Lost convict lodge rediscovered

The World Heritage listing of the Hyde Park Barracks celebrates the survival of this elegant Greenway structure, threatened with demolition at various times during the 20th century. Other associated structures from the convict era have long since disappeared.

Now a previously unknown photograph of a convict gardener’s lodge built near Hyde Park Barracks in the early 1820s has come to light to remind us that new stories about our convict heritage still remain to be told.

In May 1819, as the building of Hyde Park Barracks was nearly complete, Governor Macquarie proposed the construction of a large kitchen garden adjacent to the barracks - an area now occupied by the Australian Museum and Cook and Phillip parks - to ensure a supply of vegetables for the resident convicts.1 The site was cleared and a brick wall built around three sides. The garden’s eastern side was protected by the stone wall that marked Governor Phillip’s Sydney boundary. By 1821 a two-room gardener’s lodge had been constructed near the entrance to the convict garden.2

Until now, one of the only clues we have had to the architectural character of the garden lodge was an octagonal footprint on early maps of the site. This curious building was one of a number of hexagonal and octagonal structures erected in Macquarie’s Sydney, including tollhouses built by Richard Rouse, a lodge (c1810) near First Government House, Fort Macquarie (1817- 1821) on the site of the Sydney Opera House, and a watchtower (c1822) at La Perouse. Octagonal brick lodges were later built at Brownlow Hill near Cobbity and Winbourne near Mulgoa.

The garrison town of Sydney may well have needed to be protected with forts and entrance lodges, but critics questioned Macquarie’s commissioning of picturesque structures they considered more fitting for the estates of British gentry than for a penal colony. The recent identification by our library staff of a photograph of the convict gardener’s lodge, taken in about 1880 at the rear of the Australian Museum, reveals a simple octagonal brick and stucco structure, its chimney protruding from a shingled roof. This photograph better informs us about the building than its appearance in early paintings. Precedents for its design are found in the collection of early architectural pattern books in the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection. It is clearly related to the picturesque cottages illustrated in these works, and also resembles patterns for lodges for estate labourers in the recently acquired Novel designs for cottages, small farms & schools (1825) by John Hall. The convict garden was abandoned in the late 1820s, the poor-quality soil too great an obstacle to its productivity. A stone wall at the rear of the car park at 19- 21 Riley Street, Woolloomooloo, is a tantalising remnant of the garden’s eastern boundary wall. The lodge was demolished in the mid-1880s; we hope to uncover further details of its use.


  1. 'Government and General Orders', The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 1 May 1819, p2.
  2. John Thomas Bigge, Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry into the State of the Colony of New South Wales, London, printed by order of the House of Commons, 1822, p35.
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Dr Matthew Stephens

Dr Matthew Stephens

Research Librarian

Matthew Stephens is research librarian at the Caroline Simpson Library & Collection. He is particularly fascinated by early book, musical instrument and sheet music collections in NSW and the stories they tell. Addicted to the historical research process, Matthew has reframed the biography of the eighteenth-century British cross-dressing soldier, Hannah Snell, rediscovered the lost library of explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, and completed a PhD on the early history of the Australian Museum Library and the origins and use of scientific literature in nineteenth-century New South Wales. More recently, Matthew has led the interpretation of the history of domestic music in MHNSW house museums. Since 2015 he has been MHNSW’s representative in the Sound Heritage network (UK) and is co-author and co-editor of Sound Heritage: Making Music Matter in Historic Houses (Routledge, 2022). In 2019, Matthew curated the Songs of Home exhibition at the Museum of Sydney, which examined the musical landscape of NSW during the first 70 years of European settlement. He has collaborated with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney, on numerous projects including as Partner Investigator on the Australian Research Council Discovery Project ‘Hearing the Music of Early NSW, 1788-1860’ (2021-23). Two research projects led by Matthew on the reinstatement of part of the dispersed Macleay family library at Elizabeth Bay House and the Dowling Songbook Project have received National Trust Heritage Awards.

 Leather leg iron ankle protector, excavated from beneath the floorboards of Hyde Park Barracks
Convict Sydney

Leg Iron Guard

A stunning example of an improvised handicraft, this leather ankle guard or ‘gaiter’ was made to protect a convict’s ankle from leg irons

Convict Sydney

1801 - Day in the life of a convict

In the young colony, there was no prisoner’s barrack - the bush and sea were the walls of the convicts’ prison

Convict Sydney

1820 - Day in the life of a convict

By 1820 the days of relative freedom for convicts in Sydney were over

Convict Sydney


The hot Sydney summer of 1826 ended with almost 1,000 convicts living at the overcrowded Barracks