National Heritage Places - First Government House Site
New South Wales
Australia's First Government House was the first major building to be constructed on the Australian mainland. Started only months after the 11 ships of the First Fleet sailed through the Sydney Heads in 1788, this symbol of colonial power sat on the most prominent site on Sydney Cove.
The remains of some of its structures have been preserved on site at the Museum of Sydney in Sydney's central business district.
The First Government House site was included in the National Heritage List on 19 August 2005.
Started only months after the 11 ships of the First Fleet sailed through Sydney Heads in early 1788, Australia's First Government House sat on the most prominent site on Sydney Cove just back from Circular Quay and on what is now the corner of Bridge and Phillip Streets in Sydney.
Merchants, soldiers, Aboriginals, foreign visitors, explorers, settlers and statesmen all passed through its doors, making it the hub of a new antipodean world.
It remained one of the centres of power through the terms of nine governors until its state of disrepair, and the growing pressures of expanding waterfront activities, forced its demolition in 1845. Some 217 years after its foundations were laid, the remains of some of its structures have been preserved and illustrated on site at the Museum of Sydney in Sydney's central business district.
Building the governor's headquarters
Using convict labour, the construction of the new home and headquarters of Australia's first Governor, Arthur Phillip, took just over a year. Built with 5000 bricks imported from England, the site also used bricks made locally from clay, imported lime and shellfish from Darling Harbour.
The First Government House was a centre of power and decision making for the developing New South Wales colony, which, at that time, covered two thirds of the continent. It witnessed major milestones such as printing of the colony's first Government Orders in 1795 and Australia's first newspaper, the Sydney Gazette, in 1803; Governor Bligh's arrest during the Rum Rebellion in 1808; and the first Legislative Council meeting in 1824.
Using the site
After Government House was demolished, the site was used variously as a carter's yard, a fruit shop, a confectioner and a tobacco shop, government offices, accommodation for nurses during the Second World War and a car park. At one stage it was to become the site of the city's town hall and later was mooted as the location for a multi-storey office block.
Uncovering the remains of First Government House
In 1983, before commencing construction on the multi-storey building, remains of the First Government House were discovered in an archaeological excavation, sparking debate on the future of the site. Following public protest to save the area, planning approval for the development was rejected. Soon after, an international architectural design competition was announced to create a development that would conserve and present the archaeological remains of the site while still enabling the construction of office buildings.
Following the discovery of the remains, further high-profile archaeological exploration - the largest urban excavation undertaken at the time in Australia - uncovered the vestiges of drains, privies, foundations, walls and cuttings. In addition, excavations also revealed artefacts including Australia's first locally made bricks, window glass, roof tiling, china, bottles, broken tobacco pipes, printing remnants and dog bones.
Although mostly covered today, the archaeological remains of the building still have the potential to reveal much about the earliest efforts to build a nation.