Government House and Including Interior, Gardens And Movable Heritage | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Government House and Including Interior, Gardens And Movable Heritage

Item details

Name of item: Government House and Including Interior, Gardens And Movable Heritage
Other name/s: Governor's Domain
Type of item: Conservation Area
Group/Collection: Government and Administration
Category: Government House
Primary address: 2A Macquarie Street, Sydney , NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
2A Macquarie StreetSydney Sydney  Primary Address
Conservatorium RoadSydneySydney  Alternate Address

Statement of significance:

The site is significant as part of the land set aside by Governor Phillip in 1792 "for the use of the Crown and as common lands for the inhabitants of Sydney."
Government House, associated buildings and garden, 1838-1845, is historically significant as the home of the monarch's representative and as the seat of power, it symbolised British authority in the colony.

Government House:
Government House is located on a 'picturesque' site at the edge of the Royal Botanical Gardens, and constructed in the Old Colonial Gothic Picturesque style. It is significant as only the second purpose built structure constructed as a residence for the Governor in the colony of New South Wales.

The building, which is the only one of its type in Sydney, is significant for its association with Royalty and prominent Australian identities.

The building has asthetic and historic significance as a design of the prominent English architect Edward Blore and for the association with the Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis who supervised the construction of Blore's design.

The building has remained substantially intact with few alterations to the main building and is significant as a fine and rare example of the style in Australia.

The interiors are substantially intact with some rooms retaining original decorative treatments to the ceilings, while others have been restored to the original style.

The gardens of Government House are highly significant as part of the land set aside by Governor Phillip in 1792 'for the use of the Crown and as common lands for the inhabitants of Sydney.' They are significant as part of the established landscape of the Governor's Domain. The gardens are significant for the planting's by Royalty on the first visit to Australia by a reigning monarch, and for the mature planting's and structures dating from the mid decades of the nineteenth century.

The Chalet is located west of Government House on a 'picturesque' site at the edge of the Royal Botanical Gardens, and is constructed in the Federation Queen Anne style. It is significant as the former residence of the Official Secretary to the Governor of New South Wales. The building is significant as the only residence in Sydney to feature the combination of shingle wall cladding to the upper floor, with a board and batten cladding to the lower floor. It is significant for its association with the administration of the Governor's official duties, and for its later use as a guesthouse for family and guests.

High Significance: External form, scale, detailing and original external materials of the building. Shingle and board & batten siding, red brick chimneys and terra cotta roof and roof form.

Medium Significance: Interior fixtures and fittings.
Date significance updated: 09 Jan 12
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Edward Blore (supervising architect Mortimer Lewis); J. Barnet; W.L. Vernon; W.L. Vernon (Chalet)
Construction years: 1838-1891
Physical description: Government House is a Gothic Revival two storey building with crenellated battlements, turrets, detailed interiors, extensive cellars and a porte cochere at the entrance. An open cloister on the east elevation forms a verandah room which is supported by Gothic arches and forms an open balcony above. The ground floor contains twelve rooms including an inner, outer and main hall, study, dining room, ante room, drawing room and ballroom. The first floor contains thirteen bedrooms. The house is built of sandstone with a slate roof, timber floors, unpainted cedar joinery and a stone flagged verandah. There is a service wing to the rear which provided staff offices and quarters. A dairy, meat house and a section of the original service area courtyard wall remain.

Many of the contents of the house are of significance and have been acquired over the lifetime of the place including paintings, textiles, ceramics, silver, furniture, furnishings, decorations and garden ornaments. The collection of Australian colonial furniture and the collection of portraits are of national importance. The interior of the State rooms decorated by Lyon and Cottier is one of the finest examples of high art, interior design in Australia.

The Lodge (Guardhouse) 1846, of Gothic design, is a copy of a guard house at Windsor Castle. There are a set of five entrance gates. The entrance drive runs through the Botanical Gardens to the inner gates, the drive is surfaced in bitumen. The driveway follows the line of the early carriageways from the inner gates to the house.

