Parliament House | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Parliament House

Item details

Name of item: Parliament House
Other name/s: Parliament of New South Wales, Parliamentary Precincts, Rum Hospital
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Government and Administration
Category: Parliament House
Location: Lat: -33.8671899713 Long: 151.2130510040
Primary address: Macquarie Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Parish: St James
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1823 DP841390
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Macquarie StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Parliament HouseState Government 

Statement of significance:

Parliament House is of exceptional historical and social value. It has played a key role in the history of Australia from an early symbol of colonial government and civil improvement to its long tenure as the first NSW Parliament House and association with the Federation of the Australian colonies.

The Parliament House and the Mint Museum are the two surviving wings of the triple wing General Hospital, which was commenced in 1811. Built just 20 years after first settlement, the hospital was part of Macquarie's sweeping building campaign which included schools, barracks, orphanages, churches and storehouses. As Governor Macquarie had been refused funding by London, he entered into an agreement with three businessmen who proposed to build the hospital for three years' exclusive rights to the importation of rum and the hospital became known as The Rum Hospital.

The north wing was requisitioned and converted to accommodate the first NSW Parliament House in 1829 because it was the largest public building in New South Wales at that time. Housing the Colonial Representative Government it was the first Parliament in Australia. Aside from its significance as the legislative arm of government in New South Wales, Parliament House has played a key role in the history of Australia as two important conventions were held to look at the issues of Federation of the colonies and the drafting of the Australian Constitution. Parliament House is significant for its association with important social and political figures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The Parliamentary precincts comprise the original old colonial Georgian building known as the Rum Hospital, which was finished in 1816 as well as later additions and extensions to the Parliament buildings. A new chamber was constructed at the northern end of the building in 1842 to accommodate the partly elected and partly nominee Council which was established with the new constitution of 1842. The Legislative Council is a pre-fabricated cast-iron building, initially shipped to Melbourne from Glasgow, Scotland, before being sent to Sydney as one of the two parliamentary chambers and is still a seat of government in NSW today. The centre wing, which was erected on poor foundations, was demolished in 1879 and the replacement building, the Sydney Hospital, was finished in 1894.

As part of Sydney's oldest remaining complex of public buildings, Parliament House has been at the centre of the history of New South Wales and continues to play a key role in the history of New South Wales as the seat of government today.
Date significance updated: 19 Dec 12
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Division intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.


Designer/Maker: Architect Unknown
Construction years: 1811-1906
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Date condition updated:26 Oct 00
Modifications and dates: 1811 Foundation stone laid, Rum Hospital completed in 1816. Completion of the building as Parliament in 1906.
Current use: Parliament
Former use: Hospital


Historical notes: The Parliament occupies part of what was once the nation's first permanent hospital. The colonnaded central part of Parliament House, facing Macquarie Street was completed in 1816 as part of Governor Macquarie's "Rum Hospital". Upon his arrival in the colony of New South Wales in 1810, Macquarie discovered that the town's hospital was an affair of tents and temporary buildings established along what is now George Street in The Rocks area when the First Fleet arrived in 1788.

Macquarie set aside land on the eastern edge of the Government domain for a new Hospital and created a new road - Macquarie Street - to provide access to it. Plans were drawn up but the British Government refused to provide funds to build the hospital. Consequently, Macquarie entered into a contract with a consortium of businessmen - Messrs Blaxcell, Riley and Wentworth - to erect the new hospital. The contract was signed on 6 November 1810. Under the terms of the contract they were to receive convict labour and supplies and a monopoly on rum-imports from which they expected to recoup the cost of the building and gain considerable profits.

The new hospital had a large central building, which was the main hospital, and two smaller wings which were quarters for the Surgeons. The central building was replaced in 1894 by the present Macquarie Street Hospital, but the smaller wings remain. The former Mint, next to the Hyde Park Barracks, was originally the quarters for the Assistant Surgeon as well as a storage facility, and the northern wing, built for the Principal Surgeon, remains today as the colonnaded facade of Parliament House.

