Review: When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour brings Sydney’s colonial history to life

The New South Wales Corps — also infamously known as the Rum Corps — was formed in 1789 to take over the policing of the fledgling colony of Sydney. It’s fair to say England didn’t exactly send its best men for the job and the Rum Corps was soon running amok. You can follow in the footsteps of those early renegades of The Rocks on this fabulous walking tour. Review: Erica Enriquez

When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour

When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour. Image: Photodune

4.5 stars

When Rum Ran the Rocks Walking Tour with Sydney Urban Adventures

Step back in time on this small group walking tour of The Rocks in Sydney. Enjoy a guided stroll around the historic precinct with a local guide, and hear fascinating tales of convict and colonial capers. The tour visits three heritage pubs and includes a drink at each venue. Duration: 2.5 hours (approx.)

Best price guarantee: If you find this tour elsewhere at a cheaper price, we will beat it by 10%. Some conditions apply. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book this tour with The Big Bus tour and travel guide.

There’s a lot to see and do around Sydney Harbour.

Highlights include the beautiful Sydney Opera House, bustling Circular Quay and The Rocks historic precinct — which is where the story of modern Australia began.

When Rum Ran The Rocks is a historical walking tour of The Rocks offered by Sydney Urban Adventures. It’s part history lesson/part human-interest tale/part pub crawl. I start the tour with a vague notion of the history of European settlement of Australia, and end it with a deeper appreciation for the people who, by and large, established the city of Sydney that we know today.

When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour

The Rocks. Image: Bigstock

I meet our guide Kirsty and the rest of the tour group at Circular Quay. We head off towards the first port of call on this walking tour — the Memorial Compass in First Fleet Park. Here Kirsty gives us a rundown on what to expect during the tour. We make our way past the Museum of Contemporary Art and up the Harbour Master Steps to get a panoramic view of Sydney Harbour. We’re in luck. No cruise ship has docked for the day and we get a clear shot of the Opera House across the water with our various cameras and phones.

A statue of Governor William Bligh stands on the edge of The Rocks precinct. If you’re an Aussie doing this tour, you may remember history lessons (or the odd TV show) depicting Bligh as a somewhat questionable figure in Australia’s history. However, Kirsty’s commentary gives me a better idea of what it actually took to control the colony — particularly the infamous Rum Corps, and how it set out to depose Bligh during the Rum Rebellion of 1808.

From there, we delve deeper into The Rocks. It’s like stepping into another world. One of the most enchanting places we visit is Foundation Park, which features preserved remnants of convict houses. When Kirsty explains how many people would have lived in these homes at any given time, I’m suddenly thankful for my own modestly sized apartment!

When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour

When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour. Image: Erica Enriquez

We travel through the backstreets to The Big Dig — a colonial archaeological excavation site near the YHA hostel. Kirsty shares some details about stonemason and pardoned ex-con Richard Byrne, whose home once stood here. Built in the early 1800s, the discovery is less about the structure of the home and more about the items found inside: jars, trinkets and knick-knacks. They really humanise Byrne’s story.

Hart’s Pub is our next stop on this tour. It’s another beautiful heritage-listed building and an important site for Sydney’s beer aficionados (if you’re familiar with The Rocks Brewing Company, it started here). We settle in to enjoy a drink in an atmosphere steeped in history.

When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour

When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour. Image: Erica Enriquez

Leaving the pub, we explore the area from Observatory Hill down towards George Street. Kirsty introduces us to an alleyway that foot traffic on George Street would normally overlook. Known as the ‘Suez Canal’, it was from here that the infamous Rocks Push Gang terrorised the neighbourhood in the late 1800s. It’s a reminder that while The Rocks is now a beautiful place, it was once home to desperate people mired in crime and poverty. The antics of the Rum Corps were just the beginning!

When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour

When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour. Image: Erica Enriquez

Our When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour ends at Phillip’s Foote pub — named in honour of Captain Arthur Phillip (the first governor of New South Wales). It’s a fitting spot to raise a final glass to an incredible chapter in Australian history.

Erica Enriquez is a Sydney-based freelance writer. She travelled as a guest of Sydney Urban Adventures.

Additional images: Bigstock

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