Archaeological excavations were undertaken by Casey & Lowe on behalf of Lendlease from 2017 to 2019 at the 182 George & 33-35 Pitt Streets site, currently known as Circular Quay Tower. It is contained by Underwood Street to the south, Pitt Street to the east and George Street to the west
British occupation of New South Wales commenced at Sydney Cove in January 1788 in part due to the presence of a fresh water source, a small river that would become known as the Tank Stream. It was the Tank Stream that provided life to the early colony in addition to demarking space between the convicted and the free. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries land grants were come place and LLCQT occupies land originally granted to James Underwood, an emancipated convict, and George Johnston, the eventual Colonel of the New South Wales Corps.
Underwood used his land for shipbuilding. Despite having no prior experience in this industry prior to arriving in the colony, he successful laid the keel of the first private ship, the Contest in 1798. His boatyard grew in size and repute throughout the early decades of the 19th century with Underwood becoming involved in a multitude of business ventures including whaling, and rum distilling. He increased the size of his grant by 1807 by reclaiming land up to the Tank Stream providing a better area for his ships to be launched. Following his death, the land within the study area was developed although owner ship remained contested to such an extent that it required an act of parliament to resolve. Various industrial and commercial properties were built of brick and stone, taking advantage of a location close to the hub of the Semi-Circular quay. By the turn of the 20th century, large parts of Underwood’s original grant had become commercialised with Nock & Kirby utilising large parts in addition to Stanway chambers on Pitt Street, the head office of reputable merchants Crane & Sons.
George Johnston initially took much less interest in his grant, to the north of Underwood’s. Despite this the property still became largely developed in the 1810s and 1820s. By the 1840s, George Street was fronted by a selection of large brick and stone dwellings and businesses. On Johnston’s grant a successful barrel making factory (cooperage) was founded before 1845 and continued to flourish. A series of tenement buildings to house the poor of Sydney were also built. The configuration of buildings within the property constantly evolved throughout the 19th century with structures of stone wood and brick barely surviving a decade before the remodelling of space occurred anew. A series of shops graced the more permanent structures along George Street with restaurants, tobacconists, butchers, confectioners and others all leasing the commercial premises at one time or another. One of the most enduring of which was the Blue Anchor Hotel, which remained in operation for close to 100 years and eventually gave its name to the lane that runs along Jackson’s on George.
Area A corresponds to the land originally occupied by James Underwood from around 1796 onwards. The archaeological resource at the eastern end of Area A was found to have been impacted by multiple phases of 20th century construction. Impacts from the early 20th century Underwood Garage were found in Area A.
Due to the site’s proximity to the Tank Stream a special focus was placed on the recovery of information relating to the 1788 landscape. This included detailed recording of sections, sampling of extensive shell beds, digital survey of sandstone topography and the recovery of samples for geochemical, archaeobotanical and palaeoenvironmental analysis. Samples for a pioneering geoarchaeological coring program were also recovered.
At the eastern end of the site an approximately 2.6m deep trench was excavated from the lowest historical archaeology levels down to the sandstone bedrock. Beneath the lowest levels of reclamation washed in bands of alluvial silts and bleached harbour sands were found in alternating layers, indicative of a combination of riverine and coastal activity. A thick deposit of sand (approximately 1m deep) was found below this which contained increasingly large amounts of broken, crushed marine shell.
Investigations of the upper 1-2m of archaeology in 2018, revealed the sandstone footings of three mid-19th-century buildings which were exposed and recorded across the western half of the 10-12m wide area along Underwood Street. These structures represented the development of various separate properties along Underwood Street from the early 1850s until the early 1900s.
Large volumes of imported fill material were found to cover the site area above all these features. . The use of imported fills to raise and level ground is common practice in Sydney, particularly in areas where land is being reclaimed, as in the banks of the Tanks Stream, Circular Quay and Darling Harbour.
Towards the centre of the area substantial remains found included sandstone flagged floors and a collapsed slate roof. Historically, this structure is believed to have been used as a dairy. The sandstone flooring on the western part of the structure was sunken below the surrounding ground level which is interpreted as being an attempt to regulate lower temperatures for milk processing/storage. The eastern part of the structure had a widespread slate deposit, likely a collapsed roof that was later reused as damp-proofing. Beneath the slate, further sandstone flooring was found
Area B is within the southeast corner of the land originally granted in 1796 to George Johnston.
Preliminary analysis of the deposits in this area indicated three chronologically distinct periods; 1788-1830, 1830-1855 and post 1855. Multiple parts of different buildings were found including:
- Wooden walls, floors, fencelines, and walkways
- Sandstock brick cesspits
- Areas of brick and sandstone paving
- Numerous ditches, post holes and other features in the lower levels
- Multiple sandstone footings relating to structures on the 1855 Trigonometrical Plan of Sydney such as poorly constructed tenement buildings and cooperage workshops
- Yard surfaces made up of industrial waste and partially buried barrel-lined pits
- Sandstock brick cesspits
- Post-1855 brick pavements along Crane Lane and modification to earlier structures
The photos used in this report are by the Casey & Lowe excavation team. The 1822 plan is from State Records. Other images in the preliminary report are from the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW.