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

Nash’s Foley House 1794, Haverfordwest sourced from wikimedia commons here

With Greenway’s design of Hyde Park Barracks (and 80 known works and attributions) a case may be made for his acquaintance with John Nash (1752-1835) and emulation of a range of motifs evident in Nash’s commissions such as:

Relieving arches in series reading as blind arcading (as in HPB main block exterior ground floor treatment)

– Nash’s Foley House, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire 1794
– Llanaeron, Cardiganshire, 1794
– Whitson Court, near Newport, Monmouthshire, 1795
– Hereford Gaol, 1796
– The Warrens, Brayshaw, Hampshire, 1800-02

Enclosed gables (as in HPB main block exterior, east and west elevations)

– Nash’s Ffynone, Pembrokeshire 1792-96
– Foley House, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire 1794
– Glanwysc, Llangattock, Breconshire c. 1795
– The Warrens, Brayshaw, Hampshire, 1800-02.

Hemispherical domes (as in HPB gate lodge domes)

– Nash’s mausoleum of Thomas Nash, Farnigham, Kent, 1778
– County House, Stafford, Staffordshire, 1794
– Sundridge Park, Bromley, Kent, 1799
– Balindoon, Co Sligo c1800
– Design for Bulstrode House, Buckinghamshire 1801-02
– The Quadrant (west side), Regent Street London, 1809-26

Australian colonial architecture may be seen as provincial as the architecture of Greenway’s native Bristol. However, Greenway’s architectural competence and association with John Nash (later the Prince Regent’s architect and the architect who recast Regency London in classical garb) lifted him above many of his peers in Sydney or the English provinces. His shingle-clad Hyde Park Barracks guardhouse domes in their ‘primitive’ simplicity gave Governor Macquarie’s principal Sydney street a metropolitan sophistication.


Broadbent, James and Hughes, Joy, Francis Greenway architect, Glebe NSW, Historic Houses Trust of NSW, 1997
Mansbridge, Michael, John Nash a complete catalogue 1752-1835, New York 1991

John Wallis of Noel T. Leach Builders has prefabricated the south dome’s frame at ground level for an understanding of Greenway’s unusual design. The domes were constructed of curved timber ribs (cut out of solid pieces of Eucalyptus sp hardwood) braced with substantial circular plates and vertical studs and covered with Forest oak (Casuarina torulosa) shingles overlaid on narrow battens.

Greenway designed his domes as self-conciously stripped back elemental forms, a ‘primitive’ tendency favoured by Regency architects such as Sir John Soane which was possibly ultimately inspired by the writings of the philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The drum, largely hidden behind the parapet, lifted the dome above the surrounding sandstone roof, giving it a floating quality.

Photo: Scott Carlin

The reconstruction of the Hyde Park Barracks’ twin guardhouse domes has been guided by two pieces of evidence – the diameter of the dome is defined by a pronounced dripline on the carved sandstone roof and the diameter of the drum is defined by the surviving circular hardwood double base plate.

This original double base plate was made up of many hardwood segments that were marked with Roman numerals cut with a single chisel blow. This tells us that the dome was probably prefabricated at the Sydney Lumber Yard (corner of Bridge and George Streets) before re-assembly on site in c1819. A double plate was used for strength.

The northern dome was removed in the early 1860s (probably owing to breakdown of the shingles and ribbed structure) and the guardhouse roofed over with corrugated metal sheeting. Two cut-down vertical studs (or forked tenons) also survived the reroofing and were discovered by archaeologists in 1982. The base plate and studs have been re-incorporated into the new northern dome structure.

Image: Northern guardhouse drum with two rings of hardwood – one above the other – connected with vertical studs. The darker timbers are pieces rescued by archaeologists in 1982 and re-incorporated. Photograph by Scott Carlin

The original drum structure was made up of short semi circular lengths of hardwood that were marked with handy roman numerals, to help workman build it on site. This tells us that the dome was probably prefabricated at the Sydney Lumber Yard, corner of Bridge and George Streets, before re-assembly at the Barracks in 1817-19. The present reconstruction has involved prefabrication by John Wallis of Noel T. Leach Builders. The components of the south dome will be assembled on site for the Domes Breakfast talks on Wednesday 29 June 2011. Photo Gary Crockett

Architects and historians turn up in all sorts of funny hats. The new ‘hat’ seen hovering above the guardhouse is a prototype dome assembly, here for a final fitting before going in for good. Great to get a sneak (although brief) glimpse. Issues were sorted in a matter of minutes, with the dome returned to the workshop for some last finicky adjustments. Photo Gary Crockett

map showing location of 11 Australian Convict Sites added to World Heritage List in 2010

The Historic Houses Trust’s decision to reconstruct the guardhouse domes follows the inclusion of Hyde Park Barracks (HPB) with ten other Australian Convict Sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Built to house the convicts engaged in Governor Macquarie’s ambitious public works program, the Barracks is itself a product or organized convict labour. Hyde Park Barracks interprets a significant aspect of the evolving Australian convict experience from 1788 to 1868 – the creation of the HPB compound represented the designation of places of incarceration. Previously the whole of the Australian continent had been regarded as a place of exile and, while military personnel were housed in barracks, convicts had been lodged throughout the town. The Barracks saw 50,000 convicts pass through its gates between 1819 and 1848.

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.

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