Hyde Park Barracks | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Hyde Park Barracks

Item details

Name of item: Hyde Park Barracks
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Defence
Category: Barracks & housing
Primary address: Macquarie Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Parish: St James
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT49 DP47116
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Macquarie StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandPrimary Address
Queen's SquareSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandAlternate Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Historic Houses Trust of NSWGeneral03 May 99

Statement of significance:

The primary significance of Hyde Park Barracks is its unique evidence of the convict period of Australian history, particularly in its demonstration of the accomodation and living conditions of male convicts in NSW 1819-1848. They also provide evidence of the conditions experienced by immigrant groups between 1848 and 1887.

The barracks is one of the finest surviving works by Francis Greenway, the essence of his design persisting through various adaptions. They provide major evidence of Governor Macquarie's vision for Sydney and the relationship with the Domain, the Mint, St James' Church and Hyde Park demonstrate patterns of early 19th century planning in NSW. (Historic Houses Trust 1990:5)
Date significance updated: 02 Oct 97
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Francis Greenway
Builder/Maker: Convict Labour
Construction years: 1817-1819
Physical description: The main building is a three storey sandstock brick, gabled former convict barracks of Georgian style. It has sandstone foundations, sills and string courses while the pedimented gable is decorated by a shaped stone panel containing an early colonial clock. (Sheedy 1978) The clock is surmounted by a crown inscribed 'L.Macquarie Esq., Governor 1817'. (State Planning Authority 1965:7) The pendimented temple form of the front is divided horizontally by a string course at first and attic floors, and vertically by simple piers or pilasters finished by Greenway's distinctive 'double string course' beneath the eaves; relieving arches implying an arcade to the basement storey; shallow overhanging domes to the roof ventilator, lodges and corner pavilions; shaped blocking courses of the cornices of the pavilions and circular niches. (Broadbent & Hughes 1997:56-57)

The facade is simple but elegant and divided by brick pilasters and arched recesses to the ground floor. The central door has a semi-circular fanlight above, while the windows, 24 panes to ground and first floors and 16 panes to the second floor have flat lintels. (Sheedy 1978)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Archaeological Potential - High
Physical Condition - Good
Date condition updated:23 Sep 97
Modifications and dates: 1848 - Removal of convict hammocks and supports and works to accomodate 'immigration establishment. Repairs to government printing establishment.
1887 - Major additions and alterations to accomodate courts and offices
1909 - Southern range completely demolished
1917-18 - Dramatic remodelling
1953 - Another remodel
1979-82 - Works to conserve buildings and accomodate museum
(Moore & Walker 1990:8
Current use: Museum
Former use: Convict Barracks, Benevolent Asylum, Immigration depot, Courts and Legal Offices


Historical notes: Hyde Park Barracks was built on the instruction of Governor Macquarie between 1817 and 1819. He saw the desirablilty of some secure night lodging for government assigned male convicts for surveillance and as a means to control their labour for his ambitious building program. The site was chosen next to the convict hospital (1811), the Domain and Hyde Park, near the proposed Catholic chapel (St Marys 1821) and in direct alignment with the proposed St James Church (1819-22).

The barracks were designed and construction overseen by Francis Greenway. Convict day labour built the barracks. Greenway's design created a central three storey dormitory block set in a compound and surrounded by a perimeter wall which incorporated four corner pavilions, two detailed as cells, and with guard houses either side of the wooden gates. A northern and southern range of buildings contained housing for the Deputy Superintendent and his family as well as convicts prior to assignment, a kitchen and mess rooms were also constructed.

The barracks was officially opened on 4 June 1819 and thereafter the central building served as a dormitory for an average of 600 men. At times the number of men was said to double, necessitating supplementary forms of bedding to the standard hammocks. Self sufficiency as an objective for inmates is suggested by a bakery, kitchen, pantries and storerooms maintained by the residents who also had a garden plot to the rear of the compound and later, huge gardens in what became Hyde Park.

In July 1830 a bench of magistrates began sitting at the barracks and an office for the Principal Superintendent of Convicts was also incorporated. This marked a transition of the place from dormitory to place of secondary punishment and depot for re-assignment and trial.

In 1848 the last remaining inmates of Hyde Park Barracks were relocated to Cockatoo Island and the barracks became the Female Immigration Depot with offices for the Immigration Agents Department. By 1856 the main building housed the Agent's offices and hiring rooms as well as dormitories for single female immigrants, wives and children of convicts pursuing family reunion and Irish orphans. From 1862 the upper floor was used as the Government Asylum for Infirm and Destitute Women.

