Darling Quarter

Map of Darling Harbour in 1865. The site outline is in red and the basement excavation is in blue. Area 8 is the workers’ housing and Area 9 is Barker’s mill.

The Project

Excavations at Darling Quarter were undertaken by Casey & Lowe Pty Ltd between October 2008 and April 2009. The project team consisted of around 40 professional archaeologists. Comber Consultants undertook the Aboriginal archaeological work in consultation with The Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.

Historical Background

Most of the site was originally below the high water mark. Early industry established at Cockle Bay included flour mills and slaughterhouses. What became Barker’s Mill were established in the 1820s, the second steam mill in the colony. Cockle Bay was renamed Darling Harbour in 1828. Reclamation of the foreshore began in the late 1830s resulting in substantial wharfage by the 1860s. Industrial development continued through the 19th century and important industries such as PN Russell Foundry in the vicinity. Due to the Bubonic plague parts of the area was resumed in 1900. During the 20th century the site was home to the Fresh Fruit & Ice Co., Darling Harbour Goods Yard railway station, Miller & Harrison’s Timber Yard and NSW Fruit Exchange.

The workforce of PN Russell & Co., engineers and iron founders, in the early 1870s. SLNSW, ML SPF/504, digital order no. a089504.


The large area excavated uncovered the remains of significant archaeological structures and events. These include:

  • Evidence for the rocky nature of the early shoreline and natural shell deposits.
  • Remains of an Aboriginal shell midden (excavated by Comber Consultants).
  • A c1820s slipway from the shore into the harbour. This was built with roughly worked logs and was c8m in length (Area 6).
  • Timber fences associated with Captain Brooks’ slaughterhouse and lands dating to the 1820s/1830s (Area 7).
  • Remains of Barker’s ‘finger wharf’. This was a substantial sandstone structure that dated to the mid 1820s sections of which survived beneath more than a metre of fill (Area 6).
  • Partial remains of Barker’s mill pond (1820s) and yard. Long timbers and clay were used to construct the mill pond. After it silted up it was levelled with fill containing municipal rubbish in the 1860s (Area 9).
  • Evidence of extensive reclamation dating from the late 1830s and 1840s across the whole area.
  • Workers’ housing constructed from the 1840s to 1860s. The remains of 10 houses were investigated along with their associated footings, underfloor deposits, cesspits and yard deposits (Area 8).
  • Remains of a house and other buildings associated with Hughes’ Soap and Candle Manufactory at Murphy’s Wharfage dating from the later 1840s (Area 7).
  • Remains of the PN Russell boiler house built in 1869 and a crane base associated with the Carriage Works (Area 5).

Archaeological deposits from the excavation yielded 240 archive boxes of artefacts and samples. Important assemblages from the site include:

  • Marine shells, including cockles, from the harbour prior to and during the early years of European settlement.
  • Timber samples from the slipway, mill pond and ‘finger wharf’.
  • Shoes and other leather items from an 1840s or 1850s deposit within reclamation fills.
  • Municipal rubbish used to level areas of the site in the 1860s.
  • Numerous household items such as buttons, pins, clay pipe fragments and animal bones from the underfloor spaces of 5 workers’ houses dating from the 1840s to 1880s.
  • Domestic rubbish from the 1870s backfills of two cesspits.
Area 7 during the excavation looking northwest.
Fences in Area 7 associated with Captain Brooks’ slaughterhouse.
Excavation of 7 houses in Steam Mill Street in Area 8.
Darling Harbour was initially called Cockle Bay. A thick layer of cockle shells was found in the harbour sands in Area 7.


The site is being developed by Lend Lease Development. The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority is the owner of the site.


Photos included in this report were taken by Casey & Lowe staff and by Russell Workman, professional photographer. Historic images were sourced from Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, State Records of NSW, City of Sydney, and Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.

Final Report

The final archaeological investigation report for Darling Quarter is a six volume report outlining the results of Australia’s largest urban excavation.

Volume 1: the executive summary and introduction (1), historical background (2), synthesis of the archaeological investigation (3), artefact overview (4) and response to research questions (5). Volume 2: subsidiary reports 1, has the trench reports by the supervisors. Volume 3: subsidiary reports 2, are the specialist and artefact reports. Volume 4: site plans and Harris matrices and a key group of interpretative plans and graphics. Volume 5: appendices are registers and historical appendices and tales for Vol. 1, Section 4. Volume 6: the Artefact Catalogue in Excel files.

The principal authors of this report are: Abi Cryerhall, Mike Hincks, Rowan Ward and Robyn Stocks. Other members of excavation, cataloguing and reporting team include: Nick Harrop, Amanda Dusting, Nick Pitt, Jill Miskella, Sandra Kuiters, Jeanne Harris, Melissa Carter and Melanie Fillios. The online version of this report supersedes the printed version and all quoting of this report should be from the online version not the printed copies.

Volume 1: Main Report

Volume 2: Trench & Sample Report

Volume 3: Artefact & Specialist Reports

Volume 4: Site Plans & Harris Matrices


Darling Quarter