Lands Department Building | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Lands Department Building

Item details

Name of item: Lands Department Building
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Government and Administration
Category: Administration Office
Location: Lat: -33.8639295477 Long: 151.2099459440
Primary address: 22-33 Bridge 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
LOT1877 DP877000
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
22-33 Bridge StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandPrimary Address
Gresham StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandAlternate Address
Bent StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandAlternate Address
Loftus StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandAlternate Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Department of Planning and InfrastructureState Government20 Nov 98
Department of Planning and InfrastructureState Government03 May 99

Statement of significance:

The building is one of the most outstanding surviving Victorian buildings in Sydney. The building has been used continuously for the purpose which it was designed for - as the administrative head office of Department of Lands. It has a long association with the public life of NSW, especially the rapid expansion of settlement during the later part of the 19th century. The building forms a visually satisfying enclosure to the southen side of Macquarie Place and relates in scale and materials to the other Government buildings at the eastern end of Bridge Street. A vital landmark in the history of surveying, land titles and public works in New South Wales. (DLWC S170 Register)
Date significance updated: 03 Nov 06
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.


Designer/Maker: James Barnet; W. Kemp; W. Vernon
Builder/Maker: John Young 1876-1881; Waine & Baldwin 1888-1890
Construction years: 1876-1892
Physical description: A large 3-storey sandstone administration building with basement, designed in the Renaissance Revival style.

The basement has 3 entrances: the main entrance in Bridge Street, and two others in Gresham Street (one originally used for carriage). The facade is of dressed Pyrmont sandstone with cornices and balusters at each floor level.

The ground, first, & second floors have pilasters and entablatures of the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders respectively, each standing on appropriate pedestals.

The pitched roof is behind a balustraded parapet. A large copper dome 55' square at the base changing to an octagon at the top and carrying an octagonal lantern with revolving copper dome roof rises above the Bridge Street faade.

The centre compartments of Gresham and Loftus Streets have pediments backed up by high mansard roofs. A clock tower with copper "onion" top closes the vistas in Bent and Spring Streets. The elevations have arched windows and verandah openings, and niches for statuary. There is delicately formed cast iron work to the entrance gates and window grilles, and large flights of stairs and cantilevered balconies and bridges around the courtyards.

The internal walls are of brick with reinforced concrete floors and ceiling, iron girders and iron-framed roofing. Externally, the building's original faade is unchanged. (DLWC S170 Register)

Each facade has 12 niches whose sculpted occupants include explorers and legislators who made a major contribution to the opening up and settlement of the nation. Although 48 men were nominated by Barnet as being suitable subjects, most were rejected as being 'hunters or excursionists'. Only 23 statues were commissioned, the last being added in 1901 leaving 25 niches unfilled (Devine, 2011).
Modifications and dates: 11/2010- a new statue of colonial surveyor James Meehan (1774-1826) was created and placed in an empty niche on cnr. Loftus/Bent Streets. Meehan was transported to NSW due to involvement in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. He arrived in Sydney in 1800 and, as a teacher and skilled surveyor, was assigned as a servant to Acting Surveyor-General, Charles Grimes. Within two years he had been on two major expeditions and, by 1806, had been conditionally pardoned. He continued to work on departmental duties, and, from difficult beginnings,, a remarkable rose to be an important colonial surveyor, explorer and settler, surveying and mapping large areas of the country. The early towns of Sydney, Parramatta, Bathurst, Port Macquarie and Hobart were all explored, laid out and measured by Meehan. The statue was commissioned by the Land & Property Management Authority to commemorate Meehan's close collaboration with NSW Public Works Heritage Services and the Government Architect's Office (Devine, 2011). Meehan was also associated with Macquarie Field House, Campbelltown an early country estate and farm, separately listed on the NSW State Heritage Register (Read, Stuart, pers.comm., 27/1/12).
Further information: Maintain original plan configuration and retain all original fabric and detailing if possible. Retain the same continuous usage of the building. Conservation Plan was prepared in 1985, however it is recommended thatthis Plan be updated. (DLWC S170 Register)
Current use: offices
Former use: offices


Historical notes: The Lands Department Building was designed by the Colonial Architect James Barnet, and was built in two stages. The first stage was between 1876-81; the second stage was between 1888-92 under the supervision of the Colonial Architect Walter Vernon (it was completed two years into Vernon's tenure in this role).

