Hyde Park Barracks - History and Facts | History Hit

Hyde Park Barracks

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Hyde Park Barracks was Australia’s first official home for convicts and is now a museum.

Peta Stamper

28 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Hyde Park Barracks

Standing at the end of Sydney’s Macquarie Street, the Hyde Park Barracks in Australia were built in the first half of the 19th century as a place to house male convicts. Before this, convicts were responsible for finding their own lodgings.

Perhaps Australia’s most important surviving colonial landmark, Hyde Park Barracks has since become a member of UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Today, the open-air museum symbolises the impact of the barracks on the aboriginal peoples who originally inhabited the land, and those who were forcibly moved there.

Hyde Park Barracks history

A British colony, New South Wales had long been a place where Britain had transported convicts, a practice which escalated in the early 19th century. By 1820, convicts made up almost 80 per cent of the country’s population. Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney was therefore commissioned by Governor Lackland Macquarie and built with convict labour.

In addition to providing them with shelter, Hyde Park Barracks were a form of control – an unofficial prison of sorts – where convicts could be carefully monitored in hope of improving their ‘moral character’. The barracks was the first of its kind and designed to hold up to 600 convicts. In fact the architect of Hyde Park Barracks, Francis Greenway, was himself a transported convict who was later granted a pardon.

In the 1830’s Hyde Park Barracks took on a more openly punitive role as a court. Over 8,000 convicts had passed through Hyde Park Barracks by the time it was closed in 1848.

Hyde Park Barracks today

Today, Hyde Park Barracks is open to the public as a museum about Australia’s history of convict transportation, acknowledging the role of the barracks within the British Empire’s forced migration of people across the world. Visitors take an iPod audio-tour around the site, following the footsteps of real people touched by the barracks, including male convicts, women in need, immigrants and Aboriginal nations.

The barracks also house other historical and cultural exhibits, including ‘After Dark’: a series of live music, performance and ideas late night each month.

Getting to Hyde Park Barracks

Located at the top end of Hyde Park near to St Mary’s Cathedral, Hyde Park Barracks are easily found on foot. For those using public transport, the light rail L2 and L3 stop at Wynyard, which is a 10 minute walk from the barracks.

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