Sydney Firsts

During March 1788, the first emu encountered by Europeans was killed near the present site of Central Railway Station. It was 2.25 metres high. Sydney naval architect Phillip Hercus designed the first wave piercing catamaran in 1987.


On 8th February, 1788, Captain John Shea shot the first kangaroo known to have been killed by a white man in the new settlement of NSW. Kangaroos, often called "congaroos", were soon regarded as a great delicacy.



Gov. Philip Gidley King

Governor King founded The Sydney and NSW Advertiser, the colony's first weekly newspaper on 5th March, 1803.


The first sheep to die in Australia were five belonging to Major Robert Ross of the Sirius. They were killed by lightning on 2nd February 1788. KFC, Woodville Road, Guildford was the first Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) store in Australia. It opened in 1968.


The first installation of a car radio into an Australian car occurred in 1924. The car was built by Kellys Motors of Liverpool, NSW.


On 21st October, 1788, Convict Thomas Eccles appeared before the Criminal Court on the first charge of drunkenness in the colony. He was found guilty and his sentence, very mild for the times, required him to change his place of employment from "garden" to "brickfields".


In July 1788 the first cleared road was made from Governor Phillip's residence across the Tank Stream to Battery Point (later named Dawes Point). It followed roughly the line of Bridge Street and the northern end of George Street.



Guy Menzies

Guy Menzies, the son of a Drummoyne doctor, completed the first solo crossing of the Tasman Sea. After taking off from Mascot by the light of a car's headlights on 7th January 1931, he landed his single engine Avro Avian plane, Southern Cross Junior, about 12 hours later in La Fontaine swamp near Harihari, after mistaking it for a grassy paddock. The plane tipped over, an ignominious end to a record-breaking flight. Initially, local residents refused to believe that he had flown across the Tasman Sea, and were only convinced when he produced a sandwich bag from Sydney airport. The landing spot near Harihari is marked by a memorial. The swamp has been drained, and now actually is a grassy paddock. Reaching the rank of squadron-leader in the RAF during World War II, he was posted as missing in November 1940.


During October 1788 the colony's first bridge was built over the Tank Stream by convicts.


Vickery's Winery at Luddenham is the Sydney region's oldest continuously operating winery.


In 1915, Sydney became the first place in the world to appoint female police officers.


The world's first milk bar opened in Martin Place in 1933, offering "milkshakes" for fourpence.



The first duel

The colony's first duel was fought between Surgeon John White and his assistant, William Balmain. Both were slightly wounded. The incident occurred on 12th August, 1788. Balmain served as third assistant surgeon to White on the Alexander, one of the ships of the First Fleet. Balmain was granted land in the area which bears his name in 1800 but never lived there. He sold his land and returned to England in 1801 where he died two years later.


The first convict to be emancipated was John Irving. On his emancipation on 28th February 1790, he was appointed assistant surgeon at Norfolk Island.


It is now believed that First Fleeter James Ruse should have been the first convict to be emancipated as his term of imprisonment appears to have expired on the journey out from England, but this did not occur as Gov. Phillip had no official documentation in his possession to confirm this. Ruse took occupation of an allotment at Rose Hill and became Australia's first independent farmer on 21st November 1789. He was provided with a hut, provisions, clothing, seed, livestock, implements and convict labour in order to enable him to farm with some hope of success. After his sentence expired in 1792, the title of the land was deeded to him, the first land grant in the colony. Ruse died in 1837. The first non-British commercial vessel to enter Port Jackson was the chartered Dutch ship Waaksamheyd. It arrived on 17th December 1790 with supplies from Batavia; on board were barrels of beef, pork, flour, sugar and rice.


Convicted thief Thomas Barrett was the first criminal to be sentenced to death in the fledgling colony of NSW on 27th February, 1788, barely a month after the arrival of the First Fleet.


Australia's first public holiday was the celebration of the birthday of King George 111 in Sydney on June 4th, 1788. George Street was named by Gov. Lachlan Macquarie in 1810 after George III's eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, who ruled as Prince Regent when his father's recurrent mental illness eventually became permanent. George Street developed from a rough track alongside the Tank stream beaten out by the feet of water carriers taking water from the stream to the hospital in what is now The Rocks.


