Dawes Point

Location: Hickson Road, Circular Quay West
Dawes Point is the western promontory at the head of Sydney Cove. The site of early colonial fortifications (some are still there and on display) and Australia's first observatory, Dawes Point is a popular place to sit on the grass and watch ships come ond go, as well as view the Harbour Bridge and its approaches from an unusual perspective - underneath. Dominating the point are the southern pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

In 1788, one of the first things Gov. Phillip did was to fortify the entrance to Sydney Cove to provide defence should there be a convict uprising as much as to engage any enemy ships that might come in close to the town in a hostile manner. He gave the task to Lieutenant William Dawes, an Officer of Engineers and Artillery on the staff of Major Robert Ross of the detachment of Marines. Dawes had impressed Phillip on the journey out with his positive, outgoing attitude, knowledge of astronomy and abilities in cartography.

Having also been entrusted with a telescope by the Astronomer Royal, Dr. Maskeleyne, for the observing of a comet that would appear towards the end of 1788 but only in the southern hemisphere, Dawes was given permission to set up his observatory on the tip of the rocky point to the west of Sydney Cove which was named in honour of Dr. Maskeleyne. Dawes then built a simple mud redoubt for the storage of explosives near the observatory.

Dawes Point Park, known as Tarra by the local Aboriginal people, is recognised as the site of the colony's first attempts at an understanding of this country's original inhabitants. Interpretive panels have been installed to tell the story of a friendship between Lieutenant William Dawes, the Point's namesake, and Patyegarang, a local Cadigal woman.  Dawes' historical records of their friendship and exchanges have come to be regarded as the first study of the local Aboriginal people and their culture.
More >>

Click on or tap an feature to read the description. Click or tap again to hide the description.

Sydney Harbour Bridge


The most recognised manmade landmark in the Southern Hemisphere, the Sydney Harbour Bridge has been a vital link with the city's northern suburbs since it was opened in March 1932. Known affectionately among locals as The Coathanger, the bridge carries two railway lines and eight lanes of motor traffic which are flanked by a walkway and a cycleway. A lookout tower, located in the south-eastern pylon, is open daily (entry fee applies). It can be accessed via the eastern walkway from Milsons Point or The Rocks. The view is quite magnificent in all directions. Alternatively, for around $100.00 you can climb to the top of the arch.

For readers fascinated by facts and figures, here are a few for the Bridge:
15,300 cubic metres of masonry was required to line the bridge supports and pylons.
42,000 cubic metres of rock and dirt were excavated just to make way for the Bridge Fabrication Shops.
The bridge was constructed by 4 x 25 tonne cranes which travelled outward from the shore on steelwork they had just positioned. The concrete footings for the four bearings upon which the Bridge sits are 12 metres deep. The bearings weigh 300 tonnes each. 105 sliding bearings and 6 million rivets were used in building the bridge.

52,000 tonnes of steel were used in the building of the Bridge. At any given time during the seven years it took to build, 1,400 people were employed in its construction. 33,600 litres of paint are needed to give the bridge one coat. It is in the continual process of being painted in order to combat corrosion. Span: 503m.


Harbour Bridge concrete cable saddle

During excavations of the historic fort on Dawes Point, a cable saddle (anchor point) used during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was discovered intact and buried beneah the ground. The bridge was built in two sections - one from Milsons Point in the north and the other from Dawes Point the south. Steel cables were used to hold each half of the bridge in place during construction. Once the two halves met and were joined the cables were removed. The saddle is on display beneath the open area close to the south eastern pylon.
Dawes Point Fort

Sydney Cove from Dawes Point, by Joseph Lycett, 1817

After setting up his observatory on the tip of the rocky point to the west of Sydney Cove, Dawes was instructed to build a simple mud redoubt there for the storage of explosives near the observatory, which he did in March 1788. When HMS Supply was dispatched to the Cape of Good Hope to purchase much needed supplies, 8 guns from the Sirius were taken ashore and mounted at the Dawes Point fort to make as much room as possible for the purchases which it was hoped HMS Supply would bring back.

These guns extended the fort's firepower to two brass 6 pounders and four iron 12 pounders. In 1819, Greenway was given the task of upgrading Dawes Point Battery, continuing the castellated "Gothick" theme. Greenway's fort included a magazine and quarters for a garrison of soldiers and their commanding officer.



