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ONE circular quay

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One Circular Quay Archaeology

Welcome to the One Circular Quay Archaeology page! You can find all the updates on the archaeological program here but for more information about the development, please visit One Circular Quay.

The Archaeological Management and Consulting Group were commissioned by Mainland Civil to investigate and manage the Colonial and Aboriginal archaeological resource at 1 Alfred Street, Circular Quay.

Site History

The Gadigal, one of 29 clans that make up the Eora Nation, are the traditional people of the Sydney area. The Gadi territory spans the south of Sydney Harbour from South Head to Petersham and to Alexandria Canal and the Cooks River. 


Captain James Cook of Britain sailed to Sydney aboard the Endeavour in 1770 and eighteen years later, in 1788, about a thousand people arrived with the First Fleet under the command of Governor Phillip. These landings were some of the earliest interactions between Aboriginal Australians and Europeans and have become foundational to both our shared history and the present relationships between Aboriginal peoples, British colonisers and settlers from many other nations since. These first contacts took place in Warrane, Sydney Cove, and its immediate surrounds including this study site. The land of the study site is also significant in this early period as it falls partly within the intertidal zone of the harbour and the former Tank Stream which was a key source of fresh water for the Gadigal in this area as well as the first source of fresh water for the colony at Sydney.

Despite the consequences of colonisation, Sydney Cove remained a culturally important place for Aboriginal communities throughout the 18th and 19th centuries as it was an important location for camping and hunting as well as a fishing ground. In the latter 19th and 20th centuries, as Sydney Cove became a busy maritime port and commercial precinct, the intertidal land was reclaimed around the foreshore and Circular Quay was constructed. Though the natural intertidal zone, Tank Stream and coastal forests were eroded away or lost beneath the city, Aboriginal people today maintain an unbroken and ongoing connection with land of Sydney. 

The First Fleet was settled at Sydney in Port Jackson by a decision of Governor Phillip’s, because of the safe anchorage, good landing place and stream of fresh water, later called the Tank Stream. The freshwater spring for the Tank Stream originated east of the marshy ground that once formed Hyde Park, the stream itself took shape in the area of King Street from whence it formed the central base of a valley with gentle slopes up to the east and west and emptied into the harbour in the area now known as Circular Quay.

The land of the study site was soon leased by the British Government to Major George Johnston. Johnston arrived with the First Fleet and was well known in the colony as commander of the Rum Corps and for the active role he played in suppressing the convict uproar at Vinegar Hill in 1804. From 1788-1845, the study site was characterised by mud flats and Johnston initially used the study site as a market garden. From the 1790s, buildings were constructed nearby the site, but higher up the slope and fronting George Street so they were elevated from the waterlogged mud flats. After Johnston, the land was granted by Governor Brisbane to Johnston’s daughters, Julia, Maria and Blanche Johnston.

Site History
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In the mid-19th century, the study site fronting George Street hosted two single-storey buildings and a two-storey shop, store and dwelling with a large yard. George Street was becoming a trading hub and this kind of development on the study site corresponded with activities taking place in the general area as mercantile and colonial trade increased with the construction of wharves nearby and the arrival of ships.

By 1865, additional masonry buildings were constructed south of the stores. At the George Street frontage of the site, a two storey shop became the premises for Gee Ick Importers and Loon Cheong Cabinet Makers. Way Key and Co Importers were well known Chinese merchants and built three new stores. Between 1865 and 1880, the three storey Peacock’s jam factory was built partially within the study site. A larger central store was built in the mid-1870s for wool broker Thomas Sutfcliffe Mort, but was later occupied by Crane and Son Hardware Merchants, who traded until the early 1900s.


A number of buildings were also constructed in the 20th century. The Gold Fields House was finished in 1966 as a commercial high rise and office. The Fairfax House was built in the 1960s as a fifteen-storey commercial office building. This area had been part of the land owned by G. E. Crane and Co hardware merchants from the 1880s. Prior to the construction of the Fairfax House, in the 1920s, the site was occupied by Carleton Chambers, the Commonwealth Bank, a restaurant and fruit shop. The Rugby Club, built in c.1914, was a six-storey brick warehouse building previously occupied by Bacon and Co Ltd photo engravers who sold it to the Rugby Union Club in 1952. Prior to this, it was part of the land owned by G. E. Crane & Co and later purchased in the 1920s by the Greater Sydney Investment Company Ltd.


