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Gunpowder Magazines in Colonial Sydney

Postcard of Spectacle Island

                                                                                                   Spectacle Island Magazine c. 1900-1920.
                                                                  Image courtesy of the Mitchell Library State Library of NSW - Call number: PXA 635/837

Dot point  Berry's Bay, Port Jackson, New South Wales

Dot point  Dawes Battery, New South Wales

Dot point  Fort Phillip, New South Wales

Dot point  Georges Head Battery and Chowder Bay Mining Depot, New South Wales

Dot point  Goat Island, New South Wales

Dot point  Military Barracks Powder Magazine

Dot point  Spectacle Island, New South Wales

Dot point  The Board of Ordnance was present in the Colony from 1836 until 1850, but as there were still Imperial troops in Australia until 1870, there remained a need for Imperial business to be performed by a Colonial organisation.

Ordnance Stores and the Ordnance Storekeeper in the Colony of New South Wales

Dot point  Abner Brown departs the Colony after his "delicate affair" is exposed leaving unpaid a bill owed to the Sydney Gazette newspaper. Is this Abner Brown, known also as Battery Brown, the Ordnance Storekeeper?

"Battery Brown" and His "Delicate Affair"

Dot point  Do, Mr. Bombardier, thy business mind.
Fill thy shells with ammunition of other kind.

Abner Brown, Impartiality and "Blossom" the Cow

Dot point  "On Thursday 4 March 1875, a deputation from the Sydney and suburban municipalities and the Sydney Chamber of Commerce met with the Colonial Secretary to urge the removal of the gunpowder magazine to some safer place than Goat Island."

The 1875 Storage of Gunpowder Board

Dot point  "Officers in charge of magazines will be required to know exactly where each article is stored, so as to be able to find it at once when required on the darkest night."

The Gunpowder Acts of the Colony of New South Wales

Dot point  There has never been a large-scale explosion, of the type that devastates an entire neighbourhood, at an explosives facility in Sydney. However smaller-scale accidents have occurred from time to time, and the Bridge-street explosion in 1866 may have been a major tragedy had it occurred during a week day.

An Explosives Accident Scrapbook.

Dot point  "The proximity of the magazine to the place from whence the flames aspired, was, in itself, a circumstance so dreadful, as not to leave a moment to decide."

The "Three Bees" Fire

Dot point  "One of the most awful and imposing spectacles which has occurred since the conflagration of the Three Bees about 20 years ago, was witnessed on Saturday in the harbour of Port Jackson."

The "Ann Jamison" Blows Up at the King's Wharf.

Dot point  On the evening of March 4 in 1866, a shipbroker's office at no. 17 Bridge Street, Sydney was devastated by the accidental explosion of two bottles of nitro-glycerine.

The Bridge Street Explosion

Dot point  By 1882, and with the prospect of an imminent transfer of Spectacle Island to the Royal Navy, magazine space at Goat Island was insufficient for the task at hand so reliance was placed on the use of hulks for storing merchant's powder.

Port Jackson Explosives Hulks

Dot point  "The prettiest sight of the whole spectacle on Saturday was the explosion of a torpedo beneath a little doomed boat moored for the purpose. It was one of the colonial-made torpedoes, manufactured in Sydney under contract with the Government ..."

The New South Wales Torpedo and Signalling Corps

Royal Australian Navy Armament Depots

The information about RAN Armament Depots has now been transferred to a separate section of this website.


Permission given by MAPCO : Map And Plan Collection to reproduce portion of an 1836 Plan Of Sydney With Pyrmont is gratefully acknowledged, as is the use of material derived from the National Library of Australia's Trove database, and the National Archives of Australia. Thanks also to Peter Dean, for services rendered. Other individual acknowledgements are given on the page where the material appears.


This website has been selected by the Australian War Memorial to be archived in perpetuity in the National Library of Australia's Pandora archive. It is also archived by the Internet Archive (use the Wayback Machine to search for URL


If you can contribute photographs, information or personal stories to these pages - or just want to make contact - please email the author. Email borclaud @

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Robert Curran
borclaud @