History, but not as you know it

History, but not as you know it

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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.

View across water towards island.


Aboriginal convict

Aboriginal convict

‘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.

Studio portrait of two women, one seated, one standing to right, both wearing hats and full skirts.

Sarah Wood



Sarah, only 16, was one of the wealthier immigrants, but stayed for three months, an unusually long time to spend in the Immigration Depot.

Sarah Wood, a 16-year-old immigrant from Staffordshire, England, came to New South Wales in 1861 to join her older sister. Sarah was one of 75 single women and teenage girls on board the Queen Bee. Her passage cost £9, paid by her brother-in-law, who then took three months to collect her from the barracks, an unusually long time to spend in the Immigration Depot. Together they travelled by horse and wagon to Tenterfield, 700 kilometres north of Sydney, to be reunited with Sarah’s sister.

Sarah was one of the wealthier immigrants who passed through the depot. Before leaving, she found her trunk had been broken into while in storage. Her missing possessions included a riding habit, three dresses, a silver brooch, petticoats, a gentleman’s scarf, a parasol, stockings, nightdresses, china plates, a china mug and a glass jug. In Tenterfield, Sarah married Erasmus Styles. She died in 1868, aged only 23, soon after giving birth to her second son.

A row of bottles, jars and lids on white background.

Honora Keilly



The Hyde Park Asylum sheltered some women who had previously passed through its door as immigrants including Honora, who died here.

The Hyde Park Asylum sheltered some women who had previously passed through its door as immigrants. In 1850, Honora Keilly, a 16-year-old servant girl from Cork, left Ireland under the Earl Grey scheme. She spent her first night in Sydney in the Hyde Park Barracks, along with 253 other orphan immigrants. During her apprenticeship as a household servant on an estate south of Sydney, Honora met William Irwin, a groomsman, whom she married in 1861.

However, throughout the 1870s Honora and her five young children were repeatedly abandoned by William, who faced several charges of deserting his family before dying in an asylum for destitute men in 1877. Honora herself faced charges of vagrancy, theft, obscene language, drunkenness, and finally prostitution. With their mother in and out of prison, Honora’s children were shunted through charitable institutions and reformatories.

Finally, in the early 1880s, Honora returned to the Hyde Park Barracks – this time as an inmate of the women’s asylum. She died here of tuberculosis in 1885, aged 51, and was buried in a pauper’s grave. Like thousands of fellow travellers, Honora left her old world behind to carve a bright new future in colonial New South Wales; but her journey ended in destitution.

painting of grey haired man wearing military uniform with high collar and gold epaullets.

Lachlan Macquarie



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.