DIG’S HISTORIC SHIPPING NEWS
RARE RELIC UNEARTHED AT METRO SITE
BUILDING for Sydney’s future has uncovered a remarkable find from the city’s past.
During excavation for a Metro railway station at Barangaroo, workers found a 180-year-old timber boat — believed to be the oldest of its kind ever unearthed in NSW, and perhaps Australia.
The artefact is being painstakingly studied at the site so it can be properly preserved.
The boat is believed to have been there since the 1830s and belonged to William Langford, a convict who landed in Australia from England in 1822.
In the 1850s, the area was a small beach between Cuthbert’s shipyard and Langford’s private wharf, where old boats were stored to be recycled.
A stone seawall dating from the 1850s was also found, built into the boat, and is thought to be a remnant of the Langford house, which stood at the base of Clyde St.
Archaeologists suspect that the boat was stripped and left to be buried in the sand 10 to 20 years before the seawall was built.
Maritime archaeologist Cosmos Coroneos, who is working to preserve the 9m-long, 3m-wide and 1m-deep boat, believes it could be the oldest in Australia.
“This small vessel was designed to take on the big seas but not expected to have a long working life,” he said. “We think it would have been like a ute of its time — it was a small-type boat that zipped around picking up bits of cargo, taking owners to church across the Harbour, maybe gone up and down the coast a bit.
“Whoever constructed it had a lot of wood available to them but the quality of the workmanship isn’t that great as some of the frames are bent wrong. The maritime guys were marvelling, saying ‘I’ve never seen anything so roughly built’.”
Di Lowenthal, 75, a distant relative of William Langford, travelled from Hobart to see her ancestor’s boat last month. “It was just amazing, I was absolutely thrilled,” she said. “This is just part of the big jigsaw puzzle, it’s part of history — not just our family’s — and I think that’s wonderful.”
It is believed William Langford and his brother Thomas were both sent to Sydney as convicts after they were caught stealing pork on the docks of London.
They later started a reputable boatbuilding business at what is now Barangaroo, which was then a heavily industrialised wharf area, and the family lived at the site for two generations.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the boat was a remarkable discovery. “We’re building Sydney’s transport future but at the same time we’re able to get a glimpse into Sydney’s long-lost past,” he said.
Archaeologists at work on the ancient boat found during construction of a Sydney Metro station. Pictures: Toby Zerna