Playing their Part: Vice Regal Consorts of New South Wales 1788-2019­ examines the lives of the women (and one man) who were the wives, daughters, sisters (and husband) of the governors of New South Wales over the past two-hundred and thirty years. In 2020 the RAHS published the stories of the thirty-eight consorts. Their lives were researched and written by twenty-two dedicated volunteer authors whose commitment, and that of the three volunteer editors (Joy Hughes, Carol Liston AO and Christine Wright), has resulted in a publication that adds to the understanding of the consorts’ service and survival. Thank you to all our contributors who willingly gave their time to research and write the biographical entries. View the contents page and read the President’s message.

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Hughes, Liston & Wright (eds.) Playing Their Part: Vice-Regal Consort of New South Wales 1788-2019

The consort is the companion to the governor, a position usually filled by the governor's wife (or more recently the governor's husband), daughter or sister. This is not an official role and it comes with no job description, nor salary. Young or old, with or without children, noble or commoner, all consorts found themselves supporting spouse and family, sovereign, empire or nation.


E-Book version is now available!

'The Governor's Wife' rose, commissioned by Linda Hurley, bred by Richard & Ruth Walsh and planted in 2017.

“In October 2014, on my arrival at Government House, I found that there was not a training course or manual for the role of governor’s wife, or consort: neither was there any training protocol. It was a steep learning curve as I tried to understand the role.”

So began Her Excellency Mrs Linda Hurley’s historical enquiry into the lives and careers of the women who came before her. However, her search turned up very little. Except for the first vice-regal wives to accompany their husbands to the Antipodes, little was known of the women (and one man) who held the role of vice-regal consort in New South Wales.

She resolved “to uncover their stories, and if possible, publish a ‘her-story’ rather than a ‘his-story’ of the women (and one man) who worked behind the scenes of the governors”.

AmplifyVice-Regal Oral History Project

A companion oral history project supported the research into the lives of surviving vice-regal consorts, their families, and their staff. These interviews were commissioned by the State Library of NSW and can be transcribed online on their digital transcriptions platform, Amplify.

Professional historian Roslyn Burge conducted these interviews, which provided important information about what living at Government House was like, how each consort managed their public role, and what they contributed to public life in NSW.

The Women of the First Government House 1788-1846 - Ruth Frappell

The foundation stone of the first Government House was laid on 15 May 1788; the house was demolished in 1846. During that half century, with various enlargements and extensions, it became home to successive governors and their wives. It did duty in a number of roles: as an official residence, as the governor's office, and as a private, family home.


This article first appeared in History Magazine, no. 66 (2000): 15-17.

The Women in Arthur Phillip's Life - Michael Flynn

Arthur Phillip, first governor of New South Wales 1788-1792, married twice. As an aspiring naval lieutenant of 24 he married Charlotte Denison née Tibbott, a wealthy widow of 42. Thirty-one years later, at 55, he married Isabella Whitehead, a wealthy single woman of 43.  Neither of these women ever came to NSW, but their stories are intertwined with that of the colony’s first Governor and shed light on his enigmatic character. Phillip, the ambitious son of a German immigrant and an ordinary Londoner, chose to marry two ‘women of fortune’ who remained childless.  Their wealth, manorial estates, social position and connections helped make his career a success.


This article first appeared in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 105, no. 1 (2019): 9-25.

The Lamentable Death of Lady Mary FitzRoy - Jim Badger

In Australian historical surveys the life and work of Sir Charles FitzRoy, the tenth governor of NSW, occupies the best part of a column. If there is an entry for his wife, it merely notes ‘FitzRoy, Lady Mary, death of’. Yet the ‘lamentable’ death of Lady Mary is constantly brought to the historian’s attention because it is mentioned so often by contemporary diarists and journalists. This article contends that what made Lady Mary’s death significant and continues to intrigue today is the light it sheds on the changing constructs of masculinity and femininity in the middle of the nineteenth century.


This article first appeared in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 87, no. 2 (2001): 230-247.

Enid and Elaine de Chair: Government House and Modernism in Sydney - Anne Sanders

Lady Enid de Chair was the popular and active vice-regal wife of the twenty-fifth governor of NSW, Admiral Sir Dudley Rawson Stratford de Chair. Enid’s support of early Australian modernist artists in Sydney and her indefatigable support of women’s clubs and organisations, make her a very interesting subject in her own right. She amassed a significant Australian art collection, some of which has returned to Australia in auction sales. An energetic, enthusiastic and adventurous woman – born in South Africa, educated in England, started her married life in America – she travelled widely with a young family. During their vice-regal tenure, both de Chair women – mother Enid and daughter Elaine – were acknowledged as having played important roles as active, modern, forthright women.

