Founded in 1788 as the colony’s second settlement, Parramatta means “the place where the eels lie” in the Dharug Aboriginal language. The first colonists found the land around Sydney difficult to clear and the soil unsuitable for agriculture. Governor Arthur Phillip led an expedition up the harbour in November 1788 and found more suitable land at what was initially known as Rose Hill. The first convict work team arrived later that month and began clearing the land for farming.
Phillip’s manservant Henry Edward Dodd had knowledge of farming and proved competent in managing convict work gangs. He played an important role in organising the farming at Farm Cove and Rose Hill. Parramatta was the site of the first land grant in Australia, made in 1789 by Governor Phillip to the former convict, James Ruse.
The new settlement was created at the point where the Parramatta River became fresh water, providing water for farming and for settlers. The land was hoed by hand and trees cleared in order to grow wheat, corn and barley. These crops initially provided seed for further plantings of grain. The name of the settlement was changed to Parramatta on the King’s birthday in 1791. Farming in the area was successful and the produce helped to support the colonists in its early years.
In 1793, John Macarthur built Elizabeth Farm at Rose Hill. Macarthur was a controversial figure but played a central role in the development of Australia’s wool industry. A turnpike road to Parramatta was completed under Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810 and, in the same year, a foundation stone was laid for a church.
The area along the Parramatta River had been occupied by the Burramattagal people, a clan of the Darug, for millennia. Artifacts found in Parramatta have been dated to 35,000 to 39,000 years ago. The development of colonial farms in the area led to the displacement of local Aboriginal people, with tragic consequences. Aboriginal resistance movements, including one led by the warrior Pemulwuy, attacked the settlers resulting in bloodshed on both sides. In May 1801, Governor King issued an order that Aborigines near Parramatta, Georges River and Prospect could be shot on sight.