Inscriptions in the sandstone at the Quarantine Station

Quarantine project

Engravings reveal diversity of people and wealth of history
Run by the Department of Archaeology, the Quarantine project investigated myriad engravings left by people held at the Quarantine Station in North Head near Manly between 1832 and 1984.
Close up of inscriptions in the sandstone

About the project

At the Quarantine Station in Manly, on Sydney’s northern beaches, there are more than 1000 inscriptions carved into the sandstone, dating from the 1830s to the 1970s. Many are weathering beyond rescue. The inscriptions are a key heritage feature of the site for which the Mawland Group now has responsibility.

Led by Associate Professor Annie Clarke from the University of Sydney, this project involved comprehensively recording and interpreting the inscriptions, linking them to the archival records of people, ships and epidemics they memorialised.

The Quarantine Station can now be compared to equivalent sites of national and international interest: Point Nepean (Victoria), Grosse Île (Quebec), Angel Island (San Francisco) and Ellis Island (New York). Through Associate Professor Annie Clarke’s leadership, the work has enhanced historical and archaeological understanding of global movement and migration, displacement and place-making – the core characteristics of modern settler societies.

This undertaking has advanced Australia’s medical, migration and maritime history, working from the micro-histories extant in sandstone and paper, to macro-histories of modern global movement. Immigration, by its nature, connects people and places to the wider world, and this project makes explicit, for the first time, the international connections that bind diverse quarantine
and immigration sites.

This project has advanced understanding of the Asia-Pacific region and the world. And has enhanced Australia’s capacity to interpret and engage with its regional and global environment through a greater understanding of languages, societies, politics and cultures.

Main image: Ursula K. Frederick

Book cover of Stories from the Sandstone


Stories from the Sandstone, by project members Peter Hobbins, Ursula Frederick and Annie Clarke was awarded the 2017 NSW Premier's Award for History. 

Industry collaboration

The project was a formal Australian Research Council Linkage Project between the University of Sydney and the Mawland Group, 2013-2016.

Since 2006, the management of the Quarantine Station at North Head, Sydney, has been in the hands of the Mawland Group, a partner organisation that has developed the site into a hotel, conference facility and cultural tourism site, rebadged as Q Station.

Its success in developing the site’s heritage potential has recently been recognised by the National Trust. Mawland seeks the highest quality scholarly research into this unique landscape, as well as new substantive, interpretive and educational materials to maximise its heritage and tourist value. The team from the University of Sydney and Mawland engaged the community through the inscription stories, and has internationalised the Quarantine Station alongside comparable cultural tourism and heritage sites.

Mawland’s statement of philosophy and mission in relation to the Quarantine Station identifies the interconnections between landscape, migration, disease, people, place and the formation of the Australian nation as key to the development of the Q Station as a cultural tourism site. These interconnections sit at the core of this collaboration and informed the approach to developing our research focus.

Mawland committed funding to the project, including: onsite accommodation for project team members undertaking fieldwork as well as office space and administrative support at the Q-Station; providing an onsite venue for a major international conference; administrative and resources costs associated with running an open day; and production and printing costs of an illustrated book on the inscriptions.


  • 1832 North Head Quarantine Station opens
  • 1984 North Head Quarantine Station closes
  • 2008 Q Station opens as hotel, restaurant & museum
  • 2013 ARC Linkage Grant awarded with Mawland Group
  • 2014-2015 Field research uncovering inscriptions
  • 2016: Book published From quarantine to Q Station: honouring the past, securing the future. Crows Nest: Arbon Publishing.
  • 2016: Book published Hobbins, P., Frederick, U., Clarke, A. (2016). Stories from the Sandstone: Quarantine Inscriptions from Australia's Immigrant Past. Sydney: Arbon Publishing.
  • 2017: NSW High School HSC Curriculum change to incorporate Q Station study.

Project leader

Headshot of Associate Professor Annie Clarke
Associate Professor Annie Clarke
Academic profile