The Government House grounds, are greatly reduced in size, however they still retain their original inner gardens and general landscape setting. The general topography of the early garden with its compartmented parts, dating from the construction of the house remains relatively intact including the Forecourt c. 1840; the Western Terrace c. 1845; and the Eastern Terrace c. 1861.

The Western Terrace c. 1845 lies inside the entrance gates to the left of the drive. It survives as the earliest section of the gardened environment of the house. The original sandstone walls, some of the gravel paths and plantings of olive trees and hedges survive. A Magnolia grandiflora dating from the 1859 is at the northern end of the terrace, there is also an early Oak tree.

The Chalet 1890, is located at the northern end of the Western Terrace, as is a motor garage. The Chalet and its covered walkway breaks with the Gothic style of Government House. It is designed in the Arts and Craft style, constructed of timber with a terracotta roof. It has half timbered gables and broad brick chimneys and an oriel window.

The Eastern Terrace is the largest landscape feature of its type to have been built in colonial NSW. There are extensive axial paths and steps, and the perimeter promenade mirrors the layout of the terrace walls, now paved. The urns have been reproduced and placed back on the terrace wall capping. There is a central pond and fountain. Mrs Macquarie's Road (1813-1816) is located at the base of the bank below the northern wall of the Eastern Terrace, from the end of the axial walk to the rear gate of the property.

A swimming pool was constructed in 1962 and a Cabana in 1967. The adjacent BBQ area was formed in the 1990s. All are located on the Eastern Terrace and a dense screen of trees and palms have been planted in front of them.

The dominant tree canopy retains the character of a 19th century garden. The Moreton Bay figs, Araucarias, wild olive trees, Oaks and giant bamboo are characteristic of early to late 19th century colonial Sydney gardens. The row of early Oleanders which screen the eastern garden from the forecourt are significant in that they survive to define the forecourt and the original carriage loop on the east. To the west of the driveway is a large Paperbark and Eucalyptus nicholi planted by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1954 during the first visit of a reigning monarch to Australia.

There is also a Gatehouse 1937, constructed of brick, which serves a security function.

Government House and grounds has significant archaeological potential particularly in relation to early roads and drives, and the Eastern and Western Terrace.

The views to and from the house have become increasingly screened by trees in the Botanical Gardens and by mass planting at the boundaries of Government House. Views of the house and garden to and from the north eastern harbour have been largely maintained, however those to and from the city, have suffered from the construction of large buildings on the land between Macquarie Street and the Quay. The house and garden can now be viewed form the many high rise buildings developed in the city.

(source: Register of the National Estate, Item 102246)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
In 1997 the buildings and grounds were in excellent condition. Major conservation work was undertaken between 1990-1996.

Government House:
The building is generally in good condition. It appears that the ceilings of most bedrooms have been replaced with either fibrous plaster or plasterboard. There are original ceilings to the ground floor rooms. The original painted decoration to walls and ceilings was painted over but has been restored. The stonework is in good condition. There is a small amount of water staining in Melba Suite from roof drainage. The floors are creaky but sound.

Intrusive Elements: Light coloured sandstone on porte cochere and repairs on walls, rough cast verandah at rear, timber walkway to west entrance, air conditioning units, office workstations, modern tiling to bathrooms, service pipes to rear walls.

The gardens are maintained in good condition. Intrusive Elements:Modern structures and gate houses.
Date condition updated:27 Mar 06
Modifications and dates: Government House: 1838-1845; c. 1870; 1902

Gardens: 1845

Chalet: 1891
Further information: Category: BG Potential Zoning Plan: Yes

Government House:
High Significance: External form, scale, detailing of the building. Decorative ceilings and walls internally, carved timber joinery, leadlight windows to southern facade, Porte Cochere, Loggia, lightfittings, Stone detailing, timber chairs, tables and consoles, timber main staircase, fireplaces in living rooms, stage and orchestra gallery to ballroom, decorative paint schemes by Lyon, Cottier & Co.

Medium Significance: Restored painted decoration, reproduction carpets, reproduction lightfittings, furniture and timber joinery to suites.

