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Rob's Shed

Dawes Battery

Map of Dawes Battery

Dawes Battery From an Early Parish Map

"Dawes Point is a prominent landmark in Sydney Harbour, terminating the western arm of Sydney Cove. ... .... The first known building on the site was Dawes' observatory built in early 1788. A powder magazine was constructed in 1789 followed by the Battery in 1791. It was expanded substantially in 1819. Further buildings were constructed in the 1850s and at the end of the century..... All buildings were levelled between 1925 and 1932 during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge."
(Source: Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority Heritage Register - Dawes Point Battery remains)

David Collin's An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales provides some additional information about the powder magazine at Dawes (Dawes's) Point, then known as Point Maskelyne:

December 1788

"Mr. Reid, the carpenter of the Supply, now undertook the construction of a boat-house on the east side, for the purpose of building, with the timber of this country, a launch or hoy, capable of being employed in conveying provisions to Rose Hill, and for other useful and necessary purposes. The working convicts were employed on Saturdays, until ten o'clock in the forenoon, in forming a landing-place on the east side of the cove. At the point on the west side, a magazine was marked out, to be constructed of stone, and large enough to contain fifty or sixty barrels of powder."

February 1789

"14th. The magazine at the Point being now completed, the powder belonging to the settlement was lodged safely within its walls."

October 1789

"During this month a gang of convicts were employed at Sydney in forming a convenient road from the hospital to the magazine and observatory on the point; and a small hut, for the reception of a corporal's guard at the hospital, was erected."

February 1796

"During one or two hot days in this month the shrubs and brushwood about the west point of the cove caught fire, and burnt within a few yards of the magazine. On its being extinguished, the powder was removed for a few days on board the Supply, until some security against any future accident of that kind could be thrown up round the building."

August 1798

"The battery on Point Maskelyne was nearly completed in this month. A few carpenters were employed in laying a floor in Government House, and other repairs; but several of the public works were nearly at a stand, many of the sawyers being in the hospital. The powder magazine having been found upon examination to be in a very insecure and dangerous state, the powder was taken out and sent on board the Supply. This removal was the more necessary, as an attempt had been made to open the door of the magazine in the night. The weather was bad; and it was supposed that the sentinel, whose box was thrown down and broken, had endeavoured to shelter himself in the magazine."

February 1800

"Among other public and necessary works which were in hand at this time, must be noticed the construction of a new powder magazine. The former building had been placed at too great a distance from the principal battery, in a dangerous and insecure situation. The foundation of the new one was now dug in a more eligible spot, and where it could be much better secured; which had been rendered necessary from the turbulent disposition of the people lately arrived from Ireland."

The construction of the replacement magazine is also mentioned in a despatch from Governor Hunter to Under Secretary King titled "RETURN of public buildings erected in New South Wales since 1 October, 1796, exclusive of many others completely repaired or enlarged":

"...Prepared the foundation for a powder magazine, the other being unsafe. ..."

A number of published sources claim that the 1789 magazine was incorporated into Dawes Battery. For example, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority Heritage Register says that:

"The archaeological excavations revealed that the 1789 magazine was incorporated into the guardhouse. The former magazine became the basement to the guardhouse which was constructed on an artificial mound. This is evidenced by the finding of a foundation stone dated 1789 in the lower room of Greenway's Guardhouse during its demolition for the Bridge. The initials "RR" inscribed in the stone are probably those of Major Robert Ross, the stone is held by the Mitchell Library and on display in The Rocks Discovery Museum."

The conclusion that the 1789 magazine was incorporated into Dawes Battery is inconsistent with Collin's testimony, quoted above, that the 1789 magazine was "at too great a distance from the principal battery" and was replaced by a new magazine in 1800. At this time (1800-1801) Dawes (West) Battery was the principal battery, mounting 12 guns to 4 at Bennelong Point (East) Battery, 4 on Windmill Hill and 2 on Garden Island. (State of the Batteries and Return of Ordnance at Port Jackson, NSW, 21 August 1801 - referenced in Peter Oppenheim, The Fragile Forts, 2004, p. 10). Possibly the 1789 foundation stone was relocated to the new magazine in 1800, and it is the latter magazine that was incorporated into Dawes Battery.

Dawes Battery was in use as the office of the Ordnance Storekeeper by at least 1827. An account of military buildings sent to the Colonial Secretary in that year says that:

"...At the west end of the Guard Room are the Quarters allotted to the Ordnance Storekeeper, consisting of three Rooms...The whole requires to be put in good repair" (Peter Oppenheim, The Fragile Forts, 2004, p.25)

It's unclear as to whether the magazine at Dawes Battery was ever used for storage of merchant's powder in addition to that required by the gunners stationed there. However as late as 1887 the mess-room of the Battery was being used for storage of 40 Whitehead torpedoes that had been purchased by the Government from Messrs Schwartzkopf and Co of Berlin, although whether this included the explosives isn't known. (Sydney Morning Herald, 17 January 1889)

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au