Captain Watkin Tench discovered the Nepean River at Penrith in June 1789. Further explorations took place from later in that year until 1891, when it was determined that the Nepean and the Hawkesbury rivers were actually one waterway.
|High St looking east, 1907 (courtesy Nepean District Historical Society)|
Surveys of land on the eastern side of the river were made from 1803 and in 1810 Castlereagh became the first officially planned town in the Penrith area.
It was at the site of current day Emu Plains where Gregory Blaxland, William Charles Wentworth and William Lawson crossed the Nepean River on their groundbreaking trip across the Blue Mountains in 1813. All previous attempts to cross the mountains had been unsuccessful. A crossing over the Nepean River was constructed between 17 and 25 July 1814 by a gang of convicts under the supervision of William Cox. The road was completed in only six months.
|High St, Penrith, looking west, 1985 (courtesy Nepean District Historical Society)|
In 1819 the Emu Plains Government Agricultural Establishment was set up at Emu Plains to house the colony's excess convicts and new arrivals. It operated until 1832, the year that the Village of Emu was laid out.
Penrith itself began to develop along the Great Western Road linking Sydney to the Blue Mountains and beyond in 1817, when a weatherboard courthouse and lock-up were constructed at the site. Development of the town was slow but by 1839 it was noted that a somewhat straggling village had been formed at the site. By this time, the foundation stone of St Stephen’s Anglican Church (still standing) had also been laid.
|Penrith Council Chambers, 1930 (courtesy Nepean District Historical Society)|
By 1861, Penrith, Emu Plains and St Marys had a combined population of 1,161. The railway reached Penrith in 1863, en route to the Blue Mountains and as the difficult task of constructing the line across the mountain range took place, Penrith became a centre for railway workers and tradesmen.
Remaining a country town well into the 20th century, Penrith has experienced major growth since WWII and in 1959 was declared a city, incorporating the former towns of Penrith, St Marys, Castlereagh, Emu Plains, and part of the Shire of Nepean.
Penrith is located around 54 kilometres west of Sydney by road. In the 2001 Census the city had a recorded population of 172,397 people.