Old Sydney Burial Ground

From the City of Sydney website…


Archaeological Works Underway

Recent archaeological investigations associated with the Sydney Town Hall upgrade have uncovered evidence of the Old Sydney Burial Ground that was formerly on the site. The cemetery was in use from 1792 to 1820, but was exhumed in 1869 to make way for the Sydney Town Hall.

A Public Open Day was held on Tuesday 22 January 2008 so members of the public could view the excavation site. Read more below.

Follow this link to read a short history on the Old Sydney Burial Ground. An inventory of names of the 2266 people buried in the cemetery between September 1792 and September 1820 has been compiled by the council from historical sources and can be downloaded. Presentations delivered at a public information session in September 2007 can also be found below.

Public Open Day

An archaeological excavation beneath the Sydney Town Hall commenced on Monday 7 January 2008, as the first stage of a five-year rescue plan for the historic building. The excavation, which has been approved by the NSW Heritage Council, will create space for an essential plant and equipment room to house services required for the building to meet modern fire safety standards. A Public Open Day was held on Tuesday 22 January 2008 so that members of the public could view the excavation site and meet the archaeologists.

The City of Sydney has appointed archaeologists Dr Mary Casey and Tony Lowe of Casey & Lowe Pty Ltd to direct the excavation works. The graves are being excavated in line with Heritage Council guidelines and the excavation is expected to take six weeks to complete.

Preliminary archaeological investigations indicated that there were remnants of a number of graves in the basement area belonging to the Old Sydney Burial Ground. Graves in the area were largely exhumed in the 1880s when the Peace and Centennial Halls were built.

The archaeological excavation currently underway will record the remnants of any graves that may have been missed. Of the 53 grave sites identified 12 were found to contain bone fragments during preliminary investigations.

The archaeological excavation covers about half of the area of the Peace Hall.

View of the extent of the archaeological excavation beneath the Peace Hall, Sydney Town Hall, 22 January 2008.

Archaeologists were at work during the open day, measuring and recording the graves.

An archaeologist from Casey & Lowe Pty Ltd recording a grave during the open day.

The graves are on a similar orientation facing east west. The outlines of former coffins and graves could be clearly seen in the soil.

Photo showing the orientation of graves.

There are a number of smaller grave cuts, indicating the graves of infants. This photograph shows the excavation of a grave of an adult and infant buried together. Bone fragments have confirmed this was the grave of a woman; she probably died during childbirth.

Photograph showing the grave of an adult and infant buried together.

After the fieldwork is completed, a full report documenting the graves and analysing the finds will be prepared for the City of Sydney and the Heritage Council of NSW. It is hoped that information gathered and artifacts found during the excavation process will contribute to our understanding of early colonial life and death in Sydney.

Back to top

Previous Archaeological Discoveries

This is not the first time that evidence of the Old Sydney Burial Ground has been uncovered.

This plan shows the location and distribution of graves of the current archaeological excavation (in green) in relation to previous finds in 2003 (in turquoise), 1991 (in red) and 1974 (in black) and overlaid with the building footprint of the town hall.

Plan showing the location of graves uncovered in current and previous archaeological investigations. Plan prepared by archaeologist Tony Lowe, Casey & Lowe Pty LTd.

Plan prepared by archaeologist Tony Lowe, Casey & Lowe Pty Ltd.

Photographs and artifacts from previous archaeological discoveries in 1991 and 2003 were also on display at the open day.

Artifacts from archaeological discoveries in 1991 and 2003 were on display at the open day.

Headstone fragment, commemorating Elizabeth Steel, died 1795.

Partial headstone, uncovered in 1991, inscribed: “In Memory of Elizh Steel died ……….. 1795 Aged ……”

Elizabeth Steel was a convict who was transported to Australia on the ‘Lady Juliana’, arriving June 3, 1790. She died in 1795 soon after completing her sentence on Norfolk Island. Her burial at the Old Sydney Burial Ground was recorded on 8th Jun 1795. She was 29 years old.

Fragment of a headstone with only the word Regt. (ie Regiment) legible. Found in 2003.

