In 2003/2004 Casey & Lowe undertook an archaeological excavation at 50–72 Union Street, Pyrmont incorporating parts of the former Alma and Edward Streets.
The study area is located immediately alongside the natural foreshore on this side of Darling Harbour and was close to early wharves and associated industries. Historic documents showed that the area had the potential to contain remains of different types of houses indicative of the changing nature of nineteenth-century residential dwellings in Pyrmont associated with the industrial development of the suburb.
Although this part of Pyrmont was close to other areas of Sydney Harbour that were resumed for clearance following the outbreak of bubonic plague in Sydney in 1900, houses on the site were not demolished until the late 1920s. This was to make way for the construction of the Anchor Flour Mill which operated at the site until it too was demolished after it ceased operating in 1982.
Varying impacts from the construction of the flour mill meant that survival of archaeological remains differed across the site. The larger multi-roomed houses along Union Street were the best preserved. They included the remains of some of the earliest domestic structures built on the site by the owner John Kellick, who was also a builder. The archaeological program exposed the remains of three houses built by Kellick between the early 1840s and 1859. These houses were occupied by various tenants from the 1840s and 1850s through to the early twentieth century. During the final phase of occupation the houses functioned as boarding or lodging houses.
Due to twentieth century impacts upon the site, the preservation of archaeological remains varied between the properties:
- Houses 64 and 66 Union Street both contained small areas of underfloor deposits from the basement level rooms. The front part of the houses lay just outside the excavation area but each house had a smaller external structure (identified as the kitchen) at the back of the main building. These areas contained the most substantial underfloor deposits and provided an insight into the daily routines and lifestyles of the occupants. Remains of well-built stone footings, a fireplace, underfloor drainage, floor, wall and yard surfaces were identified, planned and recorded.
- Little remained of the house at No. 62 Union Street apart from the sandstone footings of two basement rooms and a partial yard surface. Most of the smaller working-class houses along Edward and Alma Streets had been badly impacted by the flour mill buildings and silos leaving no intact remains. The only features that survived in this northern end of the site were three sub-surface cesspits, each containing significant quantities of artefacts:
- 38/40 Edward Street contained a double sandstone cesspit located on the boundary between the two houses. This cesspit contained the largest quantity of artefacts of all three cesspits.
- 31/33 Alma Street also had a stone cesspit which had been constructed directly on the bedrock.
- 35/37 Alma Street was a similar structure to the cesspit at 31/33 Alma Street.
A large quantity of artefacts was recovered during the archaeological investigation. These were concentrated in underfloor deposits in the kitchens at Nos 66 and 64 Union Street. The date range of artefacts from these deposits indicates a gradual accumulation of materials over the entire occupation period of the houses, from the mid and late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century.
Detailed analysis of the artefacts and their distribution within the houses reveal to us aspects of the lifeways of the occupants of these houses.
The largest number of items from the cesspits came from the Edward Street cesspit fill. The presence of conjoining artefacts throughput the deposit indicated a primary deposit of direct household refuse which was used to backfill the cesspit. This would have happened after its abandonment as a water closet c.1870-1880 and prior to the introduction of citywide rubbish removal.
Although none of the artefacts could be linked directly to any particular individuals or families who occupied the houses, each of the artefact assemblages contained items typical of objects found on domestic working-class urban sites in Sydney. They provide an insight into the diet, health, activities, interests and gender of household occupants and are a direct link with life in this working-class neighbourhood of Pyrmont during the second half of the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century.
Work on the site was undertaken on behalf of Charter Hall Holdings.
Photographs and plans in the attached reports are from NSW State Records, the City of Sydney Archives, the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, and various individual cited publications.
Information leaflet :Archaeological Program for 50-72 Union Street, Pyrmont