The First Government House was the first residence for the Governors of New South Wales in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It was built in 1788 and used until 1845, after which it was demolished in 1846.
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. It was built under the direction of James Bloodsworth, a convict builder responsible for the construction of most of the colony's buildings between 1788 and 1800. This building, the first "permanent" building in Sydney, was completed by 1789 using English bricks, native stone and a quantity of convict-baked sandstock bricks from the Sydney region.
This first government house was extended and repaired by the following eight Governors, but was generally in poor condition and was vacated when the Governor relocated to the new building in 1845, and was demolished in 1846. The house suffered as a result of the poor mortar (made from the lime of crushed sea shells), white ant infestations, and what appeared to be rising damp in later years. Despite these problems, the house was an architectural milestone for Australia, and the first proportionately classical building in the continent. It even included Australia's first staircase.
The building was adapted quickly to the Australian climate. A verandah was added by Governor King circa 1800, and a drawing room was added in a side wing in the same year. By 1816 Francis Greenway was commissioned to construct a substantial extension and ballroom by Governor Macquarie, transforming Phillip's house into an Italianate cottage.
Major General Lachlan Macquarie (Governor 1810–1821) was responsible for prompting the construction of many of the colony's first permanent public buildings, and he attempted to build a replacement for the original Sydney Government House. Work on this was started by the convict architect Francis Greenway, but the project was not approved by the British government, and only the castle-like stables, commissioned in 1816, were ever finished.
The house was used until 1845, when the official residence of the Governor relocated to Government House, Sydney. The building was demolished in 1845/46.
Much of the "Governor's Domain" to the east of the original house has survived today as the adjacent areas of parkland known as The Domain, the Botanic Gardens, and also the gardens of today's Government House, adjacent to the Sydney Opera House.
The 1816 stables still stand in the Royal Botanic Gardens and form a facade for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The stables are best described as a small castle and retains many of the original features and nostalgic battlements and towers.
The site of the first government house remained virtually untouched until the 1980s, when a proposal to build a new high rise office tower on the site was made. Following representations to the NSW Government by concerned members of the newly formed Friends of the First Government House Site, construction was deferred to allow archaeologists to explore the area. The well-preserved foundations of First Government House were located in 1983 and excavated over the following months; providing a priceless insight into the early years of our nation. The tower was redesigned to preserve the historic foundations and incorporate them into the design of a new museum. When it was commissioned, the project was called the First Government House Museum. Whilst the museum building was being built in November 1993, the New South Wales Minister for the Arts announced that the museum would be known as the Museum of Sydney on the Site of First Government House, described in the press at the time as a "mouthful" and commonly contracted to Museum of Sydney. The change of name attracted protests.