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Cockatoo Island's Heritage House.

Heritage accommodation

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In 1914, the Naval Board of the Federal Department of Defence approved residences at Cockatoo Island for essential dockyard staff. It sought to increase dockyard efficiency and, in doing so, better support the Allied war effort.

This development saw the construction of a limited number of residential buildings, including dwellings that survive to this day and are now maintained as holiday accommodation by the Harbour Trust; namely, the Garden Riverview Apartment, Harbour View Apartments and Heritage Holiday Houses.

Constructed between 1915 and 1916, these dwellings were built in the Federation Arts and Crafts architecture style and many of their original features are still intact, including fireplaces, leadlight windows, picture rails and architraves.

Garden Riverview Apartment

The Garden Riverview Apartment and the adjoining dwelling are semi-detached single-storey cottages. Located on the upper island, they boast a bungalow aesthetic and back onto a garden with views across the harbour to Hunters Hill. The Sergeant of Police lived in one of these dwellings while the other housed the assistant to the island’s Medical Officer, who also resided on site.

The duties of the island’s medical personnel included performing medical examinations, periodically, to assess staff fitness. They also tended to the injured and ill, including the families of personnel living on the island, and were on call to respond to emergencies.

Meanwhile, the dockyard employed its own police force. The Naval Dockyard Police, which numbered up to 20 officers, operated like a modern-day security service and their duties included preventing unauthorised island access, patrolling for emergencies like fires and securing the island’s stores. However, their jurisdiction was limited and didn’t extend to the mainland. For example, officers were authorised to carry out bag searches on dockyard workers only. Senior staff, including foremen, were exempt from this rule. Further, civilian residents and fellow officers didn’t require passes to take good on and off the island.  If the Naval Dockyard Police were required to make enquiries ashore, they had to liaise with the NSW Police.

Harbour View Apartments

The Harbour View Apartments (23A and B) are symmetrically built, semi-detached dwellings that offer views across the Eastern Apron towards the Sydney harbour Bridge.  These apartments initially housed personnel that reported directly to the General Manager of Cockatoo Island’s Naval Dockyard; namely, his personal driver and launch coxswain (the equivalent of a boat chauffer).

At this time, the General Manager was Captain Julian James King-Salter, a naval engineer who had been seconded from the British Admiralty – a department of the UK Government then responsible for the Royal Navy. His initial three-year appointment commenced in 1914 and his contract afforded him an annual salary of £1,750 as well as a furnished house on site, where he lived with his wife and at least one child. King-Salter’s contract was renewed for a further three years in 1917; however, his appointment was not extended beyond 1920 due to criticisms levelled at his administration of the dockyard by the Commonwealth Economy Commission .

King-Salter oversaw the dockyard, including a workforce of 3,000+, during a period of expansion and industrial unrest. When his second contract expired, his colleagues gifted him a luxury suitcase and a solid leather travelling trunk. His position was considered very prestigious and his encounters with Sydney’s social elite were reported in newspapers as well as Vice-Regal notices. The identities of his coxswain and driver – and whether they were distinct roles or a dual position – is unknown.

Heritage Holiday Houses

The Heritage Holiday Houses (24A and 24B) are semi-detached dwellings on the island’s plateau and overlook the waterfront campground on the Northern Apron. Although their architectural style is predominantly Federation Arts and Craft, they were also influenced by the Queen Anne Style. The first occupants were the island’s Medical Officer, Dr Thomas William Francis, and the dockyard’s Engineering Manager, Jack Payne.

Dr Thomas William Francis was born in England in 1863 and served as a general practitioner in Bundaberg, Queensland from 1888 until 1912. During this period, he was also the local Quarantine Officer. After a brief stay in Mosman on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Dr Francis was appointed Staff-Surgeon to the H.M.A.S Encounter – this coincided with the outbreak of the First World War. Subsequently, he was appointed as the Medical Officer (Civilian) to the Commonwealth Naval Dockyard at Cockatoo Island for a period of three years, with a consolidated salary of £400 per year. In December 1916, Dr Francis received an additional allowance of £100 in recognition of the additional medical services he had been performing. In February 2018, he opened a private medical practice in Randwick, having reached the rank of Fleet Surgeon at Cockatoo Island.  Two months later, Dr Francis died at his residence in Randwick, having a months-long struggle with depression and ill-health. He was 54 years of age.

Jack Payne emigrated from England in 1912 after accepting the position of Engineering Manager at Cockatoo Island’s dockyard. When the dockyard passed from state to federal control in 1913, Payne continued in the position and, during his tenure, oversaw the installation of boilers in several naval ships. In 1921, Payne superseded Captain Julian James King-Salter as General Manager of the Dockyard, a position he held until his death. Following his promotion, Payne oversaw the construction of cargo liners, seaplane carriers and lighthouse steamers as well as the refitting and repairs of all naval warships based in Sydney. He was very popular amongst the workers at the dockyard and was responsible for winning contracts when work became scarce during the early years of the Great Depression. Payne died at the age of 60 in 1932 after collapsing in his office on the island. His funeral was attended by so many mourners that many had to stand outside in the rain.


Helpful links

Did you enjoy reading about the history of our heritage houses and apartments? You may find these links and resources useful.