Monday, November 25, 2013

A True Convict Relic

In the Daily Telegraph of 17 October 2013, there appeared the story of centenarian, Ernest Bowden who recently presented a 'convict brick' to the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. It is now on display at The Rocks Discovery Museum.

With the distinctive 'broad arrow', signifying 'government manufacture', it would be a true relic of the convict days of the early Colony.

Convict brick on display at the Rocks Discovery Museum,
 Sydney. Photo taken 21 November 2013.
Thle brick had come into Ernest's possession through his father, Rrobert Bowden, who was the official government photographer covering the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It had been given to Robert by Dr John Bradfield, Chief Engineer on the Bridge. The brick was found during demolition work on the Dawes Point Battery in The Rocks, Sydney, at the time of the construction of the Bridge. 

The history of Dawes Point, under the southern pylon of Harbour Bridge, is a story in itself. It has many layers dating back to 1789 when it became the site of Sydney's first fortification, through to the construction of the Bridge in 1925-1932, and to today's parkland.

In searching though newspaper articles at the time of construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, through the resources of TROVE (online information service of the National Library of Australia) we can piece together the typical finds of convict relics in the vicinity of Dawes Point:

Convicts Bricks and Stones
"To the opulent collection of relics of old Sydney, yielded by excavations for the harbour bridge, there was added yesterday a battered brick, found at Dawes Point, and was made probably more than 100 years ago. It was  in fair condition,[and] bore the broad-arrow imprint.............
Dr Bradfield says the brick probably came from the old water police court at Dawes Point which had to make way for the bridge approaches, and which was built from the materials in the fort and observatory put up at the point from the earliest days of the colony."
[Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 13 August 1931 page 8].

Was this Ernest's Brick?

"From this building he [Dr Bradfield] had [also] recovered an old sandstone block in which were rudely chiseled the figure 1789, and the initials R.R.- those of Major Robert Ross, the first Lieutenant-Governor, who came out in the first fleet. This stone, which Dr Bradfield gave to the Royal Historical Society, is claimed to be the first quarried for a Sydney building".
[Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 13 August 1931 page 8]

Stone bearing the imprint of 1789 and the initials 'R R'
on display at the Rocks Discovery Museum, Sydney.
 Photo taken 21 November 2013.
This stone is also on show at The Rocks Discovery Museum now on loan from the Mitchell Collection of the NSW State Library.

A photograph of it and other stones obtained during the excavation work for the Harbour Bridge was published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday, 15 August 1931, page 14.

Sydney Morning Herald, 15 August 1931, page 8.
Photo from Daily Telegraph article 17 October 2013
A Dungeon
"Another link with the past was removed yesterday when employees of the Public Works Department dislodged the stone foundations of the old Dawes Point fortifications. A flight of steps led to three dark, dungeon-like chambers. Ventilation was supplied by means of a six-inch earthenware pipe leading to the surface. It was stated that the basement was one used for confining incorrigible convicts..........." 
[Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 25 February 1932 page 13].

Wooden Pipes
"Workmen engaged in making excavations near Wynyard-square for the supports for the approaches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, discovered yesterday some old pipes which are believed to have been made by convicts when Port Jackson was a penal settlement. They were located near a disused well some 30 to 38 feet below the present surface of the street. They appeared to be hollowed from limbs and stems of trees, probably ironbarks, and were in a fair state of preservation...............They created considerable interest, and were inspected by Dr J.J.C. Bradfield , chief engineer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge".
[Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 11 March 1927, page 11].

A Tombstone
"Another a tombstone found when workmen were demolishing a row of houses to make way for the northern approaches to the bridge. It was apparently an ordinary paving stone in a yard over which generations of children had scampered. But when  it was turned over it was found to bear the inscription 'Sacred to the memory of Peter Crawford, first officer of the ship Surrey, who died of typhoid fever, 1806'. The Surrey, Dr Bradfield said, was a convict ship".
[Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 13 August 1931 page 8]

A Pump
" One relic of definite historic value consists of a portion of a pump for a well sunk in 1828 of 1829 by that early pioneer, John Busby, and uncovered at the Wynyard -square excavations. There is a section of a wooden pipe, about nine inches square, and made of ironbark, through the centre of which is bored longitudinally a hole four inched in diameter, and there is is also the lifting bucket, the lifting shaft, and a clack valve of lead and leather...".[Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 13 August 1931 page 8]

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

If you are researching a convict ancestor who was assigned to the Dawes Point, you should go to our website at:

Blog prepared by Mary McGuinness

I refer you to Trove's newspaper collection which includes digitised historic and modern newspapers which are accessible on line, as well as newspapers in microform and paper formats. Go to the website:

Photos taken on site at The Rocks Discovery Museum, 21 November 2013.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nelson Head - Inner Light

View of Nelson Head Light Tower and Lightkeepers cottage
 - view facing north October 2013
" Harbour Light, Nelson Head, Port Stephens. On and after the night of Monday, 1st April, a harbour light will be exhibited on Nelson Head, Port Stephens, visible at a distance of from 8 to 10 miles in clear weather................When Nelson Head is passed the light will again make out bright and be a guide for picking up anchorage or proceeding further into Port Stephens."

So appeared this notice in the Government Gazette of 28th March 1872, issued from the Office of the Superintendent of Pilots, Lights and Harbours in Sydney.

Nelson Head is situated between Shoal Bay and Nelson Bay, New South Wales on the southern shore of Port Stephens.

The need for an 'inner light' became obvious after the commissioning of the 'outer light' on Point Stephens, to guide vessels around the actual entrance to the port which has many close-in islands, rocky reefs and shoals.

The first light in 1872 was beamed from a wooden tower with four kerosene lamps. This was replaced in 1876 by a one storey octagonal tower which was attached to the lightkeepers residence which was completed in that year.

Nelson Head Lighthouse tower attached to cottage
 view looking eastward - October 2013
The light was electrified in June 1948, when externally mounted electric lamps replaced the original lamps. The controls remained inside the Light Room.

In 1984 the lighthouse was fully auotmated with the lights being mounted in a black box on a corner of the roof together with electronic controls.

In 1995, the light was relocated to a masthead atop the radio base which had been built over a Second World War observation bunker situated just below the lighthouse. It was solar powered at this time. The light was decommissioned in 2003.

View of lighthouse rooms and Marine Rescue NSW
Communications Centre - October 2013
Today the lighthouse cottage and reserve are managed by Marine Rescue NSW incorporating the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol, which first set up a communication centre on Nelson Head in 1982.

On Sunday, 3 November 2013, Marine Rescue Port Stephens, celebrated the official opening of its refurbished Communications Centre on Nelson Head. The radio and communications hub has undergone a major upgrade from analogue to digital radio capability. 

Today the site boasts the Inner Light Tearooms and Lighthouse Cottage Museum, and is a major tourist attraction in the Port Stephens area, with magnificent views over Shoal Bay, Mts Tomaree and Yacaaba and the entrance to the port. It is definitely worth a visit.

Historyy Services NSW in its Government Contract and Contractors Database has records of eighty-six government contracts awarded for the construction and repair of lighthouse premises NSW up to 1900 including: 
  • Erection of Lighthouse Keepers Quarters, Nelson Head Port Stephens -1875 to H McMaster;
If you would like further information, go to our website at:

Prepared by Mary McGuinness

All photos taken  October 2013.