Cumberland Street Dig Site - Archaeology
Statement of SignificanceThe Dig Site has outstanding cultural significance as a rare surviving element of the convict and ex-convict community established on The Rocks at the time of Australia's first European settlement. The Dig Site has strong historic association and provides physical evidence of nineteenth-century events, processes and people. Through this association and the extraordinary level of public involvement and participation in the 1994 excavation, the site has high social and public value as a 'historic site'. The Dig Site continues to have archaeological significance which arises both from the information revealed by analysis of excavated material and from the continuing in situ presence of substantial structural elements and deposits that themselves have potential to yield further information relating to substantive historical research questions. The Dig Site is located in a historic precinct and itself presents substantial physical evidence with distinctive visual qualities and evocative capacity. The Dig Site has a unique ability to provide 'hands on' experience of important phases of Sydney's history and development and has high interpretative and educational potential.
YHA and Archaeological Education Centre
Mixed Domestic, Commercial, Industrial
Landscape - Cultural
Construction Years: 1795 - 0
Physical Description: Built By: 1795 Archaeological site containing remnant structural features and deposits. The Dig Site is located on the western side of Sydney Cove between Cumberland Street and Gloucester St, between the Australian Hotel to the north and the Jobbins Buildings (and other structures) adjacent to the Cahill expressway to the south.
|Lot/Volume Number||Section Number||Plan Folio Code||Plan Folio Number|
Historic Notes and Themes
Historical notes: Earliest known occupants George Legg and Ann Armsden in 1795. Byrne family on site in 1805, George Cribb's butchery and hotel occupied over half the site from 1811-1829. Much of Section 74 sold by William Murrell, Edward Sandwell and William Perks in December 1827 (See also: AR096). Subdivided January 1834. Numerous allotment holders who receive grants. Section 75: Lot 8 granted to William Williams, 19 July 1838; Lot 9 granted to Margaret Byrne, 5 August 1835; Lot 10 granted to W. H. Chapman (See also: AM057-058), 6 June 1836; Lot 11 granted to ?, 15 April 1840; Lot 12 granted to J. T. Hughes (See also: AM087; AM121-123; AM126-131; AR097), 30 November 1840. Site resumed in 1900-02 and 30 buildings demolished by 1915. Engineering works here from 1917-c1934. Vacant till 1994. Historical Summary The Dig Site comprises sections of two city blocks originally granted in the 1830s and 1840s as Sections 74 and 75 of the town of Sydney. Historical research indicates that the site has been occupied by Europeans from at least as early as c1795. During the 1790s and the early part of the nineteenth century it became a focus for settlement for convicts and ex-convicts. It had a rich subsequent history characterised by progressive intensification of occupation during the nineteenth century. Following large scale resumption and clearing by the government between 1902 and 1915, the site was used for various light industrial and public utility purposes. It has remained undeveloped since the 1950s, when a concrete slab was laid as the pavement for a bus depot. Since 1972, the site has been in the property of the Sydney Cove (Redevelopment) Authority, now the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. The Site was subject to archaeological excavation in 1994. Between 1994 and 2009 several smaller sites around the Dig Site have been excavated by the Sydney University Summer School and the Conservation Volunteers. 2008 - the site is being redeveloped with a YHA and archaeological education centre to open late 2009 Thematic History Aboriginal Cultures and Interactions with Other Cultures The Rocks area, including the Dig Site, was witness to some of the very first encounters between the traditional owners, the Cadigal people, and the newly arrived European settlers. There was likely a period of a number of years, a transition, when both cultures lived close by each other and continued to occupy the same locale. Physical evidence collected during the large excavation of the Dig Site in 1994 included at least one piece of post 1790 porcelain which had been expertly flaked by Aboriginal people, presumably for use as a useful tool. Convicts, Migrants and Housing The Rocks area was within the town site most often associated with the early convict history of Sydney. Many convicts and emancipists lived in and around The Rocks, including on the Dig Site. The place was home and work for many convicts and their presence was indelibly marked on the neighbourhood. The convict butcher George Cribb, who arrived in 1808 on board the transport Admiral Gambier lived on the Dig Site until the later 1820s and is remembered by the naming of the lane joining Cumberland and Gloucester Streets which bordered his pub, house and butcher shop, Cribbs Lane. Other convict families, such as Ann Armsden and her First Fleet husband George Legg lived across the lane from Cribb in a large stone house, built on top of and partially into the natural sandstone that gave the area its name. Some of these earliest European residents remained