Various other dispossessed and institutionalised groups occupied the barracks' perimeter buildings until 1887, as did government offices. These included the Vaccine Institute, the Government Printing Office, the Sydney District Court, the Court of Requests, the Department of the Agent for Church and Schools Estates and the NSW Volunteer Rifle Corp. In 1887 the focus shifted to legal and state departments only. At this time Greenway's simple axial design became lost in a jumble of partitions and additions both inside and out.

In 1887 a major program of works was undertaken to convert all buildings for the Department of Attorney General and Justice. Two large courtrooms were attached to the eastern end of the main building after demolition of the 1860s verandah and stairway. The northern range of buildings was remodelled for the District Court and an upper storey added to the eastern perimeter buildings for the caretaker's quarters. Hence, Hyde Park Barracks came into the 20th century with the perimeter wall and outbuildings much modified and the central block bearing attachments on all sides and a substantially converted interior. The southern range was completely demolished in 1909 to make way for the Registrar General's Building.

Reshuffling of occupants and remodelling continued. In particular, remodelling took place in 1917-18 and 1953. Occupants included the Master in Lunacy Court and the Clerk of the Peace, the wartime Necessary Commodities Control Commission, the Wheat Aquisition Board and the Industrial Commission of NSW.

The first proposal for Hyde Park Barracks to be made a museum came in 1935 but met with no response, nor did proposals for its demolition. Following the rekindling of the notion of museums in the 1970s, the decision was made to keep the building was made in 1975. In 1979 its intended Museum use was announced. However, demolition work had commenced in 1975 before a museum plan was developed. Windows were removed and replaced from the outside while the courts were still sitting on the inside and without close investigation of the interior fabric. (Historic Houses Trust 1990:23-26)

In 1981 one of the first Permanent Conservation Orders under the 1977 NSW Heritage Act was applied to the Barracks. The largest government sponsored archaeological excavation in Australia was mounted and yielded substantial evidence of the three main phases of occupation. In 1984 it was opened as a museum by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. In 1990 the Historic Houses Trust of NSW assumed control of the Barracks and commenced a further refurbishment of the building. (Collins 1994:8)

In 1991 the barracks was reopened as a museum 'of itself', reflecting the major phases of occupation.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Convict-Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities Working for the Crown-
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Convict-Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities Demonstrating convicts' experiences and activities-
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Convict-Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities Housing convicts in communal or shared accommodation-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Accommodating prisoners and internees-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Creating landmark structures and places in urban settings-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour Working on public infrastructure projects-
7. Governing-Governing Welfare-Activities and process associated with the provision of social services by the state or philanthropic organisations Rehabilitation of juvenile offenders-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - colonial Georgian-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Francis Greenway, emancipist architect-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
There is a diversity of structures which document the evolution of the Hyde park Barracks complex from the late Georgian era to modern times: from the era of convict cell blocks and enclosed penal institutions, through to judicial courts and offices and present day museum.

It contains two fig trees on Macquarie Street which are symbolic of a number of significant town planning schemes throughout the 19th century, such as the creation of Chancery Square. (now Queen's Square)

Within the complex are structures associated with the first purpose built government institution for the housing of convicts.

It is associated with the development of the legal system in NSW being the location of the first meeting in 1830 of the bench of magistrates for the Court of General Sessions and the first location of the Metropolitan District Court established under the District Courts Act, 1958.

It is associated with other historic landmarks in the area such as the former Rum Hospital, St James' Church, Hyde Park, the Domain, St Mary's Cathedral and Macquarie Street.

It is associated with a large number of government and semi-government institutions such as the Government Printing Office, Vaccine Institution and the NSW Volunteer Rifle Corps.

The Hyde Park Barracks complex was, from 1887, the focus point for the NSW judiciary and government departments under the control of the Minister for Justice, a function associated with the former name of Queen's Square - Chancery Square.
(Lucas, Stapleton & Partners 1996:73)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
It contains elements such as the perimeter walls, parts of the two gate lodges, one former pavilion and parts of another, some external and probably internal walls on the northern range of buildings which are associated with the convict architect Francis Greenway's design. Together with the central barracks building, the place possesses a rich architectural history from the earliest days of European settlement in Australia.
(Lucas, Stapleton & Partners 1996:73)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
It contains a museum which is a centre of tourist and cultural activity in Sydney

It contains fabric which is important to members of the community for its association with the development of the conservation movement in Sydney.

