Camp Cove provided a sheltered bay for shipping through the 19th century, and has remained a popular area for visitors.
It is important to the history of European settlement in Australia as the probable site of the first landfall in Sydney Harbour. On 21 January 1788 Captain Phillip sailed from Botany Bay to explore the potential of Port Jackson. As Camp Cove had a freshwater spring behind the beach it proved a suitable place for a night's camp.
The first government land grant, to Edward Laing in 1793 of the area behind Camp Cove and later referred to as Roddam's Farm, was left unoccupied and ownership changed several times until the land was subdivided into 141 lots and auctioned in 1855-6 for development (though some of the lots initially remained unsold). From this sale the larger part of Watsons Bay village we know today took shape.
The calm water and ease of launching small boats meant that the northern end of Camp Cove was used by the Water Police as a base, after they were relocated there in 1840 from Garden Island, and also by some of the Watsons Bay pilots. The foundations of the wharf used by the Water Police from 1842 now ends in a tidal gauge. The Water Police had both residence and offices here, while a later building constructed at the end of the 19th century for military personnel and now called the Constable's Cottage occupies the same site. Following the wrecking of the Dunbar in 1857 a lifeboat shed was erected at the north end of Camp Cove, and volunteers manned to provide a rescue service, with a second boat shed for the Artillery in the 1890s.
At the southern end of Camp Cove stands the house built by Russian scientist Nicolai Miklouho-Maclay between 1879 and 1881 as the base for a marine biological research station. Despite the excellent location for such a venture the house was taken over in 1885 for military purposes – and became property of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1908. It was mainly used as officers' residential quarters until 2001, after which it was handed to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and it has seen adaptive reuse as a private residence.
At the southern end of Camp Cove the small promontory of Green Point was a major marker for early navigation into Port Jackson, and in the 1850s a navigation obelisk was erected there. The area was also referred to as Laing's Point after it formed part of the land assigned to Edward Laing in 1793, even though Laing never occupied the site. Fortifications were in use there in the 1870s-1880s and a weatherboard cottage for military personnel was built on Green Point between 1892 and 1900. Green Point was also the southern end of the cross-harbour boom net built in 1942, extending 1480 metres long to Georges Head, and which caught one of the Japanese midget submarines that entered Sydney Harbour in May 1942.
Today Camp Cove beach is a major tourist destination and the access point for Inner South Head.
Published with thanks to the Dictionary of Sydney