Image: J. Ellis, ‘St James’ Church, The Supreme Court & Hyde Park, Sydney’,<br> watercolour, Caroline Simpson Collection, HHT.
Image: J. Ellis, ‘St James’ Church, The Supreme Court & Hyde Park, Sydney’,
watercolour, Caroline Simpson Collection, HHT.

The reconstruction of the Hyde Park Barracks guardhouse domes interprets an aspect of Macquarie’s vision for the colony of NSW. Macquarie saw polite architecture as civilizing and ornamented Sydney’s principal street with a suite of public buildings – St James’s Church, the Supreme Court, Hyde Park Barracks, the Mint and Parliament House, Sydney (the latter were wings of the ‘Rum Hospital’. In his enquiry into New South Wales’s administration (1819-1822), Commissioner Bigge was to censure Macquarie for this, regarding architectural embellishment as an imposition on the British Government purse and a waste of convict labour.

Spirits bottle with makeshift stopper (uf6626) in the Hyde Park Barracks Archaeology collection, photo Gary Crockett

Despite their appearance, the Barracks guardhouses were inevitably cramped and rank inside. They sheltered and protected convict constables, whose job it was to inspect bodies and belongings entering and leaving the compound. Essex born, brickies labourer, James McDonald was a Barracks constable in the mid 1820s, a position that came with pay and a few privileges. In 1826 he was caught smuggling alcohol to prisoners heading up river to Parramatta and, later that year, was stood down for 2 weeks for stealing a length of chain from the convict lumberyard. He argued that the chain was to capture a runaway dog owned by his boss, John Connor, the Deputy Superintendent of Convicts at Hyde Park Barracks. Shortly afterwards he copped a flogging for aiding a prisoner’s escape. Who ever said ‘power corrupts’…?

Admired today for its fine proportions and truth to materials, the Hyde Park Barracks had a history of ad hoc adaptation and poor maintenance as a result of its institutional use. The guardhouse domes were removed by the mid 1860s. The southern guardhouse was subsumed into a residence with the demolition of two of its walls. The Barracks compound’s south-western pavilion was demolished for road widening in 1918, destroying the symmetry of the Macquarie Street elevation.

In the 1930s it was intended to replace the Hyde Park Barracks for a new courts complex. This did not eventuate, partly as a result of World War II. In 1979, with a new appreciation of early colonial architecture, it was decided to convert the Mint and Hyde Park Barracks to museums of social history and the decorative arts administered by the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences. Both properties were transferred to the Historic Houses Trust in 1990. Today, the paired guardhouses’ divergent histories may be read in the fabric of their walls, which have undergone conservation in one case and reconstruction in the other.

The Hyde Park Barracks as a central block set within a courtyard bounded by buildings housing a variety of support functions had late 18th – early 19th century British architectural precedents.

John Plaw published a design for a hunting box with twin lodges in his Ferme Ornée (London, 1795), an architectural pattern book used by John Macarthur for stable buildings at Camden, NSW. HHT curator, Scott Hill has pointed out close similarities between the composition of Plaw’s Hunting Box and the front wall of the Barracks. Just look at those gate houses with their perky domes as well as the piers guarding the entrance.

Image: John Plaw, Hunting Box from Ferme Ornée (London, 1795), Historic Houses Trust, Caroline Simpson Library & Research collection

James Kerr, in his Design for Convicts writes that Greenway’s design of the Barracks compound was a simple and recognisable eighteenth century arrangement as seen in John Wyatt’s 1777 design for an agricultural complex – Hatch Farm, in Essex, England.

Image: Hatch Farm, Essex, England, from James Kerr, Design for Convicts (1984)

Another interesting parallel for Hyde Park Barracks is the Workhouse, Southwell, Nottinghamshire, England (1824), a three storey institution set within a compound which was compartmentalized according to the genders and classes of the inmates.

The Workhouse, Southwell, Nottinghamshire, sourced from panoramio


Francis Greenway (1777-1837), born into a family of Bristol builders and stonemasons, had a lucky break, being drawn into the sphere of architect, John Nash (1752-1835) during Nash’s years of ‘exile’ in Carmarthen, Wales during the 1790s. Nash was later to be architect to the Prince Regent and recast London as a modern classical city. Greenway designed and built a market house at Carmarthen, Wales in 1801, a commission he may have secured through Nash.

In 1809 the Greenway building firm went bankrupt. Francis Greenway forged a clause to their most recent contract, a highly irrational act as the funds would have gone to their creditors. Sentenced to death for forgery, Greenway’s neck was saved by having his sentence commuted to transportation to Botany Bay. Through this reversal of fortune, New South Wales gained its most accomplished early 19th century buildings.

Image: Sydney Market House (1820, later Police Office, demolished c1890 for the Queen Victoria Building) private collection

Greenway arrived in Sydney in 1814, having met Surgeon John Harris on board ship. He soon after designed a domed stairhall for Harris’s Ultimo House. Greenway presented his credentials to Governor Macquarie, which included his design for the Carmarthen market house. This may have provided the model for his Sydney Market House, which featured a dome at the crossing of two wings.

In 1966 the forger, Francis Greenway, was commemorated on the Australian $10 note.

Image: Francis Greenway, as commemorated on the Australian $10 note, designed by Gordon Andrews, 1966

Convict architect Francis Greenway incorporated his characteristic calotte ‘skull cap’ domes in several projects such as over a stairhall at the nearby Supreme Court (1820-27) in King Street. The Macquarie Lighthouse, South Head (1819, demolished 1883) was designed with domes over linked pavilions, a similar composition to the HPB gate lodges. The dome of the fountain, Macquarie Place (c1817, altered 1840s, demolished c1882), emerged from a shaped blocking course or parapet, like those of the Hyde Park Barracks guard houses.

Image: Fountain, Macquarie Place, engraving from Joseph Fowles, Sydney in 1848, Historic Houses Trust, Caroline Simpson Library & Research collection

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