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
Coordinates 33°48′44″S 150°59′50″E / 33.812119°S 150.997359°E / -33.812119; 150.997359Coordinates: 33°48′44″S 150°59′50″E / 33.812119°S 150.997359°E / -33.812119; 150.997359
Owner National Trust of Australia (NSW) - Trustee
Type Cultural
Criteria iv, vi
Designated 2010 (34th session)
Part of Australian Convict Sites
Reference no. 1306
State Party  Australia
Region Asia-Pacific
Governor Phillip’s cottage on the site of Old Government House (circa 1798)
A room of the house

Old Government House is a former "country" residence used by 10 early governors of New South Wales between 1800 and 1847, 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.


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.

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,[3] and fell into disrepair,[4] 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[5] 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).[5]

Outbuildings 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. This building is now called Dairy Cottage and has a heritage listing.[6]

Old Government House is furnished in the style of the early 1820s and is open to visitors. It is situated at Parramatta on 110 hectares (260 acres) 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.[5]

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


Standing on 110 hectares (260 acres) of Parramatta Park, Old Government House 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.[7] 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.[8] 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."[9]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 http://www.oldgovernmenthouse.com.au/
  2. UNESCO's World Heritage "Australian Convict Sites" webpages>
  3. Brick footings, rediscovered in 1968, were only held together with mud-mortar; see Old Government House Parramatta NSW, Alfred Dunhill, Sydney, 1977 [p.7].
  4. "Old Government House". Parramatta Heritage Ride. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  5. 1 2 3 "Old Government House now on World Heritage List". National Trust: Places to Visit. National Trust of Australia (NSW). Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  6. State Heritage Register
  7. http://www.oldgovernmenthouse.com.au/index.php?page=architecture_ogh
  8. "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.
  9. "National Trust of Australia (NSW) e-news Issue #16". National Trust of Australia (NSW). 24 January 2007. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
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