The History of Sydney

1790 - 1809

Period covered by this chapter - 1st July 1790 to 31st December 1809

Governors of the Early Colonial Sydney

26th January, 1788 to 10th December, 1792: Captain Arthur Phillip, Governor-in-Chief.

11th December 1792 to 11th December, 1794: Major Francis Grose administered.

12th December, 1794 to 11th September, 1795: Captain William Paterson administered.

Sept 11, 1795 to 27th September, 1800: Captain John Hunter, Governor of NSW and its dependencies.

28th September, 1800 to 12th August, 1806: Captain Philip Gidley King, Governor.

28th September, 1806 to 25th January, 1808: Captain William Bligh, Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of NSW and its dependencies. In 1808, he was unlawfully removed from office by officers of the NSW Corp.

26th January to 28th July, 1808: Major George Johnson administered.

29th July, 1808 to 8th January, 1809: Major Joseph Foveaux administered.

9th January to 31st December 1809: Colonel William Paterson administered.


Upon Phillips departure on 11th December 1792, the colony of New South Wales entered a period of political instability in which three Governors fought a losing battle against the New South Wales Corps who used their power and influence to receive maximum benefit of the system at the expense of the convicts. The Corps was a unit of the British Army which had been founded in 1789 especially for service in New South Wales. It was not considered a rewarding part of the Army for career purposes and the standard of recruits suffered accordingly. The first detachment of 100 soldiers was dispatched with the Second Fleet and arrived in Sydney in June 1790; the second detachment, commanded by Major Francis Grose, arrived in 1792. During Grose's term as colonial administrator in the absence of a Governor, the Corps operated with relative freedom and developed great power within the colony with officers involved in trade and a traffic in spirits for which it was given the nickname of the "Rum Corps".

John Macarthur is probably best remembered for his contribution to the Australian wool industry, but to his contemporaries he was well-known as a man determined to get what he wanted and not at all reluctant to oppose those who stood in his way. Gov. Hunter described him as restless, ambitious and litigious. His Australian conflicts started before he had even stepped foot on her shores. As a Lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps on the voyage out to Australia, Macarthur fought a duel with the captain of the Neptune and quarrelled with his successor.

Gov Phillip and Major Francis Grose were on good terms with Macarthur, despite a small reprimand from Phillip. With, Gov Hunter, was a different matter. Macarthur became involved in a dispute with the Judge-Advocate, Richard Atkins, who issued a warrant for the arrest of Macarthur after he refused to answer a summons for allowing his schooner to come ashore unauthorised. Hunter took Atkins side. After a series of letters to London in which Macarthur severely criticised Hunter for the way he was governing the colony, Hunter was recalled to England.

The next quarrel in which Macarthur was involved was with Gov. King. The reason for the quarrel isnt clear, but appears to have related to legal proceedings. Macarthur tried to discredit King, but not everyone was easily influenced. His commanding officer, William Paterson, was so offended by Macarthurs words against King that he challenged him to a duel. King arrested Macarthur and sent him to England for trial, but the charges were vague and there were no witnesses. To rub salt into the wound, Macarthur was not only set free but brought back with him an order for the Government to issue him 5,000 acres of land and the pick of the Merino sheep from the Royal flock. It was this land grant and his distain for Kings replacement, William Bligh, who was annoyed at the grant having been made, which set the pair off on the wrong foot and escalated to a dramatic climax with the Rum Rebellion. These two very stubborn men, equally sure of their own rightness, were perhaps doomed to conflict with each other.

In the beginning of 1808, Bligh arrested Macarthur over his previous actions in resisting the warrant issued by Atkins over the schooner. The Captain of the NSW Corps, George Johnston, ordered Macarthurs release. When Bligh refused, Johnston marched on Government House, deposed Bligh and took command, giving Macarthur the post of Colonial Secretary. Macarthur returned to England in 1809, to support Johnston during his court-martial. Although Macarthur could not be prosecuted as he was a civilian, instructions were given to Gov Macquarie to prosecute Macarthur as soon as he returned to New South Wales. For this reason Macarthur stayed in England until 1816, at which time he returned to Australia. He began arguing with Macquarie over the granting of land but found in Macquarie an equally stubborn person as Bligh. Macarthur behaved in his usual way and tried to discredit the Governor and was instrumental in getting Commissioner Bigge to come to Sydney to review Macquaries Governorship. Macarthurs feuds with Governors seemed to stop there. He was on friendly terms with both Brisbane and Darling. Perhaps it would not be too far-fetched to suggest that they saw the wisdom of keeping Macarthur on side as they watched his behaviour become more irrational. Later in life, Macarthur was proclaimed insane.

Major Francis Grose
Grose (1758?-1814) joined the British army in 1775 and became a successful career Army officer. As a major in the 96th regiment, he was placed in command of the second detachment of the New South Wales Corps, and arrived with them in 1792 whereupon he was appointed lieutenant-governor of New South Wales. Unlike previous military leaders, he enjoyed good relations with Governor Arthur Phillip and when Phillip left for England in December 1792, Grose was appointed Acting Governor. During his time in office, the power and jurisdiction of the military and granting land to officers greatly increased. Unlike Phillip who had a plan for the orderly development of Sydney as a colony of settlers, Grose saw it as nothing more than a penal settlement under tight military control. He encouraged the officers' farming and trading activities and when he returned to England in 1794 to continue his Army career, their dominance over trade was firmly established.

William Paterson
Paterson (1755 - 1810) was born in Scotland. A soldier and explorer, he was also an amateur naturalist who collected botanical, geological and insect specimens for Joseph Banks in Britain. He made several inland expeditions from Sydney. Paterson administered the colony of New South Wales in the absence of a resident Governor on two occasions, the first was from 12th December 1794 to 11th September 1795, relieving Major Grose as administrator when he left Sydney in 1794 until the return of Captain John Hunter to take up the Governorship. His second term commenced on 9th January 1809. He remained in the post until the arrival in New South Wales of the incoming Lachlan Macquarie a year later.

John Hunter
Scotsman John Hunter (1737-1821) abandoned studies for the ministry for a career in the Navy to which he had given 30 years of active service when appointed second captain of the Sirius under Governor Arthur Phillip with the First Fleet. Hunter, who had a dormant commission as successor to Phillip should he die, was actively involved in surveying Port Jackson and the rivers and harbours of the Sydney area. In 1789, he took Sirius to fetch provisions from the Cape of Good Hope after the first harvest had failed. Returning in May 1789 after circumnavigating the globe, he continued to command the Sirius which was wrecked on Norfolk Island. The incident left Hunter and the crew stranded there for eleven months. Hunter returned to England in April 1792, saw service in the war with France until his appointment as Phillip's replacement following the latters resignation in 1793 because of ill-health.

By the time of his arrival as Phillips replacement, in September 1795, the control of the colony had fallen firmly in the grip of the NSW Corps. Hunter was a gentle, humane and charitable man, and no match for the soldiers he tried to control. He loved Australia and though he had little impact on the growth of Sydney, he is remembered for his exploratory expeditions and his contribution to zoological and botanical sciences which included the discovery and documentation on the lyrebird and the koala. Hunter was very pro-the convicts to whom he showed sympathy and humanity, especially their wives and children. He fell foul of the NSW Corps and John Macarthur in particular and was eventually recalled because his administration was considered a failure. He published Remarks on the Causes of Colonial Expense of the Establishment of New South WalesÓ (London, 1802), which vindicated him and successfully promoted the view that the Government had been misinformed on many matters to do with the Rum Corps". His replacement was another first fleeter, Captain Philip Gidley King. Hunter returned to naval command in 1804.

