While foreigners, and locals, joke that Australia was founded by nothing more than a bunch of convicts, the truth of the matter remains that British officials chose the distant and remote land of Sydney to act as a penal colony in its earliest days. The first fleet of settlers to New South Wales came in 1788 with over 1,000 individuals – 778 of which were convicts, both male and female. Development was slow initially, but eventually roles were assigned to prisoners that focused on the proper building of the colony itself, such as brick makers and brick layers.
From this time until 1792, several thousand more convicts arrived at the penal colony in Sydney, although many of them were either lacking work and labor skills to help the colony or were too ill from sickness and the long sea journey. The early years were rough on both the settlers and convicts to this region as food was scarce and disease was rampant; the search for more fertile land sent small groups of convicts to be set up in more western regions of nowadays Sydney, such as Parramatta.
During this time, many convicts who completed their sentences were released and began to take up private residences along with retired soldiers, creating the backbones for a real city. By 1793, free settlers crossed the globe to start a new life in the land Down Under, but it wasn’t until 1810 and the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie that the real transition, socially and economically, of Sydney into the modern day city we now know started to take shape.
Regardless of Macquarie’s efforts to improve the colony’s structure, the sending of England’s convicts to New South Wales continued until 1840, just 2 years before Sydney was given proper recognition as a city.
Hyde Park Barracks
The Hyde Park Barracks was designed by an actual convict, Francis Greenway, and was completed in 1819. The barracks housed male convicts, up to 600 of them, up until the year of 1848. Today, this building, located in Sydney city, works as a museum, depicting to visitors the lives of the convicts who once lived there.
The Hyde Park Barracks Museum is open daily and provides unique insight into the convict history of Sydney.