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Convict and Colonial History

Military Barracks Premises - Newcastle

Excerpts from newspaper articles detailing the building and use of the Military Barracks at Newcastle 1836 - 1872 -


"WE ARE HAPPY to notice that our late notices with those of a Correspondent, respecting the state of the port of Newcastle, the streets of that town, and the roads in the vicinity, have not passed without due notice by His Excellency the Governor, whose departure on an excursion to the Hunter is announced to take place during the present week.

His Excellency proceeds to lay the first stone of the Newcastle barracks, and next to inspect the long on hand breakwater, lately surveyed and reported upon by Captain Barney, engineer, who, with other material officials, accompany the Governor. His Excellency the Governor (Sir Richard Bourke) proceeds in the early part of the week to Newcastle, to lay the first stone of the New Barracks to be erected on the hill, near the parsonage house. Captain Barney, Mr. Nicholson, and Mr. Town Surveyor Matthew, accompanies His Excellency on his tour, for the purpose of surveying the break-water, and the public buildings at Newcastle, previous to extensive improvements in the township, which, it is said, will be commenced immediately."
The Australian 5 April 1836

"THE GOVERNMENT have at length determined upon improving the entrance to the flourishing port of Newcastle, by completing the breakwater, laying down buoys, and making it in other respects secure against accidents. If these things had been done when we first drew the attention of the authorities to the abominable state of that place (two or three years ago), many vessels would have been saved. However, 'better late than never' in such matters. Mr. Nicholson, the Harbour-master, starts for Newcastle to-morrow, and the Governor, Captain Barney, and others, proceed on the same mission in the course of next week.
A new military barracks, we hear, is also to be commenced immediately at Newcastle." - Sydney Herald 14 April 1836

"MESSRS HUDSON AND RICHARDSON of Castlereagh-street, have obtained the contract for the erection of the New Military Barracks at Newcastle, which are intended to be on a very extensive scale, and are to be built on the system now adopted in England. Lieut. Lugard of the Engineers, will, we understand, proceed to Newcastle to inspect the work." The Sydney Herald 14 July 1836

"THE BARRACKS, which are now in the course of erection will form a highly ornamental feature in this admired Town, and from the extensive scale on which they have been contracted for, providing accommodation for 800 met, on their completion, which will occur in a short period, the Trade of the Town must materially Increase from so large an addition to its inhabitants." - The Monitor 31 August 1836


"THE PRISONERS at Goat Island have prepared the foundation stone which is intended to be laid upon the site marked out for the new Military Barracks at Newcastle. It will be conveyed to Newcastle by the Governor Phillip." - Sydney Gazette 6 June 1837


"THE COMMANDING ENGINEER has received instructions from the Board of Ordnance to go on with the Military Barracks at Newcastle to the original plan and £5000 has been granted on account. Mr. Rees, a Clerk of the works proceeds to Newcastle, to superintend the building in the course of a few days." - Sydney Herald 17 July 1839


GOV. GIPPS to Lord Glenelg....
Government House. Sydney

"27th September, 1838.
MY Lord,
In my Despatch of yesterday's date, I had the honor to detail to your Lordship the reasons which had induced me to withdraw from the present Session, the Bill which I had, agreeably to your Lordship's instructions, introduced into the Legislative Council, for vesting in the Principal Offices of Her Majesty's Ordnance all the lands and buildings now held for military purposes in the Colony, and I stated that one of the principal causes of objection to the Bill arose out of the question, how the land on which the Military Barracks in Sydney now stand, is to be disposed of after the Barracks shall be re-moved. I now propose to explain to your Lordship, the nature of the question which has arisen respecting the land, and in order to make my statement clear, I transmit a plan of Sydney, with the sites both of the old and of the proposed new barracks marked on it:

The land occupied by the old barracks, and colored green upon the plan, being situated in the best part of the town, is very valuable. In the debates of the Legislative Council, no member seemed disposed to estimate the value of it at a less sum than £80,000, whilst out of doors, and in the newspapers, its value was exaggerated to a much greater amount. Major Barney, the Commanding Engineer, never doubting the right of the Ordnance to dispose of the land, has proposed to cover the expense of the new Sydney Barracks, and of others that he is now building at Newcastle, by the sale of it; but during the recent discussions it was asserted, that the Ordnance had no right to sell the land; but that when it was no longer wanted for military purposes, it should revert to the Colony, - and if sold, that the proceeds of the sale should go into the land fund to be spent on Immigration..........

