Mortuary Railway Station and Gardens | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Mortuary Railway Station and Gardens

Item details

Name of item: Mortuary Railway Station and Gardens
Other name/s: Mortuary Terminal
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Rail
Category: Railway Platform/ Station
Location: Lat: -33.888330249458 Long: 151.201234165314
Primary address: Regent Street, Chippendale, NSW 2008
Local govt. area: Sydney


North: sandstone gate entry columns at north entrySouth: 5 metres beyond paved platform areaEast: the outside rail of the former Metropolitan Goods Line track to hurricane wire fence gate of bus interchange and then following fence line of bus interchange to Regent Street.West: Fenced area fronting Regent Street to the sandstone gate entry columns.Note: The State Heritage Register listing boundary varies to the S170 Listing Boundary (see SHR plan). The station also falls within the SHR curtilage of Central Station (
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Regent StreetChippendaleSydney  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Transport Asset Holding Entity (former Railcorp) - Transport for NSWState Government 
Transport Asset Holding Entity (former Railcorp) - Transport for NSWState Government 
Transport Asset Holding Entity (former Railcorp) - Transport for NSWState Government 

Statement of significance:

The former Mortuary Station has state significance as a rare surviving example of this building type, a physical reminder of former funeral customs in nineteenth century Sydney, and of the central role in funeral services played by the railway. It serves as an example of the role of Government in the provision of burial services to the expanding nineteenth century city of Sydney. The building is aesthetically significant as a fine example of Gothic inspired design attributed to James Barnet, a style adopted for its religious associations in the construction of a funeral station. It is a rare surviving example of this building type remaining in situ, and is understood to be unique in Australia.
Date significance updated: 13 Nov 08
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: James Barnet
Builder/Maker: John Young
Construction years: 1869-1869
Physical description: STATION BUILDING (1869)
The station building is predominantly constructed from sandstone; two varieties of colour being used - brown for all columns, cornices, etc. and white for the plain surfaces. It consists of a long low-roofed pavilion of nine bays converting a single railway track that enters and leaves the building through a wide Gothic arch at either end. A second arch at either end provides access to the raised stone platform that occupies half the sheltered area.

An octagonal pavilion of open arches serves as a port cochere on the street side of the platform; its steeply pitched roof resolves into a delicate fleche, which rises above the rest of the building to give the station a landmark character. The outer wall of the platform pavilion (on the eastern side of the railway track) is composed of nine great arches on banded cylindrical columns with leafy capitals. The columns rise from square tapered bases, each a huge block as high as the human figure. At the corners of the pavilion, the arches rest on squared piers that are twice the bulk of the columns. The piers have enriched stringcourses with stiff-leaf detail like the column capitals. The spandrels between the arches contain circular medallions with carved centre.

Walls are of plain ashlar courses, rising to a highly ornamented corbel table Winds with a high-pitched roof rising into a square fleche set on the diagonal, which acts as a bell turret. The balance of the arches and strong cornice-line with the sweep of the roof makes for a great architecture. In the angles between the octagonal porch and the station pavilion are set the less formal structures of rest rooms and toilets; the chimneys of the rest room fireplaces accentuate the angled inner corners. These elements are bound into the tighter structure of the conjoined pavilions by stringcourse and cornice holding them like straps.

PLATFORM (1869?)
A straight stone side platform made of stone with tile surface. About one third of the length of the platform has been lost by way of encroachment from the neighbouring bus terminal.

GARDENS (c1981)
The gardens surrounding the station have been recently reinstated. The gardens include a manicured lawn, decorative flowering shrubs and box hedges. The entire site is enclosed by a fine sandstone and iron palisade fence with decorative gate posts.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The building has been conserved in the recent past and is in good condition. Some termite damage is evident in elements of the timber trusses on the platform (2009).
Date condition updated:13 Nov 08
Modifications and dates: 1981: Restoration
c1981: Gardens reinstated
2012: Repair work undertaken including: replacement of ant capping; larger access hatches created in existing timber floors; repair/replacement to damaged timber members (structural and non-structural); roof repair - including re-lining of selected drainages pits, repair of damaged slate roof tiles, removal of selected existing flashings to gutters, and replacement with extended apron flashing. Repair and / or replacement of joinery, including cornices, architraves, skirting boards, picture rails, door frames, and door hardware; and re-painting of interior walls.
Further information: High significance: All fabric dating from 1869, including all joinery (in particular the original ticket box), slate tile roofing, stonework, floor finishes, sandstone and iron palisade fence.
Medium significance: The reinstated landscaping.
Low significance: Kitchen and lavatory fitouts c1983. (Sydney LEP, 2008)
Current use: Disused Station
Former use: Railway Station