Two rooms in the Principal Surgeon's quarters were not used by the surgeon and were used by the Judge of the Supreme Court until he transferred to the Georgian School House in Castlereagh Street in May 1824. Early in 1828 (with the exception of one room retained by the Principal Surgeon till 1843) the residence was vacated in order to provide for the reception of patients up till then in the Benevolent Asylum, but the premises were never actually used for that purpose, and the following year they were appropriated to the use of the Executive and the Legislative Council. Minor alterations were carried out about June of that year to the building and on Friday 21 August 1829 the second session of the Legislative Council in that year was held in the building which, with additions, has housed the Legislature ever since.

By 1824 the British Government had set up a Legislative Council consisting of five appointed members for New South Wales. The members met at Government House and in other locations, however, by 1829 it had increased to fourteen members and a permanent meeting room was established for it in the northern downstairs room of the Surgeon's Quarters. Council meetings were opened to the public from 1838.

In 1829 when the newly-enlarged Legislative Council required a permanent venue for its meetings, the northern wing of the so-called 'Rum Hospital' was adapted for its occupation as an interim measure, until more suitable premises could be erected. Despite the temporary nature of this early use, and regular calls for improved accommodation more fitting for the Parliament, the Rum Hospital complex remains the permanent home of the NSW legislature (CLSP, 2015 (Heritage Assessment, Jubilee Room), 3).

When the Legislative Council moved into its small Chamber in 1829, some other parts of the building were also taken over for offices, including part of the central ground floor rooms. Now known as the Sir Henry Parkes Room.

The year 1832 marked the time when the Press of the Colony was first permitted to peruse and to report upon the proceedings of Parliament. However, the proprietors of several newspapers pointed out in 1840 that the little accommodation available for their reporters was trespassed on by members of the public who attended the Council meetings. In consequence of this, a small gallery was constructed round the walls of the Council room, of which portion was set apart for the Press. This was the first major alteration to the building.

In 1842, when the new Constitution was passed, it became necessary to provide suitable accommodation for the partly elective and partly nominee Council. A new Chamber was constructed at the northern end of the old building in 1843. The Chamber served the Council up to the inauguration of Responsible Government in 1856, when the bi-cameral system came into operation, and accommodation had to be provided for the new nominee Legislative Council. This Chamber has continued to be used up to the present day as the home of the Legislative Assembly.

On 23 February 1856 the Governor and Executive Council approved of the purchase of an iron building, then in Melbourne, for 1,760 (delivered in Sydney Harbour) or 1,835 if delivered within one mile from a public wharf. This building was supposed to have been originally intended for Church purposes in Bendigo, but at the time of the gold rush portion of the material was hastily put up in Melbourne to cope with the great demand for accommodation. The material was brought from Melbourne by the Ship Callender which left there on 13 March 1856. On 17 April 1856, the Governor approved of the tender of Mr Thomas Spence to erect the building, together with adjacent rooms and offices, and to provide internal fittings for the sum of ?4,475. The building was erected at the southern end of the old Principal Surgeon's residence.

The rooms that were part of the original building were mainly used for administrative purposes from 1829 until 1850, housing the Clerk of the Executive and Legislative Councils and other public servants. For one period, from 1831 to 1836, the Clerk, Edward Deas Thomson, had the added responsibility of being curator of a small natural history museum. Thomson delegated this responsibility to his messenger, William Galvin, and later also had the assistance of an assigned prisoner, John Roach, who had worked in London as a taxidermist. In 1836 the collection of stuffed birds and animals, botanical specimens and other curiosities moved out to become the nucleus of the Australian Museum in College Street, Sydney.

The Parliamentary Library was established in 1843, and until 1860 each House maintained its own library (CLSP, 2015 (Heritage Assessment, Jubilee Room), 3). In 1850 the library moved to the old Council Chamber next to the now Legislative Assembly Chamber. The growing library expanded into other rooms including the central ground floor rooms.

