Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Convict Lumber Yard at Newcastle

 Convict Lumber Yard at Newcastle showing re-created site of the main building. 
There is a very significant piece of convict history in the heart of Newcastle, NSW. It is the Convict Lumber Yard, located just off Foreshore Park between Scott and Bond Streets at Newcastle.

The scene of an extensive archaeological dig between 1989 and 1992, the site today houses the remains of one of the oldest surviving convict work places in Australia. It also marks the birthplace of industry in Newcastle.

Sculpture depicting the Convict Lumber Yard
View looking up Bond Street

From 1804 to 1822, Newcastle was a penal settlement established for the punishment of secondary offenders. Convicts were employed in the coal, timber and lime-burning industries. An area near the government wharf at the bottom of George Street (now Watt Street) was used for storage of these materials. It became known as the Lumber Yard. A convict barracks and workshop were built on the site. 

When Newcastle became a free settlement in 1822 some convicts were retained there to work in the coal mines. The building was used as a carpenter' and wheelwright's 'shop. In 1831 when the government withdrew from coal mining, the Lumber Yard was used to house convicts employed in the building of Nobbys Breakwater which was completed in 1846. After a period in private use the building was destroyed by fire in 1851. Sand drifts covered the site so preserving the convict relics.

A walk through the site today is very interesting as the story of the Lumber Yard is re-created from the discoveries of the archaeological excavations. These showed evidence of heavy industry including tools, forges and saw pits. Sections of the lower walls of the barracks and floor paving were also uncovered. There was still some evidence of the fire. 

Approaching the site from Watt Street

The top of a well whose paving and stonework materials may have been re-used from ruined buildings of the convict era, is a prominent feature. 

Site of a well used to obtain water for  nearby cottages and 
railway premises in the 19th and 20th centuries. Brick paving and 
stonework around the well may have been re-used from
 buildings of the earlier convict period.

The remains of the footings of the Guardhouse and the Sergeant's Quarters have also been re-created and sited in steel structures.
Location of the Guard House site

Another view of the Guardhouse site
Location of the footings of the Sergeant's Quarters which 
extend into  the present Customs House site. The footings were 
uncovered  by excavation in 1992.


History Services NSW has extensive records of convicts who were assigned to the Newcastle area.

If you are researching a convict ancestor who was assigned to the Newcastle area, you should go to our website at: http://www.historyservices.com.au/convicts.htm

I also refer you to my previous blog of 28 March 2010, Governor Macquarie Visits Newcastle

Blog prepared by Mary McGuinness

All photos taken in October 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Depression Era Heritage in Thornleigh?

Sandstone hut - Thornleigh
There was a very interesting article in the October 2012 issue of the The Monthly Chronicle entitled Mysterious Stone Structures - Can you help?

It reports on the discovery by Stephen Pym, a bushland field officer, of "some interesting sandstone structures" on land leased by Scouts Australia NSW near the Baden-Powell Scout Centre in Orchard Street, Thornleigh, NSW.

We visited the site, located on a track on the southern edge of the scout land near where it adjoins the Lane Cove National Park. The track is marked by a wooden walkway just off the main perimeter track.

Indeed the site is a real historical treasure. While not being able to furnish any precise details of habitation or ownership, we can postulate that the area was at some time someone's permanent home.

Closer inspection of the "rock shelter" reveals a piped air vent and the remains of a door fitting suggesting a permanent hut for accommodation. Adjacent to the hut is an area where there is evidence of fires having been lit.

View of hut showing air vent (pipe in top left corner) and
 the evidence of a door fitting on the right hand wall entrance

Closer view of the door fitting 

Area adjacent to the hut showing evidence of fires

Also the inhabitant had obviously had made a significant attempt to landscape the area as seen in the several layers of gardens supported by retaining walls, carved out steps and innovative garden structures.

Sandstone steps 

Garden bed formed in a rock base with a shaped cement top

A wide shot of the garden bed and steps

Layered sections of garden with retaining walls
A landscape garden

On the website of the Baden-Powell Scout Centre , it states that "during the Depression, the Centre became the permanent camping site for many who were out of work, and they built the camping flats, chapel and many of the stone paths and gardens".

In previous blogs, History Services NSW has explored Depression Era Housing on Sydney Harbour (23 November 2010) and in Conscript Pass and Lorna Brand  (25 April 2011) has told the story of how the nearby Lorna Pass was built as a relief effort during the Depression.

It would be excellent if the story of the "house and garden site" in Thornleigh could be acknowledged by way of signage or a memorial to preserve its heritage.


If you are interested in researching Australian history go to our website at :

All photos taken November 2012

Blog prepared by Mary McGuinness