Chief Secretary's building

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Chief Secretary's building
(1) Chief Secretarys Building 4.JPG
Macquarie Street façade of the Chief Secretary's building
Chief Secretary's building is located in Sydney
Chief Secretary's building
Location in Greater Metropolitan Sydney
General information
Status Complete
Type Government administration
Architectural style Victorian Free Classical
Address 121 Macquarie Street, Sydney, New South Wales
Country Australia
Coordinates 33°51′49″S 151°12′44″E / 33.8635°S 151.2123°E / -33.8635; 151.2123Coordinates: 33°51′49″S 151°12′44″E / 33.8635°S 151.2123°E / -33.8635; 151.2123
Current tenants
Construction started 1873
Completed 1886 (1886)
Opened 1881 (1881)
Owner Government of New South Wales
Technical details
Floor count 5
Design and construction
Architecture firm Colonial Architect of New South Wales
Developer Government of New South Wales

The Chief Secretary’s building (originally the Colonial Secretary's building) is a heritage-listed[3] state government administrative building of the Victorian Free Classical architectural style located at 121 Macquarie Street, 65 Bridge Street, and at 44-50 Phillip Street in the Sydney central business district of New South Wales, Australia.

The ornate five-storey public building was designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet and built in two stages, the first stages being levels one to four completed between 1873 and 1881, with Walter Liberty Vernon completing the second stage between 1894 and 1896 when the mansard at level 5 and the dome were added.[1]

The sandstone building was the seat of colonial administration, has been used continuously by the Government of New South Wales, and even today holds the office of the Governor of New South Wales. Its main occupant is the Industrial Relations Commission of New South Wales; several of the larger rooms are now courtrooms.


Constructed 1873-1880, the building was designed by colonial architect James Barnet. Its style has been called "Venetian Renaissance" as well as Victorian Free Classical. A fifth floor and dome were added in the 1890s by Barnet’s successor Walter Liberty Vernon in the Victorian Second Empire style,[4] as well as an extension south at 50 Phillip Street. Barnet resented the additions, which lessened the resemblance to his model, the 16th-century Palazzo Farnese in Rome, completed by Michelangelo after Farnese became Pope Paul III.[citation needed] The dome was originally covered in aluminium in 1895-1896, one of the earliest such uses of this metal in the world.

The building features nine life-size statues (six external and three internal) placed according to the administrative function of three parts of the building. The entrances on three streets are labelled in sandstone, directing visitors to the appropriate section.

  • The prestigious 121 Macquarie Street entrance is labelled "Colonial Secretary". He occupied the North-East corner office on the First Floor (at the time the top floor, now called Level 3). Sandstone sculptures in the building's exterior personify Mercy, Justice, and Wisdom (top to bottom). Inside stands a marble statue of Queen Victoria.
  • The 65 Bridge Street (central) ground floor entrance, one level below, is labelled "Public Entrance". Inside stands a female figure representing New South Wales, a merino at her foot. The NSW Badge, adopted in 1876, is sculpted above in the pediment.[1]
  • The 44 Phillip Street entrance is labelled "Secretary for Works" and features a bust of Queen Victoria. The Minister for Public Works had his office in the North-West corner. The external statues personify Art, Science, and Labour. The internal statue on this side is of Edward VII when Prince of Wales.

The internal Carrara marble statues are by Giovanni Giuseppe Fontana. He was born in Italy (1821) but lived and worked in England, dying in London in December 1893. The external sandstone statues are by Achille Simonetti (Rome 1838 - Birchgrove 1900), who in 1874 established a large studio in Balmain.[5]

The interior features Australian Red Cedar and ornate tiles, plaster ceilings and cornices.

Historical significance[edit]

The building's design and furnishings reflect in large part the taste of the first Colonial Secretary, Sir Henry Parkes.

The Executive Council Chamber (originally known as the Cabinet Room) was the venue for several meetings that led to Federation, including the Australasian Federal Convention of 1891.[6][dead link] The room is very well preserved, with period furniture, paintings of a young Queen Victoria and James Cook, and bronzes of several British Prime Ministers including Palmerston. Some of the objects on display were acquired from the Sydney International Exhibition (1879).

Extensive restorations between 1988 and 2005 were performed with a degree of care that set new standards.[7][dead link] It is open to the public; several historical displays interpret the building's history, and the glass lift shafts allow archaeological viewing of the construction.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Chief Secretary's Building". NSW State Heritage Register. Office of Environment & Heritage, Government of New South Wales. 5 September 2008. Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  2. ^ "Place ID 1824". Australian Heritage Database. Department of the Environment. 
  3. ^ Australian Heritage Commission (1981), The Heritage of Australia: the illustrated register of the National Estate, South Melbourne: The Macmillan Company of Australia in association with the Australian Heritage Commission, p. 94, ISBN 978-0-333-33750-9 
  4. ^ Government Architect's Office; Group GSA Pty Ltd (2003). "Chief Secretary's Building". The Royal Australian Institute of Architects. Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  5. ^ Hutchison, Noel S. (1976). "Simonetti, Achille (1838–1900)" (Hardcopy). Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  6. ^ Archived 13 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Archived 30 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine.

External links[edit]

Media related to Chief Secretary’s Building, Sydney at Wikimedia Commons