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.

Faded sepia-toned man's head and shoulders, wearing high-necked collar.

Francis Greenway



From convict to colonial architect to destitute, Greenway's short career left its mark on Sydney.

Francis Greenway, the colony’s civil architect from 1816 to 1822, was critical to realising Macquarie’s vision for New South Wales. A talented architect from Bristol, Greenway arrived in Sydney in 1814 with a 14-year sentence for forgery. A month later he received a ticket of leave, allowing him to work for himself and support his wife and children, who had followed him to Sydney. When the Hyde Park Barracks was completed, Macquarie granted Greenway an absolute pardon. Greenway’s career was marked by a prolific output but plagued by clashes with colonial officials, chief engineers, influential settlers and military officers. As a result, he was dismissed as civil architect in late 1822. In debt, socially and professionally shunned, and resentful of his perceived mistreatment, Greenway died in 1837 at the age of 59 in a simple cottage in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney. He was buried in East Maitland, far from the elegant buildings that sprang from his talents.

Women at desk signing forms.

Lucy Hicks



Matron for over 25 years, Lucy was responsible for supervising shiploads of immigrant women as they arrived in the depot and for the daily operations of the asylum

Lucy Applewhaite (later Hicks) was matron at the barracks for over 25 years. In 1861, Lucy’s husband, John Applewhaite, fell on hard times, and at age 27 Lucy became matron of the Immigration Depot, one of the few respectable positions available to her. When the Hyde Park Asylum opened the following year, she took on combined responsibility for both institutions. She and her family lived in two small front rooms on the second floor. When John died in 1869, Lucy had six surviving children aged between 18 years and 11 months. She married William Hicks a year later, and had five more children, two of whom died in infancy.

A highly respected matron, Lucy was responsible for supervising shiploads of immigrant women as they arrived in the depot and for the daily operations of the asylum, including overseeing food preparation, the inmates’ hygiene, cleanliness of the wards and discipline. Lucy’s daughter Mary became sub-matron in 1875; a kind woman, she was mourned by the inmates when she died ten years later.

Matron Hicks moved with the inmates when they were transferred to the freshly built Newington Asylum in 1886, and retired a few years later. She died in 1909, aged 75, survived by only five of her 14 children.

Drawing of man's head and shoulders, wearing a high-collared jacket over a high-collared shirt and a knotted tie.

George Vigors



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’.

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.