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FitzRoy Dock, Cockatoo Island

and the Visit of the Austrian Imperial Frigate Novara, 1858


On 3 February 1847, Gother Kerr Mann was appointed Civil Engineer in charge of construction of a dry dock at Cockatoo Island, with construction commencing during that year. Delays occurred due to lack of funding, however the foundation stone of its ashlar lining was laid on 5 June 1854 by Governor FitzRoy after the dock had been excavated to a depth of 52 feet below the land surface. It was initially 316 feet in length and 76 feet in breadth, with an entrance 60 feet wide.

The first sailing vessel to use the dock was HMS Herald between 1-7 December 1857, at which point the facility was not yet complete. The Austrian frigate Novara made use of it during November of 1858, at which time the dock was under the control of the Department of Lands and Public Works (from 26 August 1856 to 30 September 1859, John Robertson MLA, Secretary).

In 1859 Mann became Superintendent and Chief Engineer of the Dock, and remained in this position until his resignation in 1870. This also coincided with the disbandment of the penal settlement on the island. (Refer G.K. Mann Papers, Mitchell Library A2497, pp.275-8, CY1039). By 1884 preliminary excavation had begun for the larger Sutherland Dock on the south-western section of the Island, and it was subsequently completed in 1890. The FitzRoy Dock had been lengthened prior to this, around 1860.

The following tables summarising early use of the Dock are extracted from the various reports contained in the New South Wales Parliamentary Papers listed in the attached bibliography. 

List of Vessels docked in the FitzRoy Dry Dock 1857-60

Name of Vessel

Date of Docking

Date of Undocking

Punt of Colonial Steam Dredge Hercules

30 September 1857

8 October 1857

HMS Herald

1 December 1857

5 December 1857

Colonial Steam Dredge Hercules

10 March 1858

24 March 1858

HMS Iris



Quarantine Hulk Harmony



Colonial Steam Dredge Hunter



HIM Austrian Frigate Novara



Colonial Government Steamer Victoria




28 December 1858

7 January 1859

HIM Storeship Herault

22 February 1859

7 March 1859

HMS Herald



HMS Cordelia



HMS Iris



Peninsular & Oriental Co.'s Steamer Benares 26 May


HMS Pelores



HMS Niger



HIM Schooner Caledonienne



Granite City

11 January 1860

17 January 1860




Colonial Steam Dredge Hunter



HMS Cordelia



Eli Whitney






Adolphus Yates



Colonial Steam Dredge Hercules




The Docking of the Novara, November 1858

The Austrian Imperial Frigate Novara (2107 tons, 44 guns, 65m long), on a round-the-world scientific expedition, arrived in Sydney Harbour on Friday 5 November 1858, coming to anchor off Garden Island at 5.30pm. Having sustained structural damage during a storm en route from Shanghai, her Commander immediately requested use of docking facilities for repairs.

Permission was granted to use the newly opened FitzRoy Dock, and on the morning of Thursday 11th, the Novara was towed by steamer to a mooring off Cockatoo Island. Following preliminary preparations, she entered FitzRoy Dock at 12.30pm on Saturday 13th and remained there for repairs until the following Saturday, the 20th. These were carried out by approximately 70 workers employed by Sydney ship repairer Mr Cuthbert. After leaving the Dock, the Novara remained at anchor off Cockatoo Island until Wednesday 24th, when she was towed by steamer back to Palmer's Cove, Woollomolloo, near Garden Island.

There is correspondence relating to the Novara visit to Sydney in 1858 and use of the FitzRoy Dock within the Archives Office of New South Wales 'Colonial Secretary's Correspondence - Inwards' series. The correspondence index for 1858 (5/2497, Reel 2945) and associated Registers list the following items:

* 58/4022 - 8th November. Letter from Wilhelm Kirchner, Acting Austrian Consul, to the Colonial Secretary, enquiring as to the use of the FitzRoy Dry Dock for the Austrian Frigate Novara (not found at 4/3388).

* 58/4060 - Letter (located at 4/3388)

* 58/4088 - Letter (located at 4/3389)

* 58/4776 - Presentation of tobacco (not found at 4/3389).

Reference to letter 58/4776 was not located within the Registers for that year. Only the second and third original letters were located, and are reproduced below.