The first stage saw the use of reinforced concrete slabs by the builder John Young who was Sydney's first protagonist [sic] of ferro-cement construction.

Sometime between 1887 and 1894 the Lands Department Datum Bench Mark Plug was set into position on the front of the building and provided the origin of all levels in NSW under the Survey Co-ordination Act. In 1938, a clock for the tower and a clock system throughout the building to be driven electronically by a pendulum master clock were installed by Prouds Limited. The whole system was Australian made.

In the late 1980s [sic], the building was earmarked by the NSW Governnment as one of the possible sites for conversion into a casino. A Permanent Conservation Order covering the premises was passed by the NSW Heritage Council in order to protect the building from unsympathetic development. (DLWC S170 Register)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal (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. (none)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Walter Liberty Vernon, Government Architect, private architect-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with James Barnet, Government Architect-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with James Meehan, Deputy Surveyor General-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Lands Department Building is one of the most influential and major public building ever established during the mid nineteenth century in Australia's colonial history. The responsibilities and duties of the Lands Department highlighted the important contributions that it has provided to the growth of the colony over the years. The style and scale of the building was considered to be equal to the public buildings that were constructed in the rest of the British Empire. Moreover, it provided a sense of pride amongst the citizens of Sydney and enabled many to connect with their European roots. The Lands Department Building also has associations with significant Australian figures including Surveyor Generals such as Sir Thomas Mitchell as well as prominent Australian architects such as James Barnet (Smith, 1996, p49).
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Lands Department Building is a landmark that is well known for its character due to its portrait statues on its facade. The building does also make a key contribution to Sydney’s streetscapes as being ‘one of the most intact late Victorian-Edwardian’ styles in the city (Smith, 1996, p50). James Barnet’s unique building designs had drifted away from the traditional architectural styles found in earlier nineteenth century Sydney. His design plans had incorporated the use of majestic colonnades and verandas in view of the Australian climate.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The building is an important heritage item that stems from early colonial times and is at present widely accepted by the public to be of historical significance. It is viewed as a structure that provides a sense of Australian identity. The Lands Department Building as well as other Neo-Classical architectures such as the General Post Office and the Chief Secretary’s Building symbolises not only the wealth of the nation, but also the pride of owning a structure that reflects their connection to the British Empire. The building is exceptionally impressive and is viewed as a place of historical interest attracting both tourists and locals alike.
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:

Conserve and maintain in accordance with the Burra Charter. (DLWC S170 Register)

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act Record converted from HIS events

Order Under Section 57(2) to exempt the following activities from Section 57(1):
(1) The maintenance of any building or item on the site which relates to the continuous protective care of existing material but excluding renovation, repairs (other than those of a minor nature and extent), restoration or repainting.
(2) Minor repairs where minor repair means the repair of materials and includes replacement of minor components which have been damaged beyond reasonable repair or are missing. Replacements should be of the same material, colour, texture, form and design as the original they replace.
(3) Change of use
Mar 28 1991
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementConservarion Plan Aug 1 1996
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
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.

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
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementConservation Management Plan submitted for endorsement. Feb 9 2015

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0074402 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0074428 Mar 91 052 
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register     
Local Environmental PlanCSH LEP 4 07 Apr 00   
Register of the National Estate  21 Mar 78   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Land & Water Conservation Section 170 Register199554131Heritage Group: State Projects  No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenDevine, Matthew2011James Meehan (1774-1826) takes his place - Lands Department Building, Sydney
WrittenStephanie Peatling2004The Buildings that are saving Sydney - energy efficiency 22/1/04
WrittenTerry Kass2008Jewels in the crown : a history of crown plans and the Bridge Street plan room 1788-2008

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: 5045701
File number: S90/01458; S95/00332 [S170]

Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

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