Hydraulic Power Station | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Hydraulic Power Station

Item details

Name of item: Hydraulic Power Station
Other name/s: Carrington Hydraulic Engine House
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Utilities - Electricity
Category: Electricity Generator/Power Station - hydro-electric
Primary address: 106 Bourke Street, Carrington, NSW 2294
Local govt. area: Newcastle


An extended curtilage following the suggestion made in the Dept Commerce CMP, 2005 is recommended. Please see image No. 10
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
106 Bourke StreetCarringtonNewcastle  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The Power Station is of great historic, associative and aesthetic significance for the State of NSW, as a standing structure of great architectural quality, which was constructed to house machinery for the State's first large scale hydraulic power system. The Power Station represents an important landmark in energy technology in NSW, and demonstrates the employment of state of the art technology at Newcastle port, the State's largest coal loading facility for much of the last 150 years. The Power Station has a strong association with E O Moriarty, eminent Australian Engineer, as an integral component in the world class port facility he designed and implemented at Newcastle from 1855, his first major project in the colony. The Power Station is also significant through its association with England's Sir William George Armstrong, the father of modern hydraulic power, whose company supplied the hydraulic machinery for the Carrington system. Despite its utilitarian function, the building was designed with an imposing classical facade, which forms a local architectural landmark. Its architecture represented the excellence and permanence of the Bullock Island scheme as a port facility with economic importance to the State. Although the machinery has been removed from the inside of the Power House, its exterior design, the interior spaces and remaining features, the archaeological remnants of the hydraulic system on the site, as well as its relationship with the with the crane base relics, located on the nearby Dyke (SHI 2171247), provide rare evidence of this phase of energy technology in NSW. Internal fabric of note.
Date significance updated: 29 Oct 12
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Probably Government Architect, James Barnett. Machinery by Armstrong, UK
Builder/Maker: Jennings and Company, Sydney
Physical description: The Hydraulic Engine House is a face brick and stone building, effectively two to three stories in height, but constructed as a single storey space. The exterior features decorative quoins, mouldings and plinth in grey stone. The upper roof is in slate, with the lower roofs in corrugated asbestos. There are timber roof ventilators to the boiler room. The main, south facing, facade is monumental, in a Victorian Free Classical, or slightly Mannerist style. It is symmetrical around a central projecting pedimented portico, reflecting an ancient temple front, which features an elongated arched entrance way. A heavily carved lions head stands over main door. The central bay is flanked by side bays each featuring a pair of elongated arched windows, and then the sturdy square accumulator towers which project above the main roof. The windows and doors to the building are in timber, originally Australian red cedar.

Located at the rear end of each side of the building were two chimney stacks, square rather than conical shape, but these were demolished during the late 1960s. These stacks were separate from the building, and evidence of their footprint and archaeology would probably remain in the ground.

The existing building incorporates a number of later additions, subsequent to the completion of the eastern boiler room. The first was a small lean-to style structure between the two boiler rooms. The second was a further lean to addition in light cream brickwork, known as the battery room, behind the boiler room No. 1. A further small addition was made in yellow brick with decorations in render, and fourth was constructed in brown/grey coloured brickwork to the east of the central lean-to structure.

To the rear of the main engine house, linked by a covered walkway, is the electrical substation building and workshop. The sub-station has a face brick facade facing the rear of the power house, and corrugated iron walls to the east and west, considered to have been intended to be temporary. The roof is in asbestos cement shingles with decorative terra cotta ridge capping. The abutting electrical workshop has face brick walls etc, the eastern wall was relocated and reconstructed to allow the new port entrance to be constructed, resulting in a reduced floor area.

The building is located on a flat site, created from the tidal mud flats of Bullock Island by filling, from 1861. The building is located at the apex of The Basin, with the main, southern, facade facing the Lee Wharf and Honeysuckle area across the harbour. The Dyke, along which a number of hydraulic crane bases remain, runs beside it to the east at some distance. The siting of the building at the head of The Basin assists in defining it as an imposing and substantial structure in the central Newcastle landscape, clearly visible from the southern side of the Harbour. It is surrounded by industrial development in the form of railway infrastructure and port related structures, physically separated from Carrington the suburb.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The building is in poor condition and is vacant. The roof was re-slated in the mid 1990s using imported Penryhn slates and is now in sound condition over the main section of the building.
Date condition updated:06 Nov 07
Modifications and dates: 1879 - addition of machinery to the boiler house.

1890 - construction of eastern boilerhouse on foundations that had been supplied 1877, and brick condensing room constructed at rear of main building.

1915 - electric substation constructed to the rear of main building.

