Public Art : Thornton Obelisk, aka Thornton's Scent
Bottle, Cleopatra's Needle
Sculptor : Unknown
Date Erected : Unveiled by the man himself, Mayor
George Thornton in 1857
Description : Okay the Thorton Obelisk, is
really a sewer vent, but with a little bit of fine tuning, it is now considered a piece of public art and whats
more a tourist attraction. The vent/obelisk comprises of three sections, the base, the shaft and the apex. The base
is a square piece of ashlar cut sandstone (with projecting cornice). On the east face there is a
door which leads to the internal chambers of the vent. Just above the cornice are eight carved
Egyptian sphinxes (two on each side). The shaft is a lime washed rendered brick which tapers to the apex,
which is an ornamental bronze pyramid acting as the vent outlet.
Location : Western end of Hyde Park at the junction
of Elizabeth and Bathurst Street, Sydney, Australia.
History of the Thornton Obelisk: The Egyptian style obelisk was erected in 1857 over a sewer vent as an experiment for ventilation .
The theory being that, the stench from the sewer rose up through the shaft and expelled the foul smelling air high
enough into the atmosphere that the human nostril couldn't whiff the horrid odor. Needless to say the experiment
was a failure, but that didn't stop it being replicated in Western Australia nearly 85 years later (their
experiment was called Dumas' Folly). At the time of the construction the vent became a bit of a joke and was given the
nickname, Thornton's Scent Bottle, in honor of the instigator of the project, George
Thornton (1819-1901), Mayor of the City of Sydney. The obelisk has been modified several times in 1871, 1890 and
1908. The obelisk also takes the honor of being the oldest surviving structure in Hyde Park and one of the
oldest free standing monuments in Sydney. The structure was based on the same dimensions as London's
Cleopatra's Needle and is sometimes referred to as the same name.
Other Sewer Vents Turned Things of Beauty :
Lincoln Street Sewer Vent
So who was George Thornton ? : After doing a little research on George, I thought it quicker and easier to do a timeline on the man, so
you can get an idea about how much he did in his 79 years . So here we go, the George Thornton
1819 Born on the 23rd December 1819 in Macquarie Street, Sydney.
1836 Joined the Customs Department as a storekeeper
1840 Set up as a Custom House Agent and Married Mary Ann Solomon
1847 Elected to the Sydney Municipal Council (Cook Ward)
1853 Elected Mayor
1857 Re- elected Mayor, established first public baths at Woolloomooloo, Thorton Obelsik at Hyde
1858 Won the seat of Sydney in the Legislative Assembly
1857-67 Founding provincial grand master of the Freemasons
1861 Appointed to the Legislative Council (but was prevented taking his seat)
1850 Partnered with Walter Church as Customs House agents and
1860 First chairman of the Woollahra Borough Council
1865 On a trip to England he was rescued from the ship Duncan Dunbar
which was wrecked off the coast of Pernambuco
1885-88 Founding Director and Chairman of the City Bank of Sydney,
chairman of Mutual Insurance Society of Victoria and a member of the Union
1867 Appointed to the Legislative Assembly for Goldfields West
1868 Returned to England
1873-86 Returned to NSW to becomecommissioner for five international exhibitions and sat on the
royal commission into the fisheries.
1877 Appointed to the Legislative Council
1880 A founding councillor of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection
Association and appointed "protector of the Aborigines". Organized a census of Aboriginals.
1883 Founding chairman of the Aborigines Protection Board
1892 He and Richard Hill published Notes on the Aborigines of New South
1901 Died in Parramatta from dysentery