Day in the life of a convict

Between 1819 and 1848 over 50,000 male convicts passed through the Hyde Park Barracks.

Some men were assigned to work for free settlers and they left soon after arriving. Others stayed at the Barracks for months or even years and worked for the government. They were called 'government men'.

Day in the Life of a Convict will help you investigate what life was like for the ‘government men’ who lived at the Hyde Park Barracks.

Subject: History
Year: Stages 2 & 3 (Yr 3-6)

Taylor panorama (left detail)
Convict Sydney

What was convict assignment?

‘Assignment’ meant that a convict worked for a private landowner

A close up of the letters 'PB' and a broad arrow on a convict shirt. This item was featured in one of our virtual excursions.

What clothes did male convicts wear?

The convict men who lived at Hyde Park Barracks were provided with a uniform to mark them as ‘government men’

Painting of Hyde Park baracks from south western courner shortly after construction with two men in front. It looks dry and there are no trees.

Did convicts escape from the Barracks?

From June 1819, unmarried male convicts who were working for the government had to stay at the Hyde Park Barracks

Assorted bones including sheep, goat and pig bones

What food did the convicts eat?

In 1820, the convicts living at the Hyde Park Barracks would have been woken at sunrise by the ringing of a bell in the yard

Iron jew's harp and convict shirt scrap

What did convicts do in their free time?

After a day of hard work, the convicts were walked back to the Barracks for the evening muster


What happened to sick or injured convicts?

Convicts were needed to do a lot of work around the colony, so it was important that they were kept healthy

Convict reenactors at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Convict Sydney

What was ‘flash’ language?

Convicts transported to NSW brought a lot of different things with them. In some cases this included their own slang language, called ‘flash’

'Convict Sydney' installation view
Convict Sydney

What are convict love tokens?

A convict love token is a coin that convicts gave to their loved ones before they were transported to NSW

A close up of convict Leg irons

What happened to convicts who broke the rules?

The convicts who lived at the Barracks had to obey lots of rules – more than 200!


How were convicts rewarded for good behaviour?

While some convicts broke the rules and were punished, most of them worked hard and tried to stay out of trouble

Print from book.
Convict Sydney


Around one in every four male convicts had tattoos on his body

Model showing convicts in the courtyard of the barracks

What work did convicts do?

There was a huge amount of work to do around the town of Sydney, and most of it was done by convicts who did lots of different jobs


What was life in early Sydney like for convicts?

By 1801 Sydney had grown into a little village with streets and buildings

Barbara Zammit holding a photo of her ancestor immigrant Rose McGee
Convict Sydney

Female migration

For many women in the UK migration was seen as an opportunity to change their fortunes - to escape poverty, find work and start a family

Illustration of gold fields.

Gold rush & bushrangers!

What was life like during the NSW gold rush?