58/4060 10 Novr. 1858


Referring to my letter of the 8th instant respecting the docking of the Austrian Frigate Novarra, inform the Principal Under Secretary that it has been represented at the office that the repairs of the vessel have been entrusted to Mr Cuthbert who, as on a previous occasion, will require a general permission for his men to go and visit the Island daily - in number probably seventy hands.

Request that Mr Board will make the necessary invitation to the Visiting Magistrate as early as possible. MN.

P. Under Secretary

B.C. ...... Appl. M. 10 Nov. See 58/4088


58/4088 11th Novr. 1858

Report that Dry Dock has been placed at the disposal of Mr Kirchner for the Austrian Frigate "Novarra".

58.3754 Department of Lands and Public Works

Sydney 10th November 1858

See 58/4060


With reference to the communication transmitted by you under Blank Cover on the 8th instant from Wm. Kirchner Esquire, Acting Consul for Austria, I am directed by the Secretary for Lands and Public Works to inform you that the Dry Dock at Cockatoo Island has been placed at Mr Kirchner's disposal for the docking and repair of the Austrian Frigate "Novarra", and I am to request that you will have the goodness to instruct the authorities on the Island to permit the admission of the Vessel when it may be found convenient to send her.

I have the honor to be


Your most obedient Servant


The Principal Under Secretary

Write accordingly to the V. Magistrate. WN.

V. Mag. 11 Novr./58



Summary of Use of FitzRoy Dry Dock 1857-65

Men-of-War Merchant Vessels Tonnage Days in use


1857 1 - 400 4

1858 7 - 3600 77

1859 7 1 3650 59

1860 5 11 1900 101

1861 5 8 1900 163

1862 14 39 9285 236

1863 8 13 4285 204

1864 13 16 8920 222

1865 6 9 2420 91

Total 66 97


Personnel at Dry Dock, Cockatoo Island, 1858

Position Start of Duty Salary pa

Civil Engineer G.K. Mann 3 February 1847 630

Foreman-Engineer Henry Broderick 10 March 1853

Draftsman James Brown Goggin 27 June 1853

Clerk John Duff

Foreman of Works William Cahill

Assistant do. Thomas Easton

John Kelleher

Henry Fitzgerald

Boatmen (2)

Clerk John George Balls

Dock yard unfinished, with expedinditure to 31 December 1858 (since 1847) of 57,694.


References to Cockatoo Island (Chronological)

Prout, John Skinner, 'Cockatoo Island' [1840-44], watercolour. Engraved version published in Australia Illustrated, London, 1874-6.

New South Wales Legislative Council, 'Report from the Select Committee on the proposed formation of a Dry Dock at Cockatoo Island, with Minutes of Evidence, and Plans', Government Printer, Sydney, 1847, 12p, 1 map. Published in NSW Legislative Council Votes & Proceedings, 1847, vol.2, 393-414.

'Cockatoo Island. Papers re 1849 Inquiry and reports on administration, 1849-57', Archives Office of New South Wales, 4/1161.

'The FitzRoy Dock', The Illustrated Sydney News, 10 June 1854.

'Laying of the foundation stone of the FitzRoy Dock', engraving, The Illustrated Sydney News, 2(37), 17 June 1854, 109.

'Plan of Cockatoo Island', engraving, The Illustrated Sydney News, 2(37), 17 June 1854, 111.

Martens, Conrad, 'Cockatoo Island from St Leonards. Oct 3, 1855', pencil sketch, Mitchell Library DG*D18.

MacPherson, Mrs Alan, 'Cockatoo Island, Sydney [1856-7]', watercolour, Mitchell Library PXA3819 f.13.

'Cockatoo Island - Report of Inquiries into Administration, 1856-58', Archives Office of New South Wales, Colonial Secretary Correspondence 4/723.

Macarthur, Sir William, 'View of Cockatoo Island Dock 1857-60', photographs, in his 'Album of Views', Mitchell Library PXA4358-1.

'Letters re HMS Herald and Fitzroy Dock', Journal of the New South Wales Legislative Council, vol.2, 1857, 385-7.

Mann, G.K., 'Fitz Roy Dock - Report from Engineer-in-Chief', Votes & Proceedings of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, 1858, vol.3, 1229...

