There 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.
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 National 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.
|Title or description of record||Date range||Series number|
|Drawings, maps & tables collected by Cockatoo Island Dockyard||1893–1945||C3368|
|As fitted and working drawings of small vessels||1904–43||C3296|
|Photograph album depicting activities at Cockatoo Island||1935–36||M3409|
|Motion picture films & videotape from Cockatoo Island Dockyard||1936–85||M3285|
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.
|Name of vessel constructed and type||Years 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: Cockatoo Island Dockyard: A Guide to the Records