1930s - steam engines and boilers replaced by electric motors.

post WW2 - hydraulic engines removed and new pumping engine installed necessitating extensive modifications to the foundations of the eastern side of the engine room.

1950s - 60s - all associated hydraulic cranes ceased service and were progressively dismantled, the last in 1964.

During the late 1960s all internal fitting, machinery was removed.

The two chimneys at each end of the building were demolished in the 1960s.

1995 - doors and windows reconstructed in oregon using photographic evidence, original cedar retained where possible

1990s - roof timbers reconstructed following a fire, and roof re-slated

Small additions including awnings, lean to structures, and alterations to window and door openings have also occurred at different times.
Current use: Used for storage
Former use: Hydraulic Power House


Historical notes: The Carrington Hydraulic Power Station was the first large scale hydraulic power system to be established in Australia. This cutting edge late nineteenth century technology was introduced to operate a crane system for loading coal onto ships in Newcastle Harbour. The northern coal fields, of which Newcastle was the port, accounted for about 70 per cent of all coal production in New South Wales between 1880 and 1930. (Docherty, 1983, p. 8) That this highly expensive technology first appeared in Australia at Newcastle in the shape of the Carrington Hydraulic Power Station and its system of cranes demonstrates the acknowledged importance of Newcastle harbour in the State's economy at that time.

Newcastle harbour consists of the estuarine mouth of the Hunter River and is naturally shallow, vulnerable to silting and originally had an entrance that could be dangerous to shipping. The harbour has undergone constant improvements, and expensive dredging and deepening works since the mid nineteenth century, but the value of the coal exports and subsequent heavy industry has ensured that these expensive works have been financed and have remained viable into the twenty-first century. (Docherty, 1983, p. 2) Coal loading at Newcastle has been through a number of phases. The earliest method of loading coal at Newcastle, using convict labour, was 'from baskets to bullock carts, from bullock carts to the wharf, from wharf to the pier, from pier to lighter and from lighter to ship.' This was inefficient, and the intensive handling involved often reduced the coal to dust by the time it reached Sydney. The Australian Agricultural Company, entering the mining industry in 1831 introduced an inclined plane carrying coal wagons from the Company's mine on the hill above the town to a wharf on the harbour front. By the 1850s coal was transported by rail to loading staithes on the foreshore to the west of the town. Smaller vessels, however, continued to be loaded by wheelbarrow, and in the late 1850s, larger vessels needed to be moored in deeper water, with coal again transferred via lighters. Queens Wharf (later Kings Wharf) was constructed in 1858-1860 along the southern foreshore at the eastern end of the harbour, in the area west of Watt Street. Steam cranes came into use at this wharf. The first cranes were owned and run by the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Company, and could be used by other companies when they were free. But they performed badly, and disputes over their use created disharmony on the waterfront. They were replaced by eight Government steam cranes, supplemented by additional staithes in 1869. But the loading and wharf facilities continued to be inadequate for the thriving coal and shipping trade at Newcastle. Additionally, the location of the loading facilities on the foreshore adjacent to the town impeded other mercantile activities requiring access to port, and spread coal dust over the town when the wind blew from a certain direction. Plans were already afoot, however, for improvement of the northern side of the harbour. (Department of Commerce, 2005: 3.2, 3.5)

In 1854 civil engineer J Woolston Ellis proposed the creation of a large stretch of wharfage on the northern side of the harbour. The plan was developed and implemented by E O Moriarty, of the NSW Steam Navigation Board appointed as engineer in charge of Hunter River Improvements in 1855. Bullock Island, the present Carrington, was selected by as a site for a modern railway and shipping facility to service this growing export coal trade. The ambitious conversion of this marshy island into a loading facility suitable for modern shipping was begun in 1861 under Moriarty's supervision, with the construction of a long stone dyke, using ship's ballast, along a sandbank extending south from Bullock Island. Work proceeded slowly, but by the early 1970s The Dyke was in place, and the shipping channel, as Moriarty had predicted, began to be widened and deepened by the force of the river's ebb current as channelled by the dyke. Now it remained to provide The Dyke with suitable loading facilities. (Hunter Design, n/d, p. 7; Department of Commerce, 2005: 3.4 - 3.5)

