A Day at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks

Β I’m guilty of a traveller’s worst sin – seeing more of other countries and cities than your own hometown. Not that Sydney’s a town. But there really are tonnes of tourist attractions, naturally beautiful landscapes and awesome things to see and do.
Of which, I’ve done approximately half, although even that count may be a little on the generous side. So when I dragged Mr M to Australia to meet everyone I’d ever known, I got to do some sightseeing as well.
We ended up in the city on one of those crazy-hot days this summer that saw the mercury head north of 40 degrees (104f for the rest of you). Air conditioning was a must and anything else was going to be a bonus. So we meandered towards Hyde Park Barracks for some history.
I spent the first 30-something years of my life under the misapprehension that Hyde Park Barracks was a place where soldiers lived in the early days of colonisation. Not true!


The building started off in 1818 as a place for convicts on the work gangs building Sydney to sleep and have meals. New arrivals were often marched up to the barracks to be assigned to private citizens as workers.

A convict got a set of clothes upon arrival and not much else.

Of course the convicts were sent from the British Isles to Australia having death sentences commuted to transportation or being sentenced to serve their convict years in the colony. But there were also “criminals” transported to Australia from all over the British Empire, including South Africa, Portugal, Canada and Malaysia.
They estimate that around 50,000 convicts were ushered through the Barracks at one time or another – that’s 62 per cent of those sent to NSW to begin with. They slept in long dormitories lined with hammocks, with little personal space at all. Sounds like fun, right?
Imagine having stolen bread or having pickpocket-ed to feed your family, only to find yourself sharing a tight space with robbers, political protesters, pirates, slaves, murderers and highway robbers.


In the mid 1800s the barracks was turned into a place for newly-migrated women to stay until they found jobs or other places to stay. Many of them were Irish orphan girls, some no older than 14, driven out of their homeland by The Great Famine.

The view out to Queen’s Square

They were trained to become servants, housekeepers or perform other menial tasks. For some the move saved their lives, but for others it was a disastrous change of scenery. Unable to find work, some turned to crime.
The museum houses some of the trunks they were sent to Australia with, complete with little trinkets and parting gifts. It also tells the stories of a few of the women sent away from their homeland to a place with a much different climate.
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56 thoughts on “A Day at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks

    1. It’s a bit sad that I’ve done that because now I meet Americans that have done more Australian sight-seeing than I have!

  1. My grandkids have been there on excursions from memory. I love that part of Sydney with so many buildings from the early colonial days. Sure was hot when you visited that IS for sure!
    Thanks for linking up for #lifethisweek 13/52 Next week: Daylight Saving is Over.

    1. Hmm, maybe I went on an excursion in primary school then? If I did, my fantastic memory *cough* has let me down once again. It was a Godsend when we went though. That air con was beautiful, although not so great upstairs, I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be crammed in there with hundreds of other people in the 1800s in summer.

  2. The early colonial days fascinate me – so many different stories and reasons for people to move to Australia so it’s interesting to read about just some of those situations. #citytripping

  3. Goodness, it’s nearly 20 years since I visited Hyde Park Barracks, it was on our honeymoon in Sydney! Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Why do I remember something about rats from the barracks? #CityTripping

    1. Oh my gosh, yes! They have mummified (or preserved) rats that they found under the floor boards when they were making it safe!

    1. Makes sense, right? The name probably contributed to me not getting out there for ages. I wasn’t that interested in soldiers. But convicts? I’m totally there πŸ˜‰

  4. I’m also guilty of not exploring my hometown enough, but hopefully I’ll start exploring a little bit more soon! It still amazes me how much history there is in a city, and how much you can learn by visiting those historical sites. It sounds like you learned a lot during your visit to the Hyde Park Barracks!

    1. I had a great time Ashley, even though I initially suggested it for the air conditioning (I’m terrible, I know). Have fun exploring your hometown, I’ll be interested to see what you find πŸ™‚

    1. We learn about it a lot at school so I guess I take it for granted that everyone knows the story, which is a bit arrogant of me.

