What lies beneath the Sydney Opera House?

Dublin Core


What lies beneath the Sydney Opera House?


Session 11
Diversity in approaches to maritime archaeology, underwater cultural heritage and related areas


When Australia celebrated the bicentenary of European settlement in 1988, a high profile bicentennial project was the construction of a new lower concourse for the Sydney Opera House. During excavations some giant chains were recovered. The ‘Sydney Cove Chain’ was ultimately identified as (British) Admiralty Pattern Mooring Chain (APMC).

Much less well known than Admiralty Pattern Anchors and Buoys, APMC is likely to persist on seafloors at British anchorages around the globe due to it’s high quality iron composition and hefty design - each link measures around 1 metre in length and bar width is typically 60 – 100 millimetres (mm). Also, because it sits on the sea floor, often beneath a layer of silt, APMC is likely to be well preserved by these anoxic conditions at many locations.

In the case of the Sydney Cove Chain there is good evidence to support the theory that at least some elements travelled with the second Governor to the Colony of New South Wales in 1795 – just seven years after first settlement. There is also evidence that these same chains were used by Matthew Flinders to moor the ruined H.M.S. Investigator, after completion of the first circumnavigation of Australia in 1803.

More startling than this is the possibility that such chains were used in the boom defence of Sydney Harbour, against such potential foes as the French, Russians, Spanish and Americans. In fact, between Napoleonic wars the French scientific expedition led by François Baudin camped with permission yet unease on Bennelong Point – the site of the current Sydney Opera House. What other archaeological treasures remain buried in this area?

In 1987 the contract archaeologist monitoring the building site determined that it was too disturbed to yield significant archaeological evidence (Higginbotham 1987b:8; NSWHO / DUAP 1996:8-9). Master’s research in 2003 questioned this conclusion, and presented a ‘statement of significance’ containing more positive findings (Bullock 2003).


Veronica M. Bullock


November 2011



Veronica M. Bullock, “What lies beneath the Sydney Opera House?,” The MUA Collection, accessed September 20, 2019, http://www.themua.org/collections/items/show/1248.

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