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Image credit: Luis Samuel. From Australian Men of Mark.

Louis Samuel: The legacy of the Sutherland Dock

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Louis Samuel was a young engineer who cemented his place in the history of Sydney Harbour with the construction of Cockatoo Island’s Sutherland Dock. According to volunteer researcher Faye, despite Louis’ untimely death at the tender age of 26, the maritime landmark is a symbol of his enduring legacy.
The need for a new dock

By the late 1870s, Sydney’s shipping industry was rapidly expanding and the vessels arriving in the harbour were also increasing in size. Although extensions to Cockatoo Island’s convict-built Fitzroy Dock had been completed in 1880, it still wasn’t deep enough for the new ships, such as the liner Orient.

As Fitzroy Dock was in constant use, the authorities decided that rather than extend it yet again, a new dock – better suited to larger vessels – should be constructed . Further, it was decided to make it the largest dock in Australia. The function of Cockatoo Island was changing. NSW was no longer a penal colony and the Harbours and Rivers Branch of the NSW Public Works Department had taken over the administration of the island’s dockyard in 1870.

A young engineer chosen for the project

The new dock was designed by Mr J B Mackenzie under the direction of Edward Moriarty. The contract for the construction of the dock was given to a young civil engineer, Louis Samuel, who was only 23 at the time. He submitted the lowest of 14 tenders with a schedule a little over £135,000.

Louis was born in Sydney, the eldest son of Sir Saul Samuel, KCMG. Sir Samuel was the Member of Parliament for Orange and Wellington (1854-1880) and the Agent General for NSW in London (1880- 1897). He was later appointed as a Baronet.

Louis studied Engineering at Sydney University and started his career in the Harbour and Rivers Branch of the NSW Public Works Department. He extended his studies with a stint in Europe and on his return set himself up as an engineer in private practice.

The construction of Sutherland Dock

Excavation for the dock occurred between 1882 and December 1884, with the excavated material used to extend the island to the south of the site. Louis’ contract was extended to include the erection and installation of a sliding iron caisson plus an engine and boiler for pumping machinery, which was then extended to service Fitzroy Dock. In the short time Louis was in charge, Sutherland Dock’s construction proceeded at a rapid pace – it was certainly built faster than Fitzroy Dock, which was completed over a ten year period using convict labour (1849-1857).

A lasting legacy

Sadly, Louis died from acute peritonitis on 29 November 1889 at the age of 26. His younger brother, Edward Samuels, was engaged to complete the project. Edward completed the contracts for both the Sutherland Dock and the Hawkesbury River Bridge. He went on to be connected with the wool industry, and became Sir Edward Levien Samuel. He died in England on 25 November, 1937, as the second Baronet.

Sutherland Dock was completed in March 1890 at a total final cost of £267,825 and was named the Sutherland Dock after a Minister of Works in the Parkes NSW Government.

Sutherland Dock was the largest single graving dock in the world when it opened, a distinction it held only briefly.


  • Jeremy, John, Cockatoo Island: Sydney's Historic Dockyard, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2008.
  • Obituary Edward Samuel’. Accessed 22July 2020.
  • ‘Sutherland Dock’ The Dictionary of Sydney. Accessed 23 July 2020.
  • ‘Sutherland Dock’. Accessed 23 July 2020.

Article was originally published on 2 May 2023.


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