It is believed that five 42-pound cannon at Dawes Point were installed in 1857 as part of Barney's upgrade. Their teak carriages bear the date 1856. Circular tracks for each were set into the bedrock in order to swivel each cannon about a 180 degree angle. The gun carriages were centred on a pivot, unlike the majority of cannon installed at this time at Fort Macquarie, Fort Denison, Mrs Macquarie's Point and Kirribilli that moved on a pivot located at the front of each carriage. The Dawes Point Battery ceased to function as a defence post by 1900 but remained intact until 1929 when it was demolished to make way for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Recent archaeological digs uncovered the underground sections of the fort which have been preserved by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. The partial restoration and interpretation of the archaeological remains of the fort, which include its powder magazine, gun battery and Officers' Quarters, give an impression of the fort's importance in the strategic defence of Sydney. Central to the revitalisation are low stone walls, which create an impression of the fort as it stood in the 1850s, having been upgraded and re-designed to that state by colonial architect Francis Greenway.

The current park was created after the completion of the Bridge and by the late 1930s five of the cannon from the battery were reinstated close to their original position as a reminder of the former battery. The site had an unexpected defence revival in 1941 when two anti-aircraft guns were mounted on top of the south pylon of the Harbour Bridge.

Archaeological test trenches excavated by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority in February 1995 revealed a potentially high rate of survival of remains of the battery. Further excavations uncovered the underground sections of the fort, which have since been restored by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. One of the fort's five cannon has been refurbished and reinstated to its original position. The fort's sandstone powder magazine has been fully restored with a combination of its original 2 tonne stones and recently quarried yellow-block sandstone from Pyrmont.

Nearby, the footings of the fort's adjoining Officer's Quarters have been exposed, creating a virtual floor plan. One of the fort's five cannon has also been refurbished and reinstated to its original position. The fort's sandstone powder magazine (below) has been fully restored.



In June 2001, while restoring the powder magazine, workers uncovered one of the concrete cable-saddles which was used to restrain the two-halves of the bridge during construction. The remains of the redundant saddle have now been incorporated into the project and remain on permanent public display.

Dawes Point Observatory

When the British Secretary of State for the Home Department, Lord Sydney, announced in August 1786 that a colony was to be established in New South Wales, the son of a Clerk of Works in the Ordnance Office, Portsmouth, William Dawes (1762-1836), was one of the first to sign on. Having built quite a reputation as a navigator, he was interviewed by Rev Dr Maskeleyne, the Astronomer Royal, who offered him a task not dissimilar to the one he had entrusted to Lieutenant James Cook on his first expedition to the Pacific: to observe a comet that had last been seen in 1661 and which, according to his calculations, would appear again towards the end of 1788 but only in the southern hemisphere.

Dr. Maskelyne obtained astronomical instruments on loan from the Board of Longitude so that this particular naval marine could make observations useful for English shipping in the Pacific. Equipped to set up the first observatory ever in the southern hemisphere, Dawes' task during the journey south with the First Fleet was to take charge of the flagship's chronometer and chart the course of the whole fleet into the unknown waters of the Southern and Pacific Oceans.



Upon arrival after the site of the settlement had been established, Dawes was given permission to set up his observatory on the rocky point to the west of Sydney Cove, which was named in honour of Dr Maskeleyne. Its name was later changed to Dawes Point in memory of the young ensign who set up Australia's and the southern hemisphere's first observatory.

Dawes used the observatory for four years, but when he returned to England in 1791 he took his borrowed instruments back with him and the structures were abandoned. The observatory apparently collapsed, but by the end of the year Collins reported that the wooden building was being used as a guardroom, a platform for a flagstaff and a cannon having been erected beyond it. The only visual evidence we have of the appearance of the observatory is Dawes' own rough sketch in a letter.

On his return to Britain, he spent some time working with William Wilberforce and became very active in the cause of the abolition of slavery. Within a year he had accepted a post in Sierra Leone where a colony was being established for former slaves to live in peace and freedom. His years in Sierra Leone were some of the happiest of his life.

During his time there he married and had three children, and was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant. He became a counsellor to the Governor and played a major role in Freetown's design and construction, a mirror of his role in Sydney. He held the post of Governor three times and was one of the commissioners of enquiry who oversaw the transition of power when Sierra Leone became a Crown colony in 1808.

