Laying the Foundation Stones.

From Engineering Heritage New South Wales


   Any casual inspection of the south-eastern corner of the southern abutment tower of the Sydney Harbour Bridge will reveal two large, engraved blocks of granite, both apparently laid on 26 March 1925, one by the Secretary for Works and Minster for Railways, R.G. Ball and the other by NSW State Governor Sir Dudley de Chair. But all is not as it would seem.

   It must be accepted that the ceremonial placement of a commemorative stone does not necessarily mean that the granite block was put into its final position by the dignitary on that date. The true location may not be safe, or even exist, for such an object and it is often necessary to quietly place it finally at a much later stage of the project.    So it was at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The ceremony of 25 March was a very public one held for its own sake and the RG Ball stone was laid in the middle of a lawn, not far from the proposed abutment tower. The timber stage on which the official party stood was draped with the Australian flag as a large crowd pressed in. This is attested by dated photographs. After the laying of the foundation-stone the guests were entertained by the Government at afternoon tea in a Harbour Trust building close by.

RG Ball sets the foundation stone in its temporary position on 26 March 1925. The photo appears in The Sydney Mail on 1 April 1925
Certainly on the day of the laying from the date inscribed on the photo, but perhaps earlier, before the crowds gathered. The stone rests on timber blocks, not another stone.
The Governor was present at the ceremony and gave a speech, even if he didn't lay a stone.
The ceremony was well attended by citizens of Sydney.

   The second stone, still dated 26 March, cannot have been available and photos exist showing it being laid by the Governor, with all due ceremony but no crowd on 14 August 1925. The platform is devoid of decoration and only about sixteen men are present – thirteen officials and two masons to lay the mortar and another to drive the crane. The event was significant enough to require the attendance of an official photographer.

Dudley de Chair laying his stone on 14 August 1925, as engraved bottom right of photo. Vice-Regal news in The Daily Telegraph confirms the Governor’s inspection of the work on that date. Standing on the staging are Lawrence Ennis, Mr Flannery, Minister for Public Works, the Governor and James Muir, Dorman and Long’s Superintendent for Substructure. Apart from JJC Bradfield two of the other three men are CWO Tye, Under-Secretary for Works, and H Budge, Governor’s official secretary.
Excavation for the abutment tower 25 July 1925. The foundation stone is encased near the tree at left. This photo was taken before the second stone was laid, so the casing must have been removed and presumably replaced later.

  The two stones, one atop the other, were then encased in a protective wooden box to await the construction of the abutment tower, which at the time was yet to be excavated to the full depth of its foundation.
    It was more than two years before the abutment tower emerged above finished ground level and the foundation-stones could be properly laid. It is not known exactly when the RG Ball stone was re-laid, or if there was any ceremony, but it must have been before Governor Dudley de Chair attended the site again, picked up a trowel of mortar and laid his stone above it on 21 June 1927. The structure of the towers at this level is a 3ft 6in (1050mm) thick lightly reinforced concrete wall with a second wall 2ft 6in thick including the stone, poured later against it.   

Governor Sir Dudley de Chair lays his stone for the ‘third’ time on 21 June 1927.
The foundation stones as they appear in 2022. Bill Phippen photo. 22 January 2022
The foundation stones are at the rear of the southern abutment tower near the eastern corner. Bill Phippen photo. 22 January 2022.
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