Customs House (former) | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Customs House (former)

Item details

Name of item: Customs House (former)
Other name/s: Site of former Customs House
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Government and Administration
Category: Office building
Location: Lat: -33.8622072535 Long: 151.2108572230
Primary address: 45 Alfred Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Parish: St James
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT23103DP984172
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
45 Alfred StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandPrimary Address
Young StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandAlternate Address
Loftus StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandAlternate Address

Statement of significance:

The Sydney Customs House occupies a unique symbolic and physical position on the site of the First Fleet Landing. Its location is a physical reminder of the importance of Circular Quay as the original maritime centre for the colony.

The Customs House contains parts of the oldest surviving building of its type in Australia, used continuously for 145 years. It is a physical record of the history of the Customs Service and its importance in the history of Australia.

The Customs House embodies the work of three successive and individually distinguished government architects: Mortimer Lewis, James Barnet and Walter Liberty Vernon.

Because of the scarcity of documentary evidence about the early stages of construction, the surviving building fabric from these stages constitutes the principal source of additional evidence about the early history of the building and its occupants. (Phillips 1993: 5-6)
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Division intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.

Description

Designer/Maker: Mortimer Lewis
Builder/Maker: Government under Sir George Gipps
Construction years: 1845-1845
Physical description: The building is a composite load-bearing and framed structure.The external masonry walls range from 680mm to 750mm thick, with internal walls about 200mm. Internal beams vary in fabric from wood to steel. The load-bearing masonry on the perimeter of the building and the steel-framed structure in the core are fairly readily separable in the upper reaches of the building, though the edges of concrete floors do bear on the earlier masonry at the perimeter of the framed structure of the core. The panel walls contained in the 1917 frame are of brick. Floors in the perimeter building are generally suspended timber, joisted with added steel beams, while the framed core has reinforced concrete two-way slabs. Lift shafts exist on the central axis of the building.

The roof is a pitched roof on king-post trusses finished with Marseilles tiles of Australian make. Extensive box-gutters run around the perimeter of the 1903 roofs.

Internal walls are finished with lime plaster, repaired with cement render. Some areas have significant plaster mouldings. Ceiling types are mixed. Window joinery, doors and architraves are generally french polished or varnished. Windows are timber, of french door and vertical sliding sash types, where overlooking the street. (Hansford and Maclaren 1991: 51-62)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Recent conservation measures have returned the building to excellent physical condition.
Archaeological potential is medium.
Modifications and dates: 1885-1887: James Barnet architect. Original building partially dismantled and rebuilt to three storeys with side wings, to form a U-shape in plan.
1896-1903: W.L. Vernon architect. Two phases of alterations resulting in the addition of two new floors and a wing in the rear courtyard, forming a E-shape in plan.
19151-17: George Oakeshott architect. All building enclosed by the former U-shape was replaced by a framed structure. This opened the ground floor as a large space with a lightwell. A sixth storey comprising caetakers quarters was added.
1925-1990: various additions by the Commonwealth Department of Works.
1996-7: Conservation and Refurbishment Project - due to open June 1997.
Current use: Commercial, performance, tourism and museum spaces
Former use: Australian Customs Service Headquarters

History

Historical notes: The site of the Customs House is the presumed spot of the landing and official flagraising on the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. This event marked the foundation of the colony of New South Wales. The site has been occupied by buildings since 1843 (Hansford and McLaren 1993: 5-20).

The site at Circular Quay was chosen in 1843 to house the Customs Service for the rapidly growing colony. They were responsible for all imports and exports, exise on locally manufactured goods, immigration control, control of narcotic substances and morally corrupt goods such as books and films. During the war years this included items of enemy origin, or having socialistic or communistic tendancies (Phillips 1993: x - xiii). Accordingly, areas for storage, administration and public business were included in the original design of the building. As trade increased, so did pressures on space within the Customs House and two new wings were constructed between 1883 and 1889. These wings provided accomodation for the Shipping Office and Maritime Board (Hansford and McLaren 1993: 5-20).

These demands increased again with the approach of Federation. Custom's roles of immigration control and administration of trariffs were major reasons for Federation. They became, at this time, the major revenue raiser for the Commonwealth Government. Extensions were timed to co-incide with the change in government . More floors were added to cope with new and expanding duties brought about by the massive political change. More revisions were made between 1915 and 1917 to further accomodate these changes and pressures brought about by the war. (Phillips 1993: v-vii)

Few major sturctural changes have occured between 1917 and 1995. This reflects the movement of international shipping away from Circular Quay to other areas of the City and the State.

In June 1990 operations of the Customs Service were relocated. The site is currently undergoing refurbishment and is due to be reopened in June 1997 as a combined commercial, performance, tourism and museum space.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Migration-Activities and processes associated with the resettling of people from one place to another (international, interstate, intrastate) and the impacts of such movements Implementing the White Australia Policy-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services Storing goods for bond and customs duties-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-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 roles for government - collecting taxes and fees-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-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 roles for government - administering migration programs-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-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 roles for government - controlling drug use-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Mortimer Lewis, Colonial Architect, 1796-1879-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Sydney Customs House occupies a unique symbolic and physical position on the site of the First Fleet landing. This historical event has enormous significance to the history of Australia. Its location is a physical reminder of the importance of Circular Quay as the original maritime centre for the colony and is a significant symbol of British imperial sovreignity and colonial commercial expansion. The Customs Service was the only revenue collector in an outpost of Empire struggling for economic survival. It later became a watchdog over ideas, people and goods coming into the country. The internal and external growth and change of the building reflect these changes in use.
(Phillips 1993: 5-6)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Custom's House embodies the work of three successive and individually distinguished official architects of New South Wales. Although Walter Liberty Vernon and James Barnet greatly altered the work of Mortimer Lewis, they did so using similar external materials and proportions so as to generate an overall unity of construction. (Phillips 1993: 6)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The site has significance as the initial point of European invasion of the lands of Aboriginal people. (Phillips 1993: 5)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Because of the scarcity of documentary evidence about the early stages of construction, the surviving building fabric from these stages constitutes the principal source of additional evidence about the early history of the building and its occupants. (Phillips 1993: 6)
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
This site has been ranked as extremely significant in its unique refelction of the commercial expansion of the colony and the nationally significant role of the Customs Service. This is especially true for the early phases of the building's evolution.
Integrity/Intactness: Restoration and alteration works in progress.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementConservation Plan CMP endorsed by Heritage Council 6 April 1995 for a period of five years, expires 6 April 2000. Apr 6 1995
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementCustoms House, Circular Quay, Sydney CMP CMP received for consideration 8 October 2003. Jun 21 2005
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0072702 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0072711 May 90 623828
Local Environmental PlanCSH LEP 4 07 Apr 00   
Register of the National Estate  21 Mar 78   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Customs House View detail
WrittenAustralian Customs Service Customs House Sydney 1845 - 1990 : commemorating the final Customs activity in the Customs House, Circular Quay, Sydney on 15th June 1990
WrittenBrain Hansford and Peter McLaren1991The Customs House Circular Quay: A Conservation Plan
TourismCafé Sydney2007Café Sydney View detail
WrittenPeter Phillips and Terri McCormack1993Conservation Report: Sydney Customs House
TourismTourism NSW2007Customs House View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5044985
File number: S90/02762 & DHC 890138


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