About William Dawes
William Dawes (1762-1836) was an Officer of Engineers and Artillery with the Sirius in the First Fleet. Besides being a budding astronomer, Dawes had considerable experience in surveying, being the son of the Clerk of Works in the Ordnance Office, Portsmouth, and was employed by Gov. Phillip to lay out the streets of both Sydney and Parramatta. His plan for Parramatta was followed but his grid pattern for Sydney's streets was never used. Dawes showed exceptional skills as a mathematician, draughtsman and botanist, and was an important member of the early exploratory expeditions. He was also instrumental in recording the first attempts by the white settlers to learn the language of the local Aborigines.
More >>

Sydney's First Burial Ground


During the early years of the colony, no official records were kept of deaths nor was land set aside for burying the dead until 1792, therefore the locations of all burial sites cannot be established with 100% accuracy. It is known that at least four sites were used during the colony's first four years. Two sites ??in The Rocks are known to have been used for this purpose by the first fleeters. Official records refer to a convict burial site "at the extremities of the lines (four rows of convict huts) where since our arrival the dead are buried". This description places it within the block bounded by Essex, Gloucester, Grosvenor and Harrington Streets.

Another site, used for the burial of seamen and marines, was close to where Atherton Street is today in an area known as Campbell's Ridge at Dawes Point. It later became the garden of merchant Robert Campbell. It was here that Australia's oldest existing gravestone was erected. Its inscription reads: "In memory of George Graves late boatswain's yeoman of H.M.S. Sirius who departed this life ye 10th July 178(8) aged 48 years". The headstone was dug out of the ground there in the early 1870s and later found serving asa paving stone in Bethel Street, the lane beside the Old Coroner's Court in George Street North. The stone is now on display in the Coach House at Vaucluse House.

Indications are that the colonial death rate was far higher than expected and that these two sites filled up far quicker than expected. This would have come to a head with the arrival of the second fleet. More than half of its convict cargo died on the journey out or within a few months of their arrival. To cope with the increased demand, a third burial site was opened near the Military Barracks in what is now Clarence Street. No records indicate when this burial ground was first used but it appears to have been some time in 1790. An official letter dated September 1792 which speaks of the opening of a new burial ground on the site of the Sydney Town Hall dates the year in which the Clarence Street site was closed as 1792.

Horse Ferry Wharf


The remains of the horse ferry wharf and approach on Dawes Point are the only reminder in the Sydney CBD of the vehicular transport facilities to cross the Harbour prior to the construction of the Harbour Bridge. The Horse Ferry Wharf is a rare, in fact the only, remaining wharf in the Sydney CBD where vehicles were loaded onto ferries for transport over the harbour. Until the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, there were two ways of crossing the harbour with a vehicle. One was to go inland to Bedlam Point, near Gladesville where there was a punt, the other was to catch the horse ferry.

The Dawes Point horse ferry wharf was constructed c1900 and the route operated to Blue's Point. The opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge made both wharves redundant and they were demolished soon after. The punt Princess was the first vehicular ferry in Australia, coming into operation in 1842, it left from the western side of Dawes Point at the end of Lower Fort Street, but she was plagued with problems and only lasted a matter of months on the route.

The next ferries were steam powered paddle-punts, the first was named Benelon, built in 1886 (until 1932). Her sister ship Barangaroo was constructed in 1890 (it operated until 1932). Both vessels were large enough to still be useful when large trucks and buses took over from horses and carts and operated until the opening of the Haqrbour Bridge. Smaller vessels such as the Warrane, built in 1883, were superseded in the 1920s when they could not cope with the increasing size and weight of motorised vehicles.

Larger steam-operated vessels gradually replaced the smaller paddle-punts, one of the most distinctive was the Kamilaroi built 1901 (until 1930). This vessel became the first propeller-driven punt. The Kooroongaba built 1921 (or 1924 until 1932) came into service to replace the Warrane and was one of the last of the four big Sydney vehicle ferries built. The most famous of the car ferries was probably the Kalang which was constructed in England in 1926 and took 90 days to steam to Sydney. She became one of the Sydney Showboats that can still be seen taking people on pleasure cruises around the harbour.





Australia For Everyone: Ph: 0412 879 698 | Email
Content © 2017, Australia For Everyone