Philip Gidley King
Philip King (1758 - 1808) was born in Launceston, Cornwall, and joined the Navy at the age of twelve. He saw active service in America and joined the Channel Fleet in 1780 where he served under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip who chose King as second lieutenant of HMS Sirius for the First Fleet. King was sent to establish a settlement at Norfolk Island within two weeks of their arrival. The venture was a success and King was promoted to Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island, althoug by that time - March 1790 - Governor Phillip had sent King on a brief but successful visit to London to discuss the problems of New South Wales. Upon his return, King suffered conflict with some of the New South Wales Corps and clashed with the acting governor, Major Francis Grose.

Because of ill-health, he returned to London for a period of leave in 1796. Supported by Sir Joseph Banks and John Hunter, he was again appointed to succeed Hunter as Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales. Highlights of his six years in office include improvements in agriculture, health, education and relations with the Aborigines. Exploration with a view to establishing further settlements was always high on his agenda. Because of further ill-health, King was replaced as governor by William Bligh in 1806, and he left for England in February 1807.

Matthew Flinders and George Bass
1795 has significance in the history of Australian exploration and discovery as it was in that year that 21 year old Matthew Flinders (right) first set foot on Australian soil and began a series of voyages in which he would become the first person to circumnavigate Australia, prove that Tasmania and mainland Australia were islands and suggest the name Australia. On the voyage out he struck up a friendship with ships surgeon Gorge Bass. Captain Hunter, under whom Flinders had served a few years earlier, was now Governor of New South Wales. He equipped them with a small boat named Tom Thumb and together they embarked on a couple of local voyages of discovery, the most significant of these being around Botany Bay, Georges River and Port Hacking.
In 1798 Bass and Flinders sailed their last journey together on the Norfolk on a voyage in which they proved that Tasmania was an island by circucmnavigating it. After completion, Flinders returned to England to be married but within a short time he was given orders to return to New South Wales to complete the charting of the Australian coastline. The two year saga proved to be the voyage of his career. As Master of the Investigator, he filled in the missing sections of coastline on the map of Australia and became the first man to circumnavigate the country. On his way home he called into Mauritius, unaware that France and England were at war. Flinders was suspected as being a spy by the French authorities and was held prisoner for nearly seven years. He returned to England in poor health and died on 19th July 1814,

William Bligh
Portsmouth born Bligh (1754 - 1817) joined the navy in 1770 and sailed with James Cook on the Resolution in 1776. An excellent navigator and cartographer, he brought the vessel home after Cooks death in Hawaii. Blighs most famous voyage was aboard HMS Bounty. While travelling to Tahiti to collect breadfruit plants and take them to the West Indies he was overcome by mutineers. Bligh and his fellow officers were cast adrift in a longboat and left to die but Bligh's navigation skills eventually brought them to safety in Timor, having charted the north-east coast of Australia as he went.

Bligh was tried for the loss of his ship when he returned to London but was acquitted. Through the support of Sir Joseph Banks, he was offered the Governorship of the colony of New South Wales and took up the post in 1806. Within weeks of his arrival in August 1806, Bligh had made it clear he would not tolerate the corruption of the NSW Corps and vowed to destroy their control of the import
ation of spirits and domination of economic life in the colony. He brought the matter to a head by arresting John Macarthur over his previous actions in resisting a warrant issued against him. Outraged by Blighs actions, a unit of the NSW Corps led by their Commanding Officer Major George Johnston who was sympathetic to MacArthur marched on Government House in Sydney on 26th January 1808 and demanded Macarthurs release. When Bligh refused he was placed Bligh under house arrest.

Bligh was eventually released and returned to England, the administration of the colony being placed in the hands of Major Joseph Foveaux and later Colonel William Paterson until the arrival of Brigadier General Lachlan Macquarie as Blighs replacement. Macquarie brought with him the 73rd Regiment of the Royal Highlanders as the garrison force of the colony. The New South Wales Corps was disbanded, effectively ending their infamous reign.

Major Johnson was supported by settler John Blaxland in that he (Blaxland) believed Bligh had manipulated and reshaped the courts of the colony into instruments of oppression, applying law in contradiction to set English law in order that the Governor's will be satisfied in all cases. Bligh's assertion that the Rum Rebellion was a direct result of Macarthur's actions regarding the spirits prohibition was believed by the British courts in preference to Macarthurs and Johnstons arguments, however some historians have questioned the validity of Blighs argument. They allege that the monopoly of spirits and foreign exchange by the New South Wales Corp had effectively ceased to exist after 1800 when eighteen settlers, other than officers, petitioned Governor Hunter for permission to purchase the cargo of the 'Minerva'. They also cite the arrival of Robert Campbell, a free merchant, in the Colony, with his own sources of foreign exchange as a further factor in the collapse of the Corps monopoly but play down the fact that Macarthurs warrant was issued over a trade related matter.

Nevertheless, the Home government was very unsympathetic to the rebellion; Johnston was court martialled, leading to his dismissal from the Army, and John Macarthur who returned to England in 1809 was forbidden to return to Australia until 1817. Bligh was cleared of any wrong doing and continued his career in the navy. He was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1811 and Vice Admiral in 1814. He died in London three years later.

Joseph Foveaux
Foveaux (1766-1846) was baptised in Millbrook Church, Bedfordshire, England. He entered the British Army as an ensign in the 60th Regiment in May 1789, purchasing a Lieutenancy in the New South Wales Corps in June 1789, and a Captaincy in the same regiment in April 1791. Foveaux was appointed Commandant at Parramatta, effectively making him the civilian as well as military Commander for twelve months from May 1792. He was Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales from September 1796 to September 1799, and Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island from 1800 to 1804, although he continued to be paid in the post until 1807. In 1799 Foveaux was granted 300 acres in the Baulkham Hills area which he sold to John Macarthur in 1801. The Macarthurs farmed sheep on this property before establishing them at Camden.

Foveaux relieved Major George Johnson as Colonial Administrator in July 1808 and was himself relieved in January 1809 by William Paterson due to ill health. He had strong views on reform which he believed were necessary to ensure the viability and growth of the colony and made a successful attempt to reach England with his account of the Rum Rebellion before Bligh did.

At the time of Macquaries arrival, the signs of Sydney's progression from a convict camp to a colonial settlement were becoming evident. The first free settlers had arrived in 1793 on the Bellona, eight years after the arrival of the First Fleet. These newcomers, the first in a long stream of free settlers to join a growing number of emancipists who were making a new start for themselves, played an ever increasing role in the transformation. A brewery had been established some years earlier in Castlereagh Street which complimented a similar, even earlier business establishment at Kissing Point (Ryde). Three windmills dominated the skyline, one above Farm Cove, the others were to the west on Miller Point beyond Fort Phillip. Brickfields village had become a hive of activity with numerous businesses engaged in the manufacture of pottery, crockery, roofing tiles and bricks. A tannery there supplied the cattle and kangaroo hides used by a factory in Pitt Street in the manufacture of boots and shoes. The Government lumber yard in what is now George Street had been extended to include a forge where iron and steel being imported from England was used in the manufacture of tools and implements. The Rocks area was fast becoming a re-fitting port for the growing number of British and American sealing and whaling vessels visiting the colony.

Despite the plan so carefully laid down by Gov. Phillip, Forveauxs description of Sydney indicates that it had become a disorderly place with no defined direction. The public buildings are in a state of shameful dilapidation, and rapid decay. The streets of Sydney are almost impassable, and the roads and bridges are, if possible, in still a more dangerous and neglected state.Ó Early settlers had chosen to take shortcuts through the bush rather than follow the streets, turning the colony, particularly The Rocks ar
sea, into a maze of ad-hoc thoroughfares. Though Forveaux documented the problems well, it was Governor Macquarie who addressed them, and in doing so, gave Sydney a new direction.

