Cadman’s Cottage was built in 1816 and was originally known as Coxswain’s barracks. It is Sydney’s oldest surviving house. The stone building was built for the Coxswain and crew, the Coxswain being the person in charge or command of the boats. The main duties of the coxswains were to organise the maintenance, manning, and availability of the Naval Officier’s boats and to captain the Governor’s Barge. The Coxswain ran the fleet of official government boats that were crewed by convicts.
Built on the foreshore of Sydney Harbour (near The Rocks ) the barracks were cut into a natural rock shelf and had a small sandy beach in the front. The plain Georgian design was copied from English pattern books. Today, however, the cottage is well set back from the water’s edge due to land reclamations.
The first Coxswain was Bernard Williams, followed by David Smith, John Weiss, and finally, John Cadman whom the barracks were eventually named after. John Cadman was appointed in 1827 and lived at the barracks for 19 years. Cadman was a convict sent to the colonies after stealing a horse in England. Prior to his sentence, Cadman had worked on boats near Bristol.
In 1809 Cadman was employed in Sydney’s Government Dockyard and was later appointed Government Coxswain in 1827 at Coxswain’s Barracks. He married Elizabeth Mortimer in 1830, who was believed to be the first woman in New South Wales to vote.
Under The Floor
Under the floors of Cadman’s Cottage archaeologists have found a maze of drain systems built and rebuilt over 150 years. The drainage system was constantly modified to cope with damp conditions. Today the original drainage channels and pipes can still be found.
Other discoveries found through the archaeological dig were fragments of clay roof tiles dating from the 1780s-1790s, a bottle bearing the same government mark as found above the door of cottage and clay pipes marked ‘Cork’ or ‘Erin Go Bragh’ (Ireland Forever).