It contains fabric which may be significant to members of the general community for associations with the convict era of Australian history, and as a place of researchig this era.

It contains fabric which may be significant to members of the legal community for associations with past and ongoing administration of justice.

The perimeter structures in combination with the central barracks building and courtyard area may provide a poignant/appealing/authentic backdrop to social and recreational activities/events. (Lucas, Stapleton & Partners 1996: 74)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The site contains areas of potential archaeological significance which are likely to provide a significant insight into the establishment of the place and its subsequent developmental history. (Lucas, Stapleton & Partners 1996:74)
SHR Criteria f)
It is the oldest example of a walled penal institution in Australia. (Lucas, Stapleton & Partners 1996:73) The barracks provide rare evidence of the standards and skills of building practice, architectural design and urban planning in eary 19th century Sy
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Order Under Section 57(2) of the Heritage Act, 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to section 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:
1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government
Gazette on 7 March 2003, 18 June 2004 and 8 July 2005; and
2. grant standard exemptions from section 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule below.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 25 March 2006

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Mar 25 2006
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions HERITAGE ACT 1977


I, the Minister for Planning, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, in pursuance of section 57(2) of the Heritage Act, 1977, do, by this my order:
(1) revoke the existing exemptions made to the Historic Houses Trust under section 57(2) of the Heritage Act; and
(2) under section 57(2) of the Heritage Act grant an exemption from all section 57(1) activities to properties owned or managed by the Historic Houses Trust and listed on the State Heritage Register as outlined in Schedule A with the following conditions:
(a) that the Historic Houses Trust provide an annual report to the Heritage Council on future works proposed for its properties;
(b) that the Historic Houses Trust advise the Heritage Office archaeologists of any proposed works requiring major excavation at its properties to allow due consideration of the need for additional archaeological work;
(c) that the Director of the Historic Houses Trust must lodge all archaeological monitoring or excavation reports prepared with the Heritage Office library on completion after review by Heritage Office archaeologists;
(d) that the Historic Houses Trust employ as required a consultant historical archaeologist with appropriate archaeological qualifications, knowledge, skills and experience and the Director of the HHT must obtain the advice of that person about the heritage significance of the archaeological resource and/or the impact of the development proposal on the heritage significance of the archaeological resource, and take that advice into account;
(e) that the Director of the Historic Houses Trust must take into account as far as practicable the cumulative effect of approvals on the heritage significance of the item and on the heritage resource of its area;
(f) that the Director of the Historic Houses Trust must ensure that approvals are in accordance with any requirements, guidelines, regulations and general conditions issued by the Heritage Council. The Director of the Historic Houses Trust may impose additional conditions which do not conflict with any Heritage Council conditions.

The Hon Frank Sartor MP
Minister for Planning
Minister for Redfern Waterloo
Minister for the Arts

11 April 2008


Item State Heritage Register Listing Number

1. Elizabeth Farm 00001
2. Rouse Hill House 00002
3. Elizabeth Bay House 00006
4. Glenfield Farm, Casula 00025
5. Hyde Park Barracks and The Mint 00190
6. Exeter Farm (Meurant's Cottage) 00205
7. The Rose Seidler House 00261
8. Wentworth Mausoleum 00622
9. Justice and Police Museum 00673
10. Meroogal, Nowra 00953
11. Vaucluse House 00955
12. Government House, Sydney 01070
13. First Government House Site (Museum of Sydney) 01309
14. Susannah Place 01310
Apr 24 2008
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementHyde Park Barracks Museum Conservation Management Plan, 2016 Jul 5 2018

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register - Element 0019002 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0019002 Oct 81 1445177
Heritage Act - Interim Conservation Order - Lapsed  17 Jul 92   
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register     
Local Environmental PlanCSH LEP 4 07 Apr 00   
Register of the National Estate  21 Mar 78   
National Heritage List  01 Aug 07   
World Heritage List  01 Aug 10   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenButler-Bowden, Caroline2018'The Hyde Park Barracks - transformed for a global audience'
WrittenCrockett, Gary2018'A long shadow: Convict Sydney and the Hyde Park Barracks'
ElectronicHistoric Houses Trust2004Museums View detail
WrittenSydney Living Museums2017Convict Sydney View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045722
File number: S90/01189; S96/00465 [S170]

Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

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