Taking its name from a grant of 550 acres that Governor Hunter made to colonial surgeon William Balmain in 1800, at first settlement of the Balmain peninsula was sluggish due, no doubt, to the lack of transport to the area.
From the 1830s until the 1850s Balmain developed as a suburb. By this time regular ferry connections from Balmain to the city had begun operating, and the reliance on steamers, ferries and coastal vessels for both travel and trade resulted in the establishment of shipyards along the harbour foreshores. Shipyards brought workers, who wished to live close to their place of work. As the population increased so did the demand for services - houses, shops, churches, schools, police, a hospital and local government with Balmain Council being formed in 1860. By the 1880s Balmain claimed to be the leading social suburb in Sydney. Numerous clubs were formed including rowing, swimming, bowling and cricket. Institutes such as the Balmain Literary Institute, the Balmain Working Men's Institute and Balmain School of Arts were also established.
The prosperity and security of Balmain continued to attract industry to the peninsula. However, by the late 1880s it was apparent that the suburb was overcrowded and badly organised. Factories were opened next door to houses and schools, streets had been created in the most inappropriate places and the suburb went into a decline. By the early 20th century the industrial activity had dropped, the old population was moving out of the suburb and a younger, poorer population was moving into the area. Balmain's affluent character was changing: by 1933, 38.1 per cent of Balmain workers were unemployed (the NSW average was 18.4 per cent).
Balmain Subdivision Plan 1883 (PDF 206.1KB)
Balmain Population Statistics, 1848 - 1936:
Year - 1848; Population - 1,337
Year - 1872; Population - 6,826
Year - 1880; Population - 8,000
Year - 1882; Population - 16,928
Year - 1895; Population - 28,460
Year - 1910; Population - 31,500
Year - 1915; Population - 33,000
Year - 1920; Population - 33,540
Year - 1936; Population - 28,268
Post World War Two saw large scale industry in Balmain dominate the peninsula's foreshore. Sites such as the Balmain Coal Loader, Balmain Power Station, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Monsanto and Caltex, while becoming a source of employment for many Balmain locals, gave the suburb a reputation for noise and pollution. In 1948 following a redistribution of local government boundaries, Balmain Council ceased to exist as Balmain, Birchgrove and Rozelle, along with Annandale, were placed under Leichhardt Council administration. By the mid-1960s small numbers of tertiary educated middle-class 'professionals', attracted by the suburbs architecture, harbour frontages and close location to the CBD began moving into the area. In 1965 the Balmain Association was formed with the aim to give residents a voice in planning decisions and heritage issues such as the demolition of historic buildings on the peninsula.
As the 1970s progressed Balmain's reputation as a solidly working class industrial - residential suburb changed. Many of the peninsula's houses underwent 'gentrification' and renovation by their new owners who were overwhelmingly tertiary educated and middle class. The changing demographics of Balmain in the 1970s and 1980s came about in tandem with the closure of much of the areas industry. This resulted in the opening up of the peninsula's foreshores to public access, in part the result of determined resident action by individuals and groups such as the Balmain Association. By 1990 Balmain and neighbouring Birchgrove were considered to be among Sydney's most desirable waterfront locations, and a housing boom during the 1990s saw huge swathes of land redeveloped into housing on sites previously zoned industrial.
Balmain Population Statistics, 1986 - 2001:
Year - 1986; Population - 10,239
Year - 1991; Population - 10,915
Year - 1996; Population - 10,978
Year - 2001; Population - 13,892
Finding out about: Balmain a brief selection of resources
Balmain Coal Mine History
Balmain Rowing Club
Balmain Sailing Club
Davidson, Bonnie, 1994. Streets, Lanes and Places Balmain, Birchgrove and Rozelle, 1836 - 1994.
Lawrence, Joan, 1995. A Pictorial History of Balmain to Glebe.
Leichhardt Historical Journal
Liddle, David, 1985. The Balmain Book.
Reynolds, Peter and Paul Flottman, 1976. Balmain. A history of the land grant.
Solling, Max and Peter Reynolds, 1997. Leichhardt: On the Margins of the City. A Social History Of Leichhardt and the Former Municipalities of Annandale, Balmain and Glebe.
Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus
Thorp, Wendy for Leichhardt Municipal Council, 1990. Leichhardt Municipality Heritage Study.
West Tigers Rugby League Football Club