Sydney Observatory | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Heritage

Sydney Observatory

Item details

Name of item: Sydney Observatory
Other name/s: The Sydney Observatory; Observatory; Fort Phillip; Windmill Hill; Flagstaff Hill
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Scientific Facilities
Category: Observatory
Location: Lat: -33.8595762806 Long: 151.2047363660
Primary address: Upper Fort Street, Millers Point, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT110 DP872752
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Upper Fort StreetMillers PointSydney  Primary Address
Observatory HillMillers PointSydney  Alternate Address

Statement of significance:

The Observatory is of exceptional significance in terms of European culture. Its dominant location beside and above the port town and, later, City of Sydney made it the site for a range of changing uses, all of which were important to, and reflected, stages in the development of the colony. These uses included: milling (the first windmill); defence (the first, and still extant, fort fabric); communications (the flagstaffs, first semaphore and first electric telegraph connection); astronomy, meteorology and time keeping;

The surviving structures, both above and below ground, are themselves physical documentary evidence of 195 years changes of use, technical development and ways of living. As such they are a continuing resource for investigation and public interpretation;

The place has an association with an extensive array of historical figures most of whom have helped shape its fabric. These include: colonial Governors Hunter, Bligh, Macquarie & Denison; military officers and engineers Macarthur; Barrallier; Bellasis and Minchin; convicts: the as yet unnamed constructors of the mill and fort; architects: Greenway (also a convict), Lewis, Blacket, Weaver, Dawson and Barnet; signallers and telegraphists such as Jones and the family Moffitt; astronomers: particularly PP King, Scott, Smalley, Russell, Cooke and Wood;

The elevation of the site, with its harbour and city views and vistas framed by mature Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla) trees of the surrounding park, make it one of the most pleasant and spectacular locations in Sydney;

The picturesque Italianate character and stylistic interest of the Observatory and residence building, together with the high level of competence of the masonry (brick and stone) of all major structures on the site, combine to create a precinct of unusual quality;

Finally, the continued use of the observatory for astronomical observations and the survival of astronomical instruments, equipment (Appendix 4) and some early furniture (Appendix 3), although temporarily dispersed, and the retention of most interior spaces, joinery, plasterwork, fireplaces, and supports ensure that the observatory can remain the most intact and longest serving early scientific building in the State (Kerr 1991: 39)

Also of significance for relationship of Commonwealth and State powers. Site of the first intercolonial conference on meterology and astronomy. (Pearson et al 1999)

An excellent example of a Colonial building erected for scientific purposes and continuing to perform its function at the present time. The structure makes an imposing composition atop the historic hill originally known as Flagstaff Hill and occupies the historic Fort Phillip site (1804-45). Designed by the colonial architect Alexander Dawson and built in 1858. (AHC)
Date significance updated: 20 Oct 05
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: William Weaver (plans); Alexander Dawson (supervision)
Builder/Maker: Charles Bingemann & Ebenezer Dewar
Construction years: 1857-1859
Physical description: The Observatory is a sandstone, two storey building with two telescope domes on octagonal towers and a four storey timeball tower. The observatory once contained offices, instruments, a library and an astronomer's residence. It is now a public observatory and a museum of astronomy and meteorology.