Map of Sydney, 1802


During Sydneys first year, travel and transportation for all but the Governor and his officials was non existent. That is hardly surprising, given that the settlement was after all a gaol for Englands outcasts, and the purpose of a gaol is to be confining. The British Government which orchestrated the project must have been well aware of this as they made sure there wasnt a single horse in the menagerie of animals sent with the First Fleet (Phillip bought four mares and two stallions at the Cape of Good Hope on the journey out; a further ten arrived with the Second Fleet). In fact, it wasnt until the arrival of some free settlers who began importing horses from India that animals were used as a means of transport in Sydney.

There were boats, but these were all under the Governors jurisdiction and their use was restricted to exploratory expeditions up and down the harbour. Under the rules of the colony during the first year, private ownership of boats was not allowed, and to avoid them falling into convict hands and them being used for escape, the Governors boats were guarded by armed Marines.
By October 1788, the first boat built in the colony was launched at Campbells Cove. Named The Rose Hill Packet but affectionately known as The Lump, it was a flat-bottomed barge designed to ply the Parramatta River between the two settlements. On its maiden voyage, it returned from Rose Hill with the areas first harvest, amounting to some 200 bushels of wheat, 35 bushels of barley, and a quantity of maize. Many a boat would be built on the shores of Campbells Cove until well into the 19th century when Balmain, Woolwich and Cockatoo Island became the centres for boatbuilding activity on Sydney Harbour.

The success of The Lump's first run had the effect of turning the Parramatta River into a busy waterway. The journey between Sydney and Parramatta was quicker and easier by boat than by land and it was the subsequent ferry services operating on this route that initiated in Sydney the same social change that railways initiated in England. The farming district of Ryde, a whaling industry on Mosman Bay and the shipbuilding activity on the shores of Balmain all came into being as a result of their ease of access to Sydney by boat.

The Georges River

Apart from the official cross country expeditions, early access to the outlaying areas of Sydney in the vicinity of what are now the Bankstown, Liverpool and Macarthur districts was exclusively by boat up the George River, which rises near Appin. The area was opened up to farming in consequence to explorers Matthew Flinders and George Bass navigating the river in 1795. After sailing to beyond where Liverpool now stands, the pair returned with glowing reports of the area as potential farming land and of the navigational possibilities of the river. This led to land being granted between 1798 and 1805 on the alluvial flats on a bend in the river that is now Moorebank and Chipping Norton. By the turn of the Century, transportation of local produce by river had led to the development of a settlement at the furtherest navigable point of the river for coastal trading vessels. When Gov. Macquarie first journeyed to the newly settled district upon his arrival in NSW, he was so impressed by the settlements potential as a regional centre, he laid out a town there and named it Liverpool.

The Nepean/Hawkesbury River

The first area to be settled beyond Sydney and Parramatta was the Nepean/Hawkesbury. (The Nepean and Hawkesbury are in fact the same river, but a section was discovered and named the Nepean by Capt. Watkin Tench in 1789, unaware that it was the upper end of the Hawkesbury which had been explored and named some months before). As the alluvial soils of the district were found to be particularly fertile and the colony at the time had little fertile land suitable for agriculture, the Governor opened up the area for faming as quickly as possible. By 1794, settlers had moved into the Hawkesbury and the township of Green Hills (later named Windsor). The town, which was laid out and renamed Windsor by Gov. Macquarie, became a local centre for the transfer of produce and goods between Sydney and the region.

The river trade developed quickly and came into its own with the introduction of steamers in 1831. By 1800 the Nepean district had been settled though land was not formally granted until 3 years later. For many years, it was considered to be among the best grazing land in the colony. Records indicate that 66 grants had been made on the Nepean and South Creek by 1806.


Though there were no walls around the settlement to keep the convicts in, the settlement was very confining, particularly in the first few months, as the bush which encircled the settlement was very much an unknown quantity. Rumours spread among the convicts that China was not far away, perhaps on theb other side of the Blue Mountains and a number tried to make a dash to freedom. Most we quickly recaptured after wandering around aimlessly in the bush without food and water. As the colonists ventured out from Sydney Cove, they came across many paths used by the Aborigines to travel from one part of their tribal grounds to another. One of the first tracks they would have discovered led from the swamps at the source of their settlements stream (near Hyde Park) to more swamps to the south east, later to be known as Lachlan Swamps. They became Sydney's second water supply when the stream became polluted. 100 years later they would become the ornamental lakes of Centennial Park.

This path had been used for centuries by the Aborigines to get from one watering hole to another. The white settlers used it for a similar purpose, and it became South Head Road (later renamed Oxford Street), the main thoroughfare to the south east of Sydney. This path was one of many well worn tracks which criss-crossed the area, inter-connecting the various camping grounds and water holes used by the Cardigals. These tracks, which were later given names like Cleveland Street, Botany Road, Old South Head Road, Alison Road, Belmore Road, Coogee Bay Road, Bronte Road, Anzac Parade, Bunnerong Road, Stoney Creek Road, Rocky Point Road, Stanmore Road, New Canterbury Road, City Road and Princes Highway, Liverpool Road, Canterbury Road and Georges River Road, gave the white settlers access to all the land to the east of Sydney right to the ocean and to the south and west as far as Botany Bay and the Georges River.

As Sydney grew, farms and settlements were established by the emancipists on either side of these tracks around the water holes and creeks along the way. Ironically, these tracks, which had been the lifelines of Aboriginal society for centuries by linking their limited food supplies, were the means by which their culture was decimated when they fell into the hands of the white settlers. The Aborigines were forced to move into other areas or lose their identity altogether by attaching themselves to the fringes of the encroaching culture as it destroyed the environment that had sustained them for centuries.

Parramatta Road toll gate

As land was opened up around the settlement area, new roads were cut through the bush and where these roads crossed water courses, simple bridges were built, though no records of when and by whom they were built have survived. The first cross country road of any consequence was a track linking Sydney and Parramatta which became Parramatta Road. All travel by officials of the colony between the two settlements was made by boat up the Parramatta River and the early governors actually discouraged cross country travel between the two locations. But the building of a road was inevitable as the first land grants outside of Sydney itself were between Sydney and Parramatta and a road was needed to gain access to them.

The track was cut through the bush from Brickfields to Parramatta between 1789 and 1791. It appears to have been well patronsied, as in September 1805, tenders were called for the carrying out of repairs to Parramatta Road and the bridges over which it passed and for the erection of new bridges at the following locations: between Grove Farm and Major Johnstons; opposite Major Johnstons paling; corner of Whites Farm; at the foot of Prentices Hill; corner of Capt. Roleys paling; next to Hackings Creek; Hackings Creek; Blankets Ridge; Capt. MacArthurs Creek (Duck Creek); Becketts Bridge.

The opening up of farming land beyond Parramatta in the 1790s necessitated the building of more roads to service the settlers moving into these new areas. Parramatta soon became the overnight stopping place for travellers passing on to the outlying districts. The road from Parramatta to Windsor via Toongabbie, known today as the Old Windsor Road, was built in 1794, followed shortly after by a road to new settlements at Castle Hill. Beyond Windsor were the fertile regions of the Hawkesbury, which weresettled by farmers even before the road was completed. When French naturalist Francois Peron visited Sydney in 1802, he wrote a detailed description of Sydney which included a map showing the major thoroughfares and the four bridges which existed at that time in Sydney and its immediate surroundings. These bridges are detailed below, followed by the known information on some other major bridges in the colony outside of Sydney which existed at that time.

