South Head Signal Station | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Heritage

South Head Signal Station

Item details

Name of item: South Head Signal Station
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Water
Category: Signal Stations
Location: Lat: -33.8504401475 Long: 151.2868117930
Primary address: Old South Head Road, Watsons Bay, NSW 2030
Local govt. area: Woollahra
Local Aboriginal Land Council: La Perouse
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT7002  1069203

Boundary:

Refer to SHR map at Heritage Office.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Old South Head RoadWatsons BayWoollahra  Primary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
NSW MaritimeState Government 

Statement of significance:

A dominant Sydney landmark which appears to have been in continuous use since the 1840s as a controlling point for shipping entering and leaving Port Jackson. The building complex, designed by the Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis in the early 1840s, is an architectural important example of an early Victorian public work associated with port activities. (AHC 1989:2536)
Date significance updated: 26 May 98
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.

Description

Designer/Maker: Mortimer Lewis
Construction years: 1840-1842
Physical description: Setting:
(to the east) Phillip's column - a 30' (9m) high brick pyramid was erected in the area (actual position unknown but likely to have been placed where the No. 1 Gunpit is today) to reinforce the 'meaningful presence'. It would have been removed shortly after the Lighthouse came into service (WHHS, 2001, 4).

Signal Hill Battery (Fort)'s fortifications were originally built in 1893 to accommodate a 9.3" breech loading 'disappearing gun' as part of Sydney's coastal defences - two others were installed, one at Bondi North (still in position but buried in sand) and the other at Shark Point, Clovelly. It was housed in the turret in the centre of the group which had a steel canopy (still in situ) with a slot through which the barrel protruded in the firing position. It was hydraulically jacked up to the firing position with the recoil pushing it down under the canopy for loading. The barrel of this gun is now at the Artillery Museum at North Head. The last firing here was in 1933 and it was removed in n1937 and replaced by two 6" Mark XI guns placed in each of the outer pits. The centre pit became the magazine for No. 2 gun; the guns were removed after World War II (WHHS, 2001, 4).

Signal Hill Reserve: In March 1993 a plaque was unveiled to record the history of the reserve and put its significance in proper perspective (WHHS, 2001, 4).

Signal Station:
The South Head Signal Station is a dominant Sydney landmark for ships (Melocco, 2013).

Lighthouse:
An 1840s lighthouse with solid sandstone tower and connected watch keeper's quarters. The tower is octagonal in plan having four levels and a basement store cut 10 feet into a solid rock. The top-most level has a cantilevered iron and timber catwalk and the metal pitched roof is surmounted by an observation fleche. Decoration is minimal but the form of the shaft with simple stepping, string courses and small panel oval and square windows is typical of restrained Colonial Georgian building work (Sheedy, 1976).

The wing for staff quarters in an "I" plan with enclosed verandahs on either side. This probably c1850s building having very good ashlar work to external walls with each elevation recessed within a frame of foundation, eaves and quoin mouldings. Windows are marked by simple classical sill and lintel mouldings. The hipped roofs originally of slate are now sheeted in asbestos cement (ibid, 1976).

After coming onto the real estate market for the first time, the two-bedroom Cottage One of the Signal Station has been leased on the first inspection, by a young family. The two-bedroom cottage has its own 1795 cannon in the yard. It was built in the 1840s, has a new kitchen and bathroom, and was most recently used as housing for NSW Maritime Services personnel (Melocco, 2013).

A good timber picket fence encloses the property which is in good condition and well maintained. (ibid, 1976).

Head Keeper's Cottage and Assistant Keeper's Quarters (1883-85):
Colonial architect James Barnet rebuilt the lighthouse from 1883-1885 and added two keepers' residences - the Head Keeper's Cottage to the south of the lighthouse and a second building known as the Assistant Keeper's Quarters, known generally as 'The Keeper's Cottage' (CBRE Residential, 8/2019, 36).

The Assistant Keeper's Quarters (aka 'Keeper's Cottage) is a four-bedroom Victorian sandstone residence on 2600 sq.meters of fenced grounds. It retains bountiful period features including fireplaces, convict-hewn sandstone walls and there is an original lighthouse globe (ibid, 2019).
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
A good timber picket fence encloses the property which is in good condition and well maintained. (D.Sheedy 1976)
Date condition updated:26 May 98
Modifications and dates: The hipped roofs originally of slate are now sheeted in asbestos cement. (D.Sheedy 1976).

1883-85 rebuilding of a replica lighthouse and two cottages - Keeper's Cottage and the Assistant Keeper's Quarters (aka 'Keeper's Cottage')(CBRE Residential, 8/2019, 36).

Fully renovated in the 1990s to link what was originally two detached dwellings. Further major works were completed in 2008 by Lucas Stapleton Johnson and Partners (now LSJ Heritage Planning and Architecture), including the addition of a new breakfast pavilion in the rear, walled garden. Two bathrooms, working stables, an aviary and room for six cars (ibid, 2019).
Current use: Signal Station
Former use: Aboriginal land, Signal Station

History

Historical notes: In 1790, Captain Phillip directed erection of a flagstaff 'on a high bluff...at the entrance to the harbour...' in order to communicate the arrival of ships into Sydney Cove. The first signal from here was displayed in February of that year. It is believed that the present Signal Station is the site of the 1790 flagstaff.

