Foundations of Identity

Building Early Sydney 1788-1822

Author: Peter Bridges


Peter Bridges tells the story of the era (1788-1822) and the philosophies that lay behind the planning of Australia’s first settlement. A central theme of the book describes the building and shaping of Sydney from its origins as a penal camp inhabited by convicts and their gaolers to its emergence as a lively small town where increasing numbers of men and women were going about their daily affairs with growing freedom.

“Peter Bridges accompanies us through the streets of Sydney. Years fall away, solid forms dissolve, and people we have never met appear in everyday scenes . . . His experience, knowledge, and wry humour invite us to see what he sees, the traces of the past which still direct our steps and catch our gaze.” (Quote from Lenore Coltheart on the back cover of the book)

Movements of history seldom divide themselves neatly into separate chapters but the arrival of the First Fleet in January 1788 and the founding of the first European settlement in the South Pacific region clearly marks a beginning; the departure of Governor Macquarie in February 1822 marks the end of that pioneer stage and the beginning of a new era. During that period Sydney changed from a rough penal camp to a respectable town in which many people followed the everyday pursuits of a free community. However, the positive achievements of the pioneers must be set against their failures; perhaps the greatest of these was their inability to come to fair terms with the original inhabitants, the Aboriginal people.

The driving forces which fixed the initial form of Sydney as a town and community were complex; topography, natural resources, the urgent needs for shelter and security. To these were added the personal attitudes and motives of the people themselves. The first settlers brought with them the customs, attitudes and institutions of eighteenth-century England, which affected the decisions and actions of daily life, highlighting the conflicting outlooks of the free and the bonded.

As time passed, the will of people of convict background, the emancipists and their families increasingly contributed to the growth and character of the town. The emancipists’ struggle for equality may be seen as a background against which there grew up certain social attitudes which have come to be recognised as essential elements of the Australian ethos. Sydney in those early years is less the legacy of those who invested their status and money, than of those who invested labour, love and life in building its foundations.

ln Governor Lachlan Macquarie, in 1810, the emancipates found a champion; one whose mission was to be instrumental in the creation of a free colonial society whose buildings reflected that vision. ln Francis Greenway, Macquarie found an architect whose visions matched his own.

Frustrated by limited resources and the opposition of his superiors, nonetheless, Macquarie’s achievements, like the Macquarie lighthouse, the Hyde Park Barracks, the churches, toll houses and street fountains, were considerable. He left the beginnings of a new society as well as buildings and public works that stood as the foundations on which the future Sydney was to grow.

The above text is quoted from the inside cover of the book.


Peter Bridges was formerly an architect in the NSW Public Works Department where he headed a group established to care for historic buildings.
He has played a key role in establishing the means of recognising and conserving the built heritage of New South Wales. Peter Bridges has deepened the appreciation of historic buildings throughout New South Wales for many colleagues and friends.
Foundations of identity will increase their number.

Historic Courthouses of NSW
James Barnet : Colonial Architect
(with Don McDonald)

The above text is quoted from the inside back cover of the book.

© 1995 Peter Bridges

Published by
Hales & Iremonger Pty Ltd
PO Box 2552, Sydney, 2001

ISBN 0868065668