Martens, Rebecca, 'Cockatoo Island from Balmain, 2 April 1859', pencil sketch, Mitchell Library PX37 f.16.

Gill, S.T., 'View of Cockatoo Island [c.1859]', watercolour, Mitchell Library DG V*SpColl/Gill/15.

Mann, Gother Kerr, 'Papers - FitzRoy Dock 1859-60', Mitchell Library MSS A2497, 275-8. See also MSS 25 (6-344B), MSS 81 (6-385B), MSS B1441 (5-59A).

New South Wales Legislative Assembly, 'Report from the Select Committee on the Fitz Roy Dry Dock; together with the proceedings of the Committee, and Minutes of Evidence', Government Printer, Sydney, 22 May 1860, 19p. Published in NSW Votes & Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, 1859-60, vol.3, 1051-81.

Mann, G.K., 'Fitz Roy Dock - Report from Engineer-in-Chief. 8 May 1865', Journal of the New South Wales Legislative Council, 1865-6, vol.13, 309-12.

'Cockatoo Island, Port Jackson', engraving, The Illustrated Sydney News, 5(64), 5 August 1869, 237. View looking north-west, showing the FitzRoy Dock in the foreground. Possibly by F.C. Terry. Includes descriptive text.

New South Wales Legislative Council, 'Cockatoo Island Dockyard', Government Printer, Sydney, 1874, 12p, 1 map. Published in NSW Legislative Council Votes & Proceedings, 1873-4, vol.23, pt 1, 738.

'Colonial Government Steamer Victoria', engraving, The Illustrated Sydney News, 10(9), 1874, 16.

'Cockatoo Island', engraving, The Illustrated Sydney News, 23(2), 1886, 8.

'Cockatoo Island', engraving, The Illustrated Sydney News, 25(11), 1888, 13.

'Cockatoo Island', engraving, The Illustrated Sydney News, 26(17), 1889, 12.

Campbell, J.F., Map of Cockatoo Island, 1892.

'G.K. Mann', Sydney Mail, 22 January 1898, 182.

'Gother Kerr Mann (1809-1899)', Sydney Mail, 7 January 1899, 33.

'G.K. Mann', Sydney Morning Herald, 16 April 1931.

Campbell, J.F., 'Cockatoo (Biloela) Island', Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Australian Historical Society, XVIII(VI), 1933, 338-43. Includes copy of an 1892 map of the Island.

Parker, R.G., Cockatoo Island - A History, Thomas Nelson, West Melbourne, 1977, 84p.

Collins, R., 'Cockatoo - 120 Years of Service', Pacific Defence Reporter, 4, Dec77-Jan78, 81-2, 85.

Smith, M., 'Cockatoo - An Island of Mixed Tales', Sydney Morning Herald, 18 September 1980, 15.

Balint, Godden & Whittaker Associates, 'Historical Equipment and Facilities, Cockatoo Island', Stage 1 Report to the Department of Housing & Construction, Sydney, January 1980.

Kerr, James Sample, Cockatoo Island, 1984.

Balint, Emery, 'Construction of the FitzRoy Dock, Cockatoo Island', in The Value of Engineering Heritage, Second National Conference on Engineering Heritage, Melbourne, 20-22 May 1985. Preprint of Papers, 63-8.

Gibbney, H.J. and A.G. Smiths (eds.), 'Gother Kerr Mann', in A Biographical Register 1788-1839. Notes from the name index of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume II, L-Z, 1988.

Kerr, J.S. and J., Out of sight, out of mind: Australia's places of confinement 1788-1988, National Trust, Sydney, 1988, 182p.

Balint, Emery, 'The inventive mind of Gother Kerr Mann', Heritage Australia, Winter 1991.

Kerr, Joan (ed.), 'Gother Kerr Mann', in The Dictionary of Australian Artists to 1870, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992, 509.

Index | Ship History | Scherzer Diary | Expedition Narrative | Sydney | Selleny | Bibliography | Novara Expedition
Hochstetter I | Blanche Mitchell Diary | Minnie Mann Diary | Hochstetter II | FitzRoy Dock | Scherzer in Sydney
Frauenfeld Diary | Incident at Sikyana | Sydney Chronology | Appendicies
| Lissa 1866 | Ferdinand Maximillian

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