The world famous Armstrong Hydraulic Machinery Factory at Elswick, UK, was commissioned in 1874 to design a hydraulic crane system for the site. Modern hydraulic power was pioneered in the 1850s by Sir William Armstrong at a railway ferry station in England. He invented the accumulator, a cast iron cylinder fitted with a loaded plunger, which gave pressure to water injected by the engine without the need for an elevated reservoir, and gave much greater pressure than this previous system. The power produced was particularly well adapted for cranes, hoists and lifts, the turning of capstans and opening and shutting dock gates. In selecting hydraulic power for the Bullock Island facility, Moriarty was choosing the state of the art technology of the period. (Hunter Design, n/d, p. 8) The documents detailing the decision making process which lead to the selection of a hydraulically powered loading system for Newcastle have not been located, and may have been lost in the Garden Palace fire of 1882. At the same time that the Newcastle facilities were being planned, Norman Selfe, a Sydney engineer, was undertaking an enquiry into the improvement of Sydney's Circular Quay facilities. He recommended the adoption of hydraulic cranes, which had not previously been used in NSW, and had obtained a number of fee proposals from eminent British firms. The Government did not take up his suggestions for Circular Quay, but Selfe later claimed that it was his research that led to the adoption of a hydraulic system at Newcastle. (Department of Commerce, 2005: 3.6)

The Carrington hydraulic system was the first large scale application of hydraulic power in Australia. P. Johns and Co manufactured its first hydraulic lift in Melbourne in 1877, and proceeded to construct a smaller-scale hydraulic power engine for the lifts and presses in the Goldsbrough wool store soon afterwards. In Sydney, the adoption of hydraulic power was set back more than a decade after Selfe's proposal. The Sydney and Suburban Hydraulic Power Company was established in 1889, and by means of a pressurised mains system it supplied most of the city's power needs from 1890 until the coming of electricity, powering hydraulic engines, lifts (including passenger lifts in multi storey buildings), wool presses, cranes and bank doors in the city and inner suburbs, from a power house at Ultimo. The power house survives as the Pumphouse Tavern, with the building substantially intact, and some of the equipment surviving in situ. (Balint, Howells and Smyth, 1982, pp. 125-32; Pumphouse website, Department of Commerce, 2005: 3.6) That this highly expensive technology first appeared in Australia at Newcastle in the shape of the Carrington Hydraulic Power Station and its system of cranes demonstrates the acknowledged importance of Newcastle harbour in the State's economy at that time.

In preparation for the arrival of the hydraulic cranes ordered from England, eighteen sections of timber wharf were constructed, each 300 feet apart along the mile and a half long frontage of The Dyke. The contract for building foundations for the cranes was awarded to Mort's Dock and Engineering Company, Sydney. A branch line was under construction linking the Great Northern Line to Bullock Island, to facilitate transport of coal to the wharf facilities, as well as a bridge linking the island to the mainland. (Department of Commerce, 2005: 3.7) The main series of records pertaining to the construction of the Hydraulic Power Station appear to have been destroyed in the Garden Palace fire of 1882, but some documentation and plans for the cranes and for later extensions to the building survive. It appears that both the Harbours and Rivers Branch of the Public Works Department, and the office of the Government Architect were involved in the construction of the Carrington Power Station. The design of the building was governed by the nature of the machinery which it was to house. The building comprised an engine room, housing two engines; boiler room; two accumulator towers of 17 metres in height; and a 22 metre chimney stack. The New South Wales Parliamentary Papers of 1877 refer to the expenditure of 20,000 pounds for 'Newcastle wharf, cranes, hydraulic engine house &c.' (Department of Commerce, 2005: 3.6 - 3.7) Despite its utilitarian function, however, the aesthetic aspect of its design was by no means neglected. The exterior design was probably supplied by the Government Architect, James Barnett and his staff, but may have been designed in England, bearing a strong resemblance to the Glasgow (1877) and Swansea (1901) hydraulic engine houses. The tender for construction of the Power Station was awarded to Jennings and Company of Sydney, who were also building the Newcastle Customs House at the time. The materials and craftsmen employed on the Power Station are believed to be the same as those employed in the construction of Customs House. White sandstone (although it now appears grey) was imported from Sydney, and the yellow bricks were supplied by a local manufacturer, Bowtell's Merewether Brickworks. The operation of the hydraulic engines required a continuous supply of fresh, clean water, and a reservoir was constructed at Hamilton junction, drawing water from a nearby swamp and filtering it, before pumping it through a pipe to the hydraulic engine house. The hydraulic circuit was a closed system conveying pressurised water to each crane in pipes suspended beneath the timber wharf, and then returning it to the engine house. (Hunter Design, n/d, p. 10; Department of Commerce, 2005: 3.8 - 3.10)

The Newcastle Morning Herald (7 November 1877) reported on the project when the Power Station was almost completed, and waxed lyrical about the appearance of the Power Station, 'It is a magnificent structure of solid sandstone masonry, being built of white glistening sandstone blocks, beautifully dressed...' The Herald also showed great pride in the standard of the facility, feeling that 'As a specimen of Hydraulic Engineering, there are probably no harbour works in the world that will excel these for completeness, extent and power'. (Hunter Design, n/d, pp.8-9)

