51-53 Kirribilli Avenue

Photo c 1865 by R. Hunt showing the original Greencliffe. Macleay Museum, University of Sydney.

The Project

‘Greencliffe’ occupied one of the best vantage points along the harbour foreshores, immediately adjacent to the Harbour Bridge and opposite Sydney Cove.  The building, with its combination of 1880s Italianate and 1920s architecture, was obvious to anyone using the harbour or walking in the vicinity.  Casey & Lowe were contracted by Bruce Swalwell Architects to undertake the archaeological excavation of the property prior to the commencement of the redevelopment and before the building’s demolition. The archaeological investigation was to focus on two areas: under the floor level of the existing building, the
floorboards having been removed, concentrating on that part of the building thought to be part of the 1860s cottage; and in the north-west corner of the property where an 1860s timber building had stood. The excavation proper commenced on 28th January and ran eighteen working days until 22nd February.

Historical Background

Greencliffe was built in the 1860s on land first used by James Milson and until its subdivision in 1858 used for agricultural purposes. A substantial one and two storey sandstone cottage the house was one of the first in the local area. Built by a widow, Mrs Mary Paul, it was oriented south, looking over the harbour towards Sydney Cove.

The house’s subsequent history was one of radical change which has not been properly documented. Sometime between its construction c1864 and 1879, another wing was built against the eastern side of the cottage. In 1884 substantial Italianate-style additions were built around the original cottage and in the 1920s the whole building was substantially rebuilt when it was turned into flats. Although parts of the western half of the original house survived it was nearly totally enclosed within the later development. This building sequence replaces the earlier architectural analysis which judged the post 1864 extension to be the original section of the house and thought that what was actually the earlier section had been added on in the 1880s.



The archaeological work attempted to record the remains of what was left of the original house and as much of what had been assessed as the 1880s extension as possible. This was done by clearing the underfloor spaces. As it turned out these areas seem to have been cleared out previously, probably around the turn of the century. Few deposits could be dated to the nineteenth century. The house’s construction stages though were recorded in some detail. While the excavation did not provide decisive evidence to suggest the architectural interpretation of the house was incorrect it did add new evidence, such as also dating the southwest corner of the house to the initial building stage. While this was accurate it is suggested that there was no possibility of this being extrapolated into the real interpretation, i.e. that this was actually the older part of the house, while what had been analysed as the older part was in reality a later extension.

Near the northwest corner of the property the site of a small weatherboard cottage was excavated. It had been hoped that the artefactual remains found here could be compared to the artefacts expected to be found inside the main house. The remains in this area, however, were poorly preserved and it was not possible to distinguish either the exact position of the house or deposits relating to its occupation.

The main result of the archaeological program was to elucidate the various architectural stages of the house. More of the building’s fabric was available for inspection and therefore for recording. Amore complete picture of the house’s development could be made.

Photo of Room 17, looking south
Photo of Room 17, looking south, with key.


Bruce Swalwell Architects on behalf of Greencliff Developments Pty Ltd


The photos used in this report are by Casey & Lowe. The photo of Greencliffe House is from the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney.


51-53 Kirribilli Avenue