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.

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.

Cameo portrait of woman wearing lace shawl.

Margaret Hurley



Margaret Hurley’s trunk, as supplied to the Irish orphans fleeing the Great Famine, is the only one known to have survived

Like many of the Irish ‘orphans’ selected for the scheme, 17-year old Margaret Hurley from County Galway was not an orphan, but her widowed mother was too poor to care for her. After staying briefly at the Immigration Depot in 1850, Margaret was apprenticed as a house servant in the town of Yass, south-west of Sydney. In 1852, she married Irish shepherd Joseph Patterson, and the couple had seven children. She died in 1922, aged 90. Margaret’s is the only trunk supplied to the Irish orphans known to have survived.

Printed document with red seal to bottom left corner.

Charles Allen



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.

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.