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H9568 Manufacturer's plate, 'R. Dawson, Iron Founder, Sydney, 1845', cast lead, Richard Dawson, Australian Foundry, Lower George Street, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1845. Click to enlarge.

Plaque for Richard Dawson's Sydney foundry

Ironworking was an important skill in the early colony, because iron was a major structural component of vehicles, tools and machines. Blacksmith's equipment sent to Sydney with the First Fleet in 1788 was used to repair essential tools and make simple iron goods. Making larger iron articles required the skills of an iron founder and equipment such as cupola furnaces and cranes. In 1833 Richard Dawson established Sydney's second major foundry in partnership with Henry Castle, whose interest in …


Object No.


Object Statement

Manufacturer's plate, 'R. Dawson, Iron Founder, Sydney, 1845', cast lead, Richard Dawson, Australian Foundry, Lower George Street, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1845

Physical Description

Oval plaque cast in lead and bearing the cast text: R. DAWSON IRON FOUNDER / SYDNEY / 1845.



280 mm


170 mm


260 mm



The plaque was made in 1845 at Richard Dawson's foundry, which occupied a rented site between George Street and Sydney Cove. It was made of lead because this metal melts at a low temperature (and so is cheaper to cast than other metals), resists corrosion, and was cheaper to purchase than brass, another metal widely used to make plaques. Imported pig lead, or local scrap lead, would have been melted in one of Dawson's furnaces and poured into a mould, where it solidified to create the plaque.

As shown in a photograph sent to the Museum by Professor Harry Irwin, lettering very similar in font and layout to that on the plaque is cast into a large boiling-down pot now at Gundagai Historical Museum, along with the date 1844. This suggests that the foundry had a pattern that included the words 'R Dawson Iron Founder Sydney' and the number 18, and that numbers were added to complete the year before the pattern was used to make a mould.
Richard Dawson arrived in the colony in 1833 and established an iron foundry in partnership with Henry Castle. Castle left the partnership, and the colony in 1836, and Dawson continued as sole owner. In 1842 he briefly became insolvent, and in 1845 he still occupied the same premises.



Dawson's foundry was located on Lower George Street, near Sydney Cove, where ships delivered pig iron, coal and other materials and goods to the foundry. The foundry continued in operation after Dawson's death in 1865, but closed in 1872. G E Crane and Sons Ltd then occupied the site for many years.

Joseph Fowles describes the foundry in 'Sydney in 1948':
"As one of the most prominent and interesting features of this locality, we must direct attention to Mr. Dawson's Foundry, which is generally considered to be the first in the Colony. It was established in 1833, by the gentleman whose spirited industry and enterprise it is now amply rewarding. As an instance of what can be done in this Colony, it may be mentioned that iron work, of more than four tons weight, has been cast here with success. Mr. Dawson has also, for multifarious uses, an excellent high pressure steam engine, of eight horse power, which has been in constant use for the last eleven years. It was made on the premises, and, it is scarcely necessary to add, is a finished piece of mechanism. "

The plaque's historical value was recognised at some stage, perhaps when the building was demolished, and it passed into the hands of the Royal Australian Historical Society. This society donated it to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in 1981 as part an eclectic collection of objects, and the plaque was placed on display in the 'Steam Revolution' exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in 1988.


Credit Line

Gift of Royal Australian Historical Society, 1981

Acquisition Date

22 June 1981

Cite this Object


Plaque for Richard Dawson's Sydney foundry 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 7 February 2023, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Plaque for Richard Dawson's Sydney foundry |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=7 February 2023 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}