Low Significance: Servants quarters which have undergone modification.

High Significance: Views and vistas from house. Original terrace structures and planting's, formal garden and furniture, planting's by Royalty, old mature trees and hedges. Gates, gateposts and fencing to boundary. Glass house and kitchen garden.
Current use: Historic house museum & gardens
Former use: Vice-Regal Residence & gardens


Historical notes: The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.

With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney.

(Information sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City )

Government House is built on land set aside by Governor Phillip in 1792 for the use of the Crown and as common lands for the people of Sydney. The area included the whole of Bennelong Point, the present Royal Botanic Gardens, the Domain and the lower parts of Phillip and Macquarie Streets. In keeping with the contemporary fashion for "picturesque" settings the house was situated high on a harbour headland, providing a romantic silhouette, with trees and shrubs partially screening the building. Indigenous vegetation was cleared to provide views, exotic trees and shrubs were planted and carriageways, paths, terraces and fences were laid out.

Government House was self supporting with kitchen gardens, orchards and grazing stock. However, its detached farm became the site of Sydney University and by c. 1870 stock no longer grazed in the house grounds and the kitchen garden had become part of the Botanic Gardens. By the late 19th century the setting had been transformed to one of horticultural order and smoothness. This change followed the English landscaping fashion, with the grounds having an Italianate formality. During the 20th century the area of the grounds of the house were significantly reduced.

In 1816, Governor Macquarie commissioned Francis Greenway to design a new Government House, but only the stables were constructed. In 1835 the Home Government authorised the erection of a new residence to a design by the prominent English architect Edward Blore. Blore held the position of Special Architect to King William IV and later to Queen Victoria, and was responsible for various works at Hampden Court Palace and Windsor Castle.

Government House was begun in 1838 and completed in 1845 under the supervision of the Colonial Architect, Mortimer Lewis with Colonel Barney of the Royal Engineers as adviser. The building cost forty six thousand pounds and was the most sophisticated example of the Gothic Revival in the colony. Stone for the building came from Pyrmont, cedar was shipped from the Shoalhaven and Hunter Rivers, and marble came from the inland area of the state.

The house was first occupied by Governor Sir George Gibbs in June 1845, although a Queen's Birthday Ball had already been held in the completed living rooms in May 1843. The front portico and loggia were added in the 1870s, and extensions to the ballroom and study were completed in the early 1900s. The stone carvings on the building feature the Coat of Arms of all Vice-Regal residents with the exception of Sir George Gibbs.

For the first fourteen years after Federation, Government House was occupied by the Governors General of the Commonwealth of Australia. In 1913 a High Court appeal judgement gave the New South Wales Government the ownership of the property. The house was vacant for a year before the Government decided to again make it available as the residence of the Governor.

Government House has recently been transferred to the Historic Houses Trust and is open for public exhibition.

Inside the entrance gates, to the west of the drive, is the oldest part of the gardens. This terrace was constructed with the house c. 1845. The original sandstone retaining walls, gravel paths, and planting's of olive trees and hedges still survive.

To the west of the drive is a large Melaleuca leucaudendra and a Eucalyptus nicoli planted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinborough in 1954 during the first visit to Australia by a reigning monarch. The eastern terrace when laid out in 1869, was Sydney's grandest terrace. It features axial pathways, a fountain, a pond and artificial stone urns. The main view of the harbour is framed by two Araucaria columnaris from New Caledonia, planted in 1870. A lawn tennis court was first built at Government House in 1879 and originally located below the eastern terrace. It occupied various locations before construction on the present site in 1968. A nearby garden contains some very old Camellia japonica. The original carriage drive followed the present line of the drive from the entrance gates to the house and continued from the house to return to the stables.

Government House was transferred to the Historic Houses Trust in 1996 and the gardens opened daily to the public.

The Chalet, located to the west of Government House was designed by the Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon in 1891 as the residence of the Official Secretary, and demonstrates the revival of the Queen Anne styles and the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement and was the first departure from the original Gothic concept of the Domain.

