History of Sydney 2018-05-17T15:47:44+10:00

Sydney is city steeped in historic significance with a colourful past and vibrant future. Originally settled by the Aboriginal people, it was taken over by the British during colonial days.

The long-abandoned Aboriginal settlements are only noticeable through the remnants of the past inhabitants’ drawings on rock faces and their shell middens. There is evidence that they have settled at what’s now Sydney thousands of years ago. The Sydney harbour, abundant in natural resources provided a secure place for them to do their hunting, gathering, and fishing.

The earliest record of European landing on the shores of Sydney was in April 1770 by James Cook who was a lieutenant on the ship HMS Endeavour. What they saw on what is now known as Botany Bay and surrounding areas sparked an interest in the British colonizing the land.

The pioneers of early settlement in the area were actually convicts and military personnel who presided over them. Colonial powers such as Spain, France, and Britain competed to gain more territory in the then-known world. Colonizing distant lands proved to be difficult due to no established infrastructure and few citizens were willing to go to distant lands to explore and settle in unknown places. To solve that problem, world powers at that time sent convicts for forced labor to make the new lands hospitable for settlement. Britain around that time lost it’s grip on the Americas during the American Revolution and so could not send any more convicts there. The result was to start sending convicts to the newly found territory of Australia.

It wasn’t until 1788 that British ships deemed the First Fleet landed on the shores of Australia once again. This time, they were there to stay. The ships and convict cargo were governed by Arthur Phillip, a Royal Navy Officer. Establishing the colony proved to be a formidable task. From the start, the new settlers ran into big problems such as insufficient freshwater supply. They moved from Botany Bay to Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788 in search of suitable water for consumption. That marked the historic beginning of settlement in what is now known as Sydney today.

Sydney is named after the British politician and Home Secretary Baron Sydney. He was the official who appointed Arthur Phillip to be governor of the new colony in Australia. Governor Phillip was a man well-suited for his job and helped the colony survive fatal famine, drought, and disease. He even did his best to establish good relations with the local Aboriginal people.

Four years after the First Fleet ships landed, more than 4000 men and women prisoners were exiled to the newly established penal colony. They did not have the knowledge or the resources to successfully settle the land. They were plagued with many problems. After surviving the horrific conditions on the ships that carried them to Australia, they had an even slimmer chance of surviving the conditions they faced trying to work the land. Relations with the Aboriginal peoples also deteriorated leading to deadly skirmishes over land. Unfortunately, diseases such as smallpox thought to have been brought by the Europeans decimated the Aboriginal population as well. Both the newcomers and local Aboriginals fared terribly during this time.

As the settlement slowly and painfully became established in newly formed Sydney Town, prisoners who served their time and were free were able to get land to farm and inhabit. Retired soldiers were also granted land and the influx of British immigrants started to grow.

After Arthur Phillip left in December 1792, power was still left in the hands of the British governors. The New South Wales Corps military officers who were involved in corruption and the lucrative alcohol trade did not like the meddling of the new governor William Bligh into their affairs. They deposed him as governor during the Rum Rebellion and ruled over the colony for a brief period of time until Governor Lachlan Macquarie was put in charge by the British government in 1810.

Macquarie left a lasting legacy in Sydney Town. He was responsible for the change of the new settlement going from a penal colony to a free society. Though Britain frowned upon it, Macquarie put a lot of money into the town, building it up economically, architecturally, and socially. He also viewed freed convicts as equals and even out some of them in government office. He backed he establishment of the Royal Botanical Gardens and Hyde Park. His time as governor so benefited the new settlement that he is deemed “The Father of Australia.”

  • In 1840, the Sydney City Council was formed and in 1842, the Sydney Incorporation Act was passed which gave the city the status of a township being able to manage its own affairs.
  • In the 1850s, the gold rush brought many immigrants into Sydney town. The city’s population more than quadrupled and the need for improvements in infrastructure grew.
  • In the 1870s, cultural development flourished. Sydney soon became a popular destination for artists to frequent. Participation in sports particularly rugby and cricket increased as well.
  • It wasn’t until 1915 that surfing was introduced to the Sydney locals who fell in love with the sport.
  • Australia came to the aid of Great Britain during Work War I but at a cost of about 60 000 lives.
  • After the war, Sydney’s famous Capitol Theatre opened and today it still hosts popular shows stage plays.
  • During the Great Depression, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed.
  • Australia was again embroiled in war during the Second World War and saw itself fending off harbour attacks by Japanese submarines.
  • Postwar, the government introduced new policies inviting immigrants to live in
    Australia. As a result, Sydney’s population increased and it became a melting pot of cultures. This led to Sydney becoming a powerhouse in finance, education, information technology, and the arts. Five new universities were opened.
  • The Sydney Opera House, now a national symbol of Australia was completed in 1973.
    Closer to our time, the Sydney Harbour was completed and ready for use in 1992.
    Sydney successfully hosted the 2000 Summer Olympics which some have deemed “the best Olympics ever.”

Currently, Sydney is building a rapid metro system which will be the first rapid metro system in Australia. This is planned to be up and running in 2019 for the convenience of its citizens.

Today, Sydney continues to grow and flourish. Despite its shaky beginnings, the city now stands as a diverse and economically successful city.


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