Early Site Works

An Archaeological Assessment, Research Design and Methodology was prepared by Urbis in 2016. In 2017-2018, AMAC group reviewed the documentation for the site, inspected the demolition works and provided a scoping document for the physical investigations at the site as well as a consideration of compliance and heritage management for the nearby Tank Stream which is State Significant.

In 2018, core samples of the site's soil profile were collected and analysed. These provided the first hard evidence for the site's potential to retain intact archaeological remains.


Early Site Works
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Archaeological Monitoring 2019

As of November 2019, AMAC Group have attended site at 1 Alfred Street to monitor the bulk excavation for the development. Approximately 1-2 metres of 20th century and late-19th century fills were excavated from in the location of the former Rugby Club on the site's southern boundary. In that area, the archaeological team believe they have reached the rear yard of Dawson's Iron Foundry - which is both Sydney and Australia's first Iron Foundry.

Bacon & Co. - Rugby Club Phase (c.1913-2018)

The 20th century use of this area has had minimal impact on the archaeological record. The remains of this building consist of a series of 12 large concrete piers (approximately 1.4x.15m in size), consisting of a poor-quality early concrete using sandstone, brick and ceramic rubble as aggregate . These piers are substantially deep (over 2m) and are possibly founded on bedrock (at least in the west of this area). Associated with this building is a large concrete tank (2m in diameter) which sits to the north of these piers. Later, within this area north of the Rugby Club building, construction of Gold Field House has had a more substantial effect on this area with the construction of reinforced concrete piers and a large sump containing fuel tanks which have disturbed the archaeology here .


Dawson’s Foundry (1833 – early 20th century)

Evidence of the Foundry use of this area was immediately obvious below the remnant demolition material and concrete slab related to the Rugby Club. While it is known historically that this area was used throughout the early – late 19th century as the yards for the foundry, containing several sheds, the only evidence of buildings in this area was part of a sandstone foundation (cut through by the later piers), a timber post, and a sandstone crane/machine base .


As part of the use of this land by the iron foundry, a lot of foundry waste has been used to build up the ground level here and used as work surfaces . This includes a lot of slag and other metal waste and in some parts, this use has caused the ground to harden from being exposed to high temperatures. The use of the foundry saw the ground level across this area raised by 1.5-2m from 1833 to the early 20th century. This material has been excavated in three major layers, each approximately 50cm in depth, which have yielded a substantial number of artefacts, 28 tubs (27 Lt tubs) so far, with the upper layer dating to roughly the mid-late 19th century, the next layer dating to mid-19th century and the lowest layer from the early-mid 19th century. Included within these deposits were several interesting finds, including two early-mid 19th century large ceramic jars or demijohns, a ceramic flagon (with evidence of a wicker lining), a pre-1840s snuff jar . These were found along with a number of ceramic plates, beer/wine bottles, and a variety of iron objects.


In addition to the remains of the foundry, another 1830s-1840s building has been uncovered in the northeast corner of this area. This building is not marked on historic plans but consists of large sandstone foundations which have been heavily disturbed by the later Gold Field House concrete piers and sump . There is a brick drain associated with this building.


Early Use and Reclamation (1788-1833)

In the northwest corner of the site, a substantial deposit was uncovered that related to the early 19th century use of this area as the rear yard of the buildings fronting George Street. This deposit included a number of leather scraps and shoes as well as butchered cow bone suggesting that the local industries may have included a butcher and shoemaker (or possibly a tanner). These were found along with a number of early 19th century artefacts . In the northeast corner, a test pit excavated here, near the 1830s-1840s building, found an artefact rich deposit containing a significant number of convict tiles .


Across the remainder of the site, the layers associated with the foundry sit above an alluvial deposit which has only been partly exposed to date, as it is considered a deposit of high archaeological sensitivity and therefore best left buried during the closure of the site over the Christmas break. The top of the alluvial deposit, where it has been exposed, has been found to have a significant number of early 19th century historical artefacts.