1788 - Tank Stream Bridge

The first bridge over Sydney's main water supply was a simple log bridge erected in October 1788. It was replaced on numerous occasions with more substantial timber structures. In 1803 Gov. King asked the semi- retired Augustus Alt to have the log bridge replaced by a more sturdy stone arch tall enough for small sea-going vessels to pass under it. King laid the corner stone for the new 9m long bridge at roughly where Bridge Street intersects Pitt Street today.

Continual rock hewing activities by convicts for government buildings and public works had sapped the strength of the few able bodied men capable of carrying out the erection of the bridge. This led Gov. King to appeal to the colonys free settlers to help in its construction. Struggling to survive a drought, colonists refused point-blank to labour on the bridge under the hot sun, and the job was left to five convicts supervised by stone-mason Isaac Peyton. Built in haste, it was opened to traffic on 5 January 1804 but collapsed nine months later due to a combination of poor workmanship and heavy rains which caused the creek to flood. Repairs were under taken immediately and again in 1806. The road which crossed the Bridge, formerly known as Governors Row, was named Bridge Street by Gov. Macquarie when he renamed Sydney's streets in 1810. In the following year he had the bridge completely remodelled by John O'Hearn, which included widening and lowering of the arch. O'Hearn's labour was paid for with 675 gallons of rum. The bridge was demolished in the 1840s when the Tank Stream was channeled underground and the area beyond the bridge reclaimed and remodelled as part of the construction of Circular Quay.

1791 (?) - Brickfields Bridge

Though no official records indicate the exact date of construction of the first simple log bridge, it carried the road to Parramatta across a stream which flowed from Surry Hills into Darling Harbour, therefore it would have had to have been completed by 1891. Contemporary maps place this bridge as being somewhere near the present day intersection of Hay and Pitt Streets. The section of Pitt Street between Hay Street and Railway Square was originally the beginning of Parramatta Road and began at the bridge. The water course began as a spring near present day Clifton Reserve in Surry Hills. Little Albion Street follows the path of the stream which cascaded down the hillside on the Western side of Crown Street in what became known as Frog Hollow. A settlement sprang up in this small valley and it became a notorious hideout for criminals in Victorian Sydney.

According to Peron's map, a bridge also existed over a creek which flowed into Darling Harbour on its Western side. Located in the vicinity of the overpass taking the Western Distributor over Pyrmont Street, the path which crossed the creek at the bridge provided access to the farm of Surgeon John Harris and followed the line of Harris Street. Another bridge took Parramatta Road (then Parramatta Street) over Black Wattle Swamp Creek. Present day Blackwattle Lane follows the creeks course. Perons map also shows a bridge had been built to take a road over a creek which followed the line of the Domain Ridge and emptied into Woolloomooloo Bay. The road was to become William Street. The bridge, which was located in the vicinity of the intersection of Yurong and William Streets, is recalled in the name of Stream Street. The latter follows the path of a small section of the water course which rose in the hills of East Sydney near Liverpool Street.

1802 - South Creek Bridge, Windsor

The first bridge at Windsor carried the new road between the Hawkesbury settlement and Parramatta across South Creek. In use between 1802 and 1814, it was a floating pontoon bridge built by Andrew Thompson, a settler and constable at Green Hills. He took up a grant there in 1786 and in doing so opened up the area. Thompson was given permission to charge colonists to use the bridge as he had paid for its construction. Gov. King contributed £15 and provided two convicts for a period of three months to assist in its erection in return for free travel across it by government officials, officers and soldiers on duty. The bridge was replaced in 1814 with a free-access low-level timber beam structure which, at 66m, was the longest bridge in the colony at the time. Known as Howes Bridge, after its builder, John Howe, it survived until 1853 when a high level bridge consisting of three laminated timber arches replaced it.

1804 - Chapel Street Bridge, Parramatta

A simple single lane timber bridge built by convicts at the spot where Church Street (then known as Chapel Street) crosses the Parramatta River. It was financed by contributions collected by the Governor from local residents and was eventually replaced in 1836 by the Lennox Bridge.

The Tank Stream


One of the major influencing factors in Phillips choice of Sydney Cove above other bays in Port Jackson for the site of the settlement was a little ferny creek. It flowed north from swampy high ground located within the area bounded by Market, Park, Elizabeth and Pitt Streets through a small, closed valley and into the cove through a tidal estuary. It was fed and filtered from the seepages of mosses and undergrowth that provided the spongy cover of its porous sandstone base. Sydney Red Gums (Myrtles), Banksias, Acacias (Wattles), Cabbage Tree Palms and Tree Ferns shaded an undergrowth of orchids, ferns, plants and flowering shrubs which thrived in the shaded environment of rotting leaves, bark and boughs of fallen trees. The nature reserve of Parsley Bay at Vaucluse, some six kilometres west of Sydney Cove, with its riverlut, small closed valley and rainforest vegetation, gives an inkling as to what Sydney Cove of 1788 must have been like, being today much as it was when Captain Philip first found it. A wander through this reserve is like a walk back in time.

A definite channel through which the water could flow was formed from King Street. A small weir was built to catch the water and to stop rising tides from making the water salty where Pitt and Crane Streets intersect today. A simple log bridge was built across Tank Stream near the the military barracks, giving rise to the walkway which later was to cross the stream at this point being named Bridge Street. In 1804, Gov. King had the log bridge replaced by a more sturdy stone bridge It was remodelled in 1810 by John OHearne whose labour was paid for with 675 gallons of rum.

The Tank Stream tunnel

So where is the little rivulet that once flowed into Sydney Cove? The first settlers did not realise that clearing the trees and underbush loosened the topsoil which kept the mosses, ferns and undergrowth in its moist state. Within two years, the creek had become polluted. Construction of new dwellings in the 64 Ha catchment area was belatedly banned and tanks were built near Bridge Street to retain what little water still flowed, hence its name Tank Stream. In 1804, a last ditch effort was made to protect the stream. The Governor declared a 15-metre wide green belt on either side of the stream where cutting timber and grazing stock was forbidden, but the damage already done was irreparable. By 1826, Tank Stream had ceased to be used as a water supply, being replaced by an underground channel which brought water from Lachlan Swamps in Centennial Park to a reservoir in Hyde park.

As there was no need to retain what was left of the stream, the land around it was sold and developed, and what was once the lifeline of the town became an underground drain. The system of tunnels through which Tank Stream flowed into Sydney Cove still exist today, taking away the excess rainwater from Sydneys streets .A brick section of the tunnel between Angel Street and Australia Square is over 120 years old. When Australia Square was built, Tank Stream was diverted around the new buildings foundations via a new concrete tunnel. Today its memory is recorded in the names Tank Stream Way, Tank Stream Arcade and Bridge Street. The latter was thus named because it once crossed a over the creek at the spot where Tank Stream Way and Bridge Street now meet.


From the day of his arrival at Port Jackson, in accordance with his instructions Governor Phillip did everything within his power to maintain as friendly a relationship as possible between the white and Aboriginal communities that would now have to share the land around the Sydney basin. There was never any intention or attempt to wipe out the Aborigines, to invade or conquer them and any such outcome which modern day Australians might determine as having occurred is based on our hindsight view of the outcome of the arrival of white man rather than the intent of the first arrivals. Such a view is the result on an ongoing lack of understanding of each culture by the other, which commenced with the first meeting of Aborigines of the Sydney area and Cooks crew, and which continues to this day. Phillip and the other First Fleeters took the traditional but erroneous European view that the Aborigines were savages of inferior intelligence, lacking in culture and education.

Ironically, the Aborigines had a somewhat equally condescending view of the newcomers; to them the whites were the ones who lacked the intelligence. The Aborigines followed a very disciplined lifestyle and culture which, by nature of the scarcity of natural resources, demanded that they live in harmony with their environment as hunters and gatherers. To them, the systematic destruction of the forests and the clearing of the yams and other vegetation from waterways, both of which were their main food source, was an act of stupidity that had to be stopped at any cost. Who could blame them for being bemused when the colonists began to fall sick from malnutrition and starvation after having destroyed what to the was the primary food source?

