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Cadman's cottage on the western side of Circular Quay is the oldest surviving residential cottage in Sydney. Its design has sometimes been attributed to the convict architect Francis Greenway. This modest double-storey sandstone building was built as the coxswain's barracks in 1815–16. Originally intended as barracks-style accommodation, it later housed four successive government coxswains and their families, as well as offices, until the mid-1840s.
Maritime trades were dominant on the western side of Sydney Cove from the first days of European settlement. This was where the government shipyard and commissariat stores were located, near the present-day Museum of Contemporary Art.
Sydney relied on the harbour and its river tributaries for transport in the early years of the colony. The government coxswain oversaw the government boats, which distributed and collected produce and supplies.
Cadman's cottage was named after John Cadman, who held the position of government coxswain from 1827 until his retirement in 1845. Cadman arrived in the colony as a convict aboard the Bar well in 1798, convicted of stealing a horse. He became a well respected member of the community, working on the government boats from at least 1806, and received a free pardon in 1821.
Of the four government coxswains appointed from about 1810, Cadman was the longest serving. He lived at the cottage while government coxswain, probably with his wife, fellow convict Elizabeth Mortimer, and her two daughters. Before he held this position Cadman had been the assistant government coxswain from about 1814, then served as the master of the government cutter Mars from about 1824 to 1826.
The job of government coxswain was abolished after Cadman retired in 1845. The convict transportation system had officially ceased in New South Wales in 1840, and was phased out over the next decade, which meant there was no longer a need to supply convicts with provisions from the stores. The consolidation of a radial network of roads from Sydney meant that the harbour and its tributaries were no longer the primary means of local transport, although the harbour continued to be used for commercial trade.
Following Cadman's departure, the cottage was occupied by the Sydney Water Police from 1846 to the mid-1850s, during which time the building was extended for offices and lock-up cells. The water police moved to a purpose-built building (now the Justice and Police Museum) in Phillip Street in the late 1850s.
The longest occupant of Cadman's cottage was the Sydney Sailors' Home, a benevolent association devoted to reforming and housing itinerant seafarers. The Sailors' Home building, a four-storey structure to the north of Cadman's cottage, was built in 1864. Cadman's cottage provided accommodation for the superintendent and his family until the 1920s. Thereafter, the cottage was used for overflow accommodation from the home until the 1950s.
By 1976, Cadman's cottage had been transferred to the ownership of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and it was renovated that year as an information centre. During the work many of the accretions to the building were stripped away to reveal the original sandstone structure. Cadman's cottage continues to be used by the National Parks and Wildlife Service as a museum and as the Sydney Harbour National Park Information Centre.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Cadman's Cottage Historic Site: Plan of Management, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Hurstville, 1995, http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/PDFs/pom_final_Cadmans_Cottage.pdf
J Selkirk Provis, Cadman's Cottage: The Life and Times of John Cadman in Colonial Sydney 1798–1848, Sydney, 1972