In April 2024, NSW Treasury commemorates its bicentenary: 200 years since the appointment of the first Colonial Treasurer, William Balcombe.

It’s especially clear in the paintings, sketches and early photos of colonial New South Wales that much has changed between 1824 and 2024: from relatively minor things, like the clothes we wore and the way we travelled, to more substantial elements of who we are as a nation and how we treat First Nations people and minority groups.

And although Treasury’s granular responsibilities have shifted and evolved through the years, our overarching mission has remained constant: to manage the State’s principal financial assets and liabilities, identifies opportunities for economic reform and to support the Government of the day in delivering benefits for the people of New South Wales.

Treasury, then and now

Treasury group at Chowder Bay

John Thomas Bigge

Bigge was neither Treasurer nor Governor; he was dispatched from Britain to conduct an inquiry into the fledgling colony’s operations and (fifth) Governor Macquarie’s administration. He disagreed with many of Macquarie’s policies – largely his attempts to rehabilitate convicts into society – but also recommended that a Colonial Treasurer be appointed. Though a relatively minor figure in colonial history, upon his words was NSW Treasury born.

William Balcombe

The first Colonial Treasurer arrived in the colony on 5 April 1824 aboard the Hibernia, and took residence at a smart manor at 1 O’Connell Street. Balcombe lived upstairs, while the downstairs formed the first offices of Treasury.

The Treasury Building

Treasury’s operations quickly outgrew Balcombe’s home, and in 1849, Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis was commissioned to construct a headquarters for Treasury.

The Macquarie Street building still stands today, though is now part of the InterContinental hotel group.

Geoffrey Eagar

Eagar was the son of a convict and the chief accountant for the Bank of New South Wales. In 1863, he was appointed Colonial Treasurer, and swept in a series of major reforms to both the operations of Treasury and to the financial administration of the colony more broadly.

After his barnstorming tenure as Treasurer (and an MP in both houses of Parliament), he would be appointed to be head of the Treasury, where he would remain for almost 20 years and 16 Treasurer. In this sense, he became an exemplar of the role Treasury plays to this day: to give sound and unbiased fiscal and economic advice to the Government of the day for the benefit of the people of New South Wales.

Last updated: 23/04/2024