The building is of Florentine Renaissance style and the storeys are divided by string courses while articulated quoins at corners, stone bracketed eaves and entablatures to openings of the residence contribute to the fine stone masonry work. A single storey wing to the north has had a timber balcony verandah with a stone balustrade built above. Windows are of twelve pane type and the doors are six panels (Sheedy 1974).
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical Condition - Good
Modifications and dates: 1796 First windmill built on hill. 1796-7 to crush grain - abandoned 1806. 1800 at least two 6 pounder cannons located on hill. 1804 commencement of construction of Fort Phillip as protection v convict uprising. Site known as Citadel Hill. Building work continued until 1806, then abandoned, with the fort unfinished. 1808 flagstaffs erected on eastern side of Fort Phillip parapet.1823 semaphore and flagstaff added to hill. 1838 duel purpose staff and telegraph masters hut noted on site. 1847 Signal Station built - finished 1848. 1857 Signal Station altered, and in 1859, took its present form by 1864. 1858 Demolition of windmill tower and construction of Observatory - finished 1859. West wing built 1876-78. Other alterations to residence in 1907. c1907 - Most of the residence lath and plaster ceilings replaced by decorative pressed metal ceilings and matching cornices. 1907 - New staircase constructed in residence. 20th century - Most observatory ceilings replaced by asbestos cement sheeting. - Addition of picture rails. 1982 Wran Government decision to cease scientific work on site, Powerhouse Museum takes responsibility for management 1984-7 DPWS manage major works to provide a museum of astronomy, exhibitions etc - Signal Station use as by Museum agreed to by Minister for Public Works 11/1987. 1980s - Observatory ceilings replaced with plaster-board. - Some floors replaced with particle board sheeting. - Some basement floors quarry tiled. 1985 - New staircase constructed in south west tower. 1987 garden re-landscaping/reinstatement to conform with Russell's plan of 1893, replanting with appropriate 19th century species (oleander, agaves, plumbago) by Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney staff (Read, S., pers. Comm., 2005) 1993 Signal Station Messengers Cottage vacated and use as museum agreed in-principle by Treasurer in 11/1993. 1995 Signal Station Messengers Cottage refurbished for use as offices by museum staff. All walls were plastered but have been progressively repaired and replaced over the years. (Kerr 1991:58)(DPWS, 1996). 1997 many original instruments were conserved and restored to their former locations. 2008 the Signal Station was restored and a replica flagstaff re-instated on the South rampart of the Fort wall for the Sydney Observatory 150th celebration.
Current use: Public Observatory, astronomy, meteorology, education, museum, functions.
Former use: Observatory; Time Ball Station; Semaphore; Meteorology; defence fort; windmills

History

Historical notes: History
Historical Notes:The site of the Sydney Observatory has been a significant place in Sydney and has undergone a number of name changes. It was known as Windmill Hill in the 1790s when it was the site of the first windmill. After 1804 references are made to it as Fort Phillip or Citadel Hill, referring to the construction , but never completion, of a citadel on the site at Governor King's instruction for use in the case of an insurrection in Sydney. This was prompted by an influx of 'Death or Liberty' Boys after the abortive 1798 uprising in Ireland, some of whom he believed to be of the most desperate character and cause for constant suspicion. Construction began but the citadel was not completed until Bligh had been installed in office. There were further discussions about a citadel during the Macquarie period but nothing eventuated beyond a half built powder magazine, Francis Greenway's first work after his appointment as civil architect in 1815.

The site was known as Flagstaff Hill during and after the Macquarie era. A flagstaff had been erected on the site by 1811. Flag signalling was a cumbersome process and Commissioner Bigge advised Macquarie that it was expedient to erect a semaphore at South Head and Fort Phillip. The flag and semaphore were used for signalling in a variety of combinations.

In November 1821 Governor Brisbane arrived with a set of astronomical instruments, a plan for an observatory and two personal employees with astronomical expertise - Charles Rumker and James Dunlop. Brisbane set up an observatory at the Governor's residence in Parramatta. Problems developed between Brisbane and Rumker. Rumker lost his position and it was not until Brisbane had been recalled that Rumker was reinstated by the Colonial Secretary. The following year Governor Darling, the new Governor, appointed Rumker as Government Astronomer, the first to hold the title in Australia. In 1831 Dunlop was appointed Superintendent at the observatory, Rumker again losing his position while on a visit to London.

Brisbane's instruments remained at Parramatta when he left and they were used in that observatory until it was closed in 1847.The recommendation for the closure came from a commission appointed by Governor Fitzroy at the prompting of London. Dunlop had become increasingly frail and negligent and the Parramatta observatory had fallen into decay. The instruments were placed in ordnance storage at the urge of Phillip Parker King, a leading astronomer in Australia.

King argued that a government observatory should be set up, and not just the suggested time ball. King's preference for Fort Phillip to be the site was eventually accepted. In the eight years from Edmund Blacket's modest 1850 plan for the time ball observatory until its completion, the plans underwent progressive enlargement. The 1850 plan was a 13 x 14 foot room for a transit telescope and timekeeping apparatus with a small ante-room. In 1851 an enlarged version was presented to the Colonial Secretary but it had no time ball tower, because neither King or Blacket, the Colonial Architect, knew how it worked. The need for an Observer's dwelling was noted.