Cut into this alluvial deposit is a large sandstone box drain – initially thought to be a jetty or pathway or even a fish trap. The sandstone box drain runs from west to east across the length of this area and branches in two at its eastern end. This feature is constructed of cut sandstone blocks which are unbonded and in some places appear to have been built on timber planks, possibly replacing an earlier feature. 


Natural/Prehistoric Landscape (pre-1788)

Two test pits (approximately 1.2x1.3m in size) have been excavated with the 5T excavator for the purposes of understanding the alluvial deposits, one in the western part of the site, and another in the east . In the west of the site, the pit found laminated layers of alluvial loamy sands which are indicative of the deposition of natural tidal sands. Some historical artefacts were found floating within these layers, (having migrated down from the deposits above). In this location, the natural sandstone bedrock was found below 400mm of alluvial deposit (at approximately RL 0.0).


In the east of the site, the test pit found a similar deposition of alluvial sand with floating historical artefacts were found. These deposits continued to a depth of at least RL -0.23m when the water table was reached, and excavation ceased. It is anticipated that the sandstone bedrock found in the first test pit, slopes down to the east towards Pitt Street.

Field Work 2019
Sandstone box drain

Early 19th Century Sandstone Box Drain

Archaeological Monitoring 2020

At the end of 2019, archaeological works had removed the bulk of material associated with Dawson’s Foundry. Works had exposed: sandstone foundations of a former building from the 1830s-1840s, a long sandstone box drain, dense artefact deposits in the west of the site and evidence of natural alluvial soils. The continuation of these works, in January and February 2020, brought to light more evidence for the early occupation of the site and how this area was utilised from first settlement until the creation of the Foundry in the 1830s.


Foundry era levelling fills were partly removed in 2019 and this process was completed in 2020 to expose an earlier phase of land reclamation fills and alluvial sand. To establish that this was a pattern of land use across the area, 16 test trenches (1mx1m in size) were manually excavated to sample this zone. All deposits excavated from test trenches were wet-sieved to maximise the retrieval of artefacts. No objects of Aboriginal heritage were uncovered during these works.


In late December 2019, 12 concrete piers for the Rugby Club (also formerly Bacon & Co.) were uncovered. In early 2020, excavation observed that the piers were founded on bedrock and therefore had extended the full depth of the archaeological profile. Also founded on bedrock (or just above) were the archaeological features located below the former passageway between the Rugby Club building and Gold Field House: the large circular concrete tank, the rectangular fuel tank sump and the reinforced concrete piers.

Field Work 2020
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Draft Site Plan

Test Trenches A-R

Red: 1830s-1840s Building

Green: Sandstone Box Drain

Blue: Retaining Wall

Orange: Brick lined drains

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1830s-1840s Building


The 1830s-1840s building and associated drain was fully uncovered and recorded. The internal space of this structure, as well as the northern half of the building, were completely disturbed by the 20th century construction of the concrete tanks and Gold Field House. The surviving portion of these foundations, approximately 4.9m x 5.6m, consisted of two-three courses of sandstone footings bonded with a thick shell-lime mortar. The sandstone footings were founded on a mixture of alluvial sand, clay and sawdust (this deposit also contained artefacts which is discussed further below). To the east of that building, was a fill which contained a high proportion of broken convict tiles. Some of the tile fragments were found embedded in the shell-lime mortar which suggested that they were used in the construction of the building.

Drains and Drainage


The long sandstone feature discovered at the end of 2019, originally considered a path or jetty, was fully exposed and cleaned in January 2020. Investigation of this feature revealed that it was in fact a sandstone box drain that ran the length of the Rugby Club building footprint, though its western end was cut by the foundation for that building and its eastern end was heavily disturbed, presumably by events for early 19th century filling. The southern extension of the sandstone drain was used as a retaining wall and supported a sandstone rubble fill, the two possibly created a terrace along the south-eastern part of this site. This retaining wall contained a number of heavily corroded upturned iron bowl crucibles, which were considered to date the retaining wall feature to the foundry period - most likely 1830s-1850s.