The right of the Board of Ordnance to dispose of this land, appears to me so incontrovertible, that I should not think it necessary to say more on this head, were it not that the subject is some what embarrassed, by the Local Government having recently agreed to pay out of the land fund, the purchase money of the land at Newcastle, on which the new barracks are now being erected; for if when land is wanted for military purposes, it is to be paid for out of the land fund, it would only appear to be reasonable, that the proceeds of the sale of any land which may no longer be required for such purposes, should be paid into the same fund.

The case of the Newcastle Barracks is as follows : - In 1837, it was determined to re-build these barracks, but the old site not being deemed eligible for the new buildings, five and a half acres of land were taken from the Glebe of the Church of England, and after giving one acre in exchange, which was particularly wanted by the Church, a sum of £818 has been taken out of the land fund to pay for the remainder, under an arrangement which was sanctioned by Sir Richard Bourke, on the 25th October, 1837. -

- I have already stated to your Lordship, that the proposal of the Ordnance Offices in this Colony was to pay for the Newcastle Barracks, as well as the new ones at Sydney, out of the proceeds of this land; that they have a right to do so, if the Board insist on it, and that the land will sell for a sufficient sum, cannot, I think, be denied; such an arrangement will, nevertheless, I fear be looked on as not a liberal one, and it will be still asserted that the Ordnance will sell the land without a due regard to the improvement of the Town. I will only add, my Lord, that the present is in my opinion a fit occasion for settling definitely, how land that may in future be required by the Ordnance for military purposes is to be obtained..... George Gipps" Sydney Monitor 8 June 1840


"THE NEW MILITARY BARRACKS are progressing fast and will be ornamental to the town as well as convenient and suitable for the soldiers who are now cooped up in dilapidated, dark, dirty buildings built without regard to the comfort of the men, durability or ornament. The new building consists of a long range of two stories, with colonnade and verandah above to shelter the rooms from the sun. The windows are placed opposite each other in the front and rear, so as to afford a free current of air through the apartments. An artificial mound is being raised in front of the building by the iron gang, for a parade.

The officer's quarters consist of two spacious houses in the same line but detached from the main building. The offices are in the rear of the whole. The material and work appear to be of the best description."
The Hunter River Gazette 11 December 1841


"A QUANTITY of beautiful stone, procured from quarries in the neighbourhood of Maitland and designed for paving the Military Barracks at Newcastle, is now in the course of being forwarded by water to that town. It is sent down the river in boats of about ten tons burthen, and drawing three feet of water. This shews the practicability of establishing steam navigation to as high a point on the river as West Maitland, an undertaking which we have often advocated and which we should be happy to see put in execution. Were such facilities as steam only can furnish afforded for its conveyance from West Maitland down the river, there can be no doubt that a very valuable trade in these splendid paving stones would very soon be established."

Hunter River Gazette 5 March 1842


"OUR NEW and commodious military barracks are at length inhabited by that portion of the 99th regiment stationed at Newcastle, no doubt to the great comfort of the men, as the old buildings formerly occupied by them have been for a long time scarcely tenable." Maitland Mercury 20 May 1843


"TO THE EDITOR of the Maitland Mercury.

May I crave a space in your much valued and widely circulated paper for the following remarks, should such, after your perusal, be considered worthy of insertion. Newcastle some short time ago was made a city, and is considered one of the most healthy situations in the colony of New South Wales, with military barracks erected at the cost of about twenty thousand pounds.

Should his Excellency the Commander of the Forces honor this city with his presence, he would immediately come to the conclusion that such splendid barracks, with everything essential to the comfort of soldiers and invalids, should be occupied by at least an officer and company of the gallant 11th regiment.

