Leichhardt Council redeveloped the site at 2-8 Weston Street as a public recreational area linking Council-owned parks to the north and south. The site is associated with Balmain’s maritime past. During the mid to late 19th century, the site was the location for two boat-builders. John Bell’s shipwright’s yard operated from 1840 to the early 1880s, and Francis Hayes’ boatyard operated from the 1870s to the 1890s. At the end of the 19th century, the site became the location of J. Fenwick & Co., a prominent tug and water boat company. The site contains the J. Fenwick & Co. Boat Store, which is listed on the State Heritage Register (SHR #01396). Prior to redevelopment, an archaeological excavation at 2-8 Weston Street, Balmain, was undertaken by Casey & Lowe in 2010.
A survey from 1788 marks Balmain East as “Ross’s Farm”. This land became part of the official 550 acre grant by Governor Hunter to Dr William Balmain in 1800. He quickly transferred this property to Professor John Hay Gilchrist in the following year. In 1836, the property was subdivided into 22 lots for sale. This site did not appear to have been utilised by any of its owners until after it was subdivided for a second time in 1840.
From this point on, the site, and its immediate environs, was used for several purposes throughout the rest of the 19th and most of the 20th century. Most importantly, it was used for maritime-related industry. However, there was residential occupation along the street frontage, and commercial activity associated with the Shipwright’s Arms to the northwest of the site.
From the mid 1840s to the end of the century, Bell’s shipwright yard occupied the northern part of the site. Shipbuilding was also the main activity for the southern part, with Hayes, also a boatbuilder, being the occupant from the 1870s to 1890s. With a change in ownership in the late 19th century, the northern part of the site was redeveloped as the base for the tug operator, Fenwick & Co. This also continued the site’s association with maritime industry.
The original landscape
The site sloped from west to east to the shoreline. There was some naturally flat platforms and terracing. The natural landscape was modified during the latter half of the 19th century to accommodate the needs of the shipbuilding business located here.
John Bell’s shipyard (1840 to early 1880s)
The archaeology included the remains of a timber shed or workshop constructed in the 1840s and demolished by 1875. Numerous copper alloy boat nails and other vessel-related artefacts were found in association with this structure. Both clinker and carvel-hulled vessels were built and repaired in this yard.
Francis Hayes’ boatyard (1870s to 1890s)
The archaeology included the remains of a timber shed or workshop with some stone structural elements. Numerous copper alloy boat nails and other vessel-related artefacts were also found in association with this building. These artefacts were a mixture of salvaged and un-used boat fastenings. It appeared that small clinker-hulled vessels were constructed/repaired in this boat yard.
J. Fenwick & Co. (1880s to 1960s)
Fenwick & Co., a tug and water boat business, purchased Bell’s shipyard in the early 1880s, and expanded to include the former Hayes’ boatyard in 1937. The stone boat store and retaining wall was within the archaeological excavation area. No further archaeological evidence directly associated with Fenwick & Co.’s occupation of the site was found.
Houses fronting Weston Street
Artefacts associated with the houses fronting Weston Street became more frequent in the assemblage in the late 19th and early 20th century when Hayes’ boatyard and Bell’s shipyard had ceased operating. These artefacts were from fills and not distinct features such as rubbish pits.
Landscaping and filling events
Landscaping and filling occurred in the later 19th century and early to mid 20th century. These layers contained maritime-related artefacts as well as domestic-related ones, and were formed after the boat and ship building activities on site had ceased. The mixed nature of the fills demonstrates that late 19th and early to mid 20th-century development had an impact on the intactness of the earlier ship and boat building archaeological remains.
Casey & Lowe undertook this excavation for Leichhardt Municipal Council.
The maritime-related artefacts were analysed by Cosmos Coroneos, Cosmos Archaeology Pty Ltd. The artefacts were photographed by Russell Workman. Photograph source, Fenwick Holdings Limited.
Links for 2-8 Weston Street
Listing from the State Heritage Register