Convict and colonial history
Centuries of history at your doorstep
A British convict colony
In November 1788, about 100 soldiers and convicts arrived from Sydney Cove, after an expedition inland by Governor Philip came upon Parramatta in April that same year. The farm they built on the harbour (where the Botanic Gardens is now) had failed and Governor Phillip, who lead the group, chose a spot on the southern side of the Parramatta River to start a new one.
Aboriginal Parramatta was attractive to the British because of its potential. It had good soil for growing crops and plenty of timber to use as building materials. The location’s open countryside made it ideal for a farm and a township as well.
All of these appealing qualities were due to the land management practices of the Aboriginal people. Governor Phillip in fact noted their use of controlled burning to manage pastures – and he also noted the nearby huts they lived in.
Protecting the colony
The first task of the convicts was to build a ‘Redoubt’ – a kind of fort the soldiers would use to protect the colony. From the Redoubt they could see to the east and around the curve of the river to the west at The Crescent.
The convicts then built huts for themselves and cottages for officers and overseers. Land was cleared to plant a farm. The Redoubt was converted to a storage area; it wasn’t needed for defence after all.
The Governor's Domain
The Burramattagal people complained to the British about the use of their land but the government farm and the colony spread across Aboriginal country anyway. A house built for the Governor became the focus for Parramatta — Australia’s first fully planned town.
When Governor and Mrs Macquarie took over, they had a grand European-style house built. Government House was surrounded by landscaped gardens and the estate was fenced off, within what was called the Governor’s Domain.
From here, Governor Macquarie oversaw the second phase of the colony, as it became more than just a prison. Relationships with Aboriginal people and the status of convicts (many now freed) changed.
Government House continued as a seat of active government in the 1820s under Governor Brisbane and was occupied by governors until the 1840s, just after the end of convict transportation to New South Wales.
Old Government House
Today, Old Government House is a museum and the Dairy Cottage the only other remaining building in the Park from the early colony, is forever preserved. Constructed between 1798 and 1821, in part by ex-convict George Salter, the building was later converted to a dairy by Governor Macquarie.