Sydney’s first commercial dairy was built by Dr John Harris on his Ultimo estate, now an inner suburb. Harris was a naval surgeon and magistrate who became one of the colony’s largest landowners. Ultimo’s Harris Street is named after him.
The first dairy cows arrived in Australia with the First Fleet and, despite a hiatus after they escaped from their pasture, cheese and butter-making was soon taking place in the colony. Dairy Australia reports that by 1800 there were 322 bulls and 712 cows in Australia.
In 1793, Harris had bought the estate of James Ruse, Australia’s first ex-convict farmer, at Parramatta. Over following years he acquired more land, including estates at Ultimo and Drummoyne. By 1800 he owned 315 acres (127 ha) of land and had acquired 431 head of stock and it was on the Ultimo property that he started Sydney’s first commercial dairy.
Harris’s duties as a surgeon and a magistrate occupied much of his life over the following decade, but from 1814 he devoted himself largely to farming. After acting as surgeon in explorer John Oxley’s expedition to Bathurst in 1819 he acquired property in that area. Bathurst became a hub for cheese production from the 1820s.
Harris died in 1838. The Ultimo estate was subdivided in 1859. Until then it remained as farmland, in possession of the Harris family.