Headstone fragment, recovered in 2003 near Druitt Street, with the word Regt (ie. Regiment) visible.

The Old Sydney Burial Ground buried both the convict and free population. There were no apparent denominational divisions, but some social distinctions were maintained in the spatial organisation of the cemetery. Early Sydney residents recalled that the military were buried in certain parts of the cemetery. The corner close to Kent Street hosted graves of the non-commissioned officers of the 46th and 48th Regiment. Over in the south-west corner near the Presbyterian Church, soldiers of the 73rd Regiment were buried. And in the ground fronting George Street, near Druitt Street, were buried some non-commissioned officers of the NSW Corps.

Headstone fragment, recovered in 2003.

Headstone fragment, recovered in 2003 near Druitt Street. The words ‘Faithful’ and ‘Peaceable’ are clearly visible. This was part of an epitaph.

For more images and information related to the Old Sydney Burial Ground, follow this link to the short history of the Old Sydney Burial Ground. It includes suggestions for further reading. You can also listen to audio presentations by Dr Lisa Murray, Dr Mary Casey and Dr Denise Donlan.

Back to top

Was your ancestor once buried here?

Records relating to the Old Sydney Burial Ground are scant. No dedicated burial register or plan for the cemetery has survived and possibly never existed. No records were kept of where burial sites were located. Nearly 140 years later, the challenge has been to resurrect the names of those buried in Sydney’s first official cemetery.

An inventory of names has been compiled by the council from historical sources and can be downloaded. This is the first time that a consolidated list of burials for the Old Sydney Burial Ground has been produced.

Was one of your ancestors buried in the Old Sydney Burial Ground? The City’s History Program is always happy to receive biographical information about persons formerly buried on the site. Information will be placed on file in the City Archives. Send information to history@cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au

Back to top

Inventory of Burials

This is the first time that a consolidated list of burials for the Old Sydney Burial Ground has been produced. The inventory identifies the names of 2266 people that were buried in the cemetery between September 1792 and September 1820. Another 90 names have been flagged as possible burials in the cemetery; research to date has been unable to confirm in which cemetery these burials occurred, but they fall within the timeframe of when the cemetery was active.

The inventory was painstakingly extracted from St Phillip’s Parish Registers (the only parish at Sydney during this period) and then cross referenced with other primary and secondary sources, including contemporary diaries, newspaper reports, and the Thomas D. Mutch Index to NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages 1787-1956.

The inventory is presented in three main sections according to burial status. First up is a list of names of those who were buried in the cemetery (burial), the majority of which probably never had a headstone. A small percentage of graves had headstones, some of which were recorded in one form or another for posterity. These persons are confirmed burials in the cemetery. This is the second section (headstone), starting on page 64. Finally, there are a number of deceased persons falling within the timeframe of when the cemetery was active, but the historical record is either too vague or not there to confirm with any certainty whether they were actually buried in the cemetery. These are flagged as possible burials, starting on page 71. The first three burials that took place in 1819 at the new cemetery (while the original cemetery was still open) are also identified at the end of the spreadsheet.

Within each section, the inventory is in alphabetical order by surname, and adopts the spelling and burial dates as shown in the St Phillip’s Parish Registers. Each entry records the name, date of burial and age at time of death (where available).

The type and clarity of the information recorded in St Phillip’s registers varies from year to year. For example, sometimes the age at time of death is noted, sometimes not. And there are some significant gaps in the registers. The records were poorly maintained between October 1800 when the Reverend Richard Johnson departed for England and when his successor, the Reverend William Cowper, arrived in the colony in August 1809.

The process of cross-referencing the parish registers with other sources identified a number of burials not recorded in the parish registers. Several of the names recorded by headstone transcriptions in contemporary diaries and later newspaper reports did not appear in the parish registers. A small number of Jewish burials did not appear in the parish registers.

Sixty three names can be connected to documentary or material evidence of a headstone. On these figures, less that 3% of the burials were marked by a headstone. This figure is no doubt conservative (vandalism of the cemetery was rife following its closure in 1820) but it supports the picture painted by contemporary descriptions of the cemetery; the vast majority of graves were unmarked.