It may be said by some persons that military are not required in so peaceable a neighbourhood. But I would beg to point out that numbers of prisoners transmitted from the gaol to the Quarter Sessions and Circuit Court of Maitland, and prisoners to Sydney, should be forwarded under military escort. The prisoners convicted at Maitland, and forwarded to Sydney, could be employed at less expense, and with more profit, if placed on the works at the breakwater"........ Maitland Mercury 9 September 1848


"TO THE EDITOR of the Sydney Morning Herald.
Allow me, through the medium of your periodical to draw the attention of the Ordnance Officers in this Colony to a proposal recently made by a colonial member of Council to lease the Military Barracks in Newcastle, by public competition, which, if sanctioned, will probably lead to the speedy destruction of these fine buildings, as of course there can be nothing to prevent them from being converted into candle manufactories, stores, schools, fever hospitals, or even (as they are not within the boundary of the City) into slaughtering establishments ; all very paying concerns, but not exactly the purposes to which the Honorable Board of Ordnance would approve of having their buildings subjected.

The officers belonging to the Colonial Government, who are now occupying the barracks, do all they can to preserve the buildings, and are paying rent for them, which rent ought to be expended in their repair, instead of being paid into the Colonial Treasury, as is now the case; and as it is an old and true saying, 'that an empty house is better than a bad tenant, I trust that the Ordnance Officers will draw the attention of His Excellency the Governor-General to the damage their buildings would be likely to sustain if let in the manner proposed by the aforesaid colonial member.

I have the honour to be,
Sir, Your obedient servant,
One who has had the honour of serving in the Ordnance Department...."
Sydney Morning Herald 4 July 1855

"(From the Newcastle Telegraph.)
The Macpherson Testimonial -

The committee and a number of the subscribers met on Wednesday last, the 5th instant at twelve o'clock, at the Military Barracks for the purpose of presenting to Colonel Ewen Macpherson an address and testimonial, expressive of the feelings entertained toward him on the occasion of his departure from Newcastle.

On the arrival of the subscribers at the residence of J. E. Stacy, Esq., where, since the breaking up of his own establishment consequent on his departure, the colonel has been staying, they were met by Dr Stacey who read the address to Colonel Macpherson, and presented him with a the testimonial. The address was warmly and with much taste responded to by the gallant colonel, who during the delivery of his reply evidently struggled hard to repress his rising emotions.

The ceremony being over, the subscribers were invited by Dr. Stacey into an adjoining room, where refreshments had been prepared, and the company spent a short period in the interchange of social and appropriate sentiments. The chair was occupied by the worthy host who, as the opening toast, gave the Queen, which was followed by that of our Allies, the French, and others.

In responding to his health, which was enthusiastically given, Colonel Macpherson briefly referred to the ties of regard which would ever bind him to the inhabitants of Newcastle. In return for his own health, Dr Stacey expressed the pleasure the occasion had afforded him in aiding in any way to give effect lo the expression of the universal goodwill towards Colonel Macpherson, and in the opportunity it had given him of meeting the gentlemen present. After a few other appropriate toasts, the company separated.

The presentation consisted of a silver salver, coffee-pot, and service, which cost £115.

Departure of Colonel Macpherson.-

Yesterday, Colonel Macpherson took his final departure from Newcastle, in the Hunter, steamer, for Sydney.

A large number of the citizens had assembled on the wharf to pay the colonel a parting tribute of respect; the assemblage testifying how general was that regard in which he has been held by the inhabitants of Newcastle, whose parting cheers to him as the steamer left the wharf expressively told of the good wishes and of the desire entertained here for his future welfare. We understand that the colonel intends to reside in Van Diemen's Land....." The Hobart Courier 20 September 1855


"A FIRE (which, however, was fortunately not attended with any serious results) took place at one o'clock yesterday morning, at the Military Barracks, in this city. From enquiries made, we learn that the disaster was caused originally by the chimney becoming ignited, and subsequently a portion of the roof, which has received some slight damage, two apertures having been made therein. The promptitude with which the alarm was given, and the alacrity and willingness displayed in assistance, were, doubtless, the means of preventing consequences of a more serious nature -the extensive range of buildings, and the quantity of timber employed in their construction, being by no means calculated to offer any obstruction to the ravages of the devouring element.