At that time (1860) a central library was created of both Houses' library holdings, situated in the present twin Parkes Room (ibid, 2015, 3). Following the death in 1867 of the first Parliamentary Librarian, Walter McEvilly, a successor was not formally appointed until 1879. In the intervening 11 years, the Assistant Librarian in charge was the famous artist, Conrad Martens, who had settled in Sydney after arriving on HMS Beagle, on which he had been official artist for naturalist and theorist of evolution, Charles Darwin.

In 1906 a purpose-built main reading room designed by Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon was completed for the growing library. It was built on the site of the kitchen associated with the Rum Hospital and incorporates two walls from the 1811-1816 structure (ibid, 2015, 3) and over the footprint of the 1860 timber Refreshment Room (ibid, 2015, 28). The library's opening celebration coincided with the observance of the Jubilee of Responsible Goverment. Hence it was suggested the library be called the Jubilee Library (now it is called the Jubilee Room) and the old central rooms continued as the Librarian's rooms and "Front Reading Room" of the Library. In 1980 the new wing facing the Domain was completed, at which time the entire Library moved to levels 5 and 6 of that new building, vacating the Jubilee Room, which became a parliamentary museum, opened officially in April 1984 (ibid, 2015, 23). In 1993 minor works were carried out to enable use of the Jubilee Room as a hearings room, including fluorescent lighting, a U-shaped large table and a cupboard infill under the stair (ibid, 2015, 23).

The 1860 proposal for new Houses of Parliament and major alterations to the buildings

In 1860 competitive designs for new Houses of Parliament were invited and the winning design was said to be the work of R.H. Lynn, of Dublin. In the year 1888 Sir Henry Parkes laid the foundation stone of new Houses of Parliament on the site now occupied by the Mitchell Library. The project was never proceeded with and the stone was removed at the time the library was built.

No important alterations to the building took place until 1897, when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works recommended extensive alterations and additions at a cost of ?15,000 - in preference to the expenditure of ?533,484 on entirely new buildings.

Under this scheme a fire-proof central Library on the site of the old Refreshment Room was built, together with accommodation for Hansard, Government Supporters and Ministers and at the same time the Opposition Room and Speaker's quarters were enlarged and the Press and Record Rooms constructed.

Further alterations were carried out between 1904 and 1906, when the old stables and coach-house were demolished and the Committee Rooms, Premier's cottage and the residence at the rear of the premises were erected. This was originally intended as a residence for the Premier of that time, but the Carruthers' Government went out of office before it was completed and it was then converted into two residences to house the Librarian and the Steward. Alterations were also made to the building in 1915 and between 1934-36.

Between 1974 and 1983 these back buildings were demolished and a new building was constructed behind the restored Chambers, lobbies and central block. By 1984, restoration of the old Rum Hospital building was complete. Together with its 'twin' the former Mint, it remains the oldest building in Macquarie Street and the oldest public building in the City of Sydney.

The works done from 1981-4 included refurbishment of the interiors of the original Rum Hospital building, the Legislative Assembly chamber, the Lobby, the Legislative Council chamber and the former Library. The decision to restore the decorative and principle features of these historic interiors came from the Parliament's request to have the services and facilities brought up to the best modern standards (including air conditioning, fire detection and protection services, a public address system and the essential division bells, have been concealed beneath false ceilings, under floors and sometimes within the structure itself (Heritage Council News, summer 1984, 1).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Convict-Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities Working for the Crown-
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Convict-Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities Providing health and welfare facilities-
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Convict-Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities Demonstrating convicts' experiences and activities-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Health-Activities associated with preparing and providing medical assistance and/or promoting or maintaining the well being of humans Operating public hospitals-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. (none)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Aaron Muron Bolot, architect-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Parliament House has played a long and central part in the affairs of the State, originally as the first permanent hospital in Australia and then as the Parliament of New South Wales. It is associated with the changing political requirements of the colony and NSW's history as it is a permanent institution with a continuing history.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Many events of historical significance have occurred within the parliamentary precincts of New South Wales. The Parliament of New South Wales was the first legislature to be established in Australia and it was integral in the push for responsible self-government in 1856. The Parliament of New South Wales also played a significant role in the move to Federation by holding two conventions on the issue of federation and the drafting of the Australian Constitution in the 1890s.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]

