venture to hope you will favour us with a chance of tendering for the supply should your Corporation at any time entertain the idea of erecting urinals in this city. We are exhibiting on the Terrace Floor of the Exhibition several appliances all tending to health & comfort, which I should have great pleasure in shewing you whenever you may feel inclined.
I am dear Sir
George Henry Jennings.
P.S. I left a complete catalogue with Mr Mountain yr. Surveyor a few days ago.
Mr Roberts did favour Mr Jennings with an order for two patent urinals in 1880 and Jennings was still supplying them in 1887 when he sold the council six ‘Class A’ six-person urinals and six ‘class B’ three person urinals.
As far as I can ascertain, this remaining pissoir was made by James Allen Snr & Son of Glasgow and is one of only two Allen pissoirs remaining in the world, the other being a larger model in the Great Western Dockyard in Bristol, England.
Today, in many parts of the world including Sydney, pissoirs, including pop-up ones, are having something of a renaissance but, sadly, they lack the style and elegance of those of the late 19th century.
Address: Lower George Street, The Rocks
Directions: Under the Harbour Bridge
This is my last SYDNEY – CITY – ROCKS / DAWES POINT review.
For other Sydney reviews click HERE.