Plans were redrawn in the next couple of years. When Edmund Blacket resigned in 1854 to take on the design and supervision of construction of Sydney University, plans were underway for an observatory that would be both functional and of architectural quality.

Blacket's successor, William Weaver, replaced him on the observatory project.

Weaver was appointed Colonial Architect in October 1854. Correspondence from him to Blacket in the early years indicates that Weaver was much happier in direct supervision of works than performing the duties of his desk-bound role. As head of an over-loaded department, he complained:

'The arrangements for the performance of the various works, the official correspondence, the number of reports, and the examination of accounts, absorb nearly the whole time of the head of department, who practically can have little or no professional oversight of any work'.

A Select Committee on the Colonial Architect's Department in August 1855 questioned an overpayment to the stonemasonry contractor of the Dead House at Circular Quay and accused him of defrauding the Government. Weaver, as head of the Department, was accused of negligence for paying him and subsequently submitted his resignation in apparent disgust.

Weaver was only 18 months as Colonial Architect and of the two major architectural works to come from his Department during his term in office, the Government Printing Office at the corner of Phillip and Bent Streets no longer stands and the Sydney Observatory has been generally attributed to his successor. In fact, Sir William Denison approved Weaver's plans 'for an Observatory and Astronomical resicence' in August 1855 after some specifications supplied by Denison had been incorporated. When building commenced a year later the new Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson adopted those plans (Maguire, 1984, 46).

Little more was done until the arrival of Sir William Denison as Governor General in January 1855. Denison saw an observatory as an important addition to the colony. As a result the 600 pounds allocated to the time ball and building was augmented by an additional vote of 7000 pounds for a complete observatory and Denison wrote to the Astronomer Royal asking him to find a competent astronomer. Plans and estimates were submitted in August 1855 but Denison decided to defer the final decision on the site and design until the arrival of the astronomer.

Alexander Dawson replaced Weaver as Colonial Architect in April 1856 and the new Government Astronomer, Reverend William Scott, M.A., arrived with his family in October that year. Tenders for the construction were advertised in February 1857. The successful tenderers were Charles Bingemenn and Ebenezer Dewar. The plans used appear to have been the work of Dawson rather than those of his predecessors, there being numerous references by Scott to consultations with the Colonial Architect on the design of the building.

Extra work was approved after Bingemann and Dewar won their tender. This included the addition of a telescope dome and an increase in the height of the time ball tower. This increased height caused some dismay for Scott as it blocked out an increased area of the eastern sky.

The completed building combined, for the first time in a major Sydney building, two architectural streams - Italian High Renaissance Palazzo and the Italian Villa forms. These contributed the symmetry of the townhouse facade for the residence and an asymmetry for the observatory born of the peculiar needs of transit room, equatorial dome and time ball tower. The building was thus elevated from basic necessity to fashionable stylishness.

Dawson's budget had enabled him to emphasise the distinction between the private and the public, the domestic and the official. The style and form was overlaid with early Victorian theories of fitness and association, that style should be chosen to indicate the nature and status of the building and in some cases, the site.

Scott occupied the residence in 1858 and commenced a trial operation of the time ball in June. His initial equipment was modest, mostly the instruments from Parramatta. He did, however, obtain the money for an equatorial telescope. In 1862 Scott resigned, recommending prominent amateur astronomer John Tebbutt as his replacement. Tebbutt declined the offer and the search for a replacement was commenced. In the meantime, his assistant Henry Chamberlain Russell was left in charge of the observatory. In January 1864 the new appointee George Robarts Smalley arrived and Russell was his second in command.

In 1870 Smalley died and was replaced by Russell. Russell's talent, entrepreneurial flair, intimate knowledge of how to work the political and bureaucratic system of NSW and longevity gave him a 35 year tenure as Government Astronomer and made him the Grand Old Man of physical science in the colonies.

It was during Russell's period that Sydney Observatory was popularly believed to have been at its professional zenith, particularly from the 1870s through to the 1890s. Russell wasted no time in pressing the government for the necessary physical and instrumental resources to carry out his astronomical programs at the Observatory. The addition of a west wing designed by colonial architect James Barnett was the main work resulting from this. It provided for a major ground floor room for Russell, a library, a second equatorial dome on a tower at its northern extremity which removed the blind spot imposed by the time ball tower. An enlarged Muntz metal dome was also placed on the old equatorial tower to accommodate a new Schroeder telescope. The telescope remains a prized and functional possession today. Russell also turned his attention to improving the residence, claiming it was not large enough to accommodate his family.

