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Rob's Shed

The 1906 Committee

In 1906 a committee was appointed by the Premier of New South Wales to advise "as to the situation of the present Powder Magazines and Hulks and their liability to explode and cause damage to neighbouring properties and residents". The committee comprised Professor A. Liversidge, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Sydney, Lieutenant A.H. Tremayne, RN, Inspector of Warlike Stores, Royal Navy Magazine, Spectacle Island and Mr V.W. Williams, Superintendent, Explosives Department, N.S.W.

In its report the committee considered the "Newington Magazine Reserve in the occupation of the Commonwealth Government" as a possible site for a state government magazine. They concluded that it was unsuitable for the purpose, for the following reasons:

"1st. It is in too close proximity to thickly populated districts, and, as time goes on, population will increase and encroach still further upon the boundaries of the Reserve.

2nd. It is on a flat unscreened by hills.

3rd. All traffic to and from the magazines would have to pass through the busiest and narrowest part of the Harbour and Parramatta River.

4th. It is inconveniently far (13 miles) from the "Powder Ground" in Rose Bay, where vessels have to bring up to discharge and receive explosives.

5th. The only part of the Reserve upon which magazines could be erected is so far from the water front that it would be unpracticable to work the traffic with the necessary safety and dispatch, as dangerous and inconvenient delays would be unavoidable in the transit of explosives to and from the lighters and magazines."

In remitting the report the Under Secretary for Finance and Trade drew the attention of the Premier to the situation of Spectacle Island:

"Before leaving the subject there is a matter calling for serious consideration, but which could not be dealt with by the Committee owing to the presence of a Naval Officer upon it. I refer to the Royal Naval Magazine at Spectacle Island in which are stored much larger quantities of explosives than in our floating magazines. I understand that the Naval Warlike stores are much better protected than the ordinary commercial explosives, but it is quite certain that if an explosion occurred a large loss of life would ensue, and much valuable property would be damaged in the adjoining thickly populated suburbs of Balmain-Drummoyne and Hunters Hill falling within a mile radius of the magazine. On the shores of Bantry Bay ... there is ample space for the construction of magazines for storing the naval explosives as well as those of the state."

The Premier responded:

"Report approved of. At once resume the land [at Bantry Bay - ed.]; carry out all the suggestions of the Committee. Invite the Admiral thro' H.E. The Governor to consider the suggestion of removing the Spectacle Island magazine to Bantry Bay or a safer site." (NEW406/1/309/6)

In the event, the NSW Government proceeded with the construction of permanent magazines at Bantry Bay and the Newington Magazine was to endure for another 94 years. As far as Spectacle Island was concerned, the following file note is relevant:

"November '06. Vice Admiral W.W. Fawkes (C. in C.) in a report to the Governor of New South Wales concurs in his predecessor's despatch and states that the suggested site at Bantry Bay, Middle Harbour, for the storage of Naval Ammunition is unsuitable."

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au