Research revealed variations in the spelling of names, and conflicting dates of burial and ages. These variations are noted in the index. Other information, such as date of death (as opposed to burial date), social status of the individual at time of death (convict, free, soldier), and details of any headstone transcriptions, was collated where available. All this additional information has been recorded in the final column of the consolidated list of burials and references provided so that researchers can go back to the original sources. Every effort has been made to identify and eliminate duplicate burials due to variations in the spelling of names, but some duplicate listings may remain.

The Inventory of Burials in the Old Sydney Burial Ground, 1792-1819, has been provided to assist family historians with their research. Please note that the City of Sydney does not hold any original records relating to the Old Sydney Burial Ground and cannot undertake historical research on individuals buried in the cemetery. The St Phillip’s Parish Registers can be consulted at the State Library of New South Wales and the Society of Australian Genealogists, as well as at regional repositories around New South Wales that hold the Archives Resources Kit produced by State Records.


Sydney – history of street names

bridge street  

A Guide to Sydney City Street Names

The history of street names in the old city core of Sydney is fantastically complicated. While careful mid-nineteenth century plans of Melbourne and Adelaide resulted in a reasonably stable street layout and street naming, Sydney’s streets have been the subject of ongoing modifications, alterations and confusions. Many streets have disappeared, been realigned, or renamed; while many others are being created.

In 1995 the council published a guide to street names researched by City Historian Shirley Fitzgerald. It was a valuable resource for local and urban historians and has been out of print for several years. Since the local government amalgamations in 2004, further research has been undertaken by Lois Sabine to incorporate all the streets in the former South Sydney area and the Glebe. This updated guide to street names is now presented in a new format: a searchable spreadsheet.

The original introduction to Sydney Street’s: A Guide to Sydney City Street Names written by Shirley Fitzgerald is reproduced as a pdf document. It comments upon some trends in Sydney street naming and re-naming, and the vagaries of the records.

Sydney’s Streets video

City historians Shirley Fitzgerald and Lisa Murray chat about the evolution of Sydney’s streets and their names. The video features historic photographs from the City of Sydney Archives.

A note on sources

This guide has been compiled from a number of sources including old maps, council records, government gazettals, and secondary sources.

The guide to street names is inevitably always in draft. While every attempt has been made to identify all current and former streets, there will always be gaps. New information regularly comes to light and it is intended to update the spreadsheet accordingly.

Information on lesser known names will almost certainly only come to light from family knowledge and personal archives – like the claim that Daniel Outtrim (Outram Street) was an engineer at the nearby Kent Brewery (information from Stella Green, Lindfield). Or the observation that near Bathurst Street between George and Pitt Streets (named for King and Prime Minister) there is Wilmot Street, named for a convict who ran a public house there for many years (information from Rian Willmot, Cherrybrook).

Readers are very welcome to provide comments, corrections or new information. Correspondence should be directed to Lisa Murray, Historian, lamurray@cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au

Guide Format

A Guide to Sydney City Street Names is presented with the following fields:

Name: Street name. The guide is by default sorted alphabetically by street name but can be searched or sorted by other fields.

Status: C = current street; R = renamed; D = disappeared

Location: Locality in which the street is/was located.

Postcode: Postcode area in which the street is/was located.

Map & Grid Reference: The map & grid references refer to the grid in Sydways street directories, which is utilised across the entire council GIS system.

Notes: Brief information about name origins, gazettal dates, cross references to other street names etc.


Sydney history – The Month of February


11 February

St James’ Church, Sydney, designed by Francis Greenway, is consecrated by the Rev. Samuel Marsden.

St James Church, 1969

St James Church, 1969 (City of Sydney Archives, CRS 871/55)


25 February

T. S. Mort begins building a dry dock (Mort’s Dock) at Balmain, Sydney. Mort’s Dock is completed in 1855.


9 February

John Robertson replaces Henry Parkes as Premier of NSW.