In 1875 Russell succeeded in securing an extension of the Observatory enclosure. Like his predecessors, he had been concerned with the restrictive nature of the Observatory grounds which made siting of meteorological and auxiliary astronomical instruments difficult, if not impossible. This extension, together with the adjacent signal station give the site its present symmetrical perimeter.

The Astrographic Catalogue was Russell's greatest commitment and would affect programs at the observatory for 80 years. His interest in the application of photography to astronomy and a visit to Paris in 1887 prompted Russell to take part in a 'great star catalogue'. The Sydney Zone of the catalogue was a massive logistical enterprise and was not practically completed until 1964.

Russell died in 1907 after taking leave for an extended period of time due to ill health. His assistant Alfred Lenehan was appointed acting Government Astronomer during this period and later Government Astronomer in 1907. However, in 1906 a premier's conference resolved that the Commonwealth Government would take over meteorological work, leaving astronomy to the states. Thus, the meteorological section of the Observatory became a Commonwealth agency under the direction of a former officer of the Observatory, Henry Hunt. Lenehan and Hunt continuously quarrelled and did not develop a good working relationship.

In January 1908 Lenehan had a stroke and never returned to work. At the same time the Commonwealth agency was installed in the Observatory residence. William Edward Raymond, the officer responsible for transit work, became officer in charge for four years, until the appointment of William Ernest Cooke in 1912.

Cooke was lured to Sydney from Perth Observatory with promises of a new site located in Wahroongah, then free of city lights and traffic, the purchase of modern instruments and a world trip to investigate the latest developments. None of these eventuated during Cooke's fourteen years at the observatory.

In 1916 the board of visitors to the Observatory was reconstituted. Russell had allowed it to lapse during his term of office and in 1917 the residence was again inhabited by the Astronomer.

All government astronomers from Scott to Cooke were worried about increasing levels of city light, vibration from traffic and magnetic disturbance which rendered the Flagstaff Hill site increasingly unsuitable. Recommendations had been made by Smalley in 1864 and others in the first quarter of the twentieth century. While Russell had managed to have the astrographic telescope relocated to Pennant Hills, there was general worry over the reaction to the cost of relocation of the whole observatory. In July 1925 Cooke wrote to his minister pointing out the problems at the site and with the equipment. The State Cabinet took him at his word and in October decided to close the Observatory rather than face the cost of removal and re-equipment. However, protests from the Board of Visitors, the Royal Society of NSW, the NSW Branch of the British Astronomical Association, the University of Sydney and interested members of the public caused the Government to change its mind and allow the observatory to continue - but with a heavily reduced staff and program. Most of the staff were transferred to other departments and Cooke was retired the following year. Only the time ball and completion of the astrographic program survived. This experience inhibited later Government Astronomers in their arguments for a new site.

Two World Wars, a great depression and a commitment to a logistically exacting astrographic program helped reduce the vitality of the establishment in the twentieth century. The deployment of major resources to the astrographic program became something of an incubus as the twentieth century progressed. The Government Astronomers could not suspend or abort the program even if they had thought it desirable. At the same time the fulfilment of international obligations under the program was largely instrumental in the survival of the Observatory.

The completion of the program in 1964 and publication of the final volume in 1971 meant the Observatory's days were numbered. Other fundamental reasons also contributed to the notion that the Observatory was no longer a viable proposition. The transfer of meteorology to the Commonwealth in 1908 removed the Observatory's most high profile public service, electric telegraphy and radio had reduced and in time eliminated the need for local navigational and time services. Ambient city light was starting to restrict astronomical observation though the place was still suitable for the time consuming analysis of the observations and other astronomical work together with functions such as a public observatory and a centre for public and media enquiries.