The Power House was designed to provide power to four static cranes located on the Dyke wharves. The cranes were tested in February 1878, each lifting 18 tons of coal. The first hydraulically loaded cargo left the port on 19th March 1878. The Town and Country Journal in March 1879 described the cranes as 'the chief glory of Newcastle', and emphasised the ease and silence accompanying their awesome feats of strength: ‘These beautiful pieces of mechanism...represent the last achievements of mechanical science in hydraulic machinery. They are all worked by hydraulic pressure produced by one pair of engines, and they could be manipulated by a child'. The article also admired the safety devices which would release the pressure of the water if not needed by the cranes. (Department of Commerce, 2005: 3.12)

From its construction into the early decades of the twentieth century, the Power House drove an ever increasing number of cranes and other mechanical equipment at the thriving port facility. The building had been designed to allow for future expansion, and this indeed occurred. In 1879, two more boilers and another engine were installed inside the power house, and a second accumulator was under construction. As the wharf area was progressively extended, additional cranes, some of which were capable of lifting 25 tons, were installed. By 1890 the two original engines were driving twelve cranes night and day in peak periods, and were severely overtaxed. There was provision in the existing engine room for more machinery, and a compound steam pumping engine was added. On foundations provided in 1877, an additional boiler room was also constructed on the eastern side of the building (symmetrical with the western boiler room), and supplied with four tubular Babcock and Wilson boilers. The contractor for this work, E J King also constructed a condensing room in yellow brick to the rear of the building, with a similar but less elaborate appearance than the main building. This room accommodated electric engines which provided lighting to the whole site, replacing the original gas lighting. The further growth of the coal trade in the first decade of the twentieth century led to the installation of seven moveable hydraulic cranes, and in 1914 hydraulic capstans were introduced to replace the horses used to move coal wagons to and from the cranes. Operations at this time saw the Carrington hydraulic system at its peak capacity. (Hunter Design, n/d, p. 14)

From this time, electricity began gradually to replace hydraulic power on the harbour. In 1916-1917, six large electric cranes were installed, supplied with power from the Zara Street Power Station. A sub-station was erected at the rear of the Hydraulic power house in the early 1920s, where current received from the city power plant was transformed. The Zara Street power station and BHP purchased and sold power from each other through this sub-station. The hydraulic cranes continued in use for some time, however. It was not until the early 1930s that two hydraulic cranes were demolished, and six more fell into disuse. The moveable cranes were still hydraulically powered, but the steam engines and boilers which had supplied the power previously were supplanted by electric motors. The two original hydraulic engines were removed from the Power House after WW2, and a new pumping engine was installed in their place, necessitating extensive alterations to the foundations of the eastern side of the engine room. (Hunter Design, n/d, p. 17; Department of Commerce, 2005: 3.17 - 3.18)

Although the hydraulic age was definitely over, the Power Station continued to produce hydraulic power until the 1960s. The authors of the Conservation Plan feel that the continued use of obsolete crane loading technology at Newcastle harbour in the post-war decades reflects the protected state of the coal industry at this time following from the loss of the export trade after WW1 and consequent reduced need for competitiveness. This antiquated and dilapidated loading system came under attack in the 1950s and 1960s, with the editor of the journal 'Australian Coal, Shipping, Steel and the Harbour' writing ‘There is not a port in Australia or elsewhere in the world, which could possibly present such an example of ineptitude and neglect'. The Basin Coal Loader, a belt loader which brought to an end the use of cranes for coal loading at Newcastle, was completed in 1967, supported by Federal Government funding. Five of the older hydraulic cranes had been demolished in 1956, and the last of the movable cranes was removed in 1964. The Power House machinery was dismantled and removed, including the accumulators, which needed to be cut into pieces in order to be removed from the towers. The last two electric cranes were demolished in 1988, leaving the hydraulic power house and a large number of the bases of the fixed hydraulic cranes, as the last physical evidence of the former coal loading system. The power house building itself has subsequently been used for storage, and has been vulnerable to vandalism despite security measures. A handful of remnants remain inside the building, including sections of pipework, early light fittings and a measuring device for the accumulators. (Hunter Design, n/d, pp. 4, 17; Department of Commerce, 2005: 3.1, 3.19)

