Cockatoo Island Dockyard – Fact sheet 140

Cockatoo Island, the largest island in Sydney Harbour, was administered by colonial, state and federal governments from European occupation in 1839 until 1933. Initially used as a gaol by the government of New South Wales, from 1856 the island included a dockyard. This function passed to the Commonwealth in 1912 with its purchase of the island. In 1933 the dockyard was leased to Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Co Limited, but the Commonwealth’s close involvement continued as owner of the island and the major client.

The period preceding and during World War II was particularly active, with the construction of several vessels for the Royal Australian Navy. However, it was in December 1919 that the largest workforce, 4085 people, was employed. At the end of December 1991 dockyard operations ceased, and one year later the lease lapsed.

Activities of the dockyard

The main activity of the dockyard was ship construction. Most vessels were for the Royal Australian Navy, while some were for other Commonwealth departments, state governments and private clients. Other major activities included:

  • refitting, conversion and repair work of vessels from the dockyard’s commencement to the refit of the submarine HMAS Orion in 1991 (including several United States Navy vessels repaired during World War II);
  • engineering work such as the production of boilers and turbines for ships constructed at the dockyard and elsewhere, equipment for mines and factories, and the manufacture of tools used in ship construction;
  • design and construction of aircraft and speedboats with aeronautical engines. These were built under the supervision of Wing Commander LJ Wackett through the years 1930 to 1934. Aircraft types included Codock, Warbler, Widgeon I and II, and Warrigal I and II;
  • maintenance of the island itself, its buildings and facilities (such as dry docks, machinery and cranes); and
  • administration of the dockyard.

Records held

The National Archives Sydney Office holds many records documenting the operation of Cockatoo Island Dockyard over a period of more than 100 years. Records were created by Cockatoo Dockyard Pty Limited (also known as CODOCK), which was previously known as Government Dockyard – Biloela; Commonwealth Naval Dockyard, Cockatoo Island; Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Co Limited; and Vickers Cockatoo Dockyard Limited. The agency has been registered by the Archives as CA 7228.

Records are held in a variety of formats, including drawings, photographs, volumes and files. A selection is listed in the table below.

Records created by Cockatoo Dockyard Pty Ltd

Construction of vessels

Sets of drawings – including working drawings, electrical drawings, guidance drawings, and as fitted drawings – are held for many of the vessels constructed at the dockyard. Photographs covering the stages of construction of many vessels are also held.

The major vessels constructed at Cockatoo Island after it was acquired by the Commonwealth are listed in the table below. Many smaller vessels such as launches, lighters, punts, ferries, lightships, tugs and dredges were also built at the dockyard.

Major vessels constructed at Cockatoo Island since 1912

Name of vessel constructed and typeYears built

HMAS Huon, HMAS Torrens, HMAS Swan – River class torpedo boat destroyers

1912–16

HMAS Brisbane – Town class cruiser

1913–16

HMAS Adelaide – Town class cruiser

1917–22

Dundula, Eudunda – cargo ships

1918–20

Fordsdale, Ferndale – refrigerated cargo steamers

1922–24

Cape Leeuwin, Cape York – lighthouse steamers

1924–25

HMAS Albatross – seaplane carrier

1926–28

Cape Otway – lighthouse steamer

1930–31

HMAS Yarra, HMAS Swan – escort sloops

1934–36

HMAS Parramatta, HMAS Warrego – escort sloops

1938–40

HMAS Kookaburra, HMAS Koala, HMAS Kangaroo, HMAS Karangi – boom defence vessels

1938–41

HMAS Arunta, HMAS Warramunga, HMAS Bataan – Tribal class destroyers

1938–42

HMAS Bathurst, HMAS Goulburn, HMAS Bendigo, HMAS Wollongong, HMAS Cessnock , HMAS Glenelg, HMIS Madras, HMIS Bengal – minesweepers

1940–42

River Clarence, River Hunter – cargo steamers

1941–43

HMAS Barcoo, HMAS Barwon – River class frigates

1942–46

HMAS Tobruk – Battle class destroyer

1944–50

HMAS Voyager, HMAS Vampire – Daring class destroyers

1946–59

Wonga, Yelta – steam tugs

1947–49

HMAS Parramatta, HMAS Stuart – Type 12 frigates

1951–63

Empress of Australia – passenger/vehicle ship

1962–65

HMAS Stalwart – escort maintenance ship (EMS)

1964–68

HMAS Torrens – destroyer escort

1964–71

AS Mayne – bucket dredge

1974–77

HMAS Success – auxiliary oil replenishment (AOR) vessel

1979–86

For more information

Research guide

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017