This building is the only known residential building in Sydney to be constructed with a timber shingle upper floor and a lower floor of 'board and batten' after the style of the North American houses of the 1870's, no doubt Vernon was influenced in the American styles during his visit to that country in 1887.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal (none)-
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)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Government House, associated buildings and garden, 1838-1845, is historically significant as the home of the monarch's representative and as the seat of power, it symbolised British authority in the colony.

Like the Governors themselves, the house is a powerful symbol of state. From the time of its completion, the house and its occupants were seen as the "pinnacle" of society, and the Governor and family as social "exemplars", ideas that continued well into the twentieth century.

Home to twenty four Governors of New South Wales and their families, and the first five Governors-General, all chosen for their various pre-eminent positions, it reflects the many changes that have taken place in public and private life.

Government House gardens are significant as part of the oldest landscaped area constructed soon after European settlement of the colony of New South Wales.

The Chalet is significant as the residence of the Official Secretary to the Governor of New South Wales, and for its use as guest or family accommodation for the Governors of New South Wales, throughout the twentieth century. Has historic significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Government House is significant for its association with many significant individuals and families including: the Governors and their families who influenced its construction and those who resided there; the five Governor-Generals and their families who resided in the house; and the Lieutenant-Governors, who directed extensive changes on the site.

It is associated with a number of leading architects and craftsmen including Edward Blore, Mortimer Lewis, James Barnet, Walter L. Vernon and the makers of fine Colonial furniture, artisans and artists associated with the various collections. A large number of important guests have also visited the house and its occupants from citizens paying their respects or receiving awards, to the reigning monarch, Elizabeth II, other members of the Royal family, other Heads of States, and Viceroys

Government House is associated with a number of important events in the social and political history of New South Wales, and the newly Federated Commonwealth, including: the Royal visits; the formation of the first Federal ministry; the first Federal Executive Council meeting; the eviction of the Governor-General; the sacking of Premier Lang; it has also been the venue for community functions.

The gardens are significant for their association with Regal and Vice-Regal personages, as well as local and overseas Heads-of-State.

The building is significant for its continued association with the Crown and prominent persons from both Australia and overseas, including Vice-Regal personages and visiting Heads of State.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Located in Governor Phillip's domain, it provides a tangible link with the earliest years of the colony, and is associated with the development of significant public places such as the Conservatorium (formerly its stables), Royal Botanic Gardens (formerly its grounds), and the Opera House.

Government House is one of a few surviving nineteenth century mansions in Sydney that retain their substantial park setting. The grounds provide a grand setting for the house. They demonstrate the principles of English landscape garden design as applied in the colony particularly compartmentalisation for different functions and themes. This can be seen in the key elements of its original and early landscape - the Forecourt, Western and Eastern Terraces which remain substantially intact.

Government House, designed by architect Edward Blore is the finest example of a castellated Gothic house in Australia, the house with its landscaped gardens reflected its English ties and was the model that inspired others, and was an impetus for the Gothic Revival style in Australia.

Its construction was a major technical achievement for the time, and it raised the standards of building and craftsmanship in the colony. The additions and alterations to the house by James Barnet and Walter L. Vernon between 1870 and 1902, were notable examples of the later Victorian Gothic revival.

The Lodge, 1846 is a copy of a guard house at Windsor, designed in the gothic style to complement the house.

The Chalet is a fine example of Arts and Crafts inspired domestic architecture and a forerunner of the Australian Federation style of the early twentieth century. The "Board and Batten" wall cladding has research significance as the only known example of the use of this combination of materials within the city.

(source: Register of the National Estate, Item 102246)

The gardens of Government House are significant as examples of early Colonial design and planting's, and for the evolutionary process of changing styles which has continued into the twentieth century.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The place demonstrates the changing emphasis in the selection of Governor; from military, to career administrators, to aristocrats. By the end of the nineteenth century the role was perceived to be more social than political, and post World War II Australian Governors were installed into this esteemed position.