living in the neighbourhood well into the mid nineteenth century, and their descendents for longer. Alongside the convicts were also free settlers. Some, like Daniel King, who arrived free in 1817, had married convict women. From the 1830s and onwards more families that were arriving free were settling in the area, especially as more tenements were constructed and tenant occupancy on the site increased. The Dig Site remained a vibrant, occupied neighbourhood throughout the nineteenth century until it was marked for demolition during the plague clearances of the early twentieth century. Evidence of all the levels of occupation from 1788 until the 1900s were to be found on the site and in the historical and archaeological resource. Commerce and Trade Convict and free alike were involved in a variety of trades in the Dig Site from the early 1800s, right through until the areas resumption and demolition. George Cribb operated his butchery and a pub from the corner of Gloucester Street and Cribbs Lane from 1808. During the 1860s Owen Caraher, who like Cribb is remembered in the naming of Carahers Lane that ran north to south across the site, was making candles and soap in Gloucester Street. A bakery was operated by Thomas and James Share on the corner of Cumberland and Cribbs Lane from the 1830s, and later by Robert Berry. Berry's ovens were utilised by the local residents to cook their Sunday dinners in, as ovens in private homes were a rare thing. By 1889 the Dig Site was occupied by approximately 33 houses, shops and hotels. Township - Suburb and Community The Dig Site existed as part of the wider Rocks community, from its earliest phase through to the beginnings of the twentieth century. The Rocks was Sydney's, and Australia's first suburb. The community on the Dig Site represented a broad cross section of the people living in The Rocks through the later eighteenth and nineteenth century; bond and free, rich and poor. The community bonds were often strong amongst the families living there. The historical record shows that the sons and daughters of the residents often lived close by when they left home. A number of mariner's wives are reported to have moved back to their parents home when their husbands were away at sea. There were a number of families who lived on the site over successive generations. Reports also exist of local families taking in orphans of their parents friends rather than allow them to be sent to the Destitute Asylum or other institution. As with any community however, there were less altruistic members of the Cumberland/Gloucester Streets community as well. Exploitation, crime and violence were also present on the site. Hotels and brothels operated alongside the bakeries and corner shops. Houses were often small and conditions cramped which added to the tensions of poverty that were experienced by some residents, as well as strengthening the feeling of community that existed within the Dig Site. The combination of these factors, the crowded streets, back lanes and hotels gave the outside world the impression that the area was an urban slum, a reputation that stayed with The Rocks and Dig Site for much of its history. Government and Administration For much of the history of the Dig Site, it was perceived to lay just outside the boundaries of the official government and administrative reach. However in 1900 following the outbreak of the plague in Sydney, The Rocks area was resumed by the Government. The Government became the landlord for approximately 900 properties in The Rocks area, including all of the Dig Site. With a view to clean up the worst areas of The Rocks and to impose some order on the remnant colonial landscape, parts of The Rocks were marked for demolition and redevelopment. The Dig Site was demolished entirely between 1902 and 1915. Houses, shops and hotels were all cleared away and the residents either relocated in The Rocks area or moved away entirely. The work brought to a decisive end the residential history of the Dig Site. For the remainder of the twentieth century the Dig Site was leased to a variety of users including machinery and joinery workshops, the City Railway Workshops, motor garages, the NRMA and Department of Motor Transport and Tramways as a bus parking station, and later as a Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority commissioning the archaeological excavation and historical research that was undertaken on the Dig Site in the early and mid 1990s. This work lead to the rediscovery of the residential community that had once occupied the Dig Site. 2008 - the site is being redeveloped with a YHA and archaeological education centreto open late 2009
