Map showing Government Farm

State Library of NSW

A priority for the first settlers was to cultivate the land and begin producing their own food. Within two months of the First Fleet’s arrival on 26 January, three gardens had been established on the east side of the Tank Stream. By July, the Government Farm at what became known as Farm Cove had ‘nine acres in corn’.

Farm Cove is a shallow bay on the south side of Sydney Harbour, between the Bennelong Point and Mrs Maquarie’s Point. The Government farm was on the site of the current Royal Botanic Gardens. Before the coming of Europeans, the area was used by Australian aboriginal people as an initiation ground.

The farm was on the ‘government’ side of the Tank Stream, which divided the administrative personnel from the military and convict inhabitants. Plants brought from Rio de Janeiro and Capetown (stopping points for the First Fleet) were at first cultivated with some success.

Although the Government Farm was maintained for some time, the soil was poor and rocky. The colonists soon realised that the abundance of trees was no indication of fertility. It was also immediately clear that this small area could not supply the needs of the new colony. In November 1788 Governor Phillip led exploration parties upriver and chose a site at what became Parramatta to establish a new farming settlement.

Between 1794 and 1806, a number of leases were issued for the land around Farm Cove, the first being to the Commissary, John Palmer. As well as his farm, Palmer erected a mill and bakehouse.

Productive farming on the site was abandoned by 1816 when Governer Lachlan Maquarie converted the Government farm site into a botanic garden, although some experimental farm crops continued to be grown there.