Charles Saunders (1824 – 1893), entrepreneur and stonemason, was born in Devon, and brought his family to Sydney in 1852, soon after gold was discovered in NSW. Next year Charles leased land from the Harris family, beginning a relationship which benefitted both families. This land, in what was then Ultimo but is now Pyrmont, was not the first quarry in the area: ballast quarrying had been operating to supply the sailing ships. Saunders’ site became known as Paradise, a comment on the ease with which the yellow block sandstone was quarried.
By 1855, this was the material preferred by the Colonial Architect, and Saunders was a preferred supplier. There was such huge demand for sandstone during the building boom that quarries – on the peninsula and elsewhere –had to pay high wages to retain stone masons. It is no accident that masons formed Australia’s first successful trade union.
Saunders quarries were not the only enterprises on the peninsula: the McCredies were almost as famous, but channelled their energies into building as well as quarrying. With skilled labour, good commercial contacts and a reputation for the reliable supply of fine stone, Charles prospered and expanded his operations. More land was acquired from the Harris family, for quarries farther South, which became known as Purgatory and Hellhole. Made roads and drays dragged by teams of Clydesdale horses replaced the barges that first took stone to building sites. Charles built the Quarryman’s Arms, and the expanding family lived there until the 1870s when they moved along Harris Street to Clifton Villa. At the same time he began to yield control of the business to his son Robert.