Archaeological Management and Consulting Group

Aegis Heritage Pty Ltd T/A

ACN 121 655 020


(02) 9568 6093


(02) 9639 4531


(02) 4929 7583


(03) 6243 1144

ONE circular quay

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 arrived under the command of Governor Phillip. These landings were the some of the earliest interactions between Aboriginal Australians and Europeans and have become foundational to our shared history and the present relationship 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 - the 1 Alfred Street study site falls partly on the intertidal zone of the old Tank Stream which was the first source of fresh water for Sydney.

Despite British colonisation and the intense land clearing and development of the 18th and 19th centuries, Sydney Cove remained a culturally important place for Aboriginal communities in that era as well as being an important location for camping, hunting and fishing grounds. In the latter 19th and 20th centuries, as Sydney Cove became a busy port, its land was reclaimed around the foreshore and Circular Quay was constructed. That former natural landscape has been lost but Aboriginal people today maintain an unbroken and ongoing connection with the City 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 area now 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 he was known for the active role he played in suppressing the convict uproar at Vinegar Hill in 1804. Johnston initially used the land as a market garden . From 1788-1845, the study site was characterised by mud flats. From the 1790s, buildings appeared nearby but higher up the slope, away from the mud flats, in the locations now fronting George street. After Johnston, the land was granted by Governor Brisbane to Johnston’s daughters, Julia, Maria and Blanche Johnston.

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In the mid-19th century, the study site fronting George Street consisted of two single storey buildings, as well as a two-storey shop, store and dwelling with a large yard. This corresponded with the trading hub that wider George Street became with the increase in mercantile and colonial trade generated by the arrival of nearby ships and wharves.

By 1865, additional masonry buildings were constructed south of the stores. The George Street frontage of the site was also occupied by two storey shop premises by Gee Ick Importers, and Loon Cheong Cabinet Makers. Way Key and Co Importers were well known Chinese merchants and built 3 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, a six-storey brick warehouse building, had previously been occupied by Bacon and Co Ltd photo engravers built in c.1914.The building was sold 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 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 scoping document for the physical investigations at the site as well as consider compliance and heritage management for the nearby State Significant Tank Stream.

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.


Archaeological Monitoring

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 have been excavated so far in the location of the former Rugby Club on the site's southern boundary. In that area, archaeologists believe they have reached the rear yard of Dawsn's Iron Foundry - which is both Sydney and Australia's first Iron Foundry. More to come!

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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. As this area was historically a mudflat, this sandstone feature is interpreted as a jetty or path created as a means of having dry ground to traverse the mudflats, possibly allowing access to row boats tethered the shallow waters near the later tank stream.


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.

Sandstone box drain

Early 19th Century Sandstone Box Drain

Late Spode Copeland & Garrett Teapot
Late Spode Copeland & Garrett Teapot
Early 19th century shoes and plates
Artefacts from an early 19th century yard deposit: leather shoes, ceramic tableware and kaolin smoking pipes
Late Spode Copeland & Garrett Teapot
Late Spode Copeland & Garrett Teapot and Maker's Mark
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Archaeological Monitoring

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 have been excavated so far in the location of the former Rugby Club on the site's southern boundary. In that area, archaeologists believe they have reached the rear yard of Dawsn's Iron Foundry - which is both Sydney and Australia's first Iron Foundry. More to come!