Hyde Park Barracks


Hyde Park Barracks is Australia’s first government-built convict barracks and the only remaining barracks building and complex from the Macquarie era of convict administration.
Between 1814 and 1820, 11 765 convicts arrived in the colony. By 1820, convicts and ex-convicts represented 94.4 per cent of the male workforce. This presented Governor Lachlan Macquarie with problems regarding control and social stability. As convicts had to find their own accommodation, there was little chance of controlling them during the hours they were not at work. Macquarie proposed the building of barracks to house male convicts as a way of exerting government control and providing the foundation of their reformation. The increased control was meant to develop habits of industry, while the increased restrictions meant there was less opportunity to commit further crime. The Barracks was designed to provide basic housing for a labour force of 600 male convicts. The central barracks building was used as a dormitory where men slept in canvas hammocks strung from wooden rails in all 12 rooms. Convicts at the Barracks were on increased rations of food but lost some of the opportunities for private earnings, and were required to work longer hours for the government than previously. The building was designed by convict Francis Greenway, who is regarded by many as Australia’s first architect. Hyde Park Barracks is seen as one of his best works, and he was granted an absolute pardon at its opening in recognition of his contribution to the colony. After 1830, Hyde Park Barracks became a place of secondary punishment and a depot for reassignment and trial. The Office of the Principal Superintendent of Convicts was established on the site, overseeing the changes in convict treatment and work recommended by the Bigge Commission. Also at this time, a Court of General Sessions was established at the Barracks to administer punishments for Barracks men and other government employed convicts. Penalties included days in solitary confinement, working in gangs in irons, walking on the treadmill or up to 150 lashes. The court could also extend convicts’ sentences by up to three years with hard labour and transfer men to other penal settlements in the colony or Norfolk island and Port Arthur.
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The Barracks was finally closed as convict accommodation in 1848, by which time 8000 convicts had passed through. When 200 orphan girls arrived on 6 October 1848 on the Earl Grey, the building started to be used as a reception and labour exchange for ‘unprotected female’ assisted immigrants. The Barracks was especially adapted to accommodate them in the lime-washed brick dormitories. From 1887 to 1975, the Barracks was used to accommodate various NSW government departments and is now a museum. National Heritage List: 1 August 2007

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