Macquarie Street is named after Lachlan Macquarie, an early Governor of New South Wales (in office 1810–1821). In the years since its founding in 1788, Sydney had developed organically, and by the early 1800s was lacking in major public buildings, and had a complex network of narrow streets. The supply of drinking water and waste management was also becoming an issue. Governor Macquarie initiated the construction of Sydney’s first public buildings of any real permanence and set the boundaries of Sydney’s grid of streets. With Circular Quay as the focus of this new civic scheme, Macquarie Street marked its eastern boundary and was designed as a ceremonial thoroughfare. The public buildings distributed either side of the street would both delineate and connect the civil and commercial town centre to its west with the green spaces (now the Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens) to the east.
Among the public buildings commissioned by Macquarie, Hyde Park Barracks and St James’ Church are two examples largely preserved from that era. The two buildings face each other across Queen’s Square, at the southern end of Macquarie Street.