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  Macquarie Lightstation, South Head, Sydney


The Project

Following the transfer of the Macquarie Lightstation to the control of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, Casey & Lowe were engaged to prepare a detailed history and archaeological assessment of the site to help guide future management of the site. This assessment identified the potential for the Lightstation grounds to contain remains of the original Macquarie Lighthouse, as well as other evidence of early signal and lookout activities that took place in the South Head area from 1790.

In 2005, over four days, 10 to 12 and 15 August, archaeological testing was conducted at the site to determine what impact planned remediation of lead contamination on the site might have on these archaeological remains.

Historical Background

The Macquarie Lightstation site is likely to have been used for signal purposes associated with shipping from 1790, with a flagstaff, brick column and occasional beacon-light being used on the site.

Construction of the original Macquarie Lighthouse began in 1816 on the instructions of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, with the work being officially designed and supervised by Captain John Gill, with Francis Greenway as architect. The foundation stone of Macquarie Lighthouse and tower was laid on 11 July 1816. From 30 November 1818, the light was completed and permanently operational.

By the 1870s, the light at the original Macquarie Lighthouse was considered not powerful enough for such a prominent location, and yet the Greenway building was not able to accommodate the latest technology of the time. After some delay, the decision was made to construct a new lighthouse. This was designed by the then Colonial Architect, James Barnet. It largely followed the exterior appearance of Francis Greenway's original design, although with a different interior arrangement. The new building was to be located some 12 feet (3.5 metres) west of the original Greenway building. Construction began on 18 November 1879 and the new light commenced operation on 1 June 1883. By 1887 Greenway's old lighthouse had been completely demolished.


Archaeological testing located remains of the north and south Macquarie Lightstation compound walls, which had surrounded the first lighthouse and associated buildings. Test trenches also located footing trenches associated with the Greenway lighthouse.


Casey & Lowe completed the archaeological assessment and undertook this archaeological testing for the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.


The excavation photographs used in this report are by Tony Lowe. Other photographs and plans in the attached reports are from the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, NSW Land Titles Office (now NSW LPI), NSW State Records, University of Sydney Archives, Mr Andrew Wilson and the National Library of Australia.

Current Reports

Archaeological Reports for the Macquarie Lightstation - Testing and Assessment

Other Related Reports and Publications

Derricourt, Robin 2008. "Macquarie lighthouse", Dictionary of Sydney, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/macquarie_lighthouse. [accessed 27 June 2012].

Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. "History of Macquarie Lightstation" http://www.harbourtrust.gov.au/visit/macquarie-lightstation. [accessed 10 Sept 2013].

Davies, Martin and Graham Wilson, 1979. Macquarie Lighthouse Report, prepared for the Commonwealth Department of Construction.
Available at http://nswaol.library.usyd.edu.au/view?docId=pdfs/7649_ID_Davies_Wilson_MacqLighthouse.pdf. [accessed 27 June 2012].

Macquarie Lighthouse -1884
Original Macquarie Lighthouse and replacement designed by James Barnett - photograph by John Sharkey 1883.

Macquarie Lighthouse - 1900s
Macquarie Lighthouse - c1900-1910.

Macquarie Lighthouse
Macquarie Lighthouse - Painting by Arnout - 1829 - NLA.


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