Historical significance: The occupation of The Rocks during the first decades of the settlement at Sydney Cove represented a significant phase and important activity in the early life and development of the Sydney community and the City of Sydney itself. It was the quarter of the town built, shaped and occupied almost entirely by convicts and ex-convicts. The physical elements at the site provide a material dimension to this part of early Sydney history and evidence of the convict/ex-convict lifestyle. The latter is particularly significant as the organic growth of The Rocks settlement and lack of government regulation evident in the remains of houses contrasts the popular perceptions of convict life. The Rocks was important as both domicile and workplace for the lower orders of Sydney society in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Its history and development stands in stark contrast to that recorded for other sections of society in official documentation. Features directly connected with early occupation of The Rocks, particularly the evidence of material culture and buildings which have been revealed through archaeological investigation, reflect the taste, habits and means, and hence the sociocultural characteristics of the sites inhabitants. The collection of artefacts provides evidence that leads to questions about the traditional view of this area during the late nineteenth century as a 'blighted slum'. The surviving structural elements in their size, construction and format evoke the living conditions of a vanished community. Through both historic records and surviving physical evidence that site is associated with many major phases of Sydney's history and processes that have shaped the development of the growing colony. The Dig Site witnessed sporadic occupation, consolidation through permissive occupancy and leases, the introduction of land grants, varying phases of intensification and construction. Wholesale resumption and clearing and, eventually, low key industrial and later government usage. It provides in microcosm a typical slice through the evolution and pattern of the history of one of the most vital, lively and infamous communities in urban Australia.
Historical association: The Dig Site represents in microcosm a slice of The Rocks life and community covering more than a century. It has strong links and association with a major Sydney community and a section of New South Wales society. The historical research already undertaken provides a depth and richness to our understanding of the individuals who lived there, none of whom is currently recognised as a 'historic' figure in the traditional sense, but all of whom (certainly before the 1830s) might be characterised as pioneers of Sydney. The associational links are particularly strong because of the presence of actual building remains (and artefacts) that relate to known individuals, families and households.
Aesthetic significance: As an excavated historical archaeological site, the Dig Site has well defined visual quality. Within the physical context of The Rocks, and the setting of surrounding historic buildings, the site currently contributes to a rich amalgam of historical layering. This layering is particularly evident within the Dig Site itself, where historical events, phases and occupations are reflected in the fine grained texture of intersecting topography and structural remains. The place is instantly recognisable as a historic site.
Social significance: The Rocks is now widely recognised as one of the key components of Australia's birthplace. As a focus of early convict settlement, the site occupies a particular conceptual niche. Furthermore, through the green bans of the 1970s. The resurgence in conservations programs of the 1980s and, via a continuing community spirit and pride in its community, The Rocks has already been established as a special place of particular importance to residents and visitors alike. The Dig Site is one of few surviving places within The Rocks where a substantial physical connection exists with the time of first settlement and the huts and scattered houses on the rocky crags that gave 'The Rocks' its name. The thousands of people who visited the Dig Site and participated in the 1994 excavation program at varying levels demonstrate its value to the contemporary community. Ongoing access to physical evidence and interpretation has potential to realise and enhance the social value of the place.
Research significance: Archaeological deposits and features, particularly when considered in conjunction with documentary evidence can provide evidence of material culture that yields information which may by unavailable from documentary sources alone. This site and the collection of excavated material form a resource which contributes to a better understanding of social, economic and cultural history of Sydney and The Rocks community in particular. Archaeological excavation at the Dig Site has already realised a substantial part of the site's archaeological potential. Many site specific research questions have been answered. Analysis of the data gathered has addressed major historical questions, including the impact of the industrial revolution, the rise of class, women's occupation and lives, the ongoing debate on the standard of living for working class people in urban areas, the social and cultural role of The Rocks within the larger city, and the changing impact of Government over the historical period. Some areas of the site remain unexcavated and have potential available for future investigation. While the excavation to date has produced a complete picture of the activities undertaken on the site, should it be decided in the future to excavate the remaining areas, it is expected that this new information would complement the information already gathered. The physical remains at the site and the associated artefact collection provide major ongoing research opportunities in fields such as convictism, colonial settlement and working class communities, which are major themes in Australian history.