Post World War Two was an exciting time for Australian astronomical development, particularly in radio astronomy. These developments bypassed Sydney though the Government Astronomer Harley Wood kept a close involvement as the first president of the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) in 1966 and as the co-ordinator of the first International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly to be held in the southern hemisphere in Sydney, 1973. Without major capital funds to develop its own specialisations in the west, Sydney remained tied to its traditional role. Despite this there was some positive activity at the Observatory. During the 1950s and 1960s under Wood, the Observatory enjoyed a modest renaissance. Staff numbers were built up and new equipment acquired. Both the Sydney and Melbourne sections of the Astrographic catalogue were completed and published. A new domed building was constructed in the south east corner of the Observatory to house the Melbourne star camera that replaced the original Sydney one. A new survey of the southern sky was commenced and by 1982 Wood's successor William Robertson had completed the photography and measurement was underway. Education was another aspect of the observatory's work that Wood developed. Always one of its aims, increasing numbers of visitors, including teaching students, attended the Observatory.

These activities commanded respect for Sydney Observatory in astronomical circles, but its image in the NSW Parliament and associated Public Service remained forgettable. Wood's annual reports failed to help this. They did not communicate any sense of excitement and worth in the Observatory.

The disestablishment of the Observatory echoed that of fifty years earlier when Cooke stressed the need for a new location. The Chairman of the Board of Visitors wrote a letter to the Premier in 1979 urging the establishment of a remote observing site for the Observatory and stressing the difficulty of the conditions at the existing site. This co-incided with a nation-wide review of astronomy facilities commissioned by the ASA and led by Monash University Professor of Astronomy Kevin Westfold (1980) This concluded that astronomy was a federal responsibility and that resources should be allocated to research operations, highlighting radio astronomy. It should also be noted that the State of NSW was in financial difficulties. This, and likely other pressures, resulted in a letter from the Premier in June 1982 announcing his decision to transfer the Observatory to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and discontinue scientific work. Despite letters from international astronomers, and a concerted offort from now-retired Harley Wood, the Government did not rescind its decision.

In July 1984 the Minister for Public Works, Ports and Roads announced an $800 000 project to restore Sydney Observatory for astronomy education, public observatory and a Museum of Astronomy. While the importance of the exterior was recognised, the interior was less fortunate. Work inside the building in the creation of the museum involved the staged removal of almost all instruments, equipment, and furniture and furnishings to the Museum's store (Kerr 1991: 1-38). The astrographic building was demolished and the dome, instruments and most of the glass plate and paper collection was removed to Macquarie University for future research use.

In 1997 the observatory was refurbished, this time instruments were returned to their original locations or showcased. 'The 'By the light of the Southern Stars' exhibition theme also included the Parramatta Observatory instruments and Indigenous Astronomy. In 1999 a major stonemasonry repair project on the observatory building commenced. This continued through to 2008. In 2002 the conservation plan was updated by Kerr, this time complimentary on the relocation and interpretation of the instruments.

A number of key astronomical events haveoccurred in recent years, most notable are Halleys Comet (1986), The impact of Shoemaker Levy on Jupiter (1994), Mars at its closest encounter (2003), transits of Venus (2004, 2012), Comet McNaught (2007), planetary alignments and eclipses. Thousands of people came to the Observatory to view these through telescopes and to see relevant exhibitions. Further the Observatory provided information about these events to many more people either directly or through the media.

In 2008, for the 150th anniversary, the Signal Station building was stabilised, one of the original two flagstaffs re-constructed and an archaeological investigation commenced around the base of the fort led by NSW Government Architects, building design and Heritage office and Casey and Lowe. Original fort footings were uncovered and the base of a room which was once a bombproof inside the fort wall foundations.

In 2009 permission was granted for a temporary marquee to be erected for a restricted period of time in order to raise funds.

Furthermore the Astrographic dome and instruments have been returned by Macquarie University to the Museum store where they are awaiting conservation and a Heritage NSW approved structure on the Observatory site.