On 22nd February, 1791, James Ruse received the first land grant in NSW, effectively making him the only self supporting farmer in the fledgling colony.



Isabel Letham, Australia's first surfer

Australia's first surfboard was made in a Sydney timber yard from sugarpine in 1915. Freshwater Beach will always remember that day in the Southern Summer of 1915 when the man considered the father of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku (1890- 1968), gave an amazing exhibition of wave riding with a solid surfboard modelled on the very type used by him in his native Hawaii. Over a period of time while he stayed at the Boomerang Camp at Freshwater, the Duke fashioned a solid board from the local timbers, and it was with this board that he first introduced to the Australian Surfing community the ancient craft of Hawaiian kings - the art of surfboard riding.

Out through the surf-break "The Duke" paddled, turned around and having paddled onto the face of a breaking wave, caught the wave back into the beach while standing tall on this newly carved timber surfboard. This exhibition of skill and grace captivated the imagination of all those present, and if this were not enough, the Duke selected a young lady from the local crowd - one Miss Isabel Letham - to accompany him on his surfboard.

While she lay forward on this surfboard, the Duke paddled out through the surf and then returned to the beach while riding tandem. In this event, young Isabel Letham became the first Australian to ride a surfboard in the Australian surf on this type of surfboard. Miss Letham lived on in Freshwater Beach until she passed away in 1995.

A statue of Duke Kahanamoku stands on the on Northern Headland of Freshwater Beach


On 23rd December, 1906, the first lifesaving reel was demonstrated at Bondi Beach. The reel was invented by the local lifesaving club captain, Lyster Ormsby.


On 30th December, 1788, the keel of the Rose Hill Packet, the first ship built in the colony, was laid. An awkward vessel, she was to be popularly known as "the Lump". It was launched on 5th October 1789.

The first known concert on Bennelong Point, the site of the Sydney Opera House was performed in March 1791. It was hosted by the Aboriginal Bennelong, a member of the local Cadigal clan after whom Bennelong Point is named. Held in the hut Gov. Phillip had built for him, the performance consisted of "24 men, women and children dancing to the accompaniment of beating sticks and hands". The next took place during the Opera House's construction, when American singer Paul Robeson sang "Old Man River" to the building workers at a lunchtime recital.



William Redfern, a ship's doctor after who the suburb of Redfern is named, could lay claim to being Australia's first medical graduate. Tried for his involvement in mutiny over bad pay and conditions in the British Navy, he was transported in 1801 on the Minorca to Norfolk Island, but was pardoned in 1803. Back in Sydney he wanted to become a doctor again, so he was tested by three other doctors and passed the test.

Darrell Lea Chocolates were first sold from a Manly Beach shop in the 1920s by Harry and Esther Lea. The Lea family took a simple recipe for Bulgarian Rock and transformed it into an enterprise worth millions. Harry Lea was born Harry Levy in the Whitechapel district in London on February 15 1876. He arrived in Australia with his family in 1888. As a young man, he served an indenture with a confectioner, learning the skills of sweet making, which formed the basis of his life s work.



In 1905, Harry married Esther Goldman, one of six girls in a widowed household who maintained her complexion by religiously washing her face in buttermilk. In the early years of their marriage, Harry and Esther led a nomadic life, wandering from town to town. They finally settled in Manly s Corso, opening a fruit shop. It was here that the couple began selling sweets, and the idea of Darrell Lea Chocolates was born. During summer, the fruit business was good, however, in winter when business lagged Harry produced confectionery in the back of the fruit shop to supplement the family income. From these simple beginnings in 1917, the business grew to such a degree that, in 1927, a shop became vacant in the Haymarket, which was then the centre of the hustle and bustle of Sydney town. Harry named the store, a combined milk bar and confectionery shop, after his youngest son Darrell.

After the Great Depression of the 1930s, they leased a factory in Devonshire Street, Surry Hills. Over time the company outgrew the premises and then moved to No. 1 York Street , under the first arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (today the offices of the Bridge Climb), and remained there until 1963.




