The first grant of land on the peninsula was 30 acres to George Whitfield in 1796. This became the original Birchgrove. In 1800, a further 550 acres was granted to William Balmain, a surgeon on the First Fleet. Balmain did not use the land and sold it to John Gilchrist in 1801 for five shillings. Due to a dispute with Balmain’s heirs, development did not occur until 1853 when Gilchrist was able to subdivide the area.
The Balmain Watch House at 179 Darling Street was built in 1854 as a police lockup to the design of Edmund Blackett. It was a single storeyed building with 2 cells. In 1881 as the population grew with the expansion of Balmain’s waterfront industries, it was extended to its present form providing accommodation for local sargeant. 1887 saw a new police station built further up Darling St but the Watch House remained as an overnight lockup and policeman’s residence until the 1920s. In the late 1920s it became solely the residence of the policeman and his family. Sargeant Ira Gray, and his family lived there from 1930 to 1947. By 1965 after various tenants had departed, it was unused, in a sorry state and slated for demolition. By this time the Balmain Association had formed and with the support of the National Trust appealed for its preservation. It now reflects the Association’s efforts to preserve our heritage.
The Association has its headquarters in the Watch House, a National Trust building leased to and maintained by the Balmain Association. The Watch House is available as an exhibition space for art, sculpture, pottery and crafts.