Old Government House, Parramatta

Old Government House, Parramatta

Old Government House
Old Government House
General information
Type Mansion
Architectural style Old Colonial Georgian
Location New South Wales
Address Parramatta Park, Parramatta
Owner National Trust of Australia (NSW) - Trustee

Old Government House is a former "country" residence of 10 early governors of New South Wales, located in Parramatta Park in Parramatta, New South Wales, now a suburb of Sydney.[1] It is considered a property of national and international significance as an archaeological resource. It also serves to demonstrate how the British Empire expanded and Australian society has evolved since 1788.[1]

In July 2010 Old Government House and Domain was inscribed on the World Heritage List as one of 11 Australian sites with a significant association with convict transportation (i.e. the Australian Convict Sites) which together represent "the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts"[2]

The land the property is situated on is named Darug land, home to the Burramatta tribe. There is evidence of Aboriginal occupation on the site, such as middens.


  • Original Government House 1
  • Second Government House 2
  • Architecture 3
  • World Heritage Listing 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Original Government House

The abode of the first Governor of New South Wales, Captain Arthur Phillip, was a structure made of canvas and timber brought from England with the First Fleet and erected in January 1788. After establishing the site of the settlement, a substantial "temporary" government house was located on the corner of what is now Bridge St and Phillip Street, Sydney. It was built under the direction of James Bloodsworth, a convict builder responsible for the construction of most of the colony's buildings between 1788 and 1800. This building, the first "permanent" building in Sydney, was completed by 1789 using English bricks, native stone and a quantity of convict baked sandstock bricks from the Sydney region.

This first government house was extended and repaired by the following eight Governors, but was generally in poor condition and was vacated when the Governor relocated to the new building in 1845, and was demolished in 1846. The house suffered as a result of the poor mortar (made from the lime of crushed sea shells), white ant infestations, and what appeared to be rising damp in later years. Despite these problems, the house was an architectural milestone for Australia, and the first proportionately classical building in the continent. It even included Australia's first staircase.

The building was adapted quickly to the Australian climate. A verandah was added by Governor King circa 1800, and a drawing room was added in a side wing in the same year. By 1816 Francis Greenway was commissioned to construct a substantial extension and ballroom by Governor Macquarie, transforming Phillip's house into an Italianate cottage.

The house was finally demolished in 1845/46, and the site remained virtually untouched until the 1980s, when a proposal to build a new high rise office tower on the site was made. Following representations to the NSW Government by concerned members of the newly formed Friends of the First Government House Site, construction was deferred to allow archaeologists to explore the area. The well-preserved foundations of First Government House were located in 1983 and excavated over the following months; providing a priceless insight into the early years of our nation. The tower was redesigned to preserve the historic foundations and incorporate them into the design of a new museum. When it was commissioned, the project was called the First Government House Museum.[3][4][5] Whilst the museum building was being built in November 1993, the New South Wales Minister for the Arts announced that the museum would be known as the Museum of Sydney on the Site of First Government House,[6][7] described in the press at the time as a "mouthful"[6] and commonly contracted to Museum of Sydney.[3] The change of name attracted protests.[8][3][4]

Major General Lachlan Macquarie (Governor 1810–1821) was responsible for prompting the construction of many of the colony's first permanent public buildings, and he attempted to build a replacement for the original Sydney Government House. Work on this was started by the convict architect Francis Greenway, but the project was not approved by the British government, and only the castle-like stables, commissioned in 1816, were ever finished. These stables still stand in the Royal Botanic Gardens and form a facade for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.[9] The building is best described as a small castle and retains many of its original features and nostalgic battlements and towers. Much of the "Governor's Domain" to the east of the original house has survived today as the adjacent areas of parkland known as The Domain, the Botanic Gardens, and also the gardens of today's Government House, adjacent to the Sydney Opera House.[9]

Second Government House

The desperate search for farmland suitable to sustain crops to feed the new colony led to the establishment of the township of Parramatta and, in 1790, Governor Arthur Phillip built a second residence for himself there. This cottage, as with many of the settlement's earliest structures, was not robustly constructed,[10]and fell into disrepair,[11] being demolished by 1799. However, a precedent for a "country residence" for the Governor had been set. Other country residences of the Governor included a cottage constructed at Windsor overlooking the Hawkesbury River (circa 1790) and a residence at Port Macquarie (circa 1821) of which the ruins are still visible.

The poor quality of the original Sydney Government House, as well as crime and unsanitary conditions in the growing Sydney settlement[12] convinced successive Governors of the desirability of a rural residence. In 1799 the second Governor, John Hunter, had the remains of Arthur Phillip's cottage cleared away, and a more permanent building erected on the same site.