From day one, the Aborigines reacted to the new arrivals with caution, keeping very much to themselves and denying Phillip his desire to see them become part of a unified community. They stayed well away from the colony and attempts by Phillip to convert them to any aspect of the European way of life was quietly but firmly resisted. They continued to practice their way of life, doing what they had always done where they had always done it. The whites looked on in disbelief.

Judge Advocate David Collins recorded details of one of their first encounters with Aboriginal culture to which they had been invited to experience; a Kangaroo and Dog Dance corroboree and initiation ceremony held in February 1795: The place selected for this extraordinary exhibition was the head of Farm Cove, where a space had for some days been prepared by clearing it of grass, stumps etc., it was an oval figure, the dimensions of it 27 feet by 18, and it was named Yoo-lahang. The ceremony lasted two days, 15 boys from the eastern harbour clans were initiated as warriors by having their front teeth knocked out by the Cammeraigal tribal elders from the North Shore. Farm Cove was also where ritual punishments were meted out against transgressors of tribal law. It was here that Bennelong and Colbey, two of just a handful of Aborigines who developed close ties with the colony, fought a duel in July 1805. Bennelong was badly injured in the fight and eventually died from injuries received in subsequent conflicts with Colbey.


The exact size of the Aboriginal population living on the shores of Port Jackson when the First Fleet arrived is unknown, though Governor Phillip estimated the native population in the first few weeks of settlement to be 1,500. It is therefore fair to assume that the human population living around Port Jackson had doubled with the arrival of the first fleet. This had an immediate impact on the local food supply, especially since it would be some years before the crops grown by the colonists would enable them to reduce their reliance on the bush and harbour for food. With the delicate balance of their food chain having been broken, the Aborigines had no choice but to move out or retaliate. Some chose the former, moving south beyond Botany Bay or north to the Broken Bay area. Retaliation took the form of attacks on whites who ventured alone into the bush, or raids on the farms of the white settlers. One such raid occurred in 1805 when the Colonial Harbourmaster Robert Watson had his small plantation of maize stolen from his Watson Bay property by aborigines. In such instances, the thievesÓ were subject to white mans punishment, though this form of justice was totally foreign to them.

For thousands of years, their culture had taught them they were part of a community and that the land and everything in it belonged to the community. It was beyond their comprehension that something growing in the ground could belong to a particular individual and that if someone else took it, they were stealing and would be punished. The white leaders had been generous in their gift-giving, which they intended to be taken as a sign of friendship by the natives. The latter, however, believed that, by being given some of white mans possessions, they had a right to help themselves to others which they hadnt been given.

Phillip, like subsequent governors, responded warmly to the gentleness of the local Aborigines and attempted at all times in his own way to keep relations between the two groups friendly and open. Phillip forbade retaliation, but the peace was short lived and the influx of more convicts only added to the pressure. The colonists had no idea that their arrival and method of land clearance for farming was depriving the Aborigines of their means of survival, and the Aborigines only had limited understanding of the need to explain their situation to the Governors if they were to survive. One of the few such occasions when they did was when the tribal elders successfully petitioned Gov. Hunter for their own fishing grounds. Had more communication between the two groups occurred, the situation would not have deteriorated as quickly as it did. As the settlers encroached on their tribal territories, the Aborigines fought back in the only way they knew how. The whites, fearful for their lives at what they saw as a string of unprovoked, bloodthirsty attacks, responded in a similar fashion. Their superior weapons combined with their ever increasing numbers placed the Aborigines in a no-win situation.

The first attack by Aborigines occurred on 30th May 1788 when two convicts, William Okey and Samuel Davis, were killed by natives while cutting rushes at Rushcutters Bay. Their bodies were found by Capt. Campbell of the Marines and taken to the hospital at Sydney Cove. According to eye witness reports, the two men had taken a canoe from one of the native fishing places. Phillip, accompanied by a party of armed soldiers, did not seek retribution whilst investigating the incident, rather he tried to show all concerned he would handle such matters in a fair and just manner in future.

The first major conflict between the two groups occurred in March 1789. Sixteen convicts had left their work at Brickfields and headed towards Botany Bay, intending to plunder the natives weapons and supplies while they were away from their camp. Aware of what was happening, the natives were ready and waiting for the convicts and set upon them, killing one and wounding seven. Two armed parties were dispatched the following day to restore order, resulting in seven convicts being given 150 lashes. As was his custom, Gov. Phillip did not punish the natives involved.


In October 1790, Bennelong, an Aborigine with whom Gov. Phillip had developed a friendship, became the first native to take up residence in the Sydney Cove settlement. Bennelong's action seemed to strengthen relations between the local tribes and the whites and his hut, built by Phillip on Bennelong Point, became a congregating place for Aboriginal people visiting the settlement. Reports of attacks by natives on white settlers continued, however, though it is not known how many such attacks were retaliatory. In December 1,790, a convict, John McIntire, and three other convicts had gone hunting in the Kogarah Bay area when they were attacked by natives. McIntire later died from a spear wound. In an angry outburst that was totally out of character, Gov. Phillip dispatched an expedition, issuing them with orders to capture or kill six Aborigines from the Botany Bay district. He issued the party with hatchets with which to cut off the heads of those they killed and bags in which to bring back the heads. Lieut William Dawes, who was part of the expedition, was one of a number who was repulsed by the order and at first refused to go. His disobedience cost him his close friendship with the Governor and resulted in his application for a second three-year term of service in the colony being refused. The 52-man punitive expedition failed to sight any Aborigines and a second expedition fared no better. The next major incident occurred eleven months later when Aborigines attacked 13 convict farmers at Rose Hill, burning down a house and murdering all the occupants.

In 1797, Aborigines in the Parramatta region commenced a series of organised raids in the dead of night. Their leader was Pemulwuy, who was identified as the murderer of convict McIntire. After one such raid north of Parramatta in which two men were killed, the white settlers banded together to form a common defense. After the next attack, they quickly armed themselves and followed the natives through the bush. At dawn, they came upon a group of about 100 who at first prepared to attack, but fled when they saw that the colonists were armed. An hour later, a large group led by Pemulwuy approached the outskirts of Parramatta. Screaming in defiance, Pemulwuy threatened to spear anyone who tried to take him. When a soldier moved towards him, Pemulwuy threw a spear and all hell broke loose. At least five natives were killed by musket fire and many others were injured, including Pemulwuy who suffered serious wounds. He was taken to hospital, but in spite of being in leg irons, managed to escape. No attempt was made to catch him and there are no records of him attacking white settlers again.


It appears that the Parramatta raids were the first of many planned by Pemulwuy who had incited a number of Aboriginal groups throughout the Sydney area to attack their local white communities. Long after the Parramatta fight, an armoury of spears, axes and knives made by the local aborigines was found in caves near where the Campbell Parade pavilion on Bondi Beach now stands. It is said the weapons were made by warriors in the late 1790s in preparation for a major assault on white settlers which never eventuated. The Aborigines were the clear losers at Parramatta and the defeat of what were the strongest native warriors in the Sydney region broke the spirits of any others who had hopes of driving the whites back to the land from which they had come. Attacks in and around the settlements became less frequent, and by the time Lachlan Macquarie took over as Governor in 1810, they had virtually become part of history.