Anniversary Day (now Australia Day) was celebrated for the first time on 26th January 1791.


In 1798 First Fleet convict Henry Kable opened a hotel called the Ramping Horse, from which he ran the first stage coach in Australia. In 1968, on the 180th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet, more than a hundred descendants of Henry and Susannah Kable met in Sydney to honour them as the heads of one of Australia's founding families. It was the first reunion to acknowledge convict ancestry.


On 25th January 1788 a child was recorded to have been born to a "Mrs. Whittle" between Botany Bay and Port Jackson, becoming the first European to be born in Australia. However the only person similarly named as part of the fleet's company was a man, Edward Whitton.


The colony's first theatrical performance took place on 4th June 1789. George Farquhar's comedy "The Recruiting Officer" was performed by prisoners, in celebration of the King's birthday, "in a mud hut fitted for the occasion". Proceeds from the play were to go to the wife and family of a soldier who had drowned. Admittance was in kind, and rum, tobacco, wine, poultry and grain were taken at the door.


Sydney staged the world's first "movie" projection in November 1894, 12-months prior the Lumiere Brothers in Paris. Screened in a converted shop on Pitt Street, the 35 millimetre film ran at 40 images per second and was projected through a machine known as a kinescope. In the first five weeks of showing, there were 22,000 moviegoers - each paying a shilling each.


The first bunches of grapes to ripen in the settlement were cut in Governor Phillip's garden at Rose Hill on 24th January 1791. The vines had been grown from cuttings that had come with the First Fleet from Cape Town. Speaking of them in his report to the British government, Gov. Arthur Phillip made a most remarkable prophecy about vintneculture in Australia, "In a climate so favourable, the cultivation of the vine may doubtless be carried to any degree of perfection, and should no other articles of commerce divert the attention of the settlers from this part, the wines of New South Wales may perhaps, hereafter be sought with civility and become an indispensable part of the luxury of European tables".



The White City Tennis Complex at Rushcutters Bay, home of NSW Lawn Tennis Association between 1921 and 2000, was associated with a number of firsts. It has hosted Australia's first women's championship singles (1922), had Australia's first electric scoreboard (1952) and first televised competition (1957). The original White City was an amusement park featuring fantasy rides, high wire artists and brass bands which operated on the site from 1914 until it burnt to the ground after being hit by lightning in 1917.


The first orange tree in Australia was grown in Ryde from a seed imported from Rio de Janeiro.


The world's first pre-paid letter-sheets were issued by the New South Wales Post Office in 1838.


The key technology for the invention of xerography was developed by Professor Oscar Ulrich Vonwiller at The University of Sydney in 1907. The first Frenchman known to live in Australia, Peter Parris, arrived as a convict on the Scarborough with the First Fleet.




Mervyn Victor Richardson developed the first Australian lightweight petrol driven rotary mower in his suburban Sydney garage in Brays Road, Concord in 1952 and began manufacturing them in his spare time at the rate of ten a month under the name Victa. The following year the business became full-time and grew rapidly, production for 1959 from its factory at Milperra was 143,000 mowers. This expansion was achieved without borrowed funds and without taking in any outside capital. The company was completely unencumbered and its sole shareholders were the three members of the Richardson family: Mervyn, his wife Vera and his son Garry.



Richard Johnson Square

The first recorded church service in Australia was held under a tree on 3rd February, 1788 by the Reverend Richard Johnson, the First Fleet's chaplain, who preached a sermon based on the text "What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits toward me". Johnson celebrated Holy Communion for the first time in the settlement on 17th February 1788. A monument (above), at the Circular Quay end of Castlereagh street on the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets, today marks the sport where that first service was held. On the same day Lieut. Ralph Clark had a tooth removed, it being the first recorded dental work done in the colony.



