Pyrmont quarries flourished from the 1840s to the 1940s. They transformed the local landscape, and their distinctive sandstone created majestic public buildings in Sydney and other cities. The quarry-masters – notably Charles Saunders – brought stonemasons from Scotland and elsewhere, to operate the most up-to-date machinery. They patronised the earliest churches and public houses, and their industrial muscle won the first successful campaign for the Eight-Hour-Day.
The best known quarries are Paradise, Purgatory and Hell Hole, named by the stone masons who worked them. Charles Saunders managed Paradise quarry in the early 1860s, between Miller Street and Gipps Crescent. Robert Saunders reactivated it in the late 1870s. By 1917 it extended north-west towards John Street and the Saunders Street Cliff Face, almost to the end of the peninsula. The quarry extended well below the present level of Saunders Street where it meets Quarrymaster Drive. A City Council incinerator was built on part of the quarry in the mid-1870s.
Hellhole and Purgatory altered the landscape north from Quarry Street towards Pyrmont Bridge Road, and between Bulwara Road and Wattle Street. Purgatory, north of Hell Hole, extended from south of Miller Street as far as present-day Pyrmont Bridge Road. It was worked out and filled in from the 1890s.
Hell Hole was named after a deep excavation to the bottom of the main block, twenty feet (six metres) below street level. The quarry wall varied from 40ft to 60ft (12 to 18 metres) in depth. It eventually stretched from about Quarry Street through the present Wattle Street depot.
Quarry Street was apparently built over the old quarry. The depot site was the initial quarry, opened by John Young, a builder, soon after 1866, to produce sandstone for the General Post Office. Young sold it to Robert Saunders. When it was exhausted, Hell Hole became a rubbish dump. Robert Saunders then leased the Wattle Street depot to City Council in 1906 for tar distillation.