Later in 1790, Phillip commanded a column be erected near the flagstaff '... of a height sufficient to be seen from some distance at sea, and stonemasons were sent to quarry stone upon the spot for it...' The column was on a raised base measuring 16-foot square and had its own base of 4-foot square. The column was destroyed in 9/1792 by a storm. It was reportedly re-erected using bricks from Bennelong's disused hut on Bennelong Point.
The 'Lookout Post' was established here by Captain John Hunter on January 20, 1790 and a flagstaff erected with the object of establishing a meaningful presence to visiting ships and to provide a signal to the Governor in Sydney Town that a ship was in the offing (WHHS, 2001; Melocco, 2013).

The present Signal Station itself, with its octagonal tower and watchman's quarters, was built about 1842 and designed by Colonial Architect, Mortimer Lewis. The coastal views here (are) spectacular but it is the expansive view down harbour which reveals the reason for the Station's location - it has a direct line of sight back to Sydney Cove. In maritime Sydney, the station had enormous importance. Governor Phillip had a flagpole erected here in January 1790, to signal when approaching ships were sighted - the first navigational structure in Australia. Two years into the new Sydney settlement, with the colonists near starvation, their hopes rested on the arrival of supplies from England. On June 3 a signal was raised from the station, but the excitement collapsed when the ship proved to be the Lady Juliana, carrying starving women convicts and bringing the news that the accompanying supply ship, Guardian, had been wrecked. Three more convict ships arrived the same month - more than a quarter of the 1,000 convicts aboard having died en route while the ships' masters hoarded food to sell at inflated prices in Sydney. Economic rationalism had made its entrance into Australia. The continued importance of the station was indicated by the establishment in the 1820s of a line of semaphore signalling stations which stretched from here to Parramatta. The permanent building came in the 1840s, and in 1858, NSW's first electric telegraph line was installed to link the station with central Sydney (Spindler, 2011, 4-5).

The Signal Station's octagonal tower was (raised to its present height around the 1890s: WHHS, 2001).
The Signal Station ceased being government-manned in March 1992. On February 10, 1990 a plaque was unveiled to commemorate the bicentenary of the first raising of the flag to signal that a ship had been sighted - the ship was HM Armed Tender 'Supply' returning from Norfolk Island (WHHS, 2001).

The station is now used by the volunteer Coast Guard (Spindler, 2011, 5).

After coming onto the real estate market for the first time, the two-bedroom Cottage One of the Signal Station has been leased on the first inspection, by a young family. The cottage has its own 1795 cannon in the yard, a new kitchen and bathroom and was most recently used as housing for NSW Maritime Services personnel (Melocco, 2013).

In 2018, community concern was expressed about the state of the flagstaffs at North Head Quarantine Station and the (South Head) Signal Station. Reports were provided to the authorities responsible (Woollahra History & Heritage Society, Annual Report, 9/2018).

In 2019 the Assistant Keeper's Quarters (aka 'Keeper's Cottage'), a four bedroom residence has been placed on the real estate market, through private treaty (CBRE Residential, 8/2019, 36).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Other open space-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Cultural - Coasts and coastal features supporting human activities-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Cultural: Cliffs and escarpments influencing human settlement-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Changing the environment-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Events-Activities and processes that mark the consequences of natural and cultural occurences Developing local landmarks-
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 (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 Wharf and shipping history-
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 Maintaining harbour pilot stations-
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 Maintaining maritime transport routes-
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. Sydney's colonial settlement; Shipping-
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 Mortimer Lewis, Colonial Architect, 1796-1879-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The building complex, designed by the Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis in the early 1840s, is an architectural important example of an early Victorian public work associated with port activities. (AHC 1989:2536)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
A dominant Sydney landmark which appears to have been in continuous use since the 1840s as a controlling point for shipping entering and leaving Port Jackson. (AHC 1989:2536)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Further research required.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Further research required.
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:

Recommendations

Management CategoryDescriptionDate Updated
Recommended ManagementProduce a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) 
Recommended ManagementPrepare a maintenance schedule or guidelines 
Recommended ManagementCarry out interpretation, promotion and/or education 

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 0143618 Apr 00   
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register 4920013   
Regional Environmental Plan 1401 Nov 87   
Local Environmental Plan LEP1995   
Within a conservation area on an LEP South Head Peninsula01 Oct 76   
National Parks and Wildlife Register  16 Jan 98   
Heritage study V-2301 May 84   
National Trust of Australia register   05 Apr 76   
Register of the National Estate 002536   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Maritime Services Board Heritage and Conservation Register : Sydney Harbour19901050Anglin Associates  No
Woollahra Heritage Study1984V-23Hughes, Trueman, Ludlow Pty Ltd: Howard Tanner & Assoc ; Prof Ian Jack; W.Ashton  No
Marine Ministerial Holding Corporation S170 Register1999 Heritage Unit, Department of Public works & Services  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenCBRE Residential2019'Finders Keepers' - in 'Luxe Life'
WrittenMelocco, Jen2013'Family at home in historical signal station'
WrittenSheedy, David1976National Trust of Australia (NSW) - Suburban Register - Classification
WrittenSpindler, Graham2011'Main Walk Section 4: South Head to North Bondi' View detail
WrittenWoollahra History and Heritage Society (WHHS)2001Lighthouse Walk - Heritage Walks in Woollahra - 3.1

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: 5051353
File number: S90/04948/1


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