Though the physical conflicts between the two groups had altered the Aboriginal way of life, they had little effect on their numbers and there is no evidence to suggest that they were wiped out in a process that is today described as ethnic cleansing. Nevertheless, the number of Aborigines was dramatically reduced within the period of a few short years as a direct result of their lack of immunity to white mans diseases. In April 1789, an epidemic of what is believed to have been Smallpox swept through the Aboriginal communities of the Sydney area, wiping out large numbers and in doing so decimating their culture. The source of the outbreak is not known as records of the day indicate there were no person or persons in the colony thus infected to spread the disease, nor had any such person recently arrived. It has been suggested that the disease may have been introduced in 1788 by an infected member of La Perouses crew when the French explorer camped on the northern shores of Botany Bay in January and February of that year. Others cite a crew member of Cooks Endeavour (1770) though this would seem unlikely as it is not a disease which could remain dormant for 19 years before flaring up and infecting a large part of the community. Yet others suspect some of the the Smallpox vaccination serums out brought with the First Fleet were released either accidentally or deliberately, perhaps without the knowledge of Phillip.

Having no resistance to the disease and with no cure or vaccination available to combat the outbreak, the death rate among the Aborigines climbed alarmingly. Reports of natives found weak and dying around the bays of Sydney Harbour flooded in but authorities and medical staff could do nothing to stop it. The death rate in 1789 was around 60% of the local Aboriginal population. Because of their close proximity to the white settlement, the Cardigals were one of the first clan to be infected by smallpox. By the end of 1789, their numbers had halved.

It became a tradition for the Government to give each Aborigine a gift of a blanket each Christmas. Commenced by Gov. Macquarie in line with British Government policy to attempt to live as peaceably with the natives as possible, the Aborigines from the whole north shore region, believed to have numbered in excess of 1,000 when the First Fleet arrived, used to congregate in the coastal caves and overhangs to receive their gifts. By the 1830s, less than 100 blankets were distributed. The tradition stopped in 1868 when no one turned up for their Christmas gift. In the mid 1800s, the whole surviving Aboriginal population from the Sydney area had found it necessary to move south as, year by year, the white settlement encroached futher and further into their tribal lands. By 1880, there were just 26 Aborigines drawn from all of the Port Jackson clans living in a mission established by the whites at Frenchmans Bay near La Perouse.


During the early years of the colony, no official records were kept of deaths nor was land set aside for burying the dead until 1792, therefore the locations of all burial sites cannot be established with 100% accuracy. It is known that at least four sites were used during the colonys first four years. Two sites in The Rocks are known to have been used for this purpose by the First Fleeters. Official records refer to a convict burial site at the extremities of the lines (four rows of convict huts) where since our arrival the dead are buriedÓ. This description places it within the block bounded by Essex, Gloucester, Grosvenor and Harrington Streets.

Another site, used for the burial of seamen and marines, was an area known as Campbells Ridge at Dawes Point. It later became the garden of merchant Robert Campbell. It was here that Australias oldest existing gravestone was erected. Its inscription reads: In memory of George Graves late boatswains yeoman of H.M.S. Sirius who departed this life ye 10th July 178(8) aged 48 years. The headstone was dug out of the ground in the early 1870s and later found serving as a paving stone in Bethel Street, the lane between The Rocks Visitors Centre and the Old Coroners Court in George Street North. The stone is now on display in the Coach House at Vaucluse House.

Indications are that the colonial death rate was far higher than anticipated as these two sites filled up far quicker than expected. This would have been exacibated by the arrival of the Second Fleet. More than half of its convict cargo had died on the journey out or within a few months of their arrival. To cope with the increased demand, a third burial site was opened near the Military Barracks in what is now Clarence Street. No records indicate when this burial ground was first used but it appears to have been some time in 1790.

An official letter dated September 1792 which speaks of the opening of a new burial ground on the site of the Sydney Town Hall dates the year in which the Clarence Street site was closed as 1792. This fourth site, known in its day as the George Street Burial Ground, is referred to today as the Town Hall Cemetery as it was located where the Sydney Town Hall now stands. Prior to the establishment of the cemetery, the land had been farmed by a recluse, named Tom Dick. When he was murdered, no one claimed the land so its ownership reverted to the state, whereupon it was set aside for burials. It was used for this purpose from 1792 until 1819 when it was replaced by the Sandhill Cemetery on the corner of Elizabeth and Devonshire Streets, a site now occupied by Central Railway Station. The George Street site was the first burial ground to be located outside of what was then the town area. It was extended by Gov. Macquarie in 1812 at the time Assistant Surveyor marked out the site for St Andrews Church. Over 2,000 bodies were interred at the George Street Burial Ground. When the site was resumed for the construction of Sydney Town Hall in 1869, many remains and gravestones were removed to Rookwood Cemetery. In 1974, during excavations for the Town Hall shopping arcade, a number of brick vaults, one of which contained a coffin, were uncovered.


The arrival of a French expedition to Botany Bay almost simultaneous to the arrival of the first fleet in January 1788 was a timely reminder that the colony of New South Wales, being the most isolated outpost of the British Empire, was always going to be vulnerable to any military action which might be taken against it. In a world where the countries of Europe were jostling for superiority and control of world trade, Britain had no friends as such, least of all the French with whom the relation was at best unfriendly. Even as the colony was settling in at Sydney Cove, Gov. Phillip was formulating a plan which included fortifications around the entrance to Sydney Cove and the establishment of a system of lookouts near the entrance to Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour). His actions were hardly surprising since he was a military man and the settlement on Sydney Cove was little more than a military outpost which employed convicts to do the dirty work.

Ruins of Dawes Point fort, 1880s

Dawes Point

Phillips first step was to fortify the entrance to Sydney Cove, as much to provide defence should there be a convict uprising as to engage any enemy ships that might came in close to the town in a hostile manner. He gave the task to Lieutenant William Dawes, an Officer of Engineers and Artillery in the staff of Major Robert Ross of the detachment of Marines. Dawes had impressed Phillip on the journey out with his positive, outgoing attitude, knowledge of astronomy and abilities in cartography. Entrusted with a telescope by the Astronomer Royal, Dr Maskeleyne, for the observing a comet that would appear towards the end of 1788 but only in the southern hemisphere, Dawes was given permission to set up his observatory on the tip of the rocky point to the west of Sydney Cove which was named in honour of Dr Maskeleyne. Upon completion of the task he was instructed to build a simple mud redoubt for the storage of explosives near his observatory, which he did. A similoar fort was erected on Cattle Point (Bennelong Point).

In October 1788, HMS Supply was dispatched to the Cape of Good Hope to purchase much needed supplies. To make as much room as possible for the purchases which it was hoped it would bring back, eight guns from the Sirius were taken ashore and mounted at the Dawes Point fort, which was extended to accommodate the additional firepower. In the 1830s, a more permanent structure was built with five mortars, thirteen 42 pounder cannon, a magazine and quarters for a garrison of soldiers and their commanding officer. This fort remained intact until 1929 when the section above ground was demolished to make way for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The recent partial restoration and interpretation of the archaeological remains of the fort, including its powder magazine, gun battery and Officers' Quarters gives an impression of the fort's former grandeur and importance in the strategic defence of Sydney. Central to the revitalisation are low stone walls, which create an impression of the fort as it stood after being upgraded and re-designed by colonial architect Francis Greenway.Ê Nearby, the footings of the fort's adjoining Officer's Quarters have been exposed, creating a virtual floor plan. One of the fort's five cannon has also been refurbished and reinstated to its original position. The fort's sandstone powder magazine is now fully restored.

