Exploring Sydney: Hyde Park Barracks

Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, Australia

My initial travels in Australia gave me a false impression that the country’s architectural history begins with the Gothic Revival.

In fact, over sixty years passed between the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 and the gold rushes that transformed the Australian economy from 1851 onwards.

I came to realise that the early architecture of Australia is Georgian – particularly the churches and public buildings of Tasmania and the surviving Georgian buildings in and around New South Wales.

Francis Howard Greenway (1777-1837) was a young Bristol architect who became bankrupt and was sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation for forgery.  He arrived in Sydney in 1814 and quickly made the acquaintance of Governor Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1842;  in office 1810-1821), who was instrumental in developing New South Wales from a convict settlement to a nascent colony.

The Governor commissioned Francis Greenaway to design and build the first Macquarie Lighthouse at South Head, Watson’s Bay (1817;  replaced 1883).  When this project was satisfactorily completed Macquarie emancipated Greenaway and made him Acting Civil Architect under the Inspector of Public Works, Captain J M Gill.

Francis Greenaway’s most important surviving work is the Hyde Park Barracks (1818-19) for male convicts at the head of Macquarie Street in central Sydney.

Built by convicts for convicts, the Barracks was more like a hostel than a prison.  In order to make use of their labour, the colonial government had to provide a measure of physical freedom to transported prisoners who worked, in gangs or on attachment to free employers, in the already crowded town.

The central three-storey dormitory block stands in the middle of a courtyard, surrounded by domestic and administration buildings and the deputy superintendent’s residence.

Convict transportation ended in 1840 and eight years later Hyde Park Barracks was converted to a female immigration centre, part of a government initiative to recruit single women from Britain and Ireland to counterbalance the preponderance of men in the colony.

In the decades that followed the former barracks underwent repeated changes of use, and gathered numerous extensions which are now made evident by a detailed series of models of the site.   There is a succinct summary of the site’s history at https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/hyde_park_barracks#ref-uuid=2779d140-faa9-2aa0-ad8d-f4230aca4590.  

In recent times the accretions have been cleared away and the whole site subjected, like the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart, to detailed archaeological investigation, interpreted in a similar minimalist light-touch manner that at the same time informs the visitor and requires imagination to reconstruct what has gone:  https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/hyde_park_barracks_archaeology#ref-uuid=2779d140-faa9-2aa0-ad8d-f4230aca4590.

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  1. Pingback: Exploring Sydney: St James’ Church, King Street | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times

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