The building is an example of early colonial architecture. Completed in 1816. Built as part of Governor Macquarie’s public building and town planning programs which established infrastructure for the colony.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
In December 1792 Governor Phillip proclaimed the open space which became the Botanic Gardens, Domain, Hyde Park and Macquarie Street for government use. The street itself was proclaimed in 1810 by Governor Macquarie. At first Macquarie Street only ran from Hyde Park to Bent Street, but in 1845 was extended in both directions – north to Benelong Point and south through Hyde Park to Surry Hills. The Hyde Park section was closed again in 1851.

Furthermore, the Parliament of NSW is important to the general public as it has helped shape the society we live in today. For example, the Parliament has played an important role in the push for women’s suffrage proposing several bills for female suffrage between 1891 and 1901. These bills generally passed the Lower House but were defeated in the Upper House. New South Wales gave women the vote in July 1902.
SHR Criteria f)
The building was part of the first permanent hospital in Australia and held the first Parliament in Australia. It is the oldest public building in the City of Sydney. The building is a rare example of a cultural building which has continuously operated as a working environment.
SHR Criteria g)
The Parliament is representative as a fine example of old colonial georgian architecture in New South Wales.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentHeritage Agreement - as part of CMP Sep 6 2006
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentCMP, revised 4/2/2008 Nov 10 2008
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentRevised Conservation Manangement Plan, 19 December 2008, CD & hard copy Jul 15 2010

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0161519 Apr 02 752405
Cumberland County Council list of Historic Buildings 1961-67     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
National Federation Heritage Project1999 Michael Pearson et al  No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Tourism 2007Parliament House View detail
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Parliament House View detail
WrittenAustralian Heritage Commission1978Register of the National Estate
WrittenClive Lucas, Stapleton & Partners2015Statement of Heritage Impact, Jubilee Room Restoration, NSW Parliament House
WrittenClive Lucas, Stapleton & Partners2015NSW Parliament House - Jubilee Room, Photographic Archival Recording
WrittenClive Lucas, Stapleton & Partners P/L2015Heritage Assessment of Jubilee Room, Parliament of New South Wales, Macquarie Street, Sydney
WrittenClive Lucas, Stapleton and Partners2007New South Wales Parliament House Macquaire Street, Sydney: conservation management plan
WrittenGovernment Architect's Office, Division of the NSW Department of Finance & Services2012Parliament House - Proposed Education Centre beneath the Jubilee Room - preliminary archaeological issues
WrittenGovernment Architect's Office, NSW Public Works (NSW Dept. of Finance & Services)2012Parliament House - Proposed Education Centre Beneath the Jubilee Room - Preliminary Archaeological Issues report
WrittenGraham Jahn1997Sydney Architecture
WrittenHeritage Council of NSW2013Heritage Conservation News, volume 2, no. 4, Summer 2013
WrittenNoel Bell Ridley Smith and Partners The Mitchell Wing State Library of New South Wales
WrittenNSW Department of Public Works and Development1990Parliament House - Proposed New Museum Access
WrittenParliament of New South Wales2001History Bulletin No. 9: The Rum Hospital and Parliament House
WrittenParliament of New South Wales2000History Bulletin No 4: The Architecture of Parliament House.
WrittenParliament of New South Wales1995This is your Parliament: The Parliament of New South Wales - its Development and Operation

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5053251
File number: EF14/5505;

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