Lottie Lyell

Sydney's first theatre was built by convicts in 1794. Located in The Rocks, the theatre was run by Robert Sidaway, a baker, the programme comprising of a series of comedy sketches. As money was not in official use at the time, the entrance fee was paid in flour, which went into making bread or spirits. Governor Hunter closed the theatre down in 1798 because he thought it had a corrupting influence on the population. Lottie Lyell (1890-1925), who grew up in Balmain, was Australia's first great female film star and the first woman film director. Appearing in about 20 films, Lyell died from tuberculosis in 1925 at the young age of 35. Her greatest role was as Doreen, the factory girl in The Sentimental Bloke, which won critical acclaim in Australia and overseas.

On 26th June 1790 Richard Cheers became the first man in the colony to receive a conditional pardon. He arrived on the convict transport Surprise arrived with 218 male convicts and was granted a pardon because he was seen as a hero for being the sole survivor of the wrecked storeship Guardian. Sydney's first official census, which took placed during 1790, recorded 2,545 inhabitants.






Forby Sutherland, a crew member of James Cook's Endeavour, was the first recorded British person (he was a Scot) to die and be buried on the Australian mainland and the second to die on Australian soil. William Dampier's cook, John Goodman, who died in August 1699 whilst on Dirk Hartog Island at Shark Bay, was the first. A Dutch sailor of the Duyfken, whose name is not recorded, is known to have died and been buried near Cape Keerweer on the Gulf of Carpentaria in March 1606, making him the first known European to have died on Australian soil.

Forby Sutherland died and was buried at Kurnell in April 1770. 18 years later, French Franciscan friar Claude-Francois Joseph (Pere) Receveur, who came to Australia on La Boussole in January 1788, died at La Perouse on the other side of the bay to Sutherland some weeks after his arrival there. Theirs are the oldest marked graves in the Sydney area, however their exact location is not known. The cairns and memorials which recall their deaths were erected years later and do not necessarily mark the exact burial sites.

The first Catholic Mass was held on the point of the La Perouse peninsula on Botany Bay on 17th February 1788. At daylight on January 26, 1788, as the first men from Captain Arthur Phillip's fleet waded ashore in Sydney Cove and the balance of the First Fleet prepared to leave Botany Bay for Sydney, two French exploration ships sailed into Botany Bay. The French ships - La Boussole and L'Astrolabe - commanded by Jean Francois Galaup, Comte de la Perouse - had sailed from Brest in 1785 on a four-year voyage of discovery at the direction of King Louis XIV.


Claude-Francois Joseph Louis Receveur grave

Two Catholic priests, Abbe Jean-Andre Monges and Claude-Francois Joseph Louis Receveur, a Franciscan monk, were with the expedition. Fr Receveur served as naturalist and astronomer as well as chaplain. He was also a skilled botanist, geologist, chemist, meteorologist, and philologist. When the French ships put into Tutuila in the Samoan Islands, the Franciscan monk was wounded by local warriors. His injury was described as a "violent contusion of the eye". On arrival at Botany Bay, La Perouse erected a camp on shore and established friendly relations with the British, who sailed around from Sydney to visit his camp.

Fr Receveur died on 17th February 1788 and was buried at the camp. He was the first Catholic priest and the fourth recorded white man to be buried in Australian soil. His obsequies were the first Catholic religious ceremony held in Australia. Abbe Monges, and possibly Fr Receveur, if he had been well enough, would have celebrated Mass on board the ships anchored in Botany Bay. This is the first occasion, of which there is reasonable evidence, of a Mass being celebrated in Australian territory.



Lady Penryn

Joshua Bentley was the first white child to be baptised in Australia. His mother was Mary Moulton, a servant girl, who was transported for shoplifting. On the transport ship Lady Penryn, she had an affair with Joshua Bentley, a seaman, which resulted in the birth of a male child just out from the Cape of Good Hope on 16th November 1787. On arrival in Australia, the child was baptised aboard ship on 21st January 1788 and named Joshua Bentley according to records were kept at St. Phillip, Sydney. Unfortunately, a little over two years later, he fell into a hole of water and was drowned. He was buried on 14th February 1790 in what is now known as Town Hall Cemetery. James Thomas, son of convicts Samuel and Ann Thomas, was baptised on 3rd February, 1788, his being the first baptism in the colony on land. It is likely that he was the first white child to be born in the colony.


