Carters' Barracks, Sydney
by Joseph Fowles 1842-5?

The Carter's Barracks were on the north-west of the Burial Ground.   The heavy black lines roughly outline the area currently occupied by Central Railway Station and yards.

The Carters' Barracks were constructed under the supervision of Major Druitt to the design of the overseer of bricklayers, Francis Lawless, to house convict carters and brickmakers (Note 1a).   It appears in a list of Public Buildings in Howe's NSW Almanack, 1821, as "Carters' Barrack and Stables, Brickfields, Sydney" (Note 1).   The Bonwick Transcripts described it as "Carters Barrack at Sydney built with Stabling for 90 horses and offices attached", indicating it was completed in 1819 (Note 2).   However, while it was probably under construction in 1819, it may not have been completed until 1820 (Note 3).

In the early years of the colony, the work was very hard for the brick carters.   The worst of the convicts were sent to the brick fields to work, and kept in Brickfield Village when not at work.   As there were no beasts of burden, chain gangs of 12 convicts drew the brick carts (weighing three quarters of a tonne) over a kilometre to the settlement in Sydney Cove, nine times as day.   In 1796 bullocks (and later horses) took over (Note 4).

The Carters' Barracks was built to house the convict gangs working on the brick fields.   A separate barracks for convict boys was also built at the Brickfields establishment, separated by a high party wall.   In Major General Macquarie's report to Lord Bathurst in 1822, on his period of administration of the colony of New South Wales, the following appear in his list of Public Buildings erected, just after the Hyde Park Barracks:

...
28.   Another Barrack (commonly called the Carters' Barracks) for 200 Male Convicts at the "Brick Fields", and also Stables for the whole of the Government Working Horses and Bullocks, with a garden for the use of the convicts.
29.   Another Barrack for 100 convict boys with Mess Rooms and Kitchens, etc., contiguous to the other aforementioned Barrack at the Brick Fields, but separated by a High Party-wall woth Workshops for the employment of the Boys inhabiting the latter Barracks, the whole range of these Buildings being enclosed with a Strong Brick Wall of 12 feet high. (Note 5)

Accommodation for the convict boys was very crowded, as it was in other convict barracks.   Sleeping space amounted to 14 square feet, witha three foot passage between the two rows of hammocks (Note 6).   The boys learnt various trades, and the treadwheel was introduced in 1823 to assist in their training (Note 7).

It seems that a chap by the name of Thomas De La Condamine (1793-1873), a soldier and educationalist, had a bit to do with the Barracks.   He arrived in Sydney in 1825, as aide-de-camp and military secretary to Governor Darling.  Condamine's hobby was education.   He undertook the management, in an honorary capacity, of the Carters Barracks, described then as a kind of elementary technical school.   He left Sydney in February 1831 (Note 8).

Some of the boys worked in brickmaker's gangs, each of which employed 15 men and the same number of boys from the Barracks as apprentices and helpers (Note 9).

The Barracks seems to have had a number of functions, as the following description published in 1839 shows.

The Carters' Barracks - This building is situated on a rising eminence at the extremity of the old Brickfields, and commands a picturesque view of the town.   It was erected in Gov. Macquarie's time, for the accommodation of the convict carters, brickmakers, &c;   a portion of it, however, has of late been converted into a Debtor's prison - it has recently been partially destroyed by fire.   Adjoining this building is the treadmill - a very useful piece of machinery for the purpose of correcting the tarnished morals of Botany Bay.(Note 10)

The establishment was also used for the stabling of the Town Surveyor and Surveyor General's horses (Note 11).


Note 1a.   A good article by Joseph Waugh, "Our Past Neighbours", The Deacon's Treasure No.23, Easter 1998, p.48, was available at Christ Church St Laurence web pages but unfortunately seems no longer available.    This contained a more detailed history of the barracks.
Note 1.   Australia's Heritage, Vol.4, Hamlyn, Sydney, 1971, p.414.
Note 2.   See State Planning authority, Hyde Park Barracks, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1965, p.17, which cites Bonwick Transcripts, Box 12, Mitchell Library.
Note 3.   In a report by Governor Macquarie to Lord Bathurst dated 28 February 1820, the Carters' Barracks could be the "Additional Convict Barrack for 250 Men at Sydney" in a list of Government Public Buildings under construction: see HRA, Series I, Vol. X, p.282.
Note 4.   See Warwick Gemmell, And So We Graft from Six to Six - The Brickmakers of New South Wales, Angus & Robertson, North Ryde, 1986, pp.1-4.
Note 5.   HRA, Series I, Vol. X, p.684 et seq.
Note 6.   Stephen Nicholas (ed.), Convict Workers: Reinterpreting Australia's Past, Cambridge University Press, Sydney, 1988, p.190.
Note 7.   Jan Kociumbas, The Oxford History of Australia, Vol.2, p.155.
Note 8.   From Australian Encyclopaedia, Grolier, Vol.3, p.228.)
Note 9.   Stephen Nicholas (ed.), Convict Workers: Reinterpreting Australia's Past, Cambridge University Press, Sydney, 1988, p.158.
Note 10.   John Maclehouse, Picture of Sydney and Strangers' Guide in NSW for 1839, (first published 1839) John Ferguson P/L, Mona Vale, Sydney, 1977 (quote posted to soc.genealogy.australia+nz by Bruce shepherd).
Note 11.   According to a posting to soc.genealogy.australia+nz by John Cowie.

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©   Sid Hammell 19 April 1999: last updated November 2014

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