A detachment of the Newcastle Fire Brigade, together with an engine, under command of their foreman, Mr Webb, were promptly on the spot; but, owing to the exertions of Sergeant Darby, assisted by Mr. Holt, and some of the constabulary, their services were not deemed necessary, all possibility of imminent danger having been prevented." - Newcastle Chronicle 10 July 1861


"THE MAGNIFICENT collection of geological specimens accumulated by Mr. Keene, Examiner of Coal fields to be seen at the Military Barracks, Newcastle in which apartments have been provided for his use by the Government for office accommodation is of the most interesting and highly scientific character." - Newcastle Chronicle 27 July 1864


"WE UNDERSTAND that it is the intention of the Government to use the building formerly occupied as a military batrracks at Newcastle for a female reformatory." Sydney Mail 20 April 1867

"THE SUBJECT of Industrial Schools, for the establishment of, which an act was passed during the late session of Parliament, has lately occupied the attention of the Government.

Mr. Parkes, Colonial Secretary has recently paid a visit to the Hunter River district, with the view of fixing upon a site where these could be established and he has decided to recommend to his colleagues that the military barracks at Newcastle should be converted into an Industrial School.

After the great hurry in which the act was passed it was supposed that one of the first objects of the ministry during the recess would be to take the necessary steps to bring the act into operation, but months were allowed to pass over before anything was done in the matter.

There are hundreds of children who are wandering the streets . of Sydney with no one to care for their bodies or their souls, and the sooner they are taken under the care of the Government the better for their future welfare. The Industrial Schools Act was very much required and will be likely to lead to considerable good, and we hope that as the Government have now taken the matter in hands they will not allow it to drop till they have several established throughout the colony.

For many years the social condition of the neglected youth of the colony was totally neglected, but we hope, to see some care taken of them for the future. It will be found far more cheap to educate them, in Industrial Schools than to reclaim them when they become inmates of our gaols and penal establishments." Freemans Journal 27 April 1867

"IN THE COLONIAL ARCHITECT'S Department thePrincipal works in hand are those for converting the military barracks at Newcastle into an industrial school for girls" The Empire 23 May 1867

"INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL at Newcastle - By a proclamation in the Gazette of Tuesday, the premises formerly occupied as a military barrack in the city of Newcastle are declared to be a Public Industrial School under the Act of 1866" Maitland Mercury 8 August 1867

"FIRST FEMALE conviction under the Industrial Schools Act - Jane Barker, age 15, of decent appearance, was brought before his Worship Captain Scott, and T. Dangar, Esq., at the Central Police Court, yesterday morning having been apprehended by virtue of a war-rant under section 4, Industrial Schools Act, as being a girl aged 15 years, living with common prostitutes in a certain house in Castlereagh-street. After hearing evidence the defendant was ordered to be sent to the Female Industrial School Newcastle. She left the court weeping bitterly. A number of warrants were yesterday issued by Captain Scott for the apprehension of certain females under the age of sixteen years, who come under the provisions of the 4th section of the Industrial Schools Act." Maitland Mercury 31 August 1867


"SUBORDINATION IS AT AN END in the Industrial School at Newcastle. Open revolt has been declared, and another Ministerial difficulty has presented itself. It was not difficult to foresee all this. In the management of this establishment subordination cannot be maintained if a lot of good-looking young fellows are to be allowed to visit it.

The revolt is dated from the time Mr. Robertson and Mr. Forster called when on their way to their respective constituencies. The matron was helpless from that time forward. She had endeavoured to enforce obedience by suspending the male warder and his wife. But the male warder refused to obey the suspension unless endorsed by the Colonial Secretary, and the young damsels celebrated high jinks.

We are informed that Mr. Robertson has suspended all the officers connected with the school, and has sent a new staff to take charge of the refractory scholars.

The Industrial School at Newcastle has been a mistake from the first. It is sister to that Utopian arrangement for boys on board the Vernon, and originated in the brain of that most fertile theorist the member for Kiama, who, if left to himself, would spend the revenues of a principality in moonshine speculations and impossible projects. The unfortunate young girls at Newcastle have been caught up from the streets and subjected without classification, to discipline and restraint.

The hopelessly bad and those young to crime are herded together. The consequently are apparent, bickering and confusion among the officials, and open war and violence among the girls. There is only one way of dealing with this matter : power must be given to carry out needful discipline, and the mawkish sentimentality of previous management must be got rid of.