The most significant change to Sydney Observatory in 50 years, the new Eastern Dome was opened on 27/1/15, by the Deputy Premier Troy Grant and Minister for Disability Services, John Ajaka (Central Sydney, 28/1/15, 7).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Convict-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 Working for the Crown-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Agriculture-Activities relating to the cultivation and rearing of plant and animal species, usually for commercial purposes, can include aquaculture Windmills to pump water for farm use-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Communication-Activities relating to the creation and conveyance of information Communicating by semaphore-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Communication-Activities relating to the creation and conveyance of information Communicating by radar-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Communication-Activities relating to the creation and conveyance of information Communicating by telegraph-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Communication-Activities relating to the creation and conveyance of information (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Science-Activities associated with systematic observations, experiments and processes for the explanation of observable phenomena Astronomy-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Science-Activities associated with systematic observations, experiments and processes for the explanation of observable phenomena (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Science-Activities associated with systematic observations, experiments and processes for the explanation of observable phenomena Meteorology-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Science-Activities associated with systematic observations, experiments and processes for the explanation of observable phenomena Researching astronomy-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Creating landmark structures and places in urban settings-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Building Peace time healing and understanding between cultures-
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. (none)-
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. Colonial government-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Aaron Muron Bolot, architect-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Governor Lord Augustus F.S.Loftus, 1879-1884+-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Governor Lt.William Paterson-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Governor William Bligh, 1806-1810-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Francis Greenway, emancipist architect-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with the Australian Garden History Society-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Governor Dr Marie Bashir-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with William Weaver, Colonial Architect 1855-6, architect-engineer-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Observatory's dominant location beside and above the port town, and later, city of Sydney, made it the site for a range of changing uses. All of these were important to, and reflected changes in the development of the colony.

The place has an association with an extensive array of historical figures, most of whom have helped shape its fabric. These include colonial governors, military officers and enginees, convicts, architects and astronomers(Kerr 1991: 39)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The elevation of the site with its harbour and city views and vistas framed by the mature fig trees of the surrounding park, make it one of the most pleasant and spectacular locations.

The picturesque Italianate character and stylistic interest of the observatory and residence building, together with the high level of competence of the masonry (both stone and brick) of all major structures on the site, combine to create a precinct of unusual quality. (Kerr 1991: 39)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The surviving structures, both above and below ground, are themselves physical documentary evidence of 195 years of changes of use, technical development and ways of living. As such they are a continuing resource for investigation and public interpretation. (Kerr 1991:39)
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.

Recommended management:

Conservation plan to be reviewed.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
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 0144922 Dec 00 16813892
Local Environmental PlanObservatory (Park & several building item listingsCSH LEP 1,3,407 Apr 00   
National Trust of Australia register Fort Street & Observatory Precinct7677, 10483   
National Trust of Australia register Observatory Park etc9149   
Register of the National Estate  21 Mar 78   
Register of the National EstateObservatory Park215221 Mar 78   
Register of the National EstateSydney Observatory215821 Mar 78   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
National Federation Heritage Project1999 Michael Pearson et al  No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Sydney Observatory View detail
WrittenClive Lucas, Stapleton & Partners1997Alterations and Additions to the Signal Master's Cottage
WrittenDavid Sheedy1974Fort Street School and Observatory Precinct - The Observatory. National Trust Listing Card.
WrittenGodden Mackay P/L1998Observatory Hill, Sydney : archaeological monitoring report
WrittenGovernment Architect's Office2008Sydney Observatory - Statement of Heritage Impact for proposed new Third Dome and Fort Phillip Wall Railing
WrittenGovernment Architect's Office2008Historical Archaeological Test Excavation Report - Proposed New Third Dome Site, Sydney Observatory
WrittenGraham Brooks & Associates Heritage Consultants2007Statement of Heritage Impact - Southern Flagstaff Reconstruction, Sydney Observatory, Dawes Point
WrittenHeritage Design Services, Department of Public Works & Services2002Sydney Observatory new function centre : archaeological assessment to inform a design competition brief
WrittenHeritage Design Services, Department of Public Works & Services2002Sydney Observatory new function centre : archaeological methodology and research design to accompany an application pursuant to section 60 of the NSW Heritage Act, 1977
Management PlanJames Semple Kerr1991Sydney Observatory: a conservation plan for the site and its structures
WrittenJames Semple Kerr2002Sydney Observatory - a conservation plan for the site & its structures
WrittenMaguire, Roslyn1984'Introducting Mr William Weaver, architect and engineer'
WrittenPickett, C. & Lomb, N.2001Observer & observed : a pictorial history of Sydney Observatory and Observatory
WrittenPower, Julie2013'Historic Time Ball clocks up an impressive record'
WrittenRossi, Mafalda2000Sydney Observatory site : archaeological watching brief, 20 September-2nd October 1994
TourismTourism NSW2007Sydney Observatory View detail

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

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(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5051545
File number: 14/47756; 09/4833; s94/0422


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