    1. Thanks for visiting Elizabeth. My favourite part of the museum was about the Irish orphan girls who came over during the potato famine, but for some unknown reason, I didn’t get photos of that part!

    1. Thanks Fernando, it’s always good to get a different perspective and see how people live in different parts of the world. Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out!

  5. I never even heard of this place in Sydney (as well as never visiting the city) but after reading this, I want to check this out. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

    1. The thing that freaks me out is, imagine being transported to Australia for something like stealing food, and then sleeping right next to someone who’s committed murder or something?

  6. LOL. I have no idea why we’ve built up going to the tourist attractions in our hometown is a no go. Lucky for me, I move so often so I feel like I have to go and see them all! Interesting place, can’t believe they slept in hammocks!

    1. I just don’t think to do it when I’m at home Amanda, and I have no idea why. Maybe if I had kids I’d be taking them to see stuff like this, but otherwise I’m more likely to go for a stroll around or people watch on a pub balcony.

  7. I’m very much guilty of not being a tourist in my own country. I’m heading to Oz in December and this beautiful set of barracks has just made my to-do-list.

    1. Hey, at least we notice it and we can rectify the situation, right Mike? Oh wow, have a great time in Australia! December will be nice and hot πŸ™‚ Glad I could contribute a stop on the itinerary!

    1. It would not have been pleasant for them, that’s for sure. Lots of them wouldn’t have seen their family ever again. And the shell shock of being forcibly moved to another country with such a vastly different climate would have been really difficult to deal with.

  8. I am guilty of the same thing! We live outside of Houston, one of the largest cities in the country, and we never do touristy things. One weekend I am going to do a staycation and be a tourist.

    1. Mr M is always talking about moving to Texas… I’m not as convinced about it to be honest πŸ˜‰ You need to do lots of touristy things and tell me how great it is!

  9. I could relate to your post from the first sentence – I’m guilty of a traveller’s worst sin – seeing more of other countries and cities than your own hometown. I too fall in the same bracket. I loved how you described the Hyde Park Barracks. I;ll definitely try them next time.

    1. It’s a little bit sad that we tend to get more excited about other destinations more than our own homes Archana. But at least we recognise it and there’s still time to change that!

    1. There’s lots to do in Sydney, and whenever I go anywhere, I get back and find out about all the cool things I missed. I think it helps when you have a genuine tourist to show around in your own home town as well πŸ™‚

  10. Yeah I think we are probably all guilty of underexploring our hometown. I know when we went to Scotland we talked to this Scottish lady and when she heard all the places we went she told us we’ve seen more of Scotland than her. The history in Australia sounds fascinating so good thing you checked this barracks out.

    1. And you probably thought “but Scotland’s so beautiful, how could you not have seen more of it?” Or at least I would have. That’s the hypocrite in me πŸ˜‰

  11. I lived in Sydney for a while, but never had the change to visit the Baracks. It is so interesting to learn a bit more about the history of Australia. And so different to nowadays Australia.

    1. And a good thing that it’s different as well! I would not have liked to have been around in the colonial days. No air conditioning, too many snakes and things that will bite you to death, the whole nine yards πŸ˜‰

  12. The history of every nation is filled with such terrible stories. I love reading about things that are lesser known to us. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It’s nice to be able to think that in some ways we’ve improved as a civilisation… except that there are still some pretty horrible things going on around the world.

  13. It seems a bit ironic that you escaped the heat by heading into a place where convicts were held. πŸ™‚ Glad you are seeing more of your own hometown, though! I’ve also been guilty of skipping local attractions in favor of more far flung ones. #FlyAwayFriday

    1. We have a strange and checquered history full of convicts and immigrants, and indigenous people who were slaughtered by settlers. Not a pretty history at all.

  14. Wow that sounds like a fascinating place to visit. I studied Forensic Sciences & Criminology for undergrad so I’m particularly interested in these spots! Thanks for joining Fly Away Friday, hope to see you again this weekend! xo

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