This article first appeared in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 105, no. 2 (2019): 207-224.


Governors' Consorts

  • Alison Alexander, Obliged to Submit: Wives and Mistresses of Colonial Governors, Hobart: Montpelier Press, 1999.
  • Marnie Bassett, The Governor's Lady, Mrs. Philip Gidley King: An Australian Historical Narrative, London: Oxford University Press, 1940
  • Sarah A. Bendall, "Lady Mary FitzRoy: The People's Lady", St. John's Cemetery Project, (2020),
  • Patricia Clarke & Dale Spencer, Life Lines: Australian Women's Letters and Diaries 1788-1840, North Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1992
  • Bethia Foott, Ethel and the Governors' General: A Biography of Ethel Anderson (1883-1958) and Brigadier-General A.T. Anderson (1868-1949), Paddington, NSW: Rainforest Publishing, 1992
  • Catie Gilchrist, "Elizabeth Bourke: A Much-Lamented Lady", St. John's Cemetery Project, (2019),
  • Marguerite Hancock, Colonial Consorts: The Wives of Victoria's Governors 1839-1900, Carlton, VIC: Melbourne University Press, 2001
  • Rosemary Harmar, Growing up at Government House, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1975
  • Helen Heney, Australia's Founding Mothers, Melbourne: Thomas Nelson Australia, 1978
  • Helen Heney, Dear Fanny: Women's Letters to and from NSW 1788-1857, Canberra: ANU Press, 1985
  • George Mackaness, The Life of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, R.N. F.R.S. Vol. II, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1931
  • Violet Powell, Margaret, Countess of Jersey: A Biography, London: Heinemann, 1978
  • Anita Selzer, Governors' Wives in Colonial Australia, Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2002
  • Brian Walsh, William and Elizabeth Paterson: The Edge of Empire, Paterson, NSW: Brian Walsh, 2018
  • Robin Walsh, In Her Own Words: The Writings of Elizabeth Macquarie, Wollombi, NSW: Exisle Publishing, 2011


  • David Clune & Ken Turner (eds.), The Governors of New South Wales 1788-2010, Annandale, NSW: The Federation Press, 2009

Vice-Regal Residences

  • R.F.F. Gillespie, 'Vice-Regal Quarters: An Account of the Various Residences of Governors of NSW from 1788 until today', JRAHS, Vol. 60, pt. 4, 1974
  • Rollo Gillespie, Viceregal Quarters: An Account of the Various Residences of the Governors of NSW from 1788 until the Present Day, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1975
  • Jane Kelso, 'The First Government House'Sydney Journal 5, no. 1 (2016): 56-68
  • Helen Proudfoot, Old Government House: The Building and its Landscapes, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1971
  • Helen Proudfoot, Anne Bickford, Brian Egloff & Robyn Stocks, Australia's First Government House, North Sydney: Allen & Unwin in conjunction with NSW Department of Planning, 1991
  • Richard C. Ralph, Hillview: Country Home of the Governors of NSW, Moss Vale: Berrima Historical Society, 1986
  • Reginald Robertson, Government House New South Wales, Sydney: Government House Educational Trust, 1995
  • Ann Toy & Robert Griffin, Government House, Sydney, Sydney: Historic Houses Trust NSW, 2011
  • Frank Walker, 'The Vice-Regal Residences of New South Wales: "From Canvas Hut to Mansion"', JRAHS, Vol 4, pt. 9, 1919

Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • The Australian Dictionary of Biography is Australia's pre-eminent dictionary of national biography. In it you will find concise, informative and fascinating descriptions of the lives of significant and representative persons in Australian history.

‘A portable canvas house, brought over for the governor, was erected on the East side of the cove …’ – David Collins, Feb. 1788

The vice-regal consorts have lived in five state significant heritage sites, including First Government House Site, Sydney (now an archaeological site at the Museum of Sydney), Old Government House Parramatta (National Trust property) and the present Government House, Sydney. Government House has served a dual function: it was the seat of executive government in NSW and the private residence of the vice-regal family. The First Government House in Sydney, built in 1789, was the official residence of the early colonial governors. A second inland retreat was established at Parramatta in 1790. When these sites fell into disrepair or could no longer accommodate the vice-regal families, work began on the present Government House in 1837. For some years after Federation, Cranbrook at Double Bay became the NSW Government House when the Governor-General of Australia resided in Government House, Sydney. The consorts and their families for many years also had the pleasure of an official holiday estate at Hillview, in the Southern Highlands.

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