The land the steps are constructed on was at the northern end of the Government Dockyard site. It was part of the land set aside in 1797 for the residence of the Master Boat Builder, Thomas Moore, which was later converted to the Naval Office, the headquarters for the imposition of Customs.
This use was transferred to the new Customs House (now the east store of the Argyle Stores) in 1827. The rarity of Bethel Steps is demonstrated by the recognition of the early access in this section of George Street. Bethel Steps significantly replaced an early pathway and cross street that appears to have developed from an early landing place and wharf on the western shores of Sydney Cove