The sandstone box drain was likely constructed in at least two phases: the western end used two parallel lines of recycled timber planks (some were marked in a way that indicated the removal of metal tacks, fastenings or plates. The timber section of the drain was approximately 7.2m in length and 0.3m deep. If appropriate, for later site interpretation, a portion of this part of the drain was dismantled and retained. The eastern portion of the drain, 14m long, was constructed as two rows of upright sandstone slabs packed with sandstone rubble and capped with large flat sandstone slabs. The outside of the drain was packed with a grey clay and it was entirely constructed above the natural alluvial deposits.


The sandstone box drain most likely dates to the 1830s use of this land by Dawson’s Foundry. The sediment inside the drain contained slag (waste from metalworking) along with quite a number of corks. A blacking bottle was also recovered from the packing clay and was dated to 1817-1834 which also suggested that the drain was established by the Foundry (Figure 13).


Drainage was clearly an persistent issue for those working at this site in the early 19th century. Two brick box drains were also uncovered at the very west of this area and they predated the larger sandstone box drain. Only a small portion of these drains survived and very few artefacts were recovered from their sediments. It is likely that the brick drains were a failed attempt at draining into the mudflats which formed part of the early natural landscape here. It is likely these drains silted up quickly and required the construction of the much larger sandstone box drain which crossed the mudflats and transported the wastewater further away to drain into the deeper waters of the harbour.



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Box Drain - Orthophotos

Orange: Brick lined drains.

Green: Retaining wall

Blue: Timber walls of box drain.

Red: Sandstone walls of box drain.

a. Sandstone capping in place.

b. Sandstone capping stones (and part timber) removed.

Early Use and Reclamation (1788-1833)


A significant quantity of sawdust and waste timber was found in the soils across the site, but was most concentrated in the northwest corner and along the site's east. These deposits also contained a high number of leather shoes and leather offcuts and a significant number of blacking bottles and butchered bone – waste items all suggesting a shoemaker and a butcher operated in the vicinity. Thus the early land reclamation of the mudflats  was assisted by incidental dumping of waste by local commercial and industrial businesses.

These early land reclamation deposits and the natural alluvial sands were archaeologically sampled in several test pits. The artefacts collected from test pits have provided significant data for how the mudflats were used during the early days of the settlement at Sydney. Most artefacts were found in the upper deposits though these also included a large volume of organic material. Organic material included natural remains such as fish scales and bones (as expected for an estuarine environment) but also peach pips, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and bone which were deposited as artefacts as result of human activity. The survival rate of the organic material was high due to the anaerobic nature of the alluvial soil. Also found were fragments of a variety of early 19th century ceramics, glass bottles, smoking pipes and bricks. Artefacts also included a carved timber identification tag (reads: ‘IS’ or ‘SI’) large quantities of rope and hessian netting (Figure 17). Several of the test pits also observed timber posts (or stakes) which had been pushed into the natural alluvial sand. Though the posts did not present a discernible pattern, they may have once formed early fence lines, temporary moorings or tide marks  (Figure 16).


The natural alluvial soil consisted of layers of pale grey sand and clayey sand which became paler and sandier with increased depth. Some historical artefacts were found within these layers but most likely they settled there after sinking down through the loose, sandy soil profile. Where the alluvial sands were test excavated, it was clear that they sat above an extensive deposit of natural shells which formed the seabed. The shell deposit was directly above the natural sandstone bedrock which was at its highest level in the west and sloped down dramatically to the east. Archaeological monitoring of bulk excavation was able to expose bedrock in the west, however, as bedrock sloped down to the east, excavation discovered the water table at RL -0.5m. Once the water table was exposed, at approximately the top of the natural shell bed, archaeological monitoring ceased. 

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Future Archaeological Management


As of 21st February 2020, all archaeological deposits were removed from the footprint of the former Rugby Club and no further archaeological fieldwork is required within that area. Based on the results of the archaeological investigations within the Rugby Club building, it is likely that the alluvial sand deposits will also survive in the location of the former Fairfax House. Even though this area was truncated by the Fairfax House basement, there is still potential for unexpected archaeological finds, especially within the area adjoining the Tank Stream, at the Pitt Street side of the site. Therefore, works in that location will constitute Phase 2 of the archaeological programme at this site.

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