End section of ‘Day Street’ wagon boiler

Made in England, 1815-1840.

This large end section of a wagon type boiler was unearthed in Sydney in 1976 during construction of the city’s Western Distributor freeway. It appears to have been used as landfill in the early days of the colony when land reclamation took place for construction of the dockland area at Darling Harbour, between 1838 and 1848. There were only 6 steam engines operating in Sydney in 1831, which grew to 26 by the end of the 1840s. Known as the Day Street boiler, it is a rare survivor in the history...


Object No.


Physical Description

Boiler (Day Street boiler), wagon type, full size, end section only, iron, made in England, 1815 - 1840, excavated from 127-129 Sussex Street, Sydney, in 1976 during freeway construction, Sydeny, New South Wales, Australia

Wagon type boiler constructed of three-eighths of an inch (6 mm) thick iron plates pre-shaped, punched and riveted to each other to form a low-pressure vessel. This type of boiler was used to supply steam to beam engines in the late 18th - early 19th centuries.



2310 mm


1700 mm


2310 mm



This boiler is of the type developed by James Watt and Matthew Boulton in the late 1700s and known as a wagon boiler. On close inspection this boiler complies exactly with the measurements and even the number of rivets used in Boulton and Watt's design for a 20 horse power boiler. It was not patented and could have been made by any of several manufacturers.





This boiler was unearthed in 1976 during the construction of the Western Distributor freeway at Darling Harbour. It was probably dumped in the Harbour during a land reclamation project between 1838 and 1848.

It is not certain where the boiler was used, but a likely source was the John Struth foundry near the corner of Sussex and King Streets (the boiler was excavated from 127-129 Sussex Street). Struth set up an engineering works there in the early 1830s. It is not known how long he remained on this site, but it is likely that the site retained its industrial use until the 1850s. An engraving of Struth's works from the 1830s indicates that he was using a steam engine. It seems more than likely that Struth made parts for steam engines and possibly constructed boilers as well. It is also possible that the boiler, which has several bolted-on patches of iron where it was repaired during its working life, was brought to the works to be melted down so the metal could be re-used.

Earlier suggestions that this section of boiler resulted from an explosion have been discounted because there is no indication of thinning or fraying of the plates, as would be expected in an explosion. Also there is no recorded mention of a boiler explosion in the contemporary press. It appears that the plates have been hacked apart as would happen in the scrapping process.

It is remarkable that such a large piece escaped melting down as there was a serious shortage of metal in the colonies at this time.

Information taken from research brief by Wayne Johnson, Power Team, 25 June 1985.


Credit Line

Gift of Mr Max Underhill, 1977

Acquisition Date

27 April 1977

Cite this Object


End section of 'Day Street' wagon boiler 2018, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 16 October 2018, <https://ma.as/211488>


{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/211488 |title=End section of 'Day Street' wagon boiler |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=16 October 2018 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in The Steam Revolution at the Powerhouse Museum.


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.

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