Georges Head

In 1801, Sydney was visited by the French ships Naturaliste and Geographe, which were part of a French expedition of scientific discovery that had just completed a survey of the south coast of mainland Australia. It was the time of the Napoleon Wars, and though the expedition leader Thomas Nicolas Baudin and his offsiders Louis de Freycinet and Francois Peron were treated with every courtesy to which a cordial response was returned, their visit left the colonists feeling somewhat vulnerable should France decide to extend its interest in Australia beyond scientific discovery.
Before Baudin's ships had sailed over the horizon on their way to check out the coast of Tasmania, Governor King started work on a single rock-cut battery at Georges Head above Obelisk Beach facing the entrance to Port Jackson and another on Bradleys Head, just in case something happened. At this time there were still substantial Aboriginal communities living in the area, in fact it was land beyond the Georges Head fortifications which was given to an aboriginal family by Gov. Macquarie as an experiment to introduce them to the farming methods of the white man. Due to its isolation and the fact that a French attack did not happen, the Georges Head fort was not actively garrisoned after its first year of operation and fell into disrepair when the Napoleonic Wars ended. The battery was enlarged considerably in 1781, when fears of a Russian invasion got the people of Sydney thinking about defence again. Though no records exist as to when the various fortifications now visible at Georges Head were built, it is believed that they are all from the 1781 and 1890s periods of construction and that none of the original 1801 fort survives.

Bennelong Point

Upon completion of the Dawes Point fort, Lieut. Dawes proceeded to build a similar one of the eastern point alongside Sydney Cove, which was then called Cattle Point. In March 1788, he built a small rebout there which housed two brass 6-pounders and four iron 12-pounders. The simple fort was to stay in use until 1821 when Gov. Lachlan Macquarie made his one and only major contribution towards the defence of Sydney by replacing Dawes fort with a much larger military establishment called Fort Macquarie.

Outer walls of Fort Phillip

Fort Phillip

Constructed at the peak of Observatory Hill in 1804, Fort Phillip was ill-conceived, was never completed and never had the potential to be used as anything but a barracks or, as happened, a signal station. Captain John Hunter, who authorised its construction, was a naval man with little knowledge of land-based fortifications. Its armoury of guns were never mounted properly - Gov. Bligh reported finding them in a state of disrepair and on carriages that had been eaten away by termites - and had they been fired, they would in all probability have hit houses and the hospital in The Rocks, which were located in the guns line of fire on the slopes between the fort and Sydney Cove. It must be said, however, that a convict uprising at Castle Hill in the previous year was the incident which precipitated the fort's construction, so its ability or inability to protect the town from hostile ships may not have been a major factor in the fort's location. Two of its stone perimeter walls were converted into a signal station in 1825. From here, signals were sent to ships in the harbour and to the South Head Signal Station using flags. The walls, now marking part of the the perimeter of the Sydney Observatory, are all that remain of the fort.

Garden Island

Remains of the colonial fort on Garden Island

So named because it was the site of a garden planted by the crew of Sirius to grow crops for their table. Garden Island has had connections with the Navy since the early days of the colony. As well as a garden, it housed a gun emplacement which guarded the passageway between Farm Cove and Pinchgut (Fort Denison) until the construction of Fort Macquarie on Bennelong Point. A similar gun pit was built on Gov. Macquaries Point, but this was removed after Fort Macquarie was built and only a small section of a syone wall remains today. In 1811 Gov. Macquarie declared Garden Island a civilian establishment and thus it stayed until 1856 when it was returned to the Royal Navy for use as a base. The base grew in a ramshackle manner with new buildings and facilities being added progressively over the next century. Today it is a restricted area and houses the Fleet Base of the Royal Australian Navy and the Garden Island Dockyard.


The first free settlers landed at Sydney Cove in 1793 on the Bellona, eight years after the First Fleet first anchored in Sydney Cove. The arrival of these people heralded the dawn of a new era for Sydney that was the beginning of its metamorphisis from a penal colony to a free settlement. Before 1793, there was no reason for art or culture in any form to be a part of the colonial landscape. It was a prison, nothing more and nothing less. Buildings just had to function, how they looked or were designed was irrelevant. After 1793, Sydneys development became increasingly influenced by the cultural climate of England and Europe, which at the time had moved away from the Boroque (1600 to 1750) with its textural intricacy and into what is known as the Classical Period (1750 to 1850), where art, music, literature and architecture reflected the structural clarity and symmetry, simplicity and order that symbolised ancient Rome and Grece. Each migrant ship brought to Sydney writers, musicians, architects and the like who were both knowledgable in the latest ideas and trends, and had the flair and skills to weave them into local culture. The colonys new buildings began to be patterned on the latest buildings being erected in England, most of which were based on the principles which typified the Classical period.

Colonial Georgian

A style which developed in Britain during the reign of the first three King Georges, hence its name, Georgian architecture ha
d its foundations in the works of Christopher Wren and others towards the end of the 17th Century. It quickly became the standard style in Britain for over 100 years. It inevitably modified to suit the Australian climate (eg., the addition of verandahs to give shade from the sun). The modified style is known as Colonial Georgian.

As Sydney, Hobart and Launceston were the only Australian towns that existed when Georgian architecture was at its zenith, original examples of this early style in Australia are rare outside of these three cities. Pattern books depicting the Georgian style were used in Australia for design ideas well into the Victorian period and it is via these pattern books that examples of Georgian architecture became a part the landscape of other Australian cities.
Having its roots in Renaissance architecture, which itself drew on the architecture of Imperial Rome, it was simple and ordered, using mathematical ratios to determine dimensions. Facades were very symmetrical,
with the door located in the centre of the facade and flanked by an equal number of windows on either side of it. The rooms followed the external symmetry, with a length to height ratio of between 1.1 and 1.2. Typically, doors were panelled and featured a curved or fan shaped window above. The English tradition was to have a portico around the front door. The Australian tradition, which differentiates Colinial Georgian from English, saw the addition of a full length verandah rather than a portico, to give shade from the sun.
Elizabeth Farm, 70 Alice Street, Rosehill (1793)
Experiment Farm, 9 Ruse Street, Parramatta (1798)


Of all the buildings constructed in 18th century Sydney, few have survived intact, though sections of other buildings have been dated from this period. Most were made from locally quarried sandstone, a few were of brick.

1793 - Elizabeth Farm, 70 Alice Street, Rosehill

The discovery of fertile river flats in the Parramatta/Rose Hill region not only saved the colony from starvation but led to rapid development of the area. One of the pioneer farmers was John MacArthur, a lieutenant in the NSW Corps, and leading member of the pastoral elite. A vocal and powerful opponent to three colonial governors, he was granted 40 ha of land at Rose Hill in 1793, three years after the area had yielded its first successful grain crop. In the following year on the property he had named after his wife Elizabeth, MacArthur built a simple single storey four room brick cottage which forms part of the Elizabeth Farm museum complex today. Rectangular in shape, it had a hipped roof made of eucalypt shingles. Elizabeth Farm is the oldest European dwelling in Australia and apart from a handful of gravestones in the old Parramatta cemetery which pre-date Elizabeth Farm, it is the oldest surviving construction from 18th century New South Wales. What must be remembered, however, is that it was remodelled five times during its first seventy years alone, and as records of what the cottage was like when built are sketchy, what parts of the present structure are original, and what parts were added later and when, are a matter of conjecture.
Elizabeth Farm was to be Elizabeths home for the rest of her life. MacArthur was mostly absent from the property. Until his banishment from the colony in 1809 for his leadership of the Rum Rebellion against Governor Bligh, and after his return in 1817, MacArthur was based at Camden Park Estate where he tended to his wool production and export operations and managed his numerous pastoral leases.

1798 - Experiment Farm, 9 Ruse Street, Parramatta

Generally accepted as an authentic example of the 18th century colonial homestead, Experimental Farm displays all the hallmarks of the emerging colonial bungalow with its wide verandah, low pitched roof and classic Georgian style cedar panelled door flanked by glazed sidelights and featuring an elliptical fanlight above. The cottage was built by surgeon John Harris on land purchased from James Ruse in 1793. The land was the first to be granted in NSW, its recipient being Ruse who took possession in 1789 to build a farm. The cottage remained in the Harris family from 1793 to 1923, however sections of the farm were subdivided and sold in the 1870s under the name of Harris Park.

