Barangaroo – South

  • Excavation of the underfloor deposit within an 1870s wharf building.

  • Remains of the mid 19th-century Hunter River Steam Navigation Co. timber wharf at high tide. Photo taken looking northeast towards Hickson Road.

  • The excavation areas (red) within the archaeological zone overlaid with the 1875 plan. The early 19th-century property boundaries and owners' names are indicated in green.

  • Natural sandstone shoreline below reclamation fills within Henry Bass' shipyard.

  • Remains of two phases of timber piles, associated with Breillat's wharf and jetties. Looking east.

  • Sandstone seawalls at the northeast corner of Girard's reclaimed land (1830's). Photo looking south.

The Project

Archaeological excavations at Barangaroo South were undertaken by Casey & Lowe Pty Ltd between January 2011 and August 2012. The project team consisted of around 20 professional archaeologists. Comber Consultants Ltd Pty undertook monitoring and testing for Aboriginal archaeological remains.

Historical Background

The earliest British settlement in Sydney was centred around Sydney Cove (later Circular Quay). However as the colony grew, it gradually expanded to include the eastern side of Cockle Bay (later Darling Harbour). An 1822 plan shows early subdivision along Darling Harbour’s eastern shore adjacent to the site. By the early 1830s, formal ownership of the allotments was being determined by the Court of Claims. Robert Russell’s plan of Sydney, Section 67 dated November 1834, identifies the following owners:

  • Lot 11: Richard Aspinall, Warham Jennet Browne and Edward Aspinall (granted 1835)
  • Lot 17: Henry Thomson Bass (granted 1837)
  • Lot 18 Samuel Thompson and his wife Elizabeth (granted 1834)
  • Lot 19: Edward Boulger (granted 1835)
  • Lot 5: William Macquarie Molle & others
  • Lot 20: Francis Girard

Unlike Sydney Cove, the waters of Darling Harbour were quite shallow along the shoreline. In order to provide better harbour access and facilities for their commercial activities, the early land owners reclaimed land, and built wharves and jetties. By 1834, Henry Bass and Francis Girard had extended their properties into the harbour and created more formal wharfage.

During the mid 19th century timber jetties, wharfage, warehouses and stores were constructed to service the various businesses that had been established on the waterfront. By the 1870s, most of the site was known as the Grafton Wharf. During the later 1870s and early 1880s the whole area underwent redevelopment, with a range of stone and brick buildings erected along the northern boundary, and the construction of new jetties and warehouses along the wharf. Following the outbreak of plague in 1900, the resumption of Darling Harbour’s eastern foreshore and wharfage led to a major phase of redevelopment. By the end of the 1920s Hickson Road had been formed, new ‘rat-proof’ wharf and jetties had been constructed, and many of the Grafton Wharf buildings remodelled.

The main historical phases and occupants within the study area were:

  • Bass’ Shipyard 1832-1854
  • Girard’s Flour Mill 1832-1841
  • Breillat & Sydney Flour Company 1841-1874
  • Grafton Wharf – Smith & Challis 1854-1880
  • Grafton Wharf – Watson & Evans 1880-1900
  • Resumption, repair and renewal 1900-1950
  • Containerisation and the end of the working harbour 1950-2010


The archaeology was located within the eastern 40m of the site, on the boundary with Hickson Road. Originally, most of the site was within the harbour. Reclamation along the shoreline was undertaken by the individual land holders between the 1830s and 1850s. In general, sandstone rubble was deposited into the harbour to create a platform above the high tide level. Layers of crushed sandstone, sand and clay-rich fills with some dumps of industrial waste, were then used to consolidate and increase the ground level. At the interface with the harbour, the newly reclaimed land was retained with a variety of formal and informal sandstone seawalls. Timber wharfage and jetties were constructed as part of the reclamation process. Warehouses and stores were constructed along the wharf. There was evidence for several phases of redevelopment of the wharfage, jetties and the various wareshouses and stores between the 1850s and 1900s.

The main archaeological features and findings were as follows:

Natural Environment and Aboriginal Archaeology

  • Evidence for the original rocky shoreline.
  • There was no Aboriginal archaeological evidence.

Henry Bass’ shipyard 1830s-1850s

  • Sandstone seawall and reclaimed land that formed wharf facilities for Henry bass’ shipyard in the 1830s.
  • Informal boat ramp and structure made from irregular sandstone ‘pavers’, brick piers and timber, which was used during the 1830s, but buried by reclamation during the 1840s.
  • Cottage built on a rocky outcrop and partially on the reclaimed land and seawall. Likely constructed by the 1840s. Evidence for some period of domestic occupation. Survived until the 1880s.

Francis Girard’s reclaimed land 1830s-1840s

  • Two phases of reclamation. Reclaimed land using rubble sandstone and layers of crushed sandstone and clays. There was no formal retaining structure on the western edge. Some rough sandstone walling retained the land at the northeast and southeast.

Hunter River (later Australasian) Steam Navigation Company 1840s-1880s

  • Occupied southern half of Francis Girard’s reclaimed land from 1840s.
  • Remains of the timber wharf constructed by the 1850s consisted of timber piles and headstocks.
  • Remains of a large warehouse structure included sandstone pads to support a timber superstructure, and a substantial sandstone wall on the western harbour frontage that connected the building to the wharf structure.
  • Within the warehouse was an extensive in situ deposit of charred grains and corn, indicating that there was a warehouse fire in the later 19th century.

Breillat’s Wharf 1840s-1870s

  • A substantial sandstone seawall retained the reclaimed land. It was constructed in the 1840s and was at least 45m in length. The base of the wall was constructed on rubble fills that were located at least 1m below low tide level.
  • At the southern end of the wall were the remains of two phases of timber jetty.
  • At the northern end of this property were the remains of a structure with timber and sandstone footings. Extensive deposits of slag within the structure indicated that it may have functioned as a blacksmith’s workshop.
  • Evidence for levelling and wharf redevelopment, including additional courses to the seawall, between the 1860s and 1870s.
  • Remains of a warehouse or store building dated to the 1870s with an occupation deposit containing artefacts associated with the men who worked at the wharf.

Grafton Wharf and Early 20th Century

  • Evidence for wharf and jetty improvements such as dead man anchors.
  • Evidence for levelling and resurfacing with roughly made concrete.
  • Remains of two brick weighing stations.

Sandstone seawall constructed by Thomas Breillat in the 1840s. Phil Noller, The Moment It Clicks Pty Ltd.


Casey & Lowe undertook this excavation for Comber Consultants on behalf of Integral Energy.


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.

Links for Barangaroo South

Watch Youtube Video about Barangaroo – Celebrating the Past
Interviews with Mary Casey and Abi Cryerhall.
Uploaded November 2013, 5 minutes.

Barangaroo South Archaeological Assessment
Report by Casey & Lowe – PDF file, June 2010, 36 pages with colour maps and photos.

Aboriginal Archaeology
Report for Casey & Lowe – PDF file, June 2010, 37 pages with colour photos and maps.


Barangaroo – South


January 2011 and August 2012


Barangaroo - South