Rare assessment: The Dig Site is believed to be the only substantial residential site (i.e. one containing an entire neighbourhood), remaining in Sydney's Rocks, that contains physical evidence of structures and material culture from the period of first settlement. The 1994 archaeological investigation recovered enormous quantities of artefacts and the remains of many structures - all of which survived here because of later twentieth century activity had not impinged greatly on the surviving features. In this respect, the Dig Site contrasts with many other places in urban Australia where the extent of building activity undertaken during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s has removed structures and stratified deposits. Any area with potential for in situ preservation of relics form nineteenth century Sydney, and particularly the early part of the century or prior to 1800, represent a finite, rare and endangered resource.
Representative assessment: The continuous occupation of the Dig Site from the late eighteenth century throughout the nineteenth century provides the opportunity to experience and examine changes and development in society and particularly changes in home life and the use of domestic space. The evidence at the Dig Site demonstrates characteristics of both individual residences and a residential/Rocks community (including hotels, shops and other workplaces) during this period, providing a physical demonstration and important 'hands on' opportunity to understand how earlier lifestyles and living conditions differed from those of today.
Intact assessment: Archaeological Excavation of c70% of resource, 1994, other areas since that date. The Dig Site was subject to archaeological investigation in 1994. The excavated site itself stands as testimony to the extent of excavation work completed and the array of historic structures and features revealed. The investigation uncovered substantial masonry remains of at least 46 buildings, post holes and more ephemeral remains of other timber structures, two major lane ways, ancillary paths, stone lined cesspits, tanks or wells carved into living rock and a wide variety of other landscape features. The remains have been retained in situ and generally survive intact. Excavation of the Dig Site required the removal of approximately 1500 contexts or deposits ranging from concrete and bitumen pavements through dumps of building rubble, or demolition and occupation accumulation. These features have been removed form the site; however, where relevant, samples have been retained for future analysis. Between 1994 and 2009 several smaller sites around the Dig Site have been excavated by the Sydney University Summer School and the Conservation Volunteers. 2008 - the site is being redeveloped with a YHA and archaeological education centre to open late 2009 Approximately 750, 000 individual artefacts were recovered from the Dig Site during the course of the excavation. They are now stored off site.
Physical condition: Assessment Condition: Minor Disturbance, Archaeological Excavation of c70% of resource, 1994 Assessment Basis: Excavations in 1994 revealed an exceptionally well preserved resource with over 750,000 artefacts recovered. Site preserves approximately 60% of its pre-1830 resource and 100% of remains of eight terraces built in the 1840s-50s and demolished c1905. Investigation: Full scale excavation, 1994 Other smaller scale excavations have been carried out by the University of Sydney Summer School in 2005 & 2006
|Australian Theme||NSW Theme||Local Theme|
|Peopling the continent||Activities associated with maintaining, developing, experiencing and remembering Aboriginal cultural identities and practises, past and present.|
|Peopling the continent||Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities.|
|Developing local, regional and national economies||Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services.|
|Building settlements, towns and cities||Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages.|
|Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments||Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures.|
|Peopling the continent||Activities and processes associated with the resettling of people from one place to another (international, interstate, intrastate) and the impacts of such movements.|
|Developing local, regional and national economies||Activities relating to the cultivation and rearing of plant and animal species, usually for commercial purposes, can include aquaculture.|
|Governing||Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities.|
|Developing cultural institutions and ways of life||Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions.|
|Heritage Listing||Listing Title||Listing Number||Gazette Date||Gazette Number||Gazette Page|
|Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register||Place Management NSW|
|Written||Higginbotham, Kass & Walker||1991||The Rocks and Millers Point Archaeological Management Plan|
|Written||Higginbotham, E. and Kass, T||1989||'Historical and Archaeological Analysis of the Block Bounded by Cumberland and Gloucester Streets, and the Cahill Expressway, The Rocks, Sydney, NSW', in Scott Corner. Cumberland Street Site - The Rocks. Proposed Serviced Apartments. Develco.|
|Written||Karskens, G.||1996||Cumberland/ Gloucester St Site, Volume 2, Main Report. Part of general archaeological report series (6 volumes, 13 parts) produced by Godden Mackay.|
|Written||Alexander Tzannes Associated and Godden Mackay Logan Pty Ltd||2006||The Rocks Dig Site. Conservation Management Strategy & Archaeological and Urban Design Parameters Report|