The Power Station can be compared with the only other known power house for a large scale hydraulic system in NSW, which survives as the Pumphouse Tavern at Ultimo, Sydney. The two systems, however, were quite different, with the Ultimo station driving a great diversity of warehouse and commercial equipment across the CBD, while that at Carrington was constructed exclusively to drive the largest coal loading facility in the State. The Hydraulic Power Station at Carrington preceeded the Sydney system by over a decade. It is understood that the Pumphouse retains some original equipment in situ. It is considered that both are highly significant in demonstrating the use of hydraulic power in NSW.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Industry-Activities associated with the manufacture, production and distribution of goods Industrial technology-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Mining-Activities associated with the identification, extraction, processing and distribution of mineral ores, precious stones and other such inorganic substances. coal mining-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements transportation-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Utilities-Activities associated with the provision of services, especially on a communal basis (none)-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour (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)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Power Station has historical significance for NSW as an integral component of Newcastle's nineteenth and twentieth century port system. The Power House was constructed as part of a State planned and implemented project to improve the economically significant Newcastle port, the main coal-loading facility in the State. The Newcastle project warranted the employment of the best heavy lifting technology available at the time: hydraulic power. As the engine house for the first large scale hydraulic system established in the country, the Power House represents a significant landmark in the history of technology in Australia, and illustrates the uptake of world class technology in NSW through commission of the father of modern hydraulic power, W G Armstrong to provide the plant. The Carrington installation remained in use into the post-war period when it was finally completely superceded by electric power on the waterfront.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Power Station has a strong association with E O Moriarty, Engineer in Chief, Harbours Rivers and Ports for the Public Works Department, as an integral component in the world class port facility he designed and implemented at Newcastle from 1855, his first major project in the colony. The Power Station is also significant through its association with England's Sir William George Armstrong, inventor of the accumulator, and thus the father of modern hydraulic power, whose company produced the hydraulic machinery for the Carrington system, housed in the Power House, and may have advised on the design of the building.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The power station has aesthetic and technical significance for the State. Despite its utilitarian function, the building was designed with an imposing classical facade, which forms a significant landmark in Carrington, and in views from across the harbour. Its architecture represented the excellence and permanence of the Bullock Island scheme as a port facility with economic importance to the State. Its architecture also referenced the design of hydraulic power houses in Britain, the home of this nineteenth century technology. The building has technical significance for the State through its role in housing the state of the art hydraulic machinery of its day. Although the machinery has been removed from the inside of the Power House, its exterior design, the interior spaces and remaining features, and the archaeological remnants of the hydraulic system in the vicinity, provide rare evidence of this phase of energy technology in NSW.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The social significance of the Power Station has not been investigated as part of this review. With further investigation, the Power House may be found to have social significance locally, for the Carrington Port and Railways staff from 1877 to the present, and may have social significance for Novocastrians generally due to its distinctive appearance and landmark qualities.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The site has archaeological potential to demonstrate how the site operated. The foundations of the two demolished chimneys and remnant hydraulic water lines for example, are likely to survive in the vicinity, along with the surviving crane bases along The Dyke, providing rare evidence of a large scale hydraulic system in NSW.
SHR Criteria f)
Along with the crane bases fronting The Dyke (SHI 2171247), the Power House has rarity value for the State as an articulate remnant of a large scale hydraulic power system. The only other known power house for a large scale hydraulic system in NSW survives as the Pumphouse Tavern at Ultimo, Sydney. The two facilities complement each other in demonstrating different aspects of the use of hydraulic power in NSW.
SHR Criteria g)
The Power House has not been found to be significant under this criterion within this review.
Integrity/Intactness: The Power House is currently in poor condition, requiring some further maintenance and repair works. However, the robust nature of its materials and design ensure that the structure has remained intact overall. A number of alterations and additions have occurred through the life of the structure, which are articulate about its growth and use to varying degrees. The 2005 Conservation Management Plan defines the original fabric c1877 and additions to 1900, along with the chimney foundations and remnant hydraulic lines on the site as the most significant parts of the site. Although the chimneys have been demolished to ground level, and the machinery has been removed from the main Power House, these elements retain sufficient integrity to demonstrate the use of hydraulic power on the site, and play a significant part in demontrating the importance of the Bullock Island scheme.
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.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental Plan 3 Ports SEPP   
Heritage study     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Newcastle Heritage Study19905Unknown  Yes
Review of Items of Potential State Significance in the Newcastle City Area2008 Sue Rosen and Associates Heritage Assessment And History (HAAH)Emma Dortins and Rosemary Kerr Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  The Pumphouse website, viewed 23rd August 2007
WrittenBalint, Howells and Smyth1982Warehouses and Woolstores of Victorian Sydney
WrittenNSW Department of Commerce2005Carrington Hydraulic Engine House Conservation Management Plan Final Draft

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: Local Government
Database number: 2170005
File number: 5

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