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Where tradition meets cutting-edge innovation
This self-guided experience immerses you in the real lives of people touched by the Barracks.
The convict impact on Aboriginal people
People of the Barracks
Convict, immigrant, inmate, matron – meet some of the people whose lives were touched by the Barracks.
Vigors had never been ‘in a place where so much crime and rascality was carried on as in Hyde Park Barracks’ ...
In 1844, suffering chronic heart disease, 39-year-old George Vigors was one of several invalid convicts lodged at the Hyde Park Barracks, where he worked in a shoemaking gang. Along with a record of 31 criminal convictions and more than 1100 lashes on the flogging triangle, Vigors had also served four stints in leg-irons and two terms of banishment to a secondary settlement. In late May, he and two other convicts left the barracks and robbed a house in Clarence Street, where Vigors fatally stabbed the homeowner with his shoemaking knife. Vigors and one accomplice were captured a week later. The crime stirred up public outrage, with newspapers railing against the barracks, ‘that nest of infamy and corruption … where there exists a most appalling degree of wretchedness’. Both men were found guilty and sentenced to hang on the gallows at Darlinghurst Gaol. While awaiting execution, Vigors told his keepers that he had been in many prisons but never ‘in a place where so much crime and rascality was carried on as in Hyde Park Barracks’.
Macquarie led a decade-long ambitious building program, which included the construction of the Barracks.
Major General Lachlan Macquarie was sworn in as governor of New South Wales on 1 January 1810 and immediately ordered new military quarters to be built, followed by a hospital. This was the beginning of a decade-long public works program to provide churches, courthouses, hospitals, schools and properly laid-out streets, all signs of the colony’s moral improvement and civic progress. Macquarie’s ambitious building program required a more disciplined workforce. This meant taking control of government convict men and increasing their working hours. This was difficult to achieve while convict numbers were relatively low and labour was scarce. But the situation was reversed after 1815 when a surge in crime and social unrest in Britain following the end of the Napoleonic Wars brought increasing numbers of convicts to the colony.
Just four years after facing the gallows in London and then transported to Sydney, Charles Allen received an absolute pardon.
In April 1815, Charles Allen and 299 other convicted men embarked on the Baring, bound for Sydney. What had once been a voyage into the unknown was now a well‑travelled route of 13,000 miles (21,000 kilometres).
When Charles Allen and his fellow convicts on the Baring arrived in April 1815, the colonial population of New South Wales was just under 13,000, made up of convicts, ex-convicts and their families, together with soldiers, government and military officials, and a small number of free settlers.
Young and literate, the former post office worker Charles Allen served as a clerk in a merchant’s office. In 1818, just four years after facing the gallows in London, he received an absolute pardon. Allen was 20 years old and could live freely in the colony, or even return to Britain.
‘Murphy’ was one of a few Aboriginal men who tragically found themselves trapped in the British convict system
In December 1839, two Aboriginal men, named Murphy and Toby, were charged with highway robbery and sent to Cockatoo Island. Toby, like most transported Aboriginal men, died in custody. Murphy survived the harsh conditions and in February 1843 was transferred to the Hyde Park Barracks before returning home to Maitland, north of Sydney. Three years later, as a new Vagrancy Act was introduced to remove Aboriginal people from towns, Murphy faced another six months’ hard labour on Cockatoo Island, charged as ‘a rogue and vagabond’. In 1852 he was sentenced to 12 months’ hard labour at Parramatta Gaol, where his many imprisonments finally took their toll. He died in prison, far from his home.