The first hearings of the Court of Criminal Jurisdiction (the Criminal Court) took place on 11th February, 1788. A guard under arms protected the court, and the members assembled in their military habits and insignia, including sash and sword. Three convicts were charged with stealing. Thomas Hill, convicted of theft, was sentenced to be marooned on a rocky island in the harbour for one week on bread and water. He was the first person known to be imprisoned on the island which became known as Pinchgut.


On 27th February, 1788, convict Thomas Barrett, aged 17, was convicted and hanged the same evening for conspiring to rob the public stores. He was the first person (and the first juvenile offender) to be hanged in the colony. Convicts Joseph Hall and Henry Lovell, also sentenced to death, were reprieved and marooned on Pinchgut. The first woman sent to the gallows in NSW was convict, Judith Jones alias Ann Davis, was executed on 23rd November 1789 after being convicted of breaking and entering a dwelling house and stealing a number of small items. After sentence was passed, she claimed to be pregnant and 12 matrons were empanelled to examine the prisoner. They declared she was "not quick with child" and she was executed.



McElhone Street

Frank Mallon McElhone (1866 - 1925), a Sydney banker of last century, claimed to be the first surf bather in Sydney. In the 1880s, McElhone with a few others, entered the water at Bondi Beach. He was compelled to appear before the Central Police Court and was fined 1/- for bathing in a public place. He always retained the receipt for the fine and proudly claimed it as a certificate showing his bona fides as the first surf bather. Mr. McElhone was one of the original members of the Waverley Cricket Club, and helped to make the cricket ground in Waverley Park. He was the brother of Sydney Alderman Arthur McElhone who is remembered in the name of a street in Woolloomooloo and a set of stairs in Sydney.



In April, 1810, the first recorded horse race in Australia took place at Parramatta.


Australia's first bank, the Bank of NSW (later Westpac), was opened by Governor Macquarie at premises rented from Mary Reiby in Macquarie Place on 8th April, 1817.


On 8th December, 1888, JT Williams, a 22 year old watchmaker, made Australia's first parachute descent when he jumped from a balloon 5,000 feet (1,700 metres) above Homebush.


On May 18th, 1901, as the Royal Yacht sailed into Sydney Harbour, the first radio transmission was made in Australia.



Site of Phillip Schaffer's vineyard

Philip Schaffer is believed to have been the first man who arrived free in the colony. Schaffer was granted 140 acres on the south side of the creek leading to Rose Hill which he started to farm in March 1791.


First Fleeter James Squire became the colony's first brewer in 1790. Another convict, James Wilkinson, produced a 5 metre wide mill wheel, propelled by two other convicts walking inside it, and became one of the colony's earliest millwrights.


Australia's first export was Eucalyptus oil, sent to England during November 1788 by Surgeon Denis Considen, who claimed to be the colony's pharmaceutical pioneer. He had discovered the benefits of eucalyptus oil and used native plants to alleviate dysentery.


The first fine to be collected in an Australian court was £5 from convict William Bond. He was charged with buying a pair of trousers from John Kennedy, a private soldier in the marines, for three and a half pounds of rice. As it was illegal for convicts to either buy or sell goods, Bond was found guilty and fined on 25th July 1791. Bond, a baker of Pitt Street, made the first damper. He is believed to have been the last male alive from the first fleet. Ann Forbes, who was transported on Prince of Wales at 15 years of age for stealing 10 yards of material, was the very last of the first fleeters to die, age 80 years. She was buried at St Matthews, Windsor.
The first public protest in Australia occurred on 31st December 1791 when a crowd of convicts gathered around Governor Phillip's house at Parramatta to demand that rations be issued weekly as usual and not daily. Phillip refused and threatened to make examples of the leaders immediately, believing the protest was due to the influence of a handful of Irish convicts.


The first strike in Australia occurred in 1827 when convict women at the female factory in Parramatta withdrew their labour when their tea and sugar rations were stopped. They were victorious.


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