Hyde Park Barracks

Location: Macquarie Street, Sydney Central Business District
Centrally located opposite Macquarie s town square and the green fields of Hyde Park, this Georgian style building was designed by Colonial Architect Francis Greenway at the request of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Considered to be Greenway s masterpiece, it was constructed in 1817-18 as a home for the 600 convicts who built it. As the principal male convict barracks in New South Wales it provided lodgings for convicts working in government employment around Sydney until its closure in mid-1848. During the day inmates would work at various places in Sydney and return at night. In 1848 the inmates of the Barracks were relocated to Cockatoo Island. It has had many occupants since then. From 1848-1886, Hyde Park Barracks became the Immigration Depot and offices for immigration Department, catering for single female immigrants seeking work as domestic servants and awaiting family reunion. From 1887 to 1979 law courts and government offices were based at the Barracks.

The complex was restored in 1980 and converted into a heritage museum which tells the story of the building and the convicts to whom it was home.

The building is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of 11 pre-eminent Australian Convict Sites as amongst "the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts". Entry fee applies.

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History of The Building

As convicts had to find their own accommodation, there was little chance of controlling them during the hours they were not at work. Macquarie, the Governor of New South Wales from 1810-21, proposed the building of a barrack 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 construction of the first convict barrack in the colony marked a major change in the living and working conditions of male convicts in New South Wales, and the development of more systemised control over convicts. The barracks were intended to improve the degree of surveillance and control over government assigned male convicts working on Macquarie's ambitious public building program. Hyde Park Barracks restricted freedoms and in doing so served as a deterrent. Convicts would be subject to closer discipline, longer working hours and less freedom of association. It was designed to provide basic housing for a labour force of 600 male convicts (a third of the male convict population at that time).

The barracks introduced some formality between convict and overseer and, it was hoped, would raise their productivity. 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. There was also some emphasis on self-sufficiency for the occupants within the overall framework of regulations and routines. This self-sufficiency was demonstrated by the presence on site of bakeries, kitchens, pantries, store rooms and garden plots all maintained by the resident convict.

Constructed by convict labour by order of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the Barracks is one of the most familiar works of the accomplished colonial England-born, Australian architect Francis Greenway.

Queen's Square

Hyde Park Barracks was the cornerstone building of Governor Lachlan Macquarie's Kings (now Queens) Square, at the northern end of Hyde Park. Macquarie's plan was to create a civic square for Sydney between what he intended would be Sydney's most significant public puildings - Hyde Park Barracks and a new Courthouse. The design of the two buildings was given to Sydney's leading colonial architect, Francis Greenway. As soon as the Barracks were completed in 1818, Greenway began work on the Courthouse. Midway through construction, Gov. Macquarie returned Britain and Commissioner Bigge, who had been appointed to conduct a Royal Commission into the colonial government, persuaded the powers that be that it should be converted into a church. Consecrated onb 11th February, 1824 by the infamous 'flogging parson', Samuel Marsden, it is one of Australia s oldest churches. Over the years numerous alterations have been made, the latest being the addition of a Children s Chapel in 1930. For all its additions and modifications St. James Church is still a splendid example of its architectural style.

A third building - the Supreme Court Building - was later erected behind it to take on the role originally intended for St James Church. Though the Supreme Court Building was a late addition to Macquarie's civic square, he made it an integral part of his civic square. Even though the Supreme Court Building, like St James Church, has undergone so many changes since its completion, and many design features which once aligned it with St James Church and Hyde Park Barracks have gone, the three buildings remain closely linked visually. They are on the same axis, each has brick walls divided into bays by long rectangular brick columns (palisters). All use warm salmon-coloured sandstock bricks which were fired in the same kiln, and are the perfect complement to each other.
Francis Greenway

Francis Greenway (1777-1837), the man on Australia's first ten dollar note, is regarded by many as Australia's first architect, and Hyde Park Barracks as one of his best works. He was granted an absolute pardon at its opening in recognition of his contribution to the colony. Greenway was born in Gloucestershire, England, becoming an architect "of some eminence" in Bristol and Bath. In 1809 he became bankrupt and in 1812 he pleaded guilty "under the advice of his friends", to forging a financial document and was sentenced to death; this sentence was later commuted to 14 years transportation. Why he pleaded guilty is unknown; he may have been told it was the only way to save his life.

Greenway arrived in Sydney, New South Wales on the transport General Hewitt in February 1814 to serve his sentence. On board the ship was the surgeon Dr. John Harris who was to give Greenway his first private commission in the colony which involved extending his residence on his Ultimo estate. Greenway first met Lachlan Macquarie in July 1814 to whom he had come recommended by Admiral Arthur Phillip. During the initial meeting Macquarie sought to test Greenway by asking him to copy a design of a town hall and courthouse from a pattern book. Greenway was so offended by this that he responded with a letter declaring his skills and quoting Sir William Chambers that his Excellency should utilise the opportunity for a classical design.

What impact the incident had on his relationship with Macquarie is not known, but it did not take long for the Governor to see that Greenway could and should play a vital role in his plan to turn Sydney Town from a struggling convict settlement to a prosperous colonial town. Between 1816 and 1818, while still a convict, Greenway was responsible for the design and construction of the Macquarie Lighthouse on the South Head at the entrance to Port Jackson. He was emancipated by the governor Lachlan Macquarie, and in the role of Acting Civil Architect and Assistant Engineer responsible to Captain J. M. Gill, Inspector of Public Works, went on to build many significant buildings in the new colony.

Greenway's works include Hyde Park Barracks, Government House Stables (Sydney Conservatorium of Music), and various churches throughout the colony, including St James' Church, Sydney. Greenway fell into disrepute when Macquarie accused him of charging high fees whilst on a government retainer, and he was dismissed by the next governor, Thomas Brisbane, in 1822. He continued to follow his profession with little success and by 1835 had become destitute. Greenway died of typhoid near Newcastle, New South Wales in 1837, aged 59. He was buried in the Glebe Cemetery at East Maitland on 25 September 1837, but his grave is unmarked. Greenway's contribution to the development of colonial Sydney in 1966 when his face was shown on the first Australian decimal-currency $10 note (1966 93), making him probably the only convicted forger in the world to be honoured on a banknote.

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