Historical notes: The site of the present Sydney Town Hall served as the main burial ground for Europeans in Sydney between 1790 and 1820. A new site was then selected at what is now Central Station. By the time of its closure in 1890 it was known as Devonshire Street cemetery.

By the 1860s the Devonshire Street Cemetery was quickly filling, and a decision was made to create a new burial ground along the lines of Highgate and Kensall Green, in the "gardenesque" manner. Haslem's Creek Cemetery near Lidcombe was selected, and was transformed into Rookwood Necropolis. Rookwood was provided with curving paths and garden beds, fountains, rest houses and caretakers housed in Gothic inspired residences. The railway terminus at Rookwood was central to the cemetery's layout, and largely matched the Mortuary Station still extant in Regent Street, Chippendale (Central).

The Mortuary Station was built during the years 1868 and 1869, and was officially opened in June 1869. The firm of Stoddart & Medways used both white and biscuit-brown varieties of Pyrmont sandstone in the construction of the station. The construction was completed on 22 March 1869. Contract documents indicate that a Thomas Duckett and a Henry Apperly were responsible for the sandstone carving of the building. Mortuary Station is amongst the most richly carved structures in Sydney and is typical of Barnet's approach to the embellishment of his building facades. Other work of his such as the General Post Office in Martin Place is indicative off this approach. When it opened it included a small area of garden facing the street, with a lawn and a few trees planted. The garden remained a feature of the site during its use for funerary trains but was not maintained after the 1940s. A garden was reinstated as part of the site in more recent upgrades when the site was converted for use for functions.

The Mortuary Station was located on the original spur line that linked St Paul's (now the Greek Orthodox Church) with the main cemetery. Its main function was to carry mourners to Rookwood Cemetery. A new importance was attached to the funeral industry during the rule of Queen Victoria who spent over half her reign as a widow.

The building was used as the terminus for funeral trains only until 1938. When the rail funeral business gave way to road corteges and motor hearses, rail services were restricted to weekends and finally curtailed. On April 3 1948, trains were withdrawn and the cemetery line closed. Trains left from the main terminus platforms over the final ten years of the funeral rail service. There being no call for the rail hearse, the Mortuary Station ceased to function in the capacity of its original purpose.

From 14 March 1938, Mortuary Station was used for the consignment of horses and dogs, and its name was changed to Regent Street Station. From February 1950 it was used as a parcels dispatch, at which time catenary wires were placed inside the rail pavilion and (apparently at this same time) the easternmost arches at either end were removed of ornament on the inner face to allow for the passage of larger rail vehicles.

In 1981 the former State Rail Authority decided to restore the Mortuary Station by which time it had been classified by both the National Trust of Australia (NSW) and the Australian Heritage Commission. The Heritage Council of NSW had also placed it under a Permanent Conservation Order. Restoration was coordinated by the Way and Works branch of State Rail, and Gledhill Constructions made repairs and renewals under the direction of Lester Firth and Associates as project architects, which included reinstatement of the gardens. The Heritage Council played a consulting role and $600,000 was spent on the restoration work.

After a ceremonious reopening by the premier, Neville Wran, a fifteen-year lease was granted for running the station as a pancake restaurant. For this purpose, two dining cars, an event car (for exhibitions and theatrical presentations) and a staff amenities car were located on the tracks alongside the platform. Associated crafts and gifts were sold from the ticket office and displays mounted on the platform areas. This venture lasted until early in 1989, when the cars were removed.

