Fort Phillip – Observatory Hill

Children's games and toys from courtyard context 7804. Left-right: plastic triceratops dinosaur from a McDonalds Happy Meal made by Disney Manufacturing #68189, machine-rolled clay marble #68187 and hand-painted porcelain teaset sugarbowl made in Japan #68188, cm scale.


The archaeological investigation of Fort Phillip was undertaken by the Government Architect’s Office and Casey & Lowe Pty Ltd between 2008 and 2010. The archaeological work was undertaken in advance of proposed landscaping around the Signal Master’s Cottage and aimed at furthering understanding of this important site and Sydney’s early history so that it can be permanently displayed and interpreted to the public and protected for future generations.

The excavation program revealed substantial, intact foundations of the Fort (built in 1804-1806) and a bomb-proof chamber as well as military-related and domestic artefacts. Many of the artefact deposits relate directly to use of the fort between its construction in 1804-6 and its demolition in the mid 1850s, providing not only evidence of life at the Fort, but also the timing of structural changes to the bombproof. Some of the artefacts are rare and significant, particularly a collection of flints demonstrating both sources of flint importation to the colony in its early years as well as on-site flint manufacturing.

Partly bipolar core on large flake to make spall gun flints and possibly reused as strike-a-light. Mottled grey-black flint with coarser light grey-brown zones. . Flake poss. removed during main core refurbishment. English flint. Cat. #81915. Photo Casey & Lowe


The remnant stonework blocks from the walls of the bomb-proof have slightly curved faces, indicating the room had a barrel roof within the fort wall. Remnants of the bomb-proof’s early plaster floor also survived along with the original doorway to the room and evidence of its infill in the 1820s.

Possible evidence of the Fort’s ditch was found in a test trench sunk adjacent to the exterior rampart. Other finds included: an area of sandstone paving at the ground floor entrance to the Signal Master’s Station and another next to the Messenger’s Cottage; a section of brick drainage next to the Signal Master’s Cottage annexe; and an original anchor point for the northern flagstaff.

The archaeological findings provide information that is not available in any written records about the original design and construction of the fort, its adaptation as a signal station and the lives of the people stationed there. The bomb-proof and fort footings appear to be the earliest of their kind to be found in Australia.


Probably the most significant artefacts found during the 2008-2010 excavations at Fort Phillip were a series of French and British gunflints. A total of 16 gunflints were found. The flints were used in flintlock weapons that fired iron or lead shot such as rampart guns, muskets, rifles or pistols. These were in common usage by the British military from c1625 and were superseded in 1832 by the invention of the percussion cap and friction match although they remained in use by the military until 1843. Different weapons used different sized gunflints and flints were also often carried around by soldiers to light fires, going by the name “strike-a-lights”.


NSW Department of Services, Technology & Administration


The photos used in this report are by Casey & Lowe and the Government Architect’s Office.


Gunflints & Grapeshots

Flintlock firing mechanism (Kenmotsu 1990 Fig. 3)

Fort Phillip – Observatory Hill




Observatory Hill -The Rocks