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

John Plaw’s ‘Hunting Box’ drawing sourced from google books here

Difficult to disagree with fellow HHT staffer Scott Hill when he points to close similarities between John 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. Even the way the smaller buildings sit on either side of the main building looks eerily familiar.

John Plaw’s ‘Hunting Box’ drawing sourced from google books here

We’ve already queried Greenway’s inspiration for the domed guardhouses. Here’s another example of a known architectural ‘treatment’ being reworked for a different client – in this case the layout of the Barracks compound, including the placement of a towering central block within an enclosing wall of functional perimeter buildings.

Looks familiar…?
Image of Hatch Farm, Essex, England sourced from here

According to James Kerr, in his 1984 book Design for Convicts“Greenway’s design was a simple and recognisable eighteenth century arrangement” although, overall, he’s clearly lent heavily on John Wyatt’s 1777 design for an agricultural complex on Hatch Farm, in Essex, England.

Sketch of Hyde Park Barracks 1819 (top and middle) and Hatch Farm 1777 (bottom) by James Kerr, 1984.

Great article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald helped kickstart our fund raising campaign.

It also raised a few interesting points about architects and their inspiration and the likelihood that Francis Greenway, Barracks designer and convicted forger, ‘lifted’ his idea of the domes from an array of late 18th century building catalogues and off-the-peg plans.

For more information on the campaign and how you might contribute to this restoration project visit the Foundation for the Historic Houses Trust or contact General Manager James Beck on 02 8239 2255.

Curved timber roofing components from north guardhouse. Photo: Gary Crockett

Archaeologists working on the guardhouses in the early 1980s discovered bits and pieces of timber from the original dome structure. These had been hidden in the ceiling area and protected from the weather under a corrugated metal roof. We’ve had fun reassembling these components and can now make out the shape of the circular base plate. We can also see how a series of short, slotted studs were fitted to carry a matching timber circle above. The whole structure looked like a flattened drum, rising up through a big hole in the roof. On top of this drum sat the lovely shingled dome. Stay tuned for more info on this intriguing discovery and how we intend to incorporate these original timber pieces into the new structure.

Hyde Park Barracks [1836] detail showing the guardhouses with their original domes. The large domed pavilion to the right pavilion was demolished in 1918. Museum of Sydney on the site of first Government House collection.

Hyde Park Barracks [1836] detail showing the guardhouses with their original domes. The large domed pavilion to the right pavilion was demolished in 1918. Robert Russell, 1836 Caroline Simpson Collection, Historic Houses Trust

In reconstructing the guardhouse domes we rely on a combination of physical and documentary evidence. There are a number of early views of the Hyde Park Barracks, from sketches to watercolors and, in this case, lithographic prints. Their accuracy varies considerably and while some, such as this scene by Robert Russell (b.1808 d.1900), show a close attention to proportion and detail others verge on the eccentric. This particular scene is one of a series published in Sydney in November 1836 that includes many of the Macquarie period buildings in and around Sydney. They are of particular value as many – such as the fanciful Gothic revival tollhouse at the start of the Parramatta road – were later destroyed. This view of the Barracks is particularly evocative of the relationship of St James to the Barracks and the plaza in between.  

All of Russell’s views have a distinct ‘Conrad Martens’ feel to them, especially in his treatment of plants and clouds. This isn’t surprising, as Russell was one of Martens’ first pupils in Sydney and paid for lessons in September 1835, shortly before he drew these views.  A feature of these prints is they way they capture the feel of his original pencil sketches.

That Russell was a surveyor by trade also isn’t unusual; surveyors needed to be skilled at representing topography as this was a valuable aid to navigation and exploration. Expeditions to new territory also included artists for just this reason: when on board the Beagle one of Conrad Marten’s roles as project artist was to accurately portray the elevations of the coastlines the ship passed.

Over the next few months we’ll be recording and discussing this exciting conservation project – the reconstruction by the Historic Houses Trust of the twin domes of the Hyde Park Barracks guardhouses, decorative elements intrinsic to the original design for the complex by architect Francis Greenway, completed in 1819. This project is commencing during Macquarie 2010, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie in the then colony of NSW, and follows the listing of the Barracks as a World Heritage Site.

On either side of the Barracks central gateway the two guardhouses were originally roofed with stone slabs, through which rose domes of timber ribs braced with narrow battens and with a covering of split casuarina shingles. The surviving dome over the present Barracks Café was a larger version of these. Of a similar size the small dome atop the central barracks building functions as a ventilator, and there are thoughts that these domes may have had a similar role. The two guardhouse domes were removed in the mid 1850s, the beginning of a long series of alterations, additions and demolition work that saw the removal in 1918 of the south-western corner pavilion and the entire southern range. With loud calls for the entire complex to be torn down it’s remarkable that the Barracks survived at all.

Apart from these aesthetic losses the removal of the domes and subsequent conservation work has led to ongoing conservation issues, most significantly involving the deterioration of the fabric of the two guardhouse structures. Fibreglass weatherproofing installed in the 1980s has exacerbated the issue, trapping moisture within the surviving building fabric and causing deterioration of the original convict-built stonework. Conservation work is now essential, and this has provided the HHT with the rare opportunity to recreate a feature of Francis Greenway’s most significant surviving building.

The reconstruction of the domes over the Hyde Park Barracks’ twin guardhouses follows the Barracks’ inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Architect, Francis Greenway’s domes (built in 1819 and removed in the early 1860s) formed part of Governor Macquarie’s suite public buildings ornamenting Sydney’s ‘dress circle’ and later street of Government. Through re-instating the domes the Historic Houses Trust seeks to interpret Macquarie’s vision.

For further information on this project and public programs allowing interaction with heritage experts and traditional trade skills see

If you would like more information about supporting the Hyde Park Barracks Domes Project please contact: James Beck, General Manager, Historic Houses Trust Foundation T 02 8239 2255

Image: J. Austin after Robert Russell, Hyde Park Barracks, 1836, lithograph

Historic Houses Trust, Caroline Simpson Library & Research collection

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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