City of Sydney Historical Association
2nd March, 2013 - History of Surry Hills & Darlinghurst
9th February, 2013 - Chinese New Year
12th January, 2013 - Tour of St Barnabas Church, Broadway
8th December, 2012 - Colonial Land Use and the Coxes of Mulgoa Valley
7th November, 2012 - Guided Tour of the Town Hall Vaults
3rd November, 2012 - 1954 Royal Tour
13th October, 2012 - Rise of Sydney's Department Stores
14th July, 2012 - Life & Times of Tommy Townshend
9th June, 2012 - "Reynolds" Cottages
19th May, 2012 - St Paul's College Tour
14th April, 2012 - Motorised Mayhem
10th March, 2012 - The Flying Fruit Fly Circus
4th February, 2012 - Quong Tart: High Tea and Scottish Ditties
14th January 2012: Dictionary of Sydney
10th December 2011: Admiral Arthur Philip - The Man
12th November 2011: Glebe Walk
8th October 2011: Bob Carr at the Annual General Meeting
3rd September 2011: History Week
13th August 2011: Tom Wentworth Wills –Visionary Sportsman
9th July 2011: Henry L'Estrange - Funambulist and Aeronaut
11th June 2011: Afro-American Servicemen in WWII
14th May 2011: Government House Tour
9th April 2011: Amazing Stories from Randwick
19th March 2011: The Ones that Got Away
12 Feb 2011: Chinese Market Gardens of Sydney
8 Jan 2011: St Andews College Tour
11 Dec 2010: Garden Palace Scandal
13 Nov 2010: Cumberland Digs
9 Oct 2010: Painting the Rocks
4 Sep 2010: Celebrate History Week
14 Aug 2010: Whaling, Wool and Wealth
10 Jul 2010: The Ones that Got Away
12 Jun 10: Percy Lindsay
8 May 10: Sydney Tramway Museum
10 Apr 10: Making of our nation
13 Mar 10: Reading photographs
13 Feb 2010: Macquarie Place
9 Jan 10: Sydney's Astronomical History
12 Dec 09: The colony
14 Nov 09: Women of The Rocks
10 Oct 09: History of Kent Brewery
5 Sep 09: Scandal, Crime & Corruption
15 Aug 09: Walk-Darling Harbour
11 Jul 09: Redfern Alexandria & Waterloo
06 Jun 09: Pubs & Publicans of Sydney
09 May 09 : C19th Sydney Firemen
18 Apr 09 : History of Darling Harbour
14 Mar 09: Bewitched!
Annual General Meeting 2009
Jan 2009 - Trade Hall
13 Nov 2010: Cumberland Digs

Tour of the Cumberland Street Dig

On 13 November Monique Galloway of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority spoke to COSHA members about The Cumberland Street Archaeological Dig and showed us what has been collected and preserved as a unique record of European settlement of The Rocks.

The following excerpts from Monique's talk and from the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority's website give background to this important site that provides insights to the life and time of our early settlers.

Photo: Black and White photo, 4481_a026_0002098.jpg                                Photo: Cumberland St, November 2010 (John Brooks)
Item held at State Records NSW - undated


The 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

The Dig Site comprises sections of two city blocks originally granted in the 1830s and1840s as Sections 7 4 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. Between1994 and 2009 several smaller sites around the Dig Site have been excavated by the Sydney University Summer School and the Conservation Volunteers. Since 2008 the site has been redeveloped with a YHA and archaeological education centre which opened in late 2009


Photo: Cumberland Street Dig 2008 (Credit: Sydney Harbour YHA)               Site Map Source: Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority

The Dig Site, above, 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 and1980s 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, represents a finite, rare and endangered resource.

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. George Cribb operated his butchery and a pub, The Whalers Arms, from the corner of Gloucester Street and Cribbs Lane from 1808.




Source: Top photo: Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority

Bottom photo: John Brooks 2010

The two photographs above show the location of Cribb's hotel and butchery in Gloucester Street.

In the top photo, the hotel is the two-storey building to the right, with steps leading to it and the butchery is the single storey building next to it with steps, one door and one small window. 

The bottom photo shows the location of the dig site today. It is immediately behind the false wall that shows the location of the original buildings built to scale.

Monique was able to show us a variety of animal bones that had been recovered from the well and
from other parts of Cribb's butchery site. Veterinary examination of these bones indicate that the beasts being slaughtered were of good quality- much better eating than the convicts could have expected, as free men back in England. There are over one million other artefacts recovered from the dig and they include fine porcelain cups and plates that indicate many of the convict population had come to terms with the need to build new lives for themselves and their families in the young colony.

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.

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 descendants 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.

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.



Monique Galloway explains to COSHA members some less savoury uses of the Australia Hotel cellar


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 parent’s 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 and 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.

SHFA 2010


The Big Dig Archaeological Centre 

The Big Dig Archaeological Centre was built as part of the contract for the development of the Cumberland Street site with the Youth Hostel Association. Its facilities are available to schools and other groups as an educational resource aimed at developing interest in the history of Sydney. The Centre has developed programs for primary school ages that include:

Little Diggers: For years 1-2 where students can dig in a special room in the centre that provides an opportunity for finding artefacts

Dirt Detectives: For years 3-4, again using the indoor dig to find out what life was like for convicts who lived in The Rocks.

Pieces of the Past: Years 5-6 use actual artefacts to piece together evidence about the lives of the residents of Cumberland Street

For secondary school students the programs include:

Cesspits and old rubbish: Year 7-10 history students follow the path of British archaeologist Stuart Piggott who once called archaeology "the science of rubbish" because it involves the excavation of things that people throw away.

Groundwork: Archaeology at The Big Dig: for year 11 ancient history students who use The Big Dig site as a unique opportunity to study the ways in which historians and archaeologists investigate, record, reconstruct and interpret the past.

These programs are run in conjunction with The Rocks Discovery Museum and special programs can be arranged through:

Sydney Learning Adventures
Phone: (02) 9240 8552