10 – 12 February

Run on the head office of the Savings Bank of New South Wales in Sydney, depositors withdrawing their funds in gold.


9 February

The word “cobber” first appears in print in the Bulletin.


6 February

Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club founded in Sydney. Bondi lays claim to being Australia’s (and the world’s) first surf lifesaving club; however this is disputed by Bronte who had set up a life saving club (without the word ‘surf’ in its title) in 1903.



Influenza pandemic causes the closure of theatres, libraries, churches, and schools in New South Wales . The wearing of masks is made compulsory.


4 February

A shark fatally attacks a young lifesaver, 16 year old Milton Singleton Coughlan, at Coogee Beach , Sydney, just prior to the commencement of a surf carnival. 6000 terrified onlookers on the beach watch as Jack Chalmers and Frank Beaurepaire (an Olympic champion) bravely rescue the boy from the shark’s jaws. Coughlan dies soon afterwards in hospital. The Sunday News ( 5 February, 1922 ) reports:

 Jack Chalmers pointed to his Digger’s badge.

 “It’s the spirit of this that made me do it,” he said. “When I saw a mate in danger I acted first and thought afterwards.”

Jack Chalmers

Jack Chalmers. (City of Sydney Archives, Newsclippings W 207)


6 February

Black Sunday, perhaps the most famous rescue operation of the Bondi Surf Life Saving Club. Freak waves drag hundreds of people out to sea at Bondi and life savers rescue more than 300 people.


3 February

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip arrive in Sydney to begin an Australian tour, the first by a reigning monarch.

The Log Arch on Macquarie Street. The Arch was part of the decorations prepared for the Royal Visit of 1954

The Log Arch on Macquarie Street. The Arch was part of the decorations prepared for the Royal Visit of 1954. (City of Sydney Archives, SRC1632).


25 February

Sydney’s last tram leaves from La Perouse.


25 February

Fire destroys Sydney’s Lyceum Theatre


14 February

Elton John, British singer, marries Renata Blauel at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Darling Point, Sydney.

Detail view of carved sandstone head, St Mark's Church (1848), Darling Point, 2001-2

Detail view of carved sandstone head, St Mark’s Church (1848), Darling Point, 2001-2 (City of Sydney Archives, Gary Deirmendjian: ‘Sydney Sandstone’ Collection: 20798)


This Month In Sydney’s History is drawn from the following source material:

  • News clippings and scrapbooks, City of Sydney Archives.
  • Graeme Aplin, S. G. Foster, Michael McKernan (eds.), Australians: Events and Places, Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates, Sydney, 1987.
  • Anthony Barker, What Happened When: A Chronology of Australia From 1788, rev.ed., Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2000.
  • Bryce Fraser (ed.), The Macquarie Book of Events, Macquarie Library, McMahons Point, 1983.
  • Graham Jahn, Sydney Architecture, The Watermark Press, Sydney, 1997.

Sydney’s Aboriginal Heritage

Aboriginal flag


Sydney’s Aboriginal Heritage


The history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

When the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened by the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Jack Lang on the 19th March 1932, the Harbour Bridge was one of the greatest engineering masterpieces of its time. Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) had an impressive and instantly famous landmark made in a style that reflects the end of an industrial era.The bridge joined the city of Sydney (at Dawes Point) to the North Shore (at Milsons Point) obviating the need to travel by ferry or make a substantial trip around the harbour foreshores towards Parramatta and back.

As early as 1815 Francis Greenway proposed the building of a bridge from Dawes Point to the northern shore of Port Jackson, to Governor Macquarie.

Many years were to pass before the vision became a reality. Around the time of Federation there was a well-recognised need for a bridge crossing and design submissions were invited in 1900, all were deemed inappropriate or unsatisfactory for one reason or another and the momentum lapsed.

Serious initiatives started after the end of World War I. Tenders were called for in 1923 either an arch or a cantilever bridge would meet the requirements. Dr J.J.C. Bradfield was responsible for setting the parameters of the tendering process. He and his staff were to ultimately oversee the entire bridge design and building process. The Bradfield Highway, which is the paved section of the bridge and its approaches, still bears his name to this day.

