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Sydney Cove to Town Hall

Sydney Cove to Town Hall

From prison to city

The settlement of Sydney was established in 1788, when Arthur Phillip led the 11 ships of the First Fleet into Port Jackson. The settlement that sprung up around Sydney Cove was a convict colony, ruled by governors appointed by London.

In 1823 the New South Wales Legislative Council was established, although the governor retained the power to appoint officials and override decisions.

By the 1840s convict transportation had virtually ended and the colonists wanted more control over their affairs. An Imperial Act of 1842 created a new Legislative Council where one third was nominated and two thirds elected by property holders. In the same year Sydney was incorporated as a city. This was despite the city being an unruly village of dusty, poorly lit lanes with unhygienic dwellings without water or sanitation, and where cattle were routinely driven through the streets. The governor nominated magistrate Charles Windeyer (pictured right) as interim mayor until elections were held.

At the first municipal election, on 3 November 1842, about 3,000 men were eligible to vote. Candidates had to hold property worth £1000, and there were to be six wards each represented by four councillors. Electors chose local businessmen to run Sydney’s affairs, with John Hosking being the first mayor.

Charles Windeyer Charles Windeyer, First Mayor of Sydney, 1842.

At the time the City of Sydney took up an area of 11.65 square kilometres, taking in present-day Woolloomooloo, Surry Hills, Chippendale and Pyrmont. Six wards were marked by boundary posts, one of which survives at the front of Sydney Square, by Town Hall.

A council is born

At the first 1842 council election voters had to occupy property with an annual value of £25 for at least one year. This low property qualification alarmed conservatives who warned of the dangers of democracy. In 1879 the vote was extended to those who paid rates, whether they were owners or renters. By 1900 even lodgers and women could vote, although they had to be property-holders. In 1941 all resident adults were entitled to vote in council elections. Since then there have been numerous tinkerings with the franchise, as the party in power in the state government looks to slant the vote in the direction that favours its own interests.

At the first Sydney Council meeting, a merchant and contractor, John Hosking (pictured right), became the first elected mayor of Sydney. However, he had to resign less than a year later when he went bankrupt in the financial depression of the early 1840s.

The first Municipal Council meeting was held in the George Street Market Building (now the site of the Queen Victoria Building) on 9 November 1842. From 1842 to 1843, quarterly meetings took place at the Royal Hotel in George Street and then at the Pultenay Hotel in York Street.

In April 1843 Council suggested that if the graves were removed from the old, disused and overgrown burial ground in George Street, the land could be used for a town hall. More on the burial ground can be found in our People and Places section.

But the Legislative Council opposed the idea of disinterring the dead so the City of Sydney continued searching for a permanent site, meeting at various hotels in the meantime. By 1869 it secured the George Street site and the graves were moved to Sydney's new Rookwood Necropolis. The Town Hall was occupied in September 1874.

Alderman John Hosking Alderman John Hosking, first elected mayor of Sydney.

Last updated: Tuesday, 4 December 2012