Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Big Dig

In his program, Tony Robinson Explores Australia which is currently screening on the History Channel on Tuesday nights at 7.30pm, Tony Robinson last week visited the site of The Big Dig located in The Rocks between Cumberland and Gloucester Streets in Sydney.

Incorporated now into the Sydney Harbour YHA and The Big Dig Archaeological Education Centre, it is the largest archaeological urban development in Australia. The excavations can be viewed up close by the public from the walkway of Cribb Lane, from Cumberland Street to Cambridge Street, during daylight hours. The Sydney Harbour YHA is built on stilts to allow this public viewing.

We had not previously been there, but it is a truly fascinating place rich in Convict history.

Excavations which began in 1994 have uncovered the foundations of over forty homes and shops and some one million artifacts, giving a priceless insight into the early life of the Colony of New South Wales.

One such artifact that featured on Robinson's program was the small jar with scenes from the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava (photo at left).

The Rocks became home to many of the convicts who arrived in Sydney from 1788.

Tony Robinson told us the story of one colourful character George Cribb, convict, butcher, entrepreneur and bigamist. Having arrived in Port Jackson on 20 December 1808 on the ship, Admiral Gambier, Cribb lived on the site of the Dig from 1809 to 1828. Items excavated from his property included a butcher's filtering knife, bones and horns from slaughtered animals, fine hand-painted Chinese porcelain and a small alcoholic still.

Another resident whose house was excavated (as shown in the main photo at top) was the Irish Rebel, Richard Byrne. He arrived from County Cork (a Wicklow rebel of the 1798 Irish Uprising) on board the Minerva on 11 January 1800, with a life sentence in the Colony. He lived in the house from about 1807 with his wife, Margaret and their seven children. Two significant features identified from the house excavations were the well and the hearth.

Being a stonemason by trade, Richard Bryne would have worked on many of the early Sydney buildings of the Macquarie period.

If you are researching a convict ancestor who lived in The Rocks area, you should go the History Services NSW website at:

No comments:

Post a Comment