At each stage in its history, Government House was a place of work for personnel involved in the business of the Governor, in domestic service, in securing the site, or in the keeping of the grounds, most being resident on the site.

The role of domestic servants, and later domestic staff, continued until the mid 1990s, well after such service had become anachronistic in most other great houses in Australia.

The gardens are significant for their association with Regal and Vice-Regal personages as well as local and overseas Heads-of-State. They are significant for their part in the social functions required of the Vice-Regal position.
SHR Criteria f)
Government House gardens are significant for the planting's by Royalty on the first visit to Australia by a reigning monarch. There are several planting's which date from the early years of the nineteenth century.

The Chalet is a rare example of a composite 'Queen Anne' and 'Shingle' style residential building in Sydney. It is the only example of 'board and batten' wall cladding in Sydney.
SHR Criteria g)
Government House gardens are significant as the gardens of the Governor, the representative of the Crown in Australia, throughout most of the twentieth century.

The Chalet building is representative of the style as used in an ancillary building associated with Government House.
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.

Recommended management:

Government House: General: A conservation plan should be prepared to guide future works and maintenance of the place. The form and scale of the building should be preserved. There should be no alterations which break through the roof or alter the skyline. There should be no new buildings allowed in the gardens which alter or disturb the existing views and vistas to and from the house. Window and door openings should not be enlarged or filled in, and windows should be replaced with similar style. Surfaces never intended for painting, such as sandstone, face brick and varnished timber, should remain unpainted, while those surfaces such as timber and render, which were originally painted, should continue to be painted in appropriate colours. Exterior: The original stone fabric of the building including stone sculpture, stone tracery windows, Coats of Arms, and carved detailing on the Porte Cochere and Loggia should be conserved. Interior: All original internal fabric such as the stone walls, the decorative painted ceilings, the fireplaces, cornices, decorative detailing, timber doors and windows, timber joinery, floors, and galleries, should be preserved. Ground floor interior spaces, and upper floor interior spaces of Governor's suite, Queen's Suite, Windsor Suite, and Melba Suites, should all be conserved. Other spaces in upper floor and service wing have been modified may be continue to be altered provided the works do not adversely impact on the existing significant fabric of spaces. Kitchen areas at the rear of the house should remain unaltered. Gardens: As a garden is an evolutionary item which benefits from change, it is considered suitable that this evolutionary process should continue in the future. However some areas of the gardens which are of high significance, such as the formal garden, the Royal planting's, and all mature and significant vegetation such as early trees and hedges should be retained in their existing form and locations. All existing views and vistas from Government House should be retained unimpeded. Terraces and formal gardens to be conserved. The glass house in kitchen garden, gates, gate posts, and fencing to boundary, should all be conserved. Gates, gate posts and fencing to boundary should all be conserved. Intrusive elements such as the modern structures and gate houses should be removed. Chalet: General: A conservation plan should be prepared to guide the future works and management of the place. The form and scale of the building should be preserved. There should be no alterations or additions which break through the roofline or adversely impact on significant original fabric. The original materials and detailing should be retained or repaired in similar complementary materials. Window and door openings should be retained and should not be enlarged or filled in, and original verandah openings and detailing, should be retained. Surfaces never intended for painting , such as timber shingles and boarding, face brick and sandstone, should remain unpainted, while those surfaces which were originally painted, such as render and timber could be repainted in appropriate colours. Exterior: The external fabric of the Chalet has remained largely intact since construction and should be conserved. The timber walkway which now joins the Chalet to Government House should be retained intact and repaired as necessary. Interior: All original interior fabric should be retained and conserved. As the exterior of the building remains largely intact it is considered that there should be no changes to the interior layout and planning. Alterations to the interior which adversely impact on significant original fabric of the interior or exterior should not be considered.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney Local Environmental Plan 2012I186214 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenBarry McGregor & Associates1997Government House Sydney: conservation and management plan
WrittenHistoric Houses Trust of New South Wales. Government House New South Wales, A Brief History and Guide
WrittenState Bank of New South Wales Government House New South Wales

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

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2425498

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