Sydney Architecture Images- Gone but not forgotten

Commissariat Stores Sydney


Lt C Foveaux


West Circular Quay


Built-  1809-12  Demolished- 1939


Old Colonial Georgian




one of the first large bldgs in Australia and the first to have 4 floors.
Commissariat Store at West circular Quay. built 1809-12 , it was built by convicts to a design by Lt C Foveaux, the 150ft bldg had 2ft thick sandstone walls and accessible by boat. it was pulled down in 1930's to make way for maritime Services Board of 1939.


By the early 1800s, Sydney had necessarily developed a double identity – it was both a convict town and a commercial entrepôt. The desire to trade and the need for local exports like seal skin and oil to offset the cost of sustaining the colony overwhelmed restrictions on boatbuilding and commerce. Private warehouses, some owned by former convicts, lined the western shore filled with the pelts harvested from the islands of Bass Strait and further south by crews in locally built boats. The marketplace had been established behind – serviced by the public wharf. By 1803 Robert Campbell’s wharf joined that jetty as the main point of commercial embarkation.

The Commissariat Store had originally sat over near Government Wharf. It was from there that the administration supplied convicts and soldiers with the food and goods they needed to survive. To be ‘on the Store’ was to be dependent upon the Government. As farms run by free settlers, ex-soldiers, and ex-convicts were established in the south and west and up on the rich Hawkesbury River flood plains, the Commissariat Store bought the produce and disseminated it to others – a group which included everyone from convicts to civil officials.

The fixed price offered was not always acceptable to producers. Some decided instead to distil their grain illegally and turn it into more profitable and highly tradeable rum. For until 1829 colonists negotiated a bewildering system of multiple currencies and forms of exchange. The Commissariat Stores
They relied on rum, barter, or the assortment of Spanish dollars, foreign coins and British ‘sterling’ that circulated in port. For its part the Commissariat functioned as the main source of sterling in the colony issuing British Treasury bills for goods received. In the absence of anything else it acted as a local treasury and bank.

The Commissariat remained a pivotal financial and provisioning institution well after Campbell and other merchants had laid the foundation of a market economy based upon export commodities. While the number of civilians ‘on the Store’ was curtailed in the 1820s, the need to supply dependent convicts increased as more prisoners were sent to the colony. Between 1815 and 1821, the population of New South Wales grew from 13,000 to nearly 30,000 due in large part to transportation.

The new Commissariat Store was built between the Hospital Wharf and the Government dockyard and was completed in 1809. Its size and impressiveness was in keeping the importance of the role it played and it fitted well with the functional character of the west side. Designed by Lieutenant Colonel Foveaux, the building was completed during the administration of the great builder and civic improver Lachlan Macquarie and was counted alongside a lighthouse, hospital, convict barracks and waterfront fort, perched opposite on Bennelong Point, among the great public works of that administration.

Another similar structure was erected behind, along George Street and together they became known as the Commissariat Stores. Built of Sydney sandstone the first, most prominent, building foreshadowed the character of the Cove as the place developed over the next 50 years into a bustling and impressive working waterfront with a new customs house and ever more warehouses. The mud, rock and wood of earlier years gradually disappeared. ‘Stone is the most prevalent material’ remarked one visitor in 1854. By then sandstone wharfage had been extended from the east side of the Cove to just past the Commissariat Store and the place was called Circular Quay.



Historical notes: Early maps and views of Sydney Cove indicate that the original shoreline was a small beach or mudflats, at least at low tide, with one or two small rocky areas. Another small beach is depicted in front of where Cadman's Cottage now stands. Much of First Fleet Park is built upon land reclaimed as part of the building of Circular Quay. A view of 1792 indicates that there was a wharf constructed in the area possibly the hospital wharf. In 1809, Isaac Nichols built a large, two storey stone house on the site of First Fleet Park, facing onto George Street North. Nichols was an assistant to the Naval Officer, and was later appointed postmaster, running Australia's first post office from his house. Nichols' house was nestled between a residence built for merchant Mary Reiby in 1813 and the Commissariat Store, separated from the later by a pathway running between George Street and Queens Wharf. By the 1850s, Nichols' house was converted to a pub, named the Australian Hotel. In 1889, both Nichols' and Reiby's houses were demolished. During the late 1930s, the Maritime Services Board resumed the land. In 1809 the building of the Commissariat, designed by Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Foveaux, began at the southern end of this block. It appears that the eastern face of the Commissariat's wings were on the shoreline. The Naval dockyard continued to exist north of the Commissariat into the 1850s. Extensive reclamation work for Circular Quay was done between 1837 and 1844 under the guidance of the Colonial Engineer, Colonel George Barney. All the photographs from the 1870s up to the 1930s show the existence of a road in front of the Commissariat and a timber wharf with large ships docked alongside. (After Casey 1991: 3-5) To the south of the Commissariat and Ordinance Stores, on the original eastern alignment of George Street, a row of shops and houses, including the first Post Office (1809), were built in the early 1800s and were in place by 1810. In 1882, these buildings were demolished and the former Queens Wharf area enlarged. After completion of the Maritime Services Building (now the Museum of Contemporary Art) in 1952, the site of the former Queen's Wharf was landscaped with stone stairs from George Street, paths and a circular planting of palm trees which still survive today. The shoreline was further reclaimed to the current alignment in the 1950s/60s.