01 October 2010

Victoria Barracks, Sydney

After spending 3 days trawling around the architectural joys of Paddington, I became a guest writer for Vacation and Travel Photos blog. One extra building complex that I loved in Paddington, but didn't have space to write about for Joao, was the Victoria Barracks. Built from 1841-6 and opened for business in 1848, it was and is a very fine example of colonial military architecture.

Officers' quarters, 1842

The complex was designed by Lieutenant-Colonel George Barney, the man who also built Fort Denison and reconstructed Circular Quay. His main barracks building was constructed in the Regency style from Hawkesbury sandstone, mined locally by convict labour. Since it was only for soldiers, I had expected that the complex would be built without much paying much attention to architectural taste. But it was lovely! Possibly because the first building completed was the Officers' Quarters 1842, the entire complex continued to be very handsomely designed.

Main barrack block 1846 and massive parade ground

Originally occupied by regiments of the British Army, the Main Barrack Block was completed in 1846 and was designed to accommodate 650 soldiers. The bungalow was built in 1847 as the Barrack Master's Residence; a garrison hospital was built in 1845 to accommodate 36 patients; and a bell and clock were added to the building in 1856. 

The Paddington complex should have been even more spacious. The 99th Regiment of Foot had originally been stationed in the George's Square Barracks but when the George's Square Barracks were eventually closed, the soldiers were relocated to the new barracks in Paddington. I wish I had a photo of the room interiors; apparently the base-grade soldiers’ quarters were quite cramped.

Durty Nelly’s in Paddington, opened in 1850 for soldiers from the barracks

The establishment of the barracks changed the character of Paddington. Along with the soldiers came their wives and families and shopkeepers. The original 1840s pubs, which saw enormous business opportunities near the barracks, were appropriately called The Rifle Butts and the Cross Guns. Durty Nelly’s is another pub with a history dating back to 1850 when it catered for the Victoria Barracks crowd.

The British troops vacated the site in 1870, yet the Barracks remained the premier military training site for the New South Wales colonial forces until after Federation in 1901. Sydney Daily Photo noted that since Federation, the complex has been home to both Headquarters Land Command and Headquarters Training Command.

I cannot imagine developers trying to pull down the barracks today, but just in case someone thought of it, the entire barracks complex is on the Register of the National Estate.

Queen Victoria Gate in Oxford St

Alas the complex is only open on Sundays, which may not fit into every tourist’s programme. But the museum, which is housed in the former 25-cell prison, is easier to access.

In Brisbane, the first military barracks, guard houses and official quarters were built in 1839. But we cannot see the original barracks because they became the Treasury building. What Your Brisbane: Past and Present blog does show very well is the garrison for troops built on Petrie Terrace: the Victoria Barracks. These Brisbane barracks were built in 1864, based on the architectural plans which came from London, yet they look similar to Sydney's Victoria Barracks built in the early 1840s. 

part of Victoria Barracks Brisbane, opened 1864


J Bar said...

Top shots. I have a few of Victoria Barracks that I haven't posted yet. Thanks for the reminder.

Hels said...

You are fortunate living in Sydney Mr Bar - you have ready access to all the colonial architecture still in pristine condition. In Melbourne, on the other hand, colonial architecture barely existed or it was destroyed 60 years ago.

I hope you can get right inside to photograph more than I could.

the foto fanatic said...

Right back at you! I have linked this to my piece on Brisbane's Vic Barracks at:


Hermes said...

I never thought a barracks could be called beautiful. How wrong of me.

Hels said...

foto fanatic and hermes, it is interesting that the barracks in Sydney and Brisbane must have cost a very large amount of money to design and build.

I assume that the British army wanted its facilities to be imposing, impressive, there for keeps! Were they more worried about locals behaving badly, or about invasions landing along the populated coastal regions?

ChrisJ said...

British colonial design in many things is beautiful, despite what are sometimes questionable motives.

Art Collective said...

Such a beautiful building. Have you seen the conversion of the old army barracks in Brisbane?


Hels said...

Art Collective,

many thanks. I think the Victoria Barracks in Sydney were very elegantly designed. It still amazes me that the army was able to get the very best architectural plans and materials for its men.

The Victoria Barracks Brisbane, of which I have only one decent photo, was likewise very nicely designed. But that was a later (1860s) addition to the Brisbane skyline. I have never seen the original 1839 barracks, and would really appreciate any help you could give me.

Hels said...


Now, in the middle of the hoopla of the Commonwealth Games, I have become very imperial and colonial. Which is weird.. normally I find colonialism was far more harmful to the locals than helpful.

You are correct about Colonial Era Architecture, however. It was stunning. Of course I think Georgian architecture WAS largely wonderful, and it was Australia's good fortune to colonised during the Georgian era. Had we been colonised during a neo-Gothic period, I may not have loved the architecture so much.

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Hels said...

wall and Jim

welcome aboard. If you are in Sydney, do go on a guided tour of the barracks. But remember they are only open on Sundays.