The institution is too far away for efficient control, and the sooner the establishment is broken up, and transferred to Sydney, the more likely it will be to answer the expectations of those who wish to see the experiment fairly tried." The Empire - 28 November 1868


"IN COMPLIANCE with a numerously and influentially signed requisition, the Mayor has convened a public meeting; to be holden in the Court-house this evening at half-past seven o'clock. The purpose of the requisitionists is to protest against the intended conversion by the government of the Barrack buildings at the top of Bolton-street into a lunatic asylum.

Five years ago the government of the day approached the same subject in a spirit of courtesy, and forwarded to the Newcastle Bench of Magistrates the following letter:

Colonial Secretary's Office, Sydney,
12th November, 1866.
The Bench of Magistrates, Newcastle
It being necessary, in consequence of the over-crowded state of the lunatic asylum at Tarban Creek, to provide accommodation for about one hundred of the incurables at present confined therein, I am directed by the Colonial Secretary to request that you will report, at your earliest convenience, whether the inhabitants of Newcastle would be likely to raise any well-founded objections to the Military Barracks in that city being occupied by inoffensive lunatics. I have the honour to be, gentlemen,
Your most obedient servant,
Henry Halloran.

In consequence of this communication, a public meeting of the citizens was held, and, by a large majority, they declined to accede to the proposition. The ministry gracefully gave way. The following reply was for warded to the Bench of Magistrates

Colonial Secretary's Office,
Sydney, 4th December,
The Bench of Magistrates, Newcastle
In acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 22nd and 26th ultimo, reporting relative to the proposal to accommodate harmless lunatics in the Military Barracks at Newcastle, I am directed by the Colonial Secretary to state that, in deference to the feelings expressed by the inhabitants, the government will not send any number of the lunatics to the above city. I have the honour to be, gentlemen, Your most obedient servant, Henry Halloran

On Monday evening last, in consequence of a well-founded rumour, to the effect, that the present government intended to take the course (abandoned by their predecessors) without in any way consulting the opinion of the citizens of Newcastle, a motion, condemnatory of the action of the government, was brought forward and discussed in the Borough Council. The motion was lost by the casting vote of his Worship the Mayor (Mr. James Hannell), Alderman Bowker voting with the noes.

On Monday, the 19th of November, 1866, Alderman James Hannell, at a meeting of the Municipal Council - the Town Clerk having read the letter from the Colonial Secretary of the 12th November, published above said:

'Putting aside the notorious want of courtesy shown to the Mayor, as chief magistrate of the city, and the Council as the principal public body in Newcastle, and directly representing the general public, be did not think that the Council ought to neglect its duty because the government had chosen to treat them in the manner they had. The Bench of Magistrates, at any rate, had acted with a great degree of courtesy in the matter in referring the letter to the Council, believing, as they doubtless did, that the Council were in a position to know the opinions of the general public better than they (the Bench of Magistrates), of whom he was not one when this matter was introduced, could possibly do.

Under the circumstances, and as the matter had come before them, although not in the regular way, he thought it would be well to evoke an expression of opinion on the part of the Council in reference to the subject. This was certainly the most important matter that the Council had ever been called upon to take into consideration since it had been in existence. He was one who had long been of opinion that the government buildings in Newcastle might easily be put to a better use than they had been for the last thirty years since he had known them. (Hear, hear.)

But although he entertained that opinion, he did not believe that a hundred lunatics brought up here and located in the middle of a populous town like Newcastle would improve the condition of the inhabitants either as regarded their health or their safety. The city of Newcastle, it could not be denied, was a populous one, and it was likely as a rising place to become more so. They must take into consideration that, before long, the government might require to sell the land, or pull down the wall, and so make an extension to the reserve.

He did not believe that any benefit would accrue from converting the Barracks into an asylum for the purpose contemplated. If, as was stated, a hundred incurables were sent up, what accommodation could they receive! Lunacy, too, it was said, was infectious, and if the incurables were to be sent here, would they not be the worst we could have in that respect?

