History of City of Sydney council

Sydney has transformed from a penal colony in 1788 to today’s global city. Along the way it has been governed by London appointees, landed gentry and, since 1842, by a council that has been either elected or imposed by the state government.


In 1842 Sydney was incorporated as a city, a little over half a century after Europeans first arrived in Australia.

The oldest municipality in Australia is Adelaide, created in 1840 just 4 years after the settlement of South Australia.

Since its establishment, the City of Sydney has grown and contracted as state governments redraw boundaries, often to the advantage of the governing party.

The City of Sydney has had powers taken from it and acquired new responsibilities.

Councillors first met in pubs and other buildings around town, now they meet in one of Sydney’s most recognised buildings.

History of Sydney City CouncilPDF · 29.34 KB · Last modified
Electoral history of Sydney 1842 to 1992PDF · 134.76 KB · Last modified
Crowd gathered around large sink hole in the road,

Aldermen and councillors

The City of Sydney has been led by 78 men and women since 1842. The first mayor, Charles Windeyer, was an interim appointment until the first election.

Since then, the position has been held by people from a variety of professional and mercantile backgrounds, including magistrates, union officials, retailers and the occasional publican.

The 2 most recent lord mayors, Lucy Turnbull and Clover Moore, are the only women to have held the post.

Please note, if a person serves more than 1 term in office, they are not counted again in the sequence of mayors. For example, James Merriman’s term in 1873 is counted as 24th but his term from 1877 to 1878 is not counted again.

The City of Sydney’s History team has produced the Sydney Alderman website which has biographies of mayors, lord mayors, councillors and alderman who have served on the City of Sydney Council and the amalgamated municipal council areas of Alexandria, Camperdown, Cook, Darlington, Erskineville, Glebe, Newtown, Northcott, Paddington, Redfern, South Sydney and Waterloo.


A large group of aldermen gathered together in a ceremonial room
Alderman Lilian Fowler in her mayoral robes and chain