1803 - 05 (Georgian section) - Vaucluse House, Wentworth Road, Vaucluse

Though most of what is visible today was built in a later era, sections of this property were constructed in the early colonial period in Georgian style, therefore it has been included here. Today it is a large house of Gothic Revival design which has been extensively added to over the years, Vaucluse House has been likened to a West Indian plantation house. Set in grounds which feature both virgin bushland and cultivated gardens, it was built for Sir Henry Browne Hayes, a knight of the realm who was transported to New South Wales for kidnapping a Quaker heiress. Extensions were first added when it became the home of WC Wentworth, and the tradition continued for over a century, more than doubling the size of the home from its original size. The property featured an orchard which produced a wide variety of fruit including oranges, peaches, apricots and nectarines, planted either side of a small stream.

Wentworth, its most famous owner, was one of the three men who blazed the first trail across The Blue Mountains. During Wentworths residency at Vaucluse House, he became a noted author, barrister and statesman after having volunteered his services to the colony in order to escape a highway robbery conviction. In later life he became arch-enemy of Governor Ralph Darling who represented the British Government and all it stood for, and consequently drafted the Constitution Bill which gave New South Wales self-government.


1798 - Governors Dairy, Parramatta Park, Parramatta

Converted by Governor Macquarie to a dairy in 1816, the original stone cottage was the home of George Salter, a Second Fleet convict whose crime was the murder of an excise officer. Salter was granted 30 acres on high ground fronting the Parramatta River in 1796 on the opposite bank to where one Edward Dodd had established the colonys first successful farm a year earlier. As the colony was still struggling to provide enough food for its population, Salters grant was conditional upon him living on the site and improving the land for cultivation.

Salters sandstone cottage was originally a one room dwelling, probably facing the river, the cottages brick dividing wall being added later to create two rooms. When Salter leased the property and moved to Sydney in 1802, the farm was fully cleared and cultivated with ten acres of wheat and 20 acres of maize. A woman and three convicts lived at and worked the farm with him. In 1810, Governor Macquarie bought back all the land around Government House for a private park and farm. It included Salters farm, for which he paid 30 head of cattle. Macquarie had the cottage converted to a dairy circa 1816, adding wings to both sides of the cottage, one with a sunken milk room for storing dairy products. These wings echo the side wings he added to neighbouring Government House at that time. The dairy became the home of Elizabeth Eccles, a first fleet ex convict, who lived and worked there as a dairy maid for many years.

The cottage and its surroundings are unique in that they have survived into this century intact without the addition of modern amenities such as bathrooms, kitchens, running water and electricity as a result of the cottage being used as a Council depot. It retains its original internal and external walls, the window joinery and some plaster finishes. Around the cottage itself is a network of original drains, paths, a well and the footings of old farm buildings, beyond which are Salters fields, now open park lands, which grew much needed crops to feed the fledging colony.

1790, 1799 - Old Government House, Parramatta Park, Parramatta

This building is a remodelled version of the original house built by Governor Phillip in 1790 at a time when he was seriously considering moving permanently from Sydney to Rose Hill (Parramatta). Due to the success of farming activities around the upper reaches of the Parramatta River, Rose Hill was quickly becoming a centre of commercial activity and therefore Phillip felt it imperative he establish a presence there. He did this with the construction of a simple sandstone cottage around which Old Government House as we know it today was progressively built. Whilst still maintaining Sydney as his home base, Phillip spent much of his time in the Rose Hill district, the cottage becoming his home away from home.

Like Elizabeth Farm, little of the original 1790 structure remains and most of what we see today are later additions. In 1799, Governor John Hunter made significant alterations and extensions, the elegant brickwork of the new section being plastered to resemble stone. During Governor Macquaries tenure, side and rear wings were added (1812-18). Supervision of these additions was a joint effort by Mrs Macquarie and Lieutenant John Watts, a free settler with some architectural training who had arrived in Sydney in 1814 and gave Macquarie help and advice on a number of projects. The Doric porch, constructed in 1816, is attributed to Francis Greenway and is believed to be his first major project for the colony and the one which convinced Macquarie that Greenway was the best man for the vacant post of Colonial Architect.

Other buildings and structures in the Sydney region
dating from the Early Colonial era

Agnes Banks (Osborne), Castlereagh Road, Agnes Banks. Built for John Campbell, Gov. Macquaries Secretary for Rental. Consists of two farmhouses built by Thomas Howell, a local builder. Mid 1810s.

Palmers Slab Hut, Springwood Road, Agnes Banks. Simple cottage of Charles Palmer, the schoolmaster. Built on 100 acres granted by Gov. King. 1803.

Joyce Farmhouse, 15 Valeria Avenue, Baulkham Hills. Built for William Joyce, farmer and gatekeeper. Northern section added in 1811 when converted to an inn. One of Australias earliest Georgian farmhouses, featuring nine wooden verandah posts, dressed stone base course with brick walls. 1806.

Caddie Park, Cattai State Recreational Area off Cattai Road, Cattai. The middle section was built in 1804 by 1st fleet surgeon Dr Thomas Arundell. The rest of the stone homestead was added in 1821. (Open for inspection on Sunday afternoons).

Macquarie Retreat, 16 Threlkeld Road, Cattai. Stone house built in 1840s around a two roomed cottage dating from 1805.

470 Cawdor Road, Cawdor. Original slab hut. 1803-04.

Fleurs, 313 Mamre Road, Erskine Park. Single storey home of Nicholas Bayley. 1800s.

Peacocks, River Road, Lower Portland. Built by John Jenkins Peacock as a single storey stone cottage. The upper storey and stone grannery were added in the 1830s. 1804.

James Meins House, Portland. James Mein arrived with Turnbull, Johnston and Howe on the Coromandel in 1802. Only ruins remain. 1803.

Clear Oaks, 143 Francis Street, Richmond. A two storey cottage with simple plaster mouldings on downstairs ceiling, they being the earliest known in Australia. C1808.

Kellyville, Roseberry Road, Rouse Hill. Delapidated timber cottage, typical of the timber buildings of that era. 1802.


Addington, 813 Victoria Road, Ryde. Small three room sandstock brick cottage built by original grantee, James Stewart. Central section dates from 1810. Added to in 1820 by Thomas Bowden, the colonys 2nd schoolmaster. West wing added in 1825 but later demolished. Home of Sir Henry Parkes in 1880s. 1794.

Vaucluse House, Wentworth Road, Vaucluse. Original parts of this house, built by eccentric Irish convict Sir Henry Browne, date from 1803. Most of the Gothic style residence seen today were added by William Charles Wentworth in 1828/29. 1803.

Rose Cottage slab hut, Water Street, Werrington. Two roomed slab hut at the rear of the cottage dates from 1810 and is believed to be theoriginal house on the property. The cottage was added in 1870 by the Andrews family.

Lilburndale, West Portland Road, West portland. Built by Phillip Roberts on his 120 acre grant. A double storey residence, to which the verandah was added in 1920s. 1803.

Green Hills Burial Ground, South Creek, Bridge St, Windsor. Though there are no marked graves, this burial ground holds the remains of many convicts who died in the early years of the 19th century. It is believed to be the resting place of Bexley the Highwayman, a bushranger who was hanged for robbery on Pitt Town Road in 1884; Philip Cunningham, the Irish political prisoner who led the Vinegar Hill uprising at Castle Hill on 5th March 1804; First Fleeter Edward Whitton (buried 1802) & his wife Anne Slater (buried 1806).

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