Later, starting in 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie and Mrs Macquarie added extensively to Hunter's structure and by 1818 their principal residence had acquired the appearance which it retains today (the building's Palladian style extensions were designed by Macquarie's aide, Lieutenant John Watts).[12]

Out buildings in the Governor's Domain include a mutilated Bath House attributed to Francis Greenway (1822), some stones from an Observatory built for Governor Thomas Brisbane (1821) and a small farm house built by George Salter in 1798–1806 and acquired and extended by Governor Lachlan Maquarie in 1816 for use as a dairy.
Governor Phillip’s cottage on the site of Old Government House (circa 1798)

"Old Government House" is furnished in the style of the early 1820s and is open to visitors. It is situated at Parramatta on 260 acres (1.1 km2) of parkland overlooking the Parramatta River, and is Australia's oldest public building. The grounds are of particular interest as they are a relatively undisturbed colonial-era reserve surrounded by what is now Australia's largest urban area. The practice of "firestick" land management conducted by the aboriginal Darug tribe, which once dwelt in the area, is evident from certain scars to be seen on trees still standing (their bark being removed to build canoes). Also, shells used to strengthen the mortar used in the House's construction have been found to originate from Aboriginal middens.[12]

Old Government House and Government Domain were included in the Australian National Heritage List on 1 August 2007.


Standing within 260 acres (1.1 km2) of Parramatta Park, Old Government House is Australia’s oldest public building. In 1799, the central block of the house was built by Governor John Hunter, however the current appearance of Old Government House is mainly due to Governor Macquarie and his wife. It is an example of a direct translation of English building forms to Australia, containing the only example of eighteenth century English joinery in Australia at such a high standard.[13] Shells from Aboriginal middens in the area were used to produce lime for mortar used in construction.[1]

World Heritage Listing

In July 2010, at the 34th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, Old Government House and Domain, as well as ten other Australian sites with a significant association with convict transportation, were inscribed as a group on the World Heritage List as the Australian Convict Sites.[14] The listing explains that the 11 sites present "the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts". Of the 11 sites the Hyde Park Barracks, Old Great North Road and Cockatoo Island are also within the Sydney region. At the time of nomination, on 12 January 2007, Old Government House was described as a "powerful symbol of the colony of New South Wales, the inter-connections with convict sites in other colonies, and the development of the nation."[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b c http://www.oldgovernmenthouse.com.au/
  2. ^ UNESCO's World Heritage "Australian Convict Sites" webpages>
  3. ^ a b c Peter Poland (President, Woollahra History and Heritage Society Inc), "Intellectual Hijacking" (letter to the editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 December 1993, p 14."Geraldine O'Brien is right when she describes "The Museum of Sydney on the Site of First Government House" as a mouthful (Herald, November 20). The sad thing is that this title will be shortened to "The Museum of Sydney" which will both obscure the real significance of this very important and historic site and totally mislead those who visit the museum. The significance of the First Government House is that it was the powerhouse of the European settlement in this part of the Pacific. On this site decisions were made which not only affected the exploration of and expansion into Australia of the newcomers with all that that meant for both them and the Aborigines but also decisions which reached out to the world from Cape Town to Calcutta, Canton and California and all points in between. To call the museum which should be interpreting the far-reaching significance of this site "The Museum of Sydney" reflects an arrogance that assumes that Sydney is the only place that matters and an act of intellectual hijacking on the part of those who have been given responsibility of what was to be "The First Government House Museum"."
  4. ^ a b Adrian Bain, "Phillip needs filip" (letter to the editor), Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 21 December 2002, p 32.
  5. ^ Fraser Range Granite NL, "Quarterly Exploration Reports December (Part A)", 27 January 1994, Australian Stock Exchange Company Announcements via factiva accessed 27 August 2011.
  6. ^ a b Geraldine O'Brien, "History underfoot in new museum on significant site", The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 1993, p 15
  7. ^ Local Government (General) Amendment (Rate Exemptions) Regulation 2009 (NSW) and reg 123, Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 (NSW).
  8. ^ "Column 8", The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 January 1995, p 1. "IT WAS, perhaps, the most genteel demonstration ever held in Sydney - the holding up of placards by the Friends of the First Government House Site at the opening of First Government House Place in Bridge Street yesterday. The Friends were the first to agitate in the early 1980s to stop the site being covered by an office block. An archaeological survey uncovered the footings of Governor Phillip's house, and after long negotiations, a museum has been built there, to open on March 11. Why are the Friends upset? They had expected their preferred name, First Government House Museum, would be chosen. Instead, the Heritage Houses Trust has called it The Museum of Sydney - so some 50 Friends had their quiet, polite, gentle and heartfelt say when the place was opened."
  9. ^ a b "The Governor of NSW: Government House". Parliament of New South Wales. NSW Government. Retrieved 10 December 2010. 
  10. ^ Brick footings, rediscovered in 1968, were only held together with mud-mortar; see Old Government House Parramatta NSW, Alfred Dunhill, Sydney, 1977 [p.7].
  11. ^ "Old Government House". Parramatta Heritage Ride. Retrieved 10 December 2010. 
  12. ^ a b c "Old Government House now on World Heritage List". National Trust: Places to Visit. National Trust of Australia (NSW). Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  13. ^ http://www.oldgovernmenthouse.com.au/index.php?page=architecture_ogh
  14. ^ "UNESCO World Heritage Centre – World Heritage Committee inscribes seven cultural sites on World Heritage List". UNESCO World Heritage Centre website. United Nations. 31 July 2010. Retrieved 17 September 2010. 
  15. ^ "National Trust of Australia (NSW) e-news Issue #16". National Trust of Australia (NSW). 24 January 2007. Retrieved 17 September 2010. 

External links

  • National Trust of Australia (NSW)
  • Friends of Old Government House
  • UNESCO announcement of World Heritage listing