The Mortuary Station was available for hire for weddings and product launches. With the construction of the SRA bus terminus at the northern side of the property, about one third of the length of the platform has been lost by way of encroachment. The original platform was exactly the length of the covered portion. The station is currently disused (2009).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
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 Building the railway network-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Evolution of design in railway engineering or architecture-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Railway Gardens-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Birth and Death-Activities associated with the initial stages of human life and the bearing of children, and with the final stages of human life and disposal of the dead. Funerary Trains-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Mortuary Station demonstrates the removal of burial grounds to the outer suburbs of the city and the commitment of the government of the time to allow access to those cemeteries and a greater vision of providing a modern necropolis for the Sydney region. It is associated with attitudes to disposal of the dead during Victorian times in Australia, and in particular with the funeral trains which ran regularly between the city and Rookwood. It remains as the only substantial building structure associated with the operational workings of the original Sydney yard.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The building is associated with colonial architect James Barnet. Barnet was colonial architect for 25 years from 1865 until 1890. During this time he was responsible for the design of some of Sydney's most prominent public buildings and set the course of public architecture in Sydney in the late nineteenth century. His work included a new wing for the Australian Museum, the Sydney International Exhibition Building and the Sydney GPO.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Mortuary Railway Station is aesthetically significant for its mix of ecclesiastical and railway architecture and its fine carved sandstone decoration of an exceptionally high standard. The building is a prominent landmark on one of the main roads leading out of the city.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The building is a unique example of an intact funeral station in Australia. The building provides information and insights into death and funeral practices in Australia.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The site may contain archaeological deposits related to the original Sydney station yard and earlier occupation of the site. The building may reveal information on construction methods no longer in use and Victorian attitudes to the disposal of the dead.
SHR Criteria f)
The building is a unique example of an intact funeral station in Australia. It is probably the only remaining example of a mortuary station on the NSW railway network. Further research maybe required to determine if it is of national significance.
Integrity/Intactness: The Mortuary Railway Station is largely intact and retains a high level of integrity. The gardens have been reinstated more recently.
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:

1. Conservation principles: Conserve cultural heritage significance and minimise impacts on heritage values and fabric in accordance with the ‘Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance’. 2. Specialist advice: Seek advice from a qualified heritage specialist during all phases of a proposed project from feasibility, concept and option planning stage; detailed design; heritage approval and assessment; through to construction and finalisation. 3. Documentation: Prepare a Statement of Heritage Impact (SOHI) to assess, minimise and prevent heritage impacts as part of the assessment and approval phase of a project. Prepare a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) prior to proposing major works (such as new additions, change of use or proposed demolition) at all places of State significance and all complex sites of Local significance. 4. Maintenance and repair: Undertake annual inspections and proactive routine maintenance works to conserve heritage fabric in accordance with the ‘Minimum Standards of Maintenance & Repair’. 5. Movable heritage: Retain in situ and care for historic contents, fixtures, fittings, equipment and objects which contribute to cultural heritage significance. Return or reinstate missing features or relocated items where opportunities arise. 6. Aboriginal, archaeology and natural heritage: Consider all aspects of potential heritage significance as part of assessing and minimising potential impacts, including Aboriginal, archaeology and natural heritage. 7. Unidentified heritage items: Heritage inventory sheets do not describe or capture all contributory heritage items within an identified curtilage (such as minor buildings, structures, archaeology, landscape elements, movable heritage and significant interiors and finishes). Ensure heritage advice is sought on all proposed changes within a curtilage to conserve heritage significance. 8. Recording and register update: Record changes at heritage places through adequate project records and archival photography. Notify all changes to the Section 170 Heritage & Conservation Register administrator upon project completion.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage registerRailcorp S170 Register    

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
S170 Heritage & Conservation Register Update2009 Godden Mackay Logan  Yes
Heritage Platforms Conservation Management Strategy2015 Australian Museum Consulting  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  Register of the National Estate listing
Written  Heritage Conservation News. Vol. 2, no. 2 and vol. 7, no. 1.
Written  National Trust Listing
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenCaldis Cook Group2010REF for Technical Repairs to Mortuary Railway Station
WrittenLester Firth & Murton (Firm)1981Mortuary Station restoration, Redfern, Sydney
WrittenMayne-Wilson & Associates.1998The Mortuary Station, Regent Street, Chippendale: Heritage curtilage study & visual assessment report
WrittenNoel Bell Ridley Smith & Partners1997Sydney Mortuary Terminal, Chippendale: Heritage curtilage study

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: State Government
Database number: 4803219
File number: 2424246

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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