The tender of Dorman Long and Co. Ltd., of Middlesborough England for an arch bridge was accepted. The Dorman Long and Co’s Consulting Engineer, Sir Ralph Freeman, carried out the detailed design of the bridge. The design was similar to New York’s Hell Gate Bridge built 1916. The Hell Gate Bridge was a little shorter in span but was much lighter in construction as it only carried four railway tracks.

Work first began on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1924, with construction of the bridge approaches and the approach spans. As many as 800 families living in its path were displaced without compensation.

During this time the foundations on either side of the harbour were prepared to take four steel thrust bearings. The foundations, which are 12 metres (39 feet) deep, are set in sandstone. Anchoring tunnels are 36 metres (118 feet) long and dug into the bedrock at each end. Large bolts and nuts are used to tie the thrust bearings onto their supports.It is interesting to note that the four pylons are actually placed mainly for aesthetic reasons on each corner of the bridge. The pylons are about 90 metres above the average water level. The Sydney Harbour Bridge design had to perform functionally and be pleasing to the eye as well. The pylons are made of concrete that is covered by grey granite from Moruya on the south coast of New South Wales.

When the bridge was constructed the use of reinforced concrete was in its infancy. Today the Harbour Bridge ranks second or third in the world in terms of span but it is still considered to be the greatest of its type in the world because of its load bearing capacity and width of nearly 50 metres. Known locally as the ‘coat hanger’ and now more commonly as ‘the bridge’, the bridge was manufactured in sections on a site on the western side of Milsons Point. About eighty percent of the steel came from England while the remaining twenty percent was manufactured here in Australia. The construction of the arch was begun from both sides of the harbour with cable support for the arches. In 1930 the two arches met. The construction of the deck then proceeded from the middle outwards towards each shore as this was easier than moving the construction cranes back to the Pylons.In 1932, when the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened, it was the longest single span steel arch bridge in the world. The main span is 503 meters (1,650 feet) across it consumed more than 52,800 tonnes of silicon based steel trusses. The plates of steel are held together by around 6 million steel rivets. It originally carried road transport, trains and pedestrians. From start to finish, the bridge and its approaches it took eight years to complete. This included a period of maintenance that extended for a six months after the opening. Maintenance after the completion became and still is, the responsibility of the New South Wales State Government.

The two eastern lanes were originally tram tracks . They were converted when Sydney abolished its trams in the 1950s. Today it carries eight traffic lanes and two railroad lines. One of the eastern lanes is now a dedicated bus lane. The bridge is often crowded, and in 1992 the Harbour Tunnel was opened to help carry the traffic load. The traffic levels are were substantially reduced compared to the period before the tunnel opened.

In 1932, the original cost of the Bridge was several million Australian pounds. This debt was eventually paid off in 1988 but the toll was then used for maintenance.

Before the Harbour Bridge opened, it was completely packed with railway carriages, trams and buses to stress test its load bearing capacity. While it has had many traffic jams since and half a million people walked across it on its 50th anniversary it has probably never been asked to carry that much of a load since.

The initial toll charged for a car was 6 pence while a horse and rider was charged 3 pence. Today the toll costs $3.00 but is only charged when travelling to the South as an efficiency measure to speed up traffic flow. More than 160,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day, before the Harbour Tunnel was opened this figure was as high as 182,000 and would be much higher today if it were not for the Harbour Tunnel. Today the Sydney Harbour Bridge carries eight traffic lanes and two railroad lines. There is a pedestrian pathway on the eastern side of the bridge and a cycleway on the western side of the bridge. Pedestrians, horses and push bikes are not allowed on the bridge roadways. The roadway is about 51 meters above the water while the highest point of the arch is 135 meters above the average harbour water level.Located in the south-eastern pylon (overlooking Circular Quay) is a lookout with 360 degree views and museum covering the history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There are about 200 steps to get to the top but the views are some of the best in Sydney.

Note: the material presented here can be used for any non-commercial purpose