Home for thousands of European male convicts between 1819 and 1848, a place for “the friendless female” between 1848 and 1886, these days it’s an impressive museum and a significant heritage site inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The building was designed by English-born convicted architect Francis Greenway, a forger and Australia’s first government architect. It was built in 1819 with the purpose “to house, clothe and feed convict men and boys”. For the next thirty years the Barracks provided accommodation for thousands of convicts.

After convict transportation to New South Wales ended in the 1840s, the colony began to be considered as a desirable destination. Hundreds of working-class women ‘of good character’ were lured to the colony by the images of its prosperity and opportunities for marriage. After the last male convicts were moved to the Cockatoo Island, the convicts’ hammocks were replaced with iron beds and the Barracks was converted to become the Female Immigration Depot. Between 1848 and 1886, the Barracks received thousands of single and married government-assisted working-class Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh female immigrants to the colony.

In later year, the Barracks accommodated a number of occupants, including the Government Printing Office, Stamp Office, Vaccine Institute, Registrar of Copyright and numerous Courts.

The brick building designed by Francis Greenway and constructed by convict labour.

Inmates ate just two meals a day. Breakfast was hominy, a porridge of maize meal and sugar, in a metal bowl with spoon. This was considered enough for convicts to work on until dinner at 2 pm.

Dinner, served at 2pm, was a watery soup served with bread. Convicts would stash away the bones from soups and make them into useful items such as gaming pieces or nit combs, or sharpen them to use for tattooing.

There was no evening meal, but those with their own supplies could enjoy a pipe.

Convict discipline was harsh and often arbitrary. For those convicts who committed further offences in the colony there was a variety of brutal punishments awaiting them. The cat-o’-nine tails is made up of nine strands of cotton cord, each strand is knotted and these knots cut into the flesh with each stroke.hydeparkbarracks013

Leg-irons were made by blacksmiths at Sydney’s lumbery after those sent from England proved to be inferior and easily slipped off. Irons were affixed to and struck off convicts’ ankles by the blacksmiths. Leg irons worn by gangs came in three sizes, weighing between three and four kilograms. The heaviest irons were jail irons, weighing 7.5 kilograms.hydeparkbarracks019

In October 1848, Irish orphan girls from Irish workhouses, victims of the Great Irish Famine, arrived aboard the Earl Grey to be accommodated at the The Barracks. An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger) monument by Hossein and Angela Valamanesh symbolises the experience of young Irish women, their forced migration, survival and achievement in a new land.