Personally he should always be happy to facilitate in any way operations for making these unfortunate creatures better, but he could not help thinking that it would be a pity to establish such an institution as this in Newcastle. If the government wanted to fix upon a place here, why not let them use the old gaol, which would be a much better situation than the Barracks, or why need the government come to Newcastle at all ? Why not send the unfortunate creatures to Port Macquarie or Windsor.

At the latter place especially the government had plenty of public buildings which were not being used for any particular purpose. He was at a loss to know why they should select Newcastle, for, as the Mayor had said, we have got enough lunatics in Newcastle already.

He should like to hear some suggestion as to evoking an expression of public opinion on the subject. He had thought it his duty to bring the matter before the Council, having been requested to do so by several of his most influential constituents in the city ward. He was thinking that some arrangement might be come to that evening to call a public meeting at an early date to consider the proposal made by the government. Not withstanding the letter the Mayor had written to the Bench, he thought this could still - be done. With that object in view be would submit a resolution for the approval of the Council.

If he was correctly informed, the government were hardly waiting for a reply, but had given instructions to have plans drawn out for the fitting up of the buildings, etc., so there was no time to lose. He thought many well-founded objections could be raised. Wherever he bad been be had heard nothing but expressions of disapproval at the step proposed to be taken. He begged now to move, ' That the Mayor be requested to call a public meeting of the inhabitants, with a view to elicit public opinion on the subject.'

The Court-house, he presumed, would be the best place to hold the meeting in, but that was a matter of detail, and could be left to the Mayor.'

On the 21st November, 1866, Dr. Bowker, at a public meeting held to take into consideration the proposed conversion of the Barracks into a lunatic asylum, said : 'As a citizen of more than twenty years, he would like to have a few words to say on this very important question. The only point the meeting had to decide was whether the inhabitants had any well-founded objections to the proposal of the Colonial Secretary. He (Dr. Bowker) thought they had some very strong and exceedingly well-founded objections, and more than that - if they had not - the more shame for them. (Cheers.)

The fact that no person of proper feeling could pass an asylum where lunatics were confined without a pang of pain which was to him an unanswerable argument against the Barracks being converted into an abode for lunatics. He met the argument that there were asylums in the middle of London, by stating that when a new town is built people do not make the streets crooked because the old ones were crooked, nor were burial grounds placed now in the middle of cities and towns like they used to be. His second principal objection was that no married man would like his wife at certain times to walk where she might possibly see some of the inmates of the asylum. (Hear, hear.) That one reason alone, ought to decide the inhabitants in making the strongest possible objections against the proposal of the government. If it was proposed to send up inmates of the destitute asylum, then the case would be different, and there might not be any 'well-founded' objection.' Comment is needless. "The Newcastle Chronicle 14 September 1871


"A LARGE LONG MASS of building, with green lattice blinds to the balconies, looks southward from the top of the hill, behind the town; this is the White Elephant of Newcastle. This extensive establishment was originally a military barracks, after which it became an industrial school, and misbehaving itself in this capacity the simple inhabitants were appalled by the intelligence that it was about to become a lunatic asylum.

Newcastle threatened to oppose the landing of the lunatics, and when landed and housed, threatened to drive them out; but any one who calmly compares the furore with the cause, cannot choose but smile, though there is very little cause for smiling in this melancholy establishment. The inmates number 112 idiots and imbeciles, in all stages of cerebral deficiency and abortion, from the idiot porter at the gate, who is mildly intelligent, to the idiot fury who gnaws her own flesh and has an uncontrollable desire to scarify anybody off his guard. The buildings are in two parts, substantially built, roomy and well ventilated, and, according to the old castings on the fire grates, were erected in the reign of William IV.

The male ward has five dormitories on the upper floor, with two dormitories and two day rooms on the lower floor; the female ward has four dormitories on the first floor and three on the ground floor, the whole being scrubbed and cleaned daily.

Mr. M. Prior for sixteen years an officer in the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum has charge here, and seems well up in his work in which he evidently takes great interest. He is assisted by two other officers, and thirteen nurses and servants, the current expense of maintenance being about 350 pounds a month. The Government gave possession of September 15th last, after it had stood empty six months from previous occupation as an industrial school for which purpose considerable sums appear to have been laid out in corrugated iron fencing and similar work." The Empire 22 March 1872