The chambers were excavated in 1853 in order to blow up the then Island of Nobbys to construct a lighthouse. But in what has become known as Australia’s first recorded environmental action the citizens of Newcastle, under the leadership of local businessmen John Bingle and Mr. George Thorne, petitioned the Governor to step in and avoid Nobbys’ complete obliteration.
The lighthouse was eventually built, but the gunpowder chambers remain within the landmark. According to a newspaper report from 1945, the last person to view the chambers reported there was an inscription to “Lieut. Shortland,” the European discoverer of Newcastle (or Coal River) within one of the tunnels.