The site of Parramatta was first visited by Europeans when Governor Arthur Phillip, who had set up a British settlement at Port Jackson (in the spot in Sydney Harbour that is now known as Circular Quay) in January 1788, set a party to reconnoitre the land at the head of the Parramatta River in April 1788. Impressed by the good soil and water supply in that area, Phillip established a government farm at Rose Hill near Parramatta in November of that year.
James Ruse (1760-1837), an ex-convict, set up the first private farm in the colony at Parramatta in 1789. He named it Experiment Farm as he was experimenting to see if this area was suitable for successful farming.
In 1793 John Macarthur set up Elizabeth Farm. Merino breeding experiments were undertaken on this farm by Macarthur's wife, Elizabeth. The merinos from this farm were to become the foundation of Australia's wool industry, one of the pillars of the nation's wealth in the 19th and 20th centuries. Elizabeth Farm House, built in 1793, still exists and can be visited by the public.
In addition, the Macarthur family built Hamledon Cottage for the children's governess. This cottage also still stands and can be visited by the general public.
In these early years land grants were made to the medical practitioner, D'Arcy Wentworth, the surveyor, James Meehan, and the clergyman, Rev. Samuel Marsden. Their land grants were later subdivided but Wentworth, Meehan and Marsden are commemorated in local street names.
In 1811, the Governor of the colony of New South Wales, Governor Macquarie laid out new streets and he was responsible for constructing many public buildings in the Parramatta area: an enlarged Government House (this still stands and is the oldest public building on the Australian mainland), the Lancer Barracks (again still standing and which is now the oldest military barracks on the Australian mainland), a convict barracks and the Female Orphanage.
An Anglican church, St. John's Church (now St. John's Cathedral), was built as a temporary wooden structure in 1976 and then rebuilt in 1808 with new twin towers (still standing). The first minister of this church was the Reverend Samuel Marsden.
The Kings School, one of Australia's great private schools, opened in Parramatta in 1832. After several moves of location, this school is currently located in North Parramatta.
Parramatta Park, once part of the lands around Government House, is a pleasant refuge set beside the Parramatta River. It is 200 acres in size.
In the early days Parramatta was a convict-based economy and was the "seat of many of the public establishments connected with the working of the convict system". In mid-to-late 19th century the economy was centered around tweed manufacturing and then around fruit growing. (See article "Parramatta" at 1902Encyclopedia.com). These days Parramatta is a administrative center for service industries and many government offices are located there.