One evening in June 1825, members of the newly formed Agricultural Society crowded into the upstairs room of Walkers inn, Parramatta, to set down guidelines for promoting the Colony’s fledgling farming industry. Edward Wollstonecraft moved that papers from members be assembled in Sydney, Hannibal McArthur moved that all essays and letters relating to agricultural improvements were gathered together for publication by the society, and William Cox moved that:

… that the Society do support and encourage fairs at Parramatta on the first Thursday in May, and the first Thursday in October, in each year and that His Excellency the Patron be applied to to sanction the same. That the shows of cattle, etc. be divided; vis.the rewards for the entire horses and sheep also for servants and stock-keepers, be adjudged at the October Fair; and the rewards for shepherds and grooms and horned cuttle, at the May Fair. [1]

A year earlier, on 7 October, 1824, a fair had been held in Parramatta to promote the sale and exchange of livestock and to exhibit the best livestock the Colony had to offer. Unfortunately the showing on the day was apparently ‘very poor’ even though the Governor and a great many of the principal agriculturalists in the colony attended. This combination may have been one of the inspiration for trying to formalise the process the next year at the Walker Inn.

The site for this activity was the open space to the east of St John’s Cathedral which had been set aside by Governor Phillip and had also been the site of Parramatta’s first fair/market organised by Governor Macquarie and held on 13 January 1813.[2 ] This area was surrounded by leases which had been issued as early as 1809 but at the core was an area of public land which would be used for many years to come.[3] On Thursday, 6 October, 1825, Parramatta held the first of the newly scheduled fairs. Unfortunately it appears it was not quite the event the Agricultural Society had hoped for. One contemporary account describes:

… few ginger bread nut stalls, orange baskets, and sundry lasses with their sweethearts, buying ‘bonny blue ribbons’ and other fairings. Neither cattle nor sheep, nor horses were there.

By way of explanation the correspondent suggests:

…the most weighty reason given is the want of rustworthiness in the herdsmen and servants in whose care stock must be; and who, generally speaking, are so apt to get intoxicated after the fair and on their return home, whether in charge of purchased or unsold cattle. [4]

On Thursday, 5 October one year later another fair was held in Parramatta. Again the farmers seemed reluctant to bring produce to the site as:
there were neither buyers nor sellers, nor barterers, for there was absolutely nothing to buy, nothing to be sold, nothing to barter with – if we except the supply which is usual on such occasions, of gin and gingerbread, and ginger beer. [5]

Things continued to go badly for the fairs and the October fair in 1827 proved to be as lack lustre as its predecessor. Indeed The Monitor’s correspondent said … there was little worth attention done at the fair.[6]

However there may have been another reason for the poor take-up. These early markets although condoned by the governor were not managed as a proper English town-markets. For this to occur there had to legislation enacted to ensure they were run properly, livestock securely fenced in, fees set, revenue the generated taxed according to the law.

On 31 March, 1832, an Act was passed by the Governor and the Legislative Council of the Colony to institute an ‘Act for regulating the Rates and Tolls or Dues, to be Levied at the Markets of Sydney and Parramatta’. One of the central tenets of this act was to make sure certain tolls, ..and no higher…, be demanded, paid and taken at markets. It also stated that the Governor had a free hand to appoint certain places in the towns and Sydney and Parramatta, … where market-houses might be erected or markets held. Of course the other side of the coin was that this meant others were no longer able to set up unofficial markets without facing a hefty fine. The Act which was finally issued by Governor Bourke on the 28 October, 1834, also empowered the city and district councils to make changes some parts of the act.[7]

The contrast between the Parramatta Market/Pound and the Sydney Market/Pound was starkly laid out in the Australian in 1833. When the market dues for the ensuing six months and the public pound for two months were auctioned off by Mr. Pritchett, Bernard McLaughlin paid 420 pounds sterling for the Sydney dues while Mr. Bardsley paid only 2 pound 10 shillings for the Parramatta dues. [8]

But there were other problems. By 1839 the market had become a meeting place for rogues and vagabonds, who insulted the passengers who passed through. This eventually forced the Clerk of the Market to close a section of the markets permanently while not in use.[9] In early January 1841 the Governor approved the establishment of system to formally manage the market in Parramatta and directed that the number of commissioners to be elected was fixed at five.[10]

Just over a month later the Governor announced the appointment of John Betts as one of the scrutineers at the election of the Commissioners.[11] On the 1 June, 1844, amendments made by Sydney Council came into force and set out very clearly the rules and regulations for the Sydney Markets. This included that markets would be open every day of the year (except Sundays, Christmas day and Good Friday), the time they started (5.00 am), when the gates were to shut, and where goods were to be sold.[12]

No doubt feeling this was a sensible approach and with the ending of the 21 year lease taken out by William Batman in 1823, the District Council met later in June 1844, to discuss the issue in their new chambers at the Lumber Yards next door to the market and pound. Among their concerns were the impact of the end of transportation, the costs of the growing infrastructure of the township, and perhaps more importantly how to generate more revenue from all this activity. Mr Nichols, presented a motion that an address be made to the Governor to take measures to invest in the District Council:

in trust for the uses of the inhabitants of this district, the public market places and pound in the town of Parramatta, and the revenue arising there from, together with the management and control of the markets.[13]

Just a few months later, on the 3 August, Governor Gipps replied in the negative, explaining that it seemed to him that a market was a matter for the inhabitants of the town only and not the inhabitants of the district, which the Council represented.

This would mean the Markets remained under the direction of the appointed Commissioners, and Parramatta had to wait until 1862 before the newly formed Town Council took over management and 1866, for the Crown land with multiple leases to be transferred to the Council with the passing of the Parramatta Market Act.[14]

click here to see our our post on the markets 1880-1930


by-saGeoff Barker, research and Collection Services Coordintator, Paraamatta City Council heritage centre, 2015
[1] Special General Meeting of the Agricultural Society, at Walkers Inn, 14 June 1825, The Australian, 30 June 1825,
[2] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 13 March, 1813,
[3] Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 1 November, 1914,
[4]  Parramatta Fair, The Australian, 13 October 1825,
[5] Parramatta Fair, 7 October, 1826,
[6] Parramatta Races, Fair and Agricultural Meeting, The Monitor, 8 October, 1827,
[7] The Australian, 11 June, 1844,
[8] The Australian, 28 June, 1833,
[9] Local News, The Australian, 8 October 1839
[10] Markets, 9 January, 1841, Australasian Chronicle.
[11] Markets, 25 February, 1841, Australasian Chronicle,
[12] The Australian, 11 June, 